On March 16, 1997 Peter Scott, staff writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote a small, yet compelling story entitled "NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN". What makes this story so compelling, especially for the African-American families of Montgomery County, Georgia, is how it touches on the life and documents the reason for the death of one of our best -- The Honorable Simon Shelton Mincey. Furthermore, it gives us more than an idea of when the observerance of "The First Monday in August" started, but why it started, and whom this memorial was centered around. This is the article, as printed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1997, by Peter Scott. Part 3 of 3
NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN
Downtown Ailey, Georgia is so small today that there are no traffic lights. A modern bank sits among century-old buildings. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson was born here, as was Walker Smith. Many blacks and whites seem to get along well here. For the most part, they got along well in the 1930s. Bartow Snooks, a 77-year old retired businessman, remembers having black youngsters among his playmates growing up. He remembers all residents being close. Mincey, he said, was a respected man. "We looked up to him. At least all my friends did. He always wore a vest, a blue suit, and a gold watch with a chain across his chest. He was distinguished looking," Snooks said.
No one seems to know for certain, but there are some who believe that an observance held annually the weekend before the first Monday in August was begun by African-Americans as a clandestine way to pay homage to Mincey. The celebration, now called the Heritage Festival, has been held since shortly after Mincey's death.
Ella Crawford Darien, 87, who grew up in Ailey but now lives in Florida, said the memorial day observance began after Mincey's death.
We had graveyard cleanings. People would come from everywhere. Men would work in the mornings and ladies would bring dinner. We would go to the church, have service and go home.Ella Crawford
Some whites may not have respected Mincey, but everyone respected the power his wealth and partisan prestige gave him, said those who remembered him. "You had to be way up the political line to be over him," said Walter B. Morrison, 95, a retired businessman and state legislator who personally knew Mincey. Anyone who wanted a federal patronage job had to cater to Mincey, he said.
Four months before his death, Mincey won his party's chairmanship over a white candidate whose backers called themselves "Lily Whites". The term referred not only to a political system but also a way of life. Southern blacks were in control of local Republican parties because Southern whites flocked to the Democratic Party after the Emancipation Proclamtion and Reconstruction.
Mincey's quest for power came at a critical time.
The stock market had crashed in 1929. The philosophies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were being debated on the national scene about what role blacks should play in politics and race relations. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaica-born black, was on the national scene urging a back to Africa movement.
Mincey won the post amid much hostility. "An old cracker told Mincey, 'We're going to get you!' " recalled Nathaniel Guice, 84. "They were mad, mad, mad," said Guice, a retired steelworker now living in Buffalo, New York. As an 18 year old, Guice accompanied his father to the party meeting in the Montgomery County seat of Mount Vernon where Mincey won his last chairmanship. "They wanted to get him out of office, and they couldn't," Guice said about whites in the party. Several months passed before the threats became real.
My grandmother had begged him to leave Ailey and go to some other large place, but that was his lifestyle, and he did not believe in running from his responsibility.Solomon Curry
Old-timers say there was never much talk of Mincey after he died. His wife, grandchildren and other relatives fled. Curry said he and the four other cousins living with his grandparents were scattered among other relatives. Curry never knew where most relocated and has heard news of only one relative recently. The home and all other physical reminders that the family lived here are gone.
Curry went to Macon for four years and then on to Miami Beach.
He worked first as a porter and janitor until he landed work as a drapery installer. He began working in the 1940s and worked 40 years before retiring. Yvonne McLendon, 57, a retired school teacher, said she taught in the county for 30 years, and she recalled no historic observance in which Mincey's name has been mentioned. Even now, many in Ailey seem reluctant to speak his name. Others simply don't know who Simon Shelton Mincey was.
That makes me sad. I wish there was something I could do about it, but I am not a vengeful or violent man. I just want people to know about my grandfather's contribution to America.Solomon Curry
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; March 16, 1997
Section: DIXIE LIVING
Edition: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Staff Writer: Peter Scott