Saturday, December 26, 2015

Singleton wrote of former slave Louise Cooper who lived to the age of 113

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Aunt Lou: A good friend remembered,” was originally published in the Dec. 11, 2003 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

My first article about Louise “Lou” Cooper appeared in The Monroe Journal on July 1, 1971. Last week, I received several telephone calls requesting that I write again about this marvelous woman and some of the events that she relayed to me during our talks about her early life. At the time of my first writing, she had just, a few days before, celebrated her 108th birthday.

Louise “Lou” Cooper was born on the 5th day of June 1863 in the town of Claiborne. The oldest of three children, she was born into slavery. Shortly after her birth, her parents were moved from the town by the river to the city of Mobile. Their method of travel was by steamboat down the mighty Alabama River.

They were returned to Claiborne after a short stay in the port city. Her parents had orders to leave their oldest, and at the time, their only child. This was due to the fact that the town of Claiborne was under quarantine, because of the smallpox epidemic.

Not wanting to leave their child behind, Louise’s parents put her in a small trunk and carried her secretly aboard the riverboat for the return trip up river to Claiborne. Twice during the voyage, Lou’s mother secretly opened the small trunk under the pretense of getting a clean apron. She was also checking to see if her child was yet alive.

Louise received no food during the trip up river, as her parents did not open the trunk in fear of being caught, and, too, in fear that their small baby was dead.

The trunk was picked up by her father when the riverboat docked at Claiborne. He placed it on his shoulder, and quickly walked up the steep riverbank and on to the house where they were to live. Lou stated that her mother later related to her that, “when the trunk was opened, my mamma stated that I was just laying there, sucking my thumb. They said I didn’t cry; I don’t know why. I just didn’t.”

As we would sit and talk, I asked her what she remembered most about the town of Claiborne. Lou stated that what she remembered most was the steamboats coming up the river and landing at the Claiborne wharf.

“I remember the crowds of people and the barrooms too. I liked the parties they had and the church socials; I liked these best of all. I remember a steamboat sinking at the wharf. I watched the small skiffs hurrying around on the river, picking up people that were in the water and carrying them to the banks on both sides of the river. All were hollering and yelling. I will never forget that.”

The mother of two children, Louise had outlived her family and lived with her great-great-grandson until the time of her death.

Although her eyesight had failed her, and her hearing was a bit bad, she enjoyed good health until shortly before she died. Many times she would tell me, “I like to eat. I still have all my teeth except four.”

At the time of my first writing, her grandson of the third generation had planned to have her eyes tested, and perhaps, too, getting her a hearing aid. She would always tell me that, “If I could see, I would almost be as good as I ever was.”

But until the time came for her to get her eyeglasses, she was content to just sit and play with her fourth generation of grandchildren and reminisce of the days when she, as a young woman, lived and raised a family in the communities of Perdue Hill and Claiborne.

Aunt Lou was a member of the Methodist Church of Claiborne. She attended church services there almost to the time of her death. Being the oldest living member of the church, she would always say that “she had to keep things straight there at the church.”

One day, during one of our conversations, I asked her what she thought about today’s generation. Her answer was that there wasn’t enough work to keep everyone busy.

“Hard work and trust in the Lord” is what she told me our youth of today needed. She relayed to me that she got almost three months of the year schooling.

“My learning came from the Blue Back Webster,” she would say. “Everybody read from the Blue Back Webster; everybody goes to school all the time now, they can’t get no work done.”

Prior to writing my first article on this dear lady, I promised that I would put her picture in the paper, this I did. She had never before had her photograph published before in anything, prior to my first article.

Cooper grave marker at Claiborne.
During our last visit together, I had to promise her that I would always remember her. She thanked me for taking the time for the visits and time spent with her. This was the last time I would see her alive. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Cooper died on June 3, 1977 – just two days shy of 114th birthday.)

At the funeral of this wonderful friend, I was asked to say a few words about this dear woman whom I had come to know a great deal about. The final words describing this darling old lady were these:

“I searched for the proper words to describe this kind and gentle woman. She was a good woman; she loved her friends; she loved her family; and above all she loved her God.

“As we gather here today to pay our last respects, and to bid farewell, we know that today, Heaven is now a better place with her presence. So, for now, dear lady, we say goodbye, until that day when we meet again by the river that gives eternal life; in a land where the air is pure and the sky is forever blue. And, in that land where time is measured not in months and years, but only in forevers.”

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, moved to Monroe County in 1961 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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