Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May 1918 was an eventful month in Wilcox County, Alabama

Rev. Hugh McMaster Henry

The week’s edition of The Progressive Era marks the first issue of the newspaper for the month of May, and, every so often, it’s interesting to look back on what was happening in Wilcox County 100 years ago.

If you ever get the chance to visit the State Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, you’ll find that they have microfilmed copies of The Progressive Era and other Wilcox County newspapers on file going back well over 100 years, and they’re fun to look through to see how much has changed – and how much remains the same.

The other day, with the start of the new month of May in mind, I looked through the five issues of The Progressive Ear that were published a century ago – in May 1918 – and found a number of interesting news items that took place 100 years ago this month.

In the May 2, 1918 edition of the newspaper, editor S.C. Godbold reported, under the headline “John H. Wallace Delivers Memorial Address,” that Confederate memorial services were held in the Camden Grammar School auditorium on Fri., April 26, and that the Hon. John Wallace of Montgomery was the keynote speaker.

“His address was filled with patriotic sentiment and eulogy for the heroic spirit of the departed veterans,” Godbold reported. “He measured up to his reputation as a gifted speaker, and he effectively directed his art towards arousing a deeper interest in the present struggle (World War I). Benediction was pronounced by Rev. H.T. Strout, after which the graves of the Confederate dead were decorated.”

In the May 9, 1918 edition of the newspaper, the big news was about a serious accident that took place in Camden. According to Godbold’s short report on the incident, “Mr. J. Mack Stevenson was accidentally struck by a train at the Camden depot and (was) seriously injured. He is now reported as improving.”

The May 16, 1918 edition of the paper included lengthy “Masonic Resolutions” in memory of William Washington McConnico, who died on Jan. 19, 1918 at the ripe, old age of 79 at his home near Oak Hill.

“He was born, reared and lived all his life in the old home where he died, his life being intimately associated with Oak Hill and Wilcox County. Brother McConnico was a perfect type of the old Southern gentleman, cultured, refined and generous, with charity towards all. Brother McConnico was a Mason for over 50 years and for many years was Master of Wilcox Lodge No. 80, and only gave up this work when he became too feeble to attend to it. His loyalty to Masonry was far above the average.”

In the May 23, 1918 edition of the newspaper, under the headline “COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES,” it was reported that the “Commencement Exercises of the Wilcox County High School were opened on Sunday morning when Rev. H.M. Henry of Oak Hill preached the commencement sermon. On Monday evening, the oratorical contest for the Matthews Medal was given. Six speakers participated: Robert Tait, Lynch Alford, Wirt Moore, Louis Lawler, Henry Hawthorn and Jake Marcus. The medal was awarded to Lynch Alford in a brief, but effective, presentation by the donor, Mr. B.H. Matthews.

In the May 30, 1918 edition of the paper, Godbold wrapped up the month with a serious story directed at the county’s young men. Under the headline “Registration Set For June 5 – Failure Means Heavy Penalty,” Godbold reported that, “according to instructions received by the local (Draft) Board, June 5, 1918 has been set as the date for registering all male citizens of Wilcox who have become 21 years of age since June 5 of last year. Every man who has reached his 21st birthday up to and on June 5 is required to be present himself before the Local Board in Camden on the above date. The most severe penalty is attached to failure to register, and besides a patriotic duty, everyone who disseminates information relative to same is possibly saving someone in his community the gravest trouble.”

As you can tell from the news excerpts above, May 1918 was an eventful time in Wilcox County, and there is no doubt that May 2018 will prove to be the same. If you ever get the urge to look through old Wilcox County newspapers for yourself, I encourage you to make the trip to the state archives building in Montgomery. The friendly, helpful staff there will be more than happy to point you in the right direction and get you started.

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