Walter Potts

 

    Walter Potts, who will enter Mulberry’s story in 1901, is quoted by Eva Hogan, his granddaughter, in her book, The Last Buffalo:


    “During slavery time blacks were not free men. Negroes were the property of the white man. Where ever you went you had to go under the white man’s name. Potts [for whom the Texas town of Pottsboro was named] needed some slaves for his plantation. He traveled to Oklahoma where he purchased Joe Burton from a slave owner near Muskogee.” [Eva continues the narrative] Joe had a young son who became very upset that his father was about to be sold and separated from him. It is understandable that the boy wanted very much to come with his father. Walter chuckles and remembers the story that [his father] William later told, he said that the young boy kept crying and saying over and over again, “I want to come with my daddy, I want to come with my daddy.” Potts finally agreed to let the boy go also. “So he got that Negro for free.” Walter then doubles over with laughter....


    1901 May 21: Commissioners’ Court heard Dr. Looney’s petition “to change School District and to create New District...division of Mulberry School District No. 92... petition signed by a majority of the qualified voters...no protest...ordered...a New School District cut off from Mulberry School District No. 92...from J. E. Spies place to Milton Smith farm... to NE corner of Syl Reed farm...so as to leave out of the Mulberry District the School house and land of the colored school No. 2 of the Mulberry District No. 92....” The “colored school” became part of Sandy District No. 94.


    Walter Potts came to Mulberry in 1901, aged nine years, with his brother James Roscoe, to live with his grandparents, Fountain and Patsy Oliphant. His mother Mollie and sister Lu Berta were victims when a smallpox epidemic swept Denison. Walter’s father William eventually returned to his work as a railroad porter.

    Aged ninety-nine, Walter Potts told me he “grew up” with Mandy Parks and Jubie Bramlett. Mandy remembered the morning “Miss Lucy Moore’s house burned down.” Walter said it didn’t: “Me and Mr. Croff Parks put it out.”

    From Eva’s book: “When he was asked about race relations Walter said, ‘At one time we were about the only blacks in our community. Folks I was brought up with were my brothers, no if’s and’s or but’s about it. We treated each other with respect and there was no difference made.’ ”


    In 1938, Walter’s opponent for possession of Fountain Oliphant’s land will be John W. Palmore. By then Walter had been in the Great War: “Potts was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, campaign streamers, medals and other battle honors in recognition for valorous deeds. Some of his medals are displayed at the Wadsworth Atheneum musuem in Connecticut, which houses the Armistad Foundation’s African American Collection.”  —Herald Democrat, May 26, 1997


                Eva Hogan in The Last Buffalo:


    It is thought that he [William] would often openly express the pain as well as the joy that he felt when he came to see the boys at the Oliphant farm. He would bring little things of various sorts from the cities that he visited. Each trip has its own set of unusual circumstances. Sometimes during their conversations, questions would arise which he could not answer. Every now and then the boys would ask if they could go home to live with him in the city. They longed to see the big cities. They also yearn[ed] for the chance to experience some of the exciting adventures that they could only dream about. William did the best that he knew how to deal with each situation as it arose. Using his best judgment when these situations came up, he did his best to make a favorable and lasting impression on them. The boys never went to live with their father.... Over the years the boys had grown so attached and devoted to the older folks, that there was nothing that could take them away from their home on the farm....

    ...James Roscoe died of typhoid fever at the tender age of fourteen. Walter would wonder for years to come why he was still healthy....

    Walter left school after completing only the third grade. He would become a skilled farmer, carpenter, and blacksmith. Also he was successful at mastering the many events that were necessary to run a farm. His grandparents’ attention to him now was not limited to the responsibility of caring for the only child that was left in that family.... Their comfort was his support throughout his life. They taught him valuable precise rules and good ways to benefit from life then and thereafter. Walter has worked all of his life....


    1917 October 30 (Bonham Daily Favorite): Colored Folks Held a Meeting.... One of the most unique meetings ever held in Bonham took place on Thursday night in the district court room of the court house.  The occasion was on account of the negroes drafted to go to war.... The invitation was extended to the white friends of the negroes to be present, and over one hundred white citizens, representing every walk of life, and including ladies, were on hand. The fact is there were more white people in the house than negroes. This was explained by the fact that a great many negroes who would have been present are away in the cotton fields helping to save Fannin County’s cotton crop.... Pinknew Erskine, colored, was then called upon. He gave those of his race some good advice assuring them that the Stars and stripes belonged to them as their flag and that they should defend it. The speaker then grew very much in earnest.... Private Tommy Atkins, who is colored to the extent of the ace of spades, and who must have discovered America along in the early sixties, was the next one asked to say something.... His naivest remark was with regard to the Germans respecting his own
race. Leaning toward his auditors, he remarked, “The Germans ain’t never sayed they was comin’ over heah, to kill just the white folks, no sir, indeed they ain’t never said it.” The shot went home.... Mansfield DeJonette (get the French name) was next called upon by the chairman, and was easily the orator of the evening. Looking over the house, Mansfield remarked that he thought it a privilege for a colored man to appear in a court room with a chance to speak, and not have to keep one eye on the sheriff, on account of being there on a charge (so associated with his race by joke-smiths) of chicken stealing. During his remarks he said, turning to the white people, that whatever the white people did the negroes would do; that if they led right the negroes would follow right. If they led wrong, the negroes would go wrong, too, that the people of his race were an imitative folk. If you think this did not set those of the white race to thinking you are mistaken.... He wound up by giving some advice to those of his race going to war, and told them to take as good aim in shooting at the kaiser as they would in shooting a cotton tail rabbit....



    Walter Potts believed he was the first Fannin County Negro to go overseas in war. He was in Mintz when the World War ended. Remembering: “The Kaiser had said, ‘No man’s army will take Mintz,’ but when they realized they were facing two black infantry units, they gave up. Infantry Unit E was seven miles from Mintz. We heard the sound of an approaching motorcycle, the bugle and an order to stack arms.”

    Discharged, Walter received $900 in bonus money and arrived home less than two weeks before the Mulberry “cyclone”. He used his bonus to make improvements to his grandfather’s house, Fount Oliphant’s place, and married Eva Brown of Honey Grove on May 22, 1919.


    Born in 1892, Eva Brown was “fair looking,” described as “soft spoken” and of a “gentle personality.” She was a graduate of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. Her inspiration to be a teacher originated with her father, E. E. Brown.  Starting with Louisiana teaching

credentials, and serving also as a minister, “Father Brown...fought for freedom rights for the blacks folk of the South...either in an unassailable position or recklessly courageous.”

    From Louisiana, to Honey Grove in Texas, to Oklahoma, this mission led him

on—



    ...so committed to the education of the people that he defied the secrecy. He journeyed in search of a safe place with the hope of finding greater opportunities and better treatment, where he could teach the children in peace.... Father Brown fell victim to the white supremacy that he had fled. Since he was known as a gifted leader, the Ku Klux Klan searched for him.... When the Klan finally found Father Brown, he was brutally murdered.... Father Brown and Mother Violet are buried in Honey Grove [wrote Eva (Potts) Hogan of her ancestors].


    Eva Brown’s younger sister, Isceola, after retirement, organized an adult education program for black people in Honey Grove. She died in 1988, almost one hundred years old, recognized as an “African American pioneer” for her commitment to education.


    Walter Potts said he was the “first Negro” to serve on the school board, remembering it was during the time Ira Wisely was president (May 1923). The school for black children was in a church on land owned by Ben Johnson, opposite the road leading east, past Siloam Cemetery. Walter was a deacon. At the County Superintendent’s office, he said the school couldn’t continue in the church.

    “The board in Mulberry met on third Wednesdays.” The Mulberry school had two rooms then and was about to get a third teacher. Brian Dupree had agreed to give land for a new black school, then he came to tell Walter there wouldn’t be one. “There were only two black students, and the white school was overcrowded.” When C. W. Parks and J. F. Hall went to see Walter, they suggested that the old white school be moved and made into a black school. Joe Choice said the building was relocated on the road that passes north and south through Siloam. It became part of the Sandy district because Mulberry had already separated its school from the black school.


    John Palmore of Ravenna, on April 30, 1938, initiated a suit against Walter Potts and other heirs of Fountain Oliphant who continued to hold an interest in two tracts of land in Mulberry. Palmore’s attorneys claimed “lands and premises are not susceptible of partition...have to be sold...proceeds divided.” The heirs will “answer this petition.” Their attorneys—Couch and Couch—filed a response with Judge George P. Blackburn on July 11.


    1938 November 18: Attorneys for Palmore filed their “First Supplemental Petition.” Judge Blackburn “sustained” all contentions; the Oliphant responses were “irrelevant, improper, prejudicial.” 

    December 27: “Second Amended Original Answer and Cross Action of Walter Potts, et.al.” was filed.

    1939 January 7: Palmore’s “First Amended Original Petition” and “Second Supplemental Petition,” filed.

    February 6: Judgment was rendered in the presence of John Palmore, J. R. Rainey and the Oliphant heirs. A jury “was dismissed...agreed that the...testimony... establishes the fact that the lands and premises...are owned...by the following named parties in the following proportions, to-wit”—John Palmore, 42/72 interest; Walter Potts, 12/72 interest; each of the “minor defendants”—Glenna Tipton, Hattie Phillips, Leon Walker—2/72 interest; and Ralph Oliphant, Fred Oliphant, Bob Oliphant and Myrtle Oliphant each owned 7/72 interest. A receiver was appointed “to sell the same and partition the proceeds.” 


    1939 March 21: O. L. Golden (receiver) reported that (on March 18) he sold “at private sale to John W. Palmore for the sum of $853.25 the following described lands [two tracts containing 40.5 acres]...the above mentioned price is the best obtainable...fairly made...a fair and reasonable price...the best price...includes and covers all lands and premises involved in this suit....”        



Walter Potts, aged ninety-nine, more than fifty years later, expressed no bitterness. He said Mrs. Couch advised him to recognize that John Palmore was “a rich man” who could draw out the case indefinitely. Palmore offered Walter another place to live in Siloam. He stayed four years, saying, “It was government programs that put the small farmer out of business. You had to have at least 150 acres to be recognized by the government...the money crop was cotton.”


    Walter Potts moved back to Denison in 1946—after 46 years, this grandson of Fountain Oliphant left Mulberry.