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The one great rule of composition is to speak the truth. Tiiorr .\\u We will serve no group or party but will hew hard to the truth as we find it and the right as we see it. adexa !1111istrurr w pa p n I ng C3 \(3″ \(D”‘ 7P1958 10c per copy No. 33 Vol. 50 b C Spanning the the New South NEW WAVERLY The story of Minnie Fisher Cunningham and her mother, Sallie Corner Abercrombie, is more than a story of East Texas, the South, the struggle for erudition on a pioneer farm; it is a story of the emergence of the independent woman of the modern world. From the frustrations of her enlightened mother within the compacted possibilities of the older ways to her own high-stepping liberation. crusading for the vote, demand for militance in politics, reform through the New Deal, wartime opposition to Coke Stevenson, down to this very day as she cries out for the sanctity of the public schools in the South, her voice now again lonely in the winds whining through the woods of her land, the political woman, righteous as only a woman can perfectly be, materializes in a sequence of restraints and defiances lasting now a hundred years. Her life and the life of her heroine mother span over in two generations the slave-served ease of the Old South to the freshly electrified, freshly industrialized, freshly embittered New South. Living alone in her white frame farmhouse on the last hundred acres of Fisher Farms, a few miles outside of New Waverly in. East Texas, Mrs. Cunningham feeds her cattle, tends her large and bounteous garden, carefully sells off a little lumber, now and then fights off wild dogs with a stick or shoots armadillos out of her garden with her .410 shotgun, and guides the political life around her with an integrity which describes, at this or that time, the fulness of her useful and historic life. The leader in the Texas movement for suffrage for woman, a national founder of the League of Women Voters, an information specialist in the Agriculture Department of the New Deal, once a candidate for U. S. senator and once for governor of Texas, Mrs. Cunningham has most recently been designated Mrs. Democrat of Texas by national committeewoman Frankie Randolph of Houston. A handsome lady, with a wagglish lifting left eyebrow and a tart tongue for wishy washy males, she has a knowing, deepdown laugh. “What is that old expression … I’m a shaker and a mover,” she says. Her small five-room house stands in a pasture near a grove of pecans. The mother tree is 100 years old; “I’ve been acquainted with it personally for 75 years,” she says. There is a late model Ford under a tin shed; several hundred yards away cars and trucks rocket and whine along Highway 75. If the passers-by look off into the wooded meadow they see a large hand lettered sign still nailed to a tree, “Gonzales for Governor.” \(When a townsman in Huntsville pointed out to Mrs. Cunningham she had misspelled Senator Gonzalez’s name, she countered that it was an experiment in subliminal psychology, after the town, GonOff toward the woods are the feeding troughs for the cattle, the barns, and the ‘fenced in garden. Some of the woodwork, inexact but sturdy, suggests a woman being inventive, heedless of carpentry’s niceties but insistent on a no nonsense usefulness. Inside the house, too, a functional comfort rules. Doors were too expenSive for a self supporting farm woman, so the rooms are separated by curtains. The original raw-board pines are still rawboard pines. Along the top of a long bookcase spanning a wall in the front room, behind the big gas open-face stove, she has arranged jars and glasses and other pretty things with a fine eye to color; but otherwise the sovereign sentiment is utility. There are enough old style rocking chairs for four cr five guests; they remind one of the lost tranquility. From a bunk at the windows you look out across the quiet pastures to the royal-red sweet gum trees and the hickories soon to be yellow. Young Sadnesses “What has really kept me going is my mama,” Minnie Fisher says. “I haven’t been doing what I wanted to do, I’ve been doing what my mama wanted to do but couldn’t because of the times she lived in.” When five year old Sallie Corner Abercrombie came to Texas by boat from Alabama, the navigators of Galveston harbor were still plagued by the appearance of sandbars where they hadn’t been before. All night long a fierce storm had raged around Sallie’s ship, finally driving it onto such a bar. The girl and her company lived to disembark in Texas, but the next trip the boat landed on the bar again and was beaten to pieces by the waves. After camping in Houston for a time the Abercrombies proceeded by carriage into the wilderness of East Texas, cleared the needed acres, and built log houses for the family and the slaves. Sallie read constantly, which was something of a joke on the frontier. One time a visiting Alabama cousin, who thought it funny that a young girl was reading so much she had to be rationed candles every night, called aloud to her as she approached a group of young people one day, “Now Miss Sallie, don’t come here quoting Shakespeare to us!” “Sir,” she replied, “I never quote Shakespeare to those who are incapable of understanding him!” Soon enough he went back to Alabama. Her first disappointment was the departure o f her eldest brother Len for the University of Virginia and the decision she could not go, even though she had kept abreast of him in. studies. Her parents had promised, and she was hurt by the feeling they had not kept faith with her. During her last year in the local school, Horatio W. Fisher began to “address” her and started building a house of hewn timbers and sawn planks with 14-foot ceilings and elegant crystal chandeliers, The courtship flourished, though she was 17 and he 35, a widower with a daughter eleven. As Minnie Fisher recounts her mother Sallie’s recollection, “Sam Houston, in his effort to hold his beloved Texas in the Union. visited in the Abercrombie home occasionally, but the things she remembered about him were his appearance, the famous vest, and the saddle which she thought had belonged to Santa Anna because it w a s of beautiful leather, adorned with silver ornamentation and always brought into the house at night for safe keeping.” Sallie used to condemn to her daughter the “hot headed secessionists” who flouted General Houston’s wise stand against withdrawing from the Union, so it is strangely accurate to say that Minnie Fisher Cunningham’s ideas on the Negro question were SUFFRAGETTE MINNIE A Wagglish Left Eyebrow In an Old S.A. Light Photo shaped in part by her mother’s lessons from Sam Houston. Fisher, Minnie Fisher’s father, on the other hand, was active in the secession and at once raised a company of cavalry which his father and Sallie’s father fully equipped with horses, uniforms, and arms. -The company was named the Abercrombie Lightguards after Fisher’s lady, who did not take the compliment “in good part,” as Minnie Fish writes in her reminiscences of her mother. With her brother by then in. the army of North Virginia and her suitor in the campaigns west of the Mississippi, she hated the war; nor was she impressed by the social standing of the members of the Abercrombie Lightguards, for whom she suggested a uniform of neatly arranged penitentiary stripes. Sallie’s brother, therefore Minnie Fisher’s uncle, Leonard Burford Abercrombie, fell from a wound at the second battle of Bull Run, suffered all night on the open battlefield, and died from a bullet as he tried to crawl to safety. He had reached his nineteenth year. “This from the first had been masked behind the waving flags and playing bands,” wrote Minnie Fish later; “How shameful and humiliating that man in unmastered passion should destroy the brightest flowers of the civilization which he had striven so valiantly to create.” Within a month of Leonard’s death, Captain Fisher returned home on a furlough and he and Sallie were married. It was wartime and could not be helped. When he had gone back to the war she found herself left out of the full social life of the single girls and withdrew to melancholy and housework. This, perhaps, was her third young sadness. Minnie Fish says her mother “brought us up to rejoice that the Negroes were freed and to have a sense of responsibility toward ‘our Negroes’ because they had been put on their own without previous preparation in how to take care of themselves. Her idea was that the freedom of the slaves was of the greatest benefit to the white race, which had suffered through holding other human beings in bondage. The only pity of it all she saw in the fact that it had taken a war and irremediable losses to bring the change about. After I was fully rooted and grounded in this faith, I learned with surprise that there existed a less philosophical, less idealistic school of thought; members of whom were said to be ‘unreconstructed.’ I thought, and I still think, they existed on a lower plane of intellect than that on which my Mother lived.” The Negro who went to the legislature from New Waverly during the Carpetbagger era was Horatio Fisher’s servant and friend, “Uncle” George Wood, who had been with him before and all during the war as body servant. Minnie Fisher’s father was the first white man to be elected justice of the peace in Waverly after the carpetbag rule was broken. When Uncle George came home from the legislature, the Captain settled on him a small farm and protected him in its ownership. Eight, Less Two Eight children were born to Horatio and Sallie Fisher. The first one, a boy, died at birth. The fifth one, Emily, died when she was about six, and this was a deep grief to Sallie Minnie Fisher was seventh, arrived in 1882. Sallie taught her children, cooked for them, sewed for them, planted and had planted gardens and orchards and field crops for them. “She nursed us when we were ill and plied us with hot lemonade, gruel, soft boiled eggs, rice pudding, and a very tiny delicate species of hot cake known as ‘mush batter cakes’ made quite simply of corn meal mash, milk and an egg mixed together and dropped a teaspoonful at a time on a buttered hot griddle.” The patient was given a scalding foot bath and a hot drink and put to bed while Sallie pored over a large leather-bound volume, “Dr. Massey’s Plantation Family Practice,” looking for symptoms of the illness. Calomel, quinine, and castor oil might follow; if the sick child did not respond the doctor was summoned. But “a dollar a mile” was the charge and “cash mon:. ,.y” was scarce. To boot, the d7ctors were often given to heavy drink. “That was what had happened when Sister Emily died, that and a spell of such bitter cold weather as rarely came and when it came made everything immensely difficult,” Minnie Fish says. “I’ve heard my mother say that as she sat, holding the little dying child wrapped in blankets, close to the fire to try to keep her warm, water spilled on the hearth froze even when it fell right in front of the fire. It was pitiful to hear her talk about it. It hurt her so that she couldn’t keep her child warm and safe.” “Next to bringing us through alive, Mother cared most that we should grow up educated, civilized persons,” Minnie Fish says. None of her children reached the age of five without being able to read. “Even my father, not given to books, was sometimes pressed into service to hold the old blueback speller and ‘call the words’ of the lesson to the children dressing before the fire in the big fireplace while my mother cooked breakfast.” The daily lesson was so many pages of history, or reading, or Latin, or geography; so many lines of spelling; so many mathematical problems. “The lesson went from here to here. If you got it, you could go outside, in. the outdoors, and play the rest of the afternoon. If you didn’t you could sit by the window and watch the others playing. It was a powerful stimulant to study, I tell you!” Minnie Fisher’s mother had an idea of a “standard of living” she wanted for her family involving things which seemed to her essential, although they might not seem so to a man of those times. Rather than accept her husband’s reluctance about financing them, she began producing small surpluses of dairy, poultry, and garden and orchard products for sale. When the railroad was opened the men Who ran the trains bought butter, eggs, and fruit from her, agreeing in advance on what she was to provide them and then stopping the train on her place. “It seems quaint now,” Minnie Fish says, “to think of men operating trains shopping along the countryside in that way. . Our relation to the railroad was so personal and intimate that we not only sold to the men considerable quantities of food products, we casually stepped out and flagged a passenger train and climbed aboard whenever we took trips away from home. The conductors were all our friends and they readily accepted us, even when quite young children, from the hands of our parents and delivered us safely to our relatives in Houston or Galveston. as instructed. When we returned home the train was stopped opposite our house for us to get off.” Eventually, while the father was running the farm, the mother was planting acres in. strawberries, watermelons, peaches, and green string beans. Butter and eggs were always good sellers. “We children churned, ‘under her supervision, and she ‘worked the butter’ herself, trusting no one else to wash the milk completely out of it and salt it just exactly so.” Minnie Fish has three kinds of mental pictures of her mother during that timeworking out of doors or with the butter; sitting \(Continued on Minnie Fisher and Her Heroine Mother