While shuffling through vintage postcards in an antique store, I ran across this letter.

While shuffling through vintage postcards in an antique store, I ran across this letter.

[To] Miss Mollie Coulson, Forreston, Texas, Ellis County

[From] W.T. Eddleman, Boz, Texas, 11-26-1895

Kind Friend,

“I will write you a few lines to let your know how lonesome I have been. All day you want think hard of me. I hope for my coming this Evening as it was so bad. For I have been wishing for a pretty Sunday for two week and expecting a nice time with you for when I am with you is all the pleasure I have. It use to be if I didn’t come I could go off some where else and be satisfied but not so now for you never leave my mind now but a minute at a time and I hope you think of me often for you are all the woman I ever wanted in my life and I must have you and you can be ready any time for I will come after you as soon as I can get my house and you must be ready. I will come next Sunday if nothing goes wrong. Write me a long letter and remember your friend. I love you.”

Boz, Texas

Boz, Texas existed 142 years from 1850 until the federal government acquired the land in northern Ellis County for the proposed superconducting supercollider about 1992. At one time it had a grade school, blacksmith, gin, barbershop, three stores, and a Masonic building. Now, the only remnant is Bethel United Methodist Church. It was a few miles southwest of Waxahachie and a sister community named Bethel. It seemed Boz and Forreston were a long way apart but in fact the distance was only that from downtown Shawnee to the mall. After extensive research I was unable to learn anything about W.T. and Miss Millie, but I did learn about the places involved.

“Places in the Heart”

Robert Benton [dob 1932] grew up in Waxahachie, county seat of Ellis County. He wrote and directed filming of the 1984 movie “ Places in the Heart” for which he won an Academy Award as Best Screenwriter and Sally Fields won the Oscar for best actress. The film was shot in Waxahachie and Boz, depicting life there in 1935.

The film begins with an innocent black youth being lynched by the Klan. The plot revolves around a recently widowed white woman faced with the necessity of raising a cotton crop without any knowledge of cotton farming. A black vagrant appears and ultimately is hired to essentially take over control of the cotton crop. Members of the community come to her rescue in picking the crop in time to win the $100 prize for the first crop to market.

With the prize money she was able to pay her mortgage payment thereby saving her farm from foreclosure. Afterward, the Klan brutalizes the black man, forcing him to leave the area.

Except for the role of the blacks in the film, the film is fairly realistic in its depiction of the area then. The final scene, shot in the Bethel church, is totally unrealistic e.g., entirely from a place solely in the writer’s heart. In it, members of community past and present, and representing every demographic segment, share prayer, singing, and communion.

Comment

Clearly, Robert Benton wrote of what he wished were true in his home town in 1935 not the reality then or now. Census records for Ellis County in 2000 show 10% blacks compared with 9% in 2010. Dallas creep in the northern part of the county record 10% blacks in 2016. Hollywood has long pursued moral and ethical agenda not always in tune with mine e.g.,first dates ending in bed and shameless living together and child bearing by unmarried couples.

There was ‘community’ in Ellis County back then because of demographic homogeneity that continued through 2010 but is now eroding as old timers in the south part of the county die and Dallas commuters having different socioeconomic [SES] characteristics move into the northern part of the county.

The communion in church among all kinds and ages of persons in the church that was missing in the community is mythical but depicts a place in my heart of a oneness among Christians we shall know someday.

Segregation then was racial as predicted in the 1968 Kerner Report e.g., “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Today we have two separate and different societies based not on race but lifestyle choices and socioeconomic factors such as education, occupation, and income. These two societies live apart geographically, socially, and are angry and not talking to each other as evidenced by the 2016 election.* People like Robert Benton, wealthy, highly educated professional, resident of NYC is now as separated from his classmates back in Waxahachie as blacks were from whites in 1935. ** There is no record of the author returning to Waxahachie after filming 33 years ago.

* Bill Bishop, The Big Sort, NY: Houghton-Mifflin, 2008.

** Pictures 4-7 courtesy of Shannon Simpson, Ellis County Museum.