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Constance Alexander: Calloway County history includes out-of-the-ordinary and commonplace

Murders in Calloway County Kentucky are few and, literally, far between, so when Lube Martin, a Black man, killed Guthrie Duiguid in 1916 and the state governor hastily traveled to west Kentucky to prevent a lynching, headlines resounded at home in the Jackson Purchase and also blared across the country. Today, few know why Martin shot Duiguid, or how justice was served. Those interested in learning more will discover a trove of historic information in the commemorative book being prepared in honor of Calloway County’s bicentennial, slated for release in time for Founders Day, November 3.

Author Bobbie Smith Bryant heads up the massive project, assisted by Randy Patterson and Patricia Wilson Seiber. Their efforts were bolstered with writings by community members who shared their stories and insights about the county, past and present. A host of capable volunteers pitched in to edit and proofread the manuscript before it was submitted to the publisher, Acclaim Press, Sikeston, Missouri.

Bryant, Patterson, and Seiber’s roots in Calloway reach deep into its past. Bryant’s branch of the Smith family and Patterson’s forebears came here from North Carolina in the 1820s, while Seiber’s Wilson ancestors arrived around 1850. The three share a passion for history seasoned with a healthy dose of awe regarding the enormity of the project and the responsibility to fact-check as thoroughly as possible.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

“We started with a timeline,” Pat Seiber said, adding that they organized it in 20-year increments, each given a title. After that, they started chunking material into categories.

“It’s broad strokes, not an academic history,” Bobbie Smith Bryant explained. “We did our best to make it accurate, but also hope what we’ve done will intrigue people to want to know more.”

Lifelong local history buff and current president of the Calloway County Genealogical and Historical Society, Randy Patterson mused, “Do we have the whole story? Probably no.”

“It came from the people, not the scholars,” he added, “but it can be a springboard into further scholarly research.”

There were, of course, resources to draw from. In 1931, the local newspaper published a history, its cover promising “Sketches of its prominent citizens, past and present.” Another valued resource was the 1978 Story of Calloway County, by Kerby and Dorothy Jennings. Along with other family histories and artifacts like local phone books, newspaper clippings, church bulletins and yearbooks, the Calloway County Public Library and Murray State University’s Pogue Library provided valuable information.

“We asked people for ideas and started an inventory list,” Bryant said. “And then we spread the word.”

Nearly 300 community members submitted entries for publication. According to Bryant, one of the biggest challenges was limiting biographical entries to 300 words, and pieces covering events, organization, and activities to 500 words.

“I had to learn to say no,” she confessed.

A website was designed so the public could see how the project was taking shape and also to encourage the community to acknowledge the milestone all year long. “The intent,” according to the home page, “is for this once-in-a-lifetime event to be a county-wide celebration.”

Calloway County is not alone in this effort, as 2022 marks 150 years for Murray Independent Schools and Murray State University’s centennial.

Readers will find a wealth of topics in the book, evidenced in the 17-page spreadsheet the team of three used to track the progress of individual sections and topics and to record the status of each one. Donna Herndon, for instance, contributed a piece about Beale Hardware; Kristin Taylor captured the history of Dairy Queen; Shawn Dunnaway summarized key points about Cemetery Island, and retired judge Bill Cunningham related facts and insights regarding Pine Bluff.

Special attention was devoted to ensuring the book was inclusive. Debbie Jones Bell, using information from her Master’s thesis, wrote about Black schools in Calloway County in 1926. Danny Hudspeth provided an overview of Douglass School and its place in history. Regina Hudspeth contributed an article about the Douglass reunions.

There are too many references to list here and readers are forewarned that the finished product will comprise 400-500 pages.

Now that the book is on its way, Randy Patterson vows “to get back to my normal life.” His involvement in the project has sparked his interest in topics that have not been well documented, such as the identities of the Calloway soldiers, including an ancestor, who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

No doubt that Bobbie Smith Bryant breathed a sigh of relief when the manuscript was sent to the printer. Regardless of the challenges, however, she is glad she and the others were willing to address them. “It allowed me to re-connect with my hometown and to meet new people,” she explained.

Pat Seiber shared an insight about history from historian Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. He said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

“I love Calloway County,” she declared. “I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else.”

Pre-orders for Calloway County Kentucky: The First 200 Years, 1822-2022 are underway. Download and print the order form or order online. The pre-sale price is $44.95. Retail is $49.95. A leatherbound version will sell for $79.95.

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