By Carole Robinson, Staff Writer
The history of Franklin dates back to 1799 when Abram Maury founded it. History books tell the story of the Battle of Franklin. School children tour historic downtown, the Carter House and Carnton, but there is an area just south of the old Battle Ground Academy campus bordered by Granbury, Natchez and Carter streets that is steeped in a history many know nothing about despite the fact it played a large part in defining the character of Franklin and the people who lived here.
In his book, “Ruby’s Son; A Journey from Poverty to Peace,” Bobby Langley exposes the secrets – good and bad – of growing up poor in the 1940s and 50s in a small southern town. As he tells his family’s story the reader also realizes the unique and special qualities of this small southern town called Franklin.
Just up Columbia Avenue from downtown Franklin, nestled between fine homes with shade tress and a private prep school, Beasley Town was home to poor black and poor white families. The three room shotgun houses that lined the two barren streets of the community were originally built for workers at the Beasley saw mill. After the mill closed in 1948 they were rented to poor families. When the Langley family moved to Beasley Town from the family farm in the Duplex area of Williamson County, the uninsulated plank homes had no electricity and no indoor plumbing.
“All those people came off farms – black and white,” Bobby said. “God put us there – close to BGA so we had to go out everyday and filter into that world.”
In an era of segregation, the integrated residents of Beasley Town were years ahead of the outside world. They lived, socialized and took care of each other without regard to skin color.
“The best friends my mother had were black ladies who lived on Fairground Street,” he said.
Outside their little world, their forced integration impacted Franklin residents and protected them from the 1960s civil rights battles. Integration was already here – it started in Beasley Town.
“Race relations in Franklin has always been great,” Bobby said. “People cared for, took care of and loved each other.”
Bobby is the third of Ruby Irene Hammox and Tyree Eugene Langley’s six children. Tyree was the great grandson of a Civil War hero and would-be heir to a large family farm on Duplex Road near Spring Hill. He lost his claim due to a penchant for alcohol, which he never overcame and a reputation as a “skirt chaser.”
Ruby was the beautiful daughter of illiterate tenant farmers. Also illiterate and a slow learner, the scandal of her parents being first cousins – common in the depression-era rural south, but frowned upon in towns in the 1940s, weighed heavily on young Bobby, as did the poverty in which he lived and the world he saw just a block away.
“I was about 8 years old at a birthday party when I began to wonder about my mother’s family but I was older before I understood the situation she was born into,” he said. “Ruby was a great lady.”
But he tried hard to hide the poverty in which he lived and his mother’s situation.
It was the kindness of a community and people like Paul Lankford, Bill Miller, Papa John, Clint Thompson, Margaret Jewell, J.B. Akin and Coach Johnston and others who saw potential, provided opportunities and served as role models to the young boy.
“Franklin was like a little Peyton Place – everybody knew everything about you even though you tried to hide it,” he said.
Bobby’s own honesty and a strong work ethic that came from providing for his family from the age of 8 spurred him to continually strive to do better – to be the best and one day not be poor.
“It was a different world, then,” he said. “We didn’t stand around thinking why this and why that.”
At a time when 90 percent of the kids he knew who received free lunches in school dropped out of school because of the stigma, Bobby’s athletic ability saved him. It provided an outlet, kept him out of trouble, and although academically he didn’t do well, it gave him a reason to stay in school and an opportunity to make a mark. A basketball legend, for more than 50 years, Bobby Langley’s basketball scoring record at Franklin High School has yet to be broken and people still talk about the record-setting game.
The family’s journey to Beasley Town, dealing with the sigma of Tyree’s tuberculosis and Ruby’s parentage while trying to filter into a prospering community, Bobby Langley’s story is that of a child’s struggle to maintain his pride and a will to succeed while not loosing touch with his roots.
“There are thousands of Bobby Langleys in the world, born into situations they have no control over,” he said. “You got to find something. I want them to know there are other Paul Lankfords out there. I still have a lot of Beasley Town in me. I’m proud of it – I’m not ashamed anymore. Don’t live in fear; don’t live in shame – it can destroy you.”
Bobby Langley will be signing copies of “Ruby’s Son – A Journey from Poverty to Peace” in the commons area at The Factory in Franklin on Saturday May 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at the Williamson County Recreation Center on Hillsboro Road on Saturday May 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Copies may also be purchased directly from Bobby by calling 615-305-4104.
Contact Carole Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on: 5/12/2011