My name is Aretha Neal Thompson. Forsyth (Monroe County) is my home. For the last 70 years I have lived here, other than four years when I lived in Waco, Texas and a year and a half when I lived in Yazoo City, Miss. I would like to share some of the “firsts” among the African American community as I remember. This information is not all inclusive, and I welcome others to join me as I put pen to paper to record my knowledge of my home town.
The first county fireman was Frank Redding. He also had an outstanding football career at Hubbard High School and Fort Valley State University, which led to his being an inaugural member in the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame. Other first county firemen are Fred Pope and Elliot Chambliss.
The first city firemen were S.T. Stroud and John Lee Scandrett, Clinton Moore, Danny Davis, Ben Colbert, Bobby Lucear and Henry Hill.
The first City of Forsyth Police Chief was Benjamin Ponder. Others include Arthur Phillips and Eddie Harris. The first city police officer was Joe Nelson Laster. The first male city council member was Charles Wilder, who was also an educator and the first Boy Scout leader.
The first female member of the Monroe County Hospital Authority was Elizabeth Davis Willis. Other members of the Hospital Authority were Cecil Porter and Marian Macmillian. The first female city council member was Aretha Neal, who was also the first Monroe County Hospital Authority Chairwoman and the first Classic Club “Classic Woman”.
The first Monroe County commissioner was Larry Evans. The first county librarian was Marilyn Smith.
The first Silver Hair Legislator and first female to run for a county commission seat was Rubye James Watts. She established the first Girl Scout troop in Monroe County among the African American community and was the first leader along with Lula Dillard. The Brownie Scout leaders were Nellie Mae Wynn Dumas, Mable O’Neal and Elizabeth Washington.
The first dry cleaner, bail bondsman and entrepreneur (with a cafe, pool room and record shop) was Paul James. Willie Slappey and Julius and Mildred Stroud also established dry cleaning businesses.
Owners of neighborhood convenience stores were Mattie Battle and Joe Clement. They both had stores and gas stations. Other local stores owned by African Americans included Roxie Moore’s Place on Barnesville Road, Daisy Davis’ Store on Jones Street, Edgar Benjamin’s Store on Jones Street, Hannah Smith’s Store on Highway 83 North, Joe Hammond’s Store on James Street and Henrietta Lester’s Store on James Street.
The first all black movie theater in Monroe County was on Solomon Street in Forsyth where the House of God Holiness Church is now located.
Local places for night life and entertainment included the Road Side Inn on Highway 83 South, the 77 Club, The Hole on Union Hill Drive, Blue Moon on Barnesville Road, Nannie L. Green’s Place in Culloden, Dew Drop Inn & Convenience Store, Tall Pine Inn/ Turning Point on Blount Hill, Mind Blower’s Club on Highway 83 North, Silver Shadow on Highway 83 North, Shine’s Place, Rabbit Box on Barnesville Road, American Legion Post 569 on Culloden Road/ Highway 83 South.
Some of the restaurants owned by African Americans were Dave Jones’ Bar-B-Que on Culloden Road, Morgan’s Bar-B-Que on Old Water Works Road, Jimmy Rutland’s Place where Sadie Jackson was the cook, Paul James Cafe where Evelyn Mays was the cook, Shebby White Bar-B-Que on Highway 83 North and Grand Pa’s Picnic.
Many of the business establishments were on Culloden Road, which was changed to “Martin Luther King Jr. Drive” by city councilman James Calloway.
The first family to be featured in Ebony Magazine was the Earnest and Jessie Mae Brown family.
The first students to graduate from Mary Person High School were Patricia Redding Davis, Gloria Davis Drewery, Rosemary King Alexander and Donald Thurman.
The first court bailiff was Mary Brown Sewell. Others were Doris Ogletree, Flossie Davis, Wilhemina Willis, James Shannon and Benjamin Ponder.
The first Board of Education member was David Penamon of Culloden. The first school patrol officer was Eva Ponder Mays.
The first LPN was Elizabeth Rutherford Hart. She worked for Dr. George Alexander and the Monroe County Hospital. The first LPN that worked for Dr. Walter Bramblett was Ruth Watkins. The first LPN that worked for Dr. Hodges and dentist Mitchell was Fannie Mae Watts.
Midwives of Forsyth and Monroe County were Carrie Battle, Lizzie Brantley and Hester Hogan.
The first elected black mayor was John Howard. Forsyth city council members were Charles Wilder, George Willis, Aretha Neal, Linda Hampton, Rosemary Walker, Robert Grier, Melvin Lawrence, Ralph Ogletree, James Calloway, Julius Stroud, Dexter King, and Desi Hansford.
The current Monroe County commissioner is Lamarcus Davis.
The first Forsyth/Monroe County photographer was Robert “Yea Boy” Thomas Sr.
Grand Pa’s Picnic on Barnesville Road held a celebration in the Spring around May 1 with a May Pole, coin operated pony rides and merry-go-round. There was bar-b-que, homemade ice cream and fried fish. School closed early in the day for children to attend.
Beauty shops included Anna Slappey’s Beauty Shop on College Street, Ellen Barnes’ Beauty Shop on Culloden Road, Marilyn’s Hair Emporium on Persons Street and Culloden Road, Estelle Slappey’s Beauty Shop on Culloden Road.
Barber Shops included Dillard’s Barber Shop where Walter Dillard and Oretha Sewell were the barbers, Davis Barber Shop where Mose Davis was the barber, Love Barber Shop where James Love and Larry Smith were the barbers.
The first service station was the J & H Shell Station owned by Julius and Mildred Stroud on Barnesville Road. The first black deputy for the Sheriff’s Department was Julius Stroud. The first car dealership was L & R Motors owned by Luther and Roberta Smith.
The first laundromats were the Culloden Road Laundromat and the Stroud Laundromat owned by Julius and Mildred Stroud.
The first Board of Education secretary was Lena Jones. The first flight attendant was Johnnie Jossey Sylvain. The first Allstate Insurance agent was Jane Scandrett Pennington.
The first Grave & Vault Company was owned by Dave Jones. The first childcare center was owned by Elizabeth Davis Willis at the old grammar school building at Kynette Park. Earnestine Danielle Child Care was located at her home on Culloden Road. Monroe County Day Care was the first federally funded and licensed child care serving Forsyth and Monroe County. Earnestine Crowder’s Tiny Tots Child Care was located at her home on Washington Drive.
Happy Haven Child Care on Zellner Street was owned and managed by Ruby Evans Scrandrett. Shannon Child Care was owned and managed by Tina Shannon on Willis Wilder Drive. Annette Lucear had a family home day care program providing child care and healthy meals to families in Forsyth and Monroe County County.
The first funeral homes were Wright & Son Funeral Home, owned by Julian Wright, and Freeman Funeral Home. Freeman Funeral Home was originally owned by Frank Freeman, then James and Frank Freeman Jr. and now James Freeman Jr. Joseph Washington and George Willis Sr. Funeral Home became Willis People’s Funeral owned by George Willis Sr. It is now Willis Funeral Services, Inc. owned by George Willis Jr.