Postcard from Pine Apple, Alabama

Pine Apple Town Hall

Throughout my cemetery-hopping travels, I’ve stumbled over the Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery in Pine Apple before. Once, I went there on purpose, because I saw the name on a map and asked my papaw about it (because he grew up in the area), and I was curious to put some of my own images to the cute name (named for a mix of Pine and Apple trees, BTW). On our way back from the beach over Thanksgiving holiday, we stopped in and did a quick drive through. We stopped at a couple of cemeteries to poke around just as the sun was going down.

For the record, I would like to state, the little community is beautiful and peaceful. There are lots of old houses (which I adore). And both times I traveled through, I felt a sort of eerie but tranquil calmness slip over me. So there’s conflict, inside me, I feel, or there was, at the time/s. But about the second time…

I was grumpy and sleepy…and teetering over the wrong side of vacation’s-over sober. I snapped some quick pictures in the very bad lighting. In the back corner of the graveyard, there’s this statue of a chubby man in a top hat and fancy suit…

I said, standing at the base of the memorial, hands on hips evaluating, a bit too loudly for such a hateful thought, “This guy looks like a real jerk. I bet he was. Look at him with that fancy suit and pot belly. In all the movies about this time period, the guys with the big gut and the fancy hat are always real pricks.” Or something. I probably shouldn’t have used quotations because I can’t be sure it’s exactly what I said, but if memory serves me well…

Anyhow, I forgot about the photo. I forgot about the guy. Then, this morning, I finally got around to going through the last of the folders of trip pictures, and I saw it and remembered to look him up and see what I could find.

Sure enough, my new go-to for Alabama historical homes and monuments RuralSWAlabama.org had *some* information on Mr. Melton, the cement guy in the cemetery.

  • Shown is a full-length, two-thirds life-size statue of William Joseph Melton that’s located in the Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery at Pine Apple, AL. William Joseph Melton (1846 – 1900), was a wealthy plantation owner in Wilcox County who became very active in politics. He had a big influence on business and community matters in eastern Wilcox County. His daughter Corrie took a photograph of her father with her on a trip to Europe where she commissioned an Italian sculptor to carve a statue of her father. The statue was shipped from Italy to Claiborne, AL by boat. When it arrived at Pine Apple, church members stopped the statue from being erected in the cemetery because they felt it was a graven image, prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Eventually, permission was to given to place the monument in the cemetery, but only if it was lying down. Later, permission was given to allow the statue to be erected in its upright position.
  • The Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery where this statue is located is on Broad Street approximately 0.6 mile north of downtown Pine Apple, AL (GPS coordinates 31.881081, -86.990160).
  • Source: National Register of Historic Places “Pine Apple Historic District” Registration Form

And then I found another site:

Like many communities throughout the South, Pine Apple has experienced some racial disturbances. One such disturbance is described by historian Douglas A. Blackmon.

  • According to Blackmon, one of the more interesting historical sites in Pine Apple is the cemetery of the Friendship Baptist Church. The site includes the graves of residents born before Alabama became a state and the grave of William Joseph Melton (1846-1900). Although the wealth of the Melton family was attributed to the turn-of-the-century cotton boom, the family did not have access to the free labor of slaves to harvest crops. Instead, Blackmon relates, some of the Meltons used fear and intimidation to compel blacks to work for them and the practices led to suggestions of involuntary servitude and peonage.
  • Blackmon says that four years after William Joseph Melton’s death, on the eve of his daughter Leila’s wedding, a cousin (Evander “Pig” Melton) was shot and wounded after participating in a craps game with a group of black men. Arthur Stuart, a black man who happened to be nearby, but who was probably innocent, was apprehended. Townspeople, with the complicity of the town constable, broke into the local jail where Stuart was being held, beat Stuart and started a fire. The fire engulfed Stuart’s cell, the jail, the bank and other surrounding buildings, killing Stuart and burning parts of the town to the ground. Three weeks later, Melton died from his gunshot wounds.
  • No one was ever charged with Arthur Stuart’s death and no Meltons were ever prosecuted for mistreatment of local blacks.
  • One year after the murder of Arthur Stuart, Pine Apple was also the site of the lynching of the brothers Edward and William Plowly who were accused of murdering a white man.
  • Remarkably, in spite of this history, Pine Apple is the hometown of Prince Arnold, who in 1978 became the first black sheriff of Wilcox County.
Dog outside the post office, he was not impressed with me or my camera, I feel 🙂

After doing just basic reading on the history of the tiny-little mapdot place, I think, now, the spooky, unsettled feeling I felt while there could be explained–the history, the pain and suffering and conflict, this place is haunted. It has a history. So much life was lived here, good, bad…and surely terrible. And present-day, at what for now is the ‘end of it’, it still stands, beautiful, peaceful…what’s left and what’s to come.

I love these little, way-out-of-the-way places. Ever since I was a kid, I remember watching TV shows and movies, reading books about times long ago, and trying to imagine what the modern world looked like back then. I love cemeteries for this reason, too. To just sit or stand and be still and quiet, wait for the wind to pick up and blow the Spanish moss in the trees around…and imagine all the feet that stood where you’re standing, who they belonged to, what was going on in the lives of those people…fills my middle with the good kind of restlessness.

Pine Apple Public Library

In hindsight, it’s not fair of me to assume the man in the statue was a bad man, it was just a goofy thought that popped into my grumpy head, at the time. Even if he *was* a bad man (certain evidence points toward a ‘mmhmm’), it’s unkind of me to say so because I know he has family (down the line) who are still around and who it might hurt to read such hateful things about their relatives. So I regret saying what I said, because it was mean-spirited and ignorant of me. I think I felt compelled to tell the truth even if it meant outting myself and my spiritual imperfections (THAT’S RIGHT! I AM NOT A PERFECT PERSON–try not to die of shock hehe) because the truth is important to me…which is another reason I love doing research about the places and people who/that came before me, which is probably a good reason to keep researching until I have the best possible version of ‘the truth’, the real truth, all sides of it, every angle, I suppose.

By the way…

Because I can’t publish this post without repeating for the 100th time…

I think people in the south get a bad rap for turning a blind eye to the very ugly parts of our history. Typically, when speaking about our history, people like to talk about hoop skirts, magnolia trees, bad accents, brother-cousins…and violent murders and racism, the latter four more often than not, which puts the rest of us on the offense, very quickly because we know what outsiders do not know–there’s more, there’s better. Maybe, what I’m here to say is, there’s all of it…and then some. Like any place, person, or creature you love, you have to take (all of) it for exactly what it was, is, and will be, wholeheartedly and honestly, or you might as well leave it be in the first place.

As for Pine Apple, I lost my old photos from the first trip, but here’s a couple of links to more photos:

 

 

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