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Pernell Roberts . . . This is your life!

Pernell Roberts . . . This is your life!

 

A fascinating new series coming next on the People of One Fire

In its originally format the People of One Fire Newsletter was just a typed email, sent to a small mailing list.  In 2008, I shifted to creating elaborate E-zines, which required weeks to prepare and thus only went out sporadically.  A week or so after the first Ezine was sent out, I received a brief email from someone named P. Roberts.  The woman asked if she could be a subscriber even though she was not a member of our organization.   The only other thing she said was that like me, she was also from Waycross, GA.  I didn’t give the email much thought.  I assumed that this lady was a friend of one our founding members, Michael Jacobs, who was the Historic Preservation Planner for a regional agency in Waycross.   Back then, it was real typical for single women to use an initial for the first name in emails, so that strangers wouldn’t know that they were females.   A couple of weeks later, The Roberts Foundation (or some name like that) sent me an unsolicited donation for $100 . . . “to help out our research into the history of the Creek People.”   Occasionally,  P. Roberts would email short comments for articles on sites in southern Georgia.  The longest one was for an article about an archaeological study of the Okefenokee Swamp, which identified 78 mounds on islands in the swamp.  They were from a “lost civilization” that is still under the radar of most archaeologists.

About six weeks after I received an unexpected 3-day eviction notice on December 21, 2009,  I received another email from P. Roberts. I had been cut off from direct communication with the outside world and had to journey into Robbinsville, NC to get email from a computer in the county library.  However, this email was from the secretary of P. Roberts.  It said, “As you know Mr. Roberts passed away on January 24.  We are closing his email account. Could you please remove his name from the subscription list.  He always enjoyed reading your newsletters.

Is that not weird?   Members of the occult in FannieMae, a law firm and a real estate firm rigged things so I would be evicted exactly a month before this person, who was obviously the famous actor, Pernell Roberts, died.

Then . . . around March 1st, 2010,  I received a strange manila envelope that had been forwarded from my former home address to a Post Office box in Blairsville, GA . . . which I kept in order to maintain my status as a Georgia Architect.   It was from a San Francisco law firm, so my first thought was that it contained loan closing papers.  FannieMae had relented on their refusal to go ahead with my mitigation loan, even though they had “mistakenly” evicted me in December.  

That it was not . . . There was a brief note, stating that “Our client, Mr. Pernell Roberts, wanted you to have these documents.  There is no need to contact this firm any further on this matter.”   It was his life story in photographs, photocopies of high school events, old letters and newspaper clippings . . . from his birth certificate to his obituaries.  Geez!  We were almost identical as teenagers.  The parcel contained all sorts of details about his life, that no one in the media knows.   Well,  only someone like me would understand some of those details.  Although I have no memory of meeting him in person as a child, I probably did.  His father owned an insurance office that shared a party wall with a short-order restaurant owned by my birth certificate father.  We were born in the same hospital,  both attended Trinity Methodist Church, grew up in the same neighborhood and played in the same park with its giant chestnut tree . . . although he had moved away from Waycross, by the time I was born.  When I was six months old, Pernell’s father dropped me headfirst on a concrete floor for no explicable reason.  That is why I am so hard-headed nowadays.   LOL

Both Pernell Roberts and I were born in this hospital. Trinity Methodist, was across the street.

I really didn’t have time to read all of the documents and certainly did not want to expose them to the winter weather of a camp site.  I quickly drove to another town, where my furniture was in storage, then hid the envelope in the drawer of a dresser. 

My immediate shock, though, came when I realized that Pernell had lived a double life.  Unlike Burt Reynolds, who constantly elaborated on his fictionalized Native American heritage,  Pernell kept his Creek heritage a secret.  However, in his privacy he gave generously to Native American causes throughout his life and put many Native American young people through college.

I found that envelope yesterday and also a box full of photographs taken by my mother in the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.  The photos document the rural and smalltown South before the arrival of air conditioning.  They also include a photo of me, standing in front of the Roberts Insurance Agency at age 3!   Air conditioning sparked a boom that has never really ended . . . but it also caused people to forget a way of life that is now gone with the wind. 

The Old Waycross Auditorium. Across the street from the old Waycross Auditorium was the Roberts Insurance Agency and Oak Street Restaurant. One of my most vivid memories from childhood was seeing a young Elvis Presley come in the restaurant with a black eye and torn shirt to ask for a steak to put over his eye. A boyfriend of a teenybopper, enthralled with Elvis, had attacked him after the show.

 

Most Southeastern Native Americans did not grow up in desolate western reservations or even the “nations” of Oklahoma.  We grew up in a world in which being Injun was rarely discussed in public, but also in a culture, which is far-more indebted to Creek and Uchee cultural traditions than most people realized.  Southern Fried Chicken, hush puppies, batter-fried catfish and grits began with the Creeks. We are going to take you back to an era, when Mixed-blood Creek Swampers rode in their mule wagons to Downtown Waycross to shop on Tebeau Street.  

Readers from around the world will enjoy this journey into the past.

 

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

8 Comments

  1. chasjjr1@gmail.com'

    You didn’t mention that he was a fellow Georgia Tech grad.

    Reply
    • Actually, it is weirder than that! Both of us were talented drummers in rock bands and football stars in high school. Both of us went off to Georgia Tech to study architecture. He flunked out. I graduated. When he returned to Waycross, he then decided that he wanted to become a Methodist minister and began teaching my mother’s Sunday School class. However, he became disillusioned with churches because of the hypocrisy associated with segregation at that time. He then left for New York City to study acting.

      Reply
      • chasjjr1@gmail.com'

        Richard that is weird. You know when I was in high school in Jacksonville I was neighbors with the late Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band. He lived about 4 houses down from me, went to my high school, played drums in our high school band. I drove him to a concert he was to play at in the group he was in before the Allmans. It was sad to hear he blew his brains out down in West Palm. He scored a 465 out of 495 on the Florida 12th grade test administered in high schools statewide in Florida, and I scored a 409. He went to grad school at FSU in music for awhile.

        Reply
        • Several of my high school classmates, who were extremely popular and either class or school officers also died very young – most before the age of 21. Most overdosed on drugs. One killed herself. One was killed in a drug deal gone bad in the Georgia State University parking decks.

          Reply
          • chasjjr1@gmail.com'

            Richard, I think we’ll be able to get through the closing of the commercial area of Google+. I don’t do any finance with Google+ so I guess I’ll be exempt from the closing, I don’t do any Ad Sense. The way all the news articles are wording it makes it sound like all of Google+ will close, but reading them through and you read that just the commercial part will get closed.

  2. silverton4@silverton4.net'

    About indians in the southeast; I grew up in a little town with lots of mixed blood people. There was no stigma attached to being indian, or mixed. I was an adult before I ever heard any racial slurs directed at indians, and that was far from home. There were a few Catawba kids in school with me and nobody even seemed to notice that they were any different from anybody else.

    Iguess the further west you go, the more racial animosity between indians and other races you see.

    Reply
    • EE, if you grew up in a town with a large mixed blood Native American population, you are eligible for enrollment in the Coweta Creek Confederacy. One division of the Creek Confederacy was composed of Catawba towns that relocated to Georgia. The elite of the Catawba were Creeks from the Upper Chattahoochee Basin between Atlanta and Gainesville. Look at maps from the early and mid-1700s and you will see the word Kataapa . . . that’s the home province of the Catawba elite. It is a Maya word, which means “Place of the Crown.”

      Reply
      • silverton4@silverton4.net'

        Thanks, but I’m not looking for enrollment with any group. My comment is that there’s no stigma attached to being indian where I come from. There are families there who are obviously indian with the surnames Ward, Ross, Adair, Baker, Fite (Cherokee names) and Brown, Blue, Harris, Sanders (Catawba) and Marret, Thornton and Hawkins (Creek?).

        My family is related to the Bakers, but Mom’s side is from a great grandpa who was (I think) Maliseet from Canada. Funny how indian descendants tend to marry other indian descendants in the South without much mention of their ancestry.

        Reply

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