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MURRAY COUNTY CHARACTERS
Levi Branham

In Mr. Branham's autobiography, My Life and Travels, he reflected on his life as a slave on the plantation of Mr. James Edmondson of Murray County. Mr. Edmondson was the father of Thomas Polk Edmondson, a local Civil War hero. Levi was born in 1852 and was sold to Mr. Edmondson by an area physician named Dr. Black. He remembers his first white playmate as Sam Carter and recalls how he spent most of his young adult life living on the Edmondson property, which previously belonged to Chief Joseph Vann. He speaks fondly of his master's children John and Tom Polk and also "Miss Beckie," who took care of him as well as his own mother would have. Levi's mother was a slave in Tennessee.

Mr. Branham described the Vann House in great detail and recalls some of his duties of putting up visitor's horses, shining shoes and helping plow the field. One of his fondest recollections is being sent to the town of Dover with some other Negroes to fast and pray for the end of the war in 1865. His prayer was "O Lord, please help Abraham Lincoln to whip Jefferson Davis." However, when he returned home and Mr. Edmondson asked him how he prayed, his reply then became "Oh Lord, please help Jefferson Davis to whip Abraham Lincoln." Mr. Edmondson gave him a half dollar for "praying right". Mr. Branham reminisces about living through three great wars; the Civil War, the Cuban War and the First World War.

Levi began teaching in July, 1877. According to his granddaughter Kate Kemp, he was the first black teacher in the county. It was very unusual during that time period for a black man to be able to read and write. The two people that encouraged Levi to teach were Blank Rivers and Major Wilson. However, Major Wilson was a bit more forceful in his request. He threatened to force the Klan on Levi if he did not choose to teach. Levi's first job paid sixty-two dollars for three months work. While teaching in Murray County, he had between twenty and twenty-five students. He also taught what he called Sabbath school on Sundays. He speaks very highly of two students Leon McCamy and West S. Bailey, both who later became ministers. Levi said the things he strived most to teach his scholars were honesty and being polite.

Levi married Amanda McDade, who was half Native American, on December 15, 1880. They were the parents of nine children, sadly three of them, Carrie, Katie and Luke died before reaching adulthood. The other children were Lewis, Houston, Eula, Joe, Essie, and Matthew. Levi and Amanda were affectionately known as Uncle Boisey and Aunt Mandy by both the young and the old of the area.

Mr. Branham also speaks about his encounters with members of the Ku Klux Klan in Murray County in the 1870's through the 1890's. He speaks of an incident involving Bill Roper, who is also mentioned in this book, being thrown in a pit by the Klan and surviving. Several incidents were described where the Klan carried out their own kind of justice, two specific stories included the hangings of John Ward and Carter Griffin and a third was the shooting of John Duncan. Mr. Branham even tells of the Klan coming by his farm to borrow mules to use during raids but that he did not recognize them in their white caps.

Mr. Branham's contributions to education were recognized by the citizens of Murray County when the Central Office located on Chestnut Street was named in his honor. This building was originally a schoolhouse for black children in the county. Levi and Amanda's descendents are still a part of Murray County today; their granddaughter, Mrs. Kate Kemp resides here. They would be proud to know that several of their descendents continue to be educators.



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