Last night…I took visiting friend and researcher Carl Carlson-Drexler to Bayou Bistro after a long day looking at Civil War-related sites in Hempstead and Nevada Counties…
Tag Archives: Columbia County
When you think of activists for the separation of church and state you probably think of Madalyn Murray O’Hare–the founder of the American Atheiest movement who was murdered in 1995 in Austin, Texas (one of my former hometowns…In fact, I recently learned that I rented a storage unit in the same complex that the O’Hare’s stolen gold coins had been stashed)…
But before Ms. O’Hare there was another woman who fought for the separation of church and state…and that woman, Vashti McCollum (shown to the right), has an unexpected connection to Columbia County…and as we are coming up on the one year anniversary of her passing, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit Vashti’s story.
Vashti Cromwell McCollum (November 6, 1912–August 20, 2006) was the plaintiff in a landmark 1948 Supreme Court case that struck down religious education in the public schools. She had been born and raised in New York…Her father, a disabled World War I vet, was an architect and an atheist who successfully lobbied the state of New York to end religious classes in public schools there…Vashti moved to Champaign-Urbana in order to attend the University of Illinois…there she met Dr. John P. MCCollum, a professor of horticulture, whom she married in 1933.
James McCollum (shown to the left), the first of Ms. McCollum’s three sons, was in fourth grade in a Champaign school when he was required to take religious classes during school. The classes were held on campus, were taught by a former missionary to China, and were mainly a Protestant program…Ms. McCollum, of course, did not approve and fought a long battle in the courts…the US Supreme Court eventually agreed to hear the case, and on March 9, 1948, it delivered an 8-to-1 decision saying that the religious education classes in Champaign’s public schools violated the constitutional provisions for separation of church and state.
Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black stated that “The First Amendment has erected a wall between the church and the state which must be kept high and impregnable.” According to James McCollum “the significance of the decision was that it was the first case of impression that held the several states accountable to the strictures of the establishment of religion clause of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution under the aegis of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.” All cases, involving school prayers, aid to parochial schools, sectarian religious displays on public property and other such incursions into Jefferson’s wall of “separation of church and state” by the states and their municipalities, descend from this case.
The McCollums have historical connections to southwestern Arkansas and Columbia County (The family name is listed in the Goodspeed’s History in 1889)…and James McCollum, the child that Vashti acted on behalf of, has returned to the area…Jim, a retired lawyer, now lives in Emerson just south of Magnolia. He is an employee of SAU, a student in the Agricultural program and he remains active in Americans United for the Separation of Church and State…He and his wife (who, interestingly enough, teaches religious studies at SAU) have become friends of mine…hell, Jim was even my sponsor into the Magnolia Rotary.
On last thing…Jim is fond of pointing out that Vashti was named for the queen of Ahasuerus in the first book of Esther who was one of the few biblical women to stand up for women’s rights. I think that’s a pretty cool fact.
Check out the brief biography of Vashti written by Jim here:
The Old Frazier Plantation was built in what was then still part of Lafayette County, Arkansas, in 1852…It still survives, and has become something of a landmark of regional (and in many ways state-level) importance. However, it is known now as “Frog Level.”
William Frazier built this great example of Greek revival architecture, but the current owner is attorney Joe Woodward. Yesterday I visited Frog Level for the second time (the first time was about a year ago when one of my volunteers, Vernon Perry, was initially giving me a tour of the county). Yesterday, I visited because I had run into Mr. Woodward at a historic preservation meeting in Magnolia the night before…he told me that one of the chimneys at Frog Level had fallen during the fierce winds we had had during a storm a few days earlier…He also told me that the insurance adjuster was coming out and that if I wanted to tag along, I was welcome.
So Anthony Clay Netwon (local professional archaeological technician and AAS volunteer) and I headed out to Frog Level for a look around…we got to see what a 1850s chimney fall looks like when it is fresh for a change…although the chimney had been encased in a light concrete-type stucco sometime in the 1940s-50s…beneath the stucco were the handmade bricks…soft-fired with one dry struck surface…the bright orange bricks were made of the local sandy clay and really had very few inclusions (i.e., tempering agents such as fired clay, horse hair, etc.).
Although we had come out to Frog Level to document the fall, we also wanted to look into possibly doing some archeological work at the plantation site….aside from the impressive standing home, there would have been many outbuildings and other structures that served the plantation and surrounding community.
For instance, only a few hundred feet from the house—at its current gated entrance–is a marker designating the place at which the Ferguson and Morgan store once stood. Although most folks in Columbia County think that the house itself served as the first County Courthouse, it was this store that hosted the first terms of County Court (held on March 21, 1853). At the first County Court two men, Ananias Godbolt (whose plantation site is now in Nevada County….I hope to investigate that one as well) and Andrew J. Thompson were appointed commissioners to locate a site for a permanent county seat. They found a higher elevation nearer the center of the new county—the current site of Magnolia, Arkansas.
Not only was this store the “seat of justice” for a brief time in Columbia County, but it also would have been (for a much longer period of time) an important nexus point for the larger community as a place were goods were bought and sold…and a place were neighbors met, information was passed along and, in reality, a community born.
I am very interested in using archaeology to shed some light of the Ferguson and Morgan store…as well as the many other buildings at Frazier Plantation and the other homes that made up the Frog Level community…Frog Level community….that brings me to my final point.
One of the things that clearly impressed me with Mr. Woodward was his ability to cut through many of the myths surrounding Frog Level and to more clearly understand the “history behind the story.” Early avocational historians such as Hattie Kilgore and Mary Davis Woodward used to say that the name “Frog Level” was “first given to the imposing structure by a young attorney, B. F. Askew; the name was chosen because the frogs were so numerous in the bottoms near-by” (Woodward 1949). Both Joe Woodward and I believe that Frog Level was originally a name used to refer to the greater community in the area–the name was probably taken from some settlers past experience in Frog Level, North Carolina (or Virginia, Alabama, Georgia…take your pick)…as the community shrank and moved to Magnolia, the main house at the Frazier Plantation became the only part of Frog Level left…thus the house became known as “Frog Level.”
At any rate, I plan to revisit Frog Level in the fall (when the foliage is gone) and map out the potential locations of outbuildings and other house places…maybe we’ll do our first SAU Spring Break dig at Frog Level…I’ll keep you posted.
Woodward, Mary Davis
1949 “‘Frog Level,’ Oldest House in Columbia County,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 8 (Spring 1949): 327-30.
Magnolia is in a dry county…and therefore has few venues for live music…I am therefore surprised to find a bunch of videos from Magnolia bands and hip-hop groups on YouTube…It has to be a real indicator that the digital age is allowing more folks access to the technologies to let their creativity be heard…man, I wish I could have done this in Eva, Tennessee in the 1970s!
At any rate, check out the video below…JDBfromtheMAG Presents “Mingle”: The Ode to the Block…I like it because its raw and it shows lots of scenes of Magnolia neighborhoods…It was posted in March of 2007.