No matter the generation, the Square has a feeling all its own, but no more so than at sunrise.
So hushed you can hear rubber meeting road. Easing the boat down the hill by Neilson’s and up to the Ice House dock. Jumping out to get the ice chests, one for the fish and one for us. And then our collective memories see the hooks at work and hear the chipper crunching. And working the dock is an Oxford icon for sure, James Barr. But he’s a man you only thought you knew.
Generation upon generation of Mr. James Barr’s family rests in Lafayette County earth. They were emancipated by Lincoln in 1863, and the County in 1865. The Barrs went on to build —-homes, churches, schools, and families — under deep south segregation. Already respected among the black folks of Oxford’s Freedman Town, the family name then stepped over all lines to leave it’s mark on world literary history.
When Sherwood Anderson told William Faulkner to write about what he knew … he was right. Faulkner left New Orleans for Oxford. From there on, raw, racial Lafayette County, and the relationships between southern white men and black men, stepped across all literary lines. His words came from home and the people he knew.
Billy was five, and Caroline “Mammy Callie” Barr knew him well. It was 1902 when she came to work for Murry and Maud Falkner as nannie to the three Falkner boys. And, in the end, after a life time of loving her, Nobel Laureate Faulkner deeply mourned her passing. At age 100, Miss Caroline Barr died and Billy Falkner had never left her side, providing for her till the end. And making all arrangements himself, Caroline Barr’s funeral was held at Rowan Oak. Faulkner delivered her eulogy. Literary history records the Faulkner masterpiece, Go Down Moses, dedicated as follows:
“To Mammy Caroline Barr, Mississippi, [1840-1940]: Who was born in slavery and who gave to my family a fidelity without stint or calculation of recompense and to my childhood an immeasurable devotion and love.”
Courtesy of John Cofield, a hottytoddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, “Col.” J. R. Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.