William James Edwards, the founder of Snow Hill Institute writes in his
biography,Twenty-five Years in the Black Belt:
"As the time was nearing for my graduation, I was deeply worried about
my Commencement suit. All of the other members of the class were sending
home for their suits or for the money with which to get them, but I knew
that my aunt was not able to help me, so I was at a loss to know where I
should get mine. Finally, I decided to write to Mr. R. O. Simpson of
Furman, Alabama, the man on whose plantation I was reared, and ask him to
loan me fifteen dollars. I prayed during the entire time it took me to
write the letter and when I had sealed it I prayed over it again. In two
days' time I had an answer with the fifteen dollars. So all of my troubles
and worries were banished and I proceeded to get ready for Commencement. I
graduated second, with a class of twenty, on May 17, 1893. Our class motto
was "Deeds Not Words." (Twenty-five Years in the Black Belt, William
James Edwards, p. 14)"
"Thus far, I have spoken of the assistance given me by the colored
people and teachers, but no chapter about the founding of Snow Hill
Institute would be complete without a mention of Mr. R. O. Simpson, the
white man on whose plantation I was reared. Mr. Simpson must have known me
from my birth. I well remember that in '78 and '79 he used to stop by to
see my old grandmother when riding over his plantation. I think that my
grandmother prepared meals for him on some of these visits to the
plantation. I also remember that after the death of grandmother, when I
was sick and living with my aunt Rina, some days he would see me lying on
the roadside and would toss me a coin."
"On my return from Tuskegee I found Mr. Simpson deeply interested in
the welfare of my people; in fact, it seemed as if he was looking for some
one to start an industrial school upon his place. We had many talks
together. When he found out that I had returned to cast my lot with my
people, he seemed highly pleased and said that he would give a few acres
for he school if I thought I could use it to advantage. I decided that
this was my opportunity and told him that I could. He first gave seven
acres, and then thirty-three, and finally sixty more, making in all one
hundred acres that he gave the school. In later years we bought one-half
of his plantation, making in all nearly two thousand acres. While all of
the white people in Snow Hill have been friendly towards the work, I have
found Mr. Simpson and his entire family to be our particular friends and I
have yet to go to them for a favor and be refused." (Twenty-five
Years in the Black Belt, William James Edwards, p. 39-40)
The account of William James Edwards (whose grandson is the filmmaker
Spike Lee) is so moving and inspirational I am amazed that I had not heard
before of this inspiring man and this part of Wilcox County history.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon it before my father died.
Dr. Elkanah George Burson, Jr. is now 91 years old and afflicted with
macular degeneration. But his vision to past events still remains
"Daddy," I asked. "You own property that you call the 'Simpson
Place' in Furman. Do you remember a man named Mr. R. O. Simpson?"
Daddy thought awhile. "I remember Miss Martha Simpson and Miss
Mary Simpson. And there was a Wade Simpson that ran a store over
near Snow Hill. I think their Daddy might have been R. O. Simpson.
They had a big white house just past Daddy's office downtown in Furman.
I think it was sold to a man from Monroeville and then it burned down," he
I told Daddy about what I had read that Mr. William James Edwards had
said about Mr. R. O. Simpson.
Daddy said, "I met Dr. George Washington Carver over at Snow Hill
Institute. In those days that was a thriving educational
institution. I would go there to hear Speakers that came there from
all over to talk. Thought I could learn something from them.
There was an auditorium where Black folks and White folks would come
together to learn from those educated people. I must have been about
12 - 14 years old. I remember driving up that road in a Model T.
There was not then the dissension between Blacks and Whites that came
about later. I don't remember anything about the Klan. We all
sat together and learned from those who came to talk. I was impressed with
the scholarly gentleman."
I had not realized what a boon that Institute was to all in Wilcox
County, indeed to folks who wanted to learn from all over.
I would surely love to meet Miss Consuela Lee, Edwards daughter, and
his grandson, Donald P. Stone, author of
Fallen Prince: William James Edwards,
Black Education and the Quest for Afro American Nationality.
Consuela Lee is an accomplished
Wilcox County is rich
with history and inspirational with the story of those who have grown and