Monday, September 16, 2013

A Lesson in Equality

This picture captivated me from the first moment I saw it.

John A. Woody family and unknown black man
(Courtesy:  Christine Proctor)
The old man in the picture is John Quincy Adams Woody, a Civil War veteran who served as a private in the Thomas Legion from 1862 - 1863.  Presumably the others, excepting one, are some of his children and grandchildren.  But 'tis not them, nor the fine log home, nor the dog, nor the chickens in the photo that so captures my attention.  No - it is the black man in the middle. 

No one in the family is still living who remembers his name, where he was from, when he was born, how he came to live with the Woody's, or when and where he died.  But they do know one thing - John A. Woody considered him his friend.  In the post-Reconstruction era in the South, this relationship was quite an anomaly.  Blacks might have gained their freedom and the right to vote but had little else....certainly not the respect or friendship of most white folks during that time.  John was the exception, but his family - at least in the beginning - was the rule.

John Quincy Adams and Manerva Palestine (Bradshaw) Woody
(Courtesy:  Christine Proctor)
Shortly after the man came to live with the family, two of the older boys came by to stay a night or two with the family.  It was a time during which it was common for family members and passers-by to share a bed, and this night was no exception. The boys were horrified at the thought of having to share a bed with a colored man and fought viciously with one another over who would have to do so.  But John Woody, having none of it, decided to teach his sons a lesson.  He had the black man sleep in the middle of the bed, and the boys on either side of him.  The watchful John made certain that they stayed there all night.

The lesson was learned, and the man became a beloved member of the family, residing with them for many years.

There were precious few African-Americans on the North Shore of what is now Fontana Lake.  A few families described in the 1910 and 1920 Forney Creek Township census as either 'black', 'negro' or 'mulatto', moved into the area for the logging industry, residing on Hazel Creek and in the Forney area.  Another family lived in the Epps Springs community.  However, none may be found in census records pre-dating 1910, and none are found in any records with John A. Woody's family at any time.  Who was he? 

Sadly, his identity appears to be lost to history...but is his picture?

A cartoon showing the breadth of the
North Carolina 'Spanish Flu' epidemic

In 1918 and 1919, the 'Spanish Flu' epidemic swept across Swain County, claiming many lives in its relentless march. Despite its isolation, Hazel Creek was not to be spared, and there are a number of graves on the creek that attest to the epidemic's ferocity.  One of these lies on Sugar Fork, in the Higdon cemetery.  The stone simply reads, 'A Black Man'.  No one living remembers his name.....but they do remember that he was an elderly man who cared for many of Hazel Creek's flu victims before finally succumbing himself.  After he passed, he was buried at the Higdon Cemetery, but outside the fence.  Despite giving his life for the white folk on the creek, he was segregated from them in death.

The writing on the back of the Woody picture states that it was taken at Medlin, a community that lies just a short distance away from the Higdon cemetery and which was discussed in last week's blog post.  John Woody, who died in 1903, appears to be very old in the photo.  If the image was taken in the late 1890's or thereabouts, then the black man in it would have been much older by the time of the flu epidemic.   Is it possible that the Woody family's picture may reveal to us the face of the man buried in the Higdon cemetery?

'A Black Man' stone, Higdon Cemetery
(Mike Gourley,

We will never all likelihood it was not.  And yet, it is interesting to speculate. If the two men were one and the same, was his selfless care for the white folk of the community, which led to his own death, a way of  paying back the kindness and inclusion that John Woody and his family had provided him, a black man, over the years? 

When the park began granting access to the North Shore cemeteries, an effort was made to permanently mark the graves of those individuals who had only fieldstones denoting their final resting place.  This effort is ongoing, and hundreds of graves of known individuals have received small stones, rescuing them from anonymity.  When the Higdon cemetery was surveyed, folks recalled the man who had helped care for their kin, and the decision was made to provide a proper stone for him, despite not knowing his name.  But most symbolically, the fence was moved in order to integrate the black man whose care and devotion to the white settlers of Hazel Creek was so well-remembered some 60 or more years later.  And who might one think was one of the primary people leading the effort?  Christine Cole Proctor, John Woody's great-granddaughter. 

While his civil war service and the family of 9 upstanding citizens that he raised are noted with pride by the family, it seems that a lesson in equality, imparted to his sons  over 125 years ago and enduring to this day, was John A. Woody's greatest legacy.

John A. Woody Tombstone, Tellico Cemetery
(Gail Anderson,

John Quincy Adams and Manerva (Bradshaw) Woody are buried at the Tellico Cemetery in Macon County, North Carolina.

For those wishing to visit the Higdon Cemetery, the annual decoration day is on the third Sunday in August.  The park service provides transportation from the Cable Cove boat ramp.  For more details, please visit the link below:

Family story:  Christine Cole Proctor
Photos:  Christine Cole Proctor; Gail Anderson and Mike Gourley on
Decoration Day in the Mountains, by Alan Jabbour and Karen Singer Jabbour.


  1. Another wonderful work! I am beginning anticipate next week's post already!
    Just a thought. There is a stone at Tellico Baptist Church that has Ned Stonechieper "Colored" inscribed on it. Could this be the black man in the picture? Could he have followed his old friend right to the grave?

    1. Hi Ed - I've never seen that stone but now I'm going to have to. I did a quick search, and Ned Stonecypher, wife Mary and several children are listed in the 1880 census, living in Rabun County. In 1910, they are living in Burningtown with the last name spelled Stonecipher. My inclination is to say that this probably not the same man, but there's really no way of knowing that for certain, especially since I don't see them in the 1900 census and the 1890 census is forever lost.

  2. Another enjoyable post. I love the father's solution and hope it made a lasting impression.

  3. I came across this article while researching John Quincy Adams Woody and just wanted to tell you I think your site is wonderful! John would be one of my ggg-grandfathers and I love to know tales of his kindhearted nature are an inspiration to others. I will likely link back to this article some time in the near future.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Cassie - you are welcome to link back to it! I am glad to be able to pass on even the slightest tidbits of history as I find them - they are otherwise lost forever.

  4. Hi, I am also researching John Quincy Adams Woody and I am a great great granddaughter. Just curious how to get in touch with Christine Cole Proctor? Do you have an email address for her? I loved the article and especially the picture. Thank you so much for the blog!

    1. I am his ggg granddaughter as well, decoration day is the fourth Sunday in May at Lauada cemetery outside Bryson City NC. Christine is always there as well as other members of the family

  5. I love reading this story and my family come back to it often. I inherited that same picture above from my grandmother, and hearing the story behind it makes it all the more wonderful. Thank you for sharing ❤️

  6. Love this blog. What a wonderful story.

    1. Thank you for reading, Bill. When Christine Proctor (JQA Woody's great-granddaughter) shared it with me, I knew it needed to be shared with others - hence the reason I wrote about it.

  7. Pvt. John Quincy Adams Woody...2nd g grandfather.