Jun 222011

Ken Steinhoff says he wants to take photos of old bank buildings next time he’s back in Cape Girardeau, especially the old ones that look like bank buildings.    Here’s a building that’s not a bank, but looks like one.   The photo was taken in Notasulga, Alabama in April 2006.

I have a hunch it used to be a bank, though.   In fact, I wonder if this building is old enough to go back to the late 20s or early 30s.   If so, it might be the bank where Nate Shaw (All God’s Dangers : The Life of Nate Shaw) had so much trouble back in Jim Crow days.    His wife was literate, though, and kept him from signing papers that would have turned all his property over to one of the bank’s favored customers:

I come up to my house one day–I was out checkin on my fences–and my wife told me there was a card in the mailbox tellin me to come to the bank in Apafalya and sign papers on my place.  I said, “If I go, any way I go, you goin with me.”  See, she had book learnin and she could read and write.  So I told her, “Well, we’ll go to Apafalya this evenin, right after dark.” …

I wanted her to read them papers to me; I knowed they weren’t goin to do it.  All I had to do was sign, but I wanted to know what I was signin.

Watson had taken over the place from the federal government and it was with him I had to sign with.   My wife and I jumped in the car and went right on to Apafalya.  Got there and walked in–weren’t nobody there in the bank but Mr. Grace and Mr. Watson.  O good God, the doors flew right open and I broke out; I couldn’t help it, I got red hot.   I was signin–called it signin papers on that place.   I knowed what I was signin before I signed; that’s what brought the devil up.

“Hi, hello, Nate.”

“Hello, Nate.”

“How do you do, Mr. Watson, Mr. Grace.”

Said, “Well, you come here to sign your papers, didn’t you?”

I said, “Yes sirs, that’s why I’m here.”

Pushed it through the window for me to sign.  My wife was standin right there and I just handed it to her.   That’s when I found out the devil was in the concern; that kept crossin my mind all the time and that kept me, to a great extent, from signin any notes at all with Watson.

Hannah turned away, stepped off a step or two, whipped that paper right over in a jiffy.  She come back with it and touched me on my arm.  I listened to her.  She said, “Darlin, that paper covers everything you got: your mules, wagon, all your tools and your cows and hogs and everything you got’s on that paper.”

It wasn’t too hard for me to decode the map in the book and figure out that Apafalya was a pseudonym for Notasulga.   So that was what brought me here.  The place seemed to be closed when I got there, and I haven’t called the phone number on the sign in front of the building to find out how old it is.   I didn’t see any other building in town that looked like a bank.

Here’s another view down the street, though, looking toward the afternoon sun.

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  • Ellison

    I’m am in the midst of reading All God’s Dangers : The Life of Nate Shaw and decided to see if I could find anything about Apafalya. So far I’ve noticed a reference to Opelika, AL and several other places I know to exist. While I am a life long resident of Chicago, my father was from Auburn, AL. He passed away when I was very young. I have rediscovered some of his relatives–in 2005–it was over 50 years in coming. I remember mother getting a letter from Notasulga (the name was so strange it stuck in my memory). Another odd name, to my ears, is Lochapoka. Since meeting the few relatives again in 2005 I have tried to fill in as many personal memories from anyone who knew him. The oldest relative is 97; I haven’t learned much at all beyond the bit I knew. Since my father was a ‘marrying man’ he was in his 50s when I was born from wife #5.

    However there are several cousins who are near my age, and I believe I can unravel more of the places in this book.

    This is a powerful book; the story is shameful and more than sad. Recently I have encountered a few scholarly books which write the facts of this history. I wish to mention “ON THE LAPS OF GODS, THE RED SUMMER OF 1919 AND THE STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE THAT REMADE A NATION, by Robert Whitaker” published October 2009. This is an eye opening book. Some time later I was rummaging around to find something to read and chose a book which was among a batch of books purchased some years before. I happened to choose .
    “ALL OUT OF STEP, by Gerard B. Lambert” published in 1956. Lambert was among the planters named in the Whitaker book. It is amazing to juxtapose these two books against each other. To read Lambert’s patronizing, or worse, comments about black Americans some 1/2 century before a real history book by Whitaker. When I write ‘real’ in the prior sentence I mean to express that it is not revisionist history, not whitewashed, or any number of ways the truth has been suppressed for so long. Ellison

  • Spokesrider

    Ellison, thanks for that information about your Alabama connections. It’s nice to hear from people who know of those places. Being from Michigan, it was all new and fascinating to me. I haven’t followed up on those two book references yet, but will do so. They sound like something I should read too, probably the same way you’ve gone about it.