Sarah Elizabeth Farish is a graduate of the University of Illinois where she majored in English and Secondary Education. She is starting her first year teaching at Wheaton Academy in Wheaton, Illinois, this fall. She also coaches cross-country. While a northerner by residence she considers herself a southerner at heart, and loves Southern culture and literature very much.
The words “Deep South” stir a passion in our souls that they might not stir up in other folks. Hearing those syllables – pronounced more like “Deeep Sow-uth” in our family – causes several images to scroll through our minds: images of cotton plantations, Spanish moss, white-columned houses, small towns, Coca-Cola plants, Auburn University, and more.
For some reason hearing those words and seeing those images makes me think in black and white, as if the Deep South was a place frozen in time where things haven’t changed and Scout Finch is still strolling around the neighborhood looking for Jem and Dill.
And for many of us, it is that place.
It’s hard to say when and where my family begins but this story is going to be the story of my grandfather, Julius “Jay” Porter Farish III.
On November 15, 1929, the small town of Atmore, Alabama, needed something to hope in. The Great Depression had just started sinking its deep claws into America’s economy and morale.
Alabama has long been heralded as a state with many troubles, and this is true, but it was especially true during the Depression. Racism was rampant, pockets were empty, and folks were set in their ways, sometimes to a fault. Southerners were in church on Sundays, praying for an end to the Depression, and then working hard all week to bring money home to their families.
The mothers were teachers or stayed and worked at home. Black maids helped the white mothers and cooked and cleaned and then returned to the black neighborhoods to do the same for their own families.
My family, the Farishes, moved to Monroeville, Alabama, during the Depression and brought with them a sensible and strong work ethic. They immediately became involved in the town. This small, unsuspecting town would produce a few famous Americans who would alter American history. I’ll talk about them later.
As soon as the Depression ended, the South, like the rest of the nation, was hit with another blow: World War II. Southerners crowded around their radios holding handkerchiefs to their faces as tears rolled down their cheeks; they listened to the horrifying news of Pearl Harbor. Many young men suddenly disappeared from town, and folks prayed that the names of these men would not appear on the injured, missing, or worst of all dead list in the newspaper.
In the nearby town of Opelika, Alabama, Jay’s future wife Barbara Glenn was living alongside German prisoners of war. While she and her friends played kick-the-can in the streets POWs suffered through the Alabama heat but still experienced the Southern Hospitality that was characteristic of our family. Her brother John, my great-uncle, was in the Pacific serving his country as a Navy Sea Bee.
World War II ended and John came home. Despite the fact that he was in his twenties his hair was white and would be until he died. The stress had taken the color from his hair and the joy from his eyes and he returned a different man.
And then, after what felt like a million years but almost as quickly as it had started, the war ended. The streets were flooded with people rejoicing and kissing and laughing. The liquor flowed and hearts were full. Life seemed as if it were turning back around.
After the war America seemed like a joyful place again. Folks had survived the Great Depression and then a war that had shaken them to their core. Men were returning home, going to college, marrying their sweethearts, and quickly starting families.
Our family moved again, this time to Opelika, Alabama, a town right next door to what we hail as the greatest institution in the United States of America: Auburn University, home of the Tigers, although at the time it was Alabama Polytechnic University. Our passion for Auburn ran deeper and more passionately than the red clay beneath our feet. To this day Farishes would give our heart and soul to see Auburn football win, and even more than that we’d give an arm or a leg (or both) to see them destroy the University of Alabama.
Jay played Auburn basketball and was all Southeastern Conference. He was drafted by the Lakers but chose to serve his country in Korea and was there for several years.
In Opelika in the sixties the issue of segregation was unavoidable. Rosa Parks was making news, and our family prayed for her and supported her. Their deeply held Christian beliefs gave them wisdom to see that racism was hurting our society and not helping it.
Our family prayed for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and wept when he was assassinated. They were progressive (for their day) in that they put their children in public school while other white parents shuttled their children to the local private schools to keep them away from the black children.
Our family fought the race barrier after they moved to Atlanta, when segregation was illegal but still practiced, and they stood up against racism in the places they lived, ate, and shopped.
In the 1960s the segregation war was in full force. White families were pulling their children out of public schools and placing them in private ones. Protestants were even sending their children to Catholic schools to avoid black schools.
As I said, my grandfather grew up in Monroeville. He was seen as the town’s athlete from a young age. Nicknamed “Bubber” (pronounced Bubba) in his childhood, he excelled in every sport he played, but mostly basketball and football.
A famous young woman was growing up a few houses down from Bubba, and right across the street from his grandmother’s house. That young woman was Harper Lee, who would write the novel that changed America, To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper, who went by the nickname “Nelle,” was a tomboy, and would often find herself knocking at Bubba’s door and inviting herself into a pickup game of roundball or football.
Nelle’s best friend, Truman Capote, was also in Monroeville during the summer and was known as a bit of a wimp to Bubba and his friends. Whenever they played football, Truman was always the center; however, Bubba and his friends would later joke that Truman accomplished more than they ever would. They mocked him for sitting at the general store and scribbling in his notebooks, but in the end Truman ended up doing just fine.
When Gregory Peck came to Monroeville for the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird Bubba took him to breakfast and until he died loved to tell the story of what a kind man Gregory Peck was.
Bubba’s athletic talent made him the star of his town. He got a scholarship to a small college in south Alabama for a year, and then transferred to Auburn. Monroeville had someone to hope in. Every time Bubba played well (which was often) Monroeville stood behind its man.
He then met Barbara Glenn and they married after a long courtship. Bubba turned down an offer to play for the then-Minneapolis Lakers and instead chose to serve his country in the Korean Conflict. He joined the Air Force and spent several years overseas.
When Jay came home, his family moved to Opelika, Alabama. His three children, Julie, and identical twins Steve and John, were in elementary school. The segregation battle was present even in sleepy Opelika.
Jay and his other family members living in Opelika who had young children were all active in the segregation debate. Nina’s cousin, Winston Smith T, was adamant that they keep their children in public schools.
When all the other parents were taking their white children out of the schools and putting them in private schools, the Farishes stayed in public school. And when the schools hired a black teacher, the Farishes stayed.
Then they moved to Atlanta. Jay joined the Atlanta Country Club to play golf with his work friends. The caddies there were all black men who weren’t allowed to fish on the grounds or play the course unless accompanied by a member, and so Jay made friends with them. He went fishing with them and played with them. He would take his children and grandchildren to fish with the caddies when few other club members would.
Among other things, Jay stood for his faith. His faith in Jesus as the Son of God was the reason that he did all that he did and the reason he broke the barriers he broke.
Because of Jay I stand up against judgment and hatred because of race and refuse to discriminate. My family and I love others with our whole hearts.
And now Jay is gone. However, the legacy he’s left behind for his children and their children will continue to help them stand up for victims of injustice. We are proud of his service to his family, the Auburn family, and his country. But more than that we love him for his love for God.