leon Calloway was 72 when he recounted some of his memories
In July of 1983 Leon Calloway recounted some of his memories of Spring City. We have shared with you below his story in his own words
“I recall the downtown area consisted of one drugstore, Collins Brothers Dry Goods Store, Reed’s Grocery Store and some other businesses. Most of the men were farmers or worked for the Southern Railroad or at the sawmill on McGoffin Street.”
Calloway, at one time a teacher in the all-black schools in spring City, was born and has lived most of his 72 years on Cemetery Road in Spring City.
“All my playmates were white. Race relations have always been exceptionally good in Rhea County-East Tennessee really. My parents wouldn’t let me go over to what was then called ‘Turtle Town’ to play, so my friendships were formed with the children of neighboring families.”
Calloway’s earliest memories are of working on the family farm and doing chores. Within the neighborhood community, there was a feeling of comradeship.
“If our cow wasn’t giving milk and our neighbor’s cow was, we got our milk from them and the other way around, “he said. “Even now, I would be taken care of by my friends if necessary.”
Calloway spent many years as an educator, teaching first in the all-black schools in Spring City and later at Spring City Elementary School. As far as education went, Calloway chose a different path from that chosen by his peers.
Encouraged by his parents and other members of his close-knit family, he ultimately earned a degree from Tennessee A&I University (now in 1983 Tennessee State) in Nashville and returned to Spring City to teach.
“I returned to Spring City because of loyalty to family. We were a large family and from the time I was seven years old, there was always someone who needed care. And I love the people in Spring City. I have never wanted to live anywhere else.”
Calloway grew up when Rhea County was called “The Strawberry Center of the Nation.”
“When I was a boy, kids from 10 to 14 years of age picked strawberries to earn money, “he said.
“We earned about two cents a quart, when we weren’t picking for our parents. We usually picked berries six days a week.”
Although the two-cent-a-quart wage seems small now, Calloway said at that time his mother was washing, starching and ironing laundry for about three dollars a basket, which included the white shirts fashionable for men in those days.
“Of course, I can remember buying milk for five cents a gallon in those days.”
During the Great Depression in the 1930’s, times were hard in the county. Most people had food, however, even if money was scarce, because Rhea County was primarily a farming area.
“Those who were willing to work, could find work to do. All their wishes were not satisfied, but the needs were met in those days.”
During those years, Calloway was teaching in Spring City. He taught the first through the eighth grade in the school for black students.”
“The integration of the schools was a sensitive issue all over the state. I spent a bad summer dreading the start of school when I would be teaching black and white students, Calloway said. “As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. I enjoyed teaching even more after the schools were integrated. There was cooperation and things went smoothly.”
Because relations between the black and white communities had been traditionally good, Calloway said he had not had to face many of the prejudices other blacks have felt in other areas.
For every person in my life that has treated me in a bad way, there have been 10 afterward that made me feel good. Those 10 keep you going when the next bad incident happens.
Calloway said the reason the black community in Rhea County has fared better than communities in other areas over the years is due partly to the origin of the early settlers of east Tennessee.
This part of the state was settled primarily by German, Scotch-Irish, and Irish immigrants. They were farmers who owned one or two slaves. There were no big slave owners in this part of the state. When slaves grew older, the owners usually freed them. Also, the women were always house servants. To this day you will not see black women working in the fields as you will, say, in West Tennessee.
Calloway said the changes in the area for the most part have been positive ones. For so many years, everybody had a low income, and some no income at all. T.V.A. has had the most impact, of course. It has brought a lot of new people into the area and is responsible for a lot of changes.
Spring City could use more industry. I wish it had gotten a little larger, but not too large. The older residents of Rhea County have seen the landscape alter and even the tempo of life changes as time moved on.
Some small communities such as Lorraine, have ceased to exist. The town of Rhea Springs, three miles from Spring City, was flooded by Watts Bar Lake in 1941. The community at one time was a small resort with a hotel for visitors that came to drink the mineral water from the springs there.
When T.V.A. bought the land and built the dam, many Rhea Springs residents moved to Spring City and brought their houses with them. Several of these homes are still standing in Spring City.
Posted with permission from the publisher of the Herald News in Dayton. Original publish date was Wednesday, July 14, 1983 in the “Remember When” section
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