Houston Cobb, Sr.
Houston Cobb, Sr. was born on October 4, 1902, on the north side of Second Street across from present-day Cobb Drive in Colbert County, Alabama; he died October 24, 1985, on the south side of Second Street within a few hundred yards from where he was born. Houston Cobb, Sr.’s parents were Mack Griffin and Mattie Eggleston Cobb, but they were never married. Mattie was also born out of wedlock, and her father was Shirley Eggleston and her mother was Callie Cobb. Callie was Huston Jr.’s great grandmother; she was the daughter of Archie Cobb. According to the 1870 Census, Archie Cobb was 53 years old; therefore, he was probably a slave who was born in 1817. In 1870, Archie was listed in the South Florence Post Office district in Colbert County which first became a county in 1867.
According to the 1870 Census of the South Florence Post Office, Alabama, Archie Cobb’s family is listed as follows: 23/23, Cobb, Archie, age 53, male, black, farm laborer, born in AL; Candas, age 30, female, black, keeping house, born in AL; Bedford, age 16, male, black, farm laborer, born in AL; Thomas, age 11, male, black, born in AL; Malinda, age 7, female, black, born in AL; Callie, age 3, female, black, born in AL; Salley; William, age 22, male, black, farm laborer, born in AL.
Mack Griffin’s mother, Mary, was from Moulton, Alabama; the black Griffin Family probably got their family name from the nine slaves listed in the 1850 slave census and owned by G. W. Griffin of Lawrence County, Alabama. Mack Griffin was probably born in Moulton and died in 1923; he was originally buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery on the County Line Road just south of present-day Ford City. After the burial of his body of 83 years, his remains were exhumed and moved; he was reinterred in the Cobb Family Cemetery behind Bethel Church on Highway 184 or Second Street in 2006.
After Huston’s great grandfather Mack Griffin and his wife Salley Cobb Griffin died, Houston Cobb, Sr. inherited half of the 42 acres of land that they owned; Sally was the sister of Callie and the daughter of Archie Cobb. Houston Cobb, Sr. inherited 21 acres of land that is just south of the present-day home of Huston Cobb, Jr.
In 1929, Houston Cobb, Sr. and Salley Cobb Griffin bought a 1929 Chevrolet car when Republican Herbert Hoover took office as President of the United States. During the Hoover presidency, the United States economy plunged into the Great Depression; the financial situation of the country continued to get worse until Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidential election in 1932 at the depth of the depression.
The 1929 car was purchased from Emmitt King of Leighton; Emmitt was the son of Claude King. Houston’s car was the only new car owned by a black family that people both black and white would seek for transportation within miles of the community. White and black folks would come to Houston’s house and get him to carry them to doctors, funerals, or even on dates for young men to see their girlfriends.
The King Family was one of the some 30 original groups of white settlers that owned slaves which came to Alabama from North Carolina. According to the 1860 slave census, the Kings owned some 221 black slaves; during the days of slavery, the family accumulated fine homes, farms, businesses, many acres of land, and considerable wealth for that time. Many of the black folks in the Tennessee Valley portion of North Alabama are descendants of the King Family slaves and remained in the area after the Civil War.
In the Town of Leighton, Claude King moved a small stage coach stop building west of the intersection of County Line Road and old Highway 20 where he built a fine brick home; both old houses are still standing today. Claude owned a cotton gin, two stores in Leighton, and one store in Florence; he furnished both black and white farmers in the area. Some members of the King Family maintained their wealth after the Civil War and continued to have economic ties to their former black slaves; they provided the materials and backing to the small black farmers in exchange for mortgages on everything they owned.
Many of the of poor white and black families had to mortgage their property in order to make a crop; therefore, during bad harvest years, these marginal families lost their property to the wealthy white folks that held their mortgage. Especially during the years of the Great Depression, the wealthy got richer while many of the small landowners lost everything they had accumulated. The vicious cycle of poverty, low wages, poor living conditions, and other factors of economic depression continue during the depression until the New Deal under Roosevelt and other social programs put the poor on better footing for improved living conditions.
Immediately after being elected President of the United States, Roosevelt begins the New Deal which came up with programs that included the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Among the work projects of TVA was the construction of Wheeler Dam which was started in January 1933, and completed November 9, 1936; Houston Cobb, Sr. got a job at Wheeler Dam in 1934. He made thirty five cents per hour working on the dam and received a check every two weeks. Houston worked on the dam until it was completed; while working for TVA at Wheeler Dam, he ran a jack hammer.
After working on Wheeler Dam, Houston Cobb, Sr. began work at the nitric plant number two near Wilson Dam in present-day Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Wilson Dam was started in 1918 and completed in 1924 by the Army Corps of Engineers, but the dam became part of the TVA in 1933. Wilson Dam was originally built to provide power to the nitrate plants that were built to make explosives for World War I.
Houston Cobb made a good living working with TVA, but he also farmed and borrowed $300.00 a year to make a crop. In order to get the money for the crop, Houston had to mortgage their property. Huston Cobb, Jr. said, “We really did not know we were poor, but we were better off than most black and white families. My family went to church every Sunday; many of the TVA workers would wear their badge to church to show that they had a job.”
The Houston Cobb Sr. family attended Bethel Colbert Baptist Church when Huston, Jr. was a small child; he was a member and attended the church until he was 32 years old. After people went to the mourner’s bench to get their religion, they would later be baptized thinking their sins had already been forgiven; so the consensus was that you were saved when you got your religion. Then after many years, Huston Jr. found out that baptism was for the remission of sins; then the question is why you got the religion.
Huston disagreed with the Baptist and the Church of Christ teaches baptism was the way of salvation; therefore, for this biblical reason, Huston started going to the Church of Christ which was more in line with his beliefs. When Huston left the Baptist church, a total of 16 other members of the Baptist congregation left with him; the members changing to the Church of Christ included his daddy and mother, Nazareth and Houston Cobb, Sr.
This story will also be CONTINUED; stay in touch with my blog on the black, Indian, and plantation history in our area as it unfolds in my new book and on my blogs. Mr. Houston Cobb, Jr.’s story will be included in my new book which will be called “Black Folk Tales of Appalachia: Slavery to Survival.”