Honoring Mr. William ``Kingfish’’ Byrdby Representative Bennie G. Thompson
Posted on 2014-01-09
in the house of representatives
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. Mr. Speaker, this month is August and
all this month I rise to honor black farmers. So today, I rise to honor
the late Mr. William Byrd of Sunflower County, MS, five miles east of
Shaw on Highway 442. He earned the name of Kingfish not because people
thought he was a joke but because he became a well-known, respected and
honest black business man with money--time frame 1920s to his death.
Mr. Byrd did not get a chance to go to school and get a full first through twelfth grade education, no, in fact, he acquired his education by the means of hands-on hard work, life experiences, and the ``Blue Back Webster.'' Like many laboring migrant black families he moved with his father, mother, and siblings around until finally settling in the Mississippi Delta. The many moves with his family was because his dad, Mr. Shep Byrd, was strong willed on not settling his life as a sharecropper but, rather self-employed and own land.
So, this transmission of self-employment was passed on to Mr. William Byrd, who in turn passed it on to his children, Lonnie ``LC'' Byrd, Melvin ``Jimbo'' Whiting, Velma ``Red'' Whiting, Thelma ``Black'' Whiting, and Thomas ``TL'' W. Byrd. His son, Thomas recalls his dad, often saying, ``I'll even buy swamp land and make something out of it, if I just get the chance to buy it.'' Little by little Mr. William Byrd would work and save his money never forgetting his dream to buy land. He even found a piece of land he wanted to buy and yes, it was under water and thought to be useless. A useless piece of land back then was called ``deadening'' land because it was swap area and not considered fertile for anything. He would often go there and gaze and dream, and cut down trees wisely clearing the land but telling all those who asked him, ``What are you doing. . .?'' he would say, ``I'm cutting wood for burning.'' Many times, the white men would threaten his life and run him home but he kept going back into the ``deadening'' until eventually he had saved enough money to buy the first of approximately 700 acres of land he would own over the course of his entire life.
The journey of this Black Farmer is that by 1940 he was well established with 20 houses or more on his land for all his workers, [[Page E38]] both black and white, although once word got out that white folks were willing to work for him the other whites would run them off.
You see, Mr. Byrd believed in treating people the way he wanted to be treated, regardless of color. By 1955, he had earned enough money and respect as a black business man that he was able to purchase at least ten homes and two restaurants in Shaw, often paying cash each time he made a purchase. By this time, ``money was no problem'' as his son remembered his Dad saying. In fact, the first house he purchased was a big beautiful brick house which was the home of Mr. Thomas McEvans.
Mr. McEvans was another rich man in Shaw; he owned a clothing store, tailoring shop, and he took the lead in building the 1st colored school in Shaw, and a member of the Board of Trustees among other influences he held in Shaw. In 1959, part of his dream to build a community for blacks began to materialize. Mr. Byrd purchased a building ten miles west of Shaw on Highway 448 and had it moved to its current location of Hwy 442, five miles east of Shaw. That building became a focal point of Byrd's community. He remolded the building turning it into ``Byrd Grocery,'' and later he added on to the building a restaurant and gas station, changing the name to ``Byrd Grocery and Service Station.'' Byrd's community also had two baseball fields.
When Black farmers were losing their farms in the 1960s for various reasons, Mr. Byrd was never affected or worried because he knew he had planned wisely. Long before automation really took over, he was already using tractors to do the work on the farm, getting away from the mule. But when automation fully came into use, his son, Thomas recalls the day his Dad went to the John Deere place and purchased a brand new top of the line, ``John Deere'' cotton picker. And because he was able to pay $25,000 cash for the John Deere, the white salesman surely sold it to him because of the money but after that he refused to have anything else to do with him because it was unheard of and certainly shocking that Mr. Byrd, a black man, was in possession of that amount of cash and no one really knew. You see, his success rested in his belief to ``never spend more than you make, keep folks out of your business, and don't be extravagant because a fool and his money will soon part,'' said, his son, Thomas Lee.
In 1975, Mr. Byrd due to health problems turned the family farm over to his oldest son, Lonnie ``LC'' Byrd, who died December 17, 1999. Mr. William ``Kingfish'' Byrd died in July 1980 and is buried in the Strangers Home Cemetery in Shaw, MS beside his wife, Daisy Byrd, who died in August 1981. Thomas Lee recalls his father's last words to him, ``Son, I told LC and I'm telling you never sell the farm. I built this for all my children.'' Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in honoring, Mr. William ``Kingfish'' Byrd, a black farmer from the Mississippi Second Congressional District.