The Picture Show
4:16 pm
Wed April 2, 2014

Scenes And Sorrows: A Portrait Of Weeping Mary

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 9:54 pm

Texas is full of memorable town names — Blanket, Stagecoach, Domino and Paint Rock, to list just a few. Each has at least one tale behind it, and All Things Considered host Melissa Block has been telling some of them as part of the series Deep In the Heart Of (A Transforming) Texas.

One of them is Weeping Mary, an unincorporated town in rural east Texas. It was established as a "freedom colony" with land given to former slaves after the Civil War.

Photographer O. Rufus Lovett started photographing the residents of Weeping Mary in 1994. There are a few stories as to how the town got its name, but one tends to stick.

"There was a lady named Mary who lived there and folklore has it, anyway, that a white man wanted to purchase her land. And she did not want to sell it to a white man," Lovett says.

The man in question persuaded a black man to purchase the land for him instead.

"So Mary was tricked out of selling her land to another African-American," he says. "She became very distraught over this and wept and wept."

She became known as "Weeping Mary," and the community later adopted the name.

When Lovett first started taking photos in the town, getting anyone to share the origin story was tough.

"[I] had to do a little coaxing after visiting Weeping Mary over a period of time to even get the story from elders in the community," he says. "So this is front-porch lore in Weeping Mary."

And for now, that lore seems to stay with older folks in the town.

"I'm not sure how much that's passed down anymore," he says. "And oftentimes they don't want to discuss that because of the circumstances because it did deal with a racial issue. At the same time, it's part of our history, unfortunately. In a way, it's part of who we are."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) I saw miles and miles of Texas.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And to those many miles, Texas towns with some memorable names.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) I saw miles and miles of Texas, gonna live here till I die.

BLOCK: Blanket, Texas, Stagecoach, Domino, Paint Rock. Each name has at least one story behind it and this week, we've been bringing you some of those stories. Today, we'll hear about Weeping Mary. It's a tiny town in deep East Texas. Photographer O. Rufus Lovett has taken pictures of the residents of Weeping Mary over many years. He explains the town was established as a freedom colony, land given to former slaves after the Civil War.

O. RUFUS LOVETT: There was a lady named Mary who lived there and folklore has it anyway that a white man that wanted to purchase her land and she did not want to sell it to a white man. So he got a black gentleman to go and purchase the land for him and so Mary was tricked out of selling her land to another African American. And she became very distraught over this and wept and wept.

And she kind of became known as "Weeping Mary" in that community and then the community hence became known as "Weeping Mary."

BLOCK: You said, Mr. Lovett, that folklore has it that this is the story. I suppose nobody knows for sure. This is a story that's passed down from generation to generation.

LOVETT: I think that's right. And, you know, this is a story I've heard and actually had to do a little coaxing after visiting Weeping Mary over a period of the time to even get the story from some of the elders in the community. So this is front porch lore in Weeping Mary.

BLOCK: If you talk to young people in Weeping Mary, do you think - would they be able to tell you where the name came from?

LOVETT: I don't think so. I think that's something that's left up to the older folks to pass down and I'm not sure how much that's passed down anymore. And oftentimes they don't want to discuss that because of the circumstances, but I think it did deal with a racial issue. At the same time, it's part of our history, unfortunately. In a way, it's part of who we are.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Lovett, thanks for talking to us about Weeping Mary, Texas.

LOVETT: Oh, absolutely. Thank you.

BLOCK: That's photographer O. Rufus Lovett telling us how Weeping Mary, Texas got its name. You can see some of Lovett's pictures of Weeping Mary on our photo blog, The Picture Show, that's at NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Tomorrow on the program, a massive oil boom in South Texas brings big changes to a small city.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This guy took this check to the bank and he told the lady that he needed to put the check in the bank right way because it was check for $100,000. When the clerk looked at the check, she said, it's not $100,000. It's a million.

BLOCK: We explore how Cotulla, Texas is dealing with the changes brought on by the Eagle Ford Shale boom. You can see photos of my travels in Texas on NPR's On The Road Tumblr. That's at NPROnTheRoad.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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