On Wednesday morning December 16, 1953, down at the little community of Shine Turner, events of the unusual were happening. The sunrise was of an unusual glow. While the trees, had shed most of their verdant foliage, yet the winter grasses in fields and pastures were now green and beautiful. Island Lake stood perfectly still and not a fish dared to trouble its waters. Herds of white faced cattle refused to low after a full night’s meal of palatable grains and fodder. The proud game rooster with his coat of many colors and whose courage bowed to no one refused to crow. Sad faced darkies, with tears flowing profusely, were reminiscing to their children the stories of how many colored people had been born on that spacious Shine Turner plantation and how well they had all fared there. It seemed as it were for a moment, that every fowl and beast stood at rigid attention while mortal men wept in solemn salute.
What was the cause of this confusion? Why were they not at labor as usual? With nothing to announce the tidings, “The Tired Spirit of The Sage of Shine Turner Was on Its Way to that Undiscovered land from whose bourne no traveler returns.” The life of John Shelton Allen, Sr. born in Claiborne County, Mississippi at the then flourishing little community of Brandywine on July 31, 1873, was now history.
Just who was this man and why would his passing have such an impact on the many people who knew him intimately? Born to a union of parents who were trying to pull themselves together during the Carpet-Bag days, John, Will and Harvy along with their sisters Jimmie, Emmie, and Bertha were well tutored in the school of experience which made them very adept in the art of self-confidence and in their ability to evaluate people as well as things. Young John attended such schools as were provided and was sent to Mississippi A. & M. College [Mississippi State University] during the presidency of its founder, the beloved Gen. Steven D. Lee. From the evidence of his handiwork he must have absorbed a lesson from the Old Prophet Job, “Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee… Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”
“Doth not the ear try words? And the mouth taste his Meat?”
“With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.” [Job 12:8-12]
At an early age, young Allen had a knack for farming. He loved the great outdoors and delighted to watch things grow. He had his own simple rule for knowing a good and fertile piece of soil. If it didn’t grow blackberries profusely, he wouldn’t have it. He had his own peculiar idea about the use of commercial fertilizer. He was opposed to it in favor of the Nitrogen soil-building crops, and his final argument to this was, “I’ll meet you at the gin.”
While a young man just out of college he pursued his desire to farm by serving an apprenticeship as an overseer of county convicts. After proving his ability to his employer he was promoted to the position of Sargent. This post he held for some thirty years. During this period his work was exclusively with Negro prisoners. Because of his sympathy and devotion for these poor but happy unfortunate souls, and their unfringed loyalty to him, he was dubbed by them the title, “Cap’n,” a name he was to bear the remainder of his days.
In 1898, Mr. Allen first came to Quitman County where he was employed to supervise the convict labor for clearing what is now known as “Big Field” west of Marks. It was while working in this position that he met and married the former Janie Pet Turner, daughter of the late Shine Turner and Mrs. Addie Turner, a family whose prominence and reputation had already distinguished itself as one of Quitman County’s first and most influential citizens.
From Quitman County he moved with his young family to what is now the sprawling Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, Mississippi. He was among the first to supervise the gigantic land clearing operation beginning at the I.C.R.R. Depot and in a westerly direction until that 16,000 acre tract was to be excelled by none as the Mississippi Delta’s finest farming land. For twenty-six years he watched the timber fall and listened to the echo of the ax and the cracking of the bullwhip. He knew too, the songs of the darkies whose striped bodies swayed in harmony as the cross-cut saws moved through the giant oaks and mighty choctaws.
Many were the sociological problems he had to deal with while sergeant at Camp II, but he had a remedy for every complaint and a good joke to tell afterward. He was never in a hurry and could throw off the burden of worry with all ease.
He was an ardent sports fan, but he loved the cock fights best of all. His own testimony to this was “the fighting game will not sell out.” The gaffs of his famous Allen Round Heads have proven their abilities against the highly touted Morgan White Hackle to the amusement of James Piermont Morgan and many other business tycoons from the metropolitan cities all over the United States.
High on his agenda for recreation and pastimes was politics. He was a Democrat to the core. He loved the oratory that flowed from the lips of James K. Vardaman, John Sharp Williams, Theodo Bilbo and Senator Money. He could listen to his friends. He and his brother Harvey would often disagree over their favorites in a political race and one would make contributions to the campaign fund of his candidate in the other brother’s name for the sake of ribbing and good humor.
Works Progress Administration for Mississippi, Source Material for Mississippi History, Quitman County, Vol. LX, Compiled By State-Wide Historical Research Project, Susie V. Powell, State Supervisor, Illustrated 1936-1938, Addenda
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