Saturday, January 21, 2017

Blakeney Families of West Alabama

by Glenn N. Holliman

Poetry from a Blakeney, an Associated Family of the Alabama Hollimans

The Blakeneys who immigrated from South Carolina to Alabama have a storied history.  Originally of patrician blood from Ireland (far right, one direct ancestor lies buried in Westminister Abby in London) and revolutionaries in the American War of Independence, a branch of this family lived for generations as neighbors of the Hollimans in Alabama. Both families arrived as pioneers in west Alabama in 1830s and intermarried over time.

Two important Holliman genealogists, father and son, Cecil R. Holliman (1902-1986) and Rhodes B. Holliman (1928-2014) researched in great detail both their Holliman and Blakeney lines. Belzy Ann Blakeney Baker (1859-1960) was a grandmother of Cecil Holliman, a prodigious researcher of all his family lines.   

Below, five generations of Hollimans gathered in Fayette County, Alabama in 1956.  The baby, C. James Holliman, b 1953, is now a physician and author of numerous books on emergency trauma treatment. He practices at Hershey Medical Center in Pennsylvania and lectures literally all over the world on his specialty.

As I have written before, the family of Rhodes Holliman have loaned me the manuscripts of a voluminous research which I have been scanning and uploading to a virtual archives at .  There, among 1,500 items, one will find over eighty manuscripts on the Blakeneys and their histories, often compelling and fascinating. 

Some of the material archived has come from James Reed Blakeney originally of Pickens County, Alabama who now makes his home in Georgia.  Reed is a writer and a darn good one.  Several years ago in this space, I reviewed his compelling novel "Sipsey'' named after the river that flows through west Alabama and by the original frontier farms of the Blakeneys and Hollimans. 

Borrowing from real life, Reed wrote of a great, great grandfather, an owner of African-American slaves, and who as a widower fell in love with one of his female servants. Two children were born of that relationship during the time of the Civil War.  In the 21st century, Blakeneys of both races have attended joint family reunions in Fayette County, a testimony to the complexity and richness of the American experience.

Reed has recently published another book entitled "Cotton Fields, Poems from the Fields", a work of both lyrics and memories of growing up in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s.  Reed literally is of the last generation that 'chopped cotton' before the motorized cotton baler arrived to revolutionize Southern farming and life.  Part biography, part poetry and part a history of social change as a family leaves an Alabama farm, I found this work fascinating. 

For example, Reed writes in the introduction of a time before electricity arrived in the rural South - 

"We read and wrote by kerosene lamp light.  Our primary contact with the state of world affairs was a battery powered radio and two periodicals - the Saturday evening Post and the Progressive Farmer.  The battery powered radio was reserved for the Saturday night renderings of The Grand Old Opry out of Nashville, Tennessee and evangelistic sermons from far away places like Del Rio, Texas.

Oh yes - I do remember the cotton fields...the plowing, the hoeing, the picking...all done with mule power and hand power and the ever-present knowledge that economic survival depended on that one crop."

One of his poems, a salute to his hard-working father, ends with these words,

'That life was hard - but in a way
Better than mine is today
At dusk - he heard the Whippoorwills'

Thanks to my second cousins, Dr. Jim Holliman and Glenda Norris,  I have become an archivist for the Blakeneys. Again the archives, free to all, is located at 

Additional manuscripts from Hollimans, Blakeneys and all other allied families welcome.

And it has been a delight to know Reed and to read his works. If you read 'Cotton Fields" you too may listen for the Whippoorwills this spring. - GNH at

"Cotton Fields", "Sipsey" and a fictional account of a crime in Georgia entitled "A Mulberry Summer" can be ordered directly from Blakeney Associates, P.O. Box 846, Social Circle, GA 30025.  "Sipsey" is $20.  A Mulberry Summer is $15, as is "Cotton Fields' - plus $3 shipping.

No comments:

Post a Comment