In addition to being
McLemoresville's town historian, Mrs. Rachel McKinney is
president of the F.C.E. Club and a member of the United
Methodist Church. In her spare time, she enjoys growing
beautiful plants and flowers like these.
Mrs. Rachel McKinney figures she became
McLemoresville's historian because she is "so
old" herself - she turned 85 on August 28 this
year - but the truth is, her family's West
Tennessee roots go back just about as far as the
almost-184-year-old town's history.
Depression was bad in the city," she continues. "In the
country people had gardens, cows, chickens, and pigs, but
if they wanted to tell you it was not really depressed
there then they didn't know how depressed the south
"My great grandfather came into
the edge of Gibson County with a land grant," she
From the original 600-acre settlement, he gave each of
his children 100 acres. In a tiny log cabin on one of
those homesteads Rachel's mother, Annie Laurie
Williamson, was born in 1878, the fifth of six children
in the third generation of Rachel's ancestry in the
western part of the state.
Rachel was just three months old when her two-year-old
sister Mary Louise died during the devastating influenza
pandemic that mocked the peace brought by the close of
World War I.
"The epidemic killed more people than the war," Ms.
McKinney says solemnly.
The disease swept across the globe in 1918 and 1919,
killing an estimated 675,000 Americans - more than ten
times the number killed in the war. More people are said
to have died of the disease worldwide in one year than
from four years of bubonic plague between 1347 and 1351.
McLemoresville and West Tennessee's celebrated poet
laureate, the late Billy O. Williams, was the sixth
child born to Rachel's parents, Annie Laurie and Oliver
"My mother used to tell me she married a Williams so she
didn't have to relearn to spell her last name; she just
dropped the o-n," smiles Mrs. McKinney.
James Williams, the oldest of her siblings, now resides
in Cleveland and brother John is in Germantown. Their
sister, Annie Mobb Williams Smith, who taught school in
McKenzie and Huntingdon, is deceased.
Mrs. Rachel is also kin to another illustrious
McLemoresville citizen, Mayor Phil Williams, the son of
"He has to do what I tell him since his parents are
gone," she jokes.
Rachel grew up in the Big Buck Community where her
father had a grocery store at Crossroads that she
remembers fondly as "Pap's country store."
She recalls being accosted by the late Clifford Reeder,
former owner of the old Reeder's Grocery in McKenzie,
who informed her, "Mr. Oliver caused me to give away
more candy in my store..."
When he was himself a little boy growing up in Big Buck
without a penny to his name, he explained, Mr. Oliver
would see him eyeing the penny candy through the glass
counter and he would always give him a piece.
Remembering that, Mr. Reeder was unable to ignore the
children who stared with longing at the candy in his own
store years later.
"I would remember Mr. Oliver," he told her.
Rachel's family moved to McLemoresville in 1930 in order
to be nearer the school that her sister and brother had
traveled to by covered wagon in years past; only after
they moved to McLemoresville did school buses become
Other children walked to school, Mrs. McKinney says,
relating the hardships of education in early years when
children set out in the dark during the winter months in
order to get to school on time. Then, with two recesses
and lunch besides study time delaying their departure
until 3:30 to 4:00 in the afternoon, they would arrive
home after dark as well, trudging dirt, mud, or icy
roads and fields on the way.
"I never had that far to go," she says thankfully, "New
Zion School was only a half mile away and here it was
not far either."
As a teen, dressed in the pretty cotton dresses that
accented their femininity, Rachel and her friends would
take walks along McLemoresville's seldom-traveled main
thoroughfare. "We'd go down to the bridge to sit and
talk awhile," she says. "No cars were going to go by
anyway and if they did we'd just wave."
As a teenager in the early 1930s, Rachel played
basketball in high school.
"That was the most fun part," she smiles, "I wasn't the
best player in the world but I always managed to make
Far from the "bloomer teams" of prior years when female
basketball players wore loosely gathered, sateen
bloomers, Rachel and her teammates wore snug-fitting
"The ones they wear now look sloppy," she surmises,
quite accurately, of the long loose shorts worn by
today's basketball players.
Rachel and her teammates played basketball on a
three-division court with two guards and two forwards on
each end and two centers in the middle. She played
running center or forward on the nine-member team.
"I don't know if that's all that was allowed or if
that's all the suits they could afford," she wonders,
browsing through a photo album filled with treasured
One photo shows a teenaged Rachel and the beau she had
grown up with, Billy McKinney, cutting up under the
shade of a neighbor's tree.
"We were both being silly," she says fondly of the 1937
photograph. The couple started dating in the spring of
their senior year in 1936 and married in 1938.
Billy worked at Milan Arsenal
and at McKinney's Garage with his father, Conrad
"Connie" McKinney, before hiring on at the Bank of
McLemoresville, which eventually became Carroll Bank and
Trust prior to his 1983 retirement.
Rachel worked for a short time at H.I.S. in Trezevant,
then was a quality control inspector for I.T.T. in Milan
for six or seven years. She later worked at West
Tennessee Public Utility District for 12 years before
retiring the year before her husband in 1982.
The couple had three children - Jerry, James (Jim) and
Emily. Jerry is now retired from I.C.N., a hospital
equipment manufacturing company in Huntsville, and Jim
retired as commanding officer of the AAFES (Army, Air
Force exchange service.)
Emily (Lawrence) teaches special education at McNairy
High School in Selmer.
Rachel is the proud grandmother of seven grandchildren
including the two children of Rhonda Smith of McKenzie.
"Rhonda lost her mother and father in 1973 and lived
with us for four years," she explains.
Rachel has five great grandchildren and is expecting
another one soon.
Rachel was active in the P.T.A., serving as president at
the McLemoresville and Trezevant high schools and was
also president of the P.T.A. County Council.
A member of the United Methodist Church, she served as
president of United Methodist Women, president of the
Wesleyan Service Guild, and president of the Lexington
District in addition to being a youth fellowship
counselor for 17 years.
She is currently president of the F.C.E. (Family
Community Education) Club in McLemoresville, which
offers a monthly educational program in addition to
engaging in various community projects.
Rachel and Billy would have celebrated 56 years of
marriage on February 26, 1994, had he not died suddenly
of a heart attack on January 4.
"It's always hard to get used to being single, even your
names become so entangled, become as one," she says
As a youth, she never dreamed she would live to see the
"It's been an exciting time to live although a lot of
bad things happened," she says of the past century. "I
was born at the end of World War I in 1919, then the
Depression came, then World War II, Korea, and Vietnam -
we survived them all.
"The Depression was bad in the city," she continues. "In
the country people had gardens, cows, chickens, and
pigs, but if they wanted to tell you it was not really
depressed there then they didn't know how depressed the
south already was."
During her lifetime, Mrs. McKinney saw factories in the
south come and go.
"People at last had a place to work and all of a sudden
they don't anymore," she says.
"All in all it's been an exciting time to live and I've
enjoyed it. We may have missed some things by not living
in the city, but there are advantages to small town
living," says Mrs. McKinney, who enjoys having friends
call to check on her regularly.
She still mows her own lawn and cultivates a beautiful
array of plants and flowers, including some blue-ribbon
winners at the Carroll County Fair. And she continues to
pursue historical facts regarding McLemoresville as town
Mrs. McKinney invites everyone to the Carroll County
Museum in McLemoresville for a surprising and enjoyable
tour of nearly 184 years of history of the town and its