The King and Parchman: Elvis’ dad spent nine months in the Sunflower County prison in the late 30sBy BY MARK H. STOWERS COLUMNIST,
Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!
I’ve only been to Parchman in uniform. Back in the 1970s our Little League baseball division consisted of Isola, Inverness, Moorhead, Sunflower and Parchman.
Yes, Parchman had a team and we’d drive up, wave at the shotgun toting guards from my momma’s station wagon, cross the railroad tracks and then put on our best Mickey Mantle and Jack Reed impersonations.
We actually went in the women’s barracks and bought post-game Nabs and Cokes. I don’t remember if we won but I reckon being able to leave after visiting for a few hours was a reward.
That was usually followed by a trip to the Mecca Drive Inn in Ruleville although one memorable trip included Will Beckham puking in the back of my momma’s station wagon after that meal. It may have been the heat and all the pitches he threw that day.
Parchman was always a place to be watched and feared. If you heard “Parchman” on WABG or WNLA, your spine tingled a bit with anxiety that a convict was out and you hoped he hadn’t made his way to south Sunflower County.
But today I learned something new about Parchman I’d never heard.
Elvis Presley’s dad, Vernon, was once an inmate. Oh, and yes, Happy Birthday a day late to the King of Rock and Roll. Elvis turned 85 yesterday and you can phrase it as “he would have been” but don’t we all know that Elvis lives? Anyway, it seems his daddy was having a hard go of it during the depression years so he forged a check in 1937.
Vernon sold a pig to his employer, Orville Bean, a dairy farmer who also was Vernon’s landlord.
The check was for four dollars but Vernon changed the numbers to a higher amount that he thought the pig was actually worth.
The elder Presley was arrested but a slow court system saw him sit in a Lee County jail in Tupelo for six months while he awaited a trial as he had pled not guilty.
A few days before his trial finally started, Vernon pled guilty in May of 1938 and was shipped off to Parchman to serve a three-year sentence. He got no credit for time already served.
He was locked up at Parchman Farm for nine months and released in part due to a letter written by Bean asking for leniency for Presley.
And Elvis had his daddy back but the hard times would follow and work was still hard to find and the family eventually made their way to Memphis.
I wonder what Vernon learned about his mistake. Did he preach and teach a young Elvis about the ways of the world and a four-dollar pig and time spent chopping cotton while chained up?
Maybe he learned some blues songs he passed on to his son? Perhaps with this “wrong left turn” in Vernon’s life, Elvis may not have made it past performing in Tupelo and would have become a good-looking electrician?
Without Vernon’s entering the farm Elvis would never have “left the building.” A Parchman “education” just may have altered the musical world forever…oh, and Happy Birthday, Elvis!
I’d always ‘preciate your comments here or over at Facebook, or you can tweet me @markhstowers ... See yah next week! As a freelance writer, I’m working to grow my business and have created a GoFundMe page to help with that. Please take a look and see if you can help. I’d greatly appreciate it!
A Rebel, a Statesman — or Fightin’ Okra — and even a Trojan, I’m the Sunflower County farm boy with no green thumb who longed to live in the big city, got his wish and now is working his way back to the farm.
A freelance writer, middle-of-the-road-conservative and wannabe fry cook, I look to bring native Sunflower County folks and businesses to your attention through my looking glass.
There are those of us that packed up Mississippi and took it with us to new destinations and neighbors. My area code may be 248 but my heart is all about 662 and Sunflower County.
There’s more about me at markhstowers.com.