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"Cherry" (Courtesy of O. Rufus Lovett)

Scenes And Sorrows: A Portrait Of Weeping Mary

by Serri Graslie
Apr 2, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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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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