Editor’s note: This letter is in reference to the Ernest Riley story the Journal Record featured in the Nov. 9, edition.
In the summer of 1941, our family sharecropped on Papa Burleson’s farm in Marion County, AL, about halfway between Guin and Winfield. Wymon Burleson, my father, had a younger brother, James Dalton, living and working in Winfield.
In the spring of 1941, Dalton came to my father and said there was a 16 year old boy living close to him who needed a job to keep him busy and out of trouble. The boy’s father had died and left his wife with two girls and three boys, and she needed help. My father agreed to take the teen, and he got Ernest Ray Riley.
Riley came to us and worked Monday through noon on Saturdays for room and board, plus a little change. It was similar to having an older brother in the house because I was nine years old. Ray slept in our extra bedroom and ate meals with our family. My mother was a good cook, a hard worker and hand an easy time handling one more son.
Among other things, I was water boy for my father and Riley in mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Riley always left at noon on Saturday, walked 3.5 miles home and came back late Sunday night. He was often sleepy on Mondays, and one Monday morning, I carried a jar of water over the hill to the south and found Riley standing propped up on the plow stock. He was asleep. I awoke him and gave him the jug of water. Of course, I never told dad about his sleeping on the job.
In the fall of 1941, my father quit farming and began a career as an ironworker for H.H. Robinson Company at Fort Sill, Lawton, Okla. To take care of my mother, my sister and me, he purchased a house on the west side of Winfield, and we moved to town in January, 1942, where we had indoor plumbing and electricity. The house was at the south end of a graveled dead-end street now called 325 Rainbow Street that branched off the paved Wayside Road, which branched off Highway 78, about four blocks west of the only traffic light in town.
The Erdine Riley family lived on the west side of what now is Nickle Street about a quarter mile west of us. We had not been there long until the Riley family dog had a litter, and they gave me a male puppy that I named Sonny. In addition, Doug Riley often came to the area to play with Doyle Earnest, my next door neighbor. Though a couple of years older, I played with them and learned all the Riley family except the youngest son. I knew Martha Dean and Betty Jean. Ms. Erdine Riley often wore a white uniform, so I assumed she was a nurse. I went to the First Baptist Church regularly and knew Earl Hall and the Methodist pastor, Bro. Lovett, who held the funeral of Ernest Ray.
I would love to call and talk to Doug Riley, the preacher of Kentucky.
William G. Burleson
See complete story in the Journal Record.