Born at Summit, Alabama, on March 2, 1894, Ernest Montgomery was the son of John and Eunice Horton Montgomery.
In the 1910 Census, John Montgomery listed his occupation as farm labor. 17-year-old Ernest’s siblings were listed as Henry, Hattie, Chalmers, John, Fred, and Laroy. By 1913, Ernest worked for the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad with the responsibility of being a deck hand on a transfer boat.
Prior to the completion of the tracks to Guntersville, the rail cars were loaded on steamboats at Ditto’s Landing to make the connection to the tracks at Guntersville. Ernest ultimately retired from the company on September 1, 1953, about the time the railroad discontinued this method when track was finally laid to complete the line.
In 1917, Ernest and Miss Mary Jane Edwards married in Guntersville, Alabama. Born at Manchester on June 15, 1895, Mary Jane was the daughter of William (Bill) Edwards and Ellen Fearn Edwards.
As they began their married life, world events alerted expectations with the First World War and required more men for the military. Ernest entered the U.S. Army on April 27, 1918, and received basic training at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Following basic instruction, Ernest left for a year of service in France with the 324th Quartermaster Corps, Company C.
He departed from Hoboken, New Jersey, on the ship Manchuria on July 10, 1918, and returned on the ship Sierra which left from St. Nazaire, France, on July 18, 1919. Honorably discharged, he returned home and resumed his employment with the railroad.
Ernest and Mary Jane Montgomery seemed to have prospered in spite of a lagging economy. They owned an automobile and transitioned from renting to owning a home. According to the census, the Montgomery family lived for a time in the 500 block of Guntersville. One entry in an interview indicated that Mary Jane worked for Cam Glover, Sr., at the Glover Hotel.
In a contradictory remark, she was said to be a housewife so perhaps she contracted for a specific task like sewing or washing for the hotel. The family reported owning a home valued at $700. When the TVA came to Guntersville, the Montgomery family sold property near the river and moved to Carlisle Avenue. The family built a stylish Mediterranean styled home valued at $1,600.
Mary Jane and Ernest Montgomery became the parents of two daughters. The older child Callie Mae Montgomery attended elementary school in Guntersville.
At that time, she had no opportunity for additional education in her home community as there was no high school for black children. To give her a formal education, they sent her to Selma, Alabama, at a secondary school and then to Dayton, Tennessee, where she graduated. Following the completion of high school, Callie Mae attended Booker T. Washington Business College two years for the study of business administration.
Callie and her parents wanted additional skills and more education. By that time, Roosevelt Williamson had been hired as principal of the Lakeview Junior and Senior High School in Guntersville. When Callie’s father consulted Mr. Williamson for a recommendation of an appropriate college, he as an alumnus suggested Alabama State College.
Callie attended Alabama State and later Kent State University. In Ohio, she met and married Dr. Gordon Smith, a practicing physician, who later worked at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D. C. In the nation’s capital, Callie obtained employment in civil service. The Smiths had one daughter named Jennifer.
Mary Jane and Ernest Montgomery’s younger daughter was named Ruby. While she had the benefit of attending school at home in Guntersville at Lakeview School, Ruby actually graduated from high school at Austin High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. Following graduation, she married James Bernard Pierson and had a son, James Bernard Pierson, Jr.
The small family moved to Chicago, but the couple divorced three years later. Returning to Guntersville with her son, Ruby enrolled at Alabama A&M University and secured a bachelor’s degree in 1955 and had the distinction of being one of the first black citizens to complete a four-year college.
While teaching at Lakeview School, she met and married Joseph L. Greene. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and taught in the public-school system.
When Ernest Montgomery retired from the railroad, he worked part-time for Stacey Gilmore Construction Company in Guntersville. On November 3, 1971, while driving his 1966 Chevrolet, he had an automobile accident at the Highway 227/Blount intersection and suffered mortal injuries.
After his death, Mary Jane Montgomery sold their home and rotated living with their daughters. In the winter months, she lived with the Smiths in Maryland while she went to Ohio in the summertime to stay with the Greene family. She died in Cleveland on November 19, 1976, was returned home, and interred in the City Cemetery with her husband.
Education and self-improvement motivated the Montgomery family. Finding avenues to provide their daughters ways to obtain schooling and degrees caused them to send their children away from home, to lose their own personal time with them, and to consult others for recommendations regarding educational choices. The parents’ goals and sacrifices manifested in the successes of their daughters.
(Barbara Snow is a retired long-time educator and an active member of the Marshall County Archives in Guntersville. The Advertiser-Gleam is running a series of stories about past Guntersville people as part of the celebration of the Alabama Bicentennial.)