Friday, April 4, 2008

The Long Journey to Memphis

The scenic rolling hills and hollows of Itawamba County in the heart of Mississippi’s northeastern hill country have created quite a few sons and daughters who have made their mark in the field of the performing arts. Virginia Wynette Pugh was born in the old Bounds Crossroads community north of Tremont. She later made her mark in the entertainment industry as Tammy Wynette, the first lady of country music. There’s James Melvin Lunceford born northeast of Fulton in the old Palmetto community, the grandson of Daniel Lunceford, a North Carolina slave brought to Itawamba County during the 1850’s. Known professionally as Jimmie Lunceford, he made his mark with his orchestra entertaining millions from America to Europe with his unique big band sound during the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Then there’s Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. His Presley line hailed from Itawamba County where they had lived since well before the Civil War. Several old Itawamba County family lines tie into the Presley lineage and many residents today are Presley cousins. Lee County historian Julian Riley writes, “…the roots of Elvis' family tree could not be deeper anywhere on earth, other than in the hills of Itawamba County Mississippi.”

Mackey Hargett, an only child, lost his father during World War II and was raised by his mother. For years, he would hear family stories from elders in the family of the Presley line and how he was related to Elvis. He grew up during the 1950’s always wanting to visit Memphis to meet his famous cousin. When he finally became old enough to obtain a driver’s license, he bought a car, and headed from the dusty Mississippi countryside to the big city of Memphis with the object of meeting his famous cousin.

His story is the story of a young man with a dream, and that dream fulfilled. It is also the story of the Presley family at Graceland, and how they took the time to make a young man welcome in their home and making this young man from Mississippi feel a part of their extended family. Below is an abridged section of an article written by Hargett from the feature article Elvis Presley: His Itawamba County Ancestors and Cousins published in the current issue of Itawamba Settlers magazine:

The story all started in the Tilden community of Itawamba County, Mississippi. My great grandfather Wallace and Rosella Presley had a son named Jessie D. Presley. This would start the blood-line which would lead to Vernon Presley and then to Elvis. My grandmother Nora Wallace, the oldest daughter of John Wallace (pictured above left), was a half sister to Jessie D. Presley. This family connection is how I got through the gates of Graceland for almost twenty years to visit with my relatives, whom I loved dearly.

During 1957, Elvis was Elvis! He was famous around the world. Both my grandmother and mother, Lillian Hargett told me that Elvis was my cousin and offered me the history behind the family relationship. My father, Tearsie Hargett, was killed during 1944 while serving his country while fighting with the 3rd Armored Division under General Patton in France. I was not fortunate to know my dad and I did not have any brothers or sisters. The simple fact that I had a close relative who was so famous was very exciting to me.

As a child I always wanted to visit Graceland and visit with Elvis. When I finally got my driver’s license during 1960, my mother and I drove up from the Mississippi countryside to Memphis and through the gates of Graceland. My mother and Vernon Presley (Elvis’ father) were cousins and they knew each other from the days when they lived in Tupelo. My mother and father lived on the same block as the Presley’s during the Great Depression. When we finally got to Graceland my mother talked with Vernon.

Elvis was not at home that day, so Vernon told me to come back another time and I could meet him. He gave us his telephone number so we could call and make arrangements to visit. Later I returned to Graceland and Vernon introduced me to Elvis. Vernon and I were sitting in the kitchen at Graceland chatting and in walked Elvis. Vernon said “Elvis, this is a cousin of yours on the Wallace side of the family.” This was something to hear by a teenager from the hills of Itawamba County, while standing in front of his cousin, Elvis Presley, in the kitchen of Graceland.

From that point on, for the next twenty years I would call Vernon and he would tell me when to visit.

He never once said no to me when I asked, but sometimes the visits would have to be changed to different dates and times. I visited Vernon for the last time during 1978 not long before he died.

Minnie Hood was married to Jessie D. Presley, my grandmother’s half brother. I will always cherish my memories of visiting with Miss Minnie, Vernon, Elvis, Vester, Patsy (Vester’s daughter), Delta and Nash. I will also always be grateful for their kindness in taking the time to visit with me at Graceland. They always treated this young man from the rural hills of Mississippi with kindness and as one of the family. Those warmhearted memories will stay with me forever.

Photographs of John Wallace and Elvis Presley with Mackey Hargett courtesy of Mackey Hargett

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