Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Big Sonny" Coleman

During WWll, a ritual of the city of Baldwyn was to turn off the electricity to the entire town at night several times during the month, possibly once weekly. The resulting darkness of the shut-down was a war effort conceived of the notion that enemy aircraft couldn't see any landmarks if they were invading the USA. Also, it was an energy saving gesture to let TVA conserve. The city officials said that it was doubtful that Baldwyn would ever be a target, but rather a navigation aid if the town's lights could be seen from the air in darkness. Hmmmmmm, no GPS devices in those days...

Those nights when the power was cut for up to a half-hour or so the old Emerson fan would stop, so to the porch swing and the evening mosquitoes we would go. The stillness and the quietness was unusual and eerie, to say the least.

The crickets continued their noise, and from across the cotton field from a house on Thomas Street we could hear Willie Coleman either singing or he would be playing a trumpet softly. He was a very good musician and had a nice baritone singing voice.

He was a choir member in the church on the Ripley Road north of town. On Sundays in the Summertime you could see through the open windows of the church and hear him above others in the hymns they sang.

The "gentle giant" was well liked by all. He would eat a large sack full of bologna, crackers, and hoop cheese from Cunningham's at each meal.

Sent by an anonymous reader:

Willie Coleman aka “Sonny Boy” and “Big Sonny Boy”, if you recall, was a very large black fellow who worked at various jobs around town, more especially at the cotton gin in the fall. He could carry around five hundred pound bales of cotton very easily. It was said that he weighed about as much as a bale of cotton.

It is told that when he went to his final reward, his service was at the funeral home that was once the Baldwyn News building on Front Street near Water Street. A special over sized casket was ordered and had to be twisted around and stood upright somewhat to get in through the largest door in the back.

After the services, they couldn't get Willie and the casket back out that same door for the trip to the cemetery. At last, in desperation, a large glass window in the front of the building was removed and he was taken out through it to the hearse to continue his journey.

Does anyone have a photo of Sonny? Would sure like to have a copy.


  1. Carl,good remembrance about Sonny Boy. I'd heard the same story about his funeral as well. He was a gentle giant and loved by all who knew him. Thanks for reminding us of a colorful figure from our past.

  2. You could always spot Sonny Boy's big old Buick by the way the driver's side sat very close to the ground.
    I had to pass right by his house when I used to walk from school to Grandma Morgan's house and usually Sonny would be sitting out in his car listening to the radio. It was so much trouble getting in and out of the car that his family would bring his food and drinks out to him.
    My brother Danny says he personally saw him pick up a bale of cotton on a dare.

  3. Sonny Boy's grandmother was Ethel McGaha and I remember going in her house once and seeing a bedspread with a life size picture of Joe Lewis, fashioned from tufts of chenille. Best I remember, Joe was in a boxing stance with his boxing gloves up near his chest. Wonder what that bedspread would be worth on ebay today?

  4. Following came from Wallis Nelson and posted without his approval.:)

    Milton and I worked at the gin one fall doing everything from helping load the 18 wheeler with cotton bales to shoveling cotton seeds onto the truck..Well Sonny boy worked there too and Milton and I would get up on the flat bed trailer and Sonny boy would move the bales around down on the ground all by himself and hook the hook onto the bales to move them..He was so strong that he could move one of the 500 lbs bales of cotton into place where he could hook it up and bring it up to us..It was all Milton and I could do together when the bales got up to us just to slide them in place..He had a good personality and was fun to work with..He was always happy...He would do all the heavy work as he knew us two white boys were weak..


  5. Paul Bunyan didn't have anything on Big Sonny.

  6. I saw Sonny lift a cotton bale. He could do it and made it look easy. I also remember his singing and playing his trumpet. He always spoke when you saw him.


  7. Joe as it would be said I am Wallis Nelson and I approve this

  8. I "picked at" cotton a few times trying to make some small change. I have seen Sonny dragging a huge heavy sack and his fingers literally were a rapid moving machine pulling on the boles. The field was near Sonny's home = maybe it was Kirk's field. Sonny could fill a cotton sack up in record time.

  9. Sonny's grandfather (I think that was right relationship) Frank McGaha could supposedly pick 400 pounds of cotton in a day. One of his grandmothers - Aunt Betty Cummins - could quote scripture like nobody I have ever heard before or since.


  10. I now finally remember who you are talking about! They had a storm house in front of their house, covered with dirt and was dug into the side of the embankment right by the road. The door was huge, and now I remember why.

  11. Sonny Boys mother was named Gertrude and she was Frank Mc
    gahas daughter. Frank worked at the gin too. Frank was working there when he was 92 years old. They weighed Sonny Boy on the scales at the gin and he weighed 548 pounds.