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Luke Towns

From: Florida

American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Rachel A. Austin
Jacksonville, Florida
November 30, 1936

LUKE TOWNS, A Centenarian

Luke Towns, a centenarian, now residing at 1335 West Eighth Street,
Jacksonville, Florida, was the ninth child born to Maria and Like Towns,
slaves, December 34, 1835, in a village in Tolberton County, Georgia.

Mr. Town's parents were owned by Governor Towns, whose name was taken by
all the children born on the plantation; he states that he was placed on
the public blocks for sale, and was purchased by a Mr. Mormon. At the
marriage of Mr. Mormon's daughter, Sarah, according to custom, he was
given to this daughter as a wedding present, and thus became the slave
and took the name of the Gulleys and lived with them until he became a
young man at Smithville, Georgia, in Lee County.

His chief work was that of carrying water, wood and working around the
house when a youngster; often, he states he would hide in the woods to
keep from working.

Because his mother was a child-bearing woman, she did not know the hard
labors of slavery, but had a small patch of cotton and a garden near the
house to care for. "All of the others worked hard," said he "but had
kind masters who fed them well." When asked if his mother were a
christian, he replied "why yes: indeed she was, and believed in prayer;
one day as she traveled from her patch home, just as she was about to
let the 'gap' (this was a fence built to keep the hogs and horses shut
in) down, she knelt to pray and a light appeared before her and from
that time on she did not believe in any fogyism, but in God."

"I cannot remember much now," he says, "of what happened in slavery, but
after slavery we went back to the name of Towns. I know I got some
whippings and during the war my job was that of carrying the master's
luggage." (1)

After the war he went to Albany, Georgia and began working for himself,
hauling salt from Albany to Tallahassee, Florida; this salt was sold to
the stores. His next job was that of sampling cotton.

Just before he was 30 years old he was married to Mary Julia Coats, who
lived near Albany, Georgia. To them were born the following children:
Willie, George, Alexander, Henry Hillsman, Ella Louise, and
twins--Walter Luke and Mary Julia, who were named for the parents.

He was converted to the Baptist faith when his first child was born;
there were no churches, but services were held in the blacksmith shop on
the corner of Jackson and State Streets. Later he became a member of
Mount Zion Baptist Church Albany, Georgia, and served there for 50
years as a deacon.

He remained in Georgia until 1899 when he moved to Tampa, Florida and
there he operated a cafe. He joined Beulah Baptist Church and served as
deacon there until he sold his business and came to Jacksonville, 1917,
to live with his youngest daughter, Mrs. Mary Houston, because he was
too old to operate a business. In Jacksonville he connected himself with
the Bethel Baptist Church, and while too old to serve as an active
deacon, he was placed on the honorary list because of his previous
record of church service.

As a relic of pre-freedom days, Mr. Towns has a piece of paper money and
a one-cent piece which he keeps securely looked in his trunk and allows
no one to open the trunk; he keeps the key.

Mr. Towns, who will celebrate his one-hundred-first birthday, December
24, 1936, is not able to coherently relate incidents of the past; he
hears but little and that with great difficulty.

He says he has his second eyesight; he reads without the use of glasses;
until very recently he has been very active in mind and body, having
registered in the Spring of 1936, signing his own name on the
registration books. He has almost all of his hair, which is thick,
silvery white and of artist length. He has most of his teeth, walks
without a cane except when painful; dresses himself without assistance.

Mr. Towns rises at six o'clock each morning, often earlier. Makes his
bed (he has never allowed anyone to make his bed for him) and because it
is still dark has to lie across the bed to await the breaking of day.
His health is very good and his appetite strong.

Upon the occasion of his one-hundredth birthday, December 24, 1935, his
daughter Mrs. Houston gave him a child's party and invited one hundred
guest; one hundred stockings were made, filled with fruits, nuts and
candies and one given each guest. A huge cake with one hundred candles
adorned the table and during the party, he cut the cake. At this party,
he showed all the joys and pleasures of a child. His other daughter Mrs.
E.L. McMillan, of New York City, and son, Mr. George Towns, for years an
instructor in Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia, were present for the

Mr. Towns has been noted during his lifetime for having a remarkable
memory and has many times publicly delivered orations from many of
Shakespeare's works. His memory began failing him in 1936.

He is very well educated and now spends most of his time sitting on the
porch reading the Bible. (2)


1. Luke Towns, 1225 West Eighth Street, Jacksonville, Florida

2. Mary Houston, daughter of Luke Towns, 1225 West Eighth Street
Jacksonville, Florida

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