Many people know of Holt Collier, who led Teddy Roosevelt on his famous area bear hunt, which gave birth to the Teddy Bear. Did you ever hear of West Monroe’s beloved hunting guide Jim May? He was well known enough in Ouachita Parish to have had his obituary posted in the News Star, way before Civil Rights; a very rare thing indeed for an African-American back then. All of the information found was culled from his “tribute” in that paper back in May, 1928. I put the word tribute in quotes because the language in it, by today’s standards, is racially insensitive. The information is scant, but what we do have gives a glimpse of a remarkable life. Let me tell you about this beloved human being.
We know very little about his early days. He was most likely born into slavery sometime in 1852 in the state of Alabama. The article tells us that as a young man, Jim was a roustabout on the river packets. He was known for being one of the best in several states. He also served as a member of the crew of the Robert E. Lee during the famous race against the Natchez. A framed picture of the Lee was one of his treasured possessions. He also served for several years as assistant sexton at Hasley cemetery. He was known for driving a white horse and a small dray around town.
On October 17, 1885, Jim “Mays” married Sallie Jefferson in Ouachita Parish. Jim and Sally were the parents of seven children: Katie, Bunk, Jimmie, Cynthia, Phil, Willie, Rosa and Allen. According to the News-Star article, his wife Sally was also a beloved member of the community and was considered a friend of all races.
Mr. May was one of the best hunters and guides in the area.
He guided men such as P.M. Atkins, Joe Austin, Arthur Grant, J.C. Ransom, Judge
R.W. McClendon and many others well known in our area. Jim was spoken of as one
of the top three outstanding huntsmen of West Monroe. He also served many people when the epidemics
swept through the community. Sheriff
Arthur Grant stated that when he had smallpox, and no nurse came to help him,
it was Jim who stepped up at the risk of his life, to nurse him. When yellow
fever also struck, he was seen in many homes of all races helping nurse people
back to health.
When Jim passed away at the age of seventy six, both White and Black citizens of West Monroe came to Mr. May’s funeral at Trenton Baptist Church, where he was saved five years previously. It was standing room only. City officials of West Monroe, former Parish officials and members of many prominent families all attended his funeral. His body had previously lain in state for the viewing at his home at 121 Cotton Ave. After the funeral it was taken back to the home so that his daughter Katie could arrive from West Virginia to view the body and attend the burial in Hasley cemetery, where he served for so many years.
One of the preachers at the funeral said in his eulogy, “Jim May was a good friend, a good neighbor, he never took advantage of anyone and withal he was a real man.” The last quote about him was one overheard at the funeral: “Jim May is gone. There will never be a second Jim May.”