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Abbott visits Crockett in tornado’s wake

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Gov. Greg Abbott holds a press conference at the Crockett Civic Center. Picture captured from live broadcast by Jan WhiteGov. Greg Abbott holds a press conference at the Crockett Civic Center. Picture captured from live broadcast by Jan White

By Jan White
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CROCKETT – Last Tuesday Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference at the Civic Center in Crockett. Gov. Abbott had already declared 16 Texas counties as disaster areas but specifically visited Crockett to reassure residents of his commitment to providing the necessary resources to assist their recovery efforts. 

Abbott praised city officials and emergency responders for helping their fellow Texans throughout the night and acknowledged the challenges the community would face during the restoration period.

Abbott stated that the Texas division for emergency management is making a dollar assessment for the damages incurred to establish what funds are available to help. He also encouraged homeowners to visit www.damage.tdem.texas.gov to report their damages and provide information for the assessment. Abbott urged citizens to reach out to Senator Robert Nichols or State Representative Trent Ashby. 

City and county officials also thanked first responders for their help. County Judge Jim Lovell thanked the Texas Department of Public Safety for providing a helicopter so that he and Heath Murff, EMC/Fire Marshal, could access the damage. Sheriff Randy Hargrove thanked his officers and specifically thanked the farmers, ranchers, and citizens of the county who worked to clear trees and debris off the road.

Crockett Mayor Ianthia Fisher praised the community for how they’ve come together to give. “Thanks to God that no lives had been lost. And just know that someone is here to help you,” she stated, encouraging the residents to continue assisting one another. “Show others what you are capable of.”

Chief Nihm Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) stated, “Life safety is our number one priority.” Chief Kidd advised those affected by the tornado to “Start working on property conservation – pick up and clean up and debris removal.” He encouraged people with insurance to call their insurance companies and start the insurance process. “If we meet our thresholds for disaster assistance, it’s on the uninsured loss for homes and businesses.” TDEM has a dedicated worker focused on Houston County.

According to a report delivered during Abbott’s press conference, 10 injuries had been reported, with 30 structures having sustained damage in the Houston County area; 25 of those damaged were homes. Additionally, about 72 people took refuge in the public shelter Monday night. And while it was noted that friends, neighbors, and family are taking in the displaced, there is no concrete information on how long it will take before some can return to their homes, if at all.

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Women’s History Month celebrates Madam C.J. Walker

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Portrait of Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove, 1867 - 1919), circa 1913. Michael Ochs Archive/Getty ImagesPortrait of Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove, 1867 - 1919), circa 1913. Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

By Jan White
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It’s difficult to imagine that the daughter of two slaves-turned-sharecroppers would eventually become the wealthiest African American woman in the United States, but that’s precisely the rags to riches story behind entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker.

One of Owen and Minerva Breedlove’s six children, Sarah Walker was orphaned at age seven and moved in with her older sister, Louvenia, where they worked the cotton fields near Vicksburg, Mississippi. To escape her abusive brother-in-law, Walker married at fourteen and gave birth to her only daughter in 1885. Widowed two years later, Walker decided to take her daughter, A’Lelia, and move north to St. Louis, Missouri, where her older brothers had already established businesses as barbers. 

With only three months of literacy lessons obtained during Sunday school at the church she attended as a child, Walker’s employment opportunities were limited. She took a job as a washerwoman, doing laundry from sunup to sundown, earning only pennies a day. To the casual observer, it would seem as though Walker was destined for poverty. But when she joined the St. Paul African Methodist Church in St. Louis, her life took an unexpected turn. Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, explained. “At St. Paul A.M.E. Church, there were women who were educated schoolteachers and others who were leaders in the community who looked for women [like Walker] to encourage them in whatever way they could.” The church women mentored Walker and gave her a vision of what she might become. “That was part of what propelled her,” said Bundles.

Most homes lacked indoor plumbing and running water, so hair washing was infrequent, and the same harsh ingredients used to do laundry were also used to cleanse hair. Lice and inadequate nutrition also made it difficult to maintain healthy hair. Because of this, Walker developed a scalp ailment that led to severe hair loss. Some women wore head wraps to hide their bald patches, but Walker didn’t want to follow that path. She felt that such attire would signify her lower social status at a time when she sought to elevate herself. So using her brother’s haircare knowledge, she started experimenting with homemade ointments. She also purchased a product from Annie Turnbo Malone called “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower.”  Malone was an African American female entrepreneur with a successful hair care line. Walker eventually became a selling agent for Malone’s product, Poro. 

A year later, Walker moved to Denver, Colorado, and married newspaper ‘ad-man’ Charles Joseph Walker. Knowing that she wasn’t the only black woman experiencing hair loss, Walker used the knowledge gained from her brothers and her work with Poro, invested $1.25 for ingredients and packaging, and launched her own line of hair products known as “Madam C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” She sold the scalp conditioning and healing formula door-to-door and educated women at black churches across the country on how to groom and style their hair. 

While Walker’s husband taught her the importance of advertising and helped establish her mail-order business, he didn’t share her vision for a haircare empire. The couple divorced in 1910. Walker moved to Indianapolis, where she established the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company headquarters. She later built a factory, hair salon, and beauty school. Between 1911 and 1919, Walker employed 40,000 African American women and men in the U.S., Central America, and the Caribbean. 

Walker taught other black women how to develop and maintain a budget, build their own businesses, and encouraged them to become financially independent. Many of her management and key staff positions were held by black women.  In 1917, she founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association.

As her wealth increased, so did Walker’s political and philanthropical reach. Walker dedicated herself to anti-lynching activism, donating $5,000 to the NAACP – the largest gift from an individual that the NAACP had ever received. She helped raise funds to establish a YMCA in Indianapolis’s black community. She gave $1,000 to the Senate Avenue YMCA, contributed scholarship funds to the Tuskegee Institute, and bequeathed nearly $100,000 to orphanages, institutions, and individuals. Her will directed two-thirds of future net profits of her estate to be funneled into charity.

In 1916, Walker joined her daughter in New York, leaving the company’s day-to-day operations to her management team. In 1917, construction began on Walker’s dream home - Villa Lewaro - a $250,000 mansion built on the banks of the Hudson at Irvington and designed by black architect Vertner Tandy. Walker intended for the Villa to become a gathering place for community leaders and an inspiration for other African Americans to pursue their dreams. She moved into the house in 1918 but died a year later at the age of 51 of complications from hypertension before she could see her vision realized.

According to Bundles, Walker was worth more than one million dollars at the time of her death, making her the wealthiest African-American woman in America. Her hair products continued in popularity for decades after her death. Following a period of company dormancy, the line was relaunched as MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker in 2022.

Addressing a gathering of the National Negro Business League, Walker once declared, “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there, I was promoted to the washtub. From there, I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there, I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations.” 

Madam C.J. Walker’s story is an inspiration, and her advice is as relevant to women today as it was in the early 1900s. “Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”

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Tornado causes damages - Region under severe weather watches

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Norman LaneNorman Lane - Jan White | East Texas News

By Chris Edwards and Jan White
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HOUSTON COUNTY – Tornado activity touched down in Houston County on Monday night. Most of the region was under tornado warnings and/or watches during Monday, and some areas were still under watch on Tuesday afternoon.

Along with straight-line winds, heavy rainfall came over the region, and hail was reported in some areas. Many parts of the county were affected by the tornado.

Most of the businesses located just off the west side of Loop 304 on North Fourth Street were demolished by the tornado that crashed through parts of Crockett last night between 10 and 11 p.m.

Bigs Valero gas station and convenience store, Again and Again Resale Shop, Rustic Market and several other businesses suffered devastating damage. 

The business owners with whom the Courier spoke were still in shock over the loss of their buildings and businesses. The only space that seemed relatively untouched was the State Farm Insurance Office. 

A storage facility behind the strip center also sustained some damage, although it was hard to assess how much due to the trees and debris that hindered access to the area.

Reportedly, the McKnight community sustained heavy damages, with two individuals suffering serious injuries.

Norman Lane got hit hard, with most of the houses either sustaining some damages or completely destroyed.

Ansel Bradshaw, who has a house that was destroyed said that in spite of the destroyed home, he and his family “are extremely blessed.” He said that his daughter, Katie, is at school at Baylor, and he and his wife were closely tracking the storm’s movements.

“It leaves there and goes to Bryan College Station, then it leaves there and goes to Madisonville, and obviously through small towns in between. And then it’s getting closer and closer and closer. Brenda and I and the dog and cat moved into one of our bathrooms. You hear the freight train noise, then the ears start ringing and then it’s over,” Bradshaw said.  

Statewide, at least one person was reported dead and many more injured following tornadoes that touched down in areas around Austin, such as Round Rock, Jacksboro, Elgin, Taylor and Jarrell.

Madisonville was impacted, as well, and at press time more than 60,000 electric customers were without power after the night of storms.

According to the National Weather Service, the parent storm system was to shift east on Tuesday and move through the Deep South region, with another round of tornadoes, hailstorm and strong, damaging winds.

NWS predicted a Level 4 out of 5 risk of severe weather, and warned of a regional “severe weather outbreak,” with the potential for more strong tornadoes.

Outside of Texas, there were tornado watches on Tuesday for parts of Louisiana and Mississippi on into the evening hours, according to NWS.

Another Houston County homeowner on Norman Lane, whose house had minor damage said “I’m without power or water and first thing I thought of this morning was that I hoped one of the cars was drivable so I could find someplace to get a cup of coffee. Then I see an angel coming up the street handing out cups of freshly brewed coffee!” 

The resident, who did not wish to be identified, expressed how stunned he was to walk out of his house and look across the road at his neighbors, whose houses were demolished. 

“I just feel so fortunate. That could easily have been my house,” he said.

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Butler pleads guilty in federal court

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guilty pleaFrom Staff Reports

BEAUMONT – A Crockett man recently pleaded guilty to federal firearms violations in federal court.

Shapala Butler, 32, pleaded guilty to theft from a federal firearm licensee and being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm before U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone in the Eastern District of Texas court.

According to information presented in court, on Oct. 14, 2020, the Crockett Police Department responded to a burglary at Houston County Pawn, located in Crockett.  Upon arrival, officers discovered the front door glass of the business was shattered. The officers searched the woods near the burglary and discovered eight firearms that were stolen from the pawn shop. Law enforcement was able to identify Butler as the perpetrator by using the pawn shop’s surveillance video as well as DNA evidence collected at the scene.  Butler was interviewed by a federal agent and confessed to committing the burglary. Butler further confessed to knowing he was a felon at the time of the burglary.  Butler had been convicted of burglary of a building on two prior occasions and as a convicted felon is prohibited from owning or possessing firearms or ammunition.

Butler was indicted by a federal grand jury on Dec. 15, 2021.  He faces up to 10 years in federal prison.  The maximum statutory sentence prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.  A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.

This case was prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime.  Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.  As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Crockett Police Department and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald S. Carter.

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Crockett man jailed after shooting threat at Corrigan-Camden High School

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Randy Dewayne Jones Jr.Randy Dewayne Jones Jr.By Brian Besch
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CORRIGAN – A Crockett man is now in custody at the Polk County Jail after a terroristic threat Monday.

Randy Dewayne Jones Jr., 19, turned himself in Tuesday afterthreatening to “shoot up” Corrigan-Camden High School, according to a Corrigan Police Department press release.

Corrigan police said Jones turned himself in at the Houston County Sheriff's Office. Around 12:30 p.m., he was in custody and was being transported to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. He will be charged with terroristic threat of a public servant, a third-degree felony.

“He was associated with some students at the high school, and it was basically, like a lover's spat,” Corporal Terry Valka of the Corrigan PD said. “They ended up blocking him on social media and then he started mentioning on Snapchat that he was coming with seven carloads deep with his gang members and going to shoot them and whoever else was in the path at the school. He sent it via text message, and they (students) showed it to them at the school. He is supposedly affiliated with some gang members in the Crockett area.”

According to Corrigan-Camden Superintendent Richard Cooper, the student turned the message over to high school administration.

The threat was made an hour and a half before school dismissal. The campus at the high school and middle school was placed on a “soft lockdown.”

“We were made aware at 1:55 p.m.,” Cooper said. “When we receive a threat of violence toward a student at the school or to the school itself, we contact law enforcement immediately, which was Corrigan PD.

They came and looked at the threat. Our high school and junior high campus – those campuses are connected by one city street and we have junior high students that come to the high school for some of their

elective classes. We put both of those campuses on what is called a soft lockdown. They are not locked down with lights out, like there is an active shooter, but they are not allowed to go outside. We stay in one classroom and quit switching classes.

“Local law enforcement in Corrigan reached out to Polk County Sheriff's Office and we had a real heavy police presence. We had police officers at all entrances of the campus until we felt like it was safe to send our kids home at the end of the day. We escorted all of our kids out to buses or parents’ vehicles. We canceled all afterschool activities yesterday and let law enforcement conduct their investigation and arrest who made the threat. They did, and they did it swiftly.”

In charge of the scene, Valka said he contacted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for assistance and secured the area with around 20 officers.

“We had about 15 patrol cars all around the front and back and side,” Valka said. “We had it secure and if anybody wanted to, they couldn't have done anything.”

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