Who knew Judge Simmons did that?

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When I was growing up on East Park Avenue in Opp, what the adults living there did for a living didn’t cross my mind. I identified neighbors by the children living in their houses.

The ones without children I categorized by the grandchildren who visited them, or the quality of candy they handed out at Halloween. Each house had a story, but what the grownups who lived in those houses did when they left the neighborhood (it was mostly the dads who left) never entered my mind.

Oh, I knew my father went to the hospital each morning, worked in an office and then came home in the late afternoon. Other parents left about the same time and arrived home at the end of the day. Where they went, I didn’t know or care.

Kids didn’t discuss their parents’ jobs. We were too busy riding our bikes, roller-skating and having adventures playing in the creeks near our houses.

The only exception was Margaret’s daddy, Dr. Dunn. The Dunns lived next door to us and because he was our doctor and came over to check on us when we were sick (those were the days of house calls) I knew about his job.

I knew Mrs. Jackson, Marsha’s mother, Mrs. Page, the mother of the Page boys, and Mrs. Benton, mother to Alice and Elizabeth were teachers. And, I knew Mr. Tom (Benton) had a pecan company because he brought us pecans sometimes, but that was as much as I knew about our neighbors‘ professions.

When I was older, I realized the three Jackson daddies who lived on our street were brothers and owned a car dealership, and Joe’s daddy, J.T. Benson, also sold cars at his dealership. The Page boys’ father had an important job at the cotton mill. I was never quite sure what Mr. Richburg, Charlie and Jim’s daddy, did but I think he was once involved in the newspaper business.

A few days ago, I learned something about another of our neighbors, the Simmons. They lived in a brick house across the street from us. Back then, they seemed old, but now I know they probably were not as old as I thought.

Mrs. Simmons was my piano teacher. I remember the little room where she taught and how I played those hated scales as she sat beside me listening. Oh and I didn’t like her metronome, either

Many afternoons, her husband, Judge Simmons, would come home while I was there. He often stopped at the door, said hello and asked how my lesson was going.

I liked Judge Simmons and I remember him as always smiling. Of course, I knew everyone called him “Judge” but what that meant was lost on me. I thought of him only as Mrs. Simmons’ husband.

A few days ago when I read a story in the Star News, I realized the important role my neighbor, Judge Bowen Simmons, played in our county’s legal history.

In the story, Ab Powell recalled how Judge Simmons did something that was a first, not only in Covington County, but also in the state.

My neighbor decided to put women on a jury. Before he hand-selected a jury that included six women, only white male landowners made up the juries, according to Powell.

“It wasn’t long after that we had women on all the juries in Alabama,” Powell said, noting those first jurors appear on the mural next to the Andalusia post office.

“How cool,” I said. “My neighbor made history and helped advance women’s rights.”

Now Judge Simmons probably didn’t put women on a jury to push women’s rights. He most likely did it because he valued their opinions. Oh wait, in the mid 1950s that was probably a big deal.

Anyway, I appreciate that, even though I didn’t know it when I was a kid, what the adults in my neighborhood did for a living made a difference in their community, in our county and even in the state.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.