For as long as I can remember, my mother had three old, hand-woven baskets,
made from white oak splints. Here's a picture of these baskets. The
tall one on the left was used as a dirty clothes hamper -- toss your dirty
clothes in it and when it's full, wash the clothes. She used the short
basket on the right as a sewing basket -- it held scraps of cloth, thread,
scissors, and the like. The basket in the rear, with the handle, served
many purposes -- picnic basket, carry casseroles to church suppers -- whenever
she needed a basket with which to "tote" something.
Three baskets by "Stuttering Charlie"
Here are close-up photos of the three baskets.
My mother was born in 1924 in East Feliciana
Parish, Louisiana, near the village of Norwood, LA. In the early 1930's
her father moved the family to Centreville, Wilkinson County, Mississippi, where
he opened a grocery store with a National Recovery Administration loan -- in the
midst of the Great Depression.
My mother told me several times that these baskets were made by an old
African-American man who lived in/near Centreville whom she knew as "Stuttering
Charlie." She told me that "Charlie" stuttered whenever he spoke with
other people, but, when he talked with her with no one else present, he did not
I inherited these baskets after her death (March 2007) and I set out to find
more information about "Stuttering Charlie." I wrote a letter to the
editor of the
Republican newspaper; they published my letter and I heard from two
people who knew Charlie. Here is what I have learned so far:
- His name was Charlie Thompson, and, he did stutter badly.
- He made baskets which he sold around Woodville and Centreville and
throughout Wilkinson County.
- He made his own splints from white oak trees.
- He had a nephew named Richard who learned basket-making from Charlie.
- One summer either Charlie or Richard or both were
featured artisans at the Smithsonian
National Folk Life
Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC. This may have
been the summer of 1974 because,
according to this website, one of the featured themes of the 1974
Folklife Festival was Mississippi.
My mother told me that Charlie made the two round baskets for her for 35
The basket with the handle has another story. My mother's family -- her
father, mother, older sister, and younger brother lived near Norwood, LA, where
her father -- my grandfather -- was a buyer for a regional grocery and dry goods
company, Bridges and West. When the Depression hit, he lost his job.
The family survived for a while farming, part-time work, and sharing with family
When Franklin Roosevelt instituted the National Recovery Administration to
make loans for people to start businesses, my grandfather took a NRA loan, moved
the family a few miles to Centreville, MS, and opened a grocery story.
Here is a photo of my grandfather in his store -- this appears to have been an
If you look closely at the photo, in the center, you see three
baskets behind my grandfather -- two on the floor and one on top of these two.
According to my mother, shortly after Granddad opened his
grocery store he read an article in the Independent Grocer magazine
suggesting that grocers make hand baskets available to their customers so the
customers could select their own merchandise. At this time, the practice in
grocery stores was for the customer to give their grocery list to the grocer or
a clerk who would then fill the order while the customer waited. The magazine
article suggested that, if customers walked through the store selecting their
own merchandise, they may make impulse purchases, thus increasing their
purchases. Granddad asked Charlie to make three baskets and those three are the
baskets in the photo. The basket with the handle that I inherited from my
mother is one of these three baskets made for Granddad's store.
I continue to search for information about Charlie Thompson and his baskets.
If you know any of this story, please contact me via
Richardson Family first page.