Willis Elbert Mollison
Willis Elbert Mollison was born during 1859 near Mayersville in Issaquena County. He was the son of Robert and Martha Mollison. Robert and Martha, his parents, were both born during 1827 in Maryland and were residents of Issaquena County prior to 1859. Willis Elbert grew up in Issaquena County and at an early age attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and during 1878 he entered Oberlin College. From 1882 until 1892 he served as the Issaquena County Chancery and Circuit Court Clerk and shortly after 1892 he moved to nearby Vicksburg in Warren County. He was a noted newspaper writer. Several times he was elected as a delegate to the Republican national conventions and always cut a wide swath in all public affairs. He was a lecturer of great ability and well versed on historical subjects. He was a practicing attorney in Warren County. His wife was the former Ida Welbourne of Clinton in Madison County. Between 1910 and 1920 he moved to Chicago, Cook County Illinois where he continued to practice law. In Chicago he was the vice-resident of the Anthropological Society and served as president of the Cook County Bar Association. The following biography is taken from the book, Beacon Lights of the Race, published during 1911.
Many great men have been connected with the history of the State of Mississippi, and this fact applies equally to men of both races. In the pioneer days of the Commonwealth of Mississippi, when it was in the infancy of its Statehood, adventurous men from all parts of the Union were attracted to the State, drawn there by its fertile soil, its salubrious climate and its inexhaustible natural resources. Brillian statesmen, gifted orators, renowned educators, pious and consecrated ministers of the gospel, great legal luminaries, political adventurers and general soldiers of fortune emigrated to the State as if in search of the modern El Dorado. In the days of reconstruction many of the ablest colored men of the North were attracted to the State because of the unusual opportunities for political preferment that were in reach of talented men of the race. The State was a sort of political Mecca in those days, and much of the ability that was found in the colored ranks of the Republican party was brought into the State at that time.
One of the native citizens of the State of Mississippi, and one who in ability, both natural and acquired, stands out pre-eminent in the ranks of the great men of the State, is Honorable W.E. Mollison, the able barrister of Vicksburg, Miss. He was born in Issaquena County, September 15, 1859. His ancestors had cut down the mighty monarchs of the virgin forests, subdued and exterminated the wild denizens of the primitive forests, plowed up those new-born fields and laid the foundation for the blessings of civilization which all the people of the State now enjoy. Thus to a great degree the State of Mississippi is deeply indebted to the ancestors of the distinguished subject of this sketch, who cultivated the soil in the vicinity of Vicksburg and made it blossom like a rose.
One of the many remarkable things concerning this extraordinary man, the most conspicuous one has to deal with his education. In the days of his youth there were no educational advantages for the boy who had the misfortune to have been born with the "shadowed livery of the burning sun." Moreover, he was born on the very eve of the internecine conflict that deluged this nation in blood and resulted in the freedom of the Negro race. He had only the barest plantation opportunities for education in the days of his youth. He was a boy of remarkable precocity, and this is demonstrated by the fact that he learned to read when he was only four years old. In many respects he was an infant prodigy, and was looked up to by all the country around as the brain of the neighborhood. He mastered all the intricacies of Webster's Blue Back Spelling Book while he was living in a log cabin on the banks of the Mississippi river. he had a ready insight into the art of reading, and that art was for several years the only source of his information. He devoured with ravenous appetite every book that he was so fortunate as to get his hands on, and he thus became one of the best read youths in the country for miles around. So dense and so universal was the illiteracy around him that he was the only colored youth in his vicinty that had a knowledge of reading from the time he was six years old until his eleventh birthday. The humble natives came from miles around to hear him read the Bible and other books, and his humble cabin was indeed a modern Mecca to which the faithful might repair in search of the gospel of truth and righteousness. Of course, the youthful intellectual prodigy had to pay a heavy penalty for his knowledge, for it entailed countless efforts, at reading for the benefit of the hundreds that regularly came to his cabin for their spiritual and temporal edification. So frequently did he read the Bible for the benefit of his hearers that not only did he know a great deal of the same by heart, but it bred a sort of distaste for the book which it ook quite a number of years to destroy. He was not only the public reader for the whole neighborhood, but circumstances forced upon him the responsibility of being the public letter writer for the neighborhood.Thus it is evident to the readers of this narrative how indispensable to the welfare of his fellow citizens Mr. Mollison was in the days of his youth, and he is none the less a necessity for his fellow citizens in the full strength of his manhood; and it is more than probable that those conditions which forced him to serve his fellows, when a mere youth, were incentives to prepare him for even greater service in his mature manhood.
Inasmuch as the greater part of his education was self-acquired in the early days of his youth, it was perfectly natual that he should have beeen developed in a one-sided manner, which was really the case. He could read like a philosopher and spell like a wizard, but he was sadly deficient in the other fundamental branches. Of course, he was a very ambitious youth, and wanted to obtain a first-class education, so at the earliest possible opportunity, he went off to college. In the year of 1876 he doffed his homespun trousers and quit the confines of his youth, and went off to Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn. He was a raw country youth, it was true, but he was far from being a simpleton. He was far behind many of those who had been blessed with better advantages than he, and so he waded unto the studies of the curriculum with a grim determination to get a maximum of results in a minimum of time. He summoned to his resources all of the innate energies that had enabled his ancestors to triumph over the primitive conditions in a new country, and he succeeded. When he entered Fisk University he was classified three or four classes above the class in which he really belonged, but he struggled and made good. By diligent application he went as far as the middle preparatory class in Fisk University, having been inconvenienced by late entrance and early leaving for the farm. After having attended Fisk University for a short time, the subject of this sketch was attracted to Oberlin College, where he completed his literary training. The whole time that he spent in Fisk University and Oberlin College covered a period of about twenty-three months: While a student at Fisk University he did in ten months' time an equivalent of five years' work for an ordinary student. In his student career at Fisk University and Oberlin College he gained a good working knowledge of Latin, Greek and the German language, and at Oberlin College he won great distinction as a brilliant student, a veritable twenty carat diamond in the rough.
He quit Oberlin College in the year of 1879 and went home to take up the responsibility of the teachers' profession, but on his return home he ran for the office of Chancery Clerk when he was only twenty years old, but he suffered defeat in this his first political venture. Not at all discouraged by his late defeat, he bought a newspaper, which he edited and ran for three years. He was appointed by a Democratic administration Superintendent of the public schools of Issaquena County for a term of two years, but before the expiration of his term of office as Superintendent he was elected Clerk of the Circuit and Chancery Courts of Issaquena County. This acting in accordance with the opinion of the Attorney General of the State, he held at the same time the dual office of Superintendent of Instruction and Clerk of the Circuit and Chancery Courts. As owner and publisher of the county newspaper, combined with the other positions of trust and responsibility which he held, there were four positions in his keeping at one time. He was the honored Clerk of the Circuit and Chancery Courts of Issaquena County from the year of 1884 until the year of 1892, inclusive, and he was re-elected to the position without a dissenting vote. About that time, or in the year of 1890, the State Constitutional Convention of the State of Mississippi was held, and it wrought far-reaching changes in the laws of the State, and owing to the changes in the constitution the colored voter was largely eliminated from the political affairs of the State.
The subject had read law from the beginning of his student life at Fisk University, but beginning in the year of 1880, Mr. Mollison took up the earnest study of law in the office of Judge E. Jeffords, a famous legal luminary that had once graced the bench of the Supreme Court of his State, and he was admitted to the bar in the year 1881. He was as precocious in the study of law as he had been in the prosecution of his literary branches, and consequently it was an easy matter for him to forge rapidly to the front as a practicing attorney. In the year of 1893 he had the honor of being appointed by one of the judges to the exalted position of District Attorney pro tem of Issaquena County, and he filled with distinction this office for the whole term. In the year of 1900 he was appointed by the President of the United States to be Supervisor of the United States census for the Seventh District of Mississippi, one of the largest districts of the State, and in that capacity he was responsible for the proper enumeration of the population in his section of the state.
While Mr. Mollison is easily one of the ablest and one of the most versatile men in the State of Mississippi, his undying fame will rest more on his ability as a member of the bar. His qualification is eminently and pre-eminently legal. As a lawyer he at one time had the largest criminal practice in the State. He is perhaps the most widely known colored lawyer in his State. He has actively practiced his profession in nine counties in the State, and has been employed in a legal capacity in twenty-five counties of the State. In recent years he has to a great extent applied his great talents to the practice of civil law. He has built up a great reputation as an attorney in land cases. His opinion in such cases is considered conclusive. He is one of the leading chancery lawyers of the State, and fortunate is that attorney that can prevail against him in a case at law. He has a passion for the study of law, and it is his proud declaration that he would rather have the honor of being a first-class lawyer than to have the honor of being supreme judge of the universe. His practice is one of the most extensive and one of the most lucrative in the State, and his clientele numbers among them representatives of both races of this Southland. he is counsel for Supreme Camp, Colored Woodmen; he is counsel for Grand Camp, Colored Woodmen; he is counsel for the Knights of Tabor; he is counsel for the United Brothers and Sisters of Benevolence; he is counsel for the State Golden Rule Societies; he is counsel for the Mound Bayou Oil Mill & Manufacturing Company; he is counsel for the United Reformers; he is counsel for the Lincoln Park Land Company.
It is perfectly natural that a man of Mr. Mollison's ability and general versatility should have been drawn into activities outside of the domain of law and politics. The world is so constituted that for the man of ability along any line there will always be an abundance of work to do. So along fraternity lnes his transcendant ability has been called into requisition, and he has guided to success one or more of the best known fraternities in the State of Mississippi. He is Supreme Governor of the Colored Woodmen and Grant Attory for the Mississippi jurisdiction of this order. This order operates in Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and has applied for admission in the State of Tennessee. It was organized in the year 1906, and in short period of its existence it has grown to wonderful proportions. It now has a total membership of 7,000, and it is still growing by leaps and bounds in every direction.
Lawyer Mollison is a man of large and varied affairs. Between his extensive legal practice and his multitude of business interests he is one of the busiest men in the State of Mississippi. He is President of the Lincoln Park Land Company of Vicksburg, Miss., a company capitalized at $10,000, and engaged in general realty transactions. He is one of the original stockholders of the Solvent Savings Bank of Memphis, Tenn., an institution which has been highly successful in its financial operations. He is a stockholder of the Delta Savings Bank of Greenville, Mississippi; he is a director of the Mound Bayou Oil Mill & Manufacturing Company and the attorney for the same company. He is one of the promoters of the Union Guaranty Insurance Company of Mississippi, an insurance company composed of some of the ablest men and greatest financiers of the race, and destined to be of invaluable service to the interests of the race. Mr. Mollison is the attorney of this insurance company, and his materly legal mind will look well to the interests of this company.
On the 5th of October, in the year of 1880, Mr. Mollison made the greatest plea of his life, when he succeeded in winning the hand of his dear wife, who was int he days of her single blessedness Miss Ida T. Welborn of Clinton, Mississippi. She is a graduate of Fisk University, and was an honored teacher in the schools of the States of Kentucky and Illinois. The happy couple were married at Fisk Univeristy, and thus those classic walls that had formerly rung with the praises of Mr. Mollison when he was a brilliant student at Fisk University now reverberated with the joyful acclaims of Hymen.
Seven children have blessed the union of Mr. and Mrs. Mollison and they, thus present a living example of their views on the momentous question of race suicide. Each one of their children in some worthy avenue of life is striving to uphold the family name and maintain the family honor. Miss Willie Ethel Mollison, now Mrs. C.B. Minor, is a graduate of both the academic and the music department of Tougaloo University. She has had experience as a teacher, and was for some time employed in that capacity in the schools of Greenville and Vicksburg. She is a noted pianiste, and occasionally gives lessons on that instrument. Her devoted husband is a promising young attorney of the city of Vicksburg, and a hard and capable worker in the law office of his distinguished father-in-law. Miss Lydia Wells Mollison is now a student in the college department of Tougaloo University. Miss Mabel Z. Mollison is a graduate of Oberlin Business College, of Oberlin, Ohio. She holds a diploma from one of the leading business colleges of this country, and she is a well equipped young woman from both and intellectual and business standpoint. She is an expert stenographer, and has done much work in the way of court reporting and teaching stenography. Miss Annie M. Mollison is a graduate of the McDowell School of Dressmaking and Desinging, of Chicago, Ill., and she also holds a diploma from the Blesse School of Millinery of the same city. Owing to her proficiency in thse practical accomplishments of housekeeping, she has taught these arts at Shaw University, Raleigh, N.C. Welborn Atwood Mollison is a student at Tougaloo University. Irvin C. Mollison, though only twelve years of age, is one of the best informed boys of his age in the State of Mississippi. He is an inveterate reader and an embryo walking encyclopedia of useful and valuable information. He is a bookworm of the thirty-third degree, and he can wade through a series of ponderous and formidable looking books with the same equanimity with which the averge youth would read through a facinating novel. He has cultivated familiarity with some of the master minds of literature, and he is well on in the development of one of the brightest minds that will some future day grace the institutions of this country. The writer now comes to the youngest scion of the honorable house of Mollison, Master Walter G. Mollison, a youth of tender years. We have reached that period in youth when the sum total of human existence revolves around the atheletic field. The sweetest music that can charm his ears is the sonorous whack of the baseball bat when it lands with violent on the festive horsehide and sends it up in the form of a parabola to the distant territory in the baseball lot. he is a typical American youth, with the reddest of red blood coursing through his veins, or he would never be such an intense devotee at the shrine of the national pastime. There is a great future for this American youth, for at the psychological moment he will transfer the greater part of his youthful energies to the more useful walks of life and gain in them a degree of fame not less than he has gained on account of his devotion to baseballology.
Mr. Mollison is not only one of the most distinguished lawyers of the State of Mississippi, but he is one of the best known men in his home State. Whether as a lawyer, legislator, platform orator, business man, or fraternity builder, he takes a leading rank with the best men in the State. In general ability he is the peer of any other man in the State, and it is an honor to the State of his nativity that it should have given him to the nation. Mr. Mollison is a man of the highest culture and the most charming personality. He is a man of fine presence, and he is endowed with all the graces that tend to make him such an ornament to society. He is a fine conversationalist, and there is an affability characteristic of the man that makes him very easy of approach to even the most diffident. He is an orator of note, and in the realm of forensic effort he has an ability that suffer nothing in comparison with any of the gifted sons of the State. he is an adroit and experienced politician, a trained legislator, a capable business man, a convincing orator, an able lawyer and one of the best all-around men in the land. He is a sort of modern Chesterfield in his manners and in his bearing, and he is altogether one of the most picturesque, most fertile in ingenuity and most brilliant men in the whole Southland.
1870 Issaquena County, Mississippi Federal Census
1880 Issaquena County, Mississippi Federal Census
1900 Warren County, Mississippi Federal Census
1910 Warren County, Mississippi Federal Census
Who's Who in Colored America. 1927, Boris, Joseph J., editor; Who's Who in Colored America Corp., New York, 1927, Vol. 1, page 308.
Beacon Light of the Race. Hamilton, Green Polonius, E.H. Clarke & Brother, Memphis, Tennessee, 1911; pp. 430-436.
The Broad Ax. Willis E. Mollison Obituary; June, 1924; Chicago, Illinois.