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Albany man writes about life in the cotton mills

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- Southwest Georgians looking to take a glimpse into a slice of the region's history might want to check out "Mill Daddy: The Life and Times of Roy Davis" by Albany author Bill Lightle.

Lightle says a good portion of his book focuses on the life of fellow Albanian Roy Davis, whom he met more than three decades ago.

"R.D. was a sharecropper and cotton mill worker," the 52-year-old Lightle said. "He was born in 1916 in Baker County. By the 1930s, his family moved into the mill village in Albany, where he worked 10-11 hours a day."

It's a bittersweet picture of 20th century life in Southwest Georgia.

" 'Mill Daddy' is a story of sadness and love and family," said Lightle, who has worked in education for 21 years. "It's a powerful story."

The book takes readers into the world of Davis, who put work ahead of attending school.

"He was illiterate, like so many boys coming of age then," Lightle said.

But the author shows readers that Davis was a devoted family man.

"He was married for more than 60 years," Lightle said.

According to the author, "Mill Daddy" is divided into two sections.

"The first half of the book focuses on his life, work and family," Lightle said of the 110-page volume. "The second focuses on myself and my high-school friends, who worked under Roy in the 1970s."

The Mill City Press project, which is available at www.blightle.com and Amazon.com, took Lightle about 1 1/2 years to complete.

"Because I was working full time," he said, explaining that he teaches at South Georgia Regional Achievement Center, LaGrange College and Albany State University.

But gathering facts for the project actually started a few years ago.

"I started interviewing Roy in 2001 or 2002," Lightle said, explaining that he took a hiatus from the project for a few years before returning to it.

In addition to talking with Davis and his wife, Anna, Lightle studied the time in which his subject was a young man.

"The research involved going to the public library and looking through The Albany Herald during the 1930s," he said.

Researching Davis gave Lightle some unexpected insight into his former employer.

"I didn't know the details of his life, his marriage," the Georgia Southwestern University graduate said.

An example of such detail is how both Davis' own father and his wife's father had both abandoned their families. Plus, Davis' working conditions were less than desirable.

"From my own reading of history, those cotton mills were awful to work in," said Lightle, who holds a master's degree from Valdosta State University.

This isn't Lightle's first time being published. His previous book, "Made or Broken: Football and Survival in the Georgia Woods," was published in 2004.

"That book is about an old football coach at Albany High," Lightle said.

Plus, he is already looking toward his next book.

"I'm currently working on a project that I plan to be released next summer," Lightle said.

Lightle, who worked in the newspaper industry for eight years before heading into education, has always had a love of writing.

"I got the love of stories from my father," he said.

As with most writers, Lightle enjoys reading, too, especially such

authors as Ernest Heminghway, Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough

and Rick Bragg.

"You've got to read to write," he said.

Lightle will discuss and sign copies of "Mill Daddy" at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Albany Civil Rights Museum.