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November 30, 2012

Former first lady Jamelle Folsom remembered (Updated with 2004 Times interview)

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CULLMAN —

Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

 

Editor’s note: The following article first published in The Cullman Times on February 8, 2004.

Cullman’s first First Lady

Jamelle Folsom: First lady, first mom of county

By Gail Crutchfield

Jamelle Moore Folsom was 17 years old when she met Jim Folsom. She can recall the day as if it happened last week, from what she was wearing to how she styled her hair. It was a hot May afternoon in 1946 and the man 20 years her senior was on the campaign trail, trying to drum up support in his bid as governor. It was on that day she began the journey to becoming Cullman County's first first lady of Alabama.

"In 1946 the Strawberry Pickers and Big Jim were going to speak at the Berry Bank," Folsom said. Her father, E.M. Moore, owned a general store and was the Folsom campaign manager in Berry.

"He said, 'Honey, I want you to get dressed and come down to the bank,'" Folsom said. "I called several girlfriends. We had one of those phones that you crank up, you know. And l called three of my friends and I said, 'Be sure to be at the bank at three. My daddy said [Folsom's] going to be the next governor of the state of Alabama and we want to meet him and listen to the Strawberry Pickers.'"

As she stood in the crowd with her friends, dressed in a white seersucker dress and her black hair hanging to her shoulders, she drew the attention of the tall man speaking to the crowd that filled the streets of Berry. "Daddy had the whole town just covered," she said. People were sitting on top of railroad trains to get a look at Folsom. "I was in the crowd with my girl friends and we were just all around and giggling and acting our age," she said. "And he looked over and winked and he said, ‘You folks in Berry sure have some good-looking younguns here.’ I was attracted to him because I had never seen such a giant of a man. He was so tall, 6 foot 8, and handsome."

About halfway through the speech, Folsom said Big Jim told the band to play "Back in the Saddle" and "Oh, Suzanna" so he could go into the crowd and meet some of the people.

"So he goes around shaking hands and... he came over and he said, ‘Honey, you want to get married?' I said, 'Some day.' But I said, 'You're married, you have two children.' I saw a campaign picture with him holding the two little girls and he said, 'No, I'm a widower. My wife passed away.’ And he said, 'I want to meet your folks.'"

"And of course I look up at this giant of a man and I said — well, he didn't know where I lived — and I said, 'Well I'm walking back to the house and we live right in town.' And he said, 'Well I'm gonna go over there and meet your mama and daddy.'"

Mr. and Mrs. Moore were sitting in a swing on the wrap-around porch of the white house on the corner, when thier only child walked up with Jim Folsom.

“Daddy jumped up just thrilled to pieces because he’d already been campaigning and working for him,” Folsom said.

“Jim said, ‘Mr. amd Mrs. moore, I’m big Jim Folsom and I want to take your daughter to the courthouse tonight.'"

Mrs. Moore wasn't too thrilled with the idea. "Mother said, 'Oh baby can't go,'" Folsom said. "Daddy said, 'Well I don't see anything wrong with her going.' He then asked Jim Folsom what time she should be ready and was told his driver would come and pick her up at 6 p.m. “So, I ran back into the house and tried to figure out what to wear and finally decided a green suit would be good for the courthouse, tailored,” Folsom said.

Folsom's driver, Bill Lowery, also was attracted to the 17-year-old. "He said, 'Now look, Miss Moore, if you don't want the governor to bring you back, I'll drive you back from the courthouse.' He said, 'He's much older than you.' I said, 'No, I want to get to know him. I think he's real fascinating and I'm attracted to him.'"

At the courthouse, Folsom and Lowery sat in the balcony while Big Jim gave his speech. Afterward, he motioned for the two to join him on the main floor. They then attended a reception hosted by the owner of the local hospital.

"So when we get to Dr. Robison's house all these beautiful girls were lined up in front," Folsom said. "He was known as 'Kissing Jim’. He kissed all the older people on the forehead and cheek and the young girls he'd kiss them on the cheek and the hand, too. And I thought, 'Oh lord, these beautiful Fayette County girls, I will never see him again.' I said, 'I guess Bill you'll be taking me home.'"

But it wasn't those Fayette County girls Big Jim was smitten with, it was the petite girl from Berry. It was Jim Folsom who carried her home that night and asked for permission to get to know her better.

"I fell in love with him the first night I was with him and he said he would call me every Sunday because the campaign was real scheduled, like six stops a day. By Sunday he could rest. So he'd always come to Berry on Sundays and pick me up and we courted and after two years we got married.

"I prayed every night that he would get elected governor." When he was elected, the Moores attended the inauguration. "I went kind of quietly with my parents," she said. Folsom's sister, Ruby, served as first lady until he carried Jamelle over the threshold of the governor's mansion in 1948.

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