By Gary Lloyd
TRUSSVILLE – For a long time, people wondered why I majored in journalism and minored in American studies.
Why not political science to compliment journalism? Or public relations? Or marketing? Or English? Or an eventual application to law school? I never really had a good answer, other than American studies minors could take a class on the history of baseball.
I think I know now. Well, I think I knew before. But now I’m certain.
On Sept. 13, the Trussville City Council approved a proclamation honoring Claude Earl Massey, a Trussville historian and preservationist, for his decades of volunteer service to the city. A lot of older folks here knew Earl, who died Aug. 2 at the age of 88. I can’t quite remember, but I’m fairly certain I never formally met Mr. Massey, though I’m familiar enough with his name and work to be considered a stalker. His name graces pages throughout the Trussville Public Library archives room and inside Heritage Hall.
Mr. Massey, born June 24, 1934, worked for the city of Birmingham Streets and Sanitation department for more than 32 years. He was a supervisor. He served on the Trussville Historical Board from its creation in 1983 until 2007, when his daughter, Sandra Turner, replaced him. He served as an adviser to the board from 2007 until 2020, when his Alzheimer’s disease began to worsen. The Trussville City Council in 2006 approved a proclamation in appreciation of Massey, stating in part that his “commitment to the preservation of our history benefits our community and will be a lasting memorial for use by succeeding generations.”
Massey was honored with another proclamation Sept. 13, albeit posthumously. His wife, Carol, accepted the framed document, and took photos with Councilwoman Jaime Melton Anderson, the liaison to the Trussville Historical Board, and a half dozen family members. I was appointed to that board in 2021, a year after Earl stopped advising it.
“We are indebted in the city to Earl Massey,” Anderson said. “We appreciate his service.”
One of Carol’s first realizations that Earl not only enjoyed history but craved it was when they would travel to cemeteries on Sunday afternoons. Carol did not necessarily want to spend a weekend afternoon among the headstones, but Earl loved it. He wrote down names and all their information. He made a book out of approximately 30 cemeteries in Jefferson and St. Clair counties. People called him from across the country looking for their kin. Back then, Earl could ask you what your grandmother’s name was and he would know your grandfather, too. He knew, after asking perfect strangers for their names, who their relatives were.
Everyone at the Birmingham Public Library knew Earl. Instead of taking a lunch break, he’d go look up information, study the old microfilm. He researched Trussville’s beginnings, the city’s housing, genealogy for those who asked him, and more. The Masseys wrote books. Earl did the research and interviewing, and Carol typed and proofread. Once, while working in Birmingham, Earl was told to take a heap of old photos to the dump, Carol said. He found a box of Trussville photos, mostly of old houses. He took them home. Many are now displayed in the museum inside Heritage Hall, which is at capacity with relics of Trussville’s past.
I have spent a lot of time in that museum and wish I could convince someone to replicate a key for me. One day, I hope. Each time I’m there, I find some new artifact, some new story, that sparks something in my mind that tells me to “Look into this more,” to “Let the 26,000 people here know.”
Maybe, in some small way, I’m like Earl in that way. I love archives. I love old, handwritten or Underwood-produced documents. I love finding something old that is new to me. For whatever reasons, I feel that responsibility to advocate for that history, for our roots here. I love our history here in Trussville – though I am still a newbie at learning it – something that I try to push every chance I get through Cahaba Sun articles, scans of old photos, interviews with folks, even a Trussville-themed Jeopardy game I created and recently played with the first Leadership Trussville class. Most folks, at least in my estimation, go searching for their roots, their history, later in life. For reasons I’ve yet to figure out, that has happened to me well before retirement. My mom has long called me her “92-year-old son.” Moms are always right, apparently.
The point of this column? I guess there really isn’t one. I suppose the muse was on me, the need to write something in the emotion and feeling of the night.
Like Earl would have, I guess, I just wanted to document the moment.