“THE NAME WAS WHAT ATTRACTED ME first,” photographer O. Rufus Lovett says of Weeping Mary, a Cherokee County hamlet that he has chronicled over the past four years. Settled shortly after the Civil War by liberated slaves from nearby plantations, the community may have been named for Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary, but local folklore identifies the Mary in question as a freedwoman who was tricked out of her land by a rich white man.
When Lovett set out to find the isolated community, it didn’t even rate a highway sign. “When I first visited, early on, there may have been some suspicion,” says Lovett, a Longview resident who is a photography instructor at Kilgore College, “but everyone welcomed me. When I told them I’d like to take some pictures, they invited me back, and after I photographed them and gave them photographs to keep, we became friends.”
That kindness, Lovett says, is Weeping Mary’s greatest charm. “It’s the kind of place where everybody takes care of one another. Kids are looked after by parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, church ladies. Everyone attends everything. Last time I was out there, it was the bonfire and wienie roast at Brother Parker’s—he’s the deacon at the Baptist church.” Except for a solitary fix-it shop, Weeping Mary has no businesses. Some residents are loggers or farmers; others work for the highway department or the state hospital in Rusk, eighteen miles away. A lack of jobs may keep Weeping Mary small—its population, though not officially recorded, is around two hundred—but Lovett is sure it will endure. “Some people have moved away,” he says, “but most people grew up there and now are raising their own children in Weeping Mary. They have a lot to be proud of.”