The King’s roots: Verona man writes book on "The Roots of Elvis Presley"

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – About four years ago, amateur historian Julian Riley found himself on Elvis Presley’s trail.
He and Rachel Ann Harden delved into the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s family tree, which took them throughout Lee and Itawamba counties. Their plan at the time was to write a book.
“At first, our research centered on Gladys and Vernon Presley being married here in Verona,” Riley said. “It just kept going and going and going.”
They found more information than they expected, so they created a website, www.rootsofelvispresley.com, a couple of years ago.
Now, Riley has taken many of the Elvis stories he and Harden found and put them into a book, “The Roots of Elvis Presley.” It features more than 200 pages of stories and photographs.
“All of my English teachers will tell you, ‘This is not something that should be possible for me to do,’” the 68-year-old Verona resident said. “Sometimes, what I’m doing is in past tense; sometimes, it’s in present tense; sometimes, who knows what it’s in?”
The book might prove controversial for some. For instance, Riley said he never accepted the story that the Presley family packed and moved to Memphis in 1948 to seek a better life. He suggested there might have been a more pressing reason for the move.
“Why was it a better life?” Riley said. “They didn’t have jobs waiting for them in Memphis. Gladys didn’t want to leave Tupelo. All of her friends were here.”
During his research, Riley interviewed Marcus Posey, who used to work with Vernon Presley.
According to Posey, there was break-in at L.P. McCarty and Sons, and a bunch of cigarettes were stolen.
“I don’t know if Vernon Presley had anything to do with it, and it really doesn’t matter,” Riley said. “Vernon was an ex-con. Vernon had been in prison. Suspicion naturally would have fallen on him.
“In that case, Gladys knew there was no hope of staying in Tupelo,” Riley continued. “Her husband couldn’t find work here. Probably, she couldn’t find work here.”
Through interviews with Presley family members, as well as friends and co-workers, Riley tried to answer questions that, he said, “had never been answered sufficiently.”
Copies of “The Roots of Elvis Presley” are available for $20 at Tupelo Hardware, Johnnie’s Drive In and Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo, and Mrs. Ruth’s Diner in Verona.
Riley said there are plenty more Elvis stories to tell, and he has plans for two or three more books.
“We’ve got a ton of stories that need to be written,” he said. “We just need to get them out there.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@djournal.com.