Alderman: from slave’s son to city official

RIPLEY – A combination of unusual circumstances brought Gilroy Bails into the world as the son of a former slave. The 75-year-old’s father – Andrew Bails – was 75 when Gilroy and his twin Leroy were born. “My daddy was born in 1859 and came to Tippah County from South Carolina as a slave when he was 10 years old, brought by a man named Bails, which is where we got our name,” said Gilroy Bails, now a city alderman. A copy of the page from the 1900 census that lists Andrew Bails gives details of his first family with Mattie Bails. He was 40 years old, she was 35, and they had four children: Patience, Corina, Ella and John. “I remember Patience when I was a little boy, because we used to go to her house and she’d feed us,” Gilroy Bails said. “She died in 1941.” Gilroy Bails’ mother was Nodie Simmons Bails, who married Andrew on Sept. 18, 1926, after Mattie Bails had died. Andrew was 67 and Nodie was 21. “They said he was tall and handsome, and I guess that’s why she married him,” Gilroy Bails said. “Also, he was a farmer and had a little money.” They had four children: Henry, Hettie and the twins. Andrew died when twins Gilroy and Leroy were 13 months old. Henry and Leroy also have died, but Hettie Bails Cox lives in Ripley. “It was after an accident,” Gilroy Bails said. “He went out to bring in some wood, fell and busted his head. He caught pneumonia and died.” Gilroy Bails’ mother remarried after Andrew’s death, but his stepfather – Aaron “Fox” Cox – died when he was 10. His mother was left to raise four children on her own “the best way she could,” mostly by cleaning peoples’ houses. Gilroy went into the fields. “We lived on a farm in the Moses Chapel community, and Henry came back and started helping on the farm,” Gilroy Bails said. “I worked there, too, until 1955, then I told my mother I was leaving to find some other kind of work.” Life’s changes Gilroy Bails moved into Ripley in late 1955, where he found work at the Finger lumber warehouse. He also met “city girl” Grace Ratliff and married her in 1956. With an eighth-grade education and a lot of initiative, Gilroy Bails held a succession of better jobs: Truck driver for Finger; machine operator for American Biltrite; truck driver for Tippah Wholesale; and his last 20 years before retiring in 1994 working as a general clerk for the Jitney Jungle grocery chain. Those jobs, he said, helped him keep his vow that if he was blessed with a wife and children he would take care of them. “It’s been a good marriage and he’s been a good provider,” said Grace Bails. They have been able to raise five successful children – Al, Gilroy Jr. and Diane Rogers, who live in Ripley; Greg, who lives in Memphis and Teresa Smith who lives in Chicago. As the family archivist, Grace loves to assemble scrapbooks of her family’s accomplishments. Highlights in Gilroy Bails scrapbook are the census record page that lists his father and a duplicate of Gilroy’s parents’ marriage license. It also documents Gilroy’s election as a Ripley alderman in 1985, the first time a black person was elected to the city board, and a seat he has held for 25 years. “I’ve never missed a meeting in 25 years,” he said, serving with five different mayors. Not too long into his tenure the city named Bails Road in the industrial park in his honor, a road that was extended a few years ago to connect with Highway 4 on the west side of the city. “God has been good to me,” Gilroy Bails said. “Being born in 1934, I can remember hard times, at age 11 making $10 a week as a sharecropper working sunup to sundown. But I try to obey Him and He has been good to me.” Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or

Lena Mitchell/Daily Journal Corinth Bureau