It started out as a beautiful day for the Fayne family. But the night of April 3, 1968 turned tragic for the family after a tornado swept through Tipton County and destroyed their house on Lucy Kelley Road in Brighton.
Back then, the siblings ranged in age from toddlers to teenagers: Clay Fayne Peete, 17; Regenia Fayne Dowell, 16; Clifford Fayne, 14; Delphine Fayne Taylor, 12; Rosalind Fayne, 11; Randall Fayne, 6; Mark Fayne, 5; and Richard Fayne, 3.
Looking back, this tragedy would coincide with another major event and become, not only a significant part of their family’s history, but of the nation’s history as well.
“It was just before 10 that night,” remembers Clay, “We thought it was a train coming.”
The eldest sibling, she was a senior in high school.
The family dog sensed there was trouble and began barking. This prompted their father, Richard Fayne Jr., to investigate. By the time he was able to alert the family, pieces of the house were beginning to fly away.
“It happened in a matter of seconds,” she adds.
Once outside, they sought refuge in their green 1960 Oldsmobile.
“The hail broke all the windows out, but that was the only thing we seen that was still sitting upright,” says Clifford, now a deacon at St. Luke’s Missionary Baptist Church.
They waited out the remainder of the storm in the Oldsmobile.
Randall points out, “Daddy made us line up and called us each out by name from the oldest to youngest-he took roll.”
“Yeah, about 20 times,” laughs Clifford.
Sometime during the storm, among the debris flying through the air, their hogs had gotten out of the pen and ran underneath the house. After the storm began to die down, they made an alarming realization.
“We couldn’t find our mama at first,” says Randall, “A wall had fallen on top of her.”
When the wall fell on top of their mother, Mrs. Mattie Pearl Fayne, one of the hogs helped to keep it from crushing her.
“The running joke was ‘I was sleeping with the hogs,’” says Randall.
Their mother was the only immediate family member to need medical attention. A cousin, Ella Dowell, who lived a short distance away, was killed in the storm. The hog that helped to hold up the wall was injured, so he ended up on the chopping block. The rest of the hogs were sold.
Once he was able, their father went to a nearby house to call for help, but it was no easy feat. The roads were flooded, power lines were down, and debris was scattered all over the landscape. Nothing was left, even the bus they rode to school was blown away. Their bus driver, Walter “Buster” Cole lived just across the road.
The family eventually went to stay with their grandparents on Fayne Road until they were able to build their own house on Sherrill Street, just behind what is now Brighton Lumber Company.
The next day, on their way to town for some coal oil, they heard the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed.
“The news brief came on the radio in the car when Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis,” Clifford says.
The country was in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. Regenia remembers being out of school for two weeks following the assassination.
“After that, they decided you would have a choice. People talk about choice-well that was the first choice,” she says, “You could go to the school you were already going to in ’68-’69, or you could go to the white school. Then in ’69-’70, they all went together-it was required,” she says.
“The one thing I remember after being in that storm, and then Martin Luther King being killed,” starts Randall, “Blacks didn’t really know how to feel then. I saw a type of fear in my daddy, like a concern I would say.”
“My pastor preached a sermon a few weeks ago. He preached just like they preached after Martin Luther King’s death when they said, ‘Where do we go from here?” says Clifford.
For the Fayne siblings, they saw how hard their parents worked to support them. Their father worked as a carpenter, and their mother was a cook. The family even remembers meeting Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon when their mother worked on the Millington Navy base as a short order cook. Motivated and inspired, each of the siblings went on to higher education.
A mighty tornado was not able to shake their determination, nor did they let the racially-charged times defeat their spirit. They overcame their strife, and kept pushing through.
Fifty years later, they reunite to count their blessings and remember just how far they have come.
This story was written by Sara Jo Hernandez.