Most everywhere I went online, I read essentially the same thing:
“Otis Redding was born on September 9th, 1941 in Dawson, Georgia to Fannie Roseman Redding & Otis Ray Redding, Sr. His family moved shortly after to Macon where his father took a job at Robins Air Force Base…”
It all sounds good and well but here’s the thing: his parents were sharecroppers. His grandparents were sharecroppers. They all worked the same plantation. There was no way they could afford to go into the city for a birth.
So, I did some digging. Here’s what I found:
The answer: Otis Redding was presumed to have been born in his parents’
home on the Laing plantation lands near Rt. 55 & County Rt. 3 around Clark’s Mill, Georgia, 7 miles south of Dawson, Georgia (9.3 miles from the center of Dawson).
How did I find out where Otis Redding was born?
I found out on my second try by contacting Jonathan Gould, the author of “Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life” via email. The book has quickly become the definitive Otis Redding biography. To my astonishment, he wrote me back within the hour.
I initially wrote to him.
I’m enjoying your biography “Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life.” I’ve re-read the early passages a few times to try and sort out where Otis Sr. & Fannie where living when Otis. Jr. was born, but I can’t find a definitive reference.
Were the Reddings living in Clark’s Mill, GA when Otis. Jr. was born?
I can’t find any additional online reference that says for certain. They all say, “Born in Dawson, moved to Macon.”
If I’m getting this right, your book says both the Redding family and the [Fannie] Roseman family were sharecropping in the now-defunct Clark’s Mill, Georgia area, 7 miles south of Dawson. Otis Sr. was still sharecropping when Otis Jr. was born, which would imply the family might still have been in Clark’s Mill. Am I correct?
I thank you in advance for any light you are able to shed for this small-town Otis Redding fan.
Here was his reply (published with his permission):
First off, I’m thrilled that you’re reading my book. And reading it so closely.
The Reddings often referred to their home in Terrell County as “Dawson,” which is the name of the county seat. But their house was actually seven miles south of the town, near the intersection of Rt. 55 (or the Herod Highway as it was known) and County Rt. 3, on the plantation lands owned by the Laings, who still reside at Laing Crossroads. “Clark’s Mill” was a local term for the area, derived from the grist mill that was located on Rt. 3 about halfway between the Herod Highway and the intersection of County Rt. 1.
All of this information, incidentally, is derived from the 1930 and 1940 U. S. Census, the 1935 Georgia Census, and the interviews I did with Ken Laing, who showed me what he believed was the house where Otis was born, and Nat James, who lived on the Laing plantation and knew the Redding family.
And yes, the Reddings and the Rosemans were still sharecropping on the Laing plantation when Otis Sr. and Fannie moved their family to Macon in 1942.
I hope this clarifies the geography. And I hope you continue to enjoy the book.
All best wishes,
We’ve actually emailed a few times over the last few days.
He’s uncovered some pretty incredible stories while researching Otis Redding. If time and schedules allow, I hope to take some of those stories and compile them into a really nice interview.
Here’s a sample of some cool stories Jonathan Gould shares from his book:
Not only is he a nice guy, but he also saved me from having to dig through Census records and guess about Redding’s background – which would have been my fourth try.
For the record, my third try would have been to contact the Otis Redding Foundation. My first try was to contact www.otisredding.com.
The website was a bust. Their contact form / help link takes you to shop.otisredding.com. I used the form and got a reply from the media company saying they don’t have direct contact with “Otis Redding.” After I made a joke about needing a time machine or some seriously strong smelling salts to raise Otis from the dead, the error for which they promptly apologized, they let me know they only run the shop. Subdomain. At that point, I found it easier to contact Mr. Gould than it was to try to contact a website that has many, many issues at the moment.
Where the Hell is Clark’s Mill, Georgia?
If you went looking for Clark’s Mill, Georgia on Google Maps or Wikipedia and didn’t find it, don’t worry. I didn’t find it there either. I only found it at:
- VanishingSouthGeorgia.com: pretty cool photos of what appears to be the actual Clark’s Mill
PS: I’ve enjoyed reading “Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life” so far.
Not only is it a deep, thorough read, but it’s helped me learn how to use the Kindle app. Go check it out.