Cunningham Family History

The Cunningham Family in 1946. (Standing) Cosby (Pop), James, Ferrell, Billy, Glenn, and Myra (Big Mama). (Seated) Dorothy, Kate, Tillie, and Frances.

This Chapter of the Cunningham Family History

began with Big Mama and Pop:

Big Mama and Pop with some family members in the 1950’s.

From “Family Ties and Memories”, 1977.Contributed by granddaughter Sandra Scott.

When I think of Pop, I feel his solid, quiet presence.  In my entire lifetime, I had very few complete conversations with Pop.  His contribution was more a sentence or two thrown in at just the right moment.  This was especially effective accompanied by the twinkle in his eye.  Even this was extremely quiet and fleeting and easily missed if you were not watching closely.

His was always the lap you could crawl into and listen to the adults jabbering away.  And you might even get snuck away for a treat, especially when Big Mama wasn’t in the store.  (See Pop with granddaughter Dorothy Lynn in the picture at the left.)

He was always the one seeing that things ran smoothly – fixing those unequaled sunny-side-up eggs, red-eye gravy and those delicious rice and biscuit puddings.  He was always there to clean it all up and start over again as another crew of us came in.

Big Mama at her piano in 1956 with her uncle Harvey Sanders.



Big Mama, on the other hand, was constant motion.  She was never more active than when she was sitting at the piano in her living room beating out a lively gospel tune.  (Pictured at right.) One of my earliest memories is marching around and around in her house to the music of “Keep on the Firing Line” played literally all over the keyboard. 

Pop and Big Mama with their “Henry J” car in 1952.

She was a “goer” if there ever was one.  If you mentioned the word “go” around Big Mama, you’d better be prepared to load up, just be sure you left room for Pop because he always had to go too.  I secretly thought he enjoyed it as much as she did.  Of all the vehicles they ever owned, I will always remember that little green Henry-J that carried them so many miles.  If ever a vehicle deserved honorable mention in a family history, it does.            (Pictured above.)

Their history together began is 1914 when the Cunninghams moved close to the Sanders family and Cosby and Myra met for the first time.  They married in 1916 and enjoyed 61 years together producing a family of eight children.  

(This picture was framed and hung in their bedroom from the time it was made throughout the rest of their lives.)

Myra Agatha Sanders Cunningham and Thomas Cosby Cunningham

The story of Myra and Cosby’s life together is told below:

Myra Agatha (Sanders) Cunningham

(Picture at right was taken March 28, 1912)

Myra Agatha Sanders was born on February 9, 1895 to James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield Sanders.  The family lived in Vernon, Alabama where James was the mail carrier and Emma was a school teacher. 

Thomas Cosby Cunningham

(Picture at left  was taken January  25,  1916) 

Thomas Cosby Cunningham was born on March 15, 1896 to William Joseph Cunningham and Rhoda Frances South Cunningham.  When Cosby was still an infant his mother died.  Joseph married his second wife, Lela Russell, a few months later.  The family home was in the community of Bluff a few miles from Fayette, Alabama. The family moved to Vernon, Alabama in 1914.

After Cosby’s family moved close to the Sanders family in 1914, Myra was doing the family washing one day at a spring nearby.  Cosby had been plowing and came down to the spring after dinner to water the mules.  Cosby and Myra struck up a conversation and from that day on, Cosby would leave notes for her under the wash tub and she would answer in the same manner.  Pretty soon, the courting became serious.   Myra quit school and began making quilts and other things for her hope chest.
On February 16, 1916, the couple were married sitting in a borrowed buggy in her father’s front yard.  They spent their wedding night in the Baily Holliman home in Bluff.  Their married years were spent in northwestern Alabama and northeastern Mississippi. 
(Back) Glenn, Ferrell, Billy, James (Front) Frances, Tillie, Myra, Cosby, Dorothy, Kate
They eventually had the following eight children:
  • Kate Laurene  (August 5, 1917)
  • Frances Jeweline  (August 8, 1918)
  • James Denton (February 9, 1920)
  • Dorothy Faye (September 23, 1921)
  • Thomas Ferrell (February 2, 1923)
  • Tillie Clo (August 15, 1925)
  • Billy Joe (August 15, 1925)
  • Harroll Glenn (March 19, 1928)
Big Mama at her and Pop’s store in Hamilton, Mississippi in 1952.
Cosby spent most of his life working in sawmills, on road and railroad construction, share cropping, and in the shipyards in Mobile.  Myra spent her years raising the family and during World War II she worked at Columbus Air Force Base.  Afterward she worked in a retail store in Aberdeen, Mississippi and this experience led them to open Hamilton Dry Goods Store in Hamilton, Mississippi on December 1, 1948.  The store is next door to their home on Highway 45 and due to a bell which rings in their house, they are on call all the time.  In the many years they have operated the store, they have been called upon at all hours of the day and night, holidays and Sundays.  They still handle the full responsibility of the store in addition to all their other activities.    (Pictured at left)
Among these activities, one of their favorites is traveling.  Since their children left home in the 1940’s, Big Mama and Pop, as they have been named by their first grandchild, have been to every state in the Continental United States except Rhode Island and have toured Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. (Pictured below)
Cosby (Pop) and Myra (Big Mama) in 1958 on one of their many  “trips”
Another favorite activity is going to “singings”.  This lifelong love began in their childhood.  Big Mama played the piano at her first singing when she was eleven years old and has been playing ever since.  She has a flamboyant style, playing all over the keyboard, and is in much demand as a pianist even to this day.
Today (written in 1977) Big Mama and Pop’s family has grown to include approximately 29 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great-grandchildren.  Roughly one-third of their family live within 75 miles of Hamilton, Mississippi.  The rest are scattered throughout various parts of the United States, but visit frequently including an annual family reunion.  This tradition began in 1956 and have been held almost every year since that time.
The photograph below was taken at the final Cunningham reunion on September 17, 1977.  While the book “Family Ties and Memories” was in the process of being printed, Pop passed away on October 23, 1977.  Pop’s and Big Mama’s last day together was, as usual filled with activity and the close communion they shared for nearly 62 years.

(Kneeling left to right) Billy, Glenn, Ferrell, and James.

(Standing left to right)  Pop, Big Mama, KateDorothy, Tillie, and Frances. 

Author’s note:  As the years have gone by,  in addition to Pop’s death in 1977, the remaining family members have also passed away:   Dorothy on February 14, 1981;   James on December 27, 1982;   Big Mama on April 14, 1983; Tillie on January 23, 1998;  Billy on February 3, 2004;   Kate on February 15, 2005;   Frances on May 28, 2015;  Ferrell on December 29, 2018 and Glenn on July 15, 2021.   

Family Memories

Cunningham Ancestors

Military Service

Family Memories

Cunningham Ancestors

Military Service