Historians say America changed in the mid-1960s. It did in the Shoals, but perhaps not for the same reasons it did elsewhere. It was officially less than a week into summer on June 28, 1965. It may have been Monday, but it wasn't unusual for kids out of school to party each night of the week. Many had the money and parents who trusted them--a lethal combination.
It was also a time when there was only one public high school in Florence. Coffee High had five social clubs and an arch enemy across the river in Sheffield, but as anyone would have told you before that night it was all harmless competition.
Robert Stewart Jr., known to his friends as Bobby, had been a big time jock at Sheffield High. A track star, Bobby had graduated in 1960, winning a scholarship to Florida State University. Five years later, Bobby was back in the Shoals and attending what was then Florence State College, but at 23 he still lacked several credits to graduate. If anyone had any concerns about Bobby, it was that most of his friends were younger and still in high school. The youths looked up to Bobby, and he liked it that way.
It became common knowledge that the Nenon Social Club would be having a party that Monday night. Coffee High was home to only the last three grades of public school, so only rising juniors and seniors would be among the girls who had rented a cabin on Lake Wilson. Bobby decided to crash the event, taking along as many as 30 youths from Colbert County.
The Nenon girls had invited boys to the unchaperoned party, but just not any from Colbert County. Once Bobby and his crew reached the cabin on Lauderdale Beach Road, they found themselves unwanted by the Nenons who managed to bar their entrance. It seems if Bobby Stewart and his Colbert County friends couldn't attend the party, he would make sure no one else did...
To be continued...
Colbert County Coroner Carlton Utley has a new Facebook page; be sure to like it: