In the state and countywide primary elections held on August 2, 1955, Mississippi voters selected between five candidates for governor, eventually electing J.P. Coleman over Paul B. Johnson in the August 23 run-off election.
In Carroll County, voters elected John Tom Allen as sheriff, M.M. Bennett as chancery clerk, George W. Turbeville, Jr. as circuit clerk, Frank L. Lovell as superintendent of education, and Mack A. Smith as tax assessor. All the state and local officials were elected in the Democratic Primary Election, with no challengers in November’s General Election.
That same Primary Election night, while gathered in front of The Conservative office on the Carrollton Square to hear election returns, Tommy and Barbara Rayburn began their love story.
“It was the event of the season,” Barbara Rayburn said about election night on the Carrollton square. “When you topped the hill going into Carrollton, it was a sight. There was a lot of light, and people were everywhere.”
Rayburn said election night in Carrollton was “where you went to see everyone and went to be seen.”
Rayburn, who was just weeks away from starting her junior year at J.Z. George High School, remembers selecting just the right outfit for the big night, a black floral and a white eyelet top that could be worn off the shoulders.
“You could pull [the top] down off the shoulders some, but not if your folks were around,” Rayburn laughed.
While votes were slowing coming in and were counted, they were posted on a large chalk board in front of The Conservative office. People from all over the county gathered to see the votes totaled. People sat on the lawn of the courthouse and all around the square. Agnes’ Café was the “hub” of activity, according to Rayburn.
“People visited on the courthouse lawn,” Rayburn said. “The young people would separate themselves and go from group to group visiting.”
Rayburn said that night, she and her friends piled into a car to drive from Carrollton to North Carrollton and back, looping the Carrollton square for election updates.
“We pretended to be very interested in the election results, but we were really interested in seeing everyone,” Rayburn said. “We just spread the word. We would look at the board, and tell people the results.”
As it turned out, she ended cruising Carrollton and North Carrollton in the backseat of a friend’s car next to the almost-boy-next-door, Tommy Rayburn.
“He lived two houses down from us,” Rayburn said.
Tommy was a grade younger than Rayburn, but they knew each other well. He was a star football player, and she was a cheerleader. That election night, their friendship blossomed into more.
“We ended up holding hands, which was very risqué,” Rayburn laughed.
Tommy and Barbara Rayburn dated for seven years before they married in 1960, and had one son, Samuel Thomas Rayburn, III.
After graduating from J.Z. George, Rayburn went to Delta State University on an academic scholarship and earned a degree in secondary education. She went on to teach one year of elementary school in Carroll County before moving on to her alma mater, J.Z. George, where she taught Social Studies and English.
Tommy Rayburn went on to Holmes Junior College where he played football and earned his Bachelor’s from Mississippi State University.
Both Rayburns changed careers in their professional life.
Tommy Rayburn joined his father’s highway construction, and then he accepted a position at the Experiment Station at Stoneville in the Cotton Ginning Lab, where he did research and published his findings.
While Tommy Rayburn worked at Stoneville, he moved his family to Leland, and this is where Barbara Rayburn went from teacher to social worker for the Welfare Department.
“I started doing social work and child services in Washington County,” Rayburn said. “Then I worked at the state office.”
After the couple retired, they moved home to Carroll County.
“[Carroll County] is really home,” Rayburn said.
The Rayburns are spending part of their time in Little Rock to be near son and his family, but they still have their 65 acres in Carroll County. “The children love to go to the place [in Carroll County],” Rayburn said. “They love to hunt, fish, ride gators and four-wheelers.”
They are the proud grandparents of three, one who recently graduated from the University of Mississippi, another studying at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and another studying at the University of Chicago.
“God has blessed us,” said Rayburn.
In looking back at that election night in 1955 when she and her husband realized they were more than friends, Rayburn said at the time, it didn’t seem so monumental.
“That was a time in my life when I was young and carefree,” she said. “As it turns out, it was our forever story.”