For a dozen years, the late Tommie George Boulton, Sr. operated Boulton’s Cleaners, Lucedale’s first, and only, Black-owned cleaners.
Boulton’s Cleaners opened in approximately 1972 and closed in 1984. It was located on the west side of Winter Street just south of what is now AutoZone and next door to a painted white church now called New True Divine Word Ministries. A few blocks of a wall still stand as evidence of the cleaners, but the building has caved in.
Tommie had worked washing and pressing clothes at Byrd’s Cleaners, now Jarrod’s Cleaners. Byrd’s Cleaners was located on Commerce Street and was owned by Harlan Byrd. Just down the street was a cleaners owned by Marvin Mason. Mason closed his cleaners in the late 1970s. Yes, at one time Lucedale supported three dry cleaning/laundry businesses.
Tommie’s son, Mike Boulton, was about 14 when his father opened his own cleaners. Mike worked in the business with his father and learned all the aspects of the business. He started as a teenager working after school until the end of the business day. “We were open every day of the week except Sunday,” Mike said. His father taught him how to wash, how to load the dryer and how to press the clothes. Afterward, he learned how to properly bag clothes and later ran the delivery van. “We delivered house to house,” Mike recalled. They delivered to homes in George, Greene and Perry counties including the communities of Lucedale, Leaf, McLain, Beaumont, Little Creek and Carter Hill.
According to Mike, the cleaner’s closed because too many people had received cleaning services on credit and didn’t pay their bills. “My daddy had a book so thick of people who owed him money that if he could have collected it, he would have been a millionaire,” Mike said. Customers of Boulton’s Cleaners included both black and white citizens. About 40 percent of its patrons were white.
“I helped him until he shut down. By then I was working at both the cleaners and at Wayne Lee’s Grocery,” Mike said. “I’d go to the cleaners in the mornings and then work at Wayne Lee’s in the evenings.”
Mike’s older sister, Ophelia Boulton Scott, also worked in the business as the cleaner’s seamstress. Other siblings worked in it off and on throughout the life of the business. His mother, Callie Mae Ezell Boulton, worked as a custodian at George County High School, which was located at that time where George County Middle School sits today at the corner of Church and Mable Streets. Later, she worked as a cook at Glen Oaks Nursing Home.
Tommie had moved to south Mississippi from the town of Hickory in Newton County. He first settled in Leakesville and later moved to Lucedale where most of his children were born and raised. When Mike was a baby, the family lived near St. James United Methodist Church in the Grove, but soon moved to a house on Beaver Dam Road where they spent most of their childhood and teenage years.
Mike started school when he was 7 and was automatically placed in second grade because of his age. The late Alberta Gaines was his teacher that year. Two years later, when he was in fourth grade, George County Schools integrated, and he attended Lucedale Elementary School, which is now called L.C. Hatcher Elementary. He said integration was not a problem for him. “I got along with everybody and have a lot of white friends that I made during school. Some boys just wanted to get in fights, but not me. I got along with everybody.”
If you’ve ever lived or worked in the Lucedale area, it’s likely you know Mike or some of his surviving siblings. Angie Cowan, of Cowan Funeral Home and formerly of Singing River Electric, is his sister as is Letha Boulton, an administrator with Jackson-George Regional Library System. A few live elsewhere including Christine Hawkings of Hickory, Connie Kendall of Decatur and Melevina Booze of Ohio. Several have passed away.
And if you’ve lived in Lucedale for a few decades, you may remember the cleaners. If not, you now have something to think about as you travel past AutoZone.