Charles “La La” Evans has never met a stranger in his 82 years of life.
At least that is the vibe this life-long resident of Needmore, the first African American community in Starkville, gives off. First-time visitors to his home, dubbed “La La Land,” and “La La’s Umbrella Grove” recognize this quality immediately.
A beaming smile, firm handshake and a hug greet friends and strangers alike at his two-acres property decorated with colorful umbrellas and lawn chairs. It is a place that has hosted many a soiree and high school graduation party over the years.
On a recent summer day, children from Starkville’s Brickfire Project came by to visit and play a game, which Evans called the “Needmore Scramble Challenge Chair Contest.” It was a mixture of Scrabble, beat the clock and musical chairs. The children also played a name-that-tune game, in which they had to name the artist based on a song lyric.
To Evans, being a part of, and giving back to, the community is very important. So is sharing life experiences and wisdom, as well as teaching the history of the community.
“If I can make someone’s child happy,” Evans said, “then my life hasn’t been in vain.”
Many heartfelt accolades come from people who have met Evans once; or twice; or for many years; or for all of their lives.
Author Jerry Boyd Jones, 71, has known Evans since age 15. He recalls fondly his time in the Boy Scouts where Evans was scoutmaster.
“I compare Charles with the jazz musician Miles Davis — you could see the confidence in his walk, the clothes that he donned, the music he listened to and his love for African-American children,” Jones said. “He always had a smile on his face, was energetic and enthusiastic and had a love for Needmore. With his guidance and leadership he helped shape the character of many youngsters who then became productive citizens themselves.”
Evans also has a reputation for his graceful dancing prowess.
He and his late wife Louise, who died four years ago, went dancing every Friday night. They would jitterbug and perform ballroom dances with the best of them. Charles and Louise were high school sweethearts, marrying at the age of 18.
“She made a great guy out of me by being the type of person she was,” Evans said. “I have to say even at 18, it was love at first sight, you see?”
After two years in the Army, the couple moved into the present day home with the help of a G.I. Loan in 1955.
Evans shined shoes for his father’s business and she was a housekeeper. Eventually, he became Starkville’s first African-American letter carrier, a position he held for 30 years. Following his job at the post office, he drove a shuttle bus on the Mississippi State University campus for 15 years. In addition to being a scout master for 25 years, Evans also taught Sunday school for 32 years. By his estimation he’s worked 115 years total in his life.
“It’s been such a great experience in life,” Evans said with a sly laugh. “I don’t regret a minute of it but I did have to shine a lot of shoes.”
As for his La La nickname, he simply shrugs his shoulders and says that he does not remember when or how it originated.
“I’ve lived with it all my life but I’m grateful for it.”
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