Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Craig's Unforgettable Memory: Cross Burning In Yard

Could you imagine seeing a cross burning in your front yard? If you said no, that is exactly how my mother’s brother, Craig Allen felt, until it happened to him. This is the story that he remembers as it happened one night in a neighborhood in Buckstown, Jefferson County Parish, Louisiana.
Craig’s story begins like this in his own words:
 In the early 90s, I was offered to live in a house by a gentleman named Sealey. This man wanted me to rehab the interior and exterior of his property. Upon arriving at the house the grass on the property was three to four feet high and the homes surrounding the property were very well kept. When I entered the home I could see that it had been used as a party house. Furniture was turned over and broken, kitchen appliances were dirty, leftover food was in the refrigerator, piles of clothes were thrown everywhere in both bedrooms, and the bathrooms were horrible. It needed a full restoration. After analyzing the situation, I started on the inside since I was going to be living there. After three days of going back and forth and cleaning, I was able to stay there to finish the restoration. Once the inside was livable, I began working on the outside. This included mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, and cutting bushes. While doing this exterior work, I met some of the neighbors. I received great reviews from them, saying they were so glad that something was being done.
Buckstown, LA is a shrimping community consisting of  95% white population and the headquarters of the Grand Marshall of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. I was unaware of this fact at the time, not really being aware that I saw no faces that looked like mine in the community.  The people were very friendly though. After a month of living there, one evening, I got a knock at the door. As I opened the door, entering without invitation, were six men in wet slicker suits, the attire worn by shrimpers, which led me to believe that they were coming straight off the water from their boats. With some apprehension I offered them a beer. A couple of the men took me up on it, but the others declined because they were more interested in where the owner of the house was. I explained to them that I was there to rehab the house with a rent to own option per a verbal agreement with the owner. I told them Sealey was in the city and he was paying me for the work that I was doing. He was getting the paperwork together for a rent to own option. The intruders explained to me that the Sealey family was one of the oldest families in the area. The men showed me a picture of the house  before any other houses were built around it. Sealey’s family was one of the  founding families of Buckstown. Sure enough there was a picture that I had removed from the wall to paint, that showed that it was, in fact, the original house. Now there are houses all around. After telling me the story, the intruders finally left with a message for me to tell Sealey to contact a man named Bobby Jo. I didn’t question the request, not really realizing the gravity of the situation I was in.  I thought nothing of it because everyone was so nice and this was some prime real estate. Two weeks later, Sealey came by to see what had been done and paid me the last installment for the work. He had not yet gotten the paperwork together, but had no problem with me staying there until the paperwork was finalized the next week. Two days later I got up to go to the store to get some more groceries. I left out from the back door of the house. Upon returning to the house, I could see the front lawn and to my amazement there was a ten foot wooden cross that was smoldering in smoke. I stopped, looked around and saw that the lawn had been trampled on by many people. How could this have happened? I hadn’t heard or seen or heard anything. No wailing of fire sirens, no blaring police lights, and no concerned neighbor knocking at the door warning me of a racial ritual being played out on the front lawn of the house I was sound asleep in. The legend was true, the Klan comes as ghost in the night. I had been visited by a live not dead an apportion. The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I thought of what might have happened if I had ran out of the house or had been pulled out of the house by these terrorists. Flashes of my forefathers being burned, lynched, disfigured and torn away from their families in the black of night brightened the corners of my mind. I immediately ran in the house and called the police because I could not believe that crosses were still being burned and used to intimidate and instill fear upon innocent black people in the 90s!! The police and news stations came. I was told that this was the Grand Duke’s territory. I asked what my legal rights were against this crime, but I was told that I was not welcomed even with legal documentation. I immediately packed and vacated the premises.  I was angry and confused!!! HOW COULD SOMETHING LIKE THIS STILL BE HAPPENING IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA??
This was yet another experience I had with racism and prejudice in the United States in the 1990s. AND THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES.

Footnote: In doing research for my uncle’s story I could not find any record or evidence of this story even though my uncle’s interview was broadcast on several local television stations. COVER UP??? EVIDENCE DESTROYED???? Who knows, it has happen before.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Horrors of Racism

Strange Fruit   by Billie Holiday
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Horrors of Racism in the south or anywhere can be the number one contributing factor as to why people refuse to return to their homes and migrate to other cities. The fear caused by racism can be soul shaking. These eye opening experiences can cause one to resolve never to expose themselves or their families to this terror ever again.
My maternal grandfather, Clyde Allen, was raised in Sopchoppy, FL, a little southern town not too far from Tallahassee. After WWII he relocated to St. Louis, Missouri and never returned to his hometown. So, I began to ask myself  Why?. 
He never spoke about his childhood with his family. Although, an early experience in his life may glean some light on why he never spoke about his upbringing. In early January of 1919, the Allen family experienced a horrific fire that destroyed their home. It is not known what started the fire. Who knows the fire could have been set by the Klu Klux Clan for racial reasons. Oral history is that Wesley, my grandfather’s father, went back into the fire to rescue his family.   Later that month, he died of pneumonia. As a result, Clyde, his mother Rebecca, his brothers Peter and D.W. and his sister Beatrice went to live with Rebecca’s father, Berry Williams. 
Because of this unfortunate house fire and probably racism experienced in Sopchoppy, FL, my grandfather never returned to his southern roots. 
My grandfather was just one of the thousands of African Americans that left the south and migrated north in the Great Migration. This mass exodus could have been cause by…
The fear of being lynched in the night by the Klan
The fear of your loved ones being kidnapped and never returning home
The fear of women and children being raped at anytime
The fear of being beat savagely and tortured
The fear of being targeted for harm because of your skin color

The unspoken memories of our ancestors are because of terrorism, racism, and other terrible isms that were felt, seen, and experienced in the South. They could not bring their mouths to speak and their minds to recall the trauma they endured and experienced.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
 Maya Angelou


Wesley Allen ( 1893-1919) Great Grandfather


Clyde Allen (1915-1970) Grandfather

 Rebecca Williams Allen (1891-1937) Great Grandmother

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tragedy With A Sprinkle of Happiness

Oral history, in my paternal family, is that the slave master’s son had relations with his slave. The slave’s name was Melviney Newell Poole and she is my Great Great Grandmother. As a result of the rape between the master’s son and Melviney was birthed my Great Grandfather, Richard Poole on February 4, 1875.
 Now Richard Poole’s life is kind of like a rollercoaster. There were some high points in his life that were celebrated and everything was good, but there were also low points when things weren’t so good. Some of the high points of his life were his marriage to my Great Grandmother, Georgia Ann Wilks around 1905 and the birth of his seven children ( Freeman, Minnie, Ornell, Frank, Lillie, Rubye, and Raymond).
Unfortunately, life can’t be all sunny days, but there are some dark days mixed in. These moments of my great grandfather’s life were grieved by not only him but also his entire family. The first event that brought sadness and heart ache to my great grandfather was the murder of his second  son, Frank. Frank was killed by two men that were hired by this old lady who was jealous. According to my Grandmother, Rubye’s memoirs, her father attended the trial set for the murder, but did not press any charges against the murderers because “it would not bring Frank back”. Not only was my great grandfather saddened by this death, but the whole family was devastated and grieved for quite a while. The second low point in my great grandfather’s life was his death on April 13, 1941 in LaGrange, GA. He died because of a fire in the attic of his house and was burned beyond recognition, according to his death certificate. In my grandma’s memoirs she says, “I went to the shop early but he hadn’t open. I came back home and the phone rang to tell me that my Dad was burned to death and they would have a graveside funeral at 1:00 p.m. that day.”
My great grandfather’s life is like so many of the lives of our ancestors. YES, THE STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE WAS REAL AND STILL IS. Our ancestors’ lives can be described as “sometimes you win some and sometimes you loose some”. More often, in the African American case, we lost. However, it can be said that through our ancestors’ lives we have learned to keep living because the sun will shine again.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Finding my R.O.O.T.S at M.A.A.G.I


One of the definitions for passion is a strong fondness, enthusiasm or desire for something. In my case that “something” is genealogy. My passion began as a very small ember in my heart to learn more about my family. This tiny ember was set ablaze through my attendance at MAAGI (Midwest African American Genealogical Institute)  for the past four years. When I first started my genealogical journey, I didn’t know how or where to begin. I needed to learn how to research and learn the various resources that were available to me. MAAGI was my teacher. MAAGI helped me in finding my R.O.O.T.S.
            The R in R.O.O.T.S stands for research. MAAGI has definitely taught me the strategies and tools to conduct a successful and thorough search for my ancestors and others. Now that I know the correct way to research, I can look at a document and begin to question certain facts. In order to find answers to my questions, I have to DIG DEEPER to find the answers that I am seeking. DIGGING DEEPER, during research, makes the facts richer and gives credence to the those family “oral” histories.
            The O’s in R.O.O.T.S stand for opportunities and optimal exposure. MAAGI has given me many opportunities to meet and network with other genealogists and professionals in the field. I have gained great knowledge and insight from listening to the various speakers and interacting with my peers at the institute. In addition to opportunities, MAAGI have given me optimal exposure to put what I have learned into practice. For instance, the first year that I attended MAAGI, I took the Professional Genealogy track. In this track, one of the class activities was to create, plan, and execute a Blog Talk Radio Show. My fellow classmates and I created a show called “Why Genealogy”. This experience of creating and being a part of a live radio show, gave me a better appreciation of all the work that goes on behind the scenes of programs like this. It also showed me that genealogy is not just researching, but sharing your findings and experiences with other through Blog Talk Radio Shows and other platforms. The opportunities and optimal exposure that I have received at MAAGI have given me a broader mind concerning the field of genealogy.
            The T is R.O.O.T.S stands for techniques. From the teachings at MAAGI, I have learned numerous ways of searching for ancestors. One of the techniques that I use often is to make a timeline for a  particular ancestor. Timelines give me a better picture of the facts I have and the facts that I need to find.

Finally, S in R.O.O.T.S stands for support. From the instructors to my peers, I definitely get support and help with any questions or genealogical brick walls. This support has been invaluable. Attending MAAGI has been an excellent experience that is a treasure, igniting that small ember, that I began with, into a blazing wildfire.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Children of the Dust




Dust is often thought of as unwanted, of no value, and often thrown aside because it has no purpose.
“Children of the Dust” are the unwanted children of American servicemen and Vietnamese women born during the war. Such children were left behind to face discrimination, poverty, and the shame of the communist government all alone. The mothers of these children were often not present in their lives because they were either in prison, killed, or raped, losing everything. They were shunned along with their children. In all of this devastation, the poor children were left motherless, directionless, and without much hope. HEARTBREAKING, isn’t it!!!!!
Oh, but there is hope. Through the work and dedication of volunteers of Humanitarian organizations worldwide, these children can get help finding their paternal relatives. How??? Through a wonderful and powerful tool called DNA. I took an Ancestry DNA test in 2013 and just a few days ago was contacted stating that I was matched with a man in Vietnam as a second cousin. He was born during the Vietnam War and his father may be my maternal great uncle. Although my great uncle never spoke about this child with his family, it might be that he had no knowledge of the birth of this child. Thus my DNA journey began. Although I am not directly related to him, I knew who to contact. Now it is up to the family to decide to take a DNA test for varification to prove the parentage of this “child of the dust”.
Furthermore, it is very important and with a sense of urgency that I write about this matter because families need to understand how needful it is for these children to find their families. Hopefully, embracing the newly found relatives will bring healing to their broken hearts. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Unlocking Doors

My grandfather's key

Picture of website
   My genealogical goal for this year is to find my paternal great grandfather. I have been researching and looking for Edwin/ Edward Johnson for six years. Family members have very little information to contribute to my search because he left his family when my grandfather was only ten years old.
So, when I get a clue to the identity of my great grandfather, I am over-the-top excited! You ask, “What clue did you find?” Well, as I was researching on the computer for information about “Railroads in the 1920s”, I hit the mother lode. As I was reading about working and riding on the railroads, I came to a picture that looked very familiar. I remembered that my mother had a key that my paternal grandfather, Charles Johnson, had. I compared the key with the picture and it was a MATCH!!!!! I had an O.M.G moment. Could this be the clue that I needed to unlock the mystery to my great grandfather? I was looking at “railroads in the 1920s” because there might have been a possibility that Edwin was a Pullman Porter. Some of the places he and his family lived in (according to census records) were accessible by train.
 This particular key that I am referring to is a Pullman Porter’s key. They used these keys to open up the berth (beds) for the riders in the sleeping car compartments. On the key were the words L&N Railroad ( Louisville & Nashville Railroad).  Most likely Edwin Johnson was a Pullman Porter for this railroad. BINGO, clue number one.
The other story is that my grandpa might have used this key when he took the mail from the Post Office to the train station to open the mail car. This car on the train was always locked because it not only held mail, but also money.
 So I have two mysteries to further investigate..
#1 – Did this key belong to Edwin, and was it the only memento his son, Charles, kept of his father?
#2- Did this key belong to my grandpa when he worked at the Post Office?

Although I am still researching about this key, I have an optimistic outlook of the possibilities it could lead to. This key will definitely UNLOCK  DOORS in my search.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

I May Be Bound, But I Survived: Lannie's Story


The mystery and questions surrounding my third great grandmother, Lannie Cheatham’s life are slowly but surely unraveling into a very interesting and complex story.

Lannie was born in Stewart County, Tennessee in 1828 during slavery. Through oral history from her granddaughter, Katie Shemwell, we know that she was a cook, servant, and took care of the children in the big house on the slave plantation. I am still searching for her slaveholder’s name, which would give me her maiden name.

According to the 1870 census (first census taken after slavery) Lannie is living in Roaring Springs, Kentucky with Henry Pinner and his five sons ( Samuel, John, Stephen, Lewis, William) and one daughter, Narcissus. Henry and Lannie were not married, according to this census. However, it makes sense that Lannie is taking care of Henry and his children because she had gotten into the habit of caring for children during slavery.  

Within the next five years, between 1870 and 1875, Henry must have died because Delena (Lannie) Pinner (widow) married Kit Cheatham (widower) on December 4, 1875 in Trigg County, Kentucky according to the Trigg County, KY Marriage License and Bond Book 1873-1887.

According to my cousin, Janet Cheatham Bell’s biography, The Time And Place That Gave Me Life on page 28, it says that Lannie bought into the marriage two sons and Kit bought in two sons. Lannie’s sons possibly were Aaron Pinner (stepson) and Noel Cheatum (son). Kit’s two sons were Frank and Sam Cheatham. Although Lannie and Kit had children from previous relationships, together they had seven more children- five boys (John, Stephen, Thomas, Jimie, and Dac) and two girls ( Frances and Lizzie). Kit had other children before and during their marriage including two boys Green R. Cheatham ( 1882-1955) ,Will Cheatham (1885) and two girls Mattie Cheatham (1860-1957) , Carrie Greenway (1888-1937).
Later in life, Lannie was noted in the 1910 census as being blind. This fact was also verified by her granddaughter, Katie Cheatham Shemwell.

In 1920, as Lannie’s health started declining she went to live with son, Thomas and his family in Bumpus Mills, Stewart County, Tennessee. Sadly, on August 6, 1928 she died of senility at the ripe age of 100.


I do not know if Lannie had any happy times in her life, but what I do know is that her life was hard, in constant transition, and filled with taking care of others. Lannie went from being a slave to being free to taking care of seventeen children and two men throughout her lifetime. NO WONDER SHE DIED FROM SENILITY, SHE WAS TIRED!!!!