Tag Archives: African American

The residents of Quarter Rd. Cemetery…part 1

Last week, a couple of friends found an old and forgotten cemetery in the woods in Stanton, Haywood County, Tennessee. Long forgotten by the town and family members, their markers dirty and in disrepair, five individuals sleep the among the trees and critters aching to be discovered and remembered once more. Who were these people and why were they buried in the woods. Was it once the former location of a church that has lost it members and now only the cemetery marks its former existence? Or is it simply the hands of time that have enveloped the land and works to obliterate their memories? This was a mystery that is screaming to be solved! I’ll write my findings for each story… each mystery that I can uncover. We begin with the tale of Herman Sales.

Herman Sales May 12, 1895-Aug. 1, 1920

Young Herman Sales was born on May 12, 1895 in Shelby County, Tennessee to John and Letha Sales. He is their firstborn.

During the next five years, many changes occur in young Herman’s life. His mother has three more children and his father abandons the family. On the evening of June 27, 1900, the twelfth US Federal census was taken and found 5-year-old Herman, his mother Letha, brothers Raney and Billy and sister Hollie living with John’s parents, Albert and Mandy Sales and their three minor children still living at home. It’s an extremely crowed home with 10 people sharing the small space and everyone of age helps out on the family farm. Herman’s mother Letha is shown as being 38 years old and divorced. None of the family has gone to school and no one can read or write.

The 1910 US Federal Census was taken on Apr. 28, 1910 finds Herman’s parents back together once again and more children have been added to the household. Fourteen-year-old Herman is living with his parents, John and Letha and seven siblings in a rented home in Shelby County, TN on Central College and Kerrville Rd. His parents have been married for more than 16 years and in addition to the eight children living, his mother has lost two of her babies. Herman’s mother age is still shown as 38. She is 10 years older than her husband and I imagine it’s vanity that leads her to tell the enumerator the small fib.  Herman’s father is a farmer in his own right and needs the assistance of his oldest sons, so Herman and his 12-year-old brother Raney work the farm as laborers with their father. Neither one can read or write and have not attended school at all during the year. In fact, none of the Sales children have attended school in 1920 and out of his entire family, only his father John is shown as knowing how to read or write.

Herman Sales WWI draft Registration Card

In June of 1917, Herman registers for the WWI draft. He gave his year as birth as 1895 but did not give a month or day, perhaps because he didn’t know them. He told the registrar he worked for Earl Griffin in Fayette County and he was married. He was medium build, medium height with brown eyes and black hair. When it came time to sign his draft card, he could only make his mark because he still did not know how to read or write.

Just seven shorts months before his death, the 1920 US Federal Census was taken in Haywood County, TN and tells us he was black, married and the father of two babies. Herman’s wife Anna, 18-month old son Clifton and newborn daughter Lulu Bell lived with him in a rented shack on Hillville Road in Stanton where he farmed the land to make a living for his young family. His next door neighbors, Lee Powell and Edwin Moore, one black, one white, were also farmers and they worked the land together. His brother, Raney lived close by with his wife Rosie and their year-old daughter. A nephew, 7-year-old Roland Hamer also lived with them. Roland’s headstone was also found in the cemetery. His story will be next.

Although we don’t know the cause of Herman’s death, we do know that his headstone tells us he thought about the needs of his family in case of his death. The seal at the top of his stone is from the Masonic Templars of America, a black fraternal organization founded in 1883 by two former slaves, John Edward Bush and Chester W. Keatts, in Little Rock, Arkansas. The organization originally provided illness, death, and burial insurance, including a headstone for a small monthly membership fee during an era of segregation when few basic services were available to black people. By being a member of the MTA and paying his monthly dues, Herman ensured his family had the money for his burial and a stone in which to mark his grave. During  a difficult time, his pre-planning ensured the burden of his funeral cost did not fall to his family and enabled us to find his final resting place 90 years later to tell his story.


A chapter of American history closes forever

Mississippi WinnOn Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 a chapter of American History closed forever.  Ms. Mississippi Winn, 113, believed to have been the oldest African-American, died at Shreveport, La. at Magnolia Manor Nursing Home.

The Gerontology Research Group, which verifies information for Guinness World Records, said Winn was believed to be the oldest living African-American in the U.S. and the seventh-oldest living person in the world.

And although Winn never acknowledged the fact, Winn was one of two known people left in the United States whose parents both were almost certainly born into slavery because documents show they were born before the end of the Civil War.

Winn’s family described her  as “a strong-willed person, a disciplinarian” who believed that elders should be respected.

“She was living on her own until she was 103,” great-niece Mary C. Hollins said, cooking for herself and taking walks. “She just believed she could handle anything.”

Winn, who never married, was a caretaker of children and a cook.

She lived nearly her entire life in Louisiana, though she resided in Seattle, Wash. from 1957 to 1975, Hollins said. She had been a member of Shreveport’s Avenue Baptist Church since 1927 and used to say, “I am gonna stay here as long as he wants me to stay here.”

What a missed opportunity!  Here is a wonderful and spry elder who had lived in three different centuries! I can only imagine the stories she would have been able to tell. The history she would have been able to describe. The lessons she could have taught. I am sorry I was not able to be apart of them.

After reading about Ms. Mississippi Winn, I decided to research her background and see what I could find out about her and her family.

Mississippi was born on March 31, 1897 in Bossier, Louisiana to sharecroppers Mack and Ellen Winn. She was the 13th child born out of 15 in which only eight lived to see adulthood.

1900 US Federal Census listing Mississippi Winn and her family

The 1900 US Federal Census taken in Police Jury Ward 2, Bossier, LA., listed Mississippi living with her father Mack, 56 and mother Ellen, 40 and siblings, Mary 20, Julia Ann 18, twin brothers Isaac and Annanias 14, and younger sisters Cilla 8 and new-born Sarah 6 months. Mack and Ellen Stokes Winn had been married for about 22 years at the time of the census taking, putting their marriage at about 1878. The census reported her parents lived in a rented home and they were sharecroppers, in fact the entire family except for the youngest three children were all farm hands and expected to work the fields to help provide for the family. The census also tells us that Mack had been born in Arkansas, as well as both of his parents. Ellen is listed as having been born in Texas, along with her father but her mother is recorded as being born in Mississippi. Ellen was also recorded as having borne 14 children with only 7 of them living at the time of the taking of the census in 1900. Both parents are listed as able to read and write at the time of the 1900 census, but not 20-year-old Mary, nor the twins. Only 18-year-old Julia Ann is able to read and write out of all the children.

Mississippi and her family were living right next to her maternal grandmother, Julia Ann Lincoln, 61 who was a widowed share cropper who could not read nor write. We know grandma had been married at least twice. Once to Ellen and Frankie’s father, thought to be Warren Stokes (1840-bef. 1870) and then she married Tom Lincoln on Feb. 27, 1874 in Caddo, Louisiana, who apparently has also died before 1900. Living with grandma were daughter Frankie Smith, 39, who was also a widowed and unable to read or write and grandchildren Estelle, Cary and Davilla Lee, 18, 16 and 6 years old respectively, granddaughter Willie Ann 10, grandsons Aurie Lee 2, Dick Gates 11 and Johnnie Gates 17, niece Irma Johnson 12 and cousins Joseph and Mack Henry Pierson ages 4 and 2 years old. Julia is listed as having six children but only two living which means her only children are Frankie, who is living with her and Mississippi’s mother Ellen.

In 1910, we find Ellen Winn living with her daughter Julies, 28 and her husband Denver Hart, 33. Also living with the family is Scilla 18, Mississippi 13, Sarah 10 and now Elnora 8 and Carrie 1. Ellen is listed as widowed, leaving us to assume because of the age of Carrie, Mack is to have died during the past year. Ellen is also listed as being the mother of 15 children with 7 living. That has to be incorrect, as there are two more children listed that were recorded on the 1900 census. I believe she has had at least 16 children. This also means with two more children added and still only counting 7 as living, at least two other children have died. I’m not positive at this point whether it’s Mary or the twins. Also, an interesting note or rather discrepancy, is on the 1910 census, only Mississippi and Scilla are listed as able to read and write, not Ellen or Julia as reported on the 1900 Census. Also The children are listed as having both parents born in Texas and Ellen also lists both her parents as being born in Texas. Julie on the other hand, lists both of her parents as being born in Louisiana.

In 1920, Ellen once again living in her own home in Caddo, Louisiana at 922 Lake Street. She is 64 years old now and is working as a Laundress from her home. Living with her are children Mary 37, Mississippi, 22, Sarah 20, Elenora 17 and grandchildren Carrie Winn 10 and Mackey  Winn 8 and 2 1/2 year-old Kenie May Sanders. On this census since Carrie is now listed as a granddaughter, instead of a daughter, that would put her total number of children borne at 15. Since Mary reappears on the census, it would also mean that one of the twins was the child who died. Mary’s occupation is listed as a cook in a cafe, Mississippi works as a maid for an office and Elnora is working as a private maid. All the children are still listed as both parents being born in Texas once again.

Also in 1920, her brother Ananias was found living in Sunflower, Mississippi. He was 35 and married to Mary 40. They had three children at the time, Mary Bell 17, Birdie Lee 15 and son J.C. 13. Ananias worked as a cotton farmer.

According to the Louisiana State Death Index Mississippi’s mother, Ellen, passed away on May 2, 1927 at the age of 70 in Caddo, Louisiana. Her oldest sister, Mary Winn, also passed away in 1927 on Dec. 10 at the age of 47.

In the 1930 Census, Mississippi is shown living with her sister Alma Wynn at 1520 Murphy Alley in a rented home worth $13. Also living with them is a cousin Della Stromer 35, and nephew Mark Blackson 18 and niece Katie Blackson 12. This census shows their birth and parents birth all being in the state of Louisiana. Alma, Mississippi and Della all work as cooks for private families. Mark is a porter in a barber shop and 12-year-old Katie is in school.

Although, it’s reported that Mississippi never married, she  supposedly did have one child, a little girl named Lulu B. Lew born about 1915. She died Oct. 6, 1917 at the age of two in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Sister Elnora died in May, 1975, brother Ananias died in Lufkin, Texas in March 1981 and sister Sarah Winn Sanders died Mar. 16, 2000 in Louisiana at age 99.


The power of the press

I get so excited when I come across what I call genealogical “hidden gems.” Old newspapers, correspondence and letters from long ago, family pictures with identifying info, receipts, logs and family Bibles all help us to understand the trials and tribulations our forefathers went through so that we can be where we are today. Today, while exploring the Ned R. McWherter Library at the University of Memphis for the first time, I discovered a virtual gold mine – their microfilm library is amazing! Not only do they have federal census records going back to the 1790s, they have films of various newspapers from across the country, Letters and correspondence from the Secretary of the Navy and the War Department during WWI and WWII. There are even Prisoner of War correspondence for the first world war. There are documents on Nazi Germany, letters from U.S. presidents, correspondence and files from the NAACP and CORE organizations. And let’s not forget the FBI files on Martin Luther King, Jr.! This list doesn’t even begin to cover their extensive holdings. One title I was surprised to find was several microfilms on African American newspapers from the 1930s.

The newspaper I found was called the Afro American and it published out of Washington D.C. I’m not sure of when it began but the issue I found listed on its masthead that it was its 41st year. It ended about 1937.

I guess the reason I was so surprised is I never considered the notion that African Americans had newspapers at that point in history which solely catered to African Americans. I know, as a genealogist that’s a pretty lame attitude to have, and perhaps, well okay, definitely a whole lot of naivety on my part.

Since the first newspaper or rather news pamphlet was published in the late 1400s in Germany, the power of the press has been one to reckon with. It was a way for the people to pass information back and forth. Merchants used it to talk about their goods, governments used it to reach the general population, people used it to discuss social customs and items of human interest.

The London Gazette

The London Gazette

One such paper, the London Gazette, began its publication on Nov. 7, 1665 and is reportedly, the world’s oldest, continuously printed newspaper. Today, it is still published daily. Here in American, Boston saw the birth of the first newspaper in 1690. That first publication was called the Publick Occurrences (sic). It was immediately shut down, its publisher arrested and all copies supposedly destroyed because it was published without authority. I guess they didn’t understand freedom of the press back then. Its history remained hidden until the only known surviving copy was discovered in the British Library in 1845. Since that first paper came on scene bringing American into the fourth estate, newspapers have been telling the story of America.

And so it was also with African American run papers.

What I’ve actually learned today is African Americans have had their own newspapers since the mid-1800s. The Elevator out of San Francisco, the Colored American in Washington D.C. and the Freeman in Indianapolis, Ind., and others have all played a part in telling the story of a too often silent or rather, silenced history. Catering to their audience the same as their white counterparts, these trail blazers told the story white Americans did not want to hear. The stories about what was going on in African American neighborhoods – the celebrations of life, the beginnings of entrepreneurship, the recordings of African American history and the injustices suffered.

I hope you enjoy perusing this copy of the Sept. 3, 1932 edition of the Afro American. I’ll be examining a few of the stories a bit more in depth to learn what happened to the lives portrayed so long ago. Look for those stories soon.

If you are interested in learning more about African American newspapers and the role they played in America’s history, check out your local universities and colleges. You might be surprised at what’s hidden there.


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