My cousin Julian and I had just begun to get reacquainted. We hadn’t seen each other in more than a decade, but we were new Facebook friends, fellow bloggers and journalists.
“I need your advice on something,” Julian wrote in an email last spring. “What do you think of my creating a blog designed to post news about our wonderful aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.? There is so much talent in our family, and we are doing so many great things.”
In another, he wrote to say that he liked this blog. “I am so proud of you, my dear cousin! Keep up the good work.”
“It’s so great to reconnect with you,” I wrote back. “When Zuri gets back to Atlanta, we’ll have to meet somewhere, maybe Savannah.”
Tragically, Julian is being laid to rest in Savannah today. His sudden death on July 6 at a young 58 makes no sense to me. Frankly, it makes me mad. Continue reading
“So we married,” my father wrote in his column a couple of weeks after he said, “I do’ to Lucille Manning, his first wife. In an April 29,1939 New York Age article describing the wedding, there was not a hint of sarcasm. But even as a newlywed, Ebenezer could not resist.
“Irrespective of what one hears and knows, yet something gets by you,” he wrote in his column on May 6, 1939. “We hadn’t heard of this ‘carrying your bride over the threshold’ business until very recently. What strikes us is, suppose we had married that hell-cat with plenty of pois — avoirdupois. ‘What strength can’t do art and resolution will,’ they tell us. Art would have failed. Resolution would have gotten us a piano-mover.
“We carried our 120 pounds over. She smiled broadly. We grinned. Who said a man isn’t born a chump?”
I’m sure we will never know who the “hell-cat” was. I trust Lucille appreciated his sense of humor.
The New York Age, April 29, 1939
About a decade before my parents tied the knot, another woman took the name of Mrs. Ebenezer Ray. Her name was Lucille. For a long time, that’s all I knew. My mother had told me my father had had a first wife. And after my mom died, I found my dad and Lucille’s divorce papers in my mother’s dresser drawer. When I told a friend that I’d thought it curious that my mother would save the divorce papers from her husband’s first marriage, but none of his writings, the friend suggested that it was by design. My mother wanted to make sure my father was free to marry. Knowing my mother, that is exactly what she was thinking. But knowing my mother, if she’d had copies of his columns, she would have kept those too. Continue reading
It’s the late 60s, and I’m in the backyard of our Pittsburgh home. My mother’s brothers, James and John, and their brother-in-law Frank are back there too. We’re busying ourselves with summer chores my mother has assigned. But Uncle John and Uncle Frank aren’t having it. After all, none of this was their idea. One minute they were out carousing somewhere between Newark and the Bronx. The next thing they knew they were on the Pennsylvania Turnpike headed for Pittsburgh, my Uncle James behind the wheel. Continue reading
In The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson‘s hard-to-put-down chronicle of the Great Migration, she describes the lynching of Claude Neal in Marianna, Florida in 1934.
It is a gruesome tale of unspeakable acts, including the mutilation, hanging, rehanging, dragging and shooting of one man.
And though we can only hope that this orgy of gratuitous hate and voyeurism was what Wilkerson says was “perhaps the single worst act of torture and execution in twentieth-century America,” we know it was illustrative of the reign of terror, humiliation and intimidation that prevailed in the American South well into the 1960s.
“Across the country, thousands of outraged Americans wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanding a federal investigation,” Wilkerson writes. “The NAACP compiled a sixteen-page report and more files on the Neal case than any other lynching in American history. But Neal had the additional misfortune of having been lynched just before the 1934 national midterm elections, which were being seen as a referendum on the New Deal itself. Roosevelt chose not to risk alienating the South with a Democratic majority in Congress at stake. He did not intervene in the case. No one was ever charged in Neal’s death or spent a day in jail for it,” Wilkerson adds. Continue reading
A little more than a year ago, thanks to the wonders of the web, I stumbled upon my father’s name in a college honors thesis. In 2001 Amy Katherine Defalco Lippert, then at the University of California at Berkeley, submitted an honors thesis for her bachelor’s degree in history titled “The Rationalization of Righteousness: Nazi Ideology, the Holocaust and the African-American Community in World War II.”
On page 94, she wrote:
“From the very beginning, black leaders, writers and educators worked to foster an understanding of the Second World War as a fight for their country and a fight for freedom—for their own, as African Americans, and for others as well.
“As Ebenezer Ray wrote in June of 1940, ‘It is a war of liberty versus enslavement. Of course, here and there comes a voice from this race of ours that the war isn’t America’s, ‘least of all it is the Negro’s.’… Methinks this is America’s war, since it is a war for liberty and freedom, and against racial and religious intolerance. If it is America’s it is the Negro’s. What’s true of the whole is also true of the part.'”
In the footnotes: Ebenezer Ray, “The War ‘N’ Us!” New York Age, 15 June 1940, p. 12.
And the rest, as they say, is history, or at least this blog. Continue reading
My dad, left, with family friend Hughart Wright. I have no idea where this was, since there were no beaches in Pittsburgh.
Gemini men. My favorite cousins — David Browne and Russell Williams — celebrate their birthdays this week. My ex-husband and fellow co-parent is a June Gemini. My late Uncle James, who stood in in the absence of my father in so may ways, would celebrate his birthday June 10.
And then there is my father himself, who would celebrate his 114th birthday on Tuesday, May 24. (No, that is not a typo!)
The column below, which he published just after his 36th birthday in 1933, is part birthday lamentation and part history lesson. I had no idea that every territory of the British Empire celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday. Back then it was called Empire Day. (And we thought declaring Kate and Will’s wedding day a bank holiday in Britain was a little much.) My dad apparently didn’t think much of “present horseman and apparently future bachelor king” Edward VIII — even before he abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. Continue reading