I have spent the past two days scouring Bridgetown historical documents. I’ve been to the Barbados Museum and Historical Society – twice; the courthouse, the national archives and the public library. At the courthouse I found the death record for my grandmother Malvina Alkins (pronounced “All-kins”) and learned that she died of apoplexy on August 13, 1936. She was widow and the person responsible for contacting the funeral home was Noel Alkins, my father’s brother, whose profession in his mother’s death record is listed as a printer. I didn’t find much in the national archives. No birth record for an Ebenezer Wray - which I have been told by everyone from taxi drivers to archivists is a really rare last name. And there are not many people with the name “Ray” either. A the library, I found the obituary for Malvina in the August 15, 1936 issue of the Barbados Advocate, a daily newspaper. it reads:
“We regret to chronicle the death of Mrs. Malvina Alkins of Brittons Hill, which took place on Thursday last after a brief illness. Just the day before Mrs. Alkins suffered a paralytic stroke and passed to the Great Beyond next day, just one month after her husband. Her mortal remains were laid to rest yesterday in the presence of a large gathering, which bore testimony to the wide respect she had earned. “
She leaves to mourn her two sons, one of whom is on the staff of The New York Age and the other employed in the office of a local newspaper. We tender them our sympathy. “
It’s a brief item, but considering there were not many obituaries in the paper, except those of fairly prominent officials, businessmen and their relatives, I was pretty impressed. I searched the pages of The Advocate for the entire month of July to see if there was an obituary of a Mr. Alkins, but could not find one.
So, I still don’t know where the name Wray or Ray come from, and I don’t know Mr. Alkins’ first name. Don’t know if he was my father’s stepfather or his father. But I have lots of New York Age columns to look through, and I imagine there will be some clues there.
At the moment, I’m in the lobby of the Hilton Barbados, where a steel drummer is playing “A Christmas Carol” and “O Holy Night ” to a calypso beat and a Barbadian man just greeted me with a tray of saltfish fritters. A rum punch is headed my way. All of this sifting through brittle, yellowed documents and squinting at microfilm has made me thirsty.
More to come.
“Vacation days are here!,” Ebenezer wrote in his New York Age column published in July 20, 1935. ”A human current moves toward parks, playgrounds, camps, beaches and other vacation and summer resorts. The dust has been blown from the old lunch kit; the abbreviated bathing suit has been removed from the moth balls; the house holds but little charm; the typewriter, well we’d better skip it!” Zuri and I arrived in Barbados yesterday on a flight filled mostly with folks headed “home” for the holidays. I envied them. My seat mate on the JFK to Bridgetown was headed to St. Philip to spend six weeks with her daughter. Of course, I could not let an opportunity pass without asking if she knew any Wrays, Rays or Alkins. She didn’t. We will head to the archives today. But first, the beach . . .
Georgia and Alabama’s “cancer” seems to be spreading its tendrils in Brooklyn. The sooner its growth is checked the better for all concerned – Negroes especially.
Construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located at 112th St. and Amsterdam Ave. and dubbed a house of worship “for all people,” began on Dec. 27, 1892, when the first cornerstone was laid. But it took decades for the church to be completed. My father published this column Feb. 23, 1935, and it would be more than six years before the opening of the full length of the Cathedral. (The opening celebration took place Nov. 30, 1941, and a week later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Construction was halted during World War II and did not resume until the 1970s.)
The grand design inspired this response to those who warned that the Apocalypse was imminent:
“I am far more interested in the present rise in food prices, the prolonged depression, and the likely invasion of Abyssinia by the Italians than in any tornado of fire sweeping these hemispheres and leaving their inhabitants in ashes. Yet there remain a few devout persons who occasionally try to scare my reluctant soul into submission with this bogey, which, they say, will be followed by that great Judgment Day when I will have to account for even taking a lump of sugar when Mother wasn’t looking. When they come around again I will tell them that while they in their puny knowledge look for world destruction, learned theologians are erecting structures of granite to stand forever.”
“The Episcopal Church might find an antidote for its racial ills by first cleaning house, and then by directing its evangelistic and missionary activities toward those barbarians in the South who ruthlessly violate the constitutional rights of Negroes, denying them fair and impartial trials when accused of offences they seldom commit. Toward this appalling condition, the Episcopal Church has been noticeably apathetic,” Ebenezer writes.
Here is a link to information on Rev. Alexander McGuire, who founded the African Orthodox Church in response to racism in the Episcopal Church.