I have so much incredible new information about my Holmes family, both in Charlotte and Charles City Counties, but haven’t had (or maybe taken) the time to sort out my notes. For now, this place marker, the earliest evidence of Jasper Holmes in Charles City County:
“This morning, at Village Church in Charlotte Court House, Virginia, we observed All Saints’ Eve by remembering and paying tribute to those who have gone before us, who helped shape our faith journeys, and whose walks on this earth offer illustrations of the life of Christ. A candle was lit in honor of Joseph R. Holmes, and his name was spoken aloud.” — Jim Watkins
Tonight my family celebrated the 50th wedding anniversaries of two of my cousins (who are brothers) and their wives. Another of their brothers and his wife, who came in from Maryland, hit 51 this year. My parents made 60 years in May. So did my uncle and aunt. I can tick off an easy dozen couples in the 25-49 year range and a couple dozen more that only death parted after decades. That this kind of abiding love is commonplace among my people is a blessing beyond measure. We hear so much about the dismal state of the Black family, but here’s the Black family I know. Here’s the Black family I love.
Cheers to you, Effenus and Helen, and Fred and Linda, and Dock and Barbara! Many more!
One of the blessed couples.
“Renewal of vows,” eldest grandson presiding.
The youngest in his first hard-bottoms. (Stacy Adams!) He said he felt like a gentleman.
“First, I’d like to recognize my family, Joseph R. Holmes’ family, here today — including three of his brother Jasper’s great-granddaughters. Some here may remember their uncle, Dr. J. Maxwell Allen, who practiced dentistry in Charlotte Court House. His sister, my great-aunt Julia, first told me of Joseph Holmes when I was an inquisitive teenager digging for my roots. She did not know the details — only that her grandfather’s brother Joseph, born enslaved, had been killed because of his political activity. That was enough, though, to set this journey in motion.
“On behalf of the Holmes-Allen family, I extend thanks to all who made this day possible. So many in Charlotte County gave in so many ways — time, money, influence, prayer (look at God!) — and we are profoundly grateful for your embrace and support of this project. “We are also grateful to Kathy Liston. When I reached out to Kathy nearly ten years ago, seeking help to find the truth of Joseph Holmes’ life, I did not even dream of this day. I first visited Charlotte Court House in 2012 at Kathy’s invitation. She took me to Joseph Holmes’ homestead; to Roxabel, the plantation on which he may have been enslaved; to the school at Keysville whose establishment he championed; and finally to this courthouse, to the very steps on which he bled and died. The historical marker we reveal today stands as a testament to Kathy’s persistence and insistence, her values and vision, her energy and expertise, and we cannot thank her enough.
“The beautiful story of Joseph R. Holmes’ life, and the terrible story of his death, were all but forgotten in Charlotte County — suppressed by some, repressed by others. This is an all too common phenomenon of American history. Though Africans arrived in this very state in 1619, the contributions of African Americans to the building of this country — both literally and metaphorically — are seldom recalled, much less memorialized. Black communities dealt with their trauma by hiding it away, refusing to speak of their loss and pain. It is never too late, however, to reclaim our heroes.
“For hundreds of years, the Akan people of Ghana have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and proverbs. The word Sankofa, often depicted as a bird looking toward its tail, means ‘go back and get it.’ The broader concept of Sankofa urges us to know our pasts as we move forward.Today, we have gone back for Joseph R. Holmes. In the shadow of Confederate monuments, we shine a light on his works; we affirm his life; we reclaim his legacy. As long as we speak his name, he lives forever. Will you say it with me?
“Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes.
“Your family remembers. Your community remembers. We honor your life and sacrifice.
My extended Allen family, which has always been small, recently lost its oldest member, my mother’s first cousin, Jasper Maxwell Allen, Jr. I never met Cousin Mack Jr., but for the last dozen years or so spoke with him once or twice a year by telephone. He was close to his beloved late wife Arnetta’s family, and I am grateful to them for this obituary:
The late Jasper Maxwell Allen, Jr. was born in Charlotte Courthouse, Virginia on February 10th, 1931, to the late Lena P. Allen, a school teacher and Dr. Jasper Maxwell Allen, Sr., a dentist. Jasper, Max, or Allen as most of us called him was a bit rambunctious as a child (by his own admittance), and often joked about his experiences as a kid and getting into mischief every now and then. One of his favorite stories to tell was how his beloved mother Lena was not only his mom, but also his teacher in elementary school. He would snicker about getting into what he called “double trouble” when he would misbehave in school!!
As a young man, Allen went on to Maryland State College, now known as the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree. He then went on to be drafted into the military and served during the Korean War, in both France and Germany. The military allowed him to utilize his degree and knowledge of technology and computers. During this time, he also acquired a love for the Volkswagen! While in the military, Allen would also go on to meet Merchant Marine Chief Henry Burton, who would later coincidentally, become his uncle in-law. After completing both college and his military tour Allen lived and worked in Washington DC before settling in Harlem, New York. His expertise in the world of technology earned him jobs with IBM, Rudband, and even a covert position that until this day he had never “spilled the beans” on. Which was absolutely within his nature. Allen was a “by the book” kind of guy.
While living in New York and working at Rudband he met who would later become the love of his life, Arnetta Lewis. Arnetta was Allen’s supervisor in the Key Punch Department. Their love blossomed during their carpool rides from work, in which Allen was the driver. At 90 years old, Allen could still describe the exact outfit and hair style Arnetta was wearing the day that they met (a gold and blue checkered jacket, a gold blouse and her hair was in a French roll). To quote him on their early encounters “my heart jumped up and moved around a bit!” Allen and Arnetta dated and later married on September 7th, 1957 and were married for 55 years. They would go on to leave Harlem and move to the Bronx where Allen spent the last 45 years. Allen and Arnetta did everything together! They bickered and fussed, partied, traveled, prayed, and loved their family and each as a unit. Arnetta preceded Allen in death in November of 2012.
As the elder of our family Allen remained the wise, smart, cool, funny, gracious, and slick guy we all loved, and we all had our very own special relationship with him. From the oldest to the youngest, he could hold a conversation with any of us about anything. He also knew how to get us to stop fussing at him by playing possum and faking a nap, he would sometimes peak one eye open to see if we were still there (Classic Allen).
Affectionately known as “Uncle Allen” by his New York family, Allen remained surrounded by loved ones no more than an elevator or a train ride away! Allen leaves behind nephews and nieces, Rodney A. Lewis, Juanita Lewis, Darcel Kennedy, John Harries, Rodney E. Lewis, Jasmine N. Lewis-Peguero, Kayla E.N. Lewis, Jasmine Rucker, Jamek Rucker, Kaiah Irene Lewis, Rodney Trey Lewis, Jason R. Peguero, Raul Peguero and Tracee Bryant. Allen also leaves behind a host of family and friends in his home state of Virginia. We love you and will miss you dearly Uncle Allen.
I have not had great luck finding descendants of my great-grandfather John C. Allen‘s half-siblings, but today I found a promising clue for further searches for Major Alexander Allen, who was about ten years John’s junior. Major A. Allen registered for the World War I draft in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, having joined the Great Migration north — and his registration card indicates that he had a child!
Today is my father’s 86th birthday, and I’m grateful to be able to spend it with him. He was a storied high school basketball coach in North Carolina and played the game in high school, college, and the Air Force. Here, as a center on Saint Augustine’s College’s team, he takes a jumper over future Globetrotter Curley Neal.
In June of this year, the Henderson family lost an extra-special cousin to COVID-19. Today would have been Reginald J. Henderson Sr.‘s 76th birthday. By happenstance, I ran across his high school yearbook online today and found his senior portrait.
We miss you, Cousin Reggie!
The Tiger (1962), G.W. Carver High School, Mount Olive, N.C., digitized at DigitalNC.