My mother tells a story: the War was on, and her father had been sent overseas to serve. His older brother had come to Newport News for a visit, and the family gathered at her grandparents’ house. “We were in Grandma’s kitchen. I must have been about 5,” she says. “I remember it like yesterday. Of course, I knew he was a dentist, but to me he was just Uncle Mac. And I was telling everybody that I had a loose tooth, and he said, ‘Oh, let me see it.’ He put his hand by my mouth, and when he pulled it away, he opened his palm, and the tooth was in it! And I cried and I cried,” she says, laughing. “It didn’t hurt. I didn’t even feel it. But I guess I was so surprised!”
Jasper Maxwell Allen, the oldest son and second child of John C. and Mary Agnes Holmes Allen, was born in 1904 in Newport News, Virginia. Though he was named “Jasper” after his maternal grandfather, he was always known as “Maxwell” or “Mac.”
The 1910 census of Newport News shows the Allens at 748 21st Street. John Allen, a painter at the shipyard, headed a household consisting of wife Mary and six children — Marion, Maxwell, Julia, John jr., Edith and Willie Allen — as well as an adopted son Jesse Jefferson (who was Agnes’ deceased sister Emma’s son.)
By the 1920 census, the family was living at 2107 Marshall Avenue in Newport News: John C. Allen, longshoreman on piers, with wife Mary, and children Marian, Maxwell, Julia, John, Willie, Edith and Nita.
Maxwell attended local elementary schools and graduated either John Marshall or Huntington High School in Newport News. He attended college at Virginia Theological Seminary and College.
In 1929, The Southern Workman, a journal published by Hampton Institute for more than 50 years, announced that on August 29 Lena P. Jeffress, who received a diploma in Education in ’28, married Mr. Maxwell Jasper Allen [sic]. Lena Poole Jeffress was the daughter of J. Murray and Lena Poole Jeffress of Charlotte Courthouse, Virginia. Presumably, Lena and Maxwell met during one of his visits home from school in Lynchburg.
A year later, the 1930 censustaker found the couple living in Washington, DC, at 3027 Sherman Avenue NW, where they boarded in the household of David Spencer. Maxwell worked as a waiter in a restaurant and Lena as a clerk in an insurance office. It is likely that Maxwell had recently begun his studies at Howard University Dental College; he graduated in the Class of 1932.
On 2 June 1932, the Pittsburgh Courier‘s society page mentioned that a Danville couple had entertained members of a drama troupe from Virginia Theological Seminary and College. One of the performers in the play “A Servant in the House” was Maxwell Allen. [Is this the same Maxwell? I thought he was in dental school by then.]
On 16 June 1934, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the Virginia State Board of Dental Examiners had announced that 34 candidates, including J. Maxwell Allen, had passed the examinations to practice dentistry in the state.
A 1934 issue of Howard’s The Dentoscope journal announced:
Allen’s arrival was heralded in the local newspaper : “Colored Dentist’s Office at Charlotte Courthouse.”
On 1 August 1937, the Richmond Times-Dispatch covered the 67th anniversary celebration of Morrison Grove Baptist Church, “The oldest church for Negroes in Charlotte County.” After a brief history of the church, the article noted that “[t]he Central Sunday School convention with convene at Morrison Grove Wednesday and Thursday. Member schools will have charge of the program Wednesday. Dr. J. Maxwell Allen will lead a discussion on “Training the Youths for Christian Services” and Rev. W.C. Currin will preach Wednesday night.”
On 22 August 1939, the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a short article concerning the alleged disappearance of Maxwell Allen, “Negro dentist,” following a visit to his wife at Virginia Union University. He had been carrying a significant amount of money, and the family feared foul play. Apparently, Maxwell resurfaced without incident, and the brouhaha died down. (My mother has never heard anything about this.)
The 1940 census of Charlotte Court House lists doctor of dentistry Maxwell J. Allen, 35; wife Lena P., a public school teacher, 35; and sons Maxwell J., Jr., 8, and Cameron L., 2; as well as Margarette Brown, 8, niece. Apparently, however, Maxwell tried out a practice in Lynchburg for a few years during this stretch. In Stickley and Amowitz’ The Lynchburg Dental Society Presents One Hundred Forty-Three Years of Dentistry: 1820-1963, published in 1964: “Dr. J. Maxwell Allen was a graduate of Howard University School of Dentristry. He practiced in Lynchburg at 912 Fifth Street in 1940 and 1941, moving from here to Charlotte Court House, Virginia.”
Uncle Maxwell and younger son, Cameron, circa 1939.
On 23 February 1950, in a column in the Charlotte Gazette called “News of Interest of Colored Readers”: In observance of Negro History Week, the Rev. F.L. Patterson, pastor of Morrison Grove Church, arranged a very interesting meeting. Miss Betty Smith presided. Mrs. Charles G. Blackwell spoke on “The Negro in Education.” Other speakers were Mr. G. H. Binford, on the subject “The Negro in Politics and Economics”; Rev. F.L. Patterson, on “The Negro in Religion”; Dr. J. Maxwell Allen, on “The Negro in Fraternals and Dentistry.”
On 18 Aug 1959, Newport News’ Daily Press reported: “Dr. J. Maxwell Allen Sr., Negro, a former resident of Newport News, died early Sunday in a Lynchburg hospital following a short illness. He is the son of Mrs. Mary H. Allen and the late J.C. Allen Sr., of Newport News. Surviving, in addition to his mother, are his wife, Lena P. Allen of Charlotte Court House; two sons, Maxwell Allen Jr. and Cameron Allen of New York City; a brother, William J. Allen, Newport News; three sisters, Mrs. Julia A. Maclin, Newport News, Mrs. Edith A. Anderson, Jetersville, and Mrs. Nita A. Wilkerson, Washington; a foster brother, Jesse H. Jefferson of Baltimore; and several nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.”
Per his death certificate, Uncle Maxwell died of cancer after a twelve-day stay in a Lynchburg hospital. He would have turned 56 the day after his death. He was buried in Charlotte Court House in Union Cemetery, just down the road from his house and office. His wife Lena joined him there in 1998.