Speaking of Ardeanur … Here’s what I know about her.
Ardeanur R. Smith was born 8 February 1903 in Statesville, North Carolina, to Daniel and Addie Lucinda McNeely Smith. Her brother James Garfield Smith was born four years later. I have not found the family in the 1910 federal population schedule, and the family had fallen apart before the census taker next came round. As revealed in the estate file of Ardeanur’s great-uncle Julius McNeely, Addie McNeely Smith died in early 1917. Her mother’s family, and in particular, her younger sister Minnie B. McNeely, took responsibility for the children.
A Murphy, Bertha Hart, Alonzo Lord, Minnie McNeely, Ardeanur Smith, Statesville, mid-1920s.
But not for long. By 1920, Ardeanur had struck out on her own. She appears as “Ardenia” Smith in the 1920 census in Salisbury, 25 miles west of Statesville in Rowan County, her mother’s birthplace. At 17, she is the youngest of eight young African-Americans, men and women, occupying a boarding house at 319 South Lee Street. She reported no occupation, though it seems likely that she was engaged in domestic work. How long she remained in Salisbury is not clear, and on 13 February 1923, she stood as a witness at the marriage of her aunt Janie Caroline McNeely, 24, to James Martin Taylor, 21, by Reverend Zander A. Dockery, a Presbyterian minister. (The other witness was Archie Weaver, husband of Elethea McNeely.)
Whether in Salisbury or Statesville, Ardeanur did not have much longer for small town North Carolina. Sometime mid-decade, she joined the tide of black Southerners flowing North, setting her bags ashore in Bayonne, New Jersey. Though many McNeelys would follow, at that time only her aunt Emma McNeely Houser was there, and it is likely that Ardeanur lived initially with her family. She joined the Housers’ church, Wallace Temple A.M.E. Zion, and began to develop her gifts. By June 1928, she was taking elocution lessons in New York City and in 1929 sang in a program in honor of United States Congressman Oscar DePriest.
Even as she dreamed, though, Ardeanur had to make a living. In 1928, she lived at 115 Davis Avenue in the West New Brighton neighborhood of Staten Island, just across the Kill Van Kull from Bayonne. She undoubtedly worked as a live-in servant to William G. Willcox, a Tuskegee Institute board member whose wife Mary Gay Willcox was descended from a prominent abolitionist family. (In fact, the Gay house at 115 Davis is believed to have been an important station on the Underground Railroad.) By 1930, when the census taker came around, Ardeanur Smith, 25, shared a $50/month apartment with Mary Snowden at at 2014 Seventh Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard) in Harlem. Both worked as housemaids for private families, and both were reported as South Carolina-born. Ardeanur seems still to have been living in New York three years later when she, her aunt Minnie and first cousin Charles McNeely accompanied the body of Charles’ brother Irving McNeely Weaver to Iredell County for burial.
I’m not sure where Ardeanur was in 1940. Her name does not appear in enumerations of New Jersey or New York. Ninety miles south, however, a census taker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recorded North Carolina-born “Ardinia” Smith, age 40, living in a boarding house at 1710 West Fontain (just west of Temple University) and performing domestic work. Was this Ardeanur?
Sometime, probably in the early 1940s, Ardeanur Smith married. I have not found a marriage license for her, and no one I know knows her husband’s full name, much less where he was from. He was a Hart, a common name in Iredell County, but a common enough name everywhere that he is not necessarily someone she knew from “home.”** I only know for certain that the wedding took place before 2 October 1947, when the Bayonne Times printed an obituary for John McNeely that listed niece Ardeanur Hart among his survivors. (Three years later, when the Times ran the obit of Edward McNeely, another uncle, she was Ardeanur S. Hart.)
When James G. Smith died in 1960 in High Point, North Carolina, Ardeanur, living in Jersey City, New Jersey, provided personal information for his death certificate. We get another glimpse of her in May 1961, when a brief entry in the church calendar feature of the Jersey Journal noted a recital at Lafayette Presbyterian Church, Summit Avenue and Ivy Place in Jersey City, featuring Mrs. Ardeanur Hart, soprano, and Mrs. James Spaights, pianist.
I have no record of any job Ardeanur held other than domestic, though such her style and bearing do not square with my naive (and classist) vision of what service workers look like. In the 1970s or so, she moved out to Columbus, Ohio, to live with and look after the last of her aunts, Minnie McNeely Hargrove.
Cousin Ardeanur, Newport News, Virginia, July 1986. She was 83 at the time. (I cannot begin to tell you why I used to cut out photos before mounting them in those terrible adhesive photo albums.)
Ardeanur Smith Hart died 14 January 1996 in Columbus.
**30 August 2015: Mystery no more: Ardeanur married Frank Wellington Hart of Jamaica.
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