Last month, the Wilson Times featured an article looking back at the legendary coaching career of my father, Rederick C. Henderson.
Photograph by Paul Durham, courtesy of Wilson Times.
Last month, the Wilson Times featured an article looking back at the legendary coaching career of my father, Rederick C. Henderson.
Photograph by Paul Durham, courtesy of Wilson Times.
In the summer of 2002, my uncle Charles C. Allen told me this about my grandfather John C. Allen Jr.:
[Daddy] had to get reestablished after the war. But he had a friend named Buster Reynolds. And Buster Reynolds was reputed to have made his money in the numbers, and so when the numbers were getting real hot and heavy, when it was reputed that the Mafia was trying to take the numbers over, Buster got out. And he built this service station, and he had a Texaco franchise, and he had Daddy to build the station. And Texaco liked the work so much that Daddy built two more stations for Texaco. And both of the stations that were built in the black community are still up. They’re not gas stations anymore, but the buildings are still up. And the one that was built Overtown is gone. But even the station that was in the white community, Texaco had him to build that one, too.
Today I found this:
The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), 1 February 1948.
My uncle passed away in January; I wish dearly that I’d been able to share this with him.
The former service station at 28th and Chestnut, Newport News, 2002.
My father’s mother told me:
And so Mama was working at the factory, and I used to go up there and look at her. And so that’s when I first cut my hair. I went there, and the lady was asking Mama at the table where she worked to, and she didn’t say nothing to me, and she said, “Unh, who is that child with all of that long hair?” And she took one of my plaits and held it up. I had it in three plaits. I’ll never forget it. I had one down here used to come here. Yeah, it come down to below the shoulder. Like I plait it up, and it be from there. Two plaits here and then this one down across. And I always put that one behind my ear. ‘Cause I didn’t like it parted in the middle. Seem like it just wasn’t right in the middle. So I asked Mama ‘bout cutting my hair, could I cut my hair. ‘Cause everybody: “How come you don’t cut your hair? ‘Cause you’d look pretty in a bob.” I don’t know. I just wasn’t half combing it. And it was nappy. Like I’d go to try to comb it, and knots would be in there. And then I’d get mad with it. Then I’d take the scissors and clip that little piece off. And then all that other part would come off. And so I wondered, “Mama, could – ” “It’s your head. It’s your hair. I don’t care if you cut it off.” And so one day, a fellow stayed up there on Vick Street was a barber downtown, a colored fellow, Charlie Barnes or whatever his name is. So he passed there one day, and I asked him, “Would you cut my hair for me?” And he said, “Yeah.” Said, “You come on down to the shop.” And I said, “Where is the shop?” And he went on and tried to tell me, and then he stopped there one day, and he told me, he said, “You say you want to get your hair cut?” He said, “You got too pretty a hair to cut.” And I said, “Yeah, but I can’t half comb it.” He said, “Well, anytime you want to come on down there, I’ll cut it for you, if it’s all right with your mama. You ask your mama?” I said, “Yeah, she allowed me to cut it.” So sho ‘nough, I went around there one Saturday morning, went down there. And so, he turned around and cut off my plaits on both sides ‘cause I had two plaits there. He cut them off, and then he put some kind of stuff on it and then somehow fluffed it all up. Awww, I thought I was something. I reckon I was ‘bout 12, 13 years old. After then I cut it off in a boyish bob.
With the boyish bob.
She also said:
I got a plait of [Hattie’s] hair and a plait of my mama’s, Bessie’s hair, and then mine. I was looking at that the other day, and I looked at it, and I said, “Huh, it was that long?” Rudy, Rudy Farmer took that picture. ‘Cause I – He saw my hair. I was standing there with my housecoat on. I still got that thing now. And, “Goodness! I didn’t know your hair was that long!” We were staying on Reid Street. And he said, “I’d sure like to have a picture of that.” And I said, “Well, you got a Kodak?” And he said, “Yeah! You’d let me take a picture?” I said, “Yeah.” And so he went home and got it and took a picture of it. I was standing up in one and sitting down in one.
The standing up picture.
Those plaits of my grandmother were kept in a small soft green valise with all her photographs. We visited her in Philadelphia every summer, and usually one of the first orders of business was to “see the hair.” They captivate me no less now than they did then. Perhaps even more, now that I know exactly what I’m seeing.
My grandmother’s plait, an astonishingly heavy rope measuring a full thirty inches, is essentially one of the braids shown above. Tired of the headaches brought on by carrying that weight, she cut it at the nape of her neck about 1957. It is coffee-brown with silver strands, bound at one end, as are the others, with thread.
Hair piled high, early 1950s.
There are actually two plaits from my grandmother’s mother Bessie Lee Henderson (1891-1911), most likely cut just before or at her death at age 19. The longer measures just over two feet; they are a lustrous deep brown, a shade lighter than her daughter’s and smoother to the touch.
Bessie Henderson a la Gibson Girl.
Hattie Mae Jacobs (1895-1908) was Bessie’s first cousin, daughter of Sarah Henderson Jacobs and an unknown white man. Hattie died at age 13, and her slender, blondish-brown braid was likely cut on her deathbed, too.
The last plait is something of a mystery, but I am fairly certain that it belonged to another Henderson who died in her teens — Bessie’s mother Loudie (1874-1893), my great-great-grandmother. The tradition, then, may have started when her mother Margaret wove a narrow braid and clipped as it a memento of her youngest daughter’s short life. It measures 25″ and is dark brown with a hint of auburn.
The plaits — Bessie’s, Hattie’s, probably Loudie’s, my grandmother Hattie’s.
With fiancé Jonah Ricks, not long before she cut her hair.
Hattie Henderson Ricks (1910-2001) at age 90. After years wearing it just below ear length, she let her hair grow out again in her final years.
But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
I Corinthians 11:15
Interview of Hattie H. Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson, all rights reserved. Bottom photo by Lisa Y. Henderson.
I’m in D.C. for work this week, and I was able to steal away from my conference to spend a few hours with O.H.D., my grandmother’s first cousin. Cousin O. has lived in the District since 1940 and in her Capitol Hill row house since 1945. Our conversation was wide-ranging, but I, of course, drew out stories of our family’s history. Cousin O. spoke of my grandmother Hattie, of my grandfather, of her grandmother Louvicey Artis Aldridge (from whom she received her middle name), of her uncles Johnny and Zebedee Aldridge, of C.E. “Uncle Columb” Artis, of her aunts Lula and Frances Aldridge, of Uncle Fred Randall, of Alberta Artis Cooper, of C.C. Coley (in whose restaurants she occasionally filled in as cashier and in whose convertible she rode during Howard University homecoming parades), of Lucian and Susie Henderson, and of many others. She knows me well and had set aside a tiny treasure she’d recently uncovered — a postage stamp-sized photo of her first cousin, James Earl Aldridge. Cousin Earl, born the year before Cousin O., was the son of John and Ora Mozingo Aldridge. He passed away in 1975. As always, love and thanks, Cousin O.
James E. Aldridge Sr. (1919-1975).
Atlanta has begun its new school year, and my Facebook timeline feed is dotted with pictures of beaming children. Just about a hundred years ago, my grandmothers started school for the first time. I have no photos of my father’s mother at that age, but she spoke to me of her anxious first days at an elementary school in New York City. She’d gone there with her great-aunt and adoptive mother, Sarah Henderson Jacobs, who occasionally traveled North for short stints of domestic work:
The first day I ever went to school, Frances [Aldridge Newsome, her paternal aunt] took me and her son Edward to school. And the building – I don’t remember what the building looked like inside – but I know we went in, and they had little benches, at least it was built around in the room. And you could stand there by it and mark on your paper if you wanted to or whatever. I didn’t see no seats in there. You sit on the same thing you were writing on. It’s in that, it seem like, from what I remember, it was down in the basement. You had to go down there, and the benches was all the way ‘round the room. And the teacher’s desk — and she had a desk in there. And the children sat on the desk, or you stand there by it, or kneel down if you want to mark on it. First grade, you ain’t know nothing ‘bout no writing no how. And I went in, and I just looked. I just, I didn’t do nothing. I just sit there on top of the desk. And I was crying. I went back to Frances’ house, and then after they come picked us up, I said, well, “Frances, I want to go home.” Go where Mama was. So Frances said, “We’ll go tomorrow.” I said, “How come we can’t go today?” She said, “Well, it’s too far to go now.” I said, “Well, can you call her?” And she said, “I don’t know the phone number, and I don’t know the name it’s in.” And so that kind of threw me; I finally went on to bed. But anyway before long they all took me back over to Brooklyn.
My mother’s mother also spoke of her early school days:
I never shall forget, we went to Golar’s school when there was a flu epidemic at home, and the schools were closed for months, you know. I don’t know how or why they closed them like that, but anyway, they were closed. And the county schools were open. And Papa used to take us down there to [her sister] Golar’s school. She had a school down there below Belmont. It wasn’t called Belmont. What’s the other one called? She had a little school in Williams Grove. And taught me so much more than them city schools. Girl, I’m telling you, I was in second grade, I never shall forget, she taught me how to crochet. She taught me how to crochet. She taught me how to do divisions. She taught me how to do fractions.
Margaret Colvert Allen, seated far right, third row. Circa 1915, Statesville.
Margaret C. Allen, second from right, second row from top. Her sister Launie Mae Colvert Jones, at left, first row of middle section. Circa 1916, Statesville.
Interviews of Hattie Henderson Ricks and Margaret Colvert Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.
My grandmother: He had a brother that was a barber. His name was Golar, and we called him “Doc.” Papa had him in there. Papa had a chair, and Doc had the second chair, and Walker had the third chair.
Harvey Golar Tomlin was the only one of Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart‘s second set of children to see the twentieth century. Harriet and Abner Tomlin had as many as six children together, but I only know the names of three — Milas, Lena and Harvey Golar.
After Ab’s death about 1899, and perhaps Lena’s around that time, too, Harriet packed up her youngest son and took him to Charlotte, where they are found in the 1900 census living at 611 East Stonewall with Harriet’s half-brother William H. Nicholson. This photo may have been taken there:
They did not stay long. In 1902, Harriet gave birth to Bertha Mae Hart, whose father Alonzo she married in 1904. By 1910, Harvey Golar, called “Doc,” had left his mother and stepfather’s household and was living in the Wallacetown neighborhood of Statesville with his half-brother and family: Lon W. Colvert, a barber, wife Caroline, and children Mattie, Gola, Walker, Louise, and Margaret (my grandmother). He trained under Lon and went to work in his shop. In the photo below, which can be dated to 1917 by another taken at the same time and showing a calendar, Doc appears with Lon’s son Walker and a client.
On 11 Jan 1917, H.G. Tomlin sold a parcel of land to L.W. Colvert and wife Carrie Colvert for $10. In a deed filed at Iredell County Courthouse, the land was described as “Beginning at a stake at a post oak, Ramsour’s old corner, running North 88 W. 16 1/2 poles to a stake on road East of the track of the A.T. & O. R.R.; thence S. 8 W. 9 1/2 poles to a stake Pearson’s corner; thence S. 88 E. 16 1/2 poles to a stake; thence N. 8 E. 9 1/2 poles to the beginning, containing one acre more or less and being the identical lands conveyed by William Pearson and wife to Abb. Tomlin by deed, dated 19th day of June, 1891 and recorded in deed Book No. 17 at page 101 of the Records of Deeds of Iredell County.” Doc apparently had inherited the property from his deceased father, though I’ve found no estate file.
Doc was possibly liquidating his assets as he pulled up stakes in Iredell County. Five months later, he registered for the World War I draft in Middlesboro, Bell County, Kentucky. (Middlesboro, Kentucky? What was the pull? The push?) Though he was prime age and had no infirmities, I have no evidence that he ever served in the military.
In any case, Doc seems not to have stayed gone for long. On 7 September 1918, Harvey Golar Tomlin applied for a marriage license for himself, of Iredell County, age 24, colored, son of Ab Tomlin (dead) and Hattie Hart (living), and Flossie M. Stockton of Iredell County, age 24, colored, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Stockton, both dead. L.W. Colvert witnessed the application, and W.O. Carrington, minister of the A.M.E. Zion Church, married the parties on 8 September 1918 before L.W. Colvert, N.S. Allison, and Eugene Stockton. (Flossie was the sister of Dillard and Eugene Stockton, both of whom married Lon Colvert’s half-sister Ida Mae Colvert.)
The couple’s only child, Annie Lavaughn Tomlin, was born 9 August 1919 in Statesville. At least part of that year, however, Doc was in Louisville, Kentucky, as shown in the city’s 1919 directory:
The 1920 census shows the family in the north Statesville suburbs: Jessie Stockton, age 28; his sister Flossie Tomlin, age 25, a public school teacher; niece Anna L. Tomlin, 4 month; and brother-in-law Havey Tomlin, age 26, barber. Doc’s last-place listing in the household is telling. Was he really there? Or tacked on as an afterthought because, after all, he was Flossie’s husband?
There are clues. Both Flossie and Doc were enumerated twice in the 1920 census. On Garfield Street in Statesville, public schoolteacher Flossie Tomlin and her daughter Annie L. appear in the household of Flossie’s brother Eugene Stockton, his sister-in-law (technically, but in reality his common law wife) Ida M., and their four children. The enumerator recorded this household in January 6, 1920. Seven or eight days later, however, 200 miles away in Lynch, Harlan County, Kentucky, another censustaker recorded 26 year-old North Carolina-born barber Harvie Tomlin as a roomer in the household of barbershop manager Alex R. Simpson and his wife, Lina. Then on March 3, Flossie and Annie were recorded in Jesse’s house, above. I’d bet money that Doc was actually in Kentucky.
I don’t know where Doc spent the 1920s, but it was more likely that he drifted around the Appalachian Plateau than returned to Statesville. There are glimpses.
For example, in the 1925 Dayton, Ohio, city directory:
And then the 1926 Portsmouth, Ohio, city directory:
Doc did not stay long at the Play House. On 19 May 1927, the barbershop ran an ad in an announcement of the grand re-opening of the Play House building and its businesses. Harvey G. Tomlin is not among the barbers listed:
The 1930 census found barber Harvey Tomlin in Carnegie, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, living at 205 Broadway in the household of Sabry Goldsmith, a 35 year-old Florida-born barbershop proprietor. He was described as single.
Perhaps he was.
The 1932 city directory of Cincinnati, Ohio, shows Doc living in a boarding house on Wade Street:
However, on 6 July 1933, in Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky, Harvy G. Tomlin, 40, colored, divorced, born in North Carolina to Ab and Harriett Tomlin and a resident of “Cin. O.” married Lena R. Simpson, 49, colored, widowed, born in Kentucky to John and Elizabeth [no last name reported]. Thomas Hanly, J.P., performed the ceremony before Helen Peddiford and Helen Byers. The couple had applied for the license in neighboring Kenyon County, Kentucky. Lena Simpson, you may recall, was married to Doc’s employer and landlord at the time of the 1920 census.
The 1936 Cincinnati city directory shows Doc living in a house, presumably having found SROs unsuitable to married life:
In the 1940 census of Cincinnati, Hamilton township, in a rented two-family house at 943 Monastery Road, the census taker encountered Harvey G. Tomlin, 48, and Lena R. Tomlin, 58. Harvey apparently had put down his barbering tools and worked as a butler for a private family. The couple are erroneously described as white, and their birthplaces are reversed. (Harvey’s is listed as Kentucky; Lena’s, as North Carolina.)
Two years later, despite a negligible chance of being called up, Harvey Golar Tomlin registered for the World War II draft in Cincinnati.
The back of the card noted that he was 5’4″ tall and weighed 198 pounds and that he had brown eyes, black hair and dark skin.
The following year, Doc returned to Statesville to obtain a so-called delayed birth certificate. It was filed on 31 July 1943, showing that Harvey Golar Tomlin was born 12 May 1894 in Statesville, that his birth was attended by Dr. Long, and that his parents were Abb Tomlin, colored, born 1852 in Iredell County, and Harriet Nicholson, colored, born 1862 in Iredell County NC.
I lose sight of Doc for more than a decade until the Statesville Record & Landmark posted a brief article on 8 June 1955 mentioning that Bertha Hart Murdock had left half-interests in a lot to her brother “Harry” G. Tomlin and niece LaVaughn Schuyler.
Lena Tomlin died 17 July 1959 in Cincinnati. Doc did not grieve long for he was back in Statesville getting married six months later. In another small-world, keep-it-in-the-family moment, Doc’s third wife, Mary Bell Frink, was the widow of William Luther McNeely, whose sister Caroline married Doc’s brother Lon Colvert.
It was a short-lived union. On 8 May 1961, Harvey G. Tomlin, son of Abbe Tomlin and Harriet last-name-unknown, died in Statesville of coronary thrombosis. He had been living at 229 Garfield Street (Ida Colvert Stockton lived at 214 Garfield) and working as a butler.
I’ve been able to find very little about Doc’s only child. Social Security records indicate that Lavaughn Tomlin married a Scruggs in about 1943 and a Schuyler about 1953. She lived in Jamestown, New York, in the 1940s and died 30 May 1997 in Salisbury, North Carolina. An abstract of her death certificate reveals that she had worked as a registered nurse. She was my grandmother’s first cousin. Did she know her at all?
[Follow-up, 5 August 2015: I just found this snippet in which my grandmother mentions Doc being in the Midwest:
My grandmother: And he [her brother Walker Colvert] got a girl pregnant, and Papa sent him to Kentucky rather – so that he wouldn’t have to marry that girl.
Grandma: Yes, he did.
Me: What did he do in Kentucky?
Grandma: He was a barber out there.
Me: Oh, okay.
Grandma: And I had, I had an uncle. Uncle – I don’t know if you’ve seen Doc or not. … Doc was out there. In Louisville. And he sent for Walker. And Papa sent him out there ….]
Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.
I used to go down there [to Mount Olive] and stay with her and Cousin Jesse. And Cousin Cousin Annie Cox and Uncle Hardy was living at that time, and I used to go down there. I stayed with her when Cousin Jesse, her husband, come up to bring tobacco to sell.
I don’t think neither one of ‘em ever went North. Cousin Annie and Cousin Hardy Cox. At least her husband [Hardy], his legs was twisted. They used to come to Wilson. When he walked, each of ‘em would go ‘round at the same time. They pushed up some kind of way. Worse than Bobby [Henderson, a cousin who’d had childhood polio.] And I asked Mama, I said, “What is wrong with him?,” and she said, “I don’t know.” I guess he was doing right good. He could walk on ‘em. I didn’t see him with no stick. But he just real – one would go one way and then the other one’d go the other way. I didn’t want him to see me watching him, so I didn’t never ask him nothing about it. ‘Cause he was [inaudible] down there to Uncle Lucian [Henderson]’s house.
Who were Hardy and Annie Carter Cox to my grandmother? Were either of them her blood relatives? I’ve talked about Annie Carter Cox’s family here. Hardy Cox was born about 1851, probably in Sampson County, to Henry Cox and Easter Bennett (or perhaps Beaman.) The family is not found in the 1860 census and was likely enslaved until Emancipation. In 1870, however, they were listed in Westbrook township, Sampson County: Henry Cox, 51; wife Esther, 37; children Hardy, 20; Martha, 18; Mariah, 14; Adaline, 12; George, 9; Isaac, 5; and Ida, 8 months; plus Phillis Bennet, 53. [Sidenote: my great-great-great-grandparents Lewis and Margaret Balkcum Henderson were also in Westbrook in 1860.] Ten years later, Hardy Cox, 30, and wife Martha, 28, were living a few miles north and are enumerated in Brogden township, Wayne County. [Again, as were the Hendersons.] Their little household was sandwiched between that of Green and Betsy Jane Thornton Simmons and his Bryan and Betsy Wynn Simmons. [North Carolina Marriage Indices show Hardy marrying Betsy J. Simmons on 16 January 1873 in Wayne County. Who is this? Neither Green nor Bryant had daughters by that name of an age to marry in 1873.] I have not found Hardy and Martha’s marriage license. [Is this actually Betsy J., misnamed?] However, in early 1884, Hardy married 20 year-old Virginia Ann “Annie” Carter.
A few items in this license stand out. First, here’s another example of the lackadaisical data entry that undercuts the reliability of so many of these records. Annie certainly knew her parents’ names, though both may have been deceased when she married. More interestingly, the witnesses: Hillary Simmons (at whose home the wedding took place), “Lucious” Henderson and Bryant Simmons Jr. Hillary Simmons was a son of George W. and Axey Jane Manuel Simmons and a nephew of Green and Bryant Simmons above. Bryant Junior was either Bryant’s son, born in 1866, or Hillary’s brother Bryant C. Simmons, born 1851. Lucious, of course, was Lucian Henderson, whose sister Ann Elizabeth Henderson had married Hillary Simmons five years previously.
No smoking guns then, just an intricate interweaving of several families via marriage and proximity. The marriage of Annie Carter Cox’s brother Marshall Carter to M. Frances Jacobs (whose brother Jesse Jacobs married Lucian and Ann Elizabeth’s sister Sarah Henderson in 1896) was another binding tie between Hardy and Annie and my grandmother’s people. There were others, too, but later and less likely to have drawn Hardy and Annie close enough to my grandmother to be called “Cousin.” For example, in 1907, Ira Cox, son of Hardy’s sister Mariah Cox, married Louvenia Jacobs, daughter of Jesse and Frances Jacobs’ brother John R. Jacobs. And in 1915, Marshall and Frances Jacobs Carter’s son Milford E. Carter married Beulah Aldridge, my grandmother’s paternal aunt.)
My mother: Tell Lisa about that thing you were telling me about your step-grandfather. Mr. Hart.
My grandmother: Mm-hmm.
Mother: And what he brought you.
Grandmother: He used to always bring us something, you know. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be a little something, you know. So this night, he brought me a chick. A little live chick. And told me to raise the chick, and I did. And it was a –
Mother: Where was it, Ma? Where was it when he brought it to you?
Grandmother: He had it in his pocket. [We laugh.] He had it in his pocket. And, oh, they were called game chickens. And they got great big bodies and long necks and their heads were small. You know, they’re funny-looking, but they’re very productive. You know, they lay a lot of eggs. And he had all kinds of stuff like that. He was a lawyer, really. But he did real estate, and he farmed. But anyway, he gave me this chick, and it was a hen. And she laid eggs and everything. And so Mama sat the eggs, sat her on her own eggs, and she hatched this little group of chickens, you know. And I don’t know why it was separate from any other ‘cause Mama had chickens and all. She had chickens then, but anyway this chicken was separate from the chickens, and it was ‘round on the side of our house. And the house wasn’t, you know, where you cover the bottom of the house. It wasn’t –
Me: Oh, yeah. It was up on pillars.
Grandmother: Yeah. And right there where she was there was none, and she made a little coop for her and her chicks. They would run around, but they would come back to that thing ‘cause she was in there. And one day a dog came along and was messing with the chickens, and oh, this hen was just a-jumping up and screaming and carrying on and stuck her head out the thing, and the dog bit her head off. Lisa, I nearly died. And you know, Mama wouldn’t cook her. We wouldn’t have eaten her nohow.
Me: Did she have a name?
Grandmother: I can’t think of the hen’s name. I can’t think of it, Lisa. But I’m sure she had one.
Game hen, courtesy http://www.ultimatefowl.com.
Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.
It never occurred to me to wonder “Why Greensboro?” We grew up regularly rolling 125 miles into the North Carolina Piedmont to visit my grandmother’s sister and the four nieces who lived nearby. Beyond my first cousins, their children were the closest kin we had in age, and we were always excited about a trip to see “Aint” Mamie Henderson Holt. It was not until I began interviewing Mother Dear in the 1990s that I learned that Aunt Mamie had not been the first Henderson to settle in Greensboro.
An introduction: Aint Mollie didn’t have long hair, but it was nice. And curly. And it was thin. And she had that, she wasn’t real light-complected, she was kind of olive-colored. But she was a small-sized woman. She was tall, not like Mama. She wasn’t fat. And she seemed to be real nice.
Mollie was born about 1872 and appears (as “Julia”) in the 1880 census of Wayne County, North Carolina in her parents’ household. Only two years older than Sarah, they were more like sisters or cousins than aunt/niece. In 1889, Mollie married Alex Hall in Wayne County. The couples’ two daughters, Lula and Sadie, were born about 1891 and 1895, respectively, but I have found none of them in the 1900 census. At some point in those decades, Mollie left southern Wayne County, headed west. Before 1902 — and with or without Alex — she was in Guilford County. There (or somewhere near there) on 24 June 1902, she met and married Walter Holt, born about 1875 in Alamance County to William and Margaret Isley Holt. (Julian, North Carolina, by the way, lies a couple of hundred feet inside southeast Guilford County from the Randolph County line. Traveling to Asheboro to marry was probably easier and more convenient than going to Greensboro. How and why Mollie went from rural Wayne County to this equally rural location remains a mystery.)
By 1910, Walter and Mollie and her daughters (known henceforth as Holts) were in Greensboro, living in the Wilmington Street home that my grandmother knew.
And Bazel’s – Mamie’s Bazel, his uncle Walter Holt married Aint Mollie. They didn’t never have no children, but she had two girls before they got married – Sadie and Julia [sic, Lula.] Yeah, them was the girls. Two girls. Sadie died. Julia, too, I believe. I think both of ‘ems dead. Sadie didn’t have no children of her own, but she raised a child. She took somebody’s child and raised. She had a husband, too. What was his name? I remember seeing him once or twice. I don’t believe Julia ever got married, I don’t think. At least she didn’t say nothing ‘bout it. They were older than me. And I think Mama said that Mollie was older than she was, but I reckon they was ‘long there together. Nancy was older than both of them, and A’nt Ella was the youngest one. She and Mama always were together, ‘cause they all played “sisters.” But Sarah was really Mollie and Nancy and Ella’s neice. Their brother Lewis’ child.
She had two daughters, Sadie and Julia. I think that’s what it was. Sadie’s the one stayed in the house on the corner from where we were staying, right there on Wilmington Street. The other one – where’d the other one stay? She was married and stayed in Virginia somewhere. Yeah, Julia. Sadie’s sister. Cousin Mollie, A’nt Molly’s daughter Julia. She had a daughter. Julia was light-complected, but she wasn’t real fair. She had a light complexion. And I didn’t know her husband. I don’t know if I ever seen him. But this child that she took and raised, I want to say took and raised up, she was real dark. They all left and come up to Virginia, I believe it was, Norfolk or somewhere. I know Sadie died in Greensboro, but…. A’nt Mollie, she died there, and I think her husband, I think he left. At least, he was running – he was a fireman on the train, that was his job. He was running between Winston-Salem and somewhere in, I don’t know…. Some part of Virginia or something. He was a tall, brown-skinned man. He was a nice-looking man.
Here is Sadie’s first marriage license. She married Ashley Whitfield of Johnston County in Greensboro a few months after the census above was taken. She used the maiden name Holt and noted that her birth father, Alex Hall, was dead. Her stepfather Walter Holt signed the license as a witness to the ceremony.
In the 1920 census, Walter Holt, age 38, foreman for Southern Rail Road, headed a household that included wife Mollie, 39; nephews Bazel, 23, and William, 20; niece Novella, 18; a boarded named Mildred Smith; and “step daughter” Sadie Holt, who described herself as a widow. I have not found a death certificate for Ashley Whitfield. I did find this though:
Greensboro Patriot, 16 May 1918.
Just over ten years after her first marriage — but having only aged four years — Sadie married Henry Farrow of Pittsboro. Again, she acknowledged her father Alex Hall, but used the surname Holt. (Never mind Whitfield.) Sister Lula Holt and a Jack Ross applied for the license, and Lula signed her name with an X, just as her mother had done. (Why hadn’t she gone to school?)
Some time in the fall or winter of 1922, Mama Sarah left Jesse Jacobs. She and her girls Mamie and Hattie took a train from Wilson to Greensboro to live with Aint Mollie until they got settled. While Sarah worked in a small restaurant, my 12 year-old grandmother enrolled in a Greensboro elementary school. (It was the last stretch of formal education she would have.) In early February 1923, they finally got their own place. But Papa Jesse soon arrived in Greensboro to beg Mama back and, ill and struggling financially, she agreed to go. Aunt Mamie, however, had different plans.
Again, in my grandmother’s words:
We moved in this house, and we hadn’t been in there but ‘bout a week, and Mamie wouldn’t come. She stayed over there with Aint Mollie. And Sadie. And so when she come over one day, and Mama didn’t feel like going to the restaurant where she had over there, and so I sat there looking out the window, and I said, “Mama, here come Mamie with a suitcase.” And I’d went over to the house that day, too. And I thought it was, they played cards then. [Inaudible.] So I went over there to Sadie’s house, and so I said to ‘em, I said, “What, y’all having a party tonight?” And didn’t know Mamie was getting married that night. Mamie didn’t even tell me. And so they said, “Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we gon play some cards.” And they wanted to get rid of me. Because they hadn’t told us nothing ‘bout it. Sadie went with Mamie to the courthouse to get the license and everything, and so Mamie didn’t want to come back to Wilson ‘cause Papa wasn’t good to her.
So they all got married that night and that’s when Mamie come, the next day, with a suitcase. And I told Mama, “Hmm. Is that a suitcase?” And I believe Sadie was with her. Yeah. And so she come to get her clothes. And Mama told her that, “If you don’t go back, I’ll put the law on you and make you go back ‘cause you underage.” And that’s how come Mamie didn’t let her know nothing ‘bout nothing. And, now, she’d just met Bazel, and he told her, “Well, we’ll get married if you want to stay here. We’ll get married.” And so he married her. That night. But I didn’t know they was getting married that night, and so I fussed her out and, “How come you didn’t let me know where I could have stayed to the wedding? I wanted to see you get married.” “Well, it wont no wedding – we was just getting married! Getting that old piece of paper.”
And another time:
But Mamie was up to Sadie’s house, Aint Mollie’s daughter. She stayed up there, ‘cause they all stayed up there and played cards. And she hadn’t seen Bazel but two weeks before they got married. So I went over there that evening after something from the café where Mama was, and I told her that Mama wanted her to come home. So she said, “Well, I’ll be over there tomorrow.” And so the house was all clean, Sadie’s house was all cleaned up, and tables sitting all around the room. Well, they played cards all the time, so I didn’t think nothing ‘bout it, and so they had to wait ‘til I left so Mamie and Bazel could get married. Went and got the license and everything. And didn’t tell me a word about it. And they were getting married that night. So I come on home. I run all the way from over there to Bragg Street. And come home. Didn’t think nothing about it. And so Mama, she didn’t go to the café, the people she had working in there, they was gon open up the café. ‘Cause it wasn’t nowhere but right down the street there, from ‘round the corner. So I stayed there with Mama fixing some breakfast. And so she said she wasn’t hungry, but I said she need to eat something. Well, anyway, she ate a little bit. And I looked out the window, and Mamie was coming with a suitcase. And I said to Mama, “Mamie’s coming up, and she’s got a suitcase! I wonder where she’s going.” Didn’t know she was coming to get her clothes. So she came on in, and she told Mama that she had got married last night and was coming to get her clothes. And Mama told her she ought not to let her have them. “You didn’t tell me nothing ‘bout it. If you was gon get married, and you’d a told me, [you could have] got married and had a little social or something.” And Mama was mad with her because she got married. So Mamie just got her clothes. Some of ‘em. And crammed ‘em in a suitcase and went back over ….
Here’s the license. And, look, sure enough, the marriage took place at Henry (and Sadie) Farrow’s house. And even Aunt Mollie was there, for she is listed an an official witness. Mamie was not 19. She was 15 and, indeed, underage. And Jesse and Sarah Jacobs were not, of course, Mamie’s parents, but her great-aunt and -uncle. (When she reported her mother dead, was Aunt Mamie thinking of Bessie, or convincing the register of deeds that she was free to marry of her own volition?)
Mother Dear returned to Wilson with Sarah and Jesse Jacobs, and Aunt Mamie remained in Greensboro with her new husband, who was Mollie Holt’s nephew by marriage. And that’s how she got there — and stayed.
My last sighting of Mollie Henderson Hall Holt is in the 1928 Greensboro city directory. (The “c” is for “colored.”):
The following year, Sadie Hall Holt Whitfield Farrow died of tuberculosis. She was 38 years old. (Not 29.) Walter Holt was the informant on her death certificate and named himself as her father. Otherwise, he correctly identified her birthplace as Mount Olive (in Wayne County), her mother’s maiden name as Henderson, and her mother’s birthplace as Clinton (or, in any case, Sampson County.) I strongly suspect that Mollie was dead by then, but I have not found evidence.
By 1929, Aunt Mamie’s three oldest children had been born. The Holt branch of the Henderson family had taken root in Greensboro. It still flourishes there, but also in New Jersey and New York and Pennsylvania and Georgia and Texas.
Interviews of Hattie Henderson Ricks by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.
My mother told me this long ago, and today she repeated it: “I don’t know where this came from, but they always used to say that Papa was kin to Thomas Jefferson.”
Thomas Jefferson’s mother was Jane Randolph Jefferson. Jane had a sister, Susannah Randolph, who married Carter Henry Harrison. Carter and Susannah had a son named Randolph Harrison, who had a son, Thomas Randolph Harrison; who had a son, William Mortimer Harrison; who had a son, Edward Cunningham Harrison.
“Papa” was John C. Allen Jr. Papa was Edward C. Harrison’s son. And so, as Thomas Jefferson’s first cousin five times removed, Papa was kin indeed.
I’ve always wondered if John Allen knew who his birth father was. This bit of family lore suggests that he did.