Births Deaths Marriages, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

The Hawaiian princess.

Toward the end of his college days at Howard University, Aldridge descendant Charles Cromwell Coley married Harriet Purdy, a native Hawaiian athlete and performer and a descendant of King Kamehameha I.

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Their only child, daughter, Laulupe Kaleilani Coley, was born in 1932 in Washington, D.C.

A post in the D.C. neighborhood blog Popville notes: “In March 1934, the Hi-Hat, a ‘smart new continental Cocktail Lounge and Cafe, styled in the modern manner,’ opened on the top floor of the Ambassador. The Post raved about its decorations: ‘The silvery iridescence of kapiz shell gives the mellow effect of moonlight on the water, and the imported blue and white mirrors trimmed in stainless steel surrounding the columns introduces a new note in modern interior decoration.’ The Hi-Hat Lounge quickly became a popular nightspot, offering top names in the nightclub circuit. Its opening act was Princess Harriet Purdy, a Hawaiian who strummed a ukulele while crooning languorous songs in her native tongue.”

Harriet and C.C. Coley divorced in the late 1930s. Their daughter was educated on the mainland, but married and settled in Hawai’i.

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Yearbook of Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1950.

Harriet also returned to Hawai’i where she continued to preserve the island’s traditional arts and culture. In this video posted to Youtube, Harriet Purdy dances hula as Sonny Chillingworth, Myrna English and Billy Hew Len perform “Kaula Ili”:

Harriet Keonaonalaulani Purdy Kauaihilo, 96, of Kapolei, a professional hula dancer, died Aug. 26 in Kapolei. She was born in Waimea. She is survived by son Bill, daughters Laulupe K. Dempster and Harriet Clark, hanai sister Olive S. Purdy, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grand-children. Private graveside services. — Honolulu Bulletin, 11 September 2002.

HARRIET KEONAONALAULANI PURDY KAUAIHILO, 96, of Kapolei, died Aug. 26, 2002. Born in Waimea, Hawai’i. A high diver and swimmer, known as the Hawaiian Human Cannonball at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier in the early 1930s; and professional Island hula dancer. Survived by daughters, Laulupe Dempster and Harriet Clark; son, Bill; grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren; hanai sister, Olive Purdy. Private graveside services. Arrangements by Ultimate Cremation Services of Hawai’i.— Honolulu Advertiser, 11 September 2002.

www.popville.com, “Streets of Washington Presents — The Ambassador Hotel, catering to ‘experienced travelers’ (Formerly at 14th and K St, NW)”

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Business, Migration, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

Restaurateur, litigant, race man.

I was running some random Google searches when I ran across this Howard University yearbook entry. Charles C. Coley, class of 1930, was the son of Mack D. and Hattie Wynn Coley, grandson of Frances Aldridge Wynn, and great-grandson of J. Matthew Aldridge.

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In the 1910 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: school teacher and widower Mack D. Coley, 45, and children Blonnie B., 12, Blanche U., 10, Charlie C., 7, and Rosevelt, 5, and great-aunt Kattie, 74.

In the 1920 census of Mount Olive, Brodgen township, Wayne County: on Rail Road Street, teacher Mack D. Coley, 54; wife Lillie, 40, teacher; and children Blonnie, 22, teacher; Blanche, 20;  Charley, 17; Rosevelt, 15; and Harold, 2.

In the 1930 census of Washington, D.C.: at 70 Que Street, Northwest, Charles Coley, 26, and wife Harriett, 20, lodgers in the household of Oscar J. Murchison. Charles worked as a lunchroom waiter. Harriett was a native of Hawaii. They divorced before long, and Charles married Frances Elizabeth Masciana (1920-2010), the District-born daughter of an Italian immigrant father and an Italian-African American mother.

During the 1930s, Great Depression be damned, Coley began to build his entertainment and culinary empires, which eventually came together under C.C. Coley Enterprises, headquartered on U Street, D.C.’s Black Broadway. He rented jukeboxes to establishments across the city and owned several barbecue restaurants and other businesses in Northwest D.C. (More than a few Wayne County home folk newly arrived to the District got jobs working in Coley businesses.) On 16 December 1939, the Pittsburgh Courier screamed “Charge ‘Sabotage’ in Music Box Scandal” over a story whose heading was longer than its column inches.

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Coley was unfazed by this dust-up. In 1942, he was able to place an ad in Howard University’s yearbook touting several of his enterprises, the Hollywood Tavern, the Varsity Grill, the New University Pharmacy, the Pig ‘N Pit, and Northwest Amusement Company Records.

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In 1942, C.C. put his financial weight behind the Capital Classic, an early fall match-up between black college football teams that anchored black D.C.’s fall social calendar. The Washington Post, in articles published 30 October 1980 and 9 September 1994, described the Classic’s genesis this way:

“Begun in 1942 by now-retired businessmen Charles C. Coley, Jerry Coward and Jessie Dedman, who were later joined by attorney Ernest C. Dickson, the Classic was a black business community extravaganza. From their offices on then fashionable U Street, the entrepreneurs founded the Capital Classic, Ltd. company to lure the interest and dollars of D.C.’s thousands of “colored” fans away from the professional teams which wouldn’t employ or seat blacks properly, and return those dollars to the black college teams.”

“The Classic offered the community, according to one of the printed programs, ‘. . . a massive arena where the radiant beauty of Negro women, who for so long, where beauty is concerned, have been in the shadows — shaded by the accepted Nordic ideal can move proudly to stage center and radiate the bronze charm that will always be the heritage of women of color.'”

Coley was also an early civil rights activist. His financial backing enabled trailblazer Hal Jackson break into D.C. radio, and an op-ed piece in the 14 April 1943 edition of the Pittsburgh Courier gave details of more direct action. Angered by the difficulty he had catching cabs in Washington, Coley contacted the Urban League with a proposal. He would pay the salary for a man to work full-time tracking instances of discrimination by cabbies. “Mr. Coley has these taxicab drivers who pass up passengers, white or colored, at the Union Station or anywhere else in the city, fighting for their licenses.” The city’s Public Utilities Commission was shamed into putting its own spotters on the street. “Discrimination is being met a knockout blow — not by what Mr. Coley said, but what he did. … This story is … being passed along for the benefit of some Negroes who, in similar situations, never think of putting their money where their mouth is.”

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Baltimore Afro-American, 13 November 1948.

Despite the photo op above, the Classic soon met difficulties behind-scenes. Coley withdrew temporarily from active promotion in 1945, and Dr. Napoleon Rivers replaced him as guarantor. Quickly, according to a federal lawsuit, Rivers began to “usurp control” and failed to pay Coley’s partners their shares. In ’47, he even set up a rival match — the National Classic — at Griffin Stadium. (For details, see the 23 October 1948 edition of the New York Age.  The National Classic, by the way, moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1954 and morphed into the C.I.A.A. football championship game. See the Pittsburgh Courier, 23 October 1954.) The Classic recovered and prospered until fading away in the 1960s.

Charles C. Coley died 11 April 1986 in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery.

Wash Post 16 Apr 1986

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C.C. Coley’s Pig ‘N Pit Restaurant at 6th and Florida Avenue, Washington DC. This undated Scurlock Studios image is found in Box 618.04.75, Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

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Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Friend or family?

I was reminded of this cohabitation:

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In the 1850 census of South Side of Neuse, Wayne County, North Carolina: farmer Calvin Simmons, 42, wife Hepsey, 46, and children Harriet, 13, Susan, 11, Montrival, 9, Jno. R., 7, Margaret, 5, Dixon, 3, and Geo. W., 1, plus Robt. Aldridge, 26, who worked as a hireling.  Calvin was born in Sampson County, Robert in Duplin; the others in Wayne.

This, of course, is the family of Montraville Simmons, recorded in the last census before they emigrated to Kent County, Ontario. Who was my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Aldridge to John Calvin Simmons and his wife Hepsie Dixon Simmons? A farmhand? A boarder? A poor relative? At this point, I know nothing of Robert’s parents, so I am intrigued.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Virginia

Aunt Lizzie, found.

Cousin B.J., my partner in all things Aldridge, sent me this clipping a few days ago from the 28 June 1952 edition of the Norfolk New Journal and Guide:

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1612 Lovitt Avenue was the house in which Tilithia Brewington King Godbold Dabney had lived in her latter years. Who was this Elizabeth Aldridge? And who was in the family plot?

We quickly suspected that this was Lizzie Aldridge, sister of my great-great-grandfather John W. Aldridge and B.J.’s great-great-grandmother Amelia Aldridge Brewington, but knew little of Lizzie’s whereabouts as an adult. I’d wondered if our Lizzie was this woman, found in the 1900 census of Norfolk, Norfolk County, Virginia: North Carolina-born  dressmaker Lizzie Aldridge, 30, shared a household with a boarder, William Hendricks, 36, a divorced day laborer. So there was some precedent to the speculation that Lizzie had migrated to Norfolk. But why the “Mrs.”? We don’t know for sure, but quickly determined that this death announcement was definitely for Lizzie Aldridge, daughter of Robert and Mary Eliza Balkcum Aldridge, and she seems to have been the longest-lived of their children. In other words, Elizabeth Aldridge was Tilithia Dabney’s aunt.

In the 1870 census of Brogden township, Wayne County:  Robt. Aldridge, farmer, with wife Eliza, and children George, 18, John, 17, Amelia, 14, Mathew D., 13, David S., 12, Amanda, 10, Ella, 9 Eliza, Robert and Joseph, 7 months, plus farmhand Isham Gregory.

In the 1880 census of Brogden township, Wayne County: Robt. Aldridge, wife Elizar, and children Matthew, Sloan, Amanda, Louella, Lizzie, Robert, Joseph, and Fannie.

By 1898, Lizzie (and, it appears, her teenaged nephew Zebedee, John’s oldest son, and her sister Louella) had migrated to Norfolk, Virginia. Here are their listings in the city directory:

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In the 1900 city directory, Louella remains at 100 Henry, but Zebedee, working as a fireman, is living with his aunt at 17 Nicholson. Nonetheless, as noted above the census taken that year showed Lizzie sharing a household only with a boarder.

On 4 July 1902, Wayne County Superior Court set off a dower and partitioned Robert Aldridge’s land  among his wife and heirs. With Lot No. 10, Lizzie Aldridge received 32 acres on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad and Stoney Run Branch valued at $193. (Louella, referred to as Louetta, received a similar share, but two years later it was divided among her siblings when she died without heirs.)

In the 1904 Norfolk city directory, Lizzie is at 17 Nicholson, but in 1906, she is listed at 100 Henry. As “Elizabeth Aldridge,” she is living at 100 Henry in the 1907 and 1908 directories, too.

In the 1910 census of Norfolk, Virginia: Elizabeth Aldridge is listed as the keeper of a lodging house at 100 Henry Street. She had nine lodgers, all born in North Carolina, and one of whom, 22 year-old Jessie Baker, may have been Jesse Frank Baker, son of Lizzie’s first cousin Mary Ann Aldridge Baker.

Per city directories, as early as 1913, Lizzie Aldridge was living at 852 Henry in Norfolk.

In the 1920 census of Monroe Ward, Norfolk, Virginia: at 852 Henry Street, Elizabeth Aldridge, 49, keeper of a lodging house, headed a household that included her 7 year-old adopted son Elisha Newton and eight lodgers aged 16 to 20, all North Carolina-born and working as longshoremen or, in one instance, a fireman on a boat.

In the 1930 census of Norfolk, Virginia: in rented quarters at 940 1/2 Hanson Avenue, 60 year-old laundress Elizabeth Aldridge, her adopted son Arther E. Newton, 18, and a boarder named Mack Rice, a longshoreman. Elizabeth claimed to be a widow who first married at age 21.

In the 1940 census of Norfolk, Virginia: at 938 1/2, Elizabeth Aldridge, 70, was herself a lodger in a household headed by Lena Forekey.

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As for the “family plot,” B.J. discovered the following (probably partial) list of Aldridge family members buried together in Norfolk’s Calvary cemetery: Elizabeth Aldridge, Section 22, Block 22, Lot 182, Space SW 0 06/15/1952; John Dabney, Section 22, Block 22, Lot 182, Space W CTR 0 12/29/1974; Tilithia Dabney, Section 22, Block 22, Lot 182, Space NW 0 11/24/1965; and Arthur Newton, Section 22, Block 22, Lot 182, Space SE 0 09/09/1979.

 

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Business, Migration, Newspaper Articles, Paternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia, Vocation

Home-cooking a specialty.

I’ve written of Cousin Tilithia Brewington King Godbold Dabney here and here. Her restaurant in Norfolk, the Strand Cafe, made a deep impression on my grandmother, who laughingly recalled waiting tables there on childhood visits and being dazzled by Cousin Tilithia’s menu offerings.

Thanks to B.J., great-granddaughter of Tilithia’s sister Mattie Brewington Braswell, who found these Norfolk Journal & Guide articles, we now know more about the cafe:

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12 March 1921.

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9 December 1922.

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28 May 1927.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Paternal Kin

In memoriam: Brent Aldridge Oldham.

My cousin Brent Aldridge Oldham, an esteemed pediatrician in Seattle, Washington, passed away on 22 December 2015. Born in Washington DC in 1950, he was the son of the late M. Brent and Virginia Aldridge Oldham. His grandfather Zebedee Aldridge was my great-grandfather James T. Aldrich‘s brother.

His family has created a fine tribute to his life and memory.

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