That’s this week’s thing — King. Whatever way you want to go with it. I thought I had a great Martin Luther King Jr. idea, but the photograph I thought I was going to build it on didn’t show what I remembered it showing. (That is, black folks’ Other Trinity — MLK, JFK and Jesus — mounted on my grandmother’s dining room wall. They were there, but outside the frame of the photo I wanted to use.) Another suggested King, Elvis, is not an option. The apocryphal “all Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes” story held sway in my family, and in consequence the man and his music play no role in any story I can tell. (Except the one in which my sister called her friend to tell him she’d heard Elvis had died. The girl gasped, hung up, then called back later to deliver a tearful thank you message from her father. We were mystified.)
I picked cousin Louella Henderson King instead. Said my grandmother, Hattie Henderson Ricks:
And I think Mama Sarah said that Molly 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 Molly and Nancy and Ella’s niece. Their brother Lewis’ child.
Unfortunately, I have had few sure sightings of Louella “Ella” Henderson in the record. The first is the 1880 census of Faisons township, Duplin County, North Carolina: James Henderson, 62, wife Eliza, 38, and children Alexander, 21, John, 19, Nancy, 14, Julia, 8, Edward, 6, and Lewellen, 4. (My grandmother was not quite right. Nancy was oldest, and Ella was youngest, but Julia, called “Molly,” and their niece Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver were about the same age.)
My grandmother recalled that Ella was married twice, and her first husband was a King. In the 1900 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, I found Adam King, day laborer, and wife Ella, cook, married 16 years and living on George Street. There are a number of problems here though. This Ella was 34. Mine was ten years younger. Most critically, this couple’s marriage license (1) issued 29 August 1884, when my Ella was only 8 years old, and (2) it shows this Ella’s maiden name as Herring.
The same couple appeared in the 1910 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County.
On 22 April 1914, a woman named Ella King died of “exhaustion from acute mania” at the state hospital just Goldsboro. (This was a psychiatric facility reserved for African-Americans.) She was 34 years old, her parents were unknown, and she was buried in Forsyth County, North Carolina. I don’t think this is my Ella either. Her age is off by a few years, and there is no known reason for my Ella to have been buried half-way across the state near Winston-Salem.
Plus, on 27 Dec 1918, Lon Bryant applied for a marriage license for Patrick Diggs and Nancy Smith, both of Goldsboro. One of the witnesses to the ceremony was Ella Wilson, also of Goldsboro NC. Nancy Henderson Smith Diggs was the Nancy my grandmother spoke of, the elder sister of Ella. I suspect that Ella Wilson is Ella Henderson King, remarried, but I have no evidence.
Perhaps: in the 1920 census of Goldsboro, Wayne County, living on Smith Street were South Carolina-born Ed Wilson, 39, a supervisor in a box factory, and his wife Ella, 30, a washerwoman. Is this the right Ella? I don’t think so. Her age is off, too.
And that’s it. That’s all I have. My grandmother told me that Ella left Goldsboro and moved to a city in the western part of the state. Gastonia, maybe? Bessemer City? She could not definitely recall. I’ve searched statewide for women who could have been my Ella. Though I have not found her, but she is not completely lost.