Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Mississippi has the reputation of being one of the most racist, backward states in the United States.  I can't help but wonder if my Brown family had their spirit broken by Mississippi.  Did they endure one last straw?  Both of my mother's paternal grandparents were born in Mississippi; as were both of their parents.

My mother's paternal grandfather, Samuel Brown, was born about April 1864 in Simpson County, Mississippi.  His birth date is listed on the 1900 federal census from Beat 3, Simpson, Mississippi.  He is the head of his family that includes his wife Mary (Stamps) Brown and their children:  Luella, Ida, Fannie, Whit, Simon, Willie, Sam, and an Infant son.  

Year: 1900; Census Place: Beat 3, Simpson, Mississippi; Roll: T623_827; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 97.

It's also recorded on the 1900 census that Samuel Brown is a farmer and the owner of his farm. 

According to the U.S. Land Office Records, 1796-1907, he was granted a parcel of land through the Homestead Act.  The issue date was June 7, 1897.

U.S. General Land Office Records, 1796-1907

The Homestead Act of 1862 was signed by Abraham Lincoln to open up land ownership and settlement in the West.  It was the expanded Southern Homestead Act of 1866 signed on June 21st by President Andrew Johnson that granted the opportunity for African Americans to purchase land in five southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 was an effort to curb the cycle of sharecropping and poverty among southern farmers, both Black and white.  While land was sold at lower prices, many still could not afford land purchases.

My great grandfather was one of about 1,000 freed Blacks who received a property certificate; there were approximately 6,500 claims.  
Gates, Paul Wallace. “Federal Land Policy in the South 1866-1888.” The Journal of Southern History, vol. 6, no. 3, 1940, pp. 303–330. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2192139.

In the 1910 federal census (Beat 3, Simpson County, Mississippi (Pinola and Stonewall Rd) my great-grandmother, Mary Stamps Brown was a widow, listed as owner of the farm that she and her children lived on (Ida, Whittie, Simon, Will, Sam, Noah, Elizabeth).  My great-grandmother had given birth to ten children of which nine were alive -- the infant from the 1900 census was the one who had died.  The two additional children in the 1910 census are my grandfather, Noah, who was born in 1902 and my great-aunt Elizabeth who was born in 1905.  

Year: 1910; Census Place: Beat 3, Simpson, Mississippi; Roll: ; Page: ; Enumeration District: ; Image: .(Sheet 22B)

By the 1920 federal census my great-grandmother had moved to Cuyahoga County, Ohio with four of her children in her household:  William, 23;  Samuel, 21;  Noah, 19;  and Elizabeth, 14.  At age 42, she is a servant for a private family.

At various times, Mary Stamps Brown and her children had moved to Ohio.  Why?  Did all the children moved to Ohio?  What happened to the patriarch, Samuel Brown?  What happened to the farm?

Daughter Fannie married Horace McCall on August 21, 1919 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
Cuyahoga County Archive; Cleveland, Ohio; Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Marriage Records, 1810-1973; Volume: Vol 112-113; Page: 281; Year Range: 1919 Apr - 1919 Sep

Daughter Luella was married to Ezra Berry in 1910; they were married for five years at that time and they lived near her mother on Pinola and Stonewall Rd,,  Beat 3, Simpson County, Mississippi.  (Sheet 24A)
Year: 1910; Census Place: Beat 3, Simpson, Mississippi; Roll: T624_758; Page: 24A; Enumeration District: 0125; FHL microfilm: 1374771  
At some point she moved to Ohio where she died on  August 17, 1928 and is buried.  Ohio Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2002

I know my Aunt Ida died (1964) and is buried in Buffalo NY.  I remember her passing and that I wasn't allowed to go to her funeral because I was "too young" -- I was nine years old.  Where did Aunt Ida live when her other siblings and their mother lived in Ohio?  Rumor has it that she never married, is that true? 

Simon Brown worked in Erie PA (when?); died  (1968) and is buried in Indianapolis IN according to a death notice I found in my grandmother's Bible. 

I'm inclined to believe that this is Whit (Whittie).  According to this document Whittie was born in Westville MS -- Whit's brother, William was born in Westville MS (U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942).  In this document Whittie was born April 23, 1893 -- Whit was born April 1892 (1900 census record). 

And so my search continues to flesh out my Brown family from Mississippi.

Here's to the State of Mississippi

Here's to the state of Mississippi,
For Underheath her borders, the devil draws no lines,
If you drag her muddy river, nameless bodies you will find.
whoa the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes,
the calender is lyin' when it reads the present time.
Whoa here's to the land you've torn out the heart of,
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of!

Songwriters: Phil Ochs

Here's to the State of Mississippi lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

African American Veterans Monument WNY

On November 9, 2018, I attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the African American Veterans Monument.  The memorial will be built in the Buffalo & Erie County Navel and Military Park with construction scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019.   It will be a tribute to all African American veterans who served in all military branches from the Revolutionary War to the present.  The monument will hold the distinction of being the first of its kind in the United States.

When the call went out to the community for opportunities to purchase an engraved commemorative brick in the memory of a loved one, I considered it an honor to be able to make two purchases.  One for my father, PFC Willis B. Williams (1929-2011), who served during the Korean Conflict.  The other for my uncle, Sargent Arthur Brown (1927-1986), who served during WWII. 

Renditions of the planned African American Veterans Memorial in Buffalo NY

Monday, November 12, 2018

My NABS (National Association of Black Storytellers) Addiction -- The Voice of Black Storytelling

I caught the NABS bug in 2004 and since that time I have almost consistently attended the National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference.  In 2011 my daughter started going with me and with the exception of 2017 in Wichita, she's attended every year since her first Festival.  In addition to hearing some good storytelling, we take the opportunity to do a personal tour of whatever city the Festival is being held, focusing on Black history sites.

NABS is the old-fashioned church camp meeting and family reunion rolled into one. Storytellers and attendees travel from all over the country (even beyond) and each year the Festival is held in a different location.  Workshops and storytelling feed attendees/participants in universal, deep-rooted ways with presentations ranging from personal stories to historical stories to Brer animal stories to Anansi stories to everything in-between.

Mother Mary Carter Smith and Mama Linda Goss co-founded the Association of Black Storytellers in November 1984 to share, recognize and preserve the African and African American Oral Tradition.  The Association was incorporated in 1990 and became known as the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. (NABS). The festival is now known as the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference. (from the NABS website https://www.nabsinc.org)

NABS is the Authentic Voice of Black Storytelling.

After years of attending the NABS Festival, I accepted the call to serve as Board member and National Secretary.  The love of NABS inspired me to serve.

November 2014 induction ceremony during the Membership Meeting at the 32nd annual Festival held in Chicago, Illinois.  My term as the national secretary began on January 1, 2015.  

Esteemed storyteller and Elder Baba Jamal Koram swearing in new NABS Board members Janice Curtis Greene, Gwen Hilary, Steven Hobbs and Sandra Williams Bush
Making a statement on why I accepted Board position

Presentation of the Gold Life Membership plaque by NABS 15th President Saundra Gilliard, November 2018.  My love for NABS inspired me to financially"put up or shut up"

The last time my name tag will reflect my position as NABS Board member and Secretary, November 2018

With Executive Director Vanora Legaux and President-elect Janice Curtis Greene (Board members) at the 36th annual NABS Festival in Cary NC, November 2018

Souvenir book covers reflect the NABS Festivals that I have attended to date.

22nd - 2004 New Orleans
23rd - 2005 Tampa FL
25th --2007 Atlanta
27th - 2009 Little Rock AR
28th - 2010 Minneapolis

29th - 2011 Atlanta
30th - 2012 Baltimore
31st --  2013 Hampton VA

32nd --  2014 Chicago

32nd --  2015 Washington DC
34th --  2016 Philadelphia
35th --  2017 Wichita 

2018 Festcover smaller
36th - 2018 Cary NC

Monday, January 29, 2018

O Christmas Tree

I continue to get real trees for Christmas in honor of my father, Willis B. Williams, who always brought home the perfect tree.  Selecting a tree is now a tradition between me and my daughter.

Growing up I don't remember a time when we didn't have a Christmas tree -- and they were always taller than Daddy, who was 6-ft tall.  Sometimes we didn't have a tree until Christmas Eve when they were given out free at some places -- but Christmas was always a festive time in my family. My brothers and I helped my Mom decorate the tree and Daddy put up lights in the windows and decorated the outside of our house in Buffalo NY.

While we had a fireplace, mantel and chimney at our home, I don't remember waiting or looking out for Santa Claus. I do remember trying not to sleep so we could get to our presents at the first morning light and I do remember being told to go back to bed on occasion.  We did get presents labeled from Santa that were from our "grandparents",  Deety and Popoo. Those were the presents we opened first because they were always toys.

I love the smell of a real tree and the memories it brings.  I don't have heirloom ornaments. What I do have are these seven very special ornaments made by my daughter, Libby (Elizabeth), throughout her elementary years.  Each always get a prime spot on my tree.  As long as I'm able I'll continue getting real trees even though I sweep up pine needles well into spring --  because there's nothing like the smell and the memories!