I had an opportunity to interview my mother, while the NPR Story Corps was in Tulsa during October 23-November 15th. Our stories will be kept on a CD in the Library of Congress. History in the makingJ
My mother (Mawit) was the first African-American Homecoming queen for Northwestern Oklahoma State University. We talked about my great-great grandfather Reverend Jackson Henry Hodge ( he was A.M.E minister) She shared a story of her uncles Ennis and Ellis Hodge taking apart a Model T Ford and then putting it back together. Wow, her uncles were smart. She shared about her Christian faith. What I learned is that every family has a story tell. Sometimes, it is easy think heavily on the negative side of family history. It was hard to believe we could only talk for 45 minutes. Overall, the experience was like having our own radio show.
I took artistic license in recreating this story—hopefully you will enjoy a brief snapshot of history.
Ransom Lewis leaned back in his chair on his porch of his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He knew today was June 1, 1830. He was part of the census, as the census taker barraged him with so many questions. His wife, Hattie Lewis offered the taker a hot cup of coffee. The steam of the coffee fogged the older census takers spectacles. His young partner just took notes as the man asked him about his family history.
What was the white man’s fascination with the past? Here he was a freedman and his blood flowed with a white father and a Negro woman. He would choose today and be known as a Negro. He felt he at least needed to owe that to his mother. She was taken against her will—by the then young Mr. Ned Lewis. It was by the grace of God, that the youngest daughter of Ned’s daughter Mary Lewis had the decency to give him freedom. He praised the Lord daily for his favor.
Being in his fifties, and realizing his namesake was now in Tennessee participating in the same census. He believed his son would pass down the family history to the next generation.
Nan Lewis grew up and married Anderson Wiley. In their union they had several children and they had a daughter named Lucille Elizabeth Wiley. She would become my grandmother.
I’m a girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma who happens to be in the place of where the 1921 Race Riot happened in the Greenwood Area of downtown Tulsa. When I first told a friend I was doing a historical novel in Alabama. The friend was like “What about the 1921 race riot?” I didn’t tell her but I have only lived in Tulsa for twenty –four years. Already great people have written about the race riot. An African-American lawyer Hannibal Johnson has written about it.
Not Tulsa, but Alabama interested me. The lives of the four girls who lost their lives in the 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when their church was bombed on September 15, 1963. I recalled hearing about these girls at the age ten or eleven. In my mind, I thought they had died in the basement of the church. This began my inherent fear of basements in the bottom of the church.
The church has been restored since fifty y-one years ago. One woman who went to the church, her name is Carolyn McKinstry tells of the aftermath in While the World Watched. She tells of her survivor guilt and possibly she may have suffered from PTSD. Actually, McKinstry still serves at the church. I believe you can watch her interview on CBN.com. We must remember the people who have faced trials and still came out victorious. It is about not becoming a victimized by our circumstances and allowing it defeat us.
It is important with any setback is not to allow it to defeat us. So, today just remember that you are not a victim, but a victor.