Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reflections from MAAGI 2014

The second year of the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute took place last week in St. Louis Missouri at Harris Stowe State University, and it was an honor to be a part of it once again!

I can only say that the energy put into the classes, by both faculty and participants alike was truly amazing and so many had their genealogical process enhanced and expanded by the experience.

Was MAAGI Just Another Conference?

Not at all! This was a teaching institute and there was a good amount of "hands on" work, homework and projects. The participants were kept busy and they found that much of what they worked on, could be put to use immediately.

Last year, someone asked if this was an event "where people just talked about their own family history"! Nothing could be further from the truth!

And in fact, one only has to look at the courses offered to see that no such thing is a part of MAAGI and shall never be! And the structure of the institute guarantees that the program will not be a platform for people simply show what they did with their own family tree.

MAAGI is an institute where instructors teach and do not simply talk. From Technology, to Broadcasting, and from the scrutiny of pension files to planning their own blogs and platforms, the participants emerged as activists in the genealogy community. So no, it is not a conference at all and one will not find themselves bored with a story of how someone documented their own family.

On any day, one could peer into the classes and see small groups analyzing Civil War Pension files looking for briefs, or rehearsing for a radio broadcast, or even analyzing selective service records. As an educator, I appreciated seeing the hands on activities that kept participants engaged.

A real highlight was to watch an evening study group form and to watch how so many worked hard with their instructor on personal time lines, and got assistance from each other over a periods of several hours.

Professor Shelley Murphy gave every single person in the group individual attention, and to see that group in the hotel working around a table with laptops and notepads.

Renate Sanders of Virginia works on her laptop while a colleague looks on.
(Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown)

Gary Franklin of Ohio listens closely as another group member speaks
 (Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown)

Professor Shelley Murphy explains ancestral time lines as others listen.
(Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown)

Pat Meredith of St. Louis takes copious notes during study session.
(Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown)

It was fun to observe and later to listen to participants in Track 4 as they began to organize and plan the radio broadcast for Blog Talk Radio. Konnetta Alexander took the lead and directed some of the initial discussion for the group, working on the white board as the participants organized their possible topics for their broadcast.

Konnetta Alexander of Nashville TN records suggestions from Track 4 group.

It was exciting to walk around during break time and it was not unusual to see group members connecting and having intense discussions about research challenges and solutions.

Hazel Moore of Baltimore, and Argyrie McCray of Windsor Mill MD 
engage in detailed discussion of their research.
(Photo courtesy of Shelley Murphy)

There were also some amusing times such as when the photographer came to capture the Technology Track on camera, and they decided to take a photo of the photographer. The result is this fun shot of the classes with their camera's capturing their own image of the official photographer.

Technology Track photographs the photographer
(Courtesy of Nicka Sewell Smith)

The Faculty

We were honored to have two noted speakers of international fame speaking at MAAGI. Thomas Macentee of Geneabloggers returned bringing his technology skills with him, and Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist dazzled two different tracks by sharing the legal policies that affected the lives of the families that we research!

Thomas Macentee of Geneabloggers and HiDefGen
(Courtesy of Nicka Sewell Smith)

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist

Janis Minor Forte, genealogists and author engages her class 

Nicka Sewell Smith shared the process of documenting the research process
(Courtesy of Bernice Bennett)

Bernice Bennett leads a session on DNA
Courtesy of Linda Bugg-Simms

Drusilla Pair answers a question for student
(Courtesy of Renate Sanders)

Shelley Murphy working at the white board
(Courtesy of Linda Bugg-Simms)

Angela Walton-Raji on break between sessions
(Courtesy of Linda Bugg-Simms)

It is difficult to describe an intense learning experience, but it has to be pointed out that this year's institute was truly engaging, stimulating and also lots of fun! I appreciate the seriousness in which everyone approached the class and the class assignments, and it was a special joy to be part of the team that helped to make it happen. I can only look ahead with enthusiasm towards the future.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Heartache of Cudjoe Lewis

His story is well known. He lived in Africa Town, and the man's name is Cudjoe Lewis, and he was the last known survivor of the slave ship Clotilde, which brought him from West Africa, to Mobile Bay. He is also said to have been one of the very last people still enslaved and finally given freedom.

His story is similar to that of others, he was kidnapped when a young boy, survived the Middle Passage, sold when arriving in American. But he lived to see freedom and he lived well into the 20th century.

Thanks to the hard work of prolific writer Zora Neale Hurston, he was actually captured on film before he died in the 1930s. The Clotilde captured people from Dahomey (now known as the Benin Republic) and brought them into Mobile Bay in 1860.

Much as been written about him, and there are also a few images of Mr. Lewis that also survive. Though he lived well until the the 20th century, he never saw his beloved homeland ever again, he had longed for his return and frequently stated a desire to see home, again passage, his wish was never granted.

As I read about his life, I wanted to know more about Cudjoe Lewis, the  man. Perhaps, the fact that that this man who longed so, for his Native Africa, but was never to see it again, struck a note in my soul. Simply put, no one in the post Civil War South or North ever saw it in their heart nor kind spirit to return these captives of the Clotilde back to the land where they belonged. With time, he later admitted that he would, most likely not know his home anymore and beyond that, he would probably not find anyone who would have remembered him, either.

As I read the accounts of his life I noticed the names of his children were known, and I noticed that he did manage to pass a small piece of Africa to them. They had a mixture of western names, and also African names. Some of the names were from the West African Yoruba language.

So, I spoke to my husband about their names, and learned even more. My husband is Yoruba, and speaks 4 languages, three of which are from West Africa. He is fluent in Twi, Hausa, and Yoruba. So, I read to him the names of Cudjoe Lewis’ children, he pointed out quickly that some of the names were indeed Yoruba names that had meanings. 

And as he told me what the names actually mean in English, I felt even more about Cudjoe Lewis, and how his heart ached so to go home.

His children’s names were
Aleck Iyadjemi  Lewis (Translation of Iyadjemi: "I suffered")
James Ahnonotie Lewis
David Adeniah Lewis (Translation of Adeniah which is actually Adenirah "The Crown has Lineage")
Polee Dahoo Lewis
Cudjoe Kazolla Lewis Translation (Translation of  Kazolla, which is actually Kajola: “Let’s survive together”)
Celia Ebeossi Lewis  (Translation of Ebeossi, which is actually Ebiosi  “There is no begging.” )

How touching---his heartache continued even as he had his own American born family, and it carried through with their names. Indeed how he must have suffered.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Cudjoe lost most of the children in his family as well as his wife, as all had early deaths.

 "He and his wife had five sons and one daughter. To mark their attachment to their culture, they gave American and Yoruba names to four of them and Yoruba names only to two. Sadly, all of the children died young: Celia Ebeossi died of sickness at 15, Young Cudjo was killed by a deputy sheriff, David/Adeniah was hit by a train, Pollee Dahoo disappeared and was probably killed, and James/Ahnonotoe and Aleck/Iyadjemi died after short illnesses. Abile passed away in 1908, just one month before Aleck died. Cudjo again suffered the loss of his family."
Source of data: Encyclopedia of Alabama

In the 1920s all of the others who had survived the slave ship voyage, had died, leaving Cudjoe Lewis as the lone survivor of that historic voyage. But Cudjoe Lewis had grand children and great grandchildren who lived in the community in and around Mobile Alabama. And it is believed that his descendants still live in southern Alabama today.

Mr. Lewis died in July of 1935 and it is hoped that the descendants of this distinguished man still honor him and his legacy. 

And is it also hoped that his heartache is now settled as he continues to walk among the ancestors. 

Cudjoe Lewis with great granddaughters.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Uncle Leonard and The Sweet Davis Orchestra - Forgotten Musicians of Little Rock Arkansas

The Sweet Davis Orchestra

My mother's uncle was Leonard Martin of Little Rock Arkansas, though he was known by some of his closer friends as "Abe" Martin. He was known to have been in several musical groups, including the "Rose City Band", and even his own musical group called, Abe Martin and the Southern Seranaders. But Uncle Leonard was said to have had a fascinating career playing his trumpet in a number of venues and with a number of well known musicians. It is not known how long any of the groups lasted, but the one group that has caught my attention the most has been one group, known as the "Sweet Davis Orchestra". 

Members of the group.
The full names of the group are not known, however, the photo above was made on a post cards, and Uncle Leonard, carefully wrote down the surnames of each of the participants.

Names of musicians in Sweet Davis Orchestra

Top Row: Brewton, Andrews, Mercer, Blackmon, Danille (or Danville)
Second Row: Doc Pepper(?), Alison, Davis, Longley, Porter
Bottom Row: Martin, Hopkins, Watkins, Cox

My mother's uncle Leonard Martin, is the man on the left in the bottom row.

Leonard Martin, Trumpeter, Sweet Davis Orchestra

 But who are the others musicians? They were based in Little Rock, but were they primarily a traveling band or did they play mostly in the Little Rock area? Did they play on 9th Street, which was the business and entertainment district of Little Rock? And did they ever play at the ballroom of the Mosaic Templars?

It was said that the Davis orchestra played in central and eastern Arkansas, as well as in popular ballrooms. I have searched, but have not found any evidence that that any kind of recording was made by this orchestra.

So who exactly was the band leader, Sweet Davis?
Was he from Arkansas, or did he move there from another state?

And the other musicians, can anything be learned about them?

A possible identification
Another name in the group, caught my attention, the man with the surname, "Longley". I happen to know this name as I grew up in Ft. Smith Arkansas where there was and still is a large family in the area, with that surname. In fact, the patriarch of the family that I knew while growing up was a Mr. Leland Longley, who relocated to Ft. Smith in the 1940s. He joined the police force and served there many years as one of the few black lawmen in the 1950s and early 1960s. Mr. Longley died in the early 1960s.

I learned several years later, that the Longley family of Ft. Smith, has roots in the Longley settlement in the Little Rock Arkansas community. And I also learned that for many years, Mr. Longley, the policeman also had a strong passion for music, and in fact had played the saxophone.

Could the image of the man in the photo identified as Longley (to the right of the band leader) possibly be the same Mr. Longley who later migrated to western Arkansas?

Musician Longley, of the Sweet Davis Orchestra

It is known that the youngest child of the Longley family, Christine Longley Gatewood wrote an article about her family history, including her ties to a Civil War soldier. In the article she spoke about her father's parents Egbert and Hattie Longley. Ms. Gatewood's grandfather Egbert was a Civil War soldier and married a much younger woman Hattie with whom he raised a large family. They were the parents of Leland Longley, who later in life became a policeman. 

Now, in an effort to identify some of the musicians of the Sweet Davis orchestra, I attempted to look up the names of some of the musicians from the photo. But there are no first names and it was quite a challenging task. But having seen the name Longley, on a whim, I looked to see if I could learn anything about Mr. Leland Longley before he moved to Ft. Smith, as I wondered if he ever worked as a musician. Well, I located him in the census. In the 1930 census he was a young man of 21 years, living with his mother Hattie and two other siblings. This was the Ms. Gatewood's father.

Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Little Rock, Pulaski,Arkansas; Roll: 91; Page: 26A; Enumeration District: 0007; Image: 53.0; FHL microfilm: 2339826.

Finding the family in the census was no surprise, and I know that Ms. Gatewood had well documented her family already. But what surprised me was the occupation listed for Mr. Leland Longley. He was a professional musician!

Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Little Rock, Pulaski,Arkansas; Roll: 91; Page: 26A; Enumeration District: 0007; Image: 53.0; FHL microfilm: 2339826.

So if Mr. Longley worked as a profession musician, could that have also included his having worked with a professional orchestra like the Sweet Davis orchestra? 

I realize that more proof is still needed but I am getting a strong feeling that this was the same person.  I did also note that the photo of musician Longley with the orchestra, closely resembles the image of Mr. Longley whom I had known as a child. Though the family may or may not be able to shine more light on this possibility, I have a strong feeling that this portrait from the Sweet Davis orchestra is possibly the same man!

So now, with possibly three men identified as part of the Sweet Davis orchestra, can more be identified? Can the the history of this long forgotten group be learned? And can more be learned about the man behind the band, Sweet Davis himself?

This is one of those stories that does not have an easy answer, but one that does require more research, and some input from persons in Pulaski County.

I have had this photo of the orchestra for many years, but only when I decided to write this piece about Uncle Leonard, that I studied the surnames of the other musicians.

My mother spoke so fondly of Uncle Leonard, and loved him dearly. I doubt if it was ever known that Mr. Longley who attended the same church as we did, and who was a close friend to my father, was a musician who had once played in the same musical orchestra her my mother's beloved uncle.

Hopefully with time, more will be learned. I would hate for this group to be forgotten and lost to time. In the meantime, hopefully those who study Arkansas music history will also be able to remember this professional, poised and elegantly presented orchestra, that was possibly part of Arkansas Jazz history.