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African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In Search of Our Roots -- Buy the companion book now from ShopPBS
Sharing Stories: One Family's Story
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STORYTELLER LOCATION YEAR TOOK PLACE TELLER'S PLACE OF ORIGIN HOW YOU HEARD
Mother, Uncles, Grandmother, Great-Aunt Athens and Columbus, Ohio 1903 Athens, Ohio Traditional family story told over generations

Traditional family lore has it that upon my great-grandmother's premature death from Consumption in 1901, my great-grandfather sent for a mail-order bride. My great-grandmother, Alice SLOAN, was only in her mid '30's, upon her death. She had given birth to six or more children, however a number of them died of Scarlet Fever. Great-Grandpa Wilson SIMPSON had to make a living, but still needed to raise his children. I knew my great-aunt, Violet SIMPSON, until her death in 1978. She used to relate the story to us about how her father loaded her and her surviving siblings (including my grandfather, Samuel) into a covered wagon, and they made the trek from Athens, Ohio to the larger city of Columbus.

At some point, he sent off for a wife and mother of his children. Mamie E. SMITH, a dressmaker from Pittsville, IL, responded to his ad. They were married on 8/24/1903, in Columbus, Ohio. My grandfather, great-aunt, and great-uncle all eventually referred to Mamie as "Mama."

All was well in their comfortable community in the Hilltop area of town for a time. Eventually, discord would arise--not between Mamie and Wilson, but from the residents of the community. They believed that Wilson was, like them, a White man. To everyone that would see him, he appeared that way. To my knowledge, he did nothing to "pass" for White. However, there came an occasion after Mamie's arrival when he happened to be in the company of a number of White men. One made a comment about how he'd observed that Wilson had some hired help, in reference to Mamie. Great-Grandpa took offense, and made it clear to the men that the woman was no hired help, but was rather his wife.

Apparently, in response, the men were up in arms--both figuratively and literally. To think that a "colored" man was living that close among them was off-putting. They gathered a party of gun-weilding men, in an attempt to run the family off their land. Great-Grandpa stood firm. I don't know how he did it, but he fended off the interlopers. To my understanding, the family continued to reside in the same home in the Camp Chase area of Columbus, Ohio until his death in 1931. Mamie remained there until her death in 1962.

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Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
The Coca-Cola Company Johnson & Johnson Buick
KUNHARDT Thirteen/WNET New York