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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
My mother Florida, Mississippi, St. Louis, Illinois Mississippi My mother, who talked with her grandmother before she died, was given bits

My mother was born in 1943. Her maiden name is Williams. Her parents were Elbert and L.V. Williams. My grandmother insists that the initials did not stand for anything. Personally, I feel that the initials stand for a person in her family tree who was not of favor, such as the white slaveholder who took my great-great-grandmother to his bed and bred many children with her. That is one of the lost pieces of information that I am so interested in. Why was my grandmother given initials for a name. Since her mother is deceased, I'm sure I will never know.

My maternal great grandmother's name was Robertha Levitt, or Leavitt; we are not quite sure of the correct spelling. But the spelling was not important to us since we knew there was only one or two Levitt's in the area during the time of Robertha's birth. Robertha's mother was Rebecca. She was half Native American and half African. Rebecca's father was of the Seminole tribe in Florida. The story goes that Rebecca's mother was an escaped slave who was given shelter by the Seminole nation. When slavery was abolished, Rebecca's family left the nation and settled in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. There is not much known about the couple after that, the oral history is sketchy. We have no idea as to how Rebecca grew up and became mother to a half white child, Robertha. When Robertha came of age, she chose Eben McClinton to be her husband. Eben had two brothers, Sam a teacher, and Henry (or Harold) who played baseball with the Negro League. The three McClinton brothers settled in Tallahatchie County Mississippi. Robertha and Eben gave birth to one son, Elmer and six daughters. Those daughters were named Deodia, Willie, Osa, Ora Haven, Gladys and my grandmother LV, the youngest born in 1918. After Eben died, Robertha a widow, remarried. The second husband was Odell Bruce, (and I am curious to find out if he was related to Mr. Gates' relative, who was a Bruce.) She gave birth to Dorothy and Mary with Mr. Bruce. After Mary was born, the family moved to Grenada Mississippi.

LV grew up and met Elbert Williams when she was about twenty years old. They married and had seven children. Elbert was the love of LV's life, so tall and dark and handsome. He had beautiful teeth, and was always smiling. As a child my siblings and I called him Big Daddy, and LV was Big Mama to us. Their seven children were Genova, Doris, (my mother) Jerdean, Bertha Mae (who is now a PhD) and the three boys, Elbert Jr. (Sonny), Andre (Beau), and Ray. The boys were all born in St. Louis, Missouri. Elbert and LV moved at one point to Texas, where Elbert worked on a big Dam, and years later moved to Bloomington, Illinois. They both died there; Elbert in 1974, and LV many years later, in 2002 of Alzhiemers. Elbert had a massive heart attack on his construction job. He was just about to graduate from his GED class, and we were all so proud of him.

My mother, Doris, grew up and fell in love with a tall, beautiful singer, Robert LeRoy Hopkins, who also never knew his biological father, but was raised by his mother's sister Mary Miller. Robert was a founding member of the singing group, the Du-Tones, who had one hit record in the late fifties called, "Shake-A-Tail-Feather", which was borrowed by Nelly and P. Diddy years later. Robert served in the Army and we were moved around the country for a few years, while he went over to Okinawa, Japan. One station was Washington D.C. where Doris, my mother, gave birth to one of my sisters at Walter Reed Military Hospital at the same time that Jackie Kennedy was down the hall delivering John Jr. Robert had one sibling, a brother, Rudolph Valentino Miller who is a retired military Colonel.

We know that Robertha's father was Scottish/Irish and would like to find out his story of leaving his country and coming to America and finding Rebecca.

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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.
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