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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 aunt Lily Geneva Whitely and then the true story from Toronto newspaper Battle of Vimy Ridge in France 1917 Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Relative narrations then research

Ethelbert 'Curley' Christian was born in Virginia is 1884, the son of slave Pleasant Christian born in 1830. He only used his nickname 'Curley' given by his mother because of his long curly locks. His family moved and resided in Pittsburgh where he grew up. As an adult he had several skills which he used as he traveled all forty eight states and then traveled all through South America working as a chain maker a cook and a brick layer. At the Cape of Good Hope he took a job as a cook on a tramp steamer headed for Alaska. After seeing Alaska he then traveled all through Canada and decided on Toronto where he resided for the rest of his life.

In 1915 he joined the Canadian Army to fight in World War One. His unit was sent to France. On April 9th, 1917 just as Canada's greatest battle for Vimy Ridge began he made a bet with some fellow soldiers that he could get to an equipement depot before they could, even though he was on foot and they were not. He took off running. This was to be his last run. Two days later they found Curley lying amid debris. He had been struck by artillery fire. They found he was still alive and as they were carrying him off the battlefield, they were struck again by heavy artillery fire and the two men carrying him were killed. Curley survived once more. Taken to triage and then to a hospital in France, they had to amputate all four of Curley's limbs because gangrene had set into them. The doctors were betting that he would not make it through the night. Bright and early the next morning a nurse heard a voice singing, 'It's a long way to Tipperary', she walked into the room -- it was Curley! He looked up at her smiling and said 'Hi I'm still alive!'. Curley was sent first to Bethnell Hospital in England and then on to a Toronto hospital where he received artificial arms and legs. He learned to walk again and using his skills as a chain maker he fashioned eating and writing implements that he could attach to his limbs. Curley joined the Amp Vets orgaization and wrote reams of encouraging letters to other veteran amputees in Canada and America. Curley met and fell in love with a volunteer hospital worker Cleo McPherson. They married and had a son Douglas. Douglas became the first person of African descent to join the Navy out of Toronto for World War Two. In 1936 they had a dedication and reunion for Vimy Ridge. Curely and Cleo attended in England. They received a call and it was the secretary for King Edward telling him he was sending a wheel chair for Curley's use while there. "That King Eddie is a good guy," Curley said of this. Caring for Curley was a financial struggle and Cleo had an idea she broached with the hospital administration for a stipend from the government to assist the veterans and their families. This was passed and this program is still in effect in Canada. The War Museum in Canada was interested in Curley's story as he was the only person to survive quadrupal amputation in Canada for both World War One and Two. So Curley is an historic personage. The museum honored the Canadian Veterans with a mural mosaic that was made up of two hundred and forty portraits color coded so that from afar it looks like three veterans Army Navy and Air force. Curley's portrait is depicted on the mural. I am so proud of my ancester, and I am actually proud of myself for finding out the true story of this great person, sharing it with my family and my people. My great hope is to travel to Calgary this summer to see the portrait at the museum, and also I would dearly love to find some of our Candian relatives. That would be awesome. Thank you Henry Gates for tweaking my curiosity. Your shows are such a learning experience dear. Learning about ourselves is wonderful God Bless you. Sharon Williams 911 Dispatcher

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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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