Eye of the Beholder

Its always fascinating for me to read or learn about an historical account of the times in which my ancestors lived.  As you might imagine, the Slave Narratives are a treasure for me; as is the story book account of my own family history.

However, its rare to get a glimpse into the mind of southerners on the other side of the line.  I’m speaking, of course, of the slaveholders.  Today, I was reading one of the other Gen-Blogs I frequent and came across an excerpt of The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, A Southern Slaveholder. I’m sure Mr. Hammond would be surprised at the world we live in today.  But I found it eye opening to read his thoughts and worries as the world he knew began to crumble around him.

Joseph Ceasar Bynum

The eldest Bynum I’ve been able to find so far is Joseph Ceasar Bynum Sr. Joseph was born in 1830 somewhere in South Carolina. Probably born as a slave, Joseph’s first documented record is in 1870. Joseph is married to Phyllis (maiden name unknown) and has two male children; Ceasar and Smart. Joseph is a farm laborer who can neither read nor write. The family is in Columbia County, FL. Joseph lived to at least 65 and eventually owned farm land in Columbia County.

US Federal Census Bureau, 1870 Census – Lake City, Columbia County, Florida, USA,Rec. Date: 25 June 1870, Farm Lot 306. Cit. Date: 16 Feb 2006 page 1 (lines 39-40), 2 (lines 1-2)

US Federal Census Bureau, 1880 Census – Lake City, Columbia County, Florida, USA,Rec. Date: June 1880, Cit. Date: 21 Feb 2006  (lines 4-8)

US Federal Census Bureau, 1900 Census – Lake City, Columbia County, Florida, USA, Rec. Date: 1 June 1900, Cit. Date: 16 Feb 2006  (lines 4-8)

Matthew James Bynum II

Matthew James Bynum, or M.J. as just about everybody knew him, was my grandfather. I didn’t know him that well. By the time I was old enough to understand who he was, he was a much older man and dealing with the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. M.J. was not a perfect man; none of us are. I don’t plan on writing about any of that here. Instead, I’m going to focus on things about my grandfather that I heard, but never been able to prove true…. until today. Anyone who has done this family exploration for any length of time will appreciate the “happy dance” I did when I found not one, but several accounts of my grandfather’s days as a semi-professional baseball player in the negro leagues and a bit of a civil rights activist. Apparently, M.J. was quite the baseball player and played for multiple teams including the North Carolina Stars and the St. Petersburg Pelicans. Both of these teams were part of a negro minor league farm system back in the 30s and 40s. I haven’t been able find out much about them so far, but my grand-dad always told stories of playing against the lies of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. All unsubstantiated , but I’m looking….

MJBynum-small

Matthew James (Dada) Bynum

Matthew James Bynum , or “Dada” as I grew to know him in countless stories, was born in early 1894.  I know very little about his upbringing, other than what I’ve discovered in the census records.  By all accounts, by the time Dada was an adult, he was a hard man.  In fact, every time I see The Color Purple, I think of ‘Mister’ as my Great-Grandfather.

Dada had two or three wives.   My Great-Grandmother was Ethel Graham.  As the family story goes, one day, living with Dada got to be simply too much.  So, with one child in hand and one on the way, Ethel took off down the dusty road leading away from the family farm…. and Dada stood and watched from the porch as his wife and two of his children disappeared in the horizon.

One of the other stories I remember had to do with the circumstances surrounding his death.  There were two versions of the story that pasted down through the years…. both disturbing because my Great-Grandfather was murdered.

What is known for sure is that Dada was found slumped over in his rocking chair in the middle of a field on his farm; shot in the back.  The family has always suspected that where he was found was not where he was killed.

Story one suggests that Dada’s third wife was secretly dating the local pastor.  Together they conspired to kill Dada and run away together.  Story two concludes that local whites, angry and the “injustice” of a black man owning a productive farm (and I’m sure if this story is true, spreading his own brand of charm), shot and killed him in order to force his family to sell his land.

In either event, my father often spoke, most of the time fondly,  of the time he spent as a little boy working the farm and growing in the shadow of his Grandfather, Dada.



Minnie (Batey) Brown

Minnie Batey was born on September 30, 1905.  She grew up with her mother, Mamie Kirk and her sister, Tennie.  She only went to the fifth grade, but she was very smart, both with intellectually and with common sense.  She gave birth to her son, Wash William Brown, alone at the age of fifteen and placed him in a trunk.  She didn’t tell her mother about the birth for two days but cared for her son alone.  After two days, she contacted her paternal grandmother Liza and told her of the birth and went to live with her grandmother and her father, Wash Batey.  Minnie had a hard time for the next few months because her mother insisted on whipping her for having a baby and there was constant friction between her father, her mother and her.  Baby Wash’s father, Iss William Brown, found out about the birth, went and took Minnie and their son to live with him and his mother, Jennie Kimbro.  They were married June of 1921, their son was five months old and they both adored him.  Minnie, now a wife and mother, showed extraordinary judgment and sensibility at that time for such a young woman.  She could cook almost anything without measuring the ingredients.  She enjoyed cooking and keeping house for her family.  She kept an immaculately clean house, everything had a place and everything should be in its place.  Her husband, Iss, did not share this passion and many arguments ensued over the years regarding same.  She was not a trusting woman and often exhibited signs of that mistrust with friends and distant relatives.  If she did not want people to return to her house, after their visit she would sweep red pepper out of the door behind them.  For her family which included her husband, son, granddaughter and first daughter in law, Violet; Minnie would go to the ends of the earth,   they helped to raise their granddaughter after her parents were divorced.  They, both, adored that granddaughter and taught her many things about life and how to handle life problems.  Iss and Minnie were very much in love with each other and remained married until Iss passed away in 1977.  Although their son, Wash, chose not to tell Minnie of Iss’s death, she instinctively knew.  She often said “I know Iss is dead.”  But, in her more lucid moments, she hoped that she was wrong.  Minnie died in January, 1983.  Most people in Murfreesboro remember “Momma Minnie.”

Minnie (Batey) Brown – est. 35 years old


Iss William Brown

“I wouldn’t take a million dollars for her, but I wouldn’t pay a nickel for another one like her.”

Iss Brown reflecting on his grand-daughter, Minnie.

Iss was born on October 12, 1897 to Jennie Kimbro and William Brown. The name Iss was from Jennie’s brother, Iss. Iss William grew up to be a very handsome young gentleman; quite a lady’s man. He only formally completed the third grade but could read and appreciate very complex subject matter such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, Greek mythology and various travel books and brochures. Reading was very enjoyable to him. He traveled much of the United States working as a porter for Burnes’ Motor company (new car dealership). He delivered new cars to buyers all over the U.S. and Canada. He wanted to visit Cairo Egypt and often remarked that one day he would. He also did a little “bootlegging” which was very common for a young Black man of his day. However, he was very respected by the authorities including sheriff Buford PusserHe and Minnie Batey married and became the parents of a bouncing baby boy who grew up quickly. Minnie and Iss taught their son, Wash, a strong sense of self worth and work ethics. Iss loved Minnie very much and didn’t want her to work outside the home. But, Minnie was a feminist long before the Women’s Movement was ever thought of. She worked whenever she decided to and spent her money to buy extra things from the peddler (a traveling salesman who allowed weekly payments for merchandise.) It is hard to described Iss’s life without adding facts about his beloved wife, Minnie. They would quarrel and argue about subjects that neither knew a great deal about. But both were competitive and enjoy trying to get “one up on the other.”Iss had a knack for charming the ladies, he would smile with that golden smile (all his teeth were gold.) and he had a twinkle in his eye that was hard to resist. Women, old and young, were fascinated by the wiles of Iss W. Brown. Later, he and Minnie became grand parents of a grand daughter who became the “apple of their eyes.” Their grand daughter became their pride and joy and she lived with them for most of her young life. There was nothing they would not do for their grand daughter. They taught her some of the most important life lessons she ever learned; how observe a person’s action and tell what type of person they are, to make sure that you planned how you were react in certain situations, keeping your business to yourself , and not trusting everyone who claims to be your friend. Iss generally taught by using parables and citing examples while Minnie taught by constant reminding when certain incidents occurred. M. Beatrice quickly understood the importance of saving some of her money as her grandfather

was the person to come to when the Black community needed a short term loan, such as two or three dollars. He charged twenty-five cents on a dollar per week. Guess he didn’t know about usury. He kept very good records, making note in a small composition book of all transactions and allowed his granddaughter to count monies collected and keep books up to date as debts were either paid on or paid in full. He enjoyed “shooting dice” and apparently was pretty good. He once won a horse that he brought home for his granddaughter to ride; he also won a full house of furnishing but only took certain pieces from the home and wife of the gambler. He had a strong sense of fair play and even though he wasn’t religious in the general way, he was God fearing and tried to live his life treating others as he wanted to be treated. Arthritis ravaged his body late in his life and he was unstable in his gait; but men, older and younger, would come to his house, take him to the “gathering place” where he enjoyed having a drink of “white lightening” two fingers measured on a small glass. Everyone in Murfreesboro knew and remember Iss as “Cuz” because that was his reference for most boys and men in the community. He treated all women with total respect even if he didn’t agree with many of their ways. He passed away in May 1977 after spending his last days in Detroit with his granddaughter who adored him. Stories are still told today in Murfreesboro about the antics of “Cuz or Cuzo.”

Iss is buried  next to  his life’s love, Minnie at the Benevolent Cemetery in Murfreesboro, TN.


Written by his loving granddaughter, Minnie.

D’King – “You no ‘oman less you kin.”

Based on my research, most of my maternal line can be found in or around Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  One of the earliest ancestors I’ve found so far actually migrated (at some point) from Texas.  I believe this because I actually have a document which is almost as good a the slave narratives.  Ed Bell, the editor of The Rutherford Courier, penned a book in 1948 called, The Lonely People and their strange ways.  The book was about people living in Murfreesboro that Ed met during his time there.  My 3rd Great Grand-parents, George & Alice Kimbro (Kimbrough) were the subjects of one of his chapters, particularly Alice.  A copy of the text has been passed down for a couple of generations and I’m re-printing it here….

An afternoon in February with yellow winter sunshine coming down the small hill on South Walnut and reflecting across the shanties of Blackbottom…

A great bony Negro woman rocking on the porch of a house at the bottom of the hill, a dingy poodle dog at her feet, its belly turned up to the friendly sun… Aunt Alice Kimbrough, who had been living ninety years, talked about her youth, about when she was known as D’King, the champion wrestler of anywhere there is.

She was the most wrestling fool that ever wore a shoe polish skin, and no man nor woman could throw her down…  Except one man and she married him…The folks came from 500 and sometimes 5,000 miles to see D’King…They would flock on the fences like blackbirds to watch her grab them up and lay them on the cold, cold ground… When a nigger man or nigger woman got mean and talked to much, they said, “We get D’King to han’le you” and the bragger ran away and never come back again…

On D’King’s wedding day, when they were fixing her up with fine clothes to marry the only man in the whole world who could throw her down, a bigmouth yellow woman from the north country come along….The yellow said she never been throwed by anybody…”We get D’King to han’le you,” And the wedding guests said…But D’King was a busy woman…The barbecue was cooked, George and the preacher waiting…George was her true love…

D’King told them to go tell that fool ‘oman she had no crow to pick with anybody anymore except George…She was not wrestling again until she was a married woman…but her father said, “You no ‘oman less you kin.”…Which made her courage rise up till she laid by her bridal veil and went out to throw the bigmouth yellow from the north country…She made one pass at her middle and threw her so hard she hit the ground like a shook apple…Before the woman could get up D’King was back in the house ready to marry the only man.

D’King and her good friend who was name Cassie Ann were the strongest niggers anywhere there is…They could stand in a half-bushel measure and shoulder three bushels of wheat…If D’King hestitated, her father said, “You no ‘oman less you kin.”…Then she lifted it without one word more.

She was the healthiest pickaninny slave down in Texas…It was because she got so much sugar to eat…And the way she got all the sugar was by busting her bare big toe against a rock and running to the Missus to medicine it with turpentine and sugar…D’King ate the sugar off the toe and got fat.

After her marriage to George Kimbrough, she settled down because George done her good…He never called her fool or liar like all the other nigger’s husbands who called their women everything but a cedar bush…The night of the wedding there was happy doings at the white folks’ house and D’King and George got so many chickens for presents they had to get two somebodies to help carry them home…They lived together many years doing good and having seven children… Of these she was proudest of a double-jointed nigger named Iz… Iz hit a Kentucky mule in the head with his fist once and the mule didn’t live any more.

That was the tale Aunt Alice told me on a yellow winter afternoon a long time ago—I saved it to tell when she died.

George and Alice also had a daughter named Jennie.  Jennie’s son, Iss William Brown is likely Iz’ namesake.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.