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.



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