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.