How are you? I hope you and your loved ones are safe, well, and vaccinated.
With all that’s going on, I’ve been wondering: How do we come to be who we are? I’ve also been thinking a lot about my Dad’s dad lately—my grandfather, Henry Mack Adams. I wish I had a photo of us from when I was tiny. But, loving this gem of a family portrait, let’s pretend it’s my grandfather and me. Perhaps you, too, see something of yourself and your family?
A memory. The government building in St. Kitts, my ancestral island home. A cinder block room piled with boxes upon rows of archived papers rescued from a hurricane. I’m knee-deep in records from the early 1900s—a treasure hunt for clues to how I came to be.
As family lore manifests real, it's all there: the strikes and death threats I'd heard tell of; the crushing oppression, plantation worker dissatisfactions, owner disclaimers; a government report of conditions so intolerable that to improve them would be to risk demands for better. Give 'em an inch... so to speak. Such were the times and events that stirred my grandparents to pick up roots and head to America.
Overwhelmed, I choose random newspapers from a stack dated 1916. The archivist assures me there is nothing about Blacks in the papers from those days of British colonial rule. Still, I wade in; my grandparents’ stories of that year spent counting the days until they could sail propelling me forward. I, too, have known the urgency they must have felt, watching and waiting, as the clock ticked fast on their dreams.
The St. Kitts-Nevis Daily Bulletin. Monday, May 29, 1916. A name: Edward Margetson. The composer. I knew him! He was the organist at my family church in New York when I was little. A review of his concert. Wow! And, in fine print: “Mandolin Solo, Mr. H. Adams.” Could it be?
The St. Kitts-Nevis Daily Bulletin. Tuesday, April 18, 1916. “Notice: The Undersigned will sell at his Stall in the Public Market to-morrow, Wednesday, Green Back Turtle. Mr. H. Mack Adams.” Papa? My grandfather was a butcher? In the States he’d started out with a dairy truck; expanded to two stores, and bought property, as West Indians would say.
“I held his mandolin!” I tell the archivist. “I did!” She runs to get her colleague. Not every researcher makes such a fortuitous find.
“So your grandfather was White?” she muses.
“No, he was Black. Mr. Margetson too!”
“He was Black AND he owned a business? In 1916?!” she gasps, stunned. “But, my gawd. Can you beat that?”
No. No, I can’t. Papa was a musician and a butcher. He owned a business when most Black Kittitians could barely own the shirt on their backs without White plantation owners finding cause for suspicion. His father owned their two-story house and set up each of his sons in business.
Who were these people—this Black business class of a century ago?
My grandparents, younger generation of 1916, came to the States—rebels in their own right—sacrificing everything. They dared come because the aspirations, and affirmations, of their elders made possible their climb. Turning dreams to reality, they pledged their lives and their children to progress, to freedom, to the future. To me.
To all our fathers, grandfathers, and uncles: Thank you. To all our husbands, brothers, sons and dearest friends: Happy Father’s Day!
"What relevance does 'Black Wall Street' have for us today?" That's the question Derek Peebles, Executive Director of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), raised when I spoke at the group's annual conference. Here's a clip on LinkedIn.
When Confusion Reigned and Hatred Ruled: The Tulsa Massacre of 1921
Author Hannibal B. Johnson on Tulsa's Greenwood community, the White riot that destroyed “Black Wall Street” (May 30-June 1, 1921), and rising from the ashes.
Link to site | podcast
#Cite Black Women
When the University of North Carolina denied tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist best known for her work with on “1619 Project.” few African American women scholars were surprised. Christen Smith, PhD, founder of #CiteBlackWomen, takes us behind hallowed ivy walls.
Link to site| podcast
When 1-in-3 Americans is raised without a father, MaryAnne Howland wants more than a statistic for her son. She invites four men to mentor him. His mentors become his “collective dad;” their story a book. You don’t have to be a father to be a dad.
Link to site | podcast
Let’s hear it for our next generation of dads—and dentists! Kudos, too, to Meharry Medical College and all our HBCUs.
*Harambee!—a Ki-Swahili term that powered Kenya’s overthrow of British colonial rule—means “Let’s all pull together!”
Emmy Award-winning journalist, author, historian, keynote speaker, Dr. Janus Adams is publisher of BackPaxKids.com and host of public radio’s
“The Janus Adams Show” and podcast.