Tuesday, May 6, 2014

52 Ancestors: Izory Gibson Livingston

For Mother's Day, I wanted to tell a story about my grandmother on my mother's side of the family. She was the only one I knew since my father's mother died before I was born. I mentioned my grandmother twice before in this blog (The Ghosts of Cope and The Easterling Family) but now is the time to tell about her life.

I wouldn't know the first thing about being a mother but I do know that it is full of love and sometimes sacrifice. You would want what is best for your family. I could only imagine that it is your children that is the only thing keeping you from giving up. So let me tell you about what my grandmother had to go through. 

Izory Gibson was born in May 1919 in Cope, Union Township, Orangeburg, SC. She was the youngest daughter born to Moses Gibson, a farmer and his 2nd wife Tenel Tyler-Gibson. Moses' first wife Mariah died around 1908 leaving 4 living children for Tenel to raise. Moses and Tenel had 8 children together over the next 10 years. Tragedy would strike several times as three of Izory's siblings died at a young age. Unfortunately on October 13, 1920 Tenel died of kidney trouble and high blood pressure. She is buried at Good Hope AME Church cemetery in Orangeburg.

When Moses married his 3rd wife, Lizzie, she didn't want to raise his other children. So the remaining children were sent to live with their relatives. Izory and a few of her young siblings went to live with their aunt Stella Tyler. Moses died of cardiac arrest on September 4, 1927. He is buried at Macedonia Baptist Church cemetery in Orangeburg. Izory was now an orphan.

That was just the beginning of her troubles. She was a pretty brown skinned girl with long natural hair. A lot of young men took interest in her. At 13, she had her first child with a neighborhood boy named Clarence Mack. The family convinced her that she was too young to be a mother. A relative, Mozelle Johnson, "adopted" her first daughter Catherine. Izory got married at the age of 16 to Jim Curry b. 1897 and in 1935 had her 2nd daughter, Jimmie Lou. Jim and Izory fought to get Catherine back and lost. The Johnson family refused to give her up. 

Jim Curry was a cousin of the Livingston family. They let him rent property and farm on their land in Cope. Jim Curry died suddenly in 1936. Izory was left with a child to raise. She had two children with William Livingston Jr. b. 1916 named Melvin b. 1938 and my mother Hester b. 1939. William wouldn't marry Izory. His mother Maud Livingston disliked Izory because she was not light-skinned.  His uncle, George Livingston b. 1894 actually married Izory in 1940. George was a farmer and a good provider for the family. He raised Jimmie Lou, Melvin and Hester like his own. The younger children never knew who their real father was. George and Izory would have 2 more children Dolly Mae b. 1944 and George Jr b. 1945 together. Izory tried again to reclaim her first child. Like always, Mozelle would not give Izory her daughter back. Ironically, only 2 of Izory's children, Melvin and Hester, were light-skinned and Maud would spend quality time with them. The others were not allowed at her house.

Once again, tragedy struck. George Livingston Sr. died of a heart attack out in the field on January 5, 1946. Melvin ran home to tell his mother. Izory informed William Livingston Sr., of the death of his brother. Enraged, William Sr and Maud threw Izory and her children off of the family property. She was treated like an outcast. George was buried at Mt. Zion Baptist Church cemetery. Luckily, for Izory, her childhood friend's mother took her and her children in to live for the next few years. 

Izory never dated another man. Instead, she got her own job working at a local grocery store. The eldest children took jobs as farmers and helped raise the younger ones. Life was hard but at least they had a home, clean clothes and enough food. Izora's sister, Stella Ann offered to move them all to Washington, DC with her but Izory couldn't bear to be so far away from her lost child Catherine. She finally accepted that her oldest had a better life without her. As the children grew, Izory insisted that they do not become farmers and strive for something greater. Jimmie Lou and Melvin got jobs in New York City and moved in 1955. Once they raised enough money, they sent for their mother and the rest of the young siblings. The family settled in Brooklyn, NY. They never returned to Cope. Izory would never see Catherine again.

After all her kids were married, life finally settled down to normal. Izory had time to focus all her love and attention on 12 grandchildren! My father owned and managed a brownstone in Brownsville, Brooklyn where Izory lived free of financial burdens for the rest of her life. There she helped raise all the grandkids until her death from breast cancer in May of 1976. She is buried in Plainlawn cemetery in Hicksville, NY with her daughter Jimmie Lou Curry.

My mother told me that after I was born, my grandmother took hold of me and basically cared for me like I was her child. I went everywhere with her. I have vivid memories of us going to the playground together with her pet dog. I was also by her bedside when she got ill. Years after her death I would have reoccuring dreams that my grandmother had left something valuable for me to find. I used to tell my mother that all the time. In the early 1990s, I insisted that we go to a Livingston-Wilkinson Family reunion for the first time. There, she ran into her long lost sister (pictured below are Hester and Catherine). The next year, my mother returned to Orangeburg and Catherine re-introduced her to her real father William Livingston Jr. He acknowledged that he was her father and left her a plot of land before he died. I guess the dream about my grandmother was right all along.

The surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Izory Livingston go every Mother's Day to her grave and pay our respects. I am looking forward to this year's visit. May she rest in paradise. She definitely earned it. 


  1. wow, that was some story. What an experience, bitter sweet with sweetness at the same time, May she rest in peace in God's arms.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Beautiful heartfelt story and honor to grandmother Izory. I really enjoyed reading that.

  3. What an Endurance and glad u were able to Share, what didn't our ancestors go thru, but thru u they are never being forgotten. Kudo's to U Mr. Young. :) <3 Please keep their stories coming.

  4. So wonderful of you to share your grandmother with us. She certainly earned her rest. I life well lived and her legacy lives on.

  5. Your grandmother was a beautiful and amazing lady!