Monday, October 27, 2014

The Ghost in the Library

A few years ago, I worked for an energy services company in the Southeast US. My job was a performance contracting engineer, which is an interesting profession. It enabled me to travel to different locations, analyze the energy usage of different facilities and make recommendations for them to go "green" by installing energy-efficient and environmentally friendly equipment. Part of my responsibilities was to conduct the energy audit, which meant I would physically walk through a building taking energy readings, counting light fixtures and gathering nameplate data from their HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) units.

So one day, my sales associate asked me to audit the Charleston Library Society in South Carolina. This library, founded in 1748, is the third oldest in the country.  It houses plenty of colonial era literature including a letter from President George Washington. What I didn't know before I scheduled the appointment there was that it also contained one GHOST.

I walked in the Library and met with the head librarians. The library was moderately occupied for a Tuesday afternoon. They basically gave me free access to venture throughout the building on my own. I started from the top (the roof) and worked my way down to the basement. I only needed an hour or two to do my job. It was your standard audit, counting lighting fixtures, measuring windows, gathering temperature readings, calculating ventilation and taking down make/model numbers on motors, AC units and the boiler. The librarian did tell me that one time the vents on the boiler were not working properly and they almost had a carbon monoxide poisoning incident there recently. Otherwise nothing special to report here or so it seemed.

While I was in the basement, I walked through the Archives, the special collection of books that were not available to the public. I happened to notice in an adjoining room there was a person in there. I didn't want to disturb them as their back was towards me. I did notice something odd. They were just standing there, not making a sound. I assumed it was another librarian re-shelving books. He had on an old heavy looking suit though, which I found odd since it was the middle of the summer. I paid him no mind and continued looking at the lights.

The PA system came on a few minutes later telling us that the library would be closing in 15 minutes. I finished what I had to do and made my way upstairs. Once the I got to the main floor most of the library was empty and the librarians were shutting down the lights. I informed the librarians that there was someone still downstairs. They both looked at each other and said "No there isn't." I politely told them "Yes there is, I saw him. He had on a black coat. He's in the archives room. Is that one of your co-workers?" Their eyes widened and one of them spoke softly. She said, "You saw THE GHOST."

I thought to myself and said "I'm getting the hell outta here these people are crazy." Did the ghost try to kill them by closing all the vents on the boiler? Something told me that they were telling the truth but I wasn't going back downstairs to prove them wrong. Later on, I approved their project for whatever they wanted. I never went back to see if it was done!

Fast forward 8 years later to now and I run across some old articles to this old haunting ground. I can now put a name and face to my ghostly encounter. The ghost that haunts the Charleston Library Society is none other than its largest contributor, the late William Godber Hinson (1838-1919). Click that link to see his face and read a story about him. Several librarians have reported seeing him over the years.

I may never set foot again in the Charleston Library Society, but if I do, at least I know who to call....

Read my mother's old ghost story HERE if you dare!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

All Aboard With The Wilkinsons

Have you ever wondered what made your Southern ancestors relocate up North during the Great Migration? This is one of the stories that has been passed down in my family history on my mother's Livingston side.  I wish to thank Lorraine Thompson for gathering all this data and keeping the history alive that we share during the Livingston-Wilkinson-Wright Family Reunions as the years progress.

Moore (also known as Murrah) and Matilda Curry-Wilkinson were born in Orangeburg, SC in the mid 1800s. Moore was born about October 1855 and Matilda about 1861. They lived on their own plantation that was previously owned by his father and his father before him. Moore and Matilda had 15 children, 6 girls and 9 boys.

They were:
Willie Wilkinson-Wright (married Catherine Brown) b. 1877
Alice Wilkinson b. 1878
Festus Wilkinson (married Gladys) b. 1879
Elijah Wilkinson b. 1879
Tinkerbell Wilkinson b. 1880
Laura Wilkinson b. 1881
Marstella Wilkinson b. 1882
Jerome Wilkinson b. 1884
Ernest Wilkinson (married Sally) b. 1885
Moore Mose Wilkinson Jr. (married Annie Livingston) b. 1888
James Wilkinson b. 1891
Eugene Wilkinson (married Vernell Livingston) b. 1894
Sentie Wilkinson b. 1896
Herbert Wilkinson b. 1898
Rubin Wilkinson b. 1899

Moore Sr was a humanitarian in his own right. He attended Claflin University where he studied law. He taught school and helped his people as much as he could. He was very much concerned and interested in the welfare of his race. His neighbors and friends would consult him for advice and assistance. He would bail them out of jail, give them jobs and provide land for them to work and farm in order to make a living for their families.

One time, Murrah defended one of the neighbors who had been accused of stealing a pig from a white man's farm. Murrah said, "If you stole that man's pig, give me half of that pig and I will keep you out of jail." The man gave him half of the pig. While pleading the case, Murrah told the judge, "That man does not have anymore of that pig than I do." Because he was respected as an honest man, the case was dismissed and the man was free to go. Murrah warned him of his faults and advised him to change his behavior.

As a peacemaker, he would often give of himself, talk to others and advise them on how to handle different situations to keep out of trouble. He went to court on many occasions defending, counseling and representing people as their attorney. A school was named Wilkinson High after him and is still operating within the Orangeburg school district. GO BRUINS!!

With acres of land on their huge plantation, he worked hard at farming, raising cattle and chickens, etc. until the decided they needed a change for their children along with a better chance to give them an education and an opportunity to do so. Moore believed and stressed getting the best education offered during that time. He was very strict and proud. He sold his plantation in the fall of 1907. On December 20, 1907 the Wilkinson family left Orangeburg by train with 9 of their children (5 were deceased) to New York. Their son Willie came a year later in 1908 to their new home at 639 Lexington Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. The home remained with the family until it burned down in the early 1960s.

Murrah worked at various jobs until he secured and purchased his own cleaning and pressing business. He and his sons worked very hard, long hours and were successful for several years.

Moore Wilkinson Jr., left the family business to work for the Eastern Seaboard Air Line Railroad as a porter traveling from Maine to Florida, sometimes cross country; until 1913 when he moved to Washington, DC on Patterson Street NE with his younger brother Eugene. Later Eugene Wilkinson and his wife Vernell moved to 6412 Chapel Road, Cedar Heights, Maryland. To this day, the family still owns the land but the house was torn down. Eugene became an ordained minister serving the Colored Methodist Episcopal churches in Washington, DC and Virginia areas. He performed many marriages and numerous deeds of kindness but would not charge anything. His favorite saying was "Stand for a Principle." 

Eugene and Vernell's 11 children were:
LeRoy Webster Wilkinson (married to Lilliemae)
Frederick Eugene Wilkinson (married to Genevie Thomas)
Learline Dorothy Wilkinson (married to Grover Carson)
Ruth Vernell Wilkinson (married to Edward E. Thomas)
Curtis Samuel Wilkinson (married to Nellie Black)
Nathaniel Louis Wilkinson (married to Helen Hilda Johnson)
Florence Evelyn Wilkinson (married to Thomas Freeland)
Christine Alberta Wilkinson (married to Michael Parker Sr.)
Naomi Margurite Wilkinson (married to John W. Minor)
Jean Delores Wilkinson (married to Richard Colbert)
Vernita DeVera Wilkinson (married to Joseph Wimbush)

Samuel and Frances Brown-Livingston were the parents of Vernell and Annie. Samuel was the brother of my great-great grandfather William A. Livingston of Orangeburg, SC. When Vernell graduated from Claflin College at age 16, her mother sent her to Maryland to live with her Uncle Willie and Aunt Catherine Wright. Catherine and Frances were sisters. Annie also went to live in MD a year later. When Vernell arrived in DC by train, Willie sent his younger brother Eugene to pick her up. It was love at first sight. They courted for 2 years before she was allowed to marry. Annie and Vernell were very close and didn't want to be separated. When Moore Jr. came from Brooklyn to visit his brother in MD, he fell in love with Annie. Moore Jr. married Annie on October 6, 1914.

Moore and Annie bought land and built their home at 307 64th Street in Cedar Heights, MD. Moore did odd jobs when he first came to DC, took courses at Burrville School (801 Division Avenue NE, Washington, DC) attending at night in order to better himself. He was awarded certificates for Carpentry and Masonry.

The family relocated to Detroit, MI for 2 years so that Moore could work for the Ford Motor Company. Unfortunately conditions there were too competitive and he returned back to DC in 1923.   He was hired by the Federal government (US Department of Interior employed Moore as a laborer and then an engineer) serving until his retirement.

Moore and Annie Wilkinson had six children:
Jessie Mae Wilkinson (married to Mr. Hart)
Rosalee Constance Wilkinson (married to William Davenport Sr.)
John Emory Francis Wilkinson
Annie Eiles Wilkinson
Marie Genevieve Wilkinson (married to Wallace James Deal Sr.)
Lorraine Marguerite Wilkinson (married to Hayward Thompson Sr.)

Moore and Eugene would later ask their father for the money to relocate their wives' other sisters (Mary Livingston-Lee, Hattie Livingston-Wheeler, Ella Livingson-Stephenson and Nina Livingston-Hall) and mother (Frances Livingston) from SC to Maryland to keep the family close. The Wilkinson brothers built another home on the property so that the Livingston's could have their own place to live. Another brother, Herbert Wilkinson wanted to marry Mary Livingston but Frances put her foot down and said "There's ENOUGH Wilkinsons in this family!" Mary would later marry a man (Burgess Lee Sr.) that abandoned her and their two children. Mary died of pneumonia at the age of 35 leaving her children to be raised by their relatives. Frances would regret making that marriage decision for the rest of her life.

Annie Wilkinson died in January 1935. Moore raised his family alone for over 10 years. Moore then married Mattie Black on June 26, 1946. Moore died in March 1988 at 100 years old. Mattie died in 1990. Eugene died on October 28, 1956. Vernell died on March 4, 1974.

They left us a legacy of love for family, education and determination to make a better place in this world for our children. Most important though, they taught us that nothing could be accomplished without a belief in God.