Sunday, August 18, 2013

Celebrating 95 Years!

Cousin Ira Blount and me on his 95th birthday, August 17, 2013

Yesterday, I met my cousin Ira P. Blount of Washington, DC for the first time. What was especially wonderful about yesterday was that it was his 95th birthday.  Yes, he turned 95 years young! Cousin Ira’s maternal great-grandmother, Sue Barr Beckley (1812 – c.1890), and my great-great-grandfather, Pleasant “Pleas” Barr (1814 – 1889), were siblings – the children of Lewis & Fanny Barr who were born in Abbeville, South Carolina.  The story about our family’s saga of separation during slavery and reuniting 150 years later is told in 150 Years Later, Broken Ties Mended.

Cousin Ira and I had been communicating online for about 10 years. Yes, he enjoys getting on the computer, researching the Internet, etc. when most folk his age are afraid of computers! My recent move to the Washington, DC area afforded me the opportunity to finally meet him in person. Our meeting was especially spiritual for me because he is the last surviving grandson of Cannon Beckley, whom my great-grandfather William “Bill” Reed (son of Pleas Barr) had a close relationship with while they were enslaved on Dr. William H. Barr’s farm in Abbeville, So. Carolina and before the family was split apart in 1859; they ended up in different parts of northern Mississippi without having knowledge of each other’s whereabouts.  An elderly cousin, the late Cousin Isaac “Ike” Deberry, Sr., shared with me that Grandpa Bill Reed talked about Cannon quite often. Cousin Ike had erroneously assumed that Cannon was his brother, but they were first cousins.  Sitting and talking with Cannon’s last surviving grandson on his 95th birthday was essentially another spiritual reunion between Grandpa Bill and his brother-like cousin, Cannon. 

 Cousin Ira’s grandfather, Cannon Beckley, with most of his 20 children and grandchildren. Cousin Ira’s mother Irene is in the picture. This picture was taken in 1900 in Pontotoc County, Mississippi.  Picture courtesy of Diane Beckley.

Cousin Ira is indeed a remarkable man.  Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee in 1918, he always carried a passion for artistry and reading. He shared with me yesterday that his love for reading was instilled by his parents, Clyde & Irene Beckley Blount. Cousin Ira shared that his mother worked for a wealthy white family in Memphis. When they wanted to get rid of their books and magazines, they gave them to his mother. She often totted those books on the streetcar home to give to her sons for them to read. Cousin Ira cherished those books, and he shared how his father always encouraged them to educate their minds and reach for greater heights.  After graduating from high school in Memphis, he attended Tuskegee Institute.

After serving in the Army for a number of years, Cousin Ira moved to Washington, DC in 1945. He shared with me how he was so impressed with all of the history in the area and the vast amount of cultural activities.  He became a self-taught artisan, and his passions included wood carving, quilting, calligraphy, and basket weaving. He recently donated a lot of his crafts to the Anacostia Community Museum.  Cousin Ira has been praised here in DC for his wonderful art work and crafts; he has taught various craftsmanship classes at shelters, schools, and art centers throughout the DC area.  He was even featured in the Washington Post, October 17, 1998. 

Cousin Ira is a humble, independent man who doesn’t like a lot of accolades, but I just couldn’t help but to give “flowers” to someone so deserving of it.  Don’t wait until funerals to express how special someone is. Give it to them while they are still alive. 

Photo clippings from the Washington Post, Oct. 17, 1998, Photos by Ross D. Franklin