Friday, June 13, 2014

Father's Day Tribute: Three Granddaddies

Dad & Grandmomma on his graduation from elementary school and at around age 4

I often tell my father that although he was raised by loving adoptive parents, George Clifton Collier & Willie Ealy Collier, he was very fortunate to have known and been around his biological father, Hulen “Newt” Kennedy, since infancy up until Grandpa Newt’s passing in 1970. Many adopted children don’t figure out until later in life who their biological parents are/were. Although Newt didn’t raise him, he made sure that my father was being raised properly. Born to Albert Kennedy & Martha “Sissie” Ealy Kennedy, he and my Grandmomma Willie were double first cousins. She was the youngest daughter of Paul Ealy & Adeline Kennedy Ealy. Get it? (LOL) So when he visited his “Cut’n Willie” and her siblings often, he had a watchful eye on the upbringing of my father. Known as a tall, loving man, Grandpa Newt was adamant about wanting my father growing up in Leake County (Lena) among his people and not in the Mississippi Delta, where conditions were essentially neo-slavery for African Americans. Dad soon learned the truth when he was a young boy and realized that Grandpa Newt’s actions allowed him to have a much better life, away from working in the hot, flat cotton fields of Clarksdale, Mississippi, where his birth mother had chosen to live for a while with relatives. She had no qualms about allowing her infant boy to go back to Lena with his father. Having two fathers was indeed a blessing.

 George C. Collier (1899-1990), Dad, and Hulen “Newt” Kennedy (1888-1970)

Therefore, for this Father’s Day, I pay homage to my paternal roots – my father and both of my paternal grandfathers, giving me "Three Granddaddies". George C. Collier, who I affectionately call “Granddaddy,” was a very cool, mild-mannered, and loving grandfather. He was the only grandfather I knew. My mother's father Simpson Reed, whom she and her siblings greatly esteemed, died when she was 16. (You can read more about him in 150 Years Later.) I adored my paternal grandparents. Growing up, if I wasn’t at home, I was "chillin" at my grandparents’ house. Granddaddy taught me how to fish with a fishing reel, and I spent many of my childhood days along a pond near Pickens, Mississippi, on the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Rankin County, or on one of Mr. Swayze’s catfish ponds in Yazoo County with them and one of their fishing buddies. They didn’t play with their fishing, and they drove their Impala to where the fishes bite! That would be the only time I was happy to wake up at 5:30 in the morning. I can just hear their car horn honking now when she and Granddaddy arrived at my parents’ house before sunrise to pick me up to go fishing.

Granddaddy in 1916, Rankin County, Mississippi, 17 years old

Born near Pelahatchie (Rankin County), Mississippi, Granddaddy was born to Rev. Billy W. Collier, a Methodist preacher, a teacher of 29 years, and a house carpenter, and his first of three wives, Ella Butler Collier. Most people knew Granddaddy as “Fess” or "Fessor Collier," which was short for professor, because he was an admired principal and teacher at several schools in Leake, Rankin, and Scott County for many years. He also had been a Pullman porter, and he often shared how he had traveled through all of the 48 contiguous states. I was fascinated by this. Granddaddy and Grandmomma were both educators and graduates of Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. Being around his presence all throughout my childhood, I knew that he was very happy with my choice to pack up and leave home to attend college. He wished me much success on that day and even handed me some cash.

As I write this, I am just now realizing that Granddaddy was sort of a genealogist, too, in his own way. I vividly recall that he would talk about his maternal grandparents Surrey & Harriet Butler often. He had a very close relationship with them. Also, I won’t ever forget the day he asked me to write their names in his Bible, as well as that of other family members, as I filled out the family tree section while he called out the names of his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I was around 15 years old at the time, and I recalled being quite fascinated. This was one of the early signs that I would become addicted to genealogy research. Therapy not wanted. Ever. 

Several years later when I started to research, imagine my surprise when I found Harriet Butler in Granddaddy’s household in the 1920 census. She was reported as being 90 years old. Born circa 1832 near Mt. Hebron (Greene County), Alabama, she and her husband Surrey had been enslaved by David Butler. After his death in 1852, his widow "inherited" Surrey, and one of their daughters, Martha E. Butler Jordan, "inherited" Harriet and her two young children. Six years later, in 1858, Martha Jordan and her husband James F. Jordan left Alabama and moved to Rankin County, Mississippi, taking their enslaved laborers with them. Her mother joined them, and this allowed Surrey, Harriet, and their children to stay together as a family. Grandma Harriet passed away four months after that 1920 census was taken, on May 28, 1920, being under the care of her 21-year-old grandson, my Granddaddy. Grandpa Surrey had passed away three years earlier, on July 18, 1917, at around 92 years of age.

 1920 census, Rankin County, Mississippi; Granddaddy (20 years old)
as the head of household with his grandmother Harriet in the house.

Granddaddy's fascinating memory of his maternal grandparents enabled me to trace his maternal roots before 1870 with the following estate documents:

Estate division of David Butler’s slaves, Dec. 29, 1852, Greene County, Alabama – the lot of slaves allocated to daughter, Martha E. Butler, which included Granddaddy’s maternal grandmother Harriet
 and her two children, George and Joe, all valued at $967. Granddaddy was named after his mother’s brother.

 Granddaddy’s maternal grandfather Surrey was the first appraised in
David Butler’s estate inventory, 1852, Greene County, Alabama

1870 Rankin County, Mississippi census  Surrey & Harriet Butler and Family

Another thing I truly admired about Granddaddy was the way he treated Grandmomma. She was his queen. He called her “Sugar” and literally worshiped the ground she walked on. When Grandmomma passed away on October 4, 1990, I listened to him say repeatedly during her funeral, “I’m coming soon, Sugar,” as tears rolled down his face. They had been together for nearly 60 years. Being without her was just too unbearable. So two months later, I received that memorable phone call at school from my Mom before I went to class. She informed me that Granddaddy had quietly passed away. He had suffered a stroke several days prior, and he didn’t try to fight for his life. I was hurt, but I wasn’t surprised. He kept his promise to his "Sugar" who was waiting. He was 91.

So for this Father’s Day, I pay homage to my paternal roots, to my father and my "Three Granddaddies," as well as to all of the fathers, father figures, and grandfathers who were and are among the ranks of wonderful fathers who loved, supported, and cherished their families. Thanks for your devotion to your family. Happy Father’s Day.

Paternal great-grandfathers: Rev. Billy W. Collier (1866-1951) and Albert Kennedy (1856-1928)

Mom and Dad, 1970s

Granddaddy, Grandmomma's niece June, and Grandmomma, 1980s
(Thanks Cousin Jennifer Smith for this picture.)

R.I.P. Granddaddy and Grandmomma
Harmony Baptist Church Cemetery, Lena, Mississippi

R.I.P. Grandpa Newt
Harmony Baptist Church Cemetery, Lena, Mississippi

R.I.P. Grandpa Simpson
Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery, Como, Mississippi
My cousins, Gabriel and John Reed, and me - grandsons of Simpson Reed

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