A few years ago, I discovered that my great-great-grandmother Narcis Pinkard (1864-1934) was buried in Porterdale Cemetery in Columbus, Ga. This cemetery is also the final resting place of quite a few notable black Georgians. Among them:
- Gertrude “Ma Rainey” Pridgett (1886-1939): nicknamed the Mother of the Blu
es, Ma Rainey was one of the first blues singers to record music. She got her start by performing in live vaudeville shows and went on to record with jazz legend Louis Armstrong and noted bandleader Tommy Dorsey. She eventually returned to her hometown of Columbus, where she ran three theaters and served as a church musician.
- Rev. Primus King (1900-1986): a Baptist minister and civil rights leader whose 1944 lawsuit protesting Georgia’s all-white primary resulted in all citizen being granted the right to register and vote.
- Alfonso Biggs (1904-2003): a master chef who cooked for three U.S. presidents– Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower.
My great-great grandmother is likely buried in an unmarked grave; the record from the funeral home indicates she was buried at Porterdale, but an online search of her grave’s location didn’t reveal anything.
A lot of people equate the economy of the Deep South solely with cotton. But to do that is to ignore the diversity of the South’s natural resources. In Virginia and North Carolina, there was tobacco. South Carolina had rice and indigo. And Georgia had– and still has — lumber.
My paternal grandfather Willie Pinkard (1915-1985) was part of that industry, as I recently discovered. I stumbled across his World War II draft registration card, on which he listed his employer as Ingram and Legrand Lumber. In fact, he and five of his brothers– Bennie, Ike Jr., Henry, Freddie Sylvester and John Lee–had the same employer. My mom recalled him working at the sawmill and hauling lumber.
According to this article, the lumber industry emerged in Stewart County after peanuts and cotton dwindled. Lumber required fewer workers than cotton or peanut farming, a plus for a county with a steadily declining population. Ingram and Legrand was founded in 1929 and, after some iterations, exists now as Ingram Entities, a real estate development company based in Forsyth, Ga.
Just when I thought I had hit a dead end on my Pinkard research, I happened upon a new vital record– the death certificate for my great-great-grandmother, Narcis Pinkard– and one more generation to add to the family tree.
You may recall that I found her name listed among those buried at Porterdale Cemetery in Columbus, Ga. Those records listed her death as 1934. The official death record confirms this, and also lists her father as Henry Hamilton.
Hamilton. I’m connecting all sorts of dots with this discovery.
Last year, I came across a Hamilton in a Census. His name was John, and in 1900 he lived with Ike and Narcis Pinkard, my great-great-grandparents. I now realize that the Henry Hamilton living next door to the Pinkards was more than likely John and Narcis’ father.
Mortality schedules can help complete family stories and also introduce unknown family members.
As you recall, formerly enslaved black Americans didn’t appear by name on the U.S. Census until 1870. So it’s entirely possible that an once-enslaved ancestor or relative would never be listed on a U.S. Census if he or she did not live past 1870.
This is exactly what happened with Norah Pinkard. She was four years old when she died in May 1870, a few months before the U.S. Census was taken.
According to this mortality schedule, Norah Pinkard lived in Chattahoochee County, Ga. when she died. Chattahoochee County is where my maternal relatives lived for years before moving to neighboring Stewart County sometime between 1910 and 1920.
But I can’t quite figure out whose little girl Norah is. She’s too young to be a daughter of Narcis Pinkard, my great-great-grandmother. (In fact, the two of them were born just a year apart– Narcis in 1865 and Norah in 1866). Narcis’ husband, Ike, is the earliest Pinkard I can find. He was born in 1848, so theoretically, Norah could be his daughter, but I don’t have anything proving or disproving this.
1968, Alabama, Alabama National Guard, April 4 1968, assassination, Baby Boomers, campus unrest, civil rights, Deep South, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Younge Jr., Tuskegee, Tuskegee Institute
Today marks 45 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve read and re-read myriad perspectives on King’s assassination. I even interviewed the brother of James Earl Ray, who was arrested and charged with King’s death.
But I had overlooked the voices of those who lived it: my parents, both teenagers when King was assassinated. I asked what it was like, and they answered.
‘A Quiet Anger’
In the Pinkard household, three generations and three distinct reactions mostly underpinned by shock and sadness. Lula and Willie Pinkard, both children of Georgia sharecroppers; their seven-year-old son Sylvester, and their youngest daughter, my mother, who was one day shy of turning 16.
“My parents were saying it wasn’t surprising,” my mom said. “My brother? I don’t think he knew what was going on.”
As for my mom, “a quiet anger” stirred within her. She and her classmates came of age against a backdrop of assassinations, racially charged beatings and church bombings. And before 1968 would end, another high-profile shooting would stun the nation.
“We were sophomores then, but our little group was kind of militant anyway,” she recalled. “The Black Panther Party and Angela Davis were just coming along around this time and you had all this stuff about ‘say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.’”
The same anger and frustration that fueled riots in large cities such as Detroit and Los Angeles prompted a focused determination to live out King’s dream and a relentless pursuit of excellence in Stewart County, Ga.
“In Lumpkin, there was nothing to tear down, so you had to go about it in another way,” she said. “You were mad at people, but you didn’t show it. You showed them that you’re not going to keep Martin Luther King’s dream from becoming a reality.”
And that’s what they did.
Suggested listening: “Move On Up,” Curtis Mayfield
‘Things just weren’t the same…’
Meanwhile, growing tension among Tuskegee Institute students exploded into a lock-in of the school’s administration. My dad recalls three tumultuous days on campus:
So, where were you on April 4, 1968?
I was at Tuskegee, finishing up my freshman year. There was a lot of unrest going on. We had issues with the administration. It was Founders Day and the Board of Trustees was meeting. They were in the guest hall, which is now the Kellogg Center, and the students locked them in. They wouldn’t let them out.
What issue or issues did students have toward the administration?
The attitude toward the students. There were a lot of things going on. It started in the School of Engineering; they were dissatisfied with professors. They had a lot of foreign professors and they weren’t sensitive to them. That’s how it started, back in the first semester. We had a march through campus. (Dr. King’s assassination) just added to it.
On that Saturday, the National Guard came on campus with the M16 guns. They shut down school and sent everybody home. Everybody had to reapply for admission. Some people weren’t allowed back. The TV stations and newspaper in Montgomery were there and some people had been identified. They weren’t allowed back in school.
It was touch and go because the National Guard, they were the local yokles. Sammy Younge was a student at Tuskegee who was killed at the Greyhound Station in Tuskegee in ’66. I wasn’t at Tuskegee at the time, but the students marched downtown. There was a statute of a Confederate soldier and they painted it black. The Guardsmen didn’t forget that. When they came on campus in ’68 they had that in the back of their minds. It could’ve been a massacre, really, if somebody had done something crazy, because they were looking for an excuse.
So where were you while all of this was going on?
(laughs) I was just going along for the ride. The guest hall, people were going in and taking food out like ham, turkey and other delicacies. Then there was this one guy Ronnie Hilton, from Pittsburgh. . . when the National Guard came on campus, they were building the chapel, so he said “Let’s go over to the chapel and get some bricks to throw.” So you had people talking about throwing bricks at folks with machine guns. So I went back to my dorm and locked up. (My sister) Sue and (her husband) Bill came and got me and took me home.
So how did all of this happen? Did it start with one student and then grow or was it organized?
It was organized. The students leaders organized it.
And all of this happened on April 4? How long did it last?
Thursday, Friday and Saturday was when the National Guard came on campus. We were home that whole week. . . We came back to complete the semester.
So aside from the campus unrest, how did Dr. King’s assassination affect students?
It was devastating. It really was. It was very upsetting. I really don’t know how to describe it. It gave you a sense of hopelessness.
How were you all able to move past it?
I don’t know that we really did. Things just weren’t the same after that in terms of the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement didn’t necessarily die, but the leadership wasn’t the same. Martin Luther King was everything to black folks.
Suggested listening: “Abraham, Martin and John” by Dion
I was reviewing the research I had done on the Pinkard side of my family when I noticed someone I hadn’t previously: John Hamilton. His relationship to the head of household is listed as brother.
In 1900, John Hamilton was a 22-year-old widower living with Ike and Narsis Pinkard and their three children. Interestingly enough, there was a Henry Hamilton living next door.
I suspect what I happened upon was one of slavery’s ugliest scars. The American slave trade left families fractured and disfigured. I searched for both men in the 1880 U.S. Census and the 1910 U.S. Census and came up with nothing. But a search of Georgia tax lists shows a Henry Hamilton, a freedman who was born in Virginia and came to Georgia in 1850 when he was around 9 years old.
I had come across a 1947 death certificate for a Dorsey Pinkard a while ago. (Well, the name on the death certificate was Dawsey, but it’s common knowledge that Dawsey is Southern for Dorsey).Having been born in 1933, I knew that he was too young to be my great-grandfather; my great-grandfather was born around 1875. But since they shared a name, I figured there had to be a connection.
Later on, I found a census record for my great-grandmother, Adlina Pinkard. The year was 1940 and she was living in Stewart County, Ga., with four sons, two daughters and three grandchildren. One of them was named Dorsey, apparently after her husband and the child’s grandfather.
Then everything clicked. The other Dorsey Pinkard was in fact one of my mom’s first cousins. His mother– Ina Bell Pinkard– and my mom’s dad– Willie Pinkard– were siblings.
The other Dorsey Pinkard died in July 1947 after he was kicked by a mule.
Sometime between 1900 and 1924, a little girl from Chattahoochee County, Ga., left to become a housewife in the big city. She left as Frances Pinkard and wound up Frances Johnson.
The bulk of my mom’s side of the family is in southwest Georgia, but there were a few who were swept up in The Great Migration and headed north, like thousands of others of blacks from the rural South.
One of the first was Frances Pinkard, who was one of my great-grandfather’s older sisters. I realized this when I stumbled across a death certificate for her.
The certificate was issued in Illinois in 1924. The name on the certificate was Frances Johnson. Her spouse’s name was Ben and her father was Ike Pinkard (confirming that this was the former Frances Pinkard). I haven’t been able to find any other document that places her in Chicago. The only other record I found for her was the 1880 U.S. Census, when she was six and still living with her parents, Ike and Narcis Pinkard, in Georgia.
She wasn’t the only one. I stumbled across another obituary, this time for a Will Pinkard, who died in Cleveland in 2004. His father, Ike, was one of my grandfather’s brothers. (You may recall quite a few Ike Pinkards have sprouted in my family tree).
“I do remember that we had cousins in Cleveland,” my mom recalled. “I can’t remember his name– it might’ve been Will– but he left Omaha when I was a little girl. He never did come back.”
My aunt, Leslie Pinkard Odom (1950-2000), had spent most of her adult life in Cleveland. But why Cleveland?
The way it worked, my mom explained, is that usually one person would head north, find success and then encourage others to go. When my aunt graduated from high school, that’s what she did.
“I wasn’t too particular about Cleveland,” my mom said. “Fortunately other opportunities opened up.”