tv [untitled] June 23, 2012 5:00pm-5:30pm EDT
webster. she was a very talented cook. but webster replied that he could never own a slave, but he would pay mccarty's purchase price and have her work it off as his employee. one imagines the friendship, the alternate culture going on among jennings, syphax, mccarty and other african-americans in the neighborhood. when dolly madison sold her virginia plantation for good in 1844, that meant jennings was altogether separated from his wife and children who belonged to a different owner back in virginia. this same year his wife died. so now those children were motherless. in 1845 dolly madison and president polk allowed jennings to visit his children in virginia.
but when he stayed longer than allowed, dolly wrote her son payne that paul will lose the best place, and his mistress's convenient resources. jennings determined to buy his freedom, dolly set the price at $200, a sum that was beyond him. that is when knowing monica mccarty's story, jennings went to daniel webster for help. and webster arranged for the advance of jennings's purchase price. it was during his first full year of freedom in 1848 that jennings acted as an operative in the pearl escape attempt. one of the 77 slaves who boarded the schooner that night and hid themselves below decks was dolly madison's slave ellen stewart. she was the 15-year-old daughter of paul's great friend suki, dolly's ladies maid. it may well have been ellen's desperate need for escape that
precipitated jennings' involvement in the pearl affair. you see, six months earlier, dolly determined that she was going to sell ellen to the georgians as the african-americans of the time referred to the traders whereby slaves would be resold to the deep south. the trader was at dolly madison's house across the way and had called ellen in, nominally for bringing in a glass of water. but really so she could show her to the trader. ellen was excused, and there was a deal between dolly and the trader that, at a prearranged time, dolly would send ellen to fetch water at the public square right here on the lafayette square common.
but that really this would be the opportunity for the slave trader to pounce on her. but in the end, ellen got wind of the maneuver and she dashed across lafayette square into the bustle of the city and i think to the protection of paul jennings. of course, as most of you probably know, in the end the pearl schooner did not make it as planned to freedom in the north. winds too light on the potomac followed by winds too rough to enter the chesapeake bay. plus there was an informant back in washington who put the white owners on the trail of the 77 slaves sooner instead of later. the pearl was hauled back in to washington and those slaves on board faced the fate they most dreaded, sale to the deep south and permanent separation from home and family. in our consideration today of
prominent african-americans associated with this area, i would like to include the freeman family especially since i believe we have descendants present. john freeman, once he obtained his freedom, worked as a waiter at gadsby's hotel. earlier freeman had been a slave belonging to thomas jefferson who sold him to james madison. he worked in the madison white house with jennings as did his wife, melinda colbert freeman. she a free person, formerly enslaved by thomas jefferson, melinda was a member of the well known hemings family of monticello. the freemans were founders of the neighborhood where jennings purchased the house in 1854, just a 15 to 20-minute walk northwest of lafayette square. the freemans and jennings were eventually joined by other families of ex-slaves of
presidents in this neighborhood including three syphax brothers, charles ii, william and colbert, sons of maria carter custis and charles s. syphax senior and nephews of nancy syphax who worked with jennings earlier on lafayette square. now in the 1850s, jennings and charles syphax, ii worked together in the pension office under the department of the interior. charles's brother, william syphax was also employed in the interior department rising from messenger to clerk and he was a leader in public education for african-americans in washington. back to lafayette square proper, i want to tell you the story of jennings interactions with dolly madison in her old age. she was suffering financially all through her widowhood and things got worse and worse until in her last few years she wanted for the very necessities of life.
webster would send jennings over to her house with basketfuls of . with jim crow conditions for bailing in both the north and south in 1929, congressman and mrs. de priest resided in segregated communities in both chicago and the nation's capital. their home in chicago was located at 4536 up through 4358 south parkway which is now known as martin luther king drive. although they owned the entire complex, they occupied the second floor of the three-story building from 1929 up to their deaths. the home that the de priests purchased in washington, d.c. at 419 u street northwest was located in an exclusively black neighborhood. they bought their home from mrs. susan brown, who was a widow. she and her former husband had owned the home since at least 1910. while living at 419 u street, hiram worked as an elevator operator at the post office and susan was a telephone operator. it's interesting to note the difference in the types of employment for blacks who were living on the 400 block of ledroit park versus the positions blacks held in 1929 the de priests joined the
community. when the de priests arrived, they joined a number of other prominent black families such as dr. garnett c. wilkinson who lived at 406 u street, clara, who lived at 414 u street. she was the a pharmacist and a daughter of john smith. there was percy a. roy who was a craftsman. artisan and manual arts teacher that lived at 417 u street. in 1910, the brown's neighbors worked as a dining car waiter and a maid. other neighbors worked as a traveling salesman a janitor, a messenger for the navy, a port er at a hotel. most notably through the family historian whom i had the pleasure of knowing for the last year and a half of her life. and that would be sylvia jennings alexander. she was paul jennings' great granddaughter. he was born in 1799 and she just that few generations later was still going strong at age 93,
sharp as a tack and very devoted to family history. and she both informed my story and enriched my life, as did many of the other jennings descendants. here is an image of montpelier and one of the early presidents square. you see our location, st. john's church. and you see the dolly madison house. one reason i wanted to show you these two images is because they were both water colors made by madame denuville. they were some of the notables that rented the decatur house before john gatsby purchased it. these were some of the many people, many notable people,
parsonages, if you will, personages, whom jennings got to know. and if even a slave, it helps to know people in high places. he was well connected. he was what we call a networker. and he took appropriate advantage of these connections in his pursuit. and here's a photo of dolly madison's house. you see the cellar windows where jennings quarters would be. and also i feel obliged to say that the door moved all over the place. it was first in front and then moved to the side where you see in this photograph. later that door was made a window and today it's further down on h street. this is one of the earliest photographs of the white house
on the south portico, you see president polk and you can believe that dolly kept all the earnings. dolly is to the right of polk as you're looking at the photograph. and here is the la fayette square gates. here's the la fayette square gates. and this just gives you a period sense of just how close la fayette square is to the white house. and here is franklin jennings. this is paul jennings' son, one of three. and they all served the union cause during the civil war. and franklin is in that northwest neighborhood that i was referring to earlier. and here is franklin's grandson, henry early.
he's the young man on the left shown with his buddy while they were working at a resort. and when we have our panel of descendants of notable african americans associated with la fayette square this afternoon after lunch, angela hayes tolliver who is a granddaughter of henry early will be representing the jennings family. i'm pleased to say that two of her cousins are here today, as well. another one of henry's granddaughters, barbara early allen, and one of henry's great granddaughters, fawn jordan. these are three of paul jennings' many living descendants, his living legacy. he has an important legacy. he was an intrepid anti-slavery activist who secured his own
freedom and his family's future. he acted as an operative in major attempted slave escape. he forged passes and freed papers for slaves with his literacy skills. he raised funds for slaves in peril purchased from their masters. his is a unique story. but it must also be appreciated that at the same time, he represents many african-americans of his time whose stories may never be known, but who, like him, overcame a barrage of obstacles in pursuit of the right to rise. as has been said, will is one hinge that is truly new in this word, and that is the history that we have yet to learn. thank you so much. [ applause ] coming up, a program on african-american work and life in washington, d.c., especially in the area around the white
this program explores african-american work and life in washington, d.c., especially this in the area around the white house known as president's park. next a discussion descendants of the de priests and jennings and wormley families. this is 40 minutes. >> for our final session today, we have a treat. we are pleased to assemble family members who have heard many of the stories that were shared this morning and this afternoon. but they bring their own personal perspectives to further illuminate them. and as we started to do with shelley, there are a lot of family members here today. and i would love it if you would stand up and let us welcome you. everyone here representing the families here on stage. [ applause ]
>> i had to bring my own audience. professor marya mcquirter, who will introduce our panelist and moderate this discussion, is an authority with broad and deep knowledge of african-american history in the nation's capital. as just one example of how she's shared this knowledge, many of you, i think, because i know we're out of them, have picked up her award-winning guide "the african-american heritage trail of washington, d.c." she also cofounded the d.c. community heritage project, which has held a series of public workshops throughout the city offering training to grass roots organizers and historians interested in preserving local heritage resources. please welcome marya mcquirter. >> good afternoon. can you all hear me? excellent. it's a pleasure to be with you today at this enlightening and
important conference. fittingly for the final panel of the conference, we have descendants of four lafayette square families. the de priests, the wormleys, the syphaxs, and the jennings. and i say it's fitting because part of what we, and especially the white house historical association, is charged with is figuring out what the meanings of these families are for us today. and who better to give insight into the marrying of the history, the present and the future, than the descendants who embody that continuum. today we have phil de priest, don graves, steve hammond, and angela hayes-toliver. you all have their bios in the program, but i'll go say a few words about them. starting with our first panelist is phil de priest, who is a resident of chicago and is an investment executive with mb financial investments. it's wonderful that he's here
visiting us from chicago, one of my favorite cities, after d.c., of course. next we have don graves who gave us an earlier presentation that we all heard and enjoyed. he's a lawyer visiting us from cleveland, ohio. >> another favorite city. >> yes, exactly. of course. and a descendant of one of the renowned families of d.c., the wormleys. our third panelist is steve hammond. he's an associate director for hazards and here with us locally in reston, virginia. and then finally, our fourth panelist is angela hayes-toliver, a health analyst with the u.s. department of health and human services and she's a lifelong washingtonian. so i welcome you all here and look forward to hearing the wonderful things you have to say about your families. our panelists will speak for five minutes as they appear in the program and then we will give you the audience an opportunity to ask them
questions. so let's start with phil de priest. >> thank you. first of all, i want to thank neil horseman, john riley, alexandra lane and brenda fike for putting together this the great project on my great grandparents. and of course, shelley stokes-hammond for a great piece. i wanted to embellish a few of the stories that shelley had
spoken of. in particular, the congressional dining room incident of 1934. now oscar de priest was sworn in in 1929. the actual incident didn't take place until 1934. when that happened, lindsey warren, who was a democrat from north carolina, had mr. morris lewis, who is my great grandfather's secretary, and his son ejected from the dining room. now, he had been eating there for the better part of five years already. and it was more of a political move by representative warren than anything else. but nevertheless it started a huge controversy. my great grandfather had been dining there and bringing my great grandmother in, my son, my grandfather who is the tall gentleman to the left of my grandfather. he had also befriended a porter who worked for the washington,
d.c. transportation department. and he mentioned he was one of the darkest people he'd ever met and would bring him into the congressional dining room, a, because he was a friend, and b, because he wanted to piss off members of the southern delegation at the same time. i don't know if it was this gentleman up here or not, but the gentleman behind him has a distinctive grin on his face. it's almost a smirk. so it may or may not have been him. anyway, it started quite a controversy and made headlines around the country. my great grandfather introduced legislation for an official investigation into this matter. on the house floor he refuted the claim that african-americans had been banned from the restaurant because he had eaten there ever since he had gotten elected. my great grandfather said on the floor of the house of representatives, and this is a quote" if we deny of
constitutional rights under the dome of the capital, where in god's name would we get them?" he said later on, if we allow this challenge to go without correcting it, it will set an example where people will say congress itself approves of segregation. he had a resolution which was to say the least hostile towards any civil rights initiative in this country, let alone in congress. what he did, in fact, was kept the measure alive using a parliamentary procedure. he collected 145 member signatures on a discharge petition to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. fl he collected 145 signatures on a the house, in fact, voted in favor of de priest's call for an investigation by an investigatory committee, but unfortunately, the panel
created -- that created the state policy of segregation split along party lines, three democrats and two republicans. and they refused to recommend any revisions. so in effect, the house officially kept the dining room segregated and there it died after that. i want to talk momentarily about the day he was sworn in to congress. after the swearing in was done, the hopes, dreams and aspirations of 12 million african-americans were lifted to a height that was never felt before in the 20th century. they had no representation. there was a reporter for the "chicago defender" who said and i quote, as he walked down the
aisle his face was grim, almost to the point of sternness as if the solemnist of the occasion rest on his shoulders. i think it dawned on him at that point that he was the sole voice for 12 million african-americans in this country. i can't imagine the weight of responsibility that responsibility that he must have felt at that time. think about that. one voice for every african-american in this country. for the next six years, he was the only member of color in the entire united states congress. this was 1929 in washington, d.c., it's a southern town. so we dealt with in your face racism every single day he was there. for every restaurant in town for
the fourth congress, he dealt with a hostile, racist environment, yet he was able to succeed in advancing the betterment of african-americans. he would do what he had to do. crossing party lines was not an issue to him. if he find supporter be it democrat or republican, then so be it. he would welcome that support. he would acknowledge that support. he was the black caucus of one. there's 42 now in the house and senate. by then a black caucus of just him. i know my time is limited. i have been accused of being long winded before in the past. in closing, his efforts to try to level the playing field for his african-american
constituents never ended. when he left congress, after two failed attempts to get re-elected, he went back to the chicago city council in 1943. in doing so, he had reached out to mayor ed kelly, who was a democrat, and got his support in passing a fair employment practice act in the city of chicago that de priest had introduced in the city council, which, by the way, had failed in the state legislature in illinois earlier that year. he wrote an open letter addressed to his republican voters, friends and citizens in 1944 because he had been -- by the chicago newspapers for supporting kelly, who was a democrat. he said, and i quote "i contend
then and i still contend that if negro people are good enough to give their lives for their country, they are then entitled whenever qualified to hold any position in their country's government which they are helping to maintain through their taxes, their blood, and their loyalty." i thought this really hits a nail on the head where oscar de priest where the core of his character really came from. [ applause ] >> thank you, phil. we'll have don next. >> i'll pass it down. >> thank you, again, everyone. i really won't bore you with more. i do have two observations. one of the things that really is particularly fascinating to me is when you start thinking about what life was like if you were living in 1820, 30, on through the 19th century here in this city in this building on this corner on that corner, i mean,
it's just a phenomenal experience. the other piece that's particularly significant to me is that we just don't know. until i was able to peel back some of the stories by reading newspaper accounts that were contemporaneous with the time, you begin to fashion together what life was really like. there are so many stories where, for example, even though wormley was a close friend of vice president wilson when he died, they had been friends before he had become vice president. he was going to attend the funeral train to return back to new england. and members of congress said the only way that wormley would be there if he were the caterer to the train.
they ended up not having to do that, but those are the kinds of hurdles that people of color had to overcome, even though they were already well known around the world, presidents all knew them, they still treated them as fourth class citizens. they are the stories of in the newspapers of the not too long ago boston, cincinnati, cleveland, they all use the "n" word in the media. for people of color. it was just a second way of talking about people. just think. what exact that's had on all the generations we're dealing with today. when you see in your trusted newspaper publication the way they denigrated. finally, i have one thing in all this experience i have come across friends and family members who say it's a great story and so forth. i say everybody has a great story.
everybody here in this room has a fabulous story. one friend of mine said, well, we don't have much history. i said, wait a minute. first of all, how did you get where you are? more importantly, maybe they were working class folks. you have been the highest ranking african-american executive in a major u.s. corporation. maybe the buck stops here and the story starts here. make sure that your children pass it on. because the only reason i can speak to what i can speak to today is because some ancestor 150 years ago thought it was important that we knew we held ourselves high as african-americans. that's all i have to say. [ applause ] >> thank you, don.
we'll have steve next. >> i couldn't agree with don more. can you hear me? i'm just so excited to be here. it's great to see so many faces here who have an interest in this. i'm driven by this. people that we see. i wanted to start by saying that i hope you've had a chance to look at the poster. i'm the one that brought the poster there. if you haven't had a chance, before you go today, i would ask you to go up and take a look and you can see some of the things we have done here. i want to thank the white house historical association for helping us to put this all together. for donna who's in the room who basically helped to put that poster, the concept together and my cousin roy who is in california that put it on paper to make it something you all could see and make it real. there are a number of facts that help to build that family tree.