I have always loved history particularly American history and Black history. I read Alex Haley’s Roots with my grandmother for the first time when I was 12. I read the Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was in junior high school. I started reading slave narratives in high school. I have always read books and watched documentaries, movies, and TV shows that were about slavery, the Underground Railroad, and civil rights. I was that kid in school whenever I had to do a report or presentation of some kind, I would always find an African American within the subject to research about. I love going to museums and seeing our country’s history. My love of history has been somewhat of a foundation for my research. And this is one of the reasons that February has always been one of my favorite months because it’s Black History Month. I have always loved learning about and knowing of the contributions that African Americans have made in the building and shaping of this county, in science, the arts, politics, and the general history of the United States of America.
My family has no oral history that has helped me with my genealogy research. It has been just me researching through vital records and reading books about the communities my family has lived in that has helped me put a family story together. When I started this journey I was just looking for names and dates. And that has turned into me wanting to learn as much as I can not only about my relatives but also about their lives and their communities. During this journey, I have learned a lot about my family. And I have found some interesting family facts and a few family firsts as well.
My grandfather, Gus Hatchett, was a member of a singing group during the late 1940s and 1950s, the United Harmonizers. The United Harmonizers singing group organized in 1948 and was the first African American singing group to have a program on KNBY Radio in Newport, Arkansas in 1949. My sister, Paedra Mays, was the first person to graduate from Henderson State University with a master’s degree in Liberal Arts in 1998.
Education has always been an important part of my family. Both of my grandmothers attended college in the 1930s and 1940s. This was during a time in our country’s history when not many black men were going to college and even less black women. Both of these women were born in rural Arkansas. One the oldest girl in the family and the other the youngest girl in the family. My paternal grandmother, Gladys Denson Mays, went as far as she could go to school in Newport, the 10th grade. Then she had to move to Little Rock to attend Dunbar High School. She worked her way through school by exchanging housework for her room and board. My grandmother went on to Philander Smith College in Little Rock and University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. My maternal grandmother, Ernestine Wright Hatchett was able to go to a private high school, Cotton Plant Academy in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Cotton Plant Academy was operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen. This board was responsible for founding schools in the south for African Americans after the Civil War. She went on to Shorter College in Little Rock. Both were the first in their family to attend college.
Black history is more than just the famous people we read about. There are black history moments within our families and within our communities. Black history is learning about our past and our present. I now have an oral history to share with my son and future generations about our family’s past. And this is why my journey continues…..