Ferdinand T. Day – “A Champion of Champions”

Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on Mr. Ferdinand T. Day dated February 8, 2018.

Prior to 2009, I made weekly visits to the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM). In my weekly visits to the ABHM, I saw Mr. Ferdinand Day. Unlike many Alexandrians, I did not know Mr. Day. I am a first generation Alexandrian; and, the history of Alexandria was never highlighted in the City School system in 1960s and 1970s. So seeing and hearing about

Ferdinand T. Day
1918 – 2015

Mr. Day and his contribution to the City of Alexandria made me wanted to know more about him. I inquired about Mr. Day in the community; and, I asked the Director of the ABHM to introduce me to Mr. Day. After arrangements were made for me to meet with Mr. Day and his daughter, our friendship grew. Those years with Mr. Day were precious years. He was the professor and I was the student. The knowledge that I gained from my visits with him will last me a life time.

For about three years, we spent six to eight hours a month, talking about the history of Alexandria and all of the people that he knew throughout his life. Somehow, I felt that he was preparing me for a journey that I will soon take. What is obvious to me now, the journey that Mr. Day guided me through, was to tell the story of Alexandria’s African Americans in the context of the history of Alexandria. This was indeed a rare opportunity to sit at the table and learn from a man who had spent his life in making his beloved City a better place.

For Mr. Day’s family history in Alexandria, it started with his grandfather, George Day. George was born in Culpeper, Virginia in 1850. He and his brother, Taylor Day, were living in Culpeper in 1870. After 1870, George Day migrated to Prince William, Virginia where he married his first wife, Lucretia Robinson, on 14 October 1873. On his marriage license, he stated that his parents were Robert Day and Rosetta (Rose) Day. By 1880, George and his brother, Taylor, were living in Alexandria on Gibbon Street. On 24 December 1886, George married his second wife, Mary J. E. Vaughn. He and his wife had the following children: Edmonia V., Ferdinand T., Robert W. Jr., Emma, and Rose M.

Robert W. Day was Ferdinand T. Day’s father. Ferdinand was named after his uncle, Ferdinand. Robert W. Day married Victorine Johnson. They had the following children: Lawrence D., Quentin B., Robert W., Ferdinand T., George W., Mary V., and Clarence.

Mr. Ferdinand T. Day’s brother, Robert, was named after his father Robert. Robert Jr., gave up his seat at Armstrong High School so that Ferdinand could attend. Robert late enlisted in the military and served during World War II. He died 7 March 1966 at the age of 48.

Ferdinand T. Day married Lucille Peatross. They had one daughter, Gwen Day.

Prior to Mr. Day getting married, he lived at 402½ South Royal Street. His childhood was made up of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and clergymen. Those people were the main focus of our monthly talks. He enjoyed talking about his childhood and his community activism. Although he came from humble beginnings, he really enjoyed his life and the people of his beloved City.

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Estelle Lane – “News of Interest for Colored Readers”

Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on Estelle Lane dated January 25, 2018.

In 2008, I was introduced to Estelle Lane’s column at the Barrett Special Collection and Local History Library in Alexandria. The library had a descendant genealogical chart on Estelle Lane’s family from 1870 – 1920s. Unfortunate, the library had no additional information about Estelle beyond the 1920s. I was extremely curious about Estelle and I wanted to know more about her.

I reached out to one of Alexandria’s elders, Mr. Robert Dawkins to see whether he knew any Lane family members from Alexandria. Mr. Dawkins was able to connect me with someone who knew the Lane family and that person was able to connect me to Estelle’s niece, Jean who lives in Maryland. When I talked to Jean, I told her what I knew about her aunt Estelle. Jean was overly surprised about her aunt’s life in Alexandria and that her aunt had a column in the newspaper. Jean connected me to her cousin, Nancy Lane in New York. Nancy was also surprised that Estelle wrote a column in the Alexandria Gazette. She wanted to include her cousin, Grace who lives in Florida, on the discussion of their aunt Estelle.

Estelle Lane and her family lived at 417 N Henry Street from the late 1890s – 1920s.

Working with Estelle’s nieces, we were able to uncover her life from Alexandria to Boston, Massachusetts. Her nieces educated me on Estelle’s life in Boston and I was able to educate them on Estelle’s life in Alexandria.

In researching Estelle, I found information on her father, Sidney prior to his migration to Alexandria. This information included his parents, John and Caroline and Sidney’s siblings, Rachel, Adaline, George and Thomas. Although this information was not put into the article on Estelle, this information provides the family with addition family connections.

1870 Census – Randolph District of Cumberland, Virginia

John Lane age 56
Caroline Lane age 55
Rachel Lane age 33
Adaline age 18
Daniel age 10 (Sidney Daniel Lane)

After the death of Sidney’s parents, he migrates to Alexandria to be with his older brother, George Lane. George was born in Cumberland, Virginia in the 1840s. He was in Alexandria by 1870. George married his first wife, Margaret (Maggie) Anderson on 6 February 1876 in Alexandria. By 1880, George was working at the lumber yard in Alexandria. He and Maggie were living on Cameron Street and they had two children John and Mary. In 1881, George was a laborer for J H D Smoot. Shortly before the death of Maggie, George and his wife had a son, Wesley George Lane. After Maggie’s death, George married Julie Jones on 22 July 1886.

George and Maggie’s son, Wesley George Lane migrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Wesley died in Pittsburgh on 8 November 1925 at the age of 39. He was married to Louise Mickey Lane.

Sidney Daniel Lane probably had other relatives in Alexandria. There were several other Lane families in 1870s and 1880s. Sidney left relatives behind in Randolph District of Cumberland, Virginia. Thomas Lane was John and Caroline’s son. Thomas married Tamer Carter in Cumberland County, Virginia on 24 March 1873. They had the following children Daniel, John, George and Louisa. Louisa married James Watkins. On 7 September 1885, Thomas (Tom) Lane died in Cumberland, Virginia.

Sidney and Mary Carter Lane had many children. Their children migrated to several northern States which included Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. For every generation of the Lane family I researched, I found that they repeated the same given names over and over. These given names were John, Daniel, and George.

If you want to review the Special Collection and Local History’s descendants chart on Estelle Lane’s family, you can view the document at: https://alexlibraryva.org/custom/web/lhsc/genealogyresources/colored_notes/Lane_Report.pdf.

I want to thank the following institute and people who assisted me in researching Estelle Lane:

Barrett Special Collection and Local History Library
Mr. Robert Dawkins
Mrs. Jean Lane Brooks
Miss Nancy Lane
Miss Grace Lane

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Miss Laura Missouri Dorsey

Behind the Alexandria Gazette story on Laura Missouri Dorsey dated January 11 – 17, 2018.

Several years ago, I visited and interviewed Miss Laura Missouri Dorsey’s second cousin, Mrs. Fayrene Lyles-Richardson in Maryland. In talking with Fayrene, she shared many family pictures of the Lyles and Dorsey families. One particular picture was of two cars in the Lyles family in the early 20th century.

Very few people of colored (African Americans) owned automobiles at that time, but the

Lyles Family with their Vehicles

Lyles not only had one vehicle, they had two in the family. Also in Fayrene’s collection were many pictures about the family life style. There were summer homes up north, post cards from their vacations in the 1900s – 1950s. There were pictures of their homes in Alexandria, Virginia and in Prince William County, Virginia. In the collection were professional pictures of the Lyles’ brothers at a photographer’s studio and pictures of Laura and her sister, Mary and their mother, Hannah.

As Fayrene and I pored over the pictures, we went back in time to a period when the Lyles and Dorsey family flourished. The public records have documented the life style of the Lyles and Dorsey families in the censuses, tax records, newspaper articles, marriages, death records, church records and pre-civil war documents. Laura Missouri Dorsey and her uncle, Rosier Lyles were educators in the Alexandria Public school system. Laura’s grandfather, Reverend Richard H. Lyles was the pillar of Alexandria’s African American’s Society. He was born free in 1834. Reverend Lyles was a minister at Roberts Chapel in the 19th Century; he taught private school prior to the Civil War; he worked for the Federal Government at the Freedmen Bureau; he was active in Alexandria’s Republican Party; he was a caulker on ships; he owned a business on the wharf; and, he owned a number of properties in Alexandria. He afforded his family many pleasures of life that was found among the white middle class.

The heyday for the Lyles family started prior to the Civil War through the middle of the 20th Century. They regained all their property losses during the Civil War. The Lyles and the Dorsey families left a positive history that will make many Alexandrians eager to learn more about them. Read the article on “Laura Dorsey” in the Alexandria Gazette Packet for January 11 – 17, 2018. You can sign up for a digital copy of the paper at http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/subscribe.

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Déjà vu – Alexandria African American Historic Housing Problems

Some problems never go away, the problem of housing in Alexandria is just one of those big problems. Looking back in time, we can see how these housing problems have impacted so many people especially African Americans and the poor.

In the early 20th century, the United States entered into World War I. By 1940s, the United States entered into World War II. Each of these wars brought more opportunities for the African Americans in Alexandria. The wars increased the demand for workers in the factories, the military, and in the Federal government. Along with these demands were the realization that Alexandria had a serious housing shortage. Many African Americans that were living in the City of Alexandria during this period of time lived in poor housing. Many of these homes were built during the 19th century without inside toilets and running water.

With the Federal Government Housing subsidies, affordable and public housing construction dominated the 1940s in Alexandria. During this construction boom in the 1940s, the country was experiencing “Jim Crow Laws,” which met separate but equal in name only, among the races. In order to build public housing in the African American communities, many of their homes were condemn and demolition.

These African Americans were placed in temporary trailers.

1941 Trailer – Alexandria, VA

A family of six would be placed in two trailers. The parents would be in one trailer and the children would be in another trailer. Some families lived in the trailers between six to fifteen months. The condition that they lived in was horrible. The trailers did not have inside toilets nor showers. Designated trailers were used for showers. Toilet facilities were located in an outhouse building. These facilities were used by everyone who was living in the trailer camp. Parents feared for their children safety, especially for the girls and women.

Memories of this period of time are sketched into the brains of many of the elderly African Americans who lived through this transition period. Their families were put into the trailers until public housing became available.

Two families were interviewed about their life living in the trailer camp. Mr. John Taylor remembers that his dad would not take a shower nor use the bathroom in the trailer camp. “My father would walk to his parents’ house at 214 North Payne Street to shower and use the bathroom. It was really bad in the trailer camp.” Their trailers were on First Street in Alexandria.

Mrs. Charlene Napper, the sister of Mr. John Taylor, remembered that she was a little girl around seven or eight-years-old when they moved to the trailer camp. They had two trailers assigned to them. She also remembered when the family moved out to the newly built public housing at 1005 Madison Street. “Our family did not stay long in public

First row: Mrs. Dorothy Knapper-Taylor and her grandmother and her mother – Second roll: Mrs. Dorothy’s children – they all are in the new home on North Payne Street

housing, because my parents were told by the housing authority that my oldest brother would have to move out when he turned eighteen.” Ms. Charlene told me that her father’s employer helped them to purchase a home so that their family could stay together. Today Mrs. Charlene lives in the family home on North Alfred Street. The family has owned this house for seventy-plus years.

Mr. James Beatty’s family also lived in the trailer camps on First Street in Alexandria in the 1940s. Two trailers were assigned to his family as well. After they were relocated to public housing on St. Asaph Street, Mr. Beatty’s father started saving his money and making plans to relocate his family. The opportunities for African Americans to buy their own property in Alexandria was bleak, so Mr. Beatty’s family moved to Washington, DC.

After public housing was built, many African Americans in Alexandria were not eligible for those houses. Their incomes were not low enough to qualify; and, with the segregation laws in place, they couldn’t rent nor buy in the white communities in Alexandria. So, like

Mr. James Beatty

Mr. Beatty’s family, they migrated to Washington, DC and left so many friends and family members behind.

Again, Alexandria is experiencing a demand in housing. And just like the 1940s, again African American families are at risk for affordable housing. But unlike the 1940s, many will not be moving to Washington, DC, because DC has their own shortages of affordable housing.

So, if you live long enough, you will have your Déjà vu moment; and, affordable housing in Alexandria is truly a Déjà vu moment.

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