Behind the scene of the Alexandria Gazette story on “The Life of Rosa Harris-Jackson Armistead,” dated March 15, 2018.
About seven years ago, I was contacted by Terry Coles and his sister, Judy Coles-Bailey that their great-grandmother, Rosa Harris-Jackson Armistead was from Alexandria and they believed that she was connected to the Alexandria Freedmen Cemetery.
After researching Rosa Armistead, I confirmed that Rosa’s mother, Mary Nash-Harris buried a child at the Freedmen Cemetery, which will be discussed in an upcoming book on the Freedmen Cemetery.
Mary Nash-Harris and her children, Emma and Rosa migrated to Alexandria during the Civil War from Prince Williams County, Virginia. Mary Nash-Harris met Sandy Hodge in Alexandria and they got married. After a few years of marriage, they separated and late divorced. Mary’s daughter Emma Jean Harris married Daniel C. Richards in Alexandria. Emma and her husband moved to Philadelphia. Emma died in Philadelphia in 1957. On her death certificate, she was 99-years old; but, she was older than what the death certificate reported. Emma’s sister, Rosa married twice and Rosa died in Alexandria at the age of 97 in 1951. Her death certificate had her age as 79 but she was 97-years old.
Rosa had several children, one of her daughters was named after her, Rosa L. Armistead. Rosa married Jacob Lawrence, Sr., in New Jersey, they had a son named Jacob Lawrence
Jr. Jacob became a famous painter. He received national acclaim for his paintings. His paintings continued to be in great demand today. Jacob Lawrence, Jr., was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His mother, Rosa Armistead-Lawrence migrated from Alexandria to Atlantic City where she met her future husband, Jacob Lawrence Sr. Rosa, her husband and young son migrated from Atlantic City to Philadelphia. The family probably lived with a relative while they were in Philadelphia, possibly Rosa’s aunt Emma Harris-Richards. While in Philadelphia, Rosa had two more children. Later, Rosa and her family migrated to New York. New York gave the family more opportunities in housing and education, the young Jacob Lawrence was able to pursue his education interest in the arts.
Jacob’s paintings have been showed all over the world. His paintings depicted the life of
African Americans as he saw it. His paintings have been transformed into postcards, greeting cards, reproduction of his art on canvases and wearable garments.
Today New York City claims Jacob Lawrence Jr., as their own, but his roots are in Alexandria where his great-grandmother, Mary Nash-Harris and her children fled Prince Williams, Virginia to Alexandria during the Civil War.