You recall that last summer I cane into a windfall of literally thousands of photographs. Well, we’ve spent some time on photo-triage, so every now and then I display some of the pictures most compelling or most in need of rehabilitation. This is another of such posts.
We start with a good one.
These portraits are of John Henry Phillip Lewis and his wife, Margaret (“Maggie”) Elizabeth Griffin. John was born a slave in 1852 in Baltimore. It is said that he was born with a “twisted ankle,” and this fact allowed him to be a house servant. As a house servant, he received an education that field slaves did not. At some point, his mother and brother Charles were sold in New Orleans. John headed south to find them and later discovered that his mother had died. He couldn’t find his brother. He migrated north to Missouri and for ahwile, resided in a boarding house in Cape Girardeau. Family lore says that one day he noticed a girl playing with other girls, but the one he noticed was particularly sad. It was Maggie Griffin. He asked her why she seemed so sad. She said she wanted to go home to Tennessee. Her mother had sent her north for better opportunities. But Maggie was quite homesick and missed her mother and sisters Harriet and Sally back in Tennessee. John tried to console Maggie, but nothing worked. Then at some point, perhaps days or weeks later, John suggested that they go to Tennessee to visit Maggie’s mother. And they set off. But when they reached the town of Charleston in Bradley County, Tennessee, where Maggie had been born, they were told that Maggie’s mother had died some time previously. They did, however, connect with Maggie’s sisters. Greatly saddened, they headed back to Illinois. On the way, however, they stopped in Gibson County, Tennessee, and got married. They stayed in Tennessee for awhile, where John got a job as a teacher for twelve dollars a month. The first three of their eight children, Emma, Charles, and Anneta, were born there. (Records actually show that Emma was born in 1877; Charles in 1879; and that their parents were married in 1880).
John took his family north to Illinois in search of better wages, settling in Carbondale. They lived with a woman named Sally, who was from Tennessee. John and Maggie helped care for the elderly woman. When she died, shewilled her house to Maggie. Later, John built a big house at 119 North Wall Street in Carbondale. Thereafter, he acquired a large tract of land and built other homes on it. John was now in the real estate business. The area became known as the John Phillip Lewis subdivision. John also owned several other properties and a grocery store. In addition, he taught math in the city schools.
The Lewis family were members of the AME Church, after first having attended the Free Will Baptist Church. John was the superintendent of the Sunday school.
John and Maggie were very generous, congenial and neighborly people. Black folks arriving in town at the train station had no access to public facilities. So John would collect them from the station and feed and lodge them in his home with no thought of remuneration.
John and Maggie’s sixth child, Edna Julia Lewis, married into the French Negro Micheau family of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. John died in Carbondale in 1916; Maggie died in Union County, Illinois, in 1942.
Now some photos in need of rehabilitation.
This one is in the worst shape and also comes from the Lewis branch.
This is John Paul Harris, born in 1915 in Carbondale. He was one of the grandchildren of John and Maggie Lewis. The picture looks like he may have been five or six years old when it was taken. It is on the front of a post card. We’ve seen family photos on postcards before. Unfortunately, when the photo reached me, it was split in half as you can see.
Although they look like different boys to me, I’m told that the boy standing in the next photo is also John Paul Harris. The other boy is John Paul’s cousin, Claude Micheau (1917-1991). The identity of the girls could not be confirmed to me. Chances are, however, that one of them may be John Paul’s sister Margaret; or the two of then could be Claude’s sisters Edna and Ottie.
November 8, 2008 Saturday at 8:48 pm