Monday, January 21, 2008

Who Cracked the Door and Let in the Light?

When I've gone to family reunions in recent years I've been reminded of the reality of the history of the civil rights struggles in the middle of the last century as sitting amongst us is one of our family members who was a central figure in that struggle.

His right, in 1962, to attend the southern university of his choice required then President John F. Kennedy to have to call out federal troops and U.S. Marshals. That simple right was violently opposed and challenged by the state's governor and its people, and resulted in some of the most tumultuous, riotous days of this nation's history as the struggles for his rights played out.

In 1967, a photograph of this same relative being shot in 1966 as he led the civil rights march entitled "March Against Fear" from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi won the Pulitzer Prize for photography (Photographer, Jack R. Thornell of Associated Press).

That this family member, James Meredith, opened doors for those of us coming behind him in search of the educations not only of our ability, but also our choice, goes without saying. That this family member has continually reached out to us individually and collectively to encourage our efforts as we reach for our own goals and objectives is unrelenting. One of the first letters of support and encouragement I received when my first book was published was from James. One of my greatest treasures will always be that letter as it reassured me that "I had a lot to say that the world needed to hear". I believed him and as a part of that belief I have never stopped trying.

But before civil rights there was Reconstruction and my husband's family played a key role in that lofty endeavor.

His great, great grandfather was a member of the 1866 Constitutional Convention and a number of successive legislatures, but it was his son, born in 1859, who took the new possibilities for freed black people and maximized on them and built a legacy of success that still resonates from Atlanta to Los Angeles for its ferocity.

Lieutenant-Colonel Floyd Henry Crumbly, a member of the Tenth U.S. Calvary, and honored veteran of the Spanish-American War, followed his military career with a thirst for business that in the mid 1880's turned a $300 line of credit into one of Atlanta's first black-owned grocery stores and him into one of the founders of Atlanta's prestigious Wheat Street business center.

Within months Floyd Henry (after whom my husband is named) had paid off his loan and initiated purchase of the building he operated out of. A year and a half later he paid that building off and purchased the one next door. It was a momentum that he didn't believe was just for himself, and as his prosperity increased, so did his commitment to his fellow man.

By 1890 he became the chief organizer of the Georgia Real Estate Loan and Trust Company, along with a hand full of other successful black Atlanta entrepreneurs of the time. He is credited with bringing into reality and serving on the board of trustees for The Carrie Steele Logan Orphanage which focused on the needs of African-American orphanaged and abandoned children who previously had been left to forge for themselves. In 1892 he was selected as a director of The Penny Savings Bank of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and, based on his outstanding military career, was appointed and Adjutant of the staff of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Grant by the Governor of the State of Georgia.

Floyd Henry Crumbly founded the Negro Historical Society of Atlanta, and, eventually he moved to Los Angeles, California. His contributions in California were many as well as noted in F.H. Crumbly, "A Los Angeles Citizen," The Colored American Magazine (September 1905). Some of his letters to co-harts such as Fredrick Douglass and Booker T. Washington are also a part of their collections in the Library of Congress.

It is a pleasure to be able to point our children and grandchildren to the accomplishments and contributions of their bloodlines - particularly these two - and to remind them that none of us arrive at our destination alone. We are there because of the efforts, the thrusts, the sacrifices, and the tenacity of others who cracked open the doors and let in a little light to shine upon our path.

This knowledge is particularly poignant on this celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday.

Note: Books by and about James Meredith and FH Crumbly are available from many sources online.


Shelia said...

Peggy, thank you for sharing part of your and your husband's legacy with us. I would definately like to highlight this on my blog. See this is the type of information that you don't see in the "history" books. This is information that gets passed on through word of mouth.

It makes me proud to see that inspite of the obstacles they faced; they pushed on...they didn't accept "no." Very inspiring.

Pris said...

I had chills reading this. Your husband's direct kin was James Meredith??? He was such a figure of inspiration to me during those days of turmoil. Thank you for this!

Several years after all this, I met Claude Brown at an APA convention in Washington (Manchild in the Promised land). We hit it off and spent the next day tromping around together while he visited some of his old friends from those days of heavy protest, too.

We SHALL overcome!

Peggy said...

Hi Pris!

Thanks for reading and commenting. I was so moved by the fact you had actually been at the "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. when I read about that earlier today! You are so full of surprises! Everyone is more wonderful than the one before.

James is my direct kin. FH Crumbly is my husband's great grandfather. We are indeed blessed, aren't we.

Peggy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DeadMule said...

Hi Peggy, I found you through, Pris. How interesting this all is. I'm the Poetry Editor for the Dead Mule thus, my identity as deadmule on Blogger. We've published Pris's poems, click on poems and scroll down. I wrote my Master's thesis on King at Wake Forest and blog at Windows Toward the World I'll be back. Helen Losse

Peggy said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Pris is special, isn't she!

I visited your sites and plan to take my time enjoying what I found there.

Peggy said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Pris is special, isn't she!

I visited your sites and plan to take my time enjoying what I found there.