The family has a crest, in crimson, black and gold. A central chevron in this escutcheon bears a black chain with a broken link, symbolizing the broken bonds of slavery. Below the broken bonds is a black well. And in the upper corners, where the crest of Norman family might have Fleur-de-Lis, this one has tobacco leaves in trifoliate clusters… – John Mc Phee, Levels of the Game, 1969.
Reflecting on Family
World War II Naval veteran, Kappa Man, Kiwanian, Patriarch of our Family.
As of Thanksgiving Day, the surviving siblings of the nine children born to my paternal grandparents were the three eldest. On the 28th we lost my dad’s older brother, the only remaining son, my 88-year-old, civic-minded, humorously haughty, Redskins-loving Uncle Billy, whom we laid to rest in Washington, DC on Friday. His was a life lived richly and fully, often engaged in spirited debate with any brave soul willing to take him on. The love of his life Lillian was one such. Married nearly fifty years, his Aries ram locked horns with her Taurus bull in banter that rivaled the witty repartee of 40’s noir — Bill and Lil in the room and hilarity ensues. It is hard to imagine the one without the other and yet I know she will be fine, she will thrive. She deeply loved her husband and the partnership of marriage while remaining unflinchingly herself, identifying by more than her role as wife. She, at 89 is fit and sharp and will resume the on-the-go schedule she enjoyed prior to her husband’s illness.
His remaining sisters, ninety-year-old Laura and 86-year-old Bessie are “holding it down” in the tiny Virginia town from whence they all came, the generational link between their late parents, Edward and Ethel, and we the 29 grandchildren born between the late 1940’s and the early 1970’s. As we gathered for Billy’s home-going, we the members of the 29, chuckled at the dominant gene for broad foreheads and on a more serious note acknowledged our quickening movement into the role as the elders. We in our varying roles as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles must preserve and share our history for the 58 who follow us and the 37 who follow them.
Gaga in pop culture is the outrageous Stefani Germanotta who dubbed herself Lady. In my family it is Billy’s mother, Ethel, so named by a grandchild who could not pronounce Grandma. Our Queen GaGa was born a Blackwell, spent her life in Lunenburg County,Virginia, and descended from a lineage that would produce longtime Schomburg curator, Jean Blackwell Hutson.
In 1735 our foremother, Ama(r), believed to be Soninke of the Sisse and Sylla clans, was along with her two-year-old daughter Tab among the 167 ship bound survivors of the middle passage from Goree Island to Yorktown, Virginia on the slave ship Doddington. They were sold at public auction to James Glenn Blackwell on June 27. In 1751 Tab, then eighteen, was “loaned” to Captain Robert Blackwell of Lunenburg County on whose tobacco plantation she met, married and bore five children to the itinerant plantation preacher, Odofo, an Ashanti called Jack on these shores. He was, however, “owned” by John Goodwin and upon the elder Goodwin’s death, willed to his son Peter and forced to leave Tab and the children behind. One of the children, Lucy, born in 1755, would marry another Blackwell and bear 6 children. Her granddaughter Jinny would, with the Sauk tribesman Micah, bear, Hamet, the last of the line born into slavery.
Hamet Blackwell, from whom Uncle Billy gets his middle name.
Hamet would go on to father 23 children including my GaGa and tennis great Arthur Ashe’s grandmother Amelia. I am awed by the blessing of having this knowledge. Upon Captain Robert’s death in 1765, Tab was valued at $30.00. Some two hundred years later, I was born. Many members of the vast Blackwell family have contributed to the research over the years however, I must give props to Thelma Doswell an elder cousin and genealogist who began her research in the 1960’s, created and copyrighted a Coat-of-Arms in 1972 and whose books are catalogued in the Library of Congress.
In the book, Levels of the Game, author John Mc Phee, in speaking of Arthur Ashe’s heritage says:
The Blackwell Family of Virginia, © Thelma Doswell, 1972