Cute Kid Story: The Cat is My Mom!

“In Our Hearts” is meant to be not only a record of our family history and genealogy but also a way to preserve our memories, and what makes our family special. If you would like to share something to the blog or add a story (or something else?) of your own, please leave a comment with your e-mail. Your info will be kept confidential. I will reply with details on how you can contribute to the blog.

Blessings ❤

Sharing a funny story from my family…

Cute Kid Story:

So today my Lil Guy did not want to finish his breakfast. In fact, he wanted to splash his spoon in the bowl and watch cereal swim across the puddles that belly flopped onto the table. So I told him to sit in quiet time, for a few minutes, until he was ready to eat. He was not very happy with me.

Next thing I know, Lil Guy is running out of QT… I follow him to the living room where he has his arm around the cat and is whispering in her ear.
Me: “What are you talking to the cat about?”
LG: “You are not my mom anymore. The cat is my mom now!”
Me: “The cat can’t drive. Who is going to drive you when you want to go some place?”
LG: “MY dad (he works on cars) will get me some parts and I will build a special car for the cat to drive.”

So I agreed…the cat can be your mom today!

Lil Guy was not too impressed when Cat Mom made “dinner” and served him a bowl of beef liver soft cat food.

Lil Guy did not like that Cat Mom makes him nap all day just like she does.

And he certainly did not want to change Cat Mom’s litter box!

So after some careful thought.. my Lil Guy tells me “I want you to be my Mom again.

I’m sorry. I love you Mom.”

Awww.. my heart melted! I have since learned that play is actually the best approach to get my child to eat, and if I make food interesting or fun he will eat. We now enjoy International Cooking once a week and try food from around the world. We also learn about the country on the menu’s respective culture, and enjoy music, games or activities from that country. The cat sneaks up to the table, and has to sample too!

~ In Our Hearts, 2015

July 28, 2020 at 2:50 am Leave a comment

Study Reveals: Brutal Treatment of Enslaved People Shapes DNA of Descendants

“Genetic Journey”, original art, by In Our Hearts

“Scientists from the consumer genetics company 23andMe have published the largest DNA study to date of people with African ancestry in the Americas….More than one and a half centuries after the trans-Atlantic slave trade ended, a new study shows how the brutal treatment of enslaved people has shaped the DNA of their descendants.” – Christine Kenneally

Has anyone taken an at home DNA Test to learn more about your ethnicity or family? What surprised you? What did you learn? Post in comments. 

I took a DNA test, and it has been an emotional, amazing journey as I learn more about my family, and retrace the footsteps of Ancestors. One of the things that really touched me is discovering that the paternal side of my family, is mostly Nigerian (and neighboring countries) in ethnicity. It was so humbling to discover where my Ancestors originated, to have a name for my homeland, to belong somewhere. I have since developed a love for Nollywood movies, and really enjoy the spirited comments on the videos posted. I am also learning how to cook Nigerian recipes, some of which are similar to soul food.

A distant cousin (DNA match) living in Jamaica contacted me after I took the DNA test, and told me a little about family in Africa, and wondered if I knew the name of our shared ancestor. I hope one day to discover this person, am still researching… I am so grateful for every connect to family, and enjoy meeting new cousins. Thank you, and sending love from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who has left comments or connected through this blog or elsewhere…you are a precious part of my journey, my family, and my life. I thank God for all of you, and keep you in prayers.

I read an article about a recent study that may explain some of the findings in my own DNA test about Nigeria, and cousin in Jamaica.  The study revealed that Black DNA participants from the U.S. had a high percentage of ancestry from Nigeria. “After consulting another historian, the researchers learned that enslaved people were sent from Nigeria to the British Caribbean, and then were further traded into the United States, which could explain the genetic findings, he said.”

As exciting as these discoveries are, the ancestry tests also can be a source of pain, and deep emotion that words cannot adequately describe. Because I know that despite the results of the test, that Nigeria is a foreign place to me. I do not speak the language. I am not familiar with it’s customs or cities. There is no one there that I can call family. And the reason for that loss is that my ancestor(s) was once a free person who was kidnapped and forced into slavery. My ancestor(s) left their homeland in chains, travelled in the stinking belly of a slave ship to eventually be deported to the U.S. While my ancestor(s) survived, millions others died. That is a grief that does not escape you.

Findings from a recent study validate that the experience of slavery has affected the DNA of descendants, “The forced displacement of more than 12.5 million men, women, and children from Africa to the Americas between 1515 and 1865 has had significant social, cultural, health, and genetic impacts across the Americas.”  Like these scientists, I use the DNA tests along with historical research and family stories in an effort to learn more about my family. The DNA test is the only way I can trace the lost footsteps of my Ancestors.

Scientists from the at home DNA testing company, 23andMe, published the largest study to date about people of African ancestry in the Americas.  More than 50,000 participants gave informed consent to be included in the study, which included 30,000 people of African ancestry. The participants had grandparents who were born in one of the geographic regions of trans-Atlantic slavery.

The study gives information on the countries where people were kidnapped from in Africa, the route they travelled on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and where they were enslaved across the Americas (including U.S., Caribbean, the Guianas and Latin America). The outcomes or what happened to enslaved people can also be traced, to some degree. Since very few records on enslaved people exist, DNA tests are crucial to help piece together the story.

Results of the DNA tests combined with historical records and research shows that enslaved people were subjected to horrific degradation as well as physical, mental and sexual abuse.


-Reduced numbers of certain genetic populations showing up in parts of the Americas where slavery existed suggests that enslaved people were forced to work under “life-threatening conditions” and died as a result. A majority of those who died were men, who did not live long enough to bear children (which also means their culture would die out because there were no survivors to pass down knowledge and traditions).

-Widespread sexual abuse and exploitation of enslaved women was a common practice. A high rate of genetic presence of European DNA shows that many women conceived children as a result of rape. “What’s more, in the United States, European men contributed three times more to the modern-day gene pool of people of African descent than European women did. In the British Caribbean, they contributed 25 times more…”

“The asymmetry in the experience of enslaved men and women — and indeed, many groups of men and women in centuries past — is well understood. Enslaved men often died before they had a chance to have children. Enslaved women were often raped and forced to have children.”

-High rates of suicide among Igbo people from the Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) are also suggested in the study, again due to the low presence of Igbo genetics among study participants. Historical records say that suicide was used as a form of resistance, that the Igbo would rather die than be held as slaves in the new world.

-Historical records show a high rate of enslaved people who were deported from Senegambia to the Americas. Yet, the genetic studies show a very little genetic material passed down to descendants. The study theorizes that since so many children were taken from Senegambia that they likely died during the slave passage due to illness, starvation, unsanitary conditions or abuse, and this is why their offspring did not survive and why there are not many descendants. Dangerous plantation conditions, and malaria, may have also contributed to why very few people from Senegambia survived.

The devastation caused upon Black lives, families and communities by slavery and generations of oppression cannot be underestimated. The trauma has been passed down from one generation to the next, our tears are literally the diluted blood of our Ancestors. This study has shown the horrific consequences of slavery but it has also shown that within our blood, within our DNA is is the same strength, the resilience that enabled our ancestors to survive despite the odds against them. That is why I have hope that in this generation, we can heal and rebuild our lives, our families, our communities. I am also motivated by this study to preserve the memory of our Ancestors, so that they will never be forgotten.

❤ In Our Hearts

The study can be read here: Genetic Consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Americas

Source (Quotes taken from): Large DNA Study Traces Violent History of American Slavery by Christine Kenneally

Retrieved: July 25, 2020

July 26, 2020 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

After Home of B.J. Fort Burns to the Ground, A Legacy is Built from the Ashes

Fire Destroys Fort Family Home

Marion Junction, Dallas County, Alabama (Saturday, September 28, 1872) – The large and handsome residence of prominent planter Burwell Jackson “B.J.” Fort II  burned to the ground after a fire started in the kitchen and spread rapidly through the structure. The Fort family barely escaped, fleeing the furious flames in middle of the night. Mr. Fort is credited with saving the life of his children. The night clothes they wore that night would be the only belongings they could save from the fire.

Mr. Fort lost everything in his house as a result of the fire – all of the furniture, his family’s clothing and personal belongings were reduced to smoldering ashes. The loss is about $7,500, on which there was insurance for $2,500 in the Central City Insurance Company. From the ruins, B.J. Fort would not only rebuild his house but create a historic treasure in Dallas County, a welcoming site for decades for family and community gatherings. 


Source: The Times-Argus: Selma, Alabama. October 4, 1872. Page 3 (Retrieved:, 6/10/2020).

Source: Selma Dollar Times, Selma, Alabama. October 8, 1872. Page 1. (Retrieved:, 6/10/2020)

Early Fort Family Origins in Marion Junction, Alabama

Burwell Jackson Fort Sr is the father of Burwell Jackson “Jay” Fort II, and his namesake.

Burwell Jackson Fort Sr. married Nancy Northington (1800-1822) and had the following children: William E. Fort (1819-1844) and Eliza Ann Fort (1820-1858).

After the death of Nancy, Burwell Fort Sr married Charlotte E Harrell (1804-1870). From their union, the following children were born: Lewis A. Fort (1825-1901), Noah Suggs Fort (1829-1910), Frances Fort (1831-1879), Elias William Fort (1833-1898) and Gabriel Holmes Fort (1835-1911). Burwell Jackson Fort Sr. died in Marion Junction, Alabama in 1836 and is said to be buried on the family land.

B.J. Fort II was a well known farmer who became one of the largest stock raisers in Dallas county. He was a master Mason; the Fort family has a long and established history in Masonic Fraternity. He was also an elder in the local Presbyterian Church.

In 1846, B.J. Fort II married Talitha Averyt.

The 1870 census for Dallas County, Alabama lists “Jackson Fort” as residing in Harrell’s with wife Talitha (Averyt) Fort and children: Louis P. Fort (1851-1896), Charles Fort (1854-1912), Emma Fort Deihl (1856-1906), Anna Eliza Fort Riddick Harrell (1856-1906), Burwell Fort III (1858-1878), Thomas Fort (1862-1911), Frank Fort (1864-1917) and Elias Roach Fort (1866-1871).  This is the home that later burned.  Louise Alice Fort Bell (1849-1926) was also born to the couple.

Talitha died in 1876. In 1877, B.J. Fort II married Virginia F. Tabb.

B.J. Fort II died on June 26, 1897, and is buried in the Fort family plot in Marion Junction Community Cemetery. Marion Junction Community Cemetery is in the middle of 1 plot of the Fort’s land. Find A Grave: Burwell Jackson “Jay” Fort, Jr 

The Fort Home is Rebuilt and Renewed

Many here remember the Fort family. Believe the Earnest Randall home is the old Fort home...” (“Presbyterian News”. The Selma Times-Journal. Selma, Alabama. June 3, 1979.) 

The estate files of B.J. Fort describe him owning property in Marion Junction that is both improved and unimproved. Including “a large residence house on one part, a smaller residence on another part, and on another part there is a dwelling and restaurant combined…and the remainder being unimproved except as two double negro cabins...” (Probate Court of Dallas County, Alabama. April 18, 1913). After the death of B.J. Fort II, his personal property, homestead and lots of land were parceled and sold off individually and the proceeds divided among the heirs.

Records state the “spacious country home where B.J. Fort II and his family lived  has been modernized and restored to its original grandeur and is now the home of his great-grandson, Earnest Franklin Randall.” (“A family called Fort: the descendents of Elias Fort of Virginia” by Homer T. Fort, Drucilla Stovall Jones, p. 591). The ante-bellum home is also noted as being “one of the prettiest in the Junction“. The home was part of Morning View Stock Farm, which was registered as an Alabama heritage farm in 1977. Earnest Franklin Randall died in 1979 and is buried in Marion Junction Community Cemetery alongside his ancestors.

Historical newspapers note the Fort Randall home was once the site for many social gatherings including an afternoon tea, a birthday party, an “ideal Southern barbeque”, a family reunion and an engagement party and wedding. In 1922, the home hosted a Christmast party for the “Do As You Please Club”, an organization of prominent West Dallas women, who meet to “have a good time and do as they please” during scheduled social events. The Fort Randall home was decorated with holiday finery. Guest were given gifts that hung from a brightly lit Christmas tree. Rook was played and at the conclusion of the game, guests were served a salad course with coffee and fruit cake. Reading descriptions of these lavish events, you cannot help but to also be entertained!

In April of 1979, the Fort Randall home was once again making the local papers; this time after being designated as a Heritage Farm, meaning it has been in the same family for over 100 years. I hope this beautiful home, and valuable site of Dallas County history, will continued to be enjoyed for another 100 years more.

Map of Marion Junction and rel estate owned by B.J. Fort, 1913. Source: Alabama Wills and Probate, Burwell Jackson Fort, 1913.

June 11, 2020 at 6:44 am Leave a comment

Martin Family Tree – Dallas County, Alabama

In loving memory of Jordan and Jane “Judge” MARTIN family of Dallas County, Alabama. Family tree and descendants of the Martins.

The Martin family is joined with the Forts through Mary Ella Martin Morton and Pettus Fort, who had one son together, Robert, born in 1910.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. If you are a descendant of any of these families, please leave a message and I will be glad to connect you to other kin. ❤












Jordan Martin (b. 1833), farm laborer m.

Jane “Judge” Martin (b. 1846), housekeeper


Jordan m. Jane “Judge” Martin

Dau. Sarah Jane Martin (b. April 1871) m. Simon Robbins (b. 1874, parents are David and Emily Robbins), one child: Mary Ella Martin Morton b. July 15,1897-1986. Sarah Jane and Simon Robbins lived in Summerfield (Dallas County, AL) and grew up together, their families worked and lived on the same land.

Mary Ella Martin (“Mel”, “May Ella”, “Belle”, Big Momma) – Pettus Ford, son. Robert Ford (b. Jan 1,1910-1957). Also went by Robert Martin and nicknames “Spicey” and “Bud/Buddy”. Mary Ella Martin later married Percy Morton, and had 5 other children.

Robert Ford m. Ora Dee Perry (b. May 17,1926-1957. Her parents are John Perry and Louvenia “Lula” Reid Perry of Perry County and Brent Alabama).  Had 8 children together. 

Note: The FORD family also married into the GREEN family, whose genealogy is also recorded on “In Our Hearts“.




William/Willie, b. May 1869. (Needs further research) Wife may have been Delia or Della, b. April 1878. Children: Jennie b. July 1895, Ada M. b Sept. 1896, Louesa b. July 1897, Rosey, John b. 1900. Farmer.

(Needs Further Research) Annie, child Herbert Martin b. June 8, 1916-Sept. 9, 2009.

Sarah Jane b. April 1871. First husband was Simon Robbins, one child Mary Ella Martin (Mary, Mel, May Ella, Belle) b. July 15,1897.

(Needs further research) Jim Green b. 1871 m. Sarah J. (Martin) Greeb b. 1876. Daughter Lettie Green b. 1908. Listed on census as residing with nephew Lettie/Levie Martin Jr. b. 1907 and Nephew Lurn Martin b. 1906. Resided in Summerfield. Farm laborer.

James/Jim b. 1873. (needs further research) wife may have been Lucy, b. 1888. Children: Frank b. May 1880, Hubbard b. August 1898, Jordan b. 1899. Resided in Summerfield (Dallas County, AL)

Agnes b. 1875-Jan. 26, 1948.

Julia b. 1882-1974. married William Phillips, b.1861. Daughter Sarah 1906. Resided in Woodtown, Summerfield and Selma (Dallas County, AL).

Luke b.1885. Resided in Valley Creek (Dallas County, AL). May have died in 1951. Married Mollyana/Melyena (b. 1893). Children Julia b.1913, Laman b. 1914.

West/Wes b. 1893 –May 8, 1923. married Alberta McIlwan/Mc Clwain Martin. Children: Malachi, Rosa, Aldolphus and CD “Dugga” Martin.

Lettie b. 1900 –Sept 17, 1946. married Richman “Rich” Austin, resided in Brent (Bibb Co, AL). Children: Richman A. Austin (b.1922), Ethel M. Austin (b. 1926), Dewitt Austin (b. 1929) and Fannie B. Austin (b. 1930).

Bama M. Dock d. April 24, 1971. Daughter is Jane.



1850 Slave Schedule Henry Martin:



Bama M. Dock Martin Death Certificate (Dallas County, Ala):



Frank Martin 1918 Draft Card (Dallas County, Ala):


Herbert Martin WWI Draft Registration Card:


Lettie Austin Martin Headstone (Bibb County, Ala):


Luke Martin 1918 Draft Card (Dallas County, Ala.):


Luke and Melyena Martin 1920 Census:



Sarah J. and Jim Green:


West Martin WWI Draft Card:



Wes Martin Death Certificate (Dallas County, Ala):


June 11, 2020 at 1:20 am Leave a comment

James “Jim” Fort – “He Was Honest & Enjoyed the Respect of All Who Knew Him”

James “Jim” Fort was born around 1855 on the Fort Plantation in Marion Junction or Harrell’s Crossroads in Dallas County, Alabama to Julia Fort (an enslaved woman) and an unknown caucasian father.  In 1889, Jim Fort married Darnella Curtis. Together, they had 5 children.  He died in March 1922 at his home, located 5 miles northwest of Selma, near the R.H. Jones plantation. Jim’s obituary says about him, “He was honest and enjoyed the respect of all who knew him“.

A descendant of Jim and Darnella Fort has contacted this blog, and been a help in sharing family stories and contributing to the family tree, to her I will be forever grateful.

A big motivation for creating In Our Hearts, and sharing information and stories, is to record a history that would be lost otherwise, and to give voice to our ancestors and record the important events of their life, from their perspective.

If you would like to contribute to In Our Hearts, or include add any additional thoughts on this article, please leave your name in the comments below and I will respond. Any identifying info will be kept confidential (and not published).


“What One Colored Farmer Did By Working His Farm”

Editor Journal:

As an encouraging illustration of what has been done in this county, even this poor crop year, and what can be done every year, permit me to submit the following facts. James Fort, one of our most humble, respectable and well-behaved colored citizens, resides in Frog Level beat, on the old Summerfield and Cahaba road, about five miles northwest of Selma. He is well known to many of our citizens.

Sixteen years ago he purchased 105 acres of land, about the poorest in the county, at $7.50 per acre, and has paid for it. He has resided on it now for about fourteen years. Jim has forty-five acres in pasture, under fence, in which he grazes eight cows, and four hogs that give him more than enough, milk butter and meat for home consumption. Sixty acres of his farm are In cultivation, thirty acres of which he rents out at $2.00 per acre. He cultivates, with himself and one hand, the other thirty acres.

On his thirty acres farm, this year, he made 470 bushels of corn, 45 bushels of unknown peas; 100 bushels of sweet potatos; 250 gallons of ribbon cane syrup, the yield from one-half of an acre, and saved enough seed cane to plant this much another year; and nine bales of cotton which now stand under cover at his home, thus showing produced from thirty , following facts. acres worth approximately $1,175. His young turkeys this year were destroyed by the variments. He has 75 hens from which he sold eggs for $42. 

Jim has no merchant, gets no advances, makes no mortgages, and owes no debts. His motto is; Work and let the merchants do the rest. He land, about the poorest has used no fertilizers on his crops, at $7.50 per acre, and so far, simply works them,and leaves it. He has resided on natures to do the rest.

Every small farmer in the county can do as well, or better. And what a prosperous country we would have! How independent we would be of Wall Street and the rest of the world! And yet people tell us that we cannot raise corn here, that we must raise cotton alone!

Hoping these facts may prove to be a lesson of encouragement and a commendable example to some, at least, of the small farmers of this section, The facts are submitted forpublication.

Very respectfully yours,




The Selma Times-Journal
Selma, Alabama
27 Dec 1908, Sun • Page 1

Retrieved: December 26, 2019.

James “Jim” Fort Obituary






The Selma Times-Journal
Selma, Alabama
12 Mar 1922, Sun  •  Page 5
Retrieved: December 26, 2019

December 26, 2019 at 7:23 pm 1 comment

Cropper Killed By Fort After Attempting to Leave Plantation (1899)

Wilson Coleman, a husband and father, is murdered in cold blood by John B. Fort, a landowner who was angry because Coleman sought to leave his farm and work on another. Coleman was unarmed, and totally defenseless, when Fort fired a bullet into his abdomen. Fort was told to leave Coleman alone prior to the assault but refused to do so, he fled only after firing the shots that took Coleman’s life.

John B Fort was never held accountable for the murder. He pursued public office, and even campaigned for sherriff of Dallas County but withdrew the from the race before the primary was held. Fort died in January 1911 in Safford. He was noted in the obituary posted in the newspaper to be a quote “honest and upright citizen”.

According to the 1880 Census for Liberty Hill, Wilson Coleman was born in 1845 in Georgia. He worked as a farm laborer all of his life. His wife was named Eliza Ann (b. 1848, Virginia) and children were Violet and Betsy.  Sadly, Eliza Ann passed in March 1880 from pneumonia. Both girls grew to adulthood, married and had children, and continued to reside in Dallas County for the rest of their lives.

Wilson Coleman, and his family, never saw justice during their lifetimes. I can only hope in sharing this story to preserve his name. Coleman was a man murdered for seeking work, and a better opportunity, for his family. After his death, his wife certainly faced hardships, and two young girls would become orphans when she died. At the moment of Coleman’s death, he faced his killer, and though their eyes met, his humanity was never recognized. Fort looked at him like an animal to be hunted; but when Coleman’s blood was shed, he was discarded with less care than an animal carcass. Coleman died on the steps of a grand home, never crossing the line so many African-Americans were trapped behind, never realizing the dreams he worked so hard for. Like so many croppers, his hands dug into the earth, and sweat watered the crops, yet he never received the benefit of his labor. John B. Fort should have spent the rest of his life in jail but instead was praised until the day of his death. My words will never be adequate enough but I leave them so Fort will finally be held accountable for this terrible crime.



A White Man Instantly Killed Wilson Coleman, A Negro.


Dallas county has its first killing this year. It took place on the plantation of Hon. J. Craig Smith, in Liberty Hill precinct Thursday morning. From the report received at the Times office yesterday, the following facts have been learned: Wilson Coleman, a negro, has been living on the Fort place, about three miles from Safford but decided to move over on the Waller place which belongs to Hon. J Craig Smith.

Mr. John B. Fort, a young white man who also holds the position of Justice of the Peace for Liberty Hill precinct decided to take the negro to task about moving away from him and he rode over to the Waller plantation With his rifle.

Mr. Smith asked him politely not to bother his tenants and that he was perfectly willing for Coleman to move back to the Fort place if, the negro wanted to and that he had not asked him to move on his plantation. “Let him alone”, said Mr. Smith, and, “go awav from this plantation”.

Fort promised to do ; so and Mr. Smith went to his house to do some writing accompanied bv his overseer Jacob Schuler. Hardly were they seated when a report came that Mr. Fort was outside, at the gate and Mr. Smith told Mr. Schuler to go and tell Mr. Fort to leave the negro alone. Schuler reached under the bed to get his pipe, but before got to the door he heard the report of a fired from a Winchester (unclear). Both jumped up and walking out on the porch, they saw the negro falling dead with his back on the steps leading to Craig Smith’s house. Mr, Fort had shot Coleman through the abdomen, death ensuing instantly. Only one shot was fired. From last accounts Mr. Fort made his escape and has not been apprehended yet.

CLIPPED FROM: “The Selma Times”, Selma, Alabama. 28 Jan 1899, Sat  •  Page 1. Source:
Retrieved: 11/20/2019.

Background – Sharecropping System

“The idea that sharecropping was a free and fair economic system is ridiculous. Even the idea that the 13th Amendment ended slavery in the United States is not even, in theory, correct. ..In fact, I tell them, slavery never ended in the United States. Not even for a single day. The 13th Amendment allowed us to maintain slavery but use different language to avoid the pain of acknowledging slavery. Slavery changed form, but it never ceased to exist….In fact, I tell my class, sharecropping only ended in the 1950’s.” – “Sharecropping: Slavery By Another Name” by Tyler Rust

After the Civil War, enslaved Africans were legally freed but had no place to call home, no resources or money, no claim to land, and lacked education that would be needed to rebuild their lives. At the same time, Southern planters desperately needed cheap labor to maintain their plantations, the backbone of the economy and way of life. Since African-Americans could not be considered slaves or property to anyone, an arrangement called “share cropping” was developed to exploit the labor of free African-Americans, who worked under the same conditions as what existed in slavery under the guise of being “employees”.  Poor whites and other minority groups also worked as sharecroppers.

In the sharecropping system, tenant farmers, called “croppers”, were allowed to work and live on former plantations and assigned a few acres to farm. In the years following Emancipation, US Census research shows that prior to 1910, more that 90% of freed African-Americans lived in the South. Most continued to live and work in rural areas where they, and their ancestors, were held as slaves. The life of a cropper continued much in the same way as that of a slave. Croppers kept a small share of the crops  they raised but gave the majority to landowners. Farmers were required to repay landowners for expenses such as rent for the home they lived in, the cost of seed, feed for animals and credit for items purchased at the landowner’s store. Landowners charged high interest rates to impoverished croppers, who had no other choice but to pay in crops and labor because they lacked basic necessities needed to become independant farmers. At the end of the planting season, most croppers had little or no income or crops of their own.

I remember the story of a daughter, “Josie”, born to Alabama sharecroppers. Josie, along with her siblings and father, worked in the fields; her mother worked for the landowner as a domestic. Josie shared with me that even as an adult, she resented that her mother was not fully able to care for her own children because she was needed to care for the children of the white family who treated them harshly. In tears, Josie said that the elder daughters helped to care for the home, and helped to raise their younger siblings, while their parents worked long hours. Josie loves her mother dearly, and has no hard feelings towards her. She was angry at “the way things were”. Josie didn’t dare express any hostility towards the landowner, not even years later and far removed from that life, but the pain was still felt. As a little girl, all Josie wanted was her mother, at home with her. She grieved a tremendous loss as her mother was forced to work in another home, with other children, in order to keep her own children fed and clothed. Josie grew, as an adult, to become a very loving and devoted mother of her own children as well as church mother who was held in high esteem in the community. Her home became a place for gathering, and she became a mother to many.

Most croppers could never work enough to repay landowners (and it is not just one person farming but often several generations of families, including children) so they were tied to the plantations with debts owed to the landowner. In this way, the landowner controlled the movements (freedom) of the cropper, could place demands on them and keep them tied to the plantation.

Laws favoring landowners made it difficult or even illegal for sharecroppers to sell their crops to others besides their landlord, or prevented sharecroppers from moving if they were indebted to their landlord.” PBS: Slavery By Another Name

I have heard stories of the difficulty and intimidation croppers faced when trying to leave the plantations they worked on.  Even with the passing of years, I could still hear tremors of fear and trauma invoked in many of these memories due to the cruelty in which croppers were treated. Despite the risks, a large number of African-Americans moved from rural areas into cities or left the South entirely, seeking better opportunities and a better life. The mass exodus of African-Americans living in the South to moving North became known as the Great Migration. According to US Census research, between 1910 and 1970, an estimated 6 million Blacks left the South.My own family is included among these numbers.

Public Domain Pic:

November 21, 2019 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

Newspaper: The Planter, Wagon Train, and The Negro Began History of Marion Junction

A history of Marion Junction, Alabama, and some of it’s families. Also known as Fort’s, Bridges, Harell’s, and Harrell’s Crossroads.



The Planter, Wagon Train, and The Negro Began History of Marion Junction

Fifty Three Huguenot Families First Settlers


Does Tremendous Business In All Kinds Of Produce

by O.S. Wynn

When one would go back to first Origin In the history of any Black Belt settlement, three things invariably are found the ambitious planter, the wagon train and the Negro.

It is so at Marion Junction, one of the thriftiest settlements in Dallas county, and the center of a vast hay country, where older residents recall stories told them by their parents and grandparents who made the trip to Central Alabama by wagon train from the older centers of population. Often the reason for striking out for new land was the desire to secure greater acreage for cotton, and the wagon train and the negro were the instruments by which the dreams of a cotton kingdom were to be worked out.

Harrell’s Roads

The first settlers chose to build their homes at what is now Harrell’s Cross Roads, and where a stage coach station was established soon after Cahaba became the first capital of the state. Travel between Tuscaloosa and Cahaba flowed through the little settlement, and ; near this place was constructed 25 miles of plank road, on which toll gates were established every three miles, for maintenance.

Near Harrell’s was first established the Associate Reform Presbyterian Church, which was moved to Harrells proper in 1893, and afterwards to Marion Junction, when the tide of settlement set in that way.

French Huguenots 

In the early fifties three families of French Huguenot descent came out from South Carolina and settled at Marion Junction, which took its . name from the fact that it was a junction point for the town of Marion. These were the RASCOE, the RAVASEE and the BOSWELL (families) who built homes and farmed in the fertile section about the Junction. The home built by the Ravasee family was one of the most pretentious in the whole country around when it was completed in 1857 and it is today occupied by Pettus Randall, once sherriff of Dallas county.

In 1856 (?) the name of the post office at Marion Junction was changed to Bridges, as a compliment to Capt. Bridges, the widely known and popular railroad superinendent. In the early nineties the name was changed back to Marion Junction because of the confusion resulting from the separate names of the post office and the railroad station, which was never changed.

County Leaders

Early settlers who descendants are today leaders in the Marion Junction community were the FORTs, the RANDALLs and the MOOREs who developed their section by a strict attention to farming and business interests. Other names connected with the building of the town are COCHRAN, JOHNSON, GOLDSBY, HARRELL, TABBS, CRAWFORD and W.A. JONES. Many big plantations are spread out in all directions about Marion Junction which is the center for Hazen, Bellevue, Massillon, Hamburg and other communities. “Wallnutta” one of the richest plantations in the county and owned for many years by COL. SAM WILL JOHN is at Massillon. It is now the property of SOUTH TRIMBLE of Washington, once clerk of the House of Representatives, who raises fine cattle.

Thriving Community

Situated at the junction point of the Southern Railroad’s lines between Selma, Meridian, Mobile and Akron and connected with Selma by an excellent pike road, Marion Junction enjoys ample and varied means of communicating with every section of the state and far beyond. Along with heavy shipments of cotton, hay, cattle, milk and lumber which go out from the Junction to domestic markets, hardwood shipments lor foreign ports are heavy. There are 100 white families in the community; a number of mercantile establishments and grocery tores; an express office, a bank, four churches, an excellent school, and a famous hotel and eating house conducted by Mrs. W. P, McCollum.

Holds Church Record

Marion Junction holds the record as a town in which every family goes to church on Sunday. A census taken several years ago revealed the fact that there were not more than two persons within five miles of the churches who did not attend services with regularity, it is not surprising, therefore, to find each of the four denominations represented there, housed in well-kept buildings and served by active and influential pastors. The Associate Reform Presbyterian church, the oldest religious influence in that section, has 40 members and is served by the Rev. Boyce Grier of Camden. The Methodist church, with membership of 100 has as its pastor the Rev. J. F. Feagin. Recently the Rev. R. L. Alexander from Howard College. Birmingham, assumed the pastorate of the Baptist church, which fills a big place in the community. An active and devoted congregations numbering 777 carry on the work of the Southern Presbyterian church under the Rev. George R. Kirker. The women are well organized in church societies and a literary club also does splendid work.

Active Lodge

For the past 32 years the Knights of Pythias have been a strong force for good in the lives ot many in the communlty. The lodge is called the Justice H. Rathbone No. 80, and Charter members still living are John J. Chisolm and W.B. Chisolm. Bart Fort joined the lodge the year after its organization and he is still an active member. Officers are; E. F. Randall, chancellor commander; Rev. J. F. Feagin, vice chancellor commander; H.M. Morrow, prelate; A.H. Moore, master arms; J. C. Chisolm, keeper records and seals. Trustees of the lodge are Hugh Hopper, E.B. Moseley and H.P. Randall.

Fine School

The Marion Junction school was established in 1888 and is on Dallas county’s accredited list, sending out its graduates into the secondary schools well equipped to carry on their studies in higner education. H.L. Morrow is principal, and teachers are Mrs. H. L. Morrow, Miss Isabell Phillips, Mrs. Miree Fuller and Miss Edna Leatherwood. Graduates who received diplomas this year were Luella McCaslin and Harris Louis Gilmer. Enrollment for the year was 75 pupils. The trustees are W. S. Randall, James Alexander, P. L. Kirby, Warren McCaslin and A. B. Moore, who succeeded his father, the late A. A. Moore, 20 years ago, after the latter had served since the first public school was opened.

Want High School

Citizens of Marion Junction are eager to see a high school established here which would serve the western half of the county as the Plantersville high serves the northern and central section. Many boys and girls go away to preparatory schools each year , and tne need for a splendid high school building which would supply every facility for securing a high school education one which is becoming more keenly felt each year.

Fine Banking Record

The Marion Junction State Bank holds a unique place among other financial institutions of its kind, in the 11 years of its history only $16.05 have been charged off in losses. The bank does an excellent business as is attested by the 15% per cent profit made on its capital stock in 1923. Of this profit, 10% per cent was paid stockholders as dividend and the remaining 5% per cent was applied to the bank’s surplus which is given at $15,000 in the last statement made. The bank has a capital stock of $26,000 and $50,000 on deposits at the present time. This figure goes much higher in the late summer and fall.

Bank Presidents

Dr. J. M. Donald was the first president of the bank, when it was organized in 1913. Other presidents who have served since Dr. Donalds death are H. C. Armstrong, president of the City National Bank, Selma; C. L. Gilmer of Marion Junction, and P. B. Harrell of Selma and Marion Junction, now serving his third year as president. Hugh Hopper has served continuously as cashier since the bank was established. Directors are P. B. Harrell, C. L. Gilmer, H. P. Randall, W. J. Gilmer and Hugh Hopper. The bank owns its home, an attractive brick building, well equipped.

Home of Johnson Grass

Marion Junction, one of the biggest hay shipping points in the entire country claims to be the original home of the Johnson grass hay. The story of how this hay was brought to the section by William Johnson is tinged with romance. Johnson, then a young man, was visiting the home of his sweetheart in Newberry, South Carolina, When he was asked by the young lady’s father to inspect a new and peculiarly prolific grass which had been discovered in the garden. Idly Jonnson picked some of the heads of grass and placed the seed in his vest pocket. Returning to Marion Junction he planted the seed in a corner of his garden. Within a year the garden had to be abandoned to the grass, which speedily asserted its light to the soil and overran the entire farm, to that Johnson became financially embarrassed and had to move to other land.

Old Mowing Machine

In 1874, G. W. and H. C. Randall, the latter the father of Speers and Pettus Randall, prominent merchants and planters, cut and shipped the first hay from the waving fields of Johnson grass which surrounded the Junction. The mowing machine used for this purpose is now in the possession of Pettus Randall who keeps it because of the historical interest which will some day attach to it. Commercialization of the Johnson grass hay was due largely to H. C. Randall who turned commercial traveler, carrying miniature bundles ot the hay about in grips, until he had established a ready market for it. Only recently one of his earliest converts to Johnson grass hay, John C. Ramsey, died in Mobile. Ramsey was a stock dealer, and Mr. Randall made him the proposition that he would ship him a car of Johnson grass hay which was to be placed in the feed racks of Ramsey’s stable with an equal quantity of Timothy hay. If the stock refused to eat the Johnson hay, Ramsey would not hay to pay for it. The plan secured Randall a lifelong customer, for the Timothy hay was left in the rack, and the Johnson hay was eagerly seized on by the stock.

“Pop” Gears

When “Pop” Gears, the famous race horse owner, wintered his siring of horses in Selma, he was a big customer of the Randalls, and would buy several carloads of the hay a season. Big Hay Shipments Marion Junction is one of the biggest Johnson hay shipping points in the world, sending out from 800 to 1,000 cars a year, M. V. Waugh is a big shipper and a cattle raiser also. Some alfalfa is grown, but tire greater emphasis is laid on Johnson grass, although both grow to perfection here. Immense hay barns are to be seen on all sides of the Junction, with great stores,’ of the fragrant, well-cured hay.

Fine Grazing

Cattle are raised in great numbers on the splendid natural pasture lands which add to the wealth and beauty of the Marion Junction section. The hard winter just past took toll of cattle here, as in other sections but losses are being replaced and a number of head of cattle have been shipped into this section recently. The dairy industry Is growing rapidly and thousands of gallons of milk are sent in to the Selma Creamery annually.

Alfalfa King

Among the larger shippers, who use both truck and train to get their milk to Selma are: A.B. Moore, J. J,. Kirkby, Kendrick and Bondurant, R. B. Wallace of Browns, who is known as the “Alfalfa King” of Dallas county, with a herd of splendid cattle and many others. Wallace, by the way, was for seven years a missionary to Africa, and was attracted to the fertile Black Belt section near the Junction because of the seemingly limitless possibilities which the section offers to the agriculturist and cattle man. He owns 880 acres of as fine land as can be found, and is rapidly developing every inch of it.

Lumber Mills

In spite of the fact that Marion Junction is surrounded by a vast acreage of hay lands, both pine and hardwood are to be found In considerable quantity nearby, and several big lumber mills operate at the Junction. Joe D. Springer and Son have a planer mill with dry kilns and they dress and ship from 30 to 40 cars of lumber a month. The Dallas Lumber Company has a mill and there is a new mill now in course of construction, owned by M.W. Smith of Camden. Tht Pioneer Pole and Shaft Company of Memphis is a hickory mill which turns out material for shaft automobile wheels, golf sticks, skis, many of which are shipped to Norway, and other hardwood products. The mill was established a year ago and consumed 3,500 square feet of lumber a day, with a payroll of $3,000 a month. Its plant is valued at $20,000, to care for improvements and enlargement now under way, Eben Iglehart, manager, estimates that the mill has standing timber sufficient for five years cutting within a radius of 100 miles of Marion Junction. Large export shipments are made.

Turkeys Plentiful

The hay lands are a natural range fur the turkey, and large flocks are raised by many farmers. Last year over $14,000 worth of turkeys were sold and shipped to eastern markets. Several carloads of dressed turkeys were shipped and the prospects are good for similar sales this year.


Many acres are devoted to cotton in the neighborhood of Marion Junction and the forecast is made that 3,000 bales will be raised this year. Crops are clean and in better condition than last year, in spite of late spring.




Retrieved: November 19, 2019

“The Selma-Times-Journal”. Selma, Alabama.13 Jul 1924, Sun  •  Page 64

Newspapers made available courtesy of


November 20, 2019 at 5:44 am Leave a comment

Amazing Story of William B. Shields Family (Perry County, Alabama)

I was looking through some records online for Perry County, Alabama and came across this interesting record:

William B. Shields executed a deed in trust to Henry Chambers on the 28th day of August 1849. In the trust, Shields emancipated his children and all of the Mulatto children listed in this census and another named Sarah who is not listed. This deed in trust was filed in Perry County, Alabama on June 10, 1857.” 1850 Federal Census Perry County, Alabama – USGENWEB Archives


Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Alabama 1847. Digitized by Google.


In June 2013, The Victoria Advocate, Texas, wrote a story about one of the descendants and offers the rest of the story: Victoria man learns he is a descendant of slaves, looks for relatives

For most of his life, Daryl Ewers believed he was white, but two years ago, he learned he is a descendant of slaves.

“I just found out a few years ago that I am part black. I did not know this,” he said.

He learned his family’s history from discussions with family members and a 2010 book titled “Positos/Oakley Texas 1886,” by Mammie L. Ballard.

In 1848, Shields moved to Mexico with his family, where slavery was already abolished, and began negotiating with Alabama legislators. He wanted to will his plantation to his children, but the state of Alabama wouldn’t allow it.

He also wanted to free them, so the state of Alabama did a special legislation on it where they could be free – but only in three or four counties,” said Ewers. Eventually, he did manage to gain legal title for his children as “free blacks” within the United States. Shields bought 3,300 acres in Polk County, Texas.

He taught his children to marry white to avoid having their families kidnapped and sold into slavery. He also taught his children how to read and write and gave them an education. They lived in Mexico until the Civil War ended…”

You can also read more family history from descendants of the Shields family at this genealogy blogRobert’s Children: Researching the Robert Norris family of Selma and Wilcox County, Alabama

William B. SHIELDS – Our Family Genealogy Pages

The Shields plantation is recorded as being a mile outside of Woodville (now Uniontown), Perry County, Alabama. It includes an “old cemetery” for Blacks. It once had 6 slave cabins.

The census records for William B Shields in Alabama are extremely unusual.

In the 1850 Federal Census for Woodville, Perry County, Alabama, William B Shields includes the children, who are offspring of a relationship with an enslaved African woman, as included in his household.

Head: William B Shields, born 1786 North Carolina, farmer.

Hamilton Shields, born 1826 South Carolina, mulatto

Archie Shields, born 1828 South Carolina, mulatto

Benjamin Shields, born 1830, South Carolina, mulatto

William Shields Jr, born 1834 Alabama, mulatto

John Shields, born 1838 Alabama, mulatto

Martha Shields, born 1834 Alabama, mulatto

Delaware Shields, born 1836 Alabama, mulatto

Missouri Shields, born 1838 Alabama, mulatto

In another listing of the 1850 Alabama State Census, Shields is recorded as having 47 total inhabitants of his household.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • 30 African-American slaves
  • 10 free persons of color
  • 10 whites


From the 1840 Census

Name: Wm B Shields
Home in 1840 (City, County, State): Perry, Alabama
Free White Persons – Males – 20 thru 29: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 50 thru 59: 1
Slaves – Males – Under 10: 5
Slaves – Males – 10 thru 23: 7
Slaves – Females – Under 10: 9
Slaves – Females – 10 thru 23: 6
Slaves – Females – 24 thru 35: 5
Slaves – Females – 36 thru 54: 1
Persons Employed in Agriculture: 14
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 2
Total Free White Persons: 3
Total Slaves: 33
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 36

Source Citation

Year: 1840; Census Place: Perry, Alabama; Roll: 10; Page: 291; Family History Library Film: 0002334

Source Information 1840 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Original data: Sixth Census of the United States, 1840. (NARA microfilm publication M704, 580 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

August 19, 2017 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

It Takes These Things to Heal (Poetry, Memoir)

This poem is inspired by my beautiful and amazing daughter who came to visit me in the hospital when I was sick… her love is all the medicine I need.

I love you, Sissy! And thank God for you every day ()-:) xoxox Mommy xoxoxo


My daughter and I lay side by side

In a narrow hospital bed,

Her brown eyes gaze into mine

As she solemnly presents:

A carefully colored get-well card,

An old picture of my Dad,

The latest news about Taylor Swift.


A picture of my Dad

Posed next to the Christmas tree…

Looking supafly in plaid bell bottoms,

Did Dad know I was the surprise in his stocking?

That next year he would be a father for the first time—

To a rebellious daughter

Who sang out of tune on purpose,

And sang in tune when no one was watching—

Who tested patience, and flunked


That daughter that grew into a young woman…

Who stood under a wishing star,

The flickering light reached a dark spot

I closed my eyes, and threw my heart into the heavens,

Just off a meandering trail

Someone else was wishing too..

And caught my rebellious heart,

Together we would begin a life,

Have a beautiful baby…


My baby girl came into the world laughing,

She was born unafraid—

Her antics kept me racing

The floorboards shook with large feet chasing after smaller

The tired sigh of exhaustion,

The sail of black hair would collapse against her narrow shoulders,

And almond shaped eyes would finally shudder

Giving way to sleep, thumb hanging from rosebud mouth


My daughter and I sing together,

When angry we crescendo,

our voices hammer to the beat

Then reunite over tearful ballads

Wondering what Taylor Swift song we are living out today.


But right now, there is only the hush of breath–

I am recovering from surgery

An IV snakes through my arm,

A small hand winds through plastic tubing

Holding me close, lest I break.


It takes these things to heal—

A carefully colored get-well card,

A picture of my Dad

The latest news about Taylor Swift…

The love of my daughter.


In Our Hearts, © 2013.


August 18, 2017 at 2:39 am 1 comment

“Gentleman By Day and Klu Klux Klan By Night…” A Chilling Recollection of Marion Junction, Alabama

Grace Lee and James Boggs. Source: James and Grace Lee Boggs Center

I found James Bogg’s recollections of growing up in Marion Junction (Dallas County), Alabama in the 1920’s/1930’s to be not only interesting but deeply moving, and often painful… 

My Fort ancestors originated in Marion Junction, what Boggs describes is surely what they have also experienced … That Blacks, descendants of African slaves, had been given their freedom yet the shackles of the plantation system persisted leaving Blacks impoverished and disenfranchised. Free Blacks still inhabited the slave cabins of their ancestors, toiled in the fields as sharecroppers, and were kept “in their place”, segregated from Whites. There were constant threats of rape against Black girls and women, trauma was birthed in generations conceived from rape. Constant threats of physical harm or even death… the simplest gesture or word could lead to assault. The Klan rode at night, terrorizing Black communities. Boggs says the end of slavery did not result in freedom for Blacks, “But in the eyes of Negroes the Civil War was the war which made it possible for the United States to be industrialized, the war which resulted in the Bargain of 1877 between Northern capital and Southern landed aristocracy, which left the former slaves living and working under a caste system as brutal as that of slavery itself...” Chapter 7: Rebels with a Cause – James Boggs 

Public Domain: Photo published before 1923

Amidst the darkness blazed a revolutionary firebrand. James Boggs refused to beaten down. As a teen, he would escape the oppression of the South, seeking a better life. Boggs bravely, or recklessly, faced an unknown future riding on trains to reach the North (called “hoboing”) and emerged as a champion for human and civil rights.

Boggs found his soul mate in wife (married in 1953) Grace Lee Boggs, a philosopher, author and human rights advocate.  Together, James and Grace were a force to contend with. The couple became noted activists and raised awareness of and fought for causes including civil rights, labor rights,  feminism, Black Power, Asian Americans and the environment. They also founded a charter school and helped to establish several community organizations that inspired positive change in communities ravaged by poverty and civil unrest. The couple shared a deep and abiding love that lasted, on earth, for forty years until the death of James in 1993.  The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership was founded in 1995 in Detroit to carry on their work and honor their legacy.

James Boggs: Not Just a Southern Gentleman, A Revolutionary

James “Jimmy” Boggs (May 27, 1919 – July 22, 1993) was born and raised in rural Marion Junction Alabama. He was one of four children born to Earnest Boggs, a blacksmith and iron ore worker, and Leila Boggs, a cook. Recalling his life in the South, Boggs said most Black families were poor but always had something to eat (due to the agricultural environment),”Down south nobody was hungry, not even black folks. We always had chickens, cows and hogs down south. Down south people were ragged. We didn’t have no shoes, no clothes, much; but you had food..” (“In Love and Struggle“, Ward).

Grace Lee Boggs writes in her autobiography that “Mama Leila” had lived with the couple for 6 years and during that time, she grew very close to her. Grace Lee recalls she,”..had worked in the white man’s kitchen all her life but like many southern blacks she saw herself not as a victim, but as a survivor, someone, who despite obstacles, succeeded in winning self respect and the respect of others…” (p. 85-86, “Living for Change: An Autobiography”) 

Mama Leila never learned to read or write so she instilled in Boggs, and all of her children, the importance of getting an education. Mama Leila emphasized that her life could have been better had she gotten an education and been able to take advantage of job opportunities, that would have improved her life, and that of her children. At that time, the agricultural economy of Alabama still relied heavily on the labor of Blacks. Educational opportunities for Black children were severely limited, and often non-existent.

At 15 years old, Boggs sought to make his mother proud, despite working hard to further his education there were no further avenues to continue his studies in Dallas County. Boggs left Marion Junction to live with grandparents in the industrial city of Bessemer, where he attended Dunbar High School. Boggs graduated from Dunbar in 1937 and shortly after, left Alabama by hopping trains headed North. The experience of riding the rails left an indelible mark on Boggs, who , for the first time saw and experienced a much bigger world and interacted with people from all walks of life.

“Boggs was born on May 27, 1919, in Marion Junction, Ala., not too far from Selma. His place of birth, as we have come to learn, was infested with nightriders and members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were not opposed to expressing their feelings about Jim Crow using a noose. This was no place for someone with an inkling of resistance, and by the time he was 18, Boggs caught the first train smoking for Detroit, following a trail that had been worn by thousands of blues people from the region. He arrived in Detroit with empty pockets and a head full of dreams..” James Boggs: A visionary revolutionary 

Dunbar High School (Wikimedia Commons)

Boggs eventually made his way to Detroit, where he found a job in the auto industry. Boggs married his childhood sweetheart, Annie McKinley in 1938, and they had seven children together. The marriage ended in 1952 with divorce.

Boggs  felt there was more work for him to do; he saw great injustices happening in society and felt called to lead the way for change as a revolutionary. He later commented, “I am a factory worker but I know more than just factory work. I know the difference between what would sound right if one lived in a society of logical people and what is right when you live in a society of real people with real differences.” (The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook). Boggs fought against oppression to became a well-known political activist, author and organizer of community causes.

Discovering Ancestry in Marion Junction

Marion Junction is a small, country town just off Hwy 80, hidden behind thick trees, from which gravel roads emerge, wandering into vast farmland. Alongside the main road travelling through the center of Marion Junction is a lone railroad track, once belonging to the Southern Railroad Company another intersecting rail line was once part of the Cahaba, Marion & Greensboro Branch. Also noteworthy is Church Road, which leads to the Presbyterian Church, where Burwell Jackson Fort Sr. (1797-1836) was once a member and elder. Continuing along Church Road leads to Marion Junction Community Cemetery, where generations of the Fort family have been laid to rest.

Map of Marion Junction and Land once held by the Fort Family, 1913. Source: Alabama Wills and Probate, Burwell Jackson Fort, 1913.

The Fort family once owned a vast stretch of land in Marion Junction area , as indicated in the 1913 probate records of Burwell Jackson “Jay” Fort, Jr 1827-1897 (Find A Grave) At one point the town was named Forts in their honor, changing its name in 1857 to Marion Junction with the coming of the railroad. The plantation owned by the family continued to be referred to as Fort’s, as did the post office.  According to probate records, the lands lie right at Marion Junction, some of it is improved and some unimproved. Property included in the estate of Burwell Jackson Fort Jr. included: a large residence house on one part, a smaller residence house on another part, a dwelling (hotel?) and a restaurant combined and two double Negro cabins (although records indicate there may have been as many as 5 slave cabins). 

After the death of Burwell “Jay” Jackson Jr., his personal property, homestead and lots of land were parceled and sold off individually and the proceeds divided among the heirs. The “spacious country home where B.J. Fort II and his family lived  has been modernized and restored to its original grandeur and is now the home of his great-grandson, Earnest Franklin Randall.” (“A family called Fort: the descendents of Elia Fort of Virginia” by Homer T. Fort, Drucilla Stovall Jones, p. 591). The home is part of Morning View Stock Farm, which was registered as an Alabama heritage farm in 1977. E.F. Randall died in 1979 and is buried in Marion Junction Community Cemetery alongside his ancestors.

Residing in one of the Negro cabins on a plantation owned by the Forts, was my ancestress Julia Fort (1824-1882), an enslaved woman. Julia worked as a housekeeper, laundress and cook for the Fort family.  During the course of slavery, Julia bore at least 5 children who identified as mulatto, the father of the children is reported to be of European origin and was born in Alabama, meaning he was likely a member of the white Fort family. I see incredible strength in my grandmother Julia to endure what she did, and then to raise and nurture children alone, without any help…when she also struggled every day for her own survival is remarkable.

The children of Julia Fort I have discovered so far:

  • Joseph “Joe” Fort (1845-1925) m. Malinda Brantley, 7 children
  • Wyatt Fort (1850-1914) m. Anna Reese Fort, 12 children
  • James “Jim” Fort (1855-?) m. Darnella Curtis, 5 children
  • Monk Fort (1856-?) m. Julia Watkins, 9 children 
  • Lizzie Fort (1861-?)

Marriage licenses show the connection between Julia’s family and the Forts. Her sister Sintha married Thomas “Tom” Harrell in December 1872, the ceremony was conducted on the E.W. (Elias William) Fort plantation. Also, in Dec 1874, Julia’s son Monk Fort (my ancestor) married his wife Julia Watkins on the Fort plantation.

Julia died on August 28th 1882 and is recorded as being buried at an unknown Negro cemetery along Harell’s Road.

Just as Boggs made the journey, Julia’s children and grandchildren would one day leave Marion, working as croppers on farms across Dallas County. Others sought work in industrialized cities, some making the migration to cities Up North, including Detroit (as Boggs did). Julia’s descendants carried on the name Fort, and alternately were called Ford.

Marion Junction: Chalk Line Around a Cotton Town 

Boggs says about Marion Junction: “James Boggs, born in Marion Junction, Alabama, never dreamed of becoming President or a locomotive engineer. He grew up in a world where the white folks are gentlemen by day and Ku Klux Klanners by night. Marion Junction is in Dallas County where as late as 1963, although African-Americans made up over 57 percent of the total county population of 57,000, only 130 were registered voters….” The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook by James Boggs

Bogg’s life is also recorded in the book “In Love and Struggle: The Revolutionary Lives of James and Grace Lee Boggs” by Stephen M. Ward.

Growing up in Marion Junction, he said, meant walking a chalk line all the time…. Jimmy remember the Marion Junction of his childhood as a ‘cotton town’ comprised mostly of Black farmers. There were, he told an interviewer, about 500 or 600 Black people and between 100 and 150 Whites….

Public Domain Image, Photo Published Before 1923. Source: Timothy H. O’Sullivan (1840-1882)

Most of the White residents came from what he described as ’20 major White families’. Boggs was actually related to one of these White families. His paternal grandmother was employed as a domestic in the home of Thomas Boggs, paternal grandfather, a White man who owned land in Marion Junction. The full measure of their relationship is unclear but they had 3 children: Ernest (Bogg’s father) and his twin brother, and a third brother. Predictably the White Bogses did not acknowledge the Black Bogses as family and shut the three brothers out of family affairs, even denying them the opportunity to see their father when he died.

..Boggs described this part of his family tree as an example of the South’s “integration by rape“, explaining the cook or maid or field hand won’t have no alternative to resist the approach made by the boys. Well the White boys first sexual relations in the south is generally with a colored girl because the white girls are kind of dainty little things that you don’t go round spoiling at that early point, you go and catch a colored girl, this is a normal way of life in this town…” Jimmy says that, “Lots of Negroes had this kind of family relation in the South..”

Boggs shared a particularly close bond with his great-grandmother, Big Ma. Born enslaved in the 1850’s, and living through emancipation, Big Ma shared with Boggs her recollections of slavery, the cruelty inflicted on Blacks, and offered hope by sharing the spirituals and words of wisdom passed down in the family.

One of the stories that left a mark on Boggs involved what was called “The Buck Dance” which meantwhite people would come up and say N— dance, and then start shooting at the feet of blacks so they would dance at everything.  As a childBoggs witnessed the “Buck Dance” when the Sheriff of Selma came to town “..shooting and raising Cain to see the colored folks run..

About the Civil War, Big Ma was careful to point out not that Blacks had been freed but that slave holders had surrendered. Ward writes,”She saw the change as something that had been won by somebody, not something that had been given. She realized that there had been a struggle, and that somebody had to lose…” 


Today, Marion Junction remains a small town, the footsteps of the past have been overgrown with thick brush and the absence of memory. The recollections of James Boggs, and the voices of our Elders, is threatened by the modern world and its conveniences of being forgotten or deemed not relevant, even as this generation reaps the benefits of the sacrifices and tears wept for our freedom.

Let us not forget that in a small town a barefooted black boy, the descendant of slaves, fought for his education at a time where, according to the expectations of an oppressive (and racist) societym to be nothing more than a field hand. And with the knowledge he acquired, he refused to “stay in his place” and fought against inequality and oppression for all people. Boggs saw the poor and downtrodden not as victims but as agents for needed social change, and spent his life working to inspire and empower people through writing and activism.

Had my grandmother Julia Fort lived to see the accomplishments of James Boggs, I think she would have been proud to say he was from Marion Junction. But she can no longer speak so in this generation, each one of us must be that voice… and carry on the memory of our Elders, and preserve what they fought so hard for or risk losing it all.

The people who are striving for power must themselves be transformed into new people in the course of the struggle. Their will to struggle, their vision of what they are struggling for, their social consciousness and responsibility, and their capacity to govern must all be systematically increased. The struggle must therefore be an escalating one, focused on problems the people can learn from…” ~ James Boggs (Racism and the Class Struggle)

Further Reading: 

Marion Junction – Topo Quest

July 24, 2017 at 3:12 am 3 comments

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