Remembering Dr. Edward B. Allen and the Laws/Allens

by Leslye Joy Allen

Photo taken by Billie Allen in 1994 (Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

Photo taken by Billie Allen in 1994. (Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

I did not meet my cousin Dr. Edward B. Allen until I was well in my twenties.  He was the third and last born of three children born to William Roswell “W. R.” Allen and Mamie Wimbish Allen. His sister Lamay was the eldest, then came Wilhelmina (bka “Billie”) and then there was Ed.  He and I met for the first time at his eldest sister Lamay’s home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  His sister Billie Allen and I had long been partners-in-crime, but I had not yet met Ed.  All I knew about him was that he was a dentist.  When I saw him he reminded me of my late father Thomas Charles Allen who was also not very tall, tan-complexioned and balding.  Now, allow me to clarify something that Ed and his two late sisters needed clarified: I, Leslye Joy Allen, share the same “Allen” surname as Ed, but my last name comes from an entirely different Allen family, as I am biologically related to two unrelated sets of “Allens,” all on my father’s side of the family.  Let me explain.

The original family surname was “Layende.”  The Layendes were slaves from Cuba that arrived in the mainland United States.  As a historian, I feel obligated to remind people that the Southern region of the USA and Latin America and the Caribbean were quite fluid and did business with one another all throughout the era of chattel slavery.  This surname “Layende” was later anglicized to “Laws.”  Ed’s paternal great grandfather Milton Laws’ sister Mollie Laws-Maddox was my great grandmother.  They were the son and daughter of slaves David and Sarah Laws.  Sometime before American chattel slavery ended, Milton Laws was sold, and he acquired the last name of “Allen,” and became known as “Milton Allen.”  How he got this last name is not clear, but it is highly probable that Dr. Edward Bowden Allen would have been named Dr. Edward Bowden Laws had this slave sale not taken place.

Not long after Billie Allen asked me to do some family research, I had been searching for two men, one named “Milton Laws” and the other named “Milton Allen” only to discover from our mutual cousin Mittie Ann Tillotson that “Milton Laws” and “Milton Allen” were the same person.  Cousin Mittie Ann was the great granddaughter of Richard Laws, the brother of Milton and Mollie.  When Billie sent me photos of she, Ed, and Lamay’s paternal great grandparents Milton and Laura Allen, the first thing that struck me was how much my paternal grandmother Minnie Belle Maddox-Allen looked like her maternal Uncle Milton Allen (formerly named “Milton Laws.”)  And then things began to click.  Stay with me, now…

Now, Mollie Laws-Maddox’s daughter named Minnie Belle Maddox-Allen was my grandmother (My grandmother also named her daughter, my paternal aunt “Minnie Belle,” so I am also related to two “Minnie Belles.” Whew!!)  My grandmother Minnie Belle Maddox married a man named Will Allen who was not related to my cousin Edward Allen.  Will Allen, my paternal grandfather is where my own surname “Allen” comes from.  You can imagine my early confusion at trying to figure out how my paternal grandmother was related to Ed, Billie and Lamay Allen when “Allen” was her married name, not her maiden name.  But such is the case with African American genealogy.  There are hundreds of descendants of slaves whose family surnames were chosen by newly freedmen and women themselves; they made-up some names; and in many instances the maternal and paternal surname was identical because both slave husband and slave wife belonged to the same owners and both bore the same surname.

This research journey began when Ed’s sister Billie could not remember the name of their paternal grandfather, so off I went to look up their father William Roswell “W. R.” Allen’s Social Security application.  On that application were the names of his parents: Doc Roswell Allen and Mary Willie Jones.  Doc Roswell Allen and my paternal grandmother Minnie Belle Maddox-Allen were first cousins.  Soon after this discovery, and with some prodding from his buoyant wife Shelagh (who l instantly liked), Ed wanted to know more about the family tree.  After, acquiring some more information from Billie I discovered that the physician Dr. Edward G. Bowden, who was my paternal grandmother’s physician, was the man Ed was named for.  Dr. Edward G. Bowden married Elizabeth Allen who was the sister of Doc Roswell Allen and daughter of Milton and Laura Allen.  Doc Roswell Allen’s sister Virgil (who later renamed herself “Virginia”) bore one son out of wedlock, and his name was John Wesley Allen and he was a dentist, the first of many dentists in the family. All of these “Allens” were members of that rather complicated “Laws/Allen” family tree.

I only saw Ed about four times in my life.  Yet, each time I saw him, something he said to me gave me some nugget of information.  I still remember when he told me he recalled a “John” from his childhood who came to visit but then seemingly disappeared.  I told him Dr. John Wesley Allen was killed in a car accident in the late 1930s. In the late 1990s, I mailed Ed a report of everything I knew about our family.  I don’t think I even knew about the origins of our slave ancestors the “Layendes” from Cuba when I sent that report to Ed, but he was grateful to receive it.   I still have the “Thank You” note he sent me, a “Thank You” note that his sister Billie said was uncharacteristic of her brother.  I laughed because I got the sense that Ed knew that the work I did was much more time-consuming and tedious than most people realize.

I remember Ed as a renaissance man who loved the good life, who could be aloof, who was often funny with a dry wit, who was a man who loved a good drink, but one who also yearned to know more about the home and people he left when he journeyed North to escape some of the harsher realities of life for Black people in the South that colored much of the 20th century.  Although we did not know each other well, I consider it my privilege to have known him and to have been able to help him answer some of the questions about our family tree and heritage.  We always yearn for home, that sense of understanding where and from whom we have come. We yearn for home, no matter where we go.  And now Ed has gone home (May 27, 1926 to July 18, 2026).  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

"Thank You Note" from Dr. Edward B. Allen to Leslye Joy Allen, July 1997. ((Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

“Thank You Note” from Dr. Edward B. Allen to Leslye Joy Allen, July 1997. (Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen Photo & Document Collection. All Rights Reserved.)

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

I AM…

 

(for Billie, who insisted that I boldly say, “I AM,” and for Nevaina (nih-von-yah)—one of many actors who were once under Billie’s direction—who reminded me to say it even louder)

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am Thomas and Syble’s daughter.

I am the granddaughter of Lorena and George and Minnie and Will.

I am a historian.

I am an intellectual.

I am a dramaturge and patron of theatre and the arts.

I am a Jazz fan.

I am a Johnny Mathis fanatic.

I am eloquent.

I am also a great procrastinator.

I am one who is often impatient.

I am one who does not like braggarts or pretenders.

I am a good and loyal friend.

I am also one who, some times, does not listen.

I am a woman who will drop you like a bad habit if you lack empathy or fidelity.

I am an environmentalist.

I am a lover of animals and nature.

I am a lover of children.

I am a Black Nationalist because it makes sense to take care of your home and your people first.

I am a woman that does not deal easily with shallow people.

I am a woman that prefers simplicity.

I am a woman who is fond of the exotic.

I am a woman who has learned how to say, “No” the hard way.

I am a woman who does not like playing small.

I am a woman who never discounts what other people have to go through to do whatever it is that they need or have to do…which is why I am deeply offended when other people discount what I go through.

I am a woman that dislikes men and women who try to prove their worth with things rather than demonstrate who they are by what they believe in and what they put into practice.

I am a woman who would prefer the company of a poet over that of a stockbroker or the company of a musician over that of an accountant or the company of a college professor over that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

I am my mother and father’s daughter.

— Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Saying Goodbye to Dr. Kuhn

By Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am writing this tribute now, because I have to mentally recalibrate, take a brief break over the holidays and get back to work on writing my dissertation. Dr. Kuhn would not want anything less than that.   Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn, Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University and the first Executive Director of the Oral History Association joined the ancestors the second week of November.  He was 63-years-old…he was also my Dissertation Advisor…

He was…there is that word: was.  You would think that as a historian I would be accustomed to the past tense.  Yet, referring to him as anything other than vibrantly and intellectually alive is difficult. Preparing for the Georgia State University Memorial for Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn on December 13, 2015 is harder than I ever could imagine.  I first met him when he was preparing the centennial of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot back in early 2006…

Dr. Glenn T. Eskew introduced us because he recalled my telling him that my late maternal grandmother, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at then Clark Normal School (later Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University) when the campuses of Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges became the refuge for so many of the Black victims of the Atlanta Race Riot.  Dr. Kuhn was delighted to find a graduate student such as myself that had a personal story that I could tell about this particularly painful moment in Atlanta’s history.  Dr. Clarissa Myrick Harris, who partnered with Dr. Kuhn, interviewed me while filmmaker Ms. Bailey Barash filmed it for posterity.  I was proud and humbled to contribute my grandmother’s story.

Nearly everything I know about Oral History, I learned from Dr. Kuhn: how to get people to talk about their lives; how to make sure they know that they are not obligated to tell their stories; how to make sure that I, the historian and interviewer, did not and will not ever exploit their memories; how to truly listen. I remember everything he taught me.

One of the last things he said to me was that he was so proud of a brief and recent assignment I had in the Georgia State University Library’s Digital Collections where I conducted four interviews for the Planning Atlanta Project. He recommended me for that position and I was glad that I did well and did not let him down…

As I prepare myself, as best I can, to attend Georgia State University’s Memorial Celebration for Dr. Kuhn, I fondly recall a conversation where we discovered that both of us loved Jazz.  Not long after that conversation, there were a few times when we were supposed to be doing something academic, but we drifted into a deep discussion about everyone from Duke Ellington to Nina Simone to Wayne Shorter to Ahmad Jamal.  Yet, that is natural for us historians.  WE have to be aware of everything, so we often look at and listen to everything.  Our conversations were often mixtures of him talking lovingly about his wife Kathie Klein and his two sons Josh and Gabe Klein-Kuhn and History and Jazz.   I will miss that…  

So, below is one for the late, great historian and scholar Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn: a video of the great Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal playing the classic “Poinciana.”  When the percussionists in Jamal’s quartet go into full swing around the time 4:53, I found myself ferociously patting my foot to the infectious rhythms and crying at the same time. Àṣé.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Mama’s “Drew Dinner”

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Whenever I arrived home and was greeted by very particular smells coming from our kitchen, I knew Drew had swung by my Mama’s house and picked up what she knew was his favorite meal. On many occasions, she just called him and told him to come pick it up. My Mama, the late Syble Wilson Allen-Wms., named this meal “The Drew Dinner” back in the mid-1980s. She enjoyed the way he would often show up. “What are you cooking?,” he asked.  “Your favorite,” she said.      

So on Tuesday, 13 October 2015, on what would have been his 59th birthday, I am eating “his dinner” in his honor so designated by my Mama.  Gone now for twenty-two years, he was mercurial, occasionally difficult, yet sweet in ways that many people missed, artistically talented, and physically gorgeous.  He was devoted to me and routinely defended my honor.  And unlike so many other men who were enamored with their “idea” of me, he loved me exactly as I am.  He meant so much to me for so many reasons, and for so many other reasons that he and I promised we would never, ever share with anyone (and we/I have kept that promise).

I miss him and Mama. I still remember when the two of them occasionally debated about me.  Two dominant personalities, both of them wanted the final say-so on whatever I was doing or planning to do; and neither of them ever got the final say-so.  They would debate to a draw and then I would do what I wanted to do.  They would laugh and shrug their shoulders.  And even when the debates turned into heated arguments, those occasional dramas never interfered with one of my late Mama’s favorite past-times: cooking his favorite dinner.

I still remember times when I would hang up the phone with Mama and yell down the hallway, “Drew, Mama said…”  And before I could finish telling him what she had cooked he was halfway out the door saying, “Tell her I’m on my way.”  LOL!  Memories of them are occasionally mournful, occasionally celebratory, often both; but always funny, warm, and delicious.  Àṣé.


“The Drew Dinner” is a menu and a Trademark ™ of the Estate of Syble Wilson Allen-Wms. Registered Trademark ® pending. All Rights Reserved.

The Drew Dinner:

Meatloaf made from ground chicken and beef

Mashed Potatoes made from red potatoes

Collard Greens with Sautéed Okra 

Homemade Cornbread (baked in a cast-iron skillet)

Sliced homegrown Tomatoes & Spring Onions

Homemade Pickled Beets

Homemade Peach Cobbler…and

a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

An Encounter with the Police on My Way to Latin Class

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Most of my encounters with police have been rare and routine.  Most of the police officers I have dealt with have been courteous and helpful.  I have made the occasional phone call about the neighbor whose dog has been running around the neighborhood terrorizing a few people.  The police come out, speak with the offender, and the matter is resolved.  Yet, I remember this incident…

A police officer discovered I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on my driver’s license.  For those of you born late in the 20th century, let me explain.  An insurance cancellation suspension was common if you changed cars or changed insurance companies.  You used to get a form in the mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles instructing you to record your new insurance or new car.  Occasionally, however, you might not receive the form by mail, and you could easily forget about it.  Therefore, if your new car/new insurance data had not arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you bought a new car or changed your car insurance, you could end up with this particular type of suspension.  You typically had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, show them your new purchase, along with your new insurance card.

In what appeared to be a routine road check for driver’s license and insurance, the Decatur Police held me for three hours only a few months after I purchased a car from my elderly uncle.  This happened in the spring of 1998 when I was back in college to complete my Bachelor’s degree at Agnes Scott College.  After checking my Driver’s License number the officer stated that I had a “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension” on the car I previously owned.  I showed him my new insurance card on the car I was driving.  I knew I would have to straighten out the suspension before I drove my car again.  Since I was about a mile from the campus, I asked him if he could radio the Agnes Scott College Police and have someone from that police department drive down the street, and pick me (and the car) up.

I explained that I would have my Mama come pick me up at Agnes Scott and we would go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get the suspension problem cleared up.  “I’m not calling anybody,” he said.  I pulled out my student ID.  He said, “I don’t need that. Girl, get out of the car.”  I was a grown woman in my thirties; and while I might not have looked as old as my birth certificate said I was, I was no “girl.”  I kept my mouth closed, but I am sure he sensed my displeasure.

I got out of the car and he instructed me to lie down in the street.  When I asked why are you doing this?  He told me to shut up.  While I lay down in the street for over 30 minutes, he and another two officers pulled the back seat out of my car.  They searched the trunk.  If it had not been for the little old man that came out of his house to watch, I do not know what else might have happened.  I was terrified, but I suffer from something my Mama used to call, “Your Daddy’s Disease.”  She said my father never showed fear when under pressure.  He always looked fearless, even menacing, when some horrible event was going on.  Then later when everything was all over, he would fall apart, shaking and reaching for a good stiff drink.  “That kind of thing can get you killed, Joy,” Mama said, “When someone expects you to be afraid, sometimes the worst thing you can do is look like you have no fear.”

Eventually a female police officer appeared and asked me if I wanted to call my Mama using her phone.  The first police officer decided to write me a simple ticket for driving with a suspended license and left me standing there in the street.  He drove off.  That sweet little old man stood there and talked with me until Mama arrived.  He told me he thought the Decatur police were doing some kind of sweep.  “They’re looking for somebody that’s up to no good, and they’re tryin’ to find ‘em in these road blocks,” he said.  Mama arrived in about 30 minutes and picked me up.  My new best friend—that sweet observant little old Black man told me to leave my car where it was until the suspension problem was straightened out.  “Them SOBs are probably waiting somewhere watching and waiting for you to drive off so they can give you another ticket or take you to jail.  I’ll watch your car until you get back,” he said.

Mama asked me how my clothes got so dirty.  I lied and told her I slipped and fell.  She would have had a heart attack if I told her what really happened to her only child.  We headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The clerk handed me a simple form that I filled out citing that I no longer owned the previous vehicle and therefore had no insurance on that vehicle.  I had to write down the serial number and model of my current car and provide my proof of insurance.  The clerk recorded my data and lifted my “First Insurance Cancellation Suspension.”  All of this took about 20 minutes.

I did argue my case in traffic court.  The police officer rolled his eyes at me as I explained in detail his refusal to call the Agnes Scott College police even after I showed him my student ID.  I told the judge every detail and showed him my insurance card, the purchase of my car, and the statement from the Department of Motor Vehicles that lifted my insurance cancellation suspension.  To add as much injury as I could, I said, “I missed my Latin Class because of this!”  The judge dismissed my case.  I paid no fine.  I was lucky.  Yet, I sensed that what happened to me was not rare.  This kind of treatment happens to women, and particularly Black women and women of color, with a frequency that many people do not want to admit.  Black women encounter more than our share of rudeness and physical intimidation from police.  

I consider myself to be an average size woman.  I finally managed to gain enough weight to make it to a whopping 135 pounds at 5 feet, 5 inches tall.  At the time of this incident, I weighed only 115 pounds.  That police officer was at least 6’ 2” tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  He called me a girl.  He told me to shut up.  He did not throw me to the ground, Thank God.  Yet, just imagine how easy it would have been for him to do so.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.