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-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported 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: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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A New Definition of Brother…

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 had to learn the hard way not to rely solely on

American-born brothers who

talk plenty smack and talk plenty righteousness about

how we Black folk have work to do, but at the same time demand

that I keep my mouth shut about the mess that affects me as a woman and all 

that infects us/we as a people…

I had to learn the hard way that many of my brothers did not

arrive speaking with American accents, but

some had/have foreign accents so thick that I

need(ed) someone to decipher what they were saying, but

what they said mattered less than what they did…

I learned that plenty Josés and Juans and Ahmads and Maliks and

Etiennes and Lúcios and Willies and Sams

 of my world

and my hemisphere

weighed in on matters that affected my life as a Black woman when

so many other so-called brothers assumed that my problems as a Black female

would be handled by someone else or

handled by me by myself…

I had to learn the hard way that my definition of “brother” needed to remain

outside of my typical geographic boundaries of what I/We call the USA

and we either grab hold of each other as kith and kin

or we drown in the waters waiting for

some definition that none of us could live with anyway.

                                  – Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. 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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.  Postings or blogs placed here by other writers should clearly reference those writers.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Guide My Feet…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Guide My Feet”
(Traditional Negro Spiritual)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

I am grateful that my late Mama and Daddy taught me our old African tradition of ancestor worship.   That worship was as much a part of my childhood as was the old Western Judeo-Christian tradition…Now, for those who know me well, you know that I can be the most severe critic of ministers and organized religion(s) that too often fail to act in the best interests of the flocks they claim to serve, lead and protect.  Yet, that is another blog.  Save your breath.  I am only responding to the message(s) sent to me…

I occasionally re-read the poem that my friend actor-poet-writer Charles Reese wrote immediately following the death of my nearly 92-year-old mother in early 2013.  In homage to her, he referred to my Mama as “a Queen,” but he also referred to her as “our newest ancestor.” — Nothing in “Syble’s Poem” struck me as much as that line about her becoming an ancestor.  For people who know my late Mama, they know that certain songs remained in her repertoire right up to the very end of her days here on earth.

I do not need to recount the tragedies that have happened to Black folk in the last few weeks or even over the last year.  Yet, for the last couple of days I have been unable to get the old Negro Spiritual “Guide My Feet” out of my head.  Composed and sung in the caldron of American chattel slavery and passed down from generation-to-generation by my people, I have been singing it and humming it off-and-on for the last couple of months.  At first, I thought I was going crazy.  I must confess that I had a similar experience with “You Gotta to Move,” a Gospel/Blues song composed by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  A few months earlier in the year, I was singing “You Gotta Move” in an impromptu singing session that followed a gathering of my Sistahs that was a combination of good coffee, prayer, testimony, and truth-talking with each other at Dream Café…A few days after that meeting, I ran into a brother in a wheelchair who was singing the same song on a corner in downtown Atlanta.  That had to mean something, I thought…

When I went to my cousin Dexter’s graduation from Morehouse College this past May 2015, the class Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude graduate Jerek Sharrod Brown burst into “Guide My Feet” before he began his inspirational and spellbinding Valedictory address.   His voice in song was an unexpected, but welcome and perfectly poetic pleasure.  I felt something inside of me shift and move when Brown sang and when he spoke.  I felt something shift again when my cousin Dexter’s name was called as a new graduate of Morehouse College. After all, I remembered when I first held him in my arms when he was still an infant…

Today I decided to see whether the lyrics to “Guide My Feet” would come up in a general search on Google.  It did.  Now, usually when something comes up in an internet search, I typically download it and then email it to myself just to make sure that I have a couple of copies of my research findings in two different places.  Yet, something strange and beautiful happened after I performed my usual ritual…

When I clicked the email button to send my Google search findings to myself, the email did not pull up my personal email address.  Instead, it opened my late Mama’s email address which was and remains a secondary email account affiliated with my own primary account…Sometimes the Creator knows that you need a little help.  Sometimes the ancestors are talking to you…

There are moments when no matter how bad things are or may seem, you simply do not worry and you no longer expend energy on people who do not work in your and your own people’s best interests.   I have reached that moment. More than we know or acknowledge, the ancestors speak to us in small but important ways if WE only listen, if WE only listen…So, Thank You Mama and Daddy and all the known and unknown ancestors and saints…Thank You Goddess…Thank You God…Peace and Blessings.  Àṣé…

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my feet,

while I run this race,

For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

 

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.