Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Friend Of Friends: Lessons From The Underground Railroad #TALIAFERRO

The following post is Reblogged from The TALIAFERRO Project, written by Sandra Taliaferro:

By sjtaliaferro

One night during the holidays I watched one of my favorite movies, Roots: The Gift. The movie stars LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett, Jr., in their roles as Kunta Kinte and Fiddler from the television series Roots. In this movie, Kunta and Fiddler accompany their owner to another plantation at Christmas time for a party, and become involved in a plan to help some runaway slaves escape via the Underground Railroad to freedom. A simple, yet powerful story. There are many messages and lessons to be learned from Roots: The Gift.

In one of my favorite scenes, Fiddler and Kunta are helping the group of runaway slaves get to the river where they are to meet a boat that will take them further on their journey to freedom. Along the way they make a stop to pick up other “passengers” on the Underground Railroad. When they come to a farmhouse, Kunta approaches and knocks. The man asks…”who goes”? Kunta responds “Friend of Friends”…in acknowledgment, the man replies “Friend of Friends”. A group of “passengers” exit the house. Kunta, Fiddler, and the group continue their journey.

This year, I was particularly moved by the Underground Railroad scene, and even more so by the phrase uttered by Kunta- Friend of Friends. The phrase, and variations of it, was used along the Underground Railroad as a password or signal to those assisting runaway slaves on their journey North…to freedom. The traditional response to the “who goes there” password is said to have been “A Friend of a Friend”.

A Friend of Friends. Say it… A Friend of Friends, again…A Friend of Friends. It evokes such a comforting, welcoming feeling. A feeling of trust, of sharing, of caring, of kindness, and of friendship, however brief. At the same time, it is transient…adjusting and changing with the circumstances. I’m A Friend of Friends….you don’t know me, but I require assistance…I need your help, and guidance…some information to aid me on my journey…then I’ll be moving on…to the next stop along the way.

The phrase, and the underlying concept, seems particularly appropriate and relevant for those of us in the genealogy community; aren’t we all on some level really just A Friend of Friends? Strangers helping strangers. Friends of friends with a common bond that ties us all together….the desire to know our ancestors, and to tell their stories. A common goal, with different methods, different paths that cross and intersect along the journey. As we travel this road to uncovering our ancestors and their stories we should all embrace the concept…we should be A Friend of Friends. Don’t be afraid or reluctant to share, to care, to guide, or to assist your fellow researcher along their journey.

As an African American researcher my task is two-fold; I research my family, but inevitably I must also research the family of my ancestor’s slave holders if I want to know more about my roots. Often we must seek information (assistance) from those that we do not know to aid us on our journey. It is an unavoidable truth – the descendants of our ancestor’s slave holding families may hold the key to our enslaved ancestor’s past. Slavery is an ugly truth of our shared history. I am not angry with you because your ancestor held my ancestor as a slave; don’t be angry with me because I seek those records that may shed more light on the lives of my people, and help me to tell their story more completely. Some who were members of slave holding families assisted passengers along the Underground Railroad. I challenge you to be A Friend of Friends.

We, as researchers of our African American ancestry, must also remember to share, to care, to guide, and to assist our fellow researchers; reach out, take time….no, make time. Can you request and expect the assistance of others, yet not expect the same of yourself? I urge you to stop being selfish with your research. Don’t miss out on a connection or a long lost cousin because of fear or uncertainty. Post It, Blog It, Share It, and Publish It. Many who were passengers along the Underground Railroad returned to assist others on their journey to freedom. I challenge you to be A Friend of Friends.

True genealogists know all of this, and understand the necessity of it. Indeed, the concept is nothing new in the genealogy community. Random, and not so random, acts of kindness occur every day. So, consider this a wake-up call, my challenge to you. When a fellow researcher comes calling…for info…for guidance…for knowledge…for support – be there – to share, to care, to guide, and to assist.



Thank you Sandra for all you did for the African American genealogy community, the genealogy community as a whole.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Life Cut Short ~ Nona Hurston

Hassie and Nona (age 9)

My maternal grandmother Nona Lee Turner was born on September 9, 1912 in LaGrange, Troup County, Georgia to Blake Turner (a sharecropper) and Hassie Williams (farm laborer).  She had eight siblings:  Conia (b.1891), John L. (b.1898), Rebecca (b.1899), Blake Jr. (1903), Elmer (b. 1905), Odessa (b. 1907), Alvena (b.1910) and Dorsey (b.1924).  The family settled in Hickory Flat, Alabama in 1900. 

The Turner family moved from Precinct 10 (now Roanoke), Randolph County, to Standing Rock, Chambers County, Alabama.  In the 1920 census, a 7 year old Nona is living with her parents and 5 siblings.  By the time 1930 census was taken, Nona, now 17 was living in Standing Rock, with her parents and brother and sister.  


Nona met and married Leroy Hurston , a resident of Standing Rock when she was 19 years old.  In 1933, the Hurstons welcomed a boy, they named Clarence.  Two years later in 1935, Rosalind was born.

Like so many African Americans living in the South in the late 30’s who went north to find better jobs, my grandparents migrated to Detroit, Michigan.  My grandfather went first, taking the bus all the way.  The entire Hurston family was living in Detroit by April 1, 1940.  They lived with Nona’s sister Rebecca and her husband on 963 Eliot Street (1940 census).    

Nona, Leroy, Rosalind, and Gloria taken at Belle Isle Park

Nona gave birth to their third child Gloria on December 7, 1941.  Gloria passed away on July 9, 1942.  She was laid to rest in Standing Rock, Alabama at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery.

Nona at Belle Isle Park


In early 1942, Nona was infected with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB).  Although exposed, the infection was latent (inactive) so she was not contagious.  On April 23, 1943 the infection became active and a five months pregnant Nona was admitted to the TB ward at Herman Kiefer Hospital (on Detroit's west side).

Nona on her balcony at Norman Keifer Hospital
Nona (left) and friend at Herman Keifer Hospital




Nona gave birth to Ella Mae in August who she named after Leroy's mother (Ella Mae Trammel).

In less than five months after giving birth to my mom and nine months after being admitted to Herman Kiefer, Nona died from pulmonary tuberculosis complicated by tuberculosis enteritis.  She left behind a grieving husband and three small children Clarence (11), Rosalind (8) and my mom Ella (4 ½ months).   All three children stayed with Rebecca who raised them while Leroy worked to support them.
My mom only knows her mother through pictures and stories told to her by family members.  Everyone tells her that her mother was really beautiful.  They also tell her how kind and quiet she was, everyone loved her.  My mom has no personal memories of her.  I don’t remember when she first told me about her or the words she used, but I do remember the pain in her voice and the sadness in her eyes.  I know that my mom would give anything to have just one memory of her mother.  The one story she tells over and over is the last thing her mother said to the family before she died.  She told them no matter what happens to take care of her baby.  

To realize that your mother’s last words were of you must give my mom some comfort but I know it doesn't lessen her sorrow.  Even though she was surrounded by so much love growing up, she still mourned her mother.  Her grief has been painful and lasting.  I believe the emptiness that my mom feels and continues to feel shaped her relationship with me.   She became the mother to me that she always wanted.   I think my grandma Nona would have been so proud of the woman my mother became. I know I am.  Rest in peace Grandma Nona.  I know you will be there to welcome my mother into the Kingdom.  Just like you welcomed Clarence, Rosalind and many others from our family.  We love you and will never forget you.

Nona was laid to rest in Standing Rock, Alabama along side her daughter Gloria at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery.  

My mother (age 3), Nona, Rosalind and Clarence
Clockwise starting from the upper left

The pictures of my grandmother's grave, the cemetery and the "standing rock" were taken by a very kind find a grave volunteer, Kathy Brown.  I am so grateful to her for going out more than once to look for and photograph my grandmother's grave.  Thank you Kathy.  She also took pictures around town so I could see what Standing Rock, Alabama looked like.  I plan on taking a trip there soon.  

                                                       Nona and Gloria's final resting place ~Bethlehem Cemetery
                                                                    Nona's headstone

This rock was left by Native Americans when they were removed from Alabama in the 1830s (part of the Trail of Tears).  They left a curse on anyone who tries to remove it.

                                   This song is dedicated to my grandmothers who are no longer with us and to my mom. I love you all so very much.

                                          "We're all ghosts.  We all carry, inside us, people who came before us". ~ Liam Callanan 

Sources: 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 
2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002.

Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. 1930 T626, 2,667 rolls. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry. com Operation, Inc., 2012. 

Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T7=627, 4,643 rolls.

Daniels, Cory (2011, July 7).  The Spinners - Sadie. Retrieved January 1, 2014 from  

Thank you Dianne Armstrong for sharing your words about the Kingdom.