Saturday, February 28, 2015

Unknown Vintage Photographs of African American People from Livingston Parish

Photograph: Unknown
Bernice Alexander Bennett, host and producer of "Research at the National Archives and Beyond Blog Talk Radio Show" called me this past week to informed about a collection of African American photographs that Jeff Boyd, co-editor of the Livingston Parish Historical Society purchased at a antique shop in Walker, Louisiana.

Bernice emailed me the beautiful collection of photographs and asked me if I want to post them to my blog site. I told her by all means I would like to post them to Nurturing Our Roots Blog site.

These unknown vintage photographs are a vital part of our history. Photographs hold memories of the people, the time and era in which the photograph was taken. Nurturing Our Roots would like to help reunite the vintage photographs with their families.

Many people who are researching their family history would like to to find a photograph of their family members. There are many unknown old African American photographs to be identified by family members and family historian.  We hope that someone can identify the people in the photographs. Often times when someone pass away and a family member is left to clean out their deceased love one home; photographs like these can end up in the trash or in antique shops. If you recognize anyone in these photographs, please email me their names so we can place a name to the image.

 Photograph: Unknown
Photograph: Unknown

 Photograph: Unknown
Photograph: Unknown

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lena Mae Wood Deamer of Roseland, Louisiana

Lena Mae at the age of two
Lena Mae was the second child born to Alma Irving Wood and Walter Wood, Sr., She was born  in Roseland, Louisiana  on September 26, 1926 in Roseland, Louisiana on the homestead of Lemuel (Lem) Irving, Sr.  and Susie McKnight Irving. Lena was delivered by her Aunt Lucy Irving Collier, a midwife.  Alma and Walter, Sr. had lived in Chicago, but separated before she was born. Lena never saw her father until she was around 50 years old.

Alma later married leaving Lena Mae and her brother Walter to be raised at the homestead by Lem, Susie, and Aunt Ethel Irving. Lem grew lots of vegetables on the farm and raised livestock. Lena helped in the fields and with product sales by figuring out his bills and receipts. Lem could not read or write and signed deeds with an "X" for the many acres of land he purchased. Although he was not formally educated, he would always say, "There's nothing like common sense."

Lena Mae Wood Deamer
At an early age, Lena became a member of Big Zion A.M.E. Zion Church in Roseland where family members attended. She was an active member in the church and sang in the choir. She graduated from O. W. Dillon High School in Kentwood, Louisiana and later attended one semester at Southern University.

Lena Mae married Leroy Deamer, an auto mechanic. To their union was born two children, Ethel Lorraine and Alvin Gilbert Deamer. She enjoyed being a homemaker, attended the children's church and school functions, and assisted with their homework. Lena and Leroy moved from the homestead around 1961 and built their family an all-brick house in Arcola and was among the first African-American families in the area to accomplish that achievement.

Leroy was killed in 1987 at his auto mechanic shop in Amite, Louisiana. Lena never remarried. She enjoyed helping with the grandchildren and loved watching sports. Her favorites was watching Tiger Woods play golf and Michael Jordan play basketball. And of course her favorite football team was the New Orleans Saints. When she moved to the Belle Maison Nursing Home, her favorite pass time was playing bingo and attending religious services as well as the many parties and social hours at the facility.

During her lifetime, Lena was able to witness transportation going from horse and buggy to automobiles, and to man landing on the moon. Most importantly she was able to see the election of the first African American President, Barack Obama, which she said she thought she would never see in her lifetime.

Lena Mae Wood Deamer
Lena Mae's daughter Lorraine is the author of "Authentic Southern Cooking with Chuck and Miss Lorraine," Her presentation of Southern style cooking is based on the New Orleans flavors of Cajun, Creole and African American cuisine. Lorraine included some of the recipes her mother had sent her over a 40 year period. Some were on the back of envelopes, while others were on tattered paper. Lena was famous for her potato salad, and the recipe is included in the cookbook. 

Her brother Walter Wood, Jr., married a woman named Leah Mae. Leah had a half brother by the name of Thomas Alvin Perry. Grandchildren -Lisa and Charles Lizana, Jr.; Alvin Roderick, Brian Christopher, and Brandi Nicole Deamer. Great grandchildren - Skylar and Mya Deamer; Daelyn and Alexander Short. Lena's sunset was July 15, 2012 at the age of 85. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The History of Vernon School in Mt. Hermon, Louisiana

Vernon School in Mt. Hermon
African American School

While driving down the road in  Washington Parish Louisiana, I saw a sign that said, "Vernon School Road," as usual I decided to take the drive down the road to see if the old school building was still standing. I saw an old abandoned school building to my left, right across the road there were two elderly men sitting on the front porch talking so I pulled in the driveway and asked them if that was Vernon School and they both answered yes. They both directed me to Elder Albert J. Brumfield to get more information about the school. 

The history of Vernon High School in deeply embodied into history of the the Black community which, like many other black communities, had its beginning during that period after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. During this period newly freed slaves moved away from plantations and away from slave masters to venture out on their own to experience this new found freedom. Many came to settle in this area of rich loam sandy soil, gentle rolling hills and a generous supply of loblolly pines. This area was inhabited by a few Flat Bush Indians and was unique among the other Florida Parishes is that it had no slave plantations. 

The history of blacks of this community also intertwines the history people of this nation and of the world. We are a proud people of a proud heritage. We were born along the Congo, the Nile and Euphrates rivers. Our forefathers, the Nubian Peoples, shaped the history of the Nile Valley. The Ishango people living in that area more than 8,000 years ago and used a primitive multiplication system long before the Europeans. The African woman was tall, slender and beautiful. She was a good faithful mother and homemaker. The African man was tall, strong and could run faster and jump higher than any other man on the hemisphere. He was a great hunter, trapper and farmer. The English colonies need for free labor caused these proud people to be torn from family and friends and familiar surroundings and carried off to another continent where they were subjected to the institution of slavery for two hundred and fifty years.

Vernon School for African American Students
Closed its doors in 1969
An ex-slave by the name of Jenny came into the area after being set free. Louis Vernon, a direct descendant of Jenny started a school in the building on his property in 1885. This was only twenty-years after the Emancipation Proclamation. During slavery it had been against the law to teach slave to read or write. The denial of the opportunity was apparently the motivation needed to inspire the Vernon's to start a school in Mt. Hermon, La.

As interest grew it became necessary to acquire additional land for the school. So on August 25, 1925, forty years later, three acres of land were purchased from the Vernon's to erect a school on the present site. According to the courthouse records, the deeds were signed by Ed Vernon, D.M. Brumfied and Dave Wrought, who was one of the earlier bus drivers. Fraser Vernon served as the school's first principal.

Later the Rosenwald Fund contributed money toward a building at the present site. The Rosenwald fund contributed to the building of more than 5,000 schools for Negroes in the rural south. In June 1949 the high school building was added. In November 1951 the elementary building was built, in March 1954 the gymnasium was added, In May 1958 a lunchroom was added and in 1960 a new classroom wing was built. In 1961 with funds from the P.T.A. a covered walkway was built, and the P.T.A.,  also built an agriculture/shop.

The School Board purchased and additional 4.7 acres for the school in 1960 from Isadore Vernon who was the first bus driver for Vernon School and another portion in 1961 from Marcel Dyson, Crimal Dyson Williamson and Arthur Williamson.

Vernon High School was a place were many careers were launched as many young black men and young black women came into this community as teacher to help develop the minds and lives of young black boys and girls. Many devoted their entire lives to this task. Students from Vernon now serve this community, this state and nation as engineers, teachers, farmers, housewives, dentists, medical doctors, veterinary medicine, counselors, doctors of education, postal workers, businessmen, insurance brokers, and in virtually all areas of work. Other have served in the military as officers and enlisted men, other have won the purple heart and still other gave the ultimate sacrifice--their lives. Others became attorneys, ministers, nurses, law enforcement personnel, interior designers and their numerous contributions are immeasurable. Students regularly competed at local, regional and state events in music, sports, public speaking and academics. Some romances started here and developed into life-long companionship.

In addition to the Fraser Vernon others have served the school as principal. Mr. R.J. Lawrence served
in the late 20s. He was followed by Mr. Almore B. Dyson who served as principal from 1930 until the 1954-55 school year. Mr. Ruben H. Cornist served as principal of the school from that time until the school closed in 1969.

Vernon School need the help of good samaritans and caring people to restored the school as a community resource center that will produce productive members in the societies that the East Florida Parishes, the state of Louisiana and the nation can be proud of. A community resource center that will offer after school programs, creative arts, computer classes, job readiness, life skills programs, seniors citizens programs and other enrichment programs that will offers a better quality of life for the residents of the Mt. Hermon community. 

A non-profit organization has been setup for the community resource center called Neighborhood Christian Center of Louisiana., under the leadership and direction of Elder Albert J. Brumfield, Pastor of Plainview Cochusa Church of Christ Holiness.

The organization will graciously accept in kind donations such as; paint, building materials, roofing materials, drywall materials, nails, lumber and flooring materials and financial donations. Also individuals, organizations, social organizations, churches, brotherhood or sisterhood organizations who would like to volunteer their time can contact the following people. All checks and donations can be mailed directly to NCC of LA:

C/O James Brumfield
24392 Vernon School Rd
Mt. Hermon, LA 70450

For more please contact Elder Albert J. Brumfield at (985) 515-1231 or Barbara Brumfield at (985) 839-2190, you can also email Elder Albert at

Source:  Vernon High School History Booklet, submitted by Barbara Brumfield

Monday, February 16, 2015

African American Women Who Fought in the Struggle for Freedom

Prince Estella Melson Lee

Queen Mother Prince Estella Melson Lee (1917-2015) was born on April 5, 1917, in Greensburg, Louisiana to the late David and Lillian Melson. She was one of thirteen children. She attended St. Helena School. She met and married Herbert Lee, who was murdered by E.H. Hurst on September 25, 1961, at the cotton gin in Liberty. Herbert Lee became a member of the NAACP in the early 1950's. He was determined to register to vote. Lee was a close friend of the Amite County NAACP branch chairman E.W. Steptoe.

Queen Mother Prince was also a member of the NAACP of Amite County. She was honored on August 28, 1963. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom. Along with Queen Mother Prince, five other women were honored; Daisy Bates, Diane Nash Bevel, Mrs. Medgar Evers,  Rosa Parks, and Gloria Richardson.

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was born on November 11, 1914. She grew up in southern Arkansas in the small sawmill town of Huttig. Bates was raised by her foster parents, Orle and Susie Smith, who she believed were her birth parents for many years. She learned that her mother had been raped and murdered by three local white men. In 1952, Daisy Bates was elected president of the Arkansas Conference of NAACP branches. She remained active and was on the National Board of the NAACP till 1970.

She and her husband was the owner of a newspaper called the " Arkansas State Press," a weekly statewide newspaper. The eight-page paper was published on Thursdays, carrying a Friday dateline. The first issue appeared on May 9, 1941. The paper became an avid voice for civil rights even before a nationally recognized movement had emerged. Daisy Bates was later recognized as co-publisher of the paper. Wikipedia

Diane Nash Bevel

Diane Nash was born May 15, 1938, in Chicago, the daughter of Leon Nash and Dorothy Bolton Nash. After experiencing discriminatory events. Nash decided to search for a way to challenge segregation. Nash began attending non-violent civil disobedience workshops led by Rev. James Lawson. Nash's campaigns were among the most successful of the era. He efforts included civil rights campaign to integrate lunch counters in Nashville. In April 1960, Nash helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and quit school to lead its direct action wing. "We will not stop. There is only one outcome," stated Diane Nash, referring to the 1961 Freedom Rides which had been called off by their organizers after violence occurred.  Shocked by a church bombing in Birmingham which killed four young girls in September 1963, Nash and James Bevel committed themselves to raising a nonviolent army in Alabama. Wikipedia

Myrlie Evers-Williams

Myrlie Evers-Williams is a civil rights activist and journalist who worked for over three decades to seek justice for the murder of her civil rights activist husband Medgar Evers 1963. She was also chairwoman of the NAACP, and published several books on topics related to civil rights and her husband's legacy. On January 21, 2013, she delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of Barack Obama. When Medgar Evers became the Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1954, Myrlie worked alongside him. After leaving her post as chairwoman of the NAACP, Evers-Williams established the Medgar Evers Institute in Jackson, Mississippi. She wrote her autobiography, titled Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be (1999). She also served as editor on the Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero's Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writing, Letters, and Speeches (2005). Wikipedia

Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913-2005) was African-American Civil Rights activist, whom the
United States Congress called the first lady of civil rights" and the mother of the freedom movement".  On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Park refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake's order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.  Parks was not the first person to resist segregation.  Park's act of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP; and Martin Luther King, Jr., a new minister in town who gained national prominence in the civil right movement.

Gloria Richardson Dandrige

Is best known as the leader of the Cambridge Movement, a civil rights struggle in Cambridge, Maryland is the early 1960s. She was recognized as major figure in the African American civil rights movement at the movement at the time and was honored on the stage at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Gloria Richardson was originally born into the affluent St. Clair family, which owned a successful hardware store and had also produced one of Cambridge's only black city council members. Blacks could vote in Cambridge but, with only a third of the population, had never been able to completely overturn Jim Crow laws. According to Richardson, her uncle died in his early twenties when he contracted a major illness but the segregated local hospital would not treat him. In 1961, a freedom ride came of Cambridge. The black city council member at the time attempted to discourage the campaign by insisting that the city was already desegregated. Wikipedia

March on Washington
August 28, 1963
Lincoln Memorial Program 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Civil Rights Organizer Herbert Lee Murdered By A Mississippi Elected Official

Herbert Lee
Herbert Lee, the son of Albert Lee and Elvia Lee was born in Amite County, Mississippi. He was married to Prince Melson Lee, to their union nine children were born: Wilma, Irma, Bessie, Ruby, Shirley, Roy, Ray, Frank and Herbert Lee, Jr. He was a faithful member of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church and a successful dairy farmer. He became a member of the NAACP in the early 1950's. When SNCC voting rights activist started working in Amite and Pike counties in the fall of 1961, Lee,  close friend of the Amite County NAACP brand chairman E.W. Steptoe became involved, helping transport the workers and acquaint them to the area.

Assistant United States Attorney John Doar and others from the Justice Department interviewed several persons in Amite County about the infringements of the voting laws. They learned that threats had been made to harm NAACP members and Voting Rights Activist in Amite and other counties.

On the morning of September 25, 1961, Hebert Lee took a truckload of cotton to the cotton gin in Liberty, Mississippi.  Hurst followed Lee according to the witnesses, Lee was sitting in his truck when Hurst angrily walks up and begins arguing, and pulls out a pistol. "I'm not fooling around this time, I really mean business," shout Hurst.  " Put the gun down," responds Lee, " I won't talk to you unless you put the gun down." Lee slides out of his truck on the other side and  E. H. Hurst a dairy farmer and politician in Mississippi, elected as a Democrat to the Mississippi House of Representatives shot Lee in the head, killing him instantly.  It happened in front of about a dozen witnesses, including several Negroes. On the day of the killing, the corner's jury concluded that E. Hurst, claimed self-defense by a all white jury at the inquest.
Amite County Grand Jury Docket
Photo Credit: Walter C. Black, Sr.

Herbert Lee was only trying to register African-American people in the small rural town to become voters. After eleven years of trying to register African-American people of Amite County.
The Cotton Gin where Herbert Lee was murdered
On July 20, 1965, E. W. Steptoe and other African Americans became registered voters.

Louis Allen, a black witness to Lee's being shot, discussed the case with SNCC civil rights activist including Julian Bond. In January 1965, the night before he was planning to move away from Liberty, Allen was murdered in his driveway by two shot-gun blasts. Allen learned that a federal jury was considering charges against Hurst, Allen met with representatives of the FBI and Civil Rights Commissions to see if he could get federal protection if he were to testify. The Justice Department  told him that they couldn't offer him protection, Allen refused to change it story and stood up for the truth and what he felt was right to do. In 1994 investigation said suggested that Allen was murdered by Daniel Jones, the Amite County Sheriff, but no one has been prosecuted for his murder. The corner's jury ruled the homicide was justifiable and no further legal actions was taken against the Mississippi State Legislator.

Marion Barry was among the SNCC activists organizing in Pike County, Mississippi with Bob Parris Moses, and other SNCC members led a march of 100 black high school students through the streets of McComb, Mississippi. The marchers was arrested as they knelt down to pray on the steps of city hall, the students was expelled from school.

Herbert Lee's wife Prince Melson Lee was from St. Helena, Louisiana. My cousin Tito Lee came into the Art Gallery three years ago and informed me about what happen to his grandfather. We must never forget Herbert Lee, he died for our right to vote and yet many African American people will not get out and vote.


  1.  Cold case: "The murder of Louis Allen"60 Minutes (CBS), 10 April 2011
  2. The Struggle for Voting Rights in Mississippi-Civil Rights.
  3.  Historical Marker Dedication Ceremony for Herbert Lee

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Legacy of Prince Estella Melson Lee of St. Helena Parish, Louisiana

Queen Mother Prince Estella Melson Lee 
Prince Estella Melson Lee was born Thursday, April 5, 1917 in Greenburg, Louisiana to the late David and Lillian Melson, and went from earth to glory at East Jefferson General Hospital on Friday, January 16, 2015, 5:10 p.m.

Prince was the sixth of thirteen children: twelve born to David and Lillian, and one born to David and "Pinky". Prince received what their father called a " fingernail of learnin" from St. Helena School where she attended until third grade learning to read and write. She even said she would walk and cry," ...just to get that lil' learning'. At St. Helena Baptist Church. Prince gave her life to Christ at the age of twelve and was baptized by the late Reverend M.P. Knox. She then began her work in Christ's kingdom, spending many decades available for the Lord's use.

At the age of thirteen, after the death of her mother, Prince and her brother, Vernell, became responsible for their youngest brother. David, and reared the youngest child, Pearl Marie. During this time, Prince developed a very close and loving relationship with step-mother, "Pinky." On February 26, 1939, Prince married Herbert Lee-they were the parents of eleven children, two deceased infancy. After marrying, Prince relocated to Mississippi and united with Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church under pastorship of the late Reverends Walter Martin and James R. Lewis. She often expressed sentiments about leaving her home church, St. Helena; nevertheless, she served faithfully at Mount Pilgrim, and in her home as devoted Christian wife and mother ensuring that her children  were loved, cared for, and raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Prince, with her husband Herbert, lived a life with Jesus Christ as the center. This was reflected through reciting a scripture verse after saying grace, her being " Jesus wept"; attending Sunday School and Pastoral Sunday Worship service; studying Sunday school lessons around the fireplace and listening to the Gospel Hours on the radio; and doing no work on Sundays. 
Letter from Southern Poverty Law Center

Prince lived the scripture, " Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy". She aided in laying the same Christian foundation for her children as was laid for her by her parents. Her children can attest that she could praise the Lord all by herself; she worshipped the Lord as much in her home as she did in the sanctuary. In her home, Prince was often heard saying part of scriptures such as, "Jesus wept" and "The Lord is my shepherd", as well as singing hymns, a favorite being " Jesus, Hold My Hand While I Run This Race".

In 1961, Prince became a widow after the assassination of her husband, Herbert. Even in the midst of the this sudden tragedy,  a farm to maintain, and six children at home to raise. Prince's faith never wavered; she continued to spiritually guide and teach her children. She became a member of the Eastern Star, and continued her life and service in Mississippi until 1972 when she relocated to Kenner, Louisiana.

Prince became a member of St. Michael Missionary Baptist Church under the pastorship of Reverend Leroy Sander, Sr. She dutifully served on the Deaconess Board, and in 1982, she was appointed President, and office she served with joy and great commitment until 2004. In the late 1990s, Reverend Sanders appointed her Mother of the Church and she felt it was a great honor when asked.

Letter from SNCC
Prince throughly enjoyed being an active member of the East Jefferson Prayer and Bible Band. She took much joy out of using her well-known and well-worn black and white composition books to call the Prayer Band members as a reminder of an upcoming meeting. Prince took every opportunity to return to St. Helena's Revival in August and to Mount Pilgrim's May Rally, and Revival in September. She loved returning to her childhood home in Louisiana, as well ago Mississippi to the homestead established with her husband and children. When Prince visited the Mississippi homestead, she could often be found deep in thought while walking the land. If asked about what she was thinking. Prince would smile and simply say, " Oh...nothing, just thinking" or " just thinking about a hard we worked and how the Lord blessed us." Telling stories of her childhood and courtship with Herbert were some of Prince's much loved memories to share.

Some other favorites that she enjoyed were quilting and making tams (caps) for the Deaconess Board,as well as sitting in her favorite chair and reading her Bible. Prince was a 'people person" who never met a stranger; and, whether on the phone or in person, she truly enjoyed good conversation. She as a great sense of humor and would laugh at herself while retelling and acting out the stories of the ' by gone-days". Some of her favorite dishes to cook were and chicken and dumplings and chicken pies. And, Prince will always be well-known for her tea cakes, which she frequently backed for her family and friends.

Prince was preceded in death by her parents, David and Lilian; siblings, A.V., Felbert, Ralph, Willie, Mitchell, Vernell, Callie-Mae, David, and Elizabeth; her husband, Herbert, children, Christine, David, Bessie Mae, and Ray Curtis, and grandchildren, Erhen T. Lee, Lynn Marie Lee-Vinnett, and Aaliyah A. Riley.

Thank you Queen Mother Prince for the legacy that you left for all humanity. I will continue to teach our youth about the importance of becoming a register voter and why they should get out and vote.