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Byron and Sophie Clay from Gurley Alabama

Byron Clay graciously shared this article 5 Mai 2005.

My father was one of 6 children born to Byron and Sophie Clay in Gurley Alabama. Byron we believe was the grandson of a slave holder and slave mother. We were told by my father Frank Clay that many of the siblings of his grandparents were also the sons of a slave holder. We do not have the name of the slave holder though. My father, Frank Clay and all of his siblings left Gurley between 1900 -1920. One uncle (Lloyd Clay) served in the Spanish American war in Cuba. I had a medal when I was young but lost it. Joe and Frank moved to Cleveland where they passed for white and worked in a Steel mill for a time. My father was proud that all of the helpers he hired were black. They left for Chicago where Joe owned a haberdashery and was a Pullman porter and Frank later became the first black pharmacist for the Walgreen’s Company in Chicago. He later married a writer named Eleanor ? for a national black newspaper. They had no children and she later died. They moved to her hometown of Jacksonville Illinois. He later married Marian Brummel from Lincoln Illinois. They raised their family in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Joe moved to Toledo after many years in Chicago and died shortly thereafter. He joined his sisters Clara and Miltonia and brother Herman in Toledo, OH. Clara was the only sibling that kept in contact with Gurley. All the siblings signed over the family home to Clara and she sold it. They sold it before Frank Clay died in 1981. I think in the 1970’s. I would like to get information on the home and come visit it if it still stands.

My father did not have fond memories of Gurley and talked very little of his experiences there. They were sharecroppers I believe. He said he left town fearing retribution because it was discovered a white women was attracted to him. He left around 1913 I believe. He also left Cleveland because he got a white police officers daughter pregnant. The officer was looking for him when he skipped town. Frank and his brother Joe were pretty good looking guys and being very light ad luck with both white and black women I think.

Frank Clay had an interesting life in Jacksonville. During his whole time he was a Freemason and active in the NAACP. He was the primary force in desegregating the town. He was fearless in the pursuit of what was right and commanded respect from everyone both black and white. The town was nearly all white and in his later years was courted to run for mayor. He would have easily won but did not want the trouble of it as he said.

I do not know where this poor black man from Alabama got his strength of character and moral compass. I saw it in all of his siblings (Except Clara) but was strong in them. I think it came through to his children as well. We do not know much about his life in Gurley, his parents and extended family but would like to learn about it to give to his grandchildren. I must note that he did not have children until he was 55 and me until he was 61 so he never saw any of his grandchildren.

I could go on about his life in Chicago with the black elite of his time. Card games with Joe Lewis and Louie Armstrong, the picture of Lena Horne which he briefly dated. His friendship with Sammy Davis, Sr. and his remembrance of a young Sammy Davis, Jr.

If anyone can give me info of my Fathers family or places I can look on my own I would greatly appreciate it.

Byron Clay graciously shared this article 5 Mai 2005.