Say My Name

An African-American Family History


The Alexanders

     My grandmother Lula Alexander was born May 9, 1895 to Christopher Columbus and Narcissus Wallace Alexander. She was a middle child of a family of eleven. Columbus was a dark complexion man with stern features. Narcissus was of a lighter complexion with a shy demeanor.

      Columbus was the second oldest son of John and Catherine Alexander. His siblings included an older sister Margaret born around 1858 and an older brother John born around 1860. He was born at the end of slavery around 1864. His other siblings included William who was 14 on the 1880 Lincoln County census of Mississippi, Zebulun who was 12 on the same census; Eugene who was born in 1868; Loulu who was 8 on that census; Benny 7; James 4 and Murphy 1. The elder John was born in 1835 in Virginia. It is possible that his former owner lived in the same neighborhood. John Huffman, age 70, may have been the Huffman that owned him. There is also a George Huffman, age 44, who is black living next door.

      John married Catherine and supposedly took his surname from her. The oral legend says that his slave owner was John Huffman and there is an elderly John Huffman living near them on the 1870 census. This has not yet been documented. Catherine was born in Maryland in 1842. John was a farmer and died sometime soon after 1880. Catherine may have remarried again because one source says her name was Gibson.

      Narcissus Wallace came from a family of laborers. Her mother Cinderella (sometimes listed as Sindy or Lucinda) is listed on the 1870 Lincoln County, Mississippi census with several children. Her oldest living with her at that time is Franklin, age 20. Other children listed are Tommy, 14; George, 15, Mary, 12; Henry, 10; Charles, 8; Jerry, 6; Narcissus, 4; and Viola, who was an infant.

      On the 1880 census, Sindy gives her age as 47, just two years older than she stated on the 1870 census. There are names of children that do not correspond with the 1870 census. Frank is still living with her as well as Charley, Narcissus and Violet. There is now a seven year old Laura and a six year old James. There is also a Jordan that is listed as 15 years old. Absent from the census is George, Tommy, Mary, Henry and Jerry. She also states that she is now a widow. All of her children as well as herself are listed as mulatto. One source told me that the father of Narcissus was Jerry Wallace. I havenít discovered any more information about him yet.

   

            Nine of the eleven children in Columbus and Narcissus family were Fred, Luther, Murpha, Alphonso, Walter, my grandmother Lula, Maud, Lilly and Octavia. Columbus. Columbus worked very hard to provide for his family and was able to buy land in Mississippi--193 acres. By 1900, according to Octavia, the land was his free and clear. In his will he stipulated that the land must stay within the family and never be sold. The land is still in the familyís hands today.       

      The children were very successful.  Nine of them attended Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi. It was one of the largest Black colleges at the time founded for the purpose of educating the newly freed slaves. Seven of them graduated from the college. Several of the children distinguished themselves. At least one became a lawyer. Octavia, whose full name was Florence Octavia, became a renowned educator.

      Florence was the family leader who inherited the role after her mother and father died and was requested specifically that she take care of her younger siblings. This happened shortly after Octavia graduated from Hunter College in New York. This may be one reason why she never married. In 1932 Octavia was appointed State Supervisor of the Mississippi State Department of Education. She was the first woman to be elected president of the Mississippi Teachers Association. She received numerous awards for her service in the field of education. The Alexander Residence Center of Jackson State College, a college where she had been a student, a teacher and a trustee, was named in her honor.

      Younger sister Maud married Joseph Harrison Jackson, the president of the five million member National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. From 1953 to 1982, it was the largest organization of Black people in the world. Thusly, Jackson was one of the most powerful black ministers of his day. Now he is now mostly forgotten by this generation. He was pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago, the largest Black Baptist church in the country during his tenure. He was considered a Black leader in Chicago and was very close to the first Mayor Daley. Maud and Joseph only had one daughter, Kenny (Kentucky). Kenny was a respected college professor, teaching at several colleges including Duke University. She is also a published author with many books to her credit.

      My grandmother did not go to college. Her greatest accomplishment was bearing and raising her children. She had the most children of all her siblings and was a stay-at-home mom. Although this was the norm for her generation, it did not seem to be the norm for her family. In comparison to her husband, Lula was quiet. She looked very much like her mother. Sad to say, I did not know her well. Although I spent many school lunch hours with her, I do not remember her telling me stories like my other grandmother. She always remembered my birthday and gave me money as presents. Like my motherís father, she was more distant with me and my sisters although I know she loved one grandchild. Johnnieís daughter Phyllis, very much and practically raised her.

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