Sister Marcia: contribution to the genealogy talk

Someone in the audience knew Charlotte Yates from her time in Binghamton before 1954.

Even though she hasn’t been to our hometown of Binghamton, NY in over a decade, my sister Marcia has contributed mightily to the genealogy talk our cousin Lisa presented recently.

Lisa spoke at the Broome County Area History Conference on April 21 at the Bundy Museum. She came all the way from Washington, DC to introduce two families, one Black and one Jewish, which my wife, daughter and I attended.

As she wrote in the precis, our “second great grandfather, James A. Archer, a free Black man who, along with two other family members, fought in the Civil War. They survived and returned to Binghamton to raise families and start businesses.” In part because of other photos Marcia put online, Lisa was able to ascertain that the post-Civil War photo I’ve posted to this blog included not only James Archer, but the brothers of his wife, Harriet Bell Archer.

“In the late 1800’s the Archer family purchased a house on Maple Street, which became a hub of family activity for several generations to come.” That was the house my grandmother and mother grew up in.”

She also told about her great grandparents, Isaac and Sarah Berman, who were born in Latvia and Lithuania, emigrated, first to Denmark then to the US in 1913 and settled in Binghamton. Isaac “started an egg business that eventually turned into a trucking company that was the first to offer overnight service from the Triple Cities to Boston.

“Both families grew and in 1937, the two came together with the marriage of Ernest Archer Yates and Charlotte Berman, my grandparents, who faced their own challenges as an interracial couple.” Ernie was my grandma’s brother and Charlotte the third child of Isaac and Sarah.

This picture also came from Marcia’s collection, with Ernie and Charlotte together in the back row, my mother’s arm on Ernie’s shoulder. Given the presence of three of their four children, I peg the photo in 1945 or 1946. Someone in the audience knew Charlotte from her time in Binghamton before 1954, when she and the children moved to Queens, NYC after Ernie died unexpectedly.

When Lisa came to Binghamton, she had to take a detour off Front Street onto Gaines Street and pass another Archer property at 5 Gaines Street, where MY nuclear family lived in the 1950s and 1960s.

So Marcia, even though she was far away, was an important part of Lisa’s presentation. Happy birthday, baby sister.

Grandparents Day: my grandmas, and one of my daughter’s

Curiously, this picture triggered a memory of some kind about my OTHER grandmother.

One of those holidays I think WAS created by Hallmark is Grandparents Day. Well, technically not, but it FEELS that way.

Here’s another picture my sister Marcia found, taken at some point in the 1940s; no idea where, when or why. The woman in the top row, second from the right is my great aunt Charlotte and the guy next to her in the sweater is her husband, Ernie Yates. Ernie died while his kids Raymond (directly in front of Charlotte), Frances (sitting on the floor), and Donald (on the blonde girl’s lap) were still young, but Charlotte had grandchildren, as Fran, Donald, and Robert (either not yet born, or an infant) all had children. Fran and Donald now have grandchildren.

The woman behind the blonde girl, partially obscured, is my grandma, Gertrude Williams, Ernie’s sister. She had three grandchildren, including my two sisters. And the young woman in the back row next to Ernie is my mother. I don’t know who she was holding hands with, but it was not my father. She too had three grandchildren, as my sisters and I each had a daughter.

This picture was posted on Facebook, and a cousin suggested that it was taken on the second floor of something called the Interracial Center at 45 Carroll Street in Binghamton. The only people I recognize are my mother and her mother in the front row.

Curiously, this picture triggered a memory of some kind about my OTHER grandmother. A guy named John wrote, “I worked with your Grandmother Agatha Green in the Sunday School as a teacher at Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church Binghamton NY at the earlier location on Sherman Place & the church moved to Oak St. in 1960. Yes, I of course also recall your Mother and VERY artistic Dad, Les … A GREAT encouragement, motivation to me was knowing your Grandmother … (& I do mean “Grand”)…one fine Lady who made a HUGE difference in [my] life to the extent that she did NOT, sadly live to see. God Bless Her Soul!!!”

B is for the Bermans

The photo portrait of Rosa Parks that hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery was taken by IdaBerman BEFORE Rosa refused to yield her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in December 1955.

Charlotte (Berman) Yates, Gertrude (Yates) Williams, Trudy (Williams) Green, Roger Green- 13 Maple St, Binghamton, NY

When Charlotte Berman married Ernest Yates in 1937, it was a pretty radical event at the time. Charlotte was from a family of Jews from eastern Europe, and Ernie was black.

But let’s back up a bit. “Pinches Barosin, a teacher in the small town of Warklian, Latvia, and his wife, Slatte” had five children, the youngest of which, Isaac, was born in 1886. In the US, Barosin became Berman; Isaac married Sara Schmuelowitsch in 1910. They had eight children: Ida, Benjamin, Charlotte, Frances, Jacob, Mary, Samuel, and Arnold, most of whom I got to know to various degrees. Isaac, a trucking company executive, died before I was born, but Sara lived until 1971 and died in my hometown of Binghamton, so I did meet her.

Of the children, I’ll take Charlotte (1914-2003), the third child, out of order, because she’s the link to me. Ernie Yates, who she married, was the brother of my maternal grandmother, Gert. Ernie and Charlotte’s kids were my mother’s first cousins. And until Ernie died, shortly after I was born, they lived in Binghamton. Even after they moved to St. Albans, Queens in New York City, we saw Charlotte, her kids, and eventually her grandkids all the time. The photo is of Charlotte (I think Ernie is just out of the frame), my grandmother, my mother and me, at my grandmother’s house.

Ida (1911-2009) was the Berman, other than Charlotte, I was closest to. She was an accomplished photographer. The photo portrait of Rosa Parks that hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery was taken by Ida BEFORE Rosa refused to yield her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in December 1955. Never married, she seemed to have adopted me and would take me to art galleries whenever I saw her in NYC.

Ben (1912-1989) I knew not well, but like his siblings, I would see at him at the weddings of Charlotte’s children and other events.

Fran (1916-2011) married Professor Irwin Corey, the comedian, c 1940, and it was exciting to see him on Ed Sullivan or some other TV variety show. For some reason, Charlotte once took us to Fran and Irwin’s house when they weren’t there. I saw Fran and Irwin at a couple of birthday parties for Charlotte in 1994 (her 80th) and 2002 (her 88th, and last).

The kids of Jack (1918-2001) and Berta, known as Chicha, grew up in Binghamton; they were born between 1948 and 1957, around my time. Didn’t know them well, and was unclear to me at the time of their relationship to me.

Mary (1922-2006), who married Sam Rosen, I don’t really recall; she wasn’t living in New York State, though she probably showed up at some family events too. But her youngest son, Jonny Rosen, is one of the leaders of the Albany area band Annie & the Hedonists, “an eclectic mix of acoustic blues, vintage jazz and swing, and folk roots Americana.” They are, BTW, really good. (n.b., Sharp Little Pencil – I think you’d like them). I just saw them play this past Mother’s Day.

Charlotte always referred to her two younger brothers collectively as “the boys,” even when they were adults. Sam (b. 1923), who is still alive, and married to Vivian, was a folk singer. I wonder if he influenced my father somehow?

Arnold (b. 1924), a widower (Miriam), is not only alive; he put together this extensive website on the Barosin/Berman family. He also recalls a trip Charlotte and my sister Leslie took to Mexico in the summer of 1972: “[His wife] Miriam and I visited while [Charlotte] was there. I know that Ida was there at the time. My most striking memory in that visit was Leslie, that beautiful, tall Black girl who attracted so much attention from the local short Mexicans as we traveled by bus through the small villages.” Leslie got a kick out of THAT.

There are some gaps on the website – Charlotte’s youngest, Robert isn’t represented, e,g. – but it is filled with fascinating stuff. There are photos, many taken by Ida, and videos. I highly recommend that you check it out.

ABC Wednesday – Round 13

Frances Beal: Voices of Feminism Oral History Project

When my cousin Gertie — Trudie, they call her now — started to date the man who eventually became her husband – my father, Les Green –, he was deemed too dark for the family.

One of my sisters discovered this March 18, 2005 interview with my mother’s first cousin, my first cousin once removed, Frances Beal this autumn, conducted by Loretta Ross. Fran is about 12 years younger than my mother and 13 years older than I am. Her kids are about a dozen years younger than my sisters and I. Her late mother, Charlotte Yates, was my beloved great aunt.

Her politics are far more liberal than mine. She, I suspect, would eschew the term “liberal” altogether, in favor of “radical”. What is truly interesting about the piece though, from my specific POV, is the retelling of her history, which invariably overlaps with mine.

Here’s a picture of Frances Beal.

The info in the italics is mine.

Frances Beal was born in Binghamton, NY, on January 13, 1940, the daughter of Ernest Yates [ my maternal grandmother’s brother- ] who was of African American and Native American ancestry, and Charlotte Berman Yates, of radical Russian Jewish immigrant roots. When Fran’s father died in 1954, her mother moved the family to St. Albans, an integrated neighborhood in Queens. In addition to observing her mother’s participation in left politics, Fran was profoundly affected by the murder of Emmett Till, as was I. After graduating from Andrew Jackson High School in 1958, she became involved in civil rights activities and socialist politics while attending the University of Wisconsin.

She married James Beal, and from 1959 to 1966, they lived in France, where they had two children and Fran became attuned to the internationalist/anti-imperialist politics of post-colonial African liberation struggles…

BEAL: OK. I was born in a relatively small city, upstate New York, called Binghamton, New York, as was I. In school they used to tell us, Bing bought a ham and it weighed a ton: that’s how to spell Binghamton…
ROSS: And your mother’s name was?
BEAL: Charlotte Berman. And she had eight brothers and sisters, and she was like the third oldest of the eight brothers and sisters. And then they went to Binghamton and —

So that’s how my parents met, actually, because my mother was working in the office of Berman’s Motor Express, the family business. My father was working for Canny’s – two blocks from the house I grew up in – … And they actually did a lot of shipping between Binghamton and New York City, whereas Berman’s used to be between Boston and Binghamton…

Well, they got married and then presented the family with the facts. And I think that happened basically because they knew. Now my father was 12 years older than my mom, so when my older brother was born, she was 24 and I think he was 36… And my brother Raymond, now deceased, was one of those seven-month babies, right? (laughs)…it was early in 1937. That’s when they got married. And then my brother, as I said, my brother was born in November 1937. And then I came along in January of 1940. And I had two other brothers, approximately three years apart: Donald, who was born in 1943; and my brother Robert, who’s just six years younger than I am, was born in 1946.

And on my father’s side, they were extremely poor, my father’s side of the family. On my dad’s side of the family there was Gertrude Yates [Williams] – my maternal grandmother, who died in 1983, she was the oldest. Then came Edward Yates, my Uncle Ed who died c 1970. Then came my father, Ernest Yates, and then Deana Yates, my father’s younger sister who died c 1965, one of the first people I knew to die.

And they lived — there again is an interesting story. My grandmother’s mother was part Indian, and when the white persons came to the Susquehanna Valley — that’s where the Susquehanna River and the Chenango River come together…cities grow up on rivers, and the Indians knew that, too, because that’s what they used as their mode of transportation. So the whites essentially pushed the native population out up into the hills. And they gave like a plot of land to the Indians, right? Now what’s interesting culturally here is that the Mohawk, or Iroquois Indian Confederacy, was matrilineal, so that meant that property and family was passed through the woman, the female, and not through the man. And that was a very, very powerful cultural tradition, that even though the whites, when they gave out the property, they gave it to my grandmother’s brother because he was the male. He turned around and gave it to Lillian, my grandmother – [my great-grandmother]- because that’s how you do things, in terms of being an Indian.

And that thing was so powerful, that that’s exactly what happened all down through when we sold the property. When my grandmother died, she died intestate, meaning no will. Therefore, all four of her children and these — there were about 16 people, really, that could have some say in this lot with a house, really more like a cabin, on it. And so they all got together. They decided they should give all of this property to Gert my grandmother, so again, [in] the second generation, it’s going to a female. And then my cousin Gertie – my mother –, who’s the oldest female, she gets the property. And when she gives it up — even though she has a son and two daughters, her son [me] is the oldest and two daughters — she turns that property over to my female cousin, Leslie Ellen Green, my sister. So I just thought that it’s a very powerful holding on to certain customs of how you do things…

A more funny story is that we used to go up and stay with my Aunt Gert on the hill, and down the street, there was another family and they [had] about four kids. And my Aunt always said to us, “You should not play with them because they are bad people and their mother is immoral.” Turns out — we didn’t know anything else like this, but when my Aunt Deana died, one of those kids came to the funeral and was talking to my mother. It turns out these are cousins of ours, that our Uncle Frederick had all these children with this Indian woman, but they never got married. So they were considered, you know…shameful. This characterization of my grandmother is absolutely accurate.

Now I have to say, my family on my father’s side was very much impacted by the racial notion of the time, so they liked it that my father married my mother because she was white. That was, you know, really acceptable. When my cousin Gertie — Trudy, they call her now — started to date the man who eventually became her husband, my father, Les Green, he was deemed too dark for the family. And I think my father and my Uncle Ed had to intervene and say, Listen, I’m not going to be able to ever speak to you again unless you stop this nonsense. But then the two of them, also — my Uncle Ed didn’t marry a white woman, but a woman who was very light-skinned, and she had quote “good hair,” you know, flowing hair. And so there was a lot of racial confusion in that family, from which, you know, my dad came.

But just to give you an idea of how this racial thing also worked, there’s many women who — I mean, I had gotten married and I had a couple kids, and like many, I didn’t know what I could do with the kids in the summertime. So I had my Aunt Gert take them for three weeks to, you know, partly look after the kids. And this was during the ’60s, right? And I was already heavily into an Afro and not putting a curling iron [in my hair]. And my kids had never even seen one. So I was at work and they were staying with their Aunt Gert, and I get this frantic phone call from my Aunt Gert, “Please, you have to speak to your elder daughter. She’s out in the street and she says she’s going to run away and she’s going to New York City, and I can’t get her to come back.”

So I had my Aunt Gert go into the back of the cabin, you know, the other room that was like a two-down, two-up cabin, type of thing. [I went to my grandmother’s house every day after school from kindergarten through 9th grade, and even lived there for a few months in 1975]. She came in and she started crying. The girls were five and four. They had never seen a curling iron in their life. And in this house, the heat, there was this big, big cast-iron stove that covered one whole length of the kitchen. And in it you had the wood-burning and coal-burning stove. So Gert had started the fire and put [in] these coal-burning things, and flames are leaping up when she takes the burner off. She sticks the comb in there. The elder one’s watching all of this, getting more horrified by the minute. And so then she takes it out, wipes it on the dish towel, right? And she says, “Come here.” “What are you going to do with that?” She said, “I’m going to straighten your hair. You look like the wild woman from Borneo.” And I was laughing, because that’s what my same Aunt Gert used to call me when my hair would get it: “You look like the wild woman from Borneo.” (laughs). The elder girl grabs her sister’s hand, runs out to the sidewalk, and bursts into tears. And she told me later, “I didn’t know which way to go!” (laughs). So this is, you know, three hundred miles [away], so of course, I’m in New York City, I have to jump into my car, drive madly three and a half hours up to Binghamton to kind of try to save the situation. [Our house was four or five blocks from my grandmother’s, so I heard this story at the time.].

My father died of cancer [when I was one year old], and then finally six months later we moved to New York City, into Queens. But it was into a house because my mother thought that with us kids coming from a town where there were big back yards and big houses — and you know, when we would get too noisy she would just put us in the back yard to run around — that we would be too much to move into an apartment. She just could not imagine living in an apartment. So we moved into St. Albans, a three-bedroom house and then she re-did the upstairs for me, so that I could have a bedroom up there… [We would visit that house several times a year when I was growing up; it seemed enormous at the time.]

Jimmy Beal! James Beal. And he’s the father of my children… And I think part of moving back to the United States after staying [in France] six years, was to set the basis for us to dissolve the marriage — which happened within months of us returning home, literally. Fran’s kids and their cousins were, despite the distance between New York City and Binghamton, and a nearly a decade in age between her kids and my parents’ kids, our closest relatives. Jimmy Beal died in October 2010.

There’s lots of other interesting stuff in there – it’s 50+ pages long – about people she had met in her journey, but I wanted to specifically excerpt what I did because it involved people I know or knew.

G is for Green Wedding

My father and sister sang at our wedding reception. I think I did too.

When I married Carol Powell on May 15, 1999, it was not only a blending of families, it was a mixing of family sizes. My family is very small, while hers is ginormous. Since both of my parents were only children, and all of my grandparents, by that point, were deceased, this was pretty much it on my side of the ledger: (L-R) my niece Rebecca, her mother/my sister Leslie, Carol, me, my mother Trudy, my late father Les, my niece Alexandria, and her mother/my sister Marcia.

Whereas my new wife had LOTS of relatives. My mother-in-law had seven siblings, my father-in-law two. My wife had three brothers and over 30 first cousins. I, of course, had no first cousins since I had no uncles or aunts.

So when they wanted a picture of my side of the family, you might wonder: who ARE all of these people? Most of these are direct descendants of my late great aunt Charlotte, the little woman in the front right of this photo above.

My mother’s mother Gert had three siblings that reached adulthood, but only one, Ernest, who married Charlotte, had children while my mother was growing up. So even though they were a decade or more younger than my mother, my mother’s first cousins by Ernest, who died back in the 1950s, and Charlotte, were the closest child relatives she had. And even though they lived in Queens, New York City, Charlotte’s grandkids were the closest child relatives my sisters and I had, besides each other, likewise 10 years or more younger than we were. Charlotte, BTW, was the sister-in-law of Professor Irwin Corey.

So the folks in the photo are one of Charlotte’s sons (and spouse) near the center of the photo, two of her granddaughters (plus a spouse), and a couple of her great-grandkids, along with the folks in the first picture. Whereas the picture on my wife’s side was a virtual mob scene by comparison.

This is the Yates side of the family that showed up at my niece Rebecca’s wedding to Rico in 2005. There was some difficulty between the bride’s mother and the groom’s mother, who wondered why the first cousin of the bride’s grandmother should be indicated in the program. As I described here, ultimately the extended family was listed, though the bride’s uncle, i.e., I, was inadvertently left off.

Oh, at Carol’s and my reception, my father and sister sang. I think I sang one song with them, Rebecca probably performed a number or two, and even niece Alex sang Yellow Submarine with her young cousins. Leslie also sang at the wedding.

I’ve been thinking a lot about weddings because my daughter is going to be in her first one this coming month, the Pakistani event of her babysitter, which will be an elaborate affair. More on that after the fact. If you’re also planning to tie the know with your soulmate soon, you’re probably already trying to find those tungsten wedding rings for him.

The website of niece Rebecca’s band, Siren’s Crush.

ABC Wednesday – Round 7

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