OUR RIGHT TO VOTE; IT’S A FAMILY THING
As the year slowly comes to an end my research continues. This year has been especially enlightening with my trip to Milledgeville once again revealing important information (Jane Gilbert’s 1837 guardian petition) to the continuing tracking of the complicated relationship of William Steele and his family. We are also not without family loss; Bebe Henderson (grandmother Sara Steele Jarrett) and Clarence Braddock husband to Barbara (mother Willie Bell). As I write it is the anniversary of my father’s death, I can almost hear his wonderfully sassy retort; why do want to dig up the past? I feel it is more important than ever for us to understand our past and to put it in writing for future generations. The more I find out about our family compared to other African Americans during these times, it becomes apparent that we all have a unique history. And one that should be told over and over again to whoever will listen. I decided to honor one of my father’s lessons our right to vote. Voting and the right to vote has always been a strong topic in our family. This right has been hard earned we should never take it for granted.
Voting in America started out as tool of the privileged. A small group of White men decided the fate of the whole country. Originally the US Constitution did not address who was eligible to vote and left it in the hands of the state governments. Most states only allowed white males who owned 50 acres of land or had taxable income to vote. So poor Whites and Blacks alike were prohibited to vote pre-Civil war. There were 4 states (Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New York) in which freed slaves could vote as long as they met the property requirements. As the country was moving towards the Civil War most white men were allowed to vote whether they had property or not. Post Civil war amendments were added to the Constitution to address the voting divide. Starting with the14th amendment (1868) to address citizenship, 15th amendment (1870) race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and the 19th amendment (1920) sex. Even with these additions states found ways to deny the vote based on using literacy test, poll tax, or even religious test.
William Steele was a strong supporter of states rights. As a Democrat he served as the secretary of the party in 1846 and 1847. While he had five children by Sallie Keen; a Free Person of Color he also owned slaves, paid taxes, and had over 50 acres of land. He was a prime candidate to vote. Voting also determined his livelihood. He was elected several times as the Clerk of the Superior and Inferior court and in 1851 he was elected Mayor of Milledgeville. He continued in politics by serving as the Secretary of the Executive Department for Governor’s Herschel Johnson (1853 – 1857) and Howell Cobb (1851 – 1853). Here is a newspaper notice of William Steele’s intent to run for the office of Superior and Inferior Court in 1845.
Some how I would like to think that when the Democratic party split over the issue of extending slavery William was on the side refusing to push slavery west. Based on doctor records I do know that he provide funds for Charlie Steele to purchase the books he need to be an apprenticed carpenter and each of his five children was literate. The right to vote must have been instilled in these children.
As you can imagine 1906 was a tumultuous time for Blacks especially in the south. The 15th amendment was barely 40 years old and politicians realized how powerful the Black vote was as many towns in the south were predominately Black. In 1900 there were 4,219 people living in Milledgeville with about 50% of them being Black. Here is an article from the Union Recorder dated January 1, 1906 listing The View of the Colored Voters.
If you read the article there must have been turmoil over the issue of voting pertaining to the prohibition election. Leading the charge are many of our relatives. Rev. E.A. Houston was the husband of Rosa Steele (father Charlie Steele), Willie F. Steele (father Charlie Steele), Charles Steele Jr. (father Charlie Steele), William Davis (husband to Pauline Walton (mother Ada J. Steele) and Laura Steele (father Guss Steele). Yes William Davis married two cousins. Notice the last lines: We therefore advise that the white people be allowed to fight this out among themselves. This was a very bold statement for the time. Not that I agree with prohibition!
The big win for us all was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This piece of legislation prohibited racial discrimination in voting. As we come to the end of a presidential term everyone should think about our long history of how voting has affected our lives. A voter registration card would be a wonderful gift this year. Whatever parties you chose to support exercise your right and celebrate your family history! Do not lose this privilege let your voice be heard.
Bubba and I have had plenty of emails from the Steele side of the family once we increased his testing to Y-DNA 67. We are definitely matched to 3 different people that come from the Steele’s that founded Hartford, CT. The problem is we just do not know how the three brothers (William, George, and Ralph) fit in. Ted Steele has created a website and we are going to continue our research. Here is the link to the site if anyone wants to view the whole Steele line. .We even have a couple of Steele’s that were accused of witchcraft. As a horror writer Elisa Victoria (my daughter) is very excited.
When William died he owned two slaves John and Mary (both of them listed as light complexion). In the Freedman Bureau there is a John Steele listed with his sister Mary. He lists his father as John Steele. I am still researching but this may be William’s former slaves and his relative (cousin or uncle) John Holmes Steele’s children. John is listed in William’s estate papers as owning him money. Another mystery.
I am still tracking Jane Gilbert to find who her original owner was prior to David Brydie Mitchell.
I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday!! I look forward to discovering more information about our family in 2015! Please share, every little clue is important!
Reverend Ebenezer and Rosa Bell Steele Houston with their children.
Reverend Houston and Rosa had 14 children. He was the pastor at CME Trinity Church.
One correction. On the last blog I said that Uncle Bubba (Tommy Rainey) called the Bell girls Four Roses well I misunderstood Cousin Roslyn she said he liked Four Roses Bourbon! I stand corrected!
Happy Researching!! Theresa