WARREN CHARLES BELL A MAN OF HOPE AND CHANGE
As I continue my research I often wonder what the lives of our ancestors may have been like. Our country currently is in so much turmoil from Baltimore to Seattle with the continuing issues of equality and justice. What was it like when there was NO freedom to express oneself? There was no radio, TV, Twitter or Facebook to post discontent or bring awareness to issues. I think about the patience and hope our ancestors must have possessed as the country moved towards new rules and freedoms after the civil war. For this segment I want to focus on Warren Charles Bell. Even though there is much unknown about the Bell family he seemed to possess something special that won over the hearts and respect of Blacks and Whites in the town of Milledgeville.
Warren Charles Bell was born in Milledgeville Georgia in 1862 to Warren Bell Sr. (1833 – 1888) and Laura Ann Mitchell Bell (1842 – death unknown). Here is a quick family review; we are not sure where Warren Bell Sr. was born but it might be Alabama. My DNA matched to a woman in the UK and she traced her Bell ancestors to Alabama. There is a large group of Black and White Bell’s there. We do know that Warren Bell Sr. was a traveling musician (oral source Aunt Ella and Rosalyn) and he traveled to Milledgeville with his brother. I am not sure whether Warren Bell Sr. was free or a slave; he does not show up on the 1850 or 1860 census but does show up on the 1870 census. On Warren Bell Sr.’s reconstruction oath of June 26th 1867 it says that he resided in Milledgeville, Georgia for at least 12 months.
Laura Mitchell Bell was the daughter of Jane Mitchell (McComb) and we are not sure who her father was. Laura and Jane are the links between the Steele and the Bell families. Jane and Sally (mother to the Steele children) were sisters and Jane Gilbert was their mother. Laura and her son Edward (11 months Warren’s older brother) are both listed as Brooks on the 1860 census along with Rebecca 9 and Sarah 7 in the same household. I am not sure whose children Rebecca and Sarah were but they are listed on later census as nieces.
Warren and Laura had a total of 6 children. Edward (1859 – 1890), Warren (1862 – 1901), George G. (1864 - ?), Ella (1867 - ?), Annie E. (1870 - ?), and Frank (1872 - ? Blacksmith). Warren Charles Bell must have been educated because at an early age he was employed as a porter in Adolph Joseph’s department store. According to Aunt Ella and Aunt Leo’s stories he also assumed other duties such as inventory and ordering, which would require reading and math skills. Somewhere prior to 1886 he met a young beauty Mary Louise Reid (1867-1938) from Eatonton, GA and fell in love. According to Roslyn we think that Tommy Rainey (Uncle Bubba) was the one that introduced them. Warren and Mary Louise (Mollie) married on January 20, 1886
Adolph Joseph Department Store
Newspaper; notice Warren’s name listed as a porter
Here is a write up in the Union Recorder about the Warren and Mollie’s marriage. Getting your name in the paper in 1886 is not like submitting your marriage announcement today. It was mostly respectable White citizens so many Blacks getting married would not get an announcement like this. Clearly Warren was well respected. The article also confirms that he was born and raised in Milledgeville. Also notice the compliment “esteem of many whites as well as colored friends”.
January 26, 1886 Union and Recorder Warren Bell, the colored porter of the store of A. Joseph, Esq., was married in Eatonton, on Wednesday, 20th inst., to Miss Mollie Reid, of that town, ther ceremony being performed by Rev. G. W. Fears. Warren was born and raised here and has the esteem of many whites as well as colored friends. We hope he and his bride will have a happy and prosperous voyage
Warren and Mollie had 5 daughters. Leo Katherine (1886 - 1973), Ione Beulah (1888 - 1968), Annie Laura my grandmother (1891- 1978), Willie Rachel (1893 - 1959) and Ella Louise (1896 – 2000).
Hope and Progress through Education
On December 22, 1829 a law was passed that made it a penal offense to teach a Negro or Free Person of Color to read or write. (Negro Education in Georgia by Richard Wright). Many ignored this law and Blacks were taught through clandestine means. The consequence of this law meant that the number of educated Blacks was very small, not only in the State of Georgia but elsewhere in the United States.
One of the largest tasks during reconstruction was trying to provide education for former slaves and former free blacks. In 1865 there was an effort by several organizations including the Freeman Bureau and the American Missionary Association to set up schools in Georgia. In 1866 George Peabody of Massachusetts contributed 2 million dollars of his fortune to support educational efforts throughout the south for the less fortunate. To put in perspective how dire the need for education was:” in 1871 there were 545,142 Colored people in the state of Georgia only about 1% of them could read and write”. (Negro Education in Georgia by Richard Wright). The other outstanding issue was who was to teach the population of the uneducated masses? Many looked to Blacks that were already educated to help with the task.
In 1890, Warren C. Bell became the secretary of a group of leaders that would lobby for the Colored Peabody Institute. The Union- Recorder reported it as an “Energetic action taken by the leading colored citizens and Teachers.”
Below is the full article from the Union – Reporter. What a great accomplishment of hope this must have been for the community.
Warren Bell was definitely a man of action as he embraced the new freedoms and became a pillar of the community. Owning property was a hard earned privilege. In 1896 Warren saved enough money to purchase land and build a home. This is the home that I knew intimately as we would visit 408 N. Liberty Ave almost every summer. Big Mama would tell us stories of how Warren Bell built the house for Mollie and the girls. The house stood the test of time even being moved to a new location until an electrical problem caused a fire and it burned down about 5 years ago. Our cousin Geneva Bell Davis and Emily Davis built a house on this land after Big Mama came to live with us.
Deed from Warren Bell's purchase August 4, 1896 (property of Kathy Lloyd)
Sadly on June 22, 1901 Warren Charles Bell passed away. I can only imagine what he would have accomplished if he had not died at such a young age. I can still remember Big Mama speaking of him fondly with the love of a daughter lingering in her tone, as she would gently say the word “Papa”. So every morning when I get up and head to my office I get to greet Warren Charles Bell. This photo hangs in my home, as it hung in my father’s house and Big Mama’s house (The Bell family home) before that.
Funeral announcement for Warren C. Bell June 22, 1901
Warren Charles Bell 1862 - 1901
Warren Charles Bell insert of photo
Bell Family Bible; Warren Bell purchased it from Frank Steele in 1886. Frank purchased it in 1884. You can barely see his name scratched out on the first page.
Page out of the Bell Family Bible documenting marriage of Warren and Mollie in 1886
Since the last time I posted a family blog I am sorry to say we lost another family member. Everett Allen Bell passed away on March 28, 2015. His father was Edward Bell and Geraldine Brantley Bell. Brother to Harris Bell, Geraldine (Geri) Bell, Geneva Bell and Edwina Bell.
If anyone has additional information from your research please share! Pictures are so important and can lead to clues. Even stories that have been passed down, there are always tidbits that can give clues to brick walls.
Happy researching and I hope to see all of you soon!!
The beautiful Mary Louise (Mollie) Reid (1867 – 1938)