Trial, tragedy, and triumph make up 100 years
The petite rosy-complexioned Episcopalian standing with the bishop at Columbia’s Tr inity Cathedral could be anybody’s mother, grandmother, sister, or aunt in the historic southern setting. As a longtime member of the 200 year- old church, she is wellacquainted with the Rt. Rev. Andrew Waldo, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
No one would be surprised to learn that the gracious dowager was the granddaughter of a Confederate general. What might surpr ise some is that Rosemary Allen Jones is also a proud civil rights advocate and a descendant of a long line of distinguished black leaders, writers, and scholars for generations.
Rosemary’s sister, the late Carr ie Allen McCray, shared their history in her 1998 biography, Freedom’s Child: The Life of a Confederate General’s Daughter. On June 6, a Trinity women’s group, the “Ark Sisters,” will honor Rosemary at a Palmetto Club luncheon to commemorate their fellow communicant and friend’s 100th birthday. The Daughters of the Holy Cross also plan a reception following services June 10, the actual day of Rosemary’s birthday. The celebrations cap a century- long journey marked by trial, tragedy, and triumph.
The birthday fetes for the centenarian surrounded by affectionate companions are a stark contrast to a graduation ceremony more than 80 years ago. Then, because of her race, Rosemary would have had to walk at the end of her high school graduation processional if her crusading mother had not protested.
Mary Rice Hayes Allen,
That matriarch, Mary Rice Hayes Allen, was born in 1875, the daughter of slave descendant Malinda Rice and Confederate Brig. Gen. John Robert Jones of Harrisonburg, Va. He served along with fellow Virginian Stonewall Jackson, but he was taken prisoner at Gettysburg and was not released until the war’s end.
Remarkably for his time, Gen. Jones acknowledged his paternity and paid for Mary’s education. As a college graduate, she became a teacher and wife of the president of Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, a historically black Baptist school founded in 1886.
No one ever talked about Rosemary’s grandfather, but on the mantel of the bedroom where her children were born, Mary had a picture of the distinguished Confederate general. Although the subject was verboten in Rosemary’s household, such interracial relationships were not unusual, causing the Civil War diarist South Carolinian Mary Chestnut, to observe, “God forgive us. Ours is a monstrous system . … Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family, exactly resemble the white children.”
As Rosemary’s sister Carrie observed in her book, that monstrous system continued after the Civil War. Their grandmother, Malinda Rice, went to work in the general’s household in the early 1870s and Rosemary’s mother, Mary, was born in 1875.
Although Malinda’s family was aware of her relationship with the general and the baby’s paternity, silence on the topic prevailed. Nevertheless, the general remained devoted to Mary’s mother all of her life and was ostracized by his community when he insisted on an active and influential role in his daughter’s upbringing.
Only in adulthood after their mother’s death did Rosemary and her sister Carrie determine their grandfather’s true identity. They learned the truth on a return trip to their native Lynchburg, Va., and a candid pivotal visit with their mother’s lifelong intimate friend, the noted poet Anne Spencer.
Later, in their sojourn, a researcher, Dale Harter, at James Madison University verified that Malinda had been named as an intimate party in an adultery suit filed by the general’s second wife. As a history scholar, Harter had become interested in the general and was able to paint a portrait of the brave and compassionate man he really was for his granddaughters. He led the sisters to a scrapbook belonging to the general held by the Perkins Library at Duke University. It contained frequent references to the poor and unfortunate and a frayed poem about the plight of the homeless.
Spencer described the social mores of their girlhood with her visitors and acknowledged that many white women smoldered over their husband’s illicit relationships with black women. Yet, Gen. and Mrs. Jones did not have any children, and Malinda continued to work in the Jones household after Mary was born. The general’s wife became very fond of the little girl and asked Malinda to bring her for frequent visits. Shortly before her death, Mrs. Jones gave Mary a porcelain doll that remained in Mary’s possession all of her life.
Spencer also confided how much joy the general derived from his relationship with his daughter, teaching her to read and to love poetry and sending her to Hartshorn Memorial College in Richmond.
Rosemary’s mother and Professor Hayes
It was there that Mary met Professor Gregory Willis Hayes, an Oberlin graduate and president of Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, who had come to speak. Mary was so moved by his impassioned delivery on self-determination that she conveyed her appreciation for his remarks afterwards. The exchange led to a budding romance and the marriage altar in May 1885. Professor Hayes was 32, and his bride was 20.
As the cultured wife of a distinguished seminary president, Mary enjoyed welcoming a procession of notable guests who came to call, including the famous educators and civil rights leaders of the day such as W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington and a bevy of other prominent black writers, artists, and poets of the day.
She became so recognized in her own right for her contributions that she was named interim president of the seminary when Hayes died of kidney disease in 1906 leaving her a widow with five children. She served in that position for two years.
Rosemary’s mother and Attorney Allen
Several years later at a church gathering, she caught the eye of a recent University of Michigan Law School graduate, William Patterson Allen. She married the promising young lawyer in 1911. Rosemary, their first daughter, was born in 1912, followed by Carrie in 1913.
Although a busy mother with a growing family, Mary still made time for her numerous social causes. One of her chief pursuits was coming to the aid of families in danger of losing their property because of delinquent taxes. The destitute families frequently were preyed upon by unscrupulous speculators hoping to take the land far below its value.
Many times Rosemary and her siblings were recruited to provide the musical entertainment at the numerous lawn parties her mother organized as fundraising events to rescue the indigent victims from the property-grabbing schemes.
Mary, Rosemary, and Carrie and New Jersey
Mary’s daughters had learned during their visit with Spencer how the general had been one of three influential men in Mary’s life who imbued her with a sense of proud self-esteem and more importantly a zeal for social justice. The other pivotal male figures in their mother’s life were her Uncle John, the ex-slave who helped rear her, and her first husband, Professor Hayes, with whom she shared a passion for achieving racial equality or “full freedom” as Mary called it.
That passion prevailed all of her life, and her daughters would become familiar with their mother donning her trademark red cloche felt hat, not unlike a helmet as she sallied forth on one of the numerous causes that enflamed her. One of her first accomplishments was leading in the formation of the NAACP in Lynchburg, working with noted early civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson to organize a chapter there.
As a striving young lawyer and father who wanted the best for his children, Rosemary’s father decided to join the great migration of African-Americans moving north in a desire for racial quality and better opportunities. The new home he chose for his family was the prosperous little community of Montclair, N.J. just outside New York City. He found a handsome house in a newly integrated neighborhood as a new residence for his young family and set about building a successful law practice.
The family soon learned that while there may have been de facto desegregation in their new community, racial prejudices and exclusionary practices were still strong, even though they may have been more subtle. The Jones girls were not permitted to attend dances at their high school, but their mother, who served as board chair of the local YWCA branch for black youth, made sure they were active participants there, which boosted their social confidence and self-esteem.
Although she later became one of Mary’s best friends and mourned her early death, the next-door neighbor initially refused to speak and relented only after Mary’s consistent courteous greetings melted the hostility from across the hedges that separated them.
When Rosemary protested her mother’s admonition to speak to the recalcitrant neighbor despite her rudeness, her mother retorted, “I am not rearing her, I am rearing you.”
Rosemary learned well. She later became a teacher herself as a graduate of Fisk University in Nashville, becoming a math teacher after graduation. Her mother’s humanitarian zeal also made a lifelong imprint. Rosemary obtained a master’s degree in social work in student guidance from Montclair State University. For many years, she was a counselor at the Chestnut Street School for Pregnant Girls in Newark, New Jersey.
Much later, as the retired widow of Hiram Jones, Rosemary moved to Columbia in 1988, to join a son, Peter, who was working in the city. For her, the move back south was an easy decision. When explaining why, she shares a poem by her sister, who alludes to the prevailing sentiment many African Americans feel for their native South.
When I was a young child
In Lynchburg, Virginia
I could not ride the
trolley car sitting
next to our white neighbor
but could sit,
nestled close to her
under her grape arbor
dangling my feet
eating her scuppernongs
and drinking tall, cold
glasses of lemonade
she offered us on hot, summer days.
When I was a young child
moving to Montclair, New Jersey
I could ride the trolley car
sitting next to our white neighbor
but did not dare cross the bitter line
that separated our house from hers
and she never offered us
tall, cold glasses of lemonade
on hot, dry summer days.
Now on the threshold of 100, Rosemary is at home in her native South, where she frequently can be seen serving meals to the homeless at a downtown soup kitchen. A daughter, like her mother and father and her grandfather - compassionate with the needy and sympathetic with the poor.