Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » February 2013 » Bernice L. McFadden Asks, Are We Related?

Bernice L. McFadden Asks, Are We Related?

Each month, Akashic invites contributions to our featured blog from our roster of fabulous authors. This February, in celebration of Black History Month and in conjunction with the long-awaited paperback reissue of Nowhere Is a Place, Bernice L. McFadden kicks off our feature with the wonderful conclusion to her book. Bernice has graciously allowed us to borrow her theme, and in the coming weeks, authors Courttia Newland, Kwame Dawes, and more will similarly ask, “Are We Related?”


Bernice L. McFaddenNowhere Is a Place was first published in 2006. The story was inspired by my own genealogical research, which I started back in 1995. I’ve had a lot of help along the way and so would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Antoinette McFadden, Valerie Beaudrault, and the members of AfriGeneas.com—without their kind assistance, I would be years behind in my research.

I believe in “six degrees of separation”—so it’s not unlikely that many of you out there may be familiar with some of the names listed below. Maybe still, you and I will discover that we are kin!

Great-great-grandpa: Reverend Tenant M. Robinson was pastor and founder of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia (the cornerstone bears his name). Tenant Robinson was born on the Edisto River, near Charleston, South Carolina, in 1839. His mother was sold when he was five years old and carried to Aiken, South Carolina. She was again sold to a man by the name of Nat Black and carried to Graniteville, South Carolina. In Augusta, Georgia, Robinson embraced the religion of Christ, was baptized by Reverend Henry Johnson, and was united with the Thankful Baptist Church. Soon after becoming a member he was united in marriage with Miss Louisa White of Hamburg, South Carolina, in 1866. They had four children: James, John, Emma, and Chappo.

The reverend died in 1895, and his widow took the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to court because they refused to pay the $2,500 death benefit. From what I’ve found in the newspapers, the case languished in the court system for a few years. I have not been able to ascertain what the final outcome was.

Great-great-grandpa: Mingo McFadden’s place of birth is unknown, but he married a woman named Lizzie Bailey (born in Texas) and resided in Texas. My great-grandfather Isaac McFadden was born to them in Texas on July 4, 1860. (Little is known about this line of the family.)

At some point Isaac McFadden married Chappo Robinson. Isaac was a cook and Chappo was a music teacher. They had a son Isaac, who died before 1917. Chappo and Isaac had another son while living in Louisville, Kentucky. They named him Harold. Isaac and Chappo lived in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and Louisville, Kentucky, where they had my grandfather, Harold McFadden, in August of 1917. Isaac died in October of 1917.

In 1922 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Chappo married Samuel Elliott, and at some point they moved to Harlem, New York. Harold married Gwendolyn Gill of Brooklyn, New York, and the union produced two children: Isaac Aubrey McFadden and my father, Robert Lewis McFadden.

Harold was a musician. He abandoned the family in 1942 or 1943. He toured the country as a musician and was incarcerated in 1945 (Massachusetts) and then again in 1954 (New Jersey) for selling narcotics. He died in Newark, New Jersey, at the Martland Medical Center, in 1958. His mother preceded him in death in 1951 (Trenton, New Jersey).

I don’t know if Harold produced more children—but I suspect he did. I don’t know if his father (Isaac) had siblings or children from a previous marriage—but again, I suspect he did.

Do you have the pieces of my family tree that continue to elude me? Are we related??

We are?! You do?!

I look forward to hearing from you. Contact me through the comments field below.

—Bernice L. McFadden

BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of eight critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the 100 Notable Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. She is a two-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of two fiction honor awards from the BCALA. Her sophomore novel, The Warmest December, was praised by Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison as “searing and expertly imagined.” McFadden lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Next week (Tuesday, February 12),  Courttia Newland, author of  The Gospel According to Cane, joins the discussion with his own “Are We Related?” contribution.

Posted: Feb 1, 2013

Category: Are We Related? | Tags: , ,