Part 2 of 5 Some of the information contained in this article comes from Federal Census Records, Government Record Archives, statements from living relatives, and other sources that derive from second hand information from the researcher who actually conducted my family genealogy search, and others who know the family. Considering these sources, please give the accuracy of the article it’s due weight accordingly.
The rural backdrop of Charlottesville, Virginia where my maternal ancestors hail from provides the perfect enclave conducive for the concealment of dirty little secrets. The seclusion of small towns like the Black Branch section of Charlotteville (a term dubbed for the town by local blacks) set the ideal place to harbor a family’s shame and sin. I believe that a young girl not even of preteen age gave birth to my mother, and she was sent to Virginia to conceal her pregnancy until her child was born. It was a common practice of the times to ship girls off who had conceived a child while in fact being minors themselves to quiet places where the pregnant child wouldn’t draw much attention.
Such arrangements also benefited concealment of child pregnancies because the births were performed by mid wives in small rooms of homes in the south. Those births were recorded when the mid wife filed a report with the town or county clerks office, and many towns during that era only had birth registries which only required the documentation of the newborn’s mother and father names along with the month and year of the child’s birth. These practices contrasted very differently from birth records documented in larger cities with sizable populations. There were hospitals and other medical centers that adopted different approaches to the filing of birth records, and a young preteen girl would be problematic as local, state, and federal agencies could potentially launch investigations into exactly how a child became pregnant.
To avoid trouble which official investigations from agencies like social services and child welfare agencies would bring, the child would be sent away where more control could be obtained regarding exposure of these child pregnancies, and mid wives who recorded child births were dependent upon the parents of the children to provide accurate information for the birth file. I’m not convinced that honesty while providing this crucial information for the record was of a priority to many families who may have had invested interest in false information being provided. I have conducted a volume of interviews with sources who actually lived during the era in question, and many of their accounts regarding such practices are continuously consistent as I have described.
Often times I am told that accurate information was provided to court clerks, but upon the child and her newborn’s arrival back to their family homes is where the falsehoods in many instances began. My initial article for this serious previously outlined the pressures of the social climate during the early and mid nineteenth century regarding societal codes on family values and moral turpitude, and parents of these child mothers fabricated the parentage of babies born to child parents to shield the family from purported public scrutiny. My intent isn’t to cast aspersions upon these grandmothers whose child became pregnant, but rather my effort is simply to state the facts which depict the culture of untruths on the concealment of child pregnancies as well as how many children developed having falsely believed that women other than their biological parent had been named as their mother.
The 1940’s U.S. Census revealed that my great grandparents had 5 children living in their home at the time the census recordings for that year was documented. They were all girls ages 16, 15, 13, 9, and 7 (the later of which would have been my grandmother). Just four years later in 1944 which was the year of my mother’s birth, my grandmother would only have been 11 years old. Not only is this revelation disturbing, but it remains the most logical explanation as to why the true identity of my mother’s biological mother was concealed. The ages of the other girls living in the home when my mother was actually conceived would have been 20, 19, 17, and 13 respectively. The 20 year old sister had previously given birth to a daughter a few months prior in the same year (naming her as my mom’s mother would not have been possible). It’s widely believed by members of the family investigating our family genealogy that a story was fabricated naming the 19 year old sister, the only other daughter in the family of legal and acceptable child bearing age as my mother’s biological mother. This of course would have resolved any suspicion related to the birth of my mother by a strict society that shunned child pregnancies during that era.
More importantly, common sense begs the question as to how an 11 year old child would have gotten pregnant in a home with four older siblings as well as the presence of both parents. An inquiry into such a question is even more intensified considering my mother’s father was a 19 year old adult at the time of my mother’s birth. There isn’t any rationalization that could explain these extremely troubling circumstances which amount to nothing short of rape of an 11 year old girl. Even if the sexual relations which produced my mother were consensual by both parties, it would still constitute statutory rape in the State of Maryland. Unfortunately, in the 1940’s the U.S. Food And Drug Administration (FDA) had not authorized contraceptives in any form, abortions weren’t being performed, and baring some sort of natural termination of a woman’s pregnancy like a miscarriage, she had no other recourse other than to carry her baby full term until birth.
I can not express more emphatically how child pregnancies of this nature were almost never reported to the authorities. One rationalization could be the shrewd fashion many child protective agencies during those times investigated child rape cases. With a number of other children in a home which produced a child pregnancy, the parents were subjected to the potential removal of all other minor children from the home, as a pregnant minor child was often times looked upon as neglect by the parents. These practices by the government related to black families is a well documented historical fact on how government agencies utilized similar cases to continue the disruption of the black family core. Irregardless of how a child became pregnant proactive measures were normally taken by the child’s parents to shield the family from scrutiny and separation.
Some people rationalize that the family did what they had to do to keep it all together, but a more critical observation reveals how many of these decisions exposed the child parent to grave psychological and emotional distress, and not withstanding how the destruction of concealing the truth about a child’s parentage impacted the direct lineage of unborn children within the family for generations to come. In fact, though mothers of child parents contrived in their minds that such decisions made on concealing the truth regarding a child’s true parentage was in the best interest of the family, the decision in all actuality only guaranteed that children in future generations who held direct lineage to a child living under assumed and false parentage would never ever know their true bloodline.
Ignorance and selfishness to some degree are the sole derivatives explaining why mother’s sent their daughters away upon learning of their pregnancies. A strict societal code can never be permitted to justify the traumatic experience of being sent away from the only home these pregnant girls had ever known, especially if the child was in fact a victim of rape. The only living offspring of my grandmother have both confirmed that their mother was sent to live in Charlottesville in her youth. They both don’t recall ever being given an explanation from their mom as to why that occurred. Women that I have interviewed for this article have expressed outrage at such a practice, and have conveyed that they could never have fathomed allowing their child to endure the physical and emotional discomfort that the burden of child birth entails by herself, let alone sending her away in some sort of exile on the mere premise of concealing a family’s perceived shame.
These child mothers often times were exposed to complete culture shock, having to now adapt to life in rural settings that lacked the culture of urban life where many of these girls were sent from. They also lost the sense of family they knew, leaving siblings, friends, and other family behind they were more accustomed to interact with. Now having to learn how to live with relatives they were unfamiliar with, they were forced to learn the often times coarse life of country living. I can’t help but think how my grandmother, and young girls like her had to succumb to the ill advised decisions of their parents, who made decisions regarding a child’s development and care, solely on the premise of their concern regarding how others perceived, not the pregnant child, but these adult parents themselves.
Let’s face it, whether the pregnant child consented to sexual relations with an adult male or not, there should be serious accountability placed squarely of the shoulders of the child’s parents. A pregnant little girl shouldn’t have to be ushered off into oblivion to conceal her pregnancy and her parent’s failure, while the parents should be held responsible for how their minor daughter became pregnant in the first place. In my grandmother’s case at least, it appears that no consideration was given in regards to how the entire ordeal would impact her development and social interaction with others after such an ordeal. She was eventually allowed to return to the family home with my mother as her newborn child, but her baby was cared for by others in the family.
I believe that the acquisition which transpired with her 19 year older sister having been named as my mother’s biological mom may have been the catalyst which sparked a family feud that would last for decades. It’s safe to say that the dynamics of a house full of young girls is certain to be marred with some conflict at the very minimum, but when you add children mothered by the girls to the equation it could be very disastrous. The accounts of offspring of the woman who we were taught was our grandmother (my Aunt and grandmother’s sister’s kids) establishes that there was a running feud between the two sisters. One Aunt explained to me that the reason my grandmother’s children weren’t known to her and her siblings was a direct result of the negativity and hatred their mother spewed about her sister on a regular basis.
“We weren’t around them because every time she came around or her name was mentioned, Momma would say ‘that bitch’ or ‘them motherfuckers’, so we never saw them,” is what she conveyed to me. Her comments were very consistent with what many of the Johnson Family grandchildren were told about our grandparent’s relationship with their siblings. Although a clear picture was painted for us describing how they almost never got along, stories were told which established that a very bitter relationship existed between the third born daughter, and her younger sister who would have been the Johnson’s sixth child (my grandmother). I have since been troubled by these facts considering there was a seven year difference in their ages, but the reality of the older of the two women having been placed with the burden of motherhood for her little sister’s child is perhaps a very compelling premise as to why bitterness and hatred ran deep between these sisters.
There were other strange elements to this particular story. The family has since expressed concern as to how a 19 year old man would have the ability to gain intimate access to an eleven year old girl and get her pregnant. The man had to have been around the home for some purpose, and it makes sense that he was more than likely dating or friendly with one of the older girls living there. The two older girls in the home were 20 and 19 when my mother was born, the 20 year old had previously had a baby, and my mother’s father and the older 19 year old who we were taught was our grandmother, were both born in 1925, and with both of them being 19, it’s common sense that they more than likely had a relationship as the other girls were all minor children. This of course would mean that the man some how had sex with the older daughter’s kid sister and impregnated her. It seems logical that the family would have taken serious legal action against the man considering my grandmother’s age at the time, but the bitter feud between the women that lasted until their deaths points to a clear indication that my grandmother was persecuted as a result, and she just may have been targeted because she mothered a child by a man in a relationship with an older sister who would subsequently be forced to be named the child’s mother.
My grandmother’s marital records illustrates further proof of just how bad the relationship in her parent’s home was only a few years after she gave birth to my mother. She was married at an early age (16) and even during those times, minors had to have a parent or guardian sign the license giving consent to the marriage. In 1949 when she was married, her address is listed as being the same as that of the family of the man she was going to wed, and the person who signed the license giving consent to the marriage was in fact the grandmother of her husband to be. This raises questions as to why my grandmother left her parent’s home, and how her grandmother-in-law had obtained guardianship over her or the legal right to give consent to her marriage. There must have been serious and continued turmoil among the Johnson sisters that forced my grandmother out of that home, and causing her to have to go and live with her future husband’s family.
Also, the older sister who was named as my mother’s mom had a son a short time later. She would eventually give him away for some unknown reason, and I suspect that she may have mothered a child by the same man who fathered my mother, which reveals that she may have continued an intimate relationship with the same man who had raped her younger sister just a few years prior. She married her husband while purportedly having 5 kids, and stories told over the years that the family couldn’t afford to provide for all of the children and rationalizing giving away her first born child just doesn’t make sense at all. Having a child by a man who had fathered a child by your kid sister must have been a tremendous burden to carry psychologically, and this sister may have held serious animosity toward my grandmother for having to give her first born child away because the pain probably was just too much to bare. To complicate matters even more, this women’s children have repeatedly told the family for years that my mother never stayed the night over their house, and for the most part never lived in their home. My mother was actually raised by her grandmother and these recent revelations may explain why. My grandmother was too young to care for a child, so her mother raised the baby, and the title of mother placed on my grandmother’s older sister was only to conceal the child pregnancy and the family from public scrutiny.
Other compelling evidence exist that spells out why there was serious family dysfunction among the Johnson siblings which I will explain in the next article. However, family members have conveyed details describing how my grandmother was often times on a regular basis shunned away from the family. One of my mother’s surviving siblings revealed that she remembers being taken over family members homes, then being told to put their coats back on after only having been there for five minutes. She also describes how on many of those occasions her mother could be seen crying profusely. She recalls her mother having very personal internal issues which she suspects derived from the broken relationship my grandmother had with her siblings. The family has continuously expressed how meek, shy, and timid my grandmother was. Some say she had a very loving spirit similar to that of my late mother. The description many express regarding her character doesn’t align with a fast little girl who would be consensual to having sex at the age of eleven. She was simply too reserved to fit that characterization.
The bitterness and hatred ran deep among the Johnson girls well into their adult lives, and they passed much of the poison that existed between them unto their offspring. It created the unfortunate circumstance prohibiting their offspring from interacting or even getting to know the offspring of their siblings, despite the fact that for the most part the majority of the family were all living in the city of Baltimore. Each home develops a culture within their family and if a child is raised in a home where their parents speak negatively about their siblings, eventually the children will adopt such rhetoric as fact, causing them to foster the exact same perception of the relative as their parents continuously convey, and often times creating a child to lack any desire whatsoever to meet their family members.
Moreover, the 1940’s census listed 5 girls living in the Johnson home when the census data was recorded, but there was another daughter (the oldest) who wasn’t living in Baltimore. The Census Records for the same year listed the oldest daughter as living in the home of my great great grandmother, and her grandmother in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is in fact currently the sole surviving sibling of the Johnson daughter, and is the family matriarch. My great aunt is a beautiful very very fair complected woman who was sent to live with her grandmother at the age of two. Fortunately for her, she wasn’t raised in the home with the rest of her siblings, but that didn’t stop the family’s controversy from following her as well. For years members of the family have talked about her light complected pigmentation and have even spread rumors about her parentage. I’ve heard these stories most of my life, but the rumors have been put down because recent research in Birth Registry records revealed that in 1922, my great grandparents gave birth to a child, and there were no other parents baring their names within the entire year as also having a child. This pretty much closes the case on that issue.
The rumors surrounding my great aunt is extremely important for this commentary, because it demonstrates how much jealously existed among the sisters. I never met my great aunt til the woman I was taught was my grandmother passed away. I didn’t know what to expect considering all of the negative things I had heard about her over the years, but I would soon be put at ease as she appeared dignified, full of wisdom, and projected a loving spirit. It was a far cry from the arrogant, snobby, and well to do characterization I had heard regarding her character over the years. My mother had often mentioned her and the church they attended in her youth, but another perspective of my great aunt was held among her sibling’s kids and grand kids. Some of these very relatives I speak of , mask themselves as loving caring family, while I bare witness to some of the negativity and other aspersions they’ve cast upon my great aunt’s character in the past.
A close observation of may of these dysfunctional traits within the family are born out of mere jealousy. There appears to be an internal rival between light and darker complected family members (a script straight out of the “Willie Lynch Papers”), and among those who are perceived as having been more prosperous. Drugs, alcohol, and other vices seem to drive these disputes, and may have been born out of hatred passed down through the generations and continue today mirroring the fashion in which many of our ancestors carried this disease until the bitter end of their lives.
To Be Continue ..
Next: Until The Bitter End: Eyewitness Account And Heritage Of A Culture Of Secrecy
The People’s Champion
I’m David Adams