YouTube Presentation in Asheboro, NC

This video is from my presentation in Asheboro on 18 February 2017

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A Civil Rights Story: Vella Lassiter (Excerpted from: From Hill Town to Strieby)


In Honor of International Women’s Day, I am posting this chapter on Vella Lassiter as published in From Hill Town to Strieby (Backintyme Publishing, 2016, available in paperback and kindle from Amazon:

Vella Lassiter was one example of both the legacy of educational excellence encouraged by schools in the American Missionary Association tradition, as well as their stance against injustice. Born Novella Anna Lassiter, “Vella” was the second of thirteen children (twelve of whom survived) of Winston and Ora (Kearns) Lassiter, of the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County, North Carolina.

Vella attended Strieby Church School. From there she went on to Peabody Academy in Troy, in neighboring Montgomery County, and then to Bennett College, in Greensboro. Vella graduated in 1913 from the Normal program and eventually earned her Master’s degree from Miner Teachers College, in Washington, DC. (Miner became part of DC Teachers College which became the foundation for the Department of Education at the University of the District of Columbia.) Vella went on to become a teacher, first back at Strieby, then the combined school at Red House School in the nearby Mechanic area, and eventually at a school in Reidsville, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, where she taught for 40 years.  However, being close to her family, she often came home on weekends to visit.

So it was in 1937. Vella was returning to Reidsville on Easter Monday afternoon. She was on the first of her two bus trips. The first bus would take her from Asheboro to Greensboro, about 35 miles away in Guilford County. From there she would take a bus to Reidsville. She had bought her ticket and was seated on the bus – next to a white person; the bus was crowded; there were no more seats. The bus driver apparently objected to Vella sitting next to a white person. Vella was asked to give up her seat, get off the bus, and wait for the next one. Anyone who knew Vella knew she was a force of nature. Vella said “No.” The bus driver attempted to force her off the bus. Vella resisted. Eventually two policemen were needed to drag her to the door and throw her onto the sidewalk. She would later tell people there was no way she would make it easy for them to throw her off that bus. After all, she had bought a ticket and she was just as good as any white person.[1]

Vella called one of her brothers to come and take her to Reidsville, but she also called a lawyer, her cousin, prominent High Point, North Carolina, African American attorney, T. F Sanders (grandson of Wiley Phillips Lassiter and great grandson of Miles Lassiter). With his assistance (and that of prominent civil rights attorney, F.W. Williams, of Winston Salem) Vella sued the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line, on the grounds that they had sold her the ticket for that specific bus trip and consequently were required to transport her. To everyone’s surprise they won the case in a jury trial in November of that year. She was awarded $300 in damages. The bus company appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court. Two years later in 1939, the decision was upheld by Judge Allen H. Gwyn.[2] Vella had won. In reporting the victory on 18 August 1939, The Carolina Times newspaper, published in Raleigh, wrote that:

Possibly the most significant victory regarding the rights of Negroes was won in Randolph County last month when attorney P.[sic] W. Williams, prominent Winston-Salem lawyer emerged victorious in a suit against the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line.[3]

Her success was particularly significant because there was only one other lawsuit like it that had gone to the North Carolina State Supreme Court and won before hers, that was a 1914 housing segregation lawsuit in Winston-Salem.[4]

[1] Jones, K. L. (1993). Novella Anna Lassiter (361). The Heritage of Randolph County, North Carolina, (Asheboro, NC: Randolph County Heritage Book Committee). 343-344.

[2] The Carolina Times. (18 August 1939). Bus Case Hotly Contested in Randolph Court. (Raleigh, North Carolina.), 6. Retrieved from: http://library.digitalNorth

[3]  The Carolina Times. (18 August 1939). Wins Important Case. (Raleigh, North Carolina), 3. Retrieved from: http://library.digitalNorth

[4] Gershenhorn, J. (2010) A Courageous Voice for Black Freedom: Louis Austin and the Carolina Times in Depression-Era North Carolina. North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 87 (1):85. See also, ; Williams,  M. L. (2013). Vella Lassiter, 1937 Bus Suit. The Miles Lassiter Family of Randolph County, North Carolina. Retrieved from:

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Uwharrie Friends Meeting

On Saturday, 18 February 2017, Daniel Thornburg, of Asheboro, Randolph County, NC, brought the photo of the Uwharrie Friends Meeting that was once located along what is now Lassiter Mill Road, just south of the present-day Science Hill Friends Meeting. I had obtained the pen and ink drawing of the Meeting house on a previous visit to the Randolph County Library. It was a great surprise when Daniel presented me with the picture that he remembered he had promised to bring me when I was doing the book signing in December 2011, for Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker in Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Backintyme, 2011). This was the Meeting that Miles Lassiter attended. It is easy to see that the pen and ink drawing may very likely have been drawn from the photo. The drawing appears currently in my recently published book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Backintyme, 2016). The picture very likely will be used in any future updated editions of either book.

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Emancipation of Jesse Henley’s Slaves, 1800

In May 1800, Jesse Henley, a Quaker, son of John Henley and Isabelle Newby, living in Randolph County, petitioned the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions for permission to free his slaves. Three men are named, Cane (64), Cupid (45), and Jack (40). The relationship of these three men to each other is not indicated. It is possible they are brothers, or that Cupid and Jack are brothers and Cane their father or uncle. There is no way to know for sure. However, Cane’s wife, Amey (54), and their children are also named in the petition: Moll, Hager, James, Lam, Easter, Young Cane, Dinah, Reuben, Amey, and Pleasant.  The petition was granted. It was reported in a document provided by Mac Whatley, Director of the Randolph Room at the Randolph County Library, that Jesse Henley gave 400 acres to each of the families of Cane, Cupid, and Jack.

Little is known about the descendants of Jack and Cupid at this time, but there is some information on some of the descendants of Cane and Amey. Pleasant died in 1838, leaving an estate that was probated (6 Feb 1838) naming a John Ingram as Administrator, with John Ingram and Jonathan Worth, bondsmen. In the inventory Reuben was named. (See: North Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1665-1998 [Database on-line].

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Book Daily featured book of the day

From Hill Town to Strieby was a featured book of the day in the Emerging Authors category. The page includes a selection from the book.  Follow the link to see the whole posting.

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Presentation and Book Signing at Asheboro Public Library, 18 Feb 2017

I’ll be speaking at the Asheboro Public Library on Worth St., Asheboro, NC, on Saturday, 18 Feb 2017, and signing books from 2:00-4:00 pm. Here is the information they have posted:

Sat, February 18, 2pm – 4pm
The unique history and impact of an African American community in southwestern Randolph County is the focus of historian Margo Lee Williams’ new book, “From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the ‘Back Country’ of Randolph County, North Carolina.”

Williams will talk about the history and people of Strieby, and sign copies of her award-winning book, at 2p.m. Saturday, February 18, at Asheboro Public Library.

Hill Town grew in the 1840s around the homeplace of Edward (Ned) Hill, a free person of color, and his wife Priscilla, a freed slave. In the 1880s, the community established a school, a Congregational church and a U.S. Post Office.

Renamed Strieby after a church leader, the community flourished. Strieby was designated as a Local Cultural Heritage Site by the Randolph County Historic Landmark Commission in 2014, based on Williams’ nomination.

Central to the community’s history is the Rev. Islay Walden who, freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War, nearly blind and almost illiterate, walked to Washington, D.C., to gain an education and seek treatment for his poor eyesight.

He returned 10 years later as an esteemed academic, ordained minister and nationally known poet. His mission was to establish a school in Hill Town with the support of the American Missionary Association.

Williams’ book documents Walden’s story and the continued development of education in the community. It also provides an exhaustive genealogy of Strieby families, profiles notable members of the community and takes a look at Strieby today.

The book received the 2016 Marsha M. Greenlee History Award from the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the 2016 Historical Book Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians.

Williams, who lives in Silver Spring, MD, operates a genealogical research firm, Personal Prologue. She holds master degrees in sociology and religious education

Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie "Back Country" of Randolph County, North Carolina

From Hill Town to Strieby (Backintyme Publishing, 2016)

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The Elusive Nature of DNA

If you remember your high school biology (or college – no, not you bio majors), and I am definitely oversimplifying here, we get our chromosomes from our mothers and our fathers in a complex process that mixes the 23 pairs of chromosomes of each, but ultimately results in our own unique combination of 23 pairs derived from each parent with their hundreds of genes which also shuffle and recombine, but not necessarily in equal amounts from each parent. In other words, we may have some pairs with genes that come only from one parent or the other, while others may be a complete mix. Obviously, some are lost along the way, since rather than adding together the chromosomes and genes of each parent which would have given us 46 pairs of chromosomes, the process leaves us with just our own unique 23 pairs. This brings me to a recent experience with my matches on AncestryDNA.

I tested my daughter and my niece. I am in search of my paternal Williams’ ancestors. I reasoned that if my daughter and I share the match but not my niece it must be a maternal match. If all three of us match the person it must be paternal. Those matches that match only my daughter are her paternal matches and similarly with my niece, matches we don’t share are, in this case, her maternal matches. My daughter’s test came back first.

100_0894-2I assumed that the 9 hints I already had would be shared by her, resulting in ten shared hints for each of us. Not so. My daughter only had 9 hints including me. The tenth hint that I have is quite clear and well documented, but apparently, the shared chromosome(s) must be missing from my daughter’s genetic profile. That’s a shame because that tenth match and I have developed a very nice email relationship, something that my daughter would have missed.

Perhaps even more startling were the results regarding matches with two paternal cousins in the database already. In this case, I thought that all shared matches with these two matches would confirm relationships with my father’s maternal family, while those that matched only my daughter and me would be paternal Williams’ or our maternal matches.  Great in theory, but didn’t work out in practice.

Much to my surprise, the two individuals who were already my matches, from my father’s maternal family did not match my daughter, neither of them. That was a shock. The two individuals are father and daughter. Genealogically, the father is my second cousin and therefore, the daughter is my second cousin once removed. The father’s grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. Until recently, I had only focused on the fact that we were matches. I never noticed that Ancestry said we had a different relationship than any of us believed.

I knew several other members from a different bclark-randolph-1ranch of this family. I’m not clear whether my father knew any of the members of this branch of the family. His sister knew them all. In fact, because of her age, she knew all of our family members back to our shared great grandfather. I, on the other hand, did not know this branch of the family until recently.  So, since I knew my father’s sister, and she knew each of these individuals back to our shared great grandfather, and additionally, she told me personally and wrote down in detail our genealogy, which my research confirms, Ancestry’s conclusions are a bit puzzling.  The only answer I can come up with is that we only got those small portions of our shared DNA that would normally be consistent with more distant relationships. What’s the lesson here? We need to test multiple family members which Ancestry advocates, because we can easily miss family members because our shared chromosome pieces have somehow not been transmitted to one of us. This can lead to false conclusions and missed relationships from common ancestry.

There’s another reason as well. Most of us, if not all of us who test are interested in our ethnic background. We want to know where we come from. Our test results give us a breakdown of our ethnic backgrounds. However, just as with other chromosomes with their many genes, those from our ethnic background are shuffled and reassigned to each of us. Again, just as with other genetic markers, the mix from my ancestry can be different from another family member’s, even a sibling’s. Thus, especially with smaller percentages of ancestry, it can be that one sibling gets trace amounts of a particular ancestry while another sibling gets none, or conversely, larger amounts of the ancestry. Again, an example from my results and my daughter’s may help explain.

My ancestry is, according to Ancestry, a mix of European and African, my Native American did not show up (although it has on other testing sites, a discussion for another time).  My daughter’s father was a second generation descendant of immigrant Jews from Eastern European communities that were shuffled back and forth between Russia, Romania, Ukraine, and Poland.  Thus, all of her African ancestry can be traced to me. My results on Ancestry indicate that I have 2% ancestry from the Ivory Coast/Ghana region. However, my daughter’s results indicate she has 7% ancestry from Ivory Coast/Ghana. Again, noting our European results, I have 8% Scandinavian, but she has less than 1% Scandinavian. I have 44% from Great Britain, but nothing from Ireland, while she has only 14% from Great Britain and 5% from Ireland.

Again, what’s the lesson? We must make sure to test multiple family members to maximize the information we can glean about our ethnic ancestry mix. We can’t decide because one of our expected ethnic ancestries is absent from our report that we absolutely don’t have that ancestry. We need to test other family members, especially siblings, to find and compare differences that can help provide a greater knowledge of our background.

So, let’s keep looking for our ancestors using DNA!

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Lacy Hill’s perfect school attendance


Lacy Hill (1912-1971) was the daughter of John Hill/Kearns and Fannie Brown.  As noted below, she attended the “Asheboro Colored School.” In 1926, she received a certificate of award for her attendance.  She had not missed a single day or been late, “tardy,” once the entire year.  It was signed by her teacher, her cousin and Strieby School graduate, Vella Lassiter.

Lacy’s father, John Hill, was reportedly a half brother to Vella’s mother, Ora Kearns, being the son of Lucy Jane Hicertificate-signed-by-vella-lassiterll, widow of Clarkson Kearns. Lucy was Clarkson’s second wife.  His first wife, from whom he separated/divorced, Abigail “Lily” (Birk)Head was Ora’s mother.   Clarkson left a will in which he named his children from both marriages: Franklin Kearns, James Kearns, Arthur Kearns, Oscar Kearns, Ella Kearns, Ora Kearns, Arch Kearns, Harris Kearns, and Jerome Kearns. Oddly, John is not mentioned, even though he was born already (1882). Nevertheless, his death certificate names Clarkson as his father. Since his son, Sidney’s death certificjohn-kearns-hillate says his middle name is Edward, it does not seem he was called out in the will by a middle name. However, the Edward could be erroneous, or he may also have had a middle name of Arthur, since this is a name that shows up repeatedly in the family.  In fact, to date, another separate Arthur (or Arch, for that matter) has not been identified.  In any event, it is not known why he and brother Jerome chose to use the Hill surname as adults rather than the Kearns surname.


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Julius Hill, circa 1850-4 Mar 1933

So, sometimes you can look and look and look, but just not find what is right before your eyes. Why? I have no idea. So it is with the death information for Julius Hill. I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t find it previously, especially since I rechecked virtually every genealogical entry before publishing. I knew he had to be there. Anyone I asked said they believed he was there (where else would he be?), but there was no marker and anyone who might have been alive at the time he died was now dead themselves. So I was particularly delighted when the exact date showed up in someone else’s tree. I knew it was a person whose information I could trust. Now with the exact date I was able to bring up the information in NC death databases. The one thing I saw was that the birth date was different than the one I had been working with. In fact, it was different from every other document I had ever seen. Could that have been the stumbling block? Who knows.

FamilySearch provided information that showed the date and place of death and the place of burial. Strieby. It only mentioned Ned Hill as his father, leaving mother’s name unknown (that’s curious). His wife was listed as Lizzie Hill (Elizabeth Davis), not the “Annie” listed in the 1930 census.

“North Carolina Deaths, 1931-1994,” database, FamilySearch ( ), Julius Hill, 04 Mar 1933; citing Union, Randolph, North Carolina, fn 1628 cn 339, State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh; FHL microfilm 1,943,068.

Checking then on Ancestry, the following was found:

North Carolina, Death Indexes, 1908-2004 [Database on-line]. Julius Hill, 4 Mar 1933. Retrieved from:

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From the Randolph County Bastardy Bonds, 1786-1918

From the Bastardy Bonds, Randolph County, NC: Vidales, C. L, Cates, L. & Winslow Donahue, P. (2012). Bastardy Bond Abstracts and Related Records, 1786-1918. Asheboro, NC: Randolph County Genealogical Society.

Bastardy Bonds were the state’s way of insuring that babies born out of wedlock would not become public wards and a financial burden on the state.  The bond was intended to guarantee financial care and maintenance for two years. After that, beginning around three years old, if the child still wasn’t being cared for adequately, the child could be placed in an apprenticeship to learn a trade in return for which they would be cared for by the person with whom they were placed.  The vagaries of that system will be discussed another time.

The names listed here were extracted by Vidales, Cates, and Winslow (2012) from the original folders. The information can also be found in the court minute books and I have noticed that in at least one entry the name was given differently.  I have attempted to identify the names of those people of color who are part of or related to the families of southwestern Randolph County and whose names appear in either of the books. The list appears here. Comments on the entries will follow below.

Woman/Man                Bondsman                 B/U      Year    Page    Other

Huldy Phelps/Unnamed    James Davis/Seth Wade    B       1818         20

Laura/Laury Ann Williams/

Colier Lassiter/Phillips    William Lassiter               B       11/1850   55

Sarah Henley/Alex Scott        none named                    U        1859       64

Margary Scarlett/George Potter     none named          B        1859       64

Not named/George Potter, alias Balfour   none named  —  1862       67

Margaret Philips/Allen Floyd     Thomas Potter      B           1865       69

Macy (Mary?) Mose/Logan A. Ridge           —-        U           1866      73    Warrnt dism/d

Mary M. Potter/Unnamed      Ira Potter & Elias Potter —  1872     86

Nore Phillips/Unnamed          Lewis Phillips            B           1875   93         Eliza Phillips

Rebecca Dunston/Unnamed   Robert Harris            B          1875   93         Willie Duns[t]on

Lanora Philips/Samuel B. Toney   Charles Toney    B         1877   98         Boy

Louiza Hill/Julius Hill                     none named       B         1878  100        (Minerva? Hill)

Mary Potter/Elizer Wilson   Alex Garner/Jesse Potter/Henry Potter   U           1882        105

Lilla (Della?) Davis/Frank Kearns    Eli Simmon & Sherman Hill      B             1892        107        (Lama? Davis)

Huldy Phelps. In the Feb 1818 court minutes her name is listed as “Heleah” Phelps. This is Miles Lassiter’s wife and the mother of his children.  In other records she is listed as Healy/Helia/Heley Phillips or Lassiter.

Laura/Laury Ann Williams. In the court minutes her name is listed as Lorey Ann Williams.

Alex Scott was the brother of Mary Scott, wife of Reuben Phillips. Mary and Reuben were the parents of Harriett Phillips who married Amos Barzilla Lassiter, grandson of Miles Lassiter, and the parents of George Phillips, husband of Amma Smitherman, great granddaughter of Miles Lassiter.

Nore Phillips. Her father Lewis Phillips, brother to Reuben Phillips, posted bond.  What is not mentioned here is that this bond points out another uncomfortable reality of human relations, incest.  In fact, Lewis Phillips was the father of the child, a girl, named Eliza.  Even subsequent census records were confusing because in 1880 she is listed as a granddaughter, but in 1900 she is listed as a daughter. Both were true. Nore, called Lanora here went on to have another child with Samuel B. Toney, also listed above.

Rebecca Duns[t]on. Rebecca was the daughter of Miles Lassiter’s daughter, Nancy Phillips Lassiter who had married Calvin Duns[t]on. The child was a son, William, who was named in several records, and last listed in the 1920 census, but no death record has been identified for him.

Louiza Hill/Julius Hill is another intra-family birth.  They were uncle and niece.  It is a truism that when families live in close proximity and relative isolation maintaining boundaries can be difficult.  This is as true today as then.

Mary Potter/Elizer Wilson. The Mary Potter here is most likely Mary Jane Hill, widow of Thomas Potter. She would later marry Joseph Eadie. Elizer (Elijah) Wilson was Caucasian and lived in southwestern Randolph County. It is difficult to say anything more than that their paths crossed at some point, possibly more than once.  Here the child is said to be unborn, but Mary’s daughter, Della Potter’s death certificate states Leze Wilson was her father. However, Della was born in 1876 and this bond is in 1882. It is not likely these are the same births.  It does seem to say there was on-going interactions between the two. That said, it cannot be determined whether the relationship was consensual or an exercise of power by the well-to-do, white neighbor, especially since his name shows up multiple times in this compilation with various women identified.

As additional information about these individuals or others from the community becomes available, updates will be published.

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