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Instilling Education from my Ancestors By Cassiette West-Williams

When my late mother talked about her father, it was with sadness and a fondness for what he did. My late grandfather was Robert Boney, and I never met him. He died from the flu in 1940, when my mother was eight-years-old. I have never seen his birth certificate, but I do have the wedding license from my grandmother, Tamer Lee Brown, and Robert Boney, from Alexandria, Louisiana, from 1916.

I remember my mother crying with joy, the day that she received her copy of my grandparents’ marriage license. My mother was the keeper of the deeds (so to speak) in our family, and she held our family records very tightly. I believe that the marriage license was the only official document she owned about her father. The rest of his history, she gathered from our family reunions, by talking with cousins and aunts.

Like my grandparents, my mother and father married in Chicago. Unlike my grandparents, they did divorce, and she raised us alone, much like my grandmother raised her 15 children independently after her husband died.

My mother believed in marriage and demanded that her three children get married. We all did, and two of us are divorced, but we married in the church, in front of hundreds of guests, just like our grandparents and parents did.

As the tall tales go, I remember my mother saying that my grandfather was sent North, after striking a white man in anger, and knocking him down. As the bounty hunters came to lynch him, he was smuggled “up north” to Wilberforce, Ohio. He attended Wilberforce University for two years (confirmed by the school) and also had a brother in attendance there, who did graduate. The school counselor kept trying to make my grand-uncle my grandfather, as they combed through the old files. It seems fitting that they attended and graduated (my uncle) from an Historically Black College and University (HBCU), even before the time that these schools became popular.

So another “rule” that my mother had was that everyone had to graduate from college, with at least a bachelor’s degree. We all (my twin brothers and I) did as mother requested and all earned master’s degrees or more. The first college we knew was Wilberforce University, and that has been passed down to my grandson, JA. In fact, in my living room are HBCU pillows from Howard and Morehouse Colleges (they do not sell Wilberforce pillows in Chicago, IL). My grandson copies actor Anthony Anderson’s call of “HU” around the house while watching the television show, “Blackish.” Of course, during my grandfather and uncle’s era, there was no television, social media and technology, but the fact that they were HBCU men is fine with my soul.

We have passed the legacy of requiring a college degree (s) on to JA, as he is preparing for his future now.