My great-grandparent’s house caught fire just before midnight on July 13, 2021. I had been researching my ancestry for many years. I’ve obsessed over finding answers to the gaps in my family tree especially the hard stop I came to
The Stinson House, a property once owned by Martin and Pauline Stinson before 1900, was recently designated as a Historic Landmark in Elba, Alabama. It had been in my family for more than 100 years. Currently, it houses The Elba Chamber of Commerce. The house was purchased by the City of Elba in 2002. The Elba Chamber of Commerce had prepared to put a historical marker out front to finally acknowledge the history and “African American” family who once owned that house. The timing could not be more perfect, a fire at midnight may have totally
My mother, Gwendolyn, left us with lively stories about how her father, Wil Rushing Stinson, and his brothers had helped their father build a house in 1901. Martin and his sons were phenomenal builders. Their quality workmanship is evidenced by The Stinson House being so structurally sound that it survived the 1929 and 1990 floods and was relocated to where it now sits on Putnam Street.
Pauline Larkins Stinson, born in 1849, was my great-grandmother. From the stories I heard about her, she was a black woman of wit, resilience, and incredible foresight. She could read and write. She overcame tremendous odds, being enslaved to becoming a significant landowner in Elba and a pivotal leader in building Elba’s black community. She taught other enslaved Africans how to read and write during her enslavement. Her husband Martin, formerly enslaved, was equally influential and supportive in building the Elba community. Martin is credited with granting land for the first school for colored children in Elba. He and Pauline married in 1872, shortly after they were set free from enslavement. They owned more than 100 acres of land in Elba, some of which had timber, and they divided it equally among their eight children.
Unfortunately, despite many of the reasons to revere my fore-parents, the press in the early 1900s mocked them. It simply could not acknowledge their humanity. As a result, there are few articles on their positive activities and contributions to their community. The newspaper articles that did mention my grandparents referred to them as “Uncle” Martin and “Aunt” Pauline.” There were no limits to the effort to dehumanize Black people after enslavement. Jim Crow mandated that Black people be mocked, ridiculed, and reduced to anything that did not threaten whites who now had to compete with them for resources. That explains the need to reduce Martin to a caricature of the “good” negro, one who had been happy in his former condition of enslavement.
In the Elba Clipper on July 18, 1901, Martin is called one of Elba’s “best-colored citizens.” The article goes on to state that “Martin is a good object lesson of what
The press was not complimenting Martin. Instead, it used Martin’s positive qualities to denigrate an entire group of people. That’s foul.
In 1910, my mother’s mother, Emmaline Humphries, married Pauline’s son, Wil Rushing Stinson. They moved into The Stinson House. Emmaline began working at her mother-in-law’s restaurant on Claxton Street. I found the location of her restaurant on an old fire map online. In 1906 Martin owned a barbershop with his partner Harper located on the east side of Court Square. Emmaline Humphries attended county cooking demonstrations, and she learned to make foods from all over the world. The restaurant served the Elba County jail, jurors, visitors to Courthouse Square, and Elba’s “Colored” residents at Emancipation Day Celebrations on May 28, 1907, and 1923. When the Pea River flooded and engulfed Elba, Ms. Emma cooked food to help flood victims. Her husband Wil swam throughout Elba, rescuing residents.
In her Last Will and Testament, Grandma Pauline had deeded each of her children land to build houses as they established their families. My grandfather Wil fled Elba at midnight on a train tucked inside a flour barrel. No, the history books, schools, civic organizations, or Alabama historians may not tell this story. Nor do I expect them to tell it in a way that does not hide the truth. Nevertheless, I will keep our family story alive. I will make sure that our legacy does not disappear in the wind like the ashes that now blow along the dusty roads of Elba after the Stinson House Fire.
Many years ago, My sister and I helped our mother bottle her mother’s hot sauce recipe. We called it Emmaline’s in honor of our grandmother. Emmaline’s All Natural Hot Sauce is our way of keeping our grandmothers dream and legacy alive. Emmaline’s Hot Sauce donates a portion of all sales to charity. One charity we support is the Black Land Trust. Because Pauline and Martin Stinson once owned over 100 acres of land in Elba, Alabama, by 1900. A period when formerly enslaved people amassed 14 million acres of land. Like so many other Black families in America, after the turn of the century, 90% of that land was lost and wrangled away from Black ownership to White ownership, thus creating the wealth gap that exists today.
Emmaline’s All Natural Hot Sauce
Every bottle of hot sauce that you purchase helps us to make a contribution to the Black Family Land Trust, Inc. We are more determined than ever to keep our family legacy alive. We support the Black Family Land Trust, Inc. because we believe in helping Black families like our own hold onto land and preserve their rich family legacies.
Alice T. Crowe- Opinion columnist
My passion is correcting the missing pages in our history books. Secrets of the Hollow is my latest film series. The first segment, Last Disintegrated School, the untold story of Thurgood Marshall’s fight to desegregate the Brook School in Hillburn, NY, in 1943. This untold story happened eleven years before Brown v. Board of Education. Infobase distributes Last Disintegrated School. Visit my website for information at www.acroweflyz.com. I am currently editing the revised edition of my book, How to Get Black on Track. Follow me on Twitter.