by Richard R. Wilt
In 1945 my father and mother bought a new house in an area of Shinnston, WV called Pleasant Hill or Howard Addition. The house was a new house built there after the Shinnston Tornado in June of 1944. Several houses had been rebuilt or repaired and the neighborhood was growing. I was 10 years old and would visit a friend of the family a few blocks from my house. Each time I would visit I walked by an old shack where an old black man lived. He would always wave and say hello to this 10 year old white boy.
One day I decided to stop and talk to the old gentleman and found out his name was Alec as I understood he said his name was. All I new about him that he was an old black man living in a shack on and empty lot who had a donkey and a goat. He cooked on an open fire always in a big pot and he seemed to be always peeling potatoes to put in his pot. Of course, he would ask me to eat with him but I never did.
I mentioned the old man I had met to my dad and he said that he knew Alec. It seemed my dad would go to my uncles and he and my uncle would always go out in the fields and shoot groundhogs and when he got one he would stop by and give it to Alec. He said Alec loved groundhog. From then on when my dad would bring Alec a ground hog I went with him to drop it off. I remember one Sunday afternoon my dad or my uncle had shot a groundhog and I was with my dad when he dropped it off to Alec and of course, Alec thanked my dad but he said it would really be nice if he had some lard to cook the ground hog. When my dad and I left we when to the store and my dad bought a pound of lard and when we returned home I walked to Alec's and gave him the lard. You would think I had given him a hundred dollars. He couldn't thank me enough. I visited my new friend over the next few years but visits to Alec became fewer and further apart.
He must have either moved or possibly died because in the early 1950s there was a new house built on the property where Alec had lived.
Many years have past but about 1978 I started doing genealogy and researching local history.
While looking through a copy of The Shinnston News and gathering information about the Shinnston Tornado on June 23, 1944 I found a short article about Alec. Of course, his name was not Alec but was Alexander Taylor. What's new for a young boy assuming what he thought someone said. Here is the article as follow:
“A well known colored man Alex Taylor, who lived in a small shack
on the Harmer ground in South Shinnston, was walking toward his house
with two bags of oats. He saw the approaching storm, and also saw his
shanty begin to quiver. Quick thinking enabled him to drop to the
ground between his bags of oats and grab a stake which he had driven
in the ground to tie his donkey to. The house disappeared, but he was
unhurt. Mr. Taylor kept his donkey, a dun colored little fellow staked
near the highway in Pleasant Hill most of the time, and it was there
when the tornado struck. But After everything had been swept from around
him, the little donkey was unhurt.”
With a little more research I found Alex in the
1930 census taken by Mrs. Harden R. Harmer on April 2, 1930 in Howard Addition
House #8 Head of household Renting with a property value of $600 owning a radio a Male Negro age 53 Single and can read and write. He was born in Virginia as were his mother and father and speaks English, Occupation of Loader in Coal Mines.
1950 census taken by Dorthy R. Spadafore on April 12, 1950 as follows:
House #191, Taylor Alexander head of household a Male Negro of the age of 73 born in Virginia and Never Married and unable to work Listed with an age of 73 in 1950 census his approximate birth would be CA 1877.
I then did some other research and found him in the 1880 census at age 2 with his father being Jack Taylor born in 1851 and his mother Henrietta Lewis Taylor with them being married December 5, 1874. with his grandparents listed as Abram Taylor and Mrs. Ellen Lewis (Cowherd) (Taylor)
Alex's father was listed as being a farmer and was living in Louisa, Virginia in 1910.
With further research it could be possible that his father, mother and Alex's grand parents may have been slaves.
It was my lose that I wasn't interested enough to ask more questions. Alex would have been a treasure having a long life full of many interesting stories if only that 10 year old boy had asked.
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