He Had Hidden Him Under The Floor

The Tulane building in 2004.  During the time of this event the Tulane family lived upstairs and the store was downstairs.

Here is a story my cousin Jacqui told me about her grandfather, Victor Tulane and his rescue of Dr. William Watkins in Montgomery, Alabama.  This story was told to her by her mother, Naomi Tulane Vincent.  Naomi was twenty  and the family was living above the store on Ripley and High Street when it occurred.  The Watkins family lived several blocks away on Union Street.

Walking distance between the Tulane’s @ A and the Watkin’s  @ B was about 3 minutes according to Google Maps.

It was the middle of the night when the Tulane family woke up to car lights shining in the windows.  They got up and looked out into the yard.  It was full of cars and trucks.  Victor Tulane told his wife, Willie Lee and daughter, Naomi to go back to bed, everything would be all right.

He let the white men in and they told him they were looking for William F. Watkins, a black dentist who lived several blocks away. Mr. Watkins, they said had insulted one of their wives and they wanted him. Was he there, they asked?  Victor told them that nobody was there except his wife and daughter.  They could look for themselves. They went through the whole house looking everywhere. Finally, satisfied that Dr. Watkins wasn’t there, they left.

As dawn approached, Victor brought Dr. Watkins out from his hiding place beneath the floor.  He put him in the car, piled produce on top of him, drove him to the train station and put him on a train heading north to Chicago.

_______________________

Jacqui remembers meeting William Watkins  in New York when she was a child. He was an old man with a white beard. He looked just like Colonel Saunders, she said, and asked if I could find out anything about him, if he was married, did he have children, when did he die? Using various online sources, I was able to put together the following timeline.

Timeline for William Franklin Watkins

  • 1879 – Williams Franklin Watkins Jr. born to William and Sarah (Fauntleroy) Watkins in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • 1880 Census – Montgomery, Alabama – William Watkins Sr. was a carpenter.  William was 1 year old.
  • 1900 Census – Montgomery, Alabama – The family lived at 518 Union Street. William Sr. was a carpenter. There were 6 children at home, including 21 year old William Jr. who was at school. The oldest daughter, Lula was 26, a widow and teaching.  She had a 4 year old son.
  • 1910 Census – Montgomery, Alabama – Williams Watkins is living at home with his parents and four other siblings.
  • 1914 – William Watkins, Sr. Dies

Obituary from the Montgomery Advertiser – March 11, 1914
William Watkins Dead

William Watkins, well known negro (sic) of Montgomery, died at his residence, 518 South Union Street, Tuesday evening at 5 o’clock.  He had been living in Montgomery nearly fifty years and was thoroughly identified with negro church, society and business life.  He was a contractor and builder and stood well in business circles.  He was a member and deacon of the Negro Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and a trustee of Swayne School

  • 1917 – William Watkins Jr and Gussie Rue Harris marry in Birmingham, Alabama (Gussie’s home town.)
  • 1918  – WWI draft registration card information. William is a dentist in Montgomery, Alabama.  Address is the family house on 518 Union St.  He is married to Gussie Rue Watkins.  His eyes are brown and hair is dark. He’s of medium height and build.
  • 1918 – Son William III born in Alabama
  • Between the draft card in 1918 and the 1920 census –  the event described happened.
  •  1920 Census
  • *William is a Lodger in Washington DC and practicing dentistry. Identified as Mulatto. He was 40.
  • *Wife Gussie living with her parents with their son William in Birmingham, AL.
  • *William’s brother Charles is living in Los Angeles, CA.  He is a carpenter.
  •  1924 – Daughter Alice born in Washington DC.
  •  1930 Census – Los Angeles, CA  William F. Watkins 51 years old.  His wife Gussie and their two children, Williams and Alice, are also in the household. He practices dentistry in his own office.
  • 1936 – His mother dies and is buried in Montgomery, AL
  • 1954 – William F. Watkins died

I found some of William Watkins extended family on Ancestry.Com and was able to see some photos of the family. The person I contacted said he did look like Col. Saunders. Unfortunately they had never heard this story.

************

For photographs and other posts about the Tulane family click on the links below.
Another Photographic Mystery Solved.  Photos of the Tulane family and the store.
Tulane Calls On Members of Race to be Patriotic. Article from 1918
Sepia Saturday – In Which I Hit the Google Jackpot. – More finds about the Tulanes.

Another Photographic Mystery Solved – Sepia Saturday #89

Ubert Conrad Vincent
Sylvia Vincent

Yesterday after talking on the phone with my cousin Jacqui and posting the identities of the people in the formerly mystery photo, I decided to look online for a photograph of Ubert Conrad Vincent as an adult.  Instead I found a newspaper article in The New York Age from Saturday, May 7, 1927 with a photograph of him as a three year old.  As soon as I saw it I realized it was the same small boy in another photograph I had from my grandmother’s collection. It wasn’t labeled or dated, but my mother had written on the back “I don’t know who he is but he’s too pretty to throw away!” I hope this doesn’t mean she was tossing photos of those who weren’t all that pretty.

There was also an unidentified photograph of a little girl that is clearly the same little girl in the family portrait, Sylvia Vincent.

To tie this in with this Sepia Saturday’s theme, corner grocery stores, Conrad and Sylvia’s maternal grandfather was Victor Tulane who, among other businesses, owned a corner grocery store housed in the Tulane building on the corner of High and Ripley streets in Montgomery, AL. I offer several photos of the store from 1919 to 2004 below. For other fine photographs and stories about stores of all kinds and who knows what else click SepiaSaturday.

“Horse Jumps through Automobile Windshield”

Horse Jumps through Automobile Windshield
Considerable Excitement Attends Runaway On Court Square Tuesday Afternoon.

Much excitement and some damage was the result of a run-away horse crashing into an automobile in front of Alex Rice’s store on Court Square late yesterday afternoon.

The horse, which was pulling a buggy, became frightened on the first block of South Court Street and dashed toward Montgomery Street.  An automobile belonging to Theo Meyer was parked in front of Alex Rice’s and the front feet of the horse went through the wind shield.

Beyond sustaining several minor cuts, the horse was unhurt and the damage done to the automobile, too, was small.

Victor Tulane was owner of the horse.

Date: January 27, 1915
Location: Alabama

Paper: Montgomery Advertiser
Article from The GenealogyBank

“Tulane Calls on Members of Race to be Patriotic”

“Victor Tulane, chairman in charge of the negro (sic) patriotic demonstration to be held here next Wenesday, prior to the registration of the classes of 13-21 and 31-45, has issued the following appeal for a 100 per cent registration to the members of his race:

    “As chairman of the colored division of the great “Man Power” celebration, which is to be held in Montgomery Wednesday afternoon, September 11, I desire to take this opportunity to urge all colored male citizens between the ages of 8 and 44 years, who are not already registered, to take advantage of the privilege of participating in this parade.

   “Our loyalty and patriotism as a race cannot be questioned.

   “We have gladly responded to every call that our country has made upon us during the present struggle for world democracy, and have also demonstrated our loyalty in every previous war in which our country has been engaged.

   “The purpose of this Man Power celebration is to arouse public enthusiasm and patriotism so that on registration day, Thursday, September 12, Montgomery and Montgomery county will be successful in having a 100 percent registration of all male citizens within the new draft limit.

   With this end in view I beg to impress upon our ministers and race leaders, in the city and throughout the county, to exert their broad influence in helping to make this undertaking a success.”

*****************

Victor Tulane

I was going to add some facts and figures about how many lynchings of black people took place in the US and Alabama during September of 1918 and that the men he was calling on to step forward and register could not vote or sit where they liked on the streetcars.  Not to mention the large upswing in lynchings after WW1, especially of returning soldiers wearing their uniforms. Looking at the statistics and the pictures and thinking about it got too depressing.  Did you know they sold postcards of actual lynchings?  That one had slipped by me. So, I decided to just run the story and the photo of Victor Tulane and remind you of a few links to letters written in 1918 by young men who were called up or about to be, “Migration story part 2 – Letters from home – Montgomery to Detroit 1918” and “To be Where You can Breathe a Little Freedom”. And to stories of “Victor H. Tulane Dead” and He Had Hidden Him Under The Floor“.

In Which I Hit The Google Photo Jackpot – Sepia Saturday #51

Willie holding grandson Conrad, daughter Naomi looking on.
Tulane photographs found online yesterday.

I worked all day yesterday pulling together records and information to write about why Aunt Willie might have been sitting so far from her husband, Uncle Victor, in my last weeks photo.  I was going to use the photo on the left side which was taken on the same porch.  I was going to talk about her relative’s memories of her as sad and obessesed with her daughter and her well being.  About how her husband’s well known unfaithfulness, the death of two of her three children within three years of each other, the son her husband fathered earlier in the same year they were married and how the son, Victor Julius Tulane, and his mother lived right down the street from them in 1900.

Then I got interested in Victor Tulane’s early history, his mother who was a servant and probably former slave of Louis Tulane in Elmore County Alabama and his son, Horatio Tulane, who was twenty years her senior and Victor’s father.  I was going to mention that the Tulane family recognized the relationship.  How they were a merchant family and that after Victor packed his bags at age twleve and walked the 14 miles from Wetumpka to Montgomery, he became a very successful merchant too.

I was going to mention that Victor’s son, Victor Julius came to live with the family when he was in his teens and was sent to school in Michigan where he became a chemist.  But at that point I decided to google Victor  J. Tulane and see if I could find a picture of him because I did not have one.  I like to have pictures.  I had heard he looked very like Naomi, his half sister, but he had blue, blue eyes.  I found two photographs of him, both from Crisis magazine.  Then I thought I would look for his father.  I found a group photograph with him in the Alabama Archives.  I was on a roll, why not try to find a picture of Naomi’s husband, Ubert Conrad Vincent who was a well known black doctor in New York during the 1920’s.  He pioneered a medical procedure that is known as the Vincent procedure.  Here is where I hit the jackpot.  I found an 8 page article from the Journal of the National Medical Association, 1975.  That gave an in depth look at his whole medical career with 5 photographs, including one of him and his wife Naomi soon after their marriage.  Naomi and Ubert’s daughter told me that they met at a cast party for the first black Broadway musical  at the home of Noble Sissle so I looked for a cast photo.  Found.  Last, I looked for a photo of their residence on Striver’s Row in Harlem.  Still there and lookin’ good.

Now I will identify the photographs in the collage above, starting from the bottom left.
Bottom row:
1.  The Crisis Jun-Jul 1959.  “First Church – Dr. Victor J Tulane (L), chairman of the trustee board of the John Wesley AME Zion church, Washington, D.C., presents chairman Theodore Taylor of the Washington branch a $100 check toward his church’s NAACP life memership. …”
2.  “Dr. Vincent in the door of his Sanatorium”.
3.  Noble Sissle with chorus girls from the musical “Shuffle Along”.
4.  “Dr. Vincent (right at table) assisting Dr. Keyes (?) in an operation at Bellevue.” (Journal of the National Medical Association January 1975)

Middle row:
1.  The Crisis Oct 1933 ” Awards  To Dr. Victor J. Tulane of the University of Michigan, election to Sigma, Xi, honorary science fraternity.  Mr. Tulane was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Michigan in June.”
2. A blow up of Victor Hugh Tulane’s head from the group photo above.
3. Skipping over to the group shot on the far right of that row – from the Journal – “Dr. Vincent (right) with (from left) Dr. Marshall Ross, Hon Adam Clayton Powell, Jr, and Mayor McKee.”

Top row:
1.Tuskegee College Board of Directors.  Front row center is Booker T. Washington.  Back row far right is Victor H. Tulane (Willie’s husband.  Naomi’s father)
2.  From the Journal “Dr. and Mrs. Vincent shortly after their marriage.”
3.  From google street view, the place the Vincents called home.

For more Sepia Saturday postings click here.

Victor and Willie Lee (Allen) Tulane – Sepia Saturday #49

Willie Lee and Victor Tulane on the front porch of their house on Union Street in Montgomery.

 

Willie Lee and Victor Tulane on the front porch of their house on Union Street in Montgomery.

“Naomi sent this to me – Aunt Willie and Uncle Victor.  She – beautiful and he -wonderful!!” in my grandmother Fannie’s writing.

Your “Papa’s mouth looks like Roosevelt He was going to say something when Dr. took it.”  I assume in Aunt Willie’s writing.

“Naomi sent it to me.  Aunt Willie and Uncle Victory (?) 1920?”  again in my grandmother’s handwriting.

  on the side it says in my mother’s handwriting ”
Willie was Grandmother Turner’s older sister.”

Click for more Sepia Saturday posts click.

Tombstone Tuesday – Victor and Willie Lee Tulane and children

Victor and Willie Lee (Allen) Tulane are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama.  Two of their children who died in early childhood are buried next to them.  My daughter Ife and I visited the cemetery in 2009.  It was on a Sunday and we didn’t expect anyone would be there to help us find the graves but the sexton was there and he was very helpful.  We also found Dock and Eliza (Williams) Allen are also buried there, in the older part of the cemetery.  One day I will post those photos and tell the whole story.

Sepia Saturday – Naomi Tulane’s Engagement Photograph 1920

Naomi Tulane Vincent.  Her engagement photograph. There is a matching one of her husband Ubert but, unfortunately, I do not have one.  Naomi was the daughter of Victor and Willie (Allen) Tulane.  She was married in Montgomery, Alabama in 1920 and then moved to New York as the wife of a society doctor.  For more Sepia Saturday offerings.

Naomi’s father, Victor Tulane – Obituary

Victor H. Tulane Dead

 Montgomery, Ala., Jan, 16.

Victor H. Tulane, a leader of his Race here for many years, died at his home, 430 S. Union St., at the age of 57.  His rise to affluence, through his own industry and native shrewdness, was little short of remarkable.  Prior to his death he owned a mercantile business and operated a real estate agency of considerable scope.

Tulane first came to Montgomery when he was 15 years, old having walked here from Wetumpka, where he was born.  His first job was porter in a saloon, but later he opened a store at the corner of High and Ripley Sts. which he operated for about thirty years.  He later rented his store and entered the real estate business, and before his death had accumulated a comfortable estate.

For many years Tulane served on the board of trustees of the Tuskegee Institute.  He was also chairman of the board of trustees of the Hale infirmary.  He was widely known for his generosity and willingness to serve in charitable movement.  He was actively connected with the community chest and was one of the first to donate toward the Y.M.C.A. building for white (sic.) persons.

Surviving are his widow, Willie L. Tulane of Montgomery, and his daughter, Naomie Tulane Vincent, New York city.  Funeral arrangements will be announced later by the Loveless Undertaking company.

_______________

Transcribed from The Chicago Defender Jan 17, 1931 via ProQuest Historical Newspapers online database.

More about this branch of the family to come.  Victor’s wife, Willie Lee Allen Tulane, was one of Eliza’s daughters.