Jennie Virginia Allen Turner was my maternal grandmother’s mother and Eliza’s daughter. This photo was taken about 1918, before my grandmother Fannie, married my grandfather. They lived in Montgomery, Alabama.
Jennie was a widow and was a seamstress, working for herself. Fannie managed her Uncle Victor Tulane’s grocery store. Daisy was a teacher and Alice was at home.
After her marriage my grandmother moved to Detroit with her new husband, Mershell C. Graham. Several years later, the rest of the family joined them.
I always wondered about Duncan Irby, my Aunt Daisy’s lost love. Over the years I looked for him online, with no luck. Recently, I tried again. Lo’ and behold, I found Duncan Irby in Selma, Alabama. There was a small item from The Emancipator. Records and more news items began to show up.
In 1980 my mother wrote her memories of family memories. They proved to be an invaluable source when I started my research. She wrote the following about her mother’s sister, Daisy Turner. Some of my mother’s memories were a bit off, but close enough that I recognized Duncan Irby when I found him.
“Maybe here a word about Aunt Daisy. Look at her picture, sweet, soft, pretty, taught school awhile in Montgomery (with high school diploma) loved Congregational preacher named Duncan Erby who loved her and waited for her for years. Had the church in Buffalo, NY. Whenever she really considered leaving, Grandmother did the old guilt trick “How can you leave me to take care of Alice all by myself?” and “No man in this world is good enough to touch your little finger. They are all no good except (maybe) Shell.” (note: Shell referred to my grandfather, Mershell Graham.)and Daisy listened and stayed and played numbers, studied dream books and drank a little apricot brandy. I always found their house light, cheerful, full of magazines (McCall’s, Journal, etc.) which I loved to read, full of good things to eat. All three were super cooks and they had always just had a bunch of friends to dinner and to play cards or just about to have.
Daisy took us downtown to the show every summer and to Saunders for ice cream afterward. And I always ended up with a splitting headache. Too much high living I guess. She and Alice would buy us dainty, expensive little dresses from Siegel’s or Himelhoch’s. They all went to church every Sunday, Plymouth Congregational. Daisy always gave us beautiful tins of gorgeous Christmas candy, that white kind filled with gooey black walnut stuff, those gooey raspberry kind and those hard, pink kind with a nut inside, and chocolates, of course! She loved to eat and to cook. Never seemed bitter or regretful about her lost love.”
“Mr. Duncan Irby, accompanied by his mother and little sister, also Mrs. Mollie Dillard and Miss Daisy Turner, motored from Selma to this city last Sunday and visited Camp Sheridan.” The Emancipator, Montgomery, Alabama Sat. Oct 20, 1917.
Duncan Irby was five feet nine inches tall, stout, light complected with brown hair, brown eyes and freckles.
Duncan’s parents, Duncan Irby, Sr and Mary Smith were married in Selma, Alabama on Christmas Eve, 1890. Mary was the daughter of a house painter. Duncan’s mother, Emmeline Gee, inherited over 100 acres and a horse from a former enslaver Josiah Irby. I do not know if Emmeline was enslaved on Irby’s plantation. At his mother’s death, Duncan was to inherit the property.
After this, Duncan used the surname “Irby” instead of “Gee”. I do not know if they were allowed to take possession of the property. Both Duncan Sr and his wife Mary were literate. His mother lived with the family until her death in 1901. The Mary Smith mentioned in this article was Duncan Irby Sr’s older sister. It was very confusing to have three Marys (sister, wife and daughter) and two Duncans (father and son).
The younger Duncan Irby was born in 1892. The following year Duncan Sr, a blacksmith, suffered injuries when he was trampled by horses while making some repairs on a hack. He recovered.
Mr. Duncan Irby Seriously Injured.
“Selma, April 4.-(Special.)_ This evening Duncan Irby, a blacksmith, while making some repairs on a hack, was run over and seriously wounded. Mr. Irby was in front of the horses when they started on a run, dashing the unfortunate man to the ground and trampling upon him. The horses were finally stopped. Not much damage was done to the hack.” The Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery, Alabama Wed, Apr 5, 1893
Mary, Duncan Sr and Mary’s only other child, was born the following year. Both Duncan Jr and his sister Mary attended school. In 1908 they were both enrolled in Talledega College, a boarding school, in the College Preparatory Course. They studied Latin, Algebra, English Literature, Ancient history and Drawing along with hands on courses in Agriculture and Wood-Turning for young men and Dressmaking and Nurse-Training for young women.
Mary became a teacher. She married Edwin Gibson, a teacher and a principal. They had one son, Edwin Gibson Jr. They later divorced.
Duncan worked with his father in his blacksmith shop and later became a mechanic. The elder Duncan Irby died in November of 1915.
“Duncan Irby, one of the best known colored men in this section, is dead. He was a most reliable man and his death is regretted by whites and blacks.” The Selma Mirror, Selma, Alabama, Fri, Oct 15, 1915
“Duncan Irby, a Selma negro blacksmith, left a $30,000 estate. He had never made any considerable sums, but lived the time honored method of saving something all the time. As a rule negroes do not care to save. It is a race characteristic to spend to the limit, but occasionaly one like Irby has the nerve to save. – Birmingham Ledger.” Our Mountain Home, Talladega, Alabama, Wed, Oct 27, 1915
Duncan Irby senior, left everything to his wife Mary with the proviso that should she ever remarry, everything would go to their children.
Duncan Irby’s widow, Mary Irby, remarried in 1921. She married Rev. Marshall Talley and that is where my mother got the minister. The family relocated to Homestead, Pennsylvania. This was the move to the northeast. Duncan was 35 in 1930 and worked as an auto mechanic in Homestead.
Several years later, they all relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana. Duncan, his sister Mary, who was divorced from her husband by this time and her son Edwin Gibson Jr. formed a household. Edwin Jr grew up to become a well known architect and the first black architect registered in Indiana.
In 1966 Duncan Irby died of pneumonia brought on by lung cancer. He was 74 years old and had lived in Indianapolis for 34 years. He never married.
“Death Notices – Irby. Mr. Duncan Irby, age 74, 1238 North West St., died Wednesday at Methodist Hospital, beloved brother of Mrs. Mary Gibson, uncle of Edwin Gibson. Funeral Friday 10 a.m., Jacobs Brothers Westside Chapel. Cremation following. Friends may call after 4 p.m. today.” The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, Thu, Aug 4, 1966
In writing this story I used writings by my mother, Doris Graham Cleage; Census, death, and other records from Ancestry.com and a surprising number of news stories found on Newspapers.com. I discovered I could share them by embedding them in the post and may have gone overboard.
From Left to right My grandmother, Fannie Mae Turner Graham, peeking over my greatgrandmother’s, Jennie Virginia Allen Turner’s, shoulder. My grandmother’s sister Daisy Turner. Behind and between Aunt Daisy and Aunt Alice Turner, is my aunt Mary Virginia Graham Elkins, although she was not yet an Elkins. At the end, behind Alice, is my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, although she was not yet married a Cleage either.
They are posed in Grandmother Turner’s backyard on the East Side of Detroit at 4536 Harding. The house is gone now. They look like they just came from Church, at Plymouth Congregational, however the photo is dated July 4, 1939 on the back. July 4 was on a Tuesday that year. Maybe they went on a church picnic. My grandfather, Mershell C. Graham took the picture.
This is my 20th post for the April A-Z Challenge. There are quite a few teachers in my family – my mother, Doris Graham Cleage, taught Social Studies and then reading on the elementary level. My father spent his life teaching and preaching. My Aunt Gladys Cleage Evans taught art on the elementary and junior high level. Two of my daughters are teachers. One of my sons is an educational paraprofessional. And there are more than a few teachers amongst the cousins. How could I almost forget my sister Pearl, my Uncle Henry and cousin Warren who all taught college classes.
Today I’m featuring my Great Aunt Daisy Turner who was an elementary school teacher in Montgomery Alabama in 1918 and 1919. In 1920 she was a clerk in her Uncle Victor Tulane’s store. There is a transcribed article about that school year below.
City Public Schools Will Open for 1918 Term Sept. 30; Plans for Opening Are Made
All Buildings Are Being Put in Good Condition- Increase of 601 Children Shown by Census
The next session of the city public schools will begin September 30 and the board of education and the superintendent of schools are putting forth every effort to have all school buildings in the city in perfect condition for the reception of teachers and pupils on that day.
the school census taken last July shows an increase of 401 children in the school population since July, 1916. A large increase in school attendance next winter is therefore expected and is being provided for.
The city schools last year took care of 622 more children than in any other year of their history. The majority of these were negroes (sic), and to provide for tuition for them it was found necessary to employ eight additional colored teachers and to rent four additional schools rooms. Even with this additional room it was necessary to hold two daily sessions of first grades at some schools.
Four additional white teachers were employed to provide for the increased number of white pupils.
Last year the board erected in North Montgomery a modern school building for white children which was ready for occupancy January 1st. This building, though small, is representative of what is best in modern school architecture and will provide ample accommodation for the pupils of that district for some years. It was named in honor of Charles F. Floyd who recently retired from the office of superintendent of schools after many years of efficient service.
A neat little building was erected on the grounds of West End school and equipped for the purpose of providing room for conducting classes in Home Economics for the girls of the school.
Sanitary toilets were installed at Day street school.
Last year several thousand dollars was spent in putting certain school buildings in good condition for the winter’s work. Bellinger Hill and West End schools were put in perfect repair, new plumbing was installed at Decatur street school, repairs less important but necessary were made on Highland Park, Chilton, Decatur street and Booker Washington schools. Two rooms in the basement of Lanier High school were plastered, painted and equipped for the uses of the newly organized commercial department.
This summer contracts for painting, repairs on plumbing, repairs on heating plants, floors, walls, etc., on various school buildings have been let. New plumbing will be installed at Lawrence street school and new heating plant at Decatur street school. An adequate supply of first class fuel for each school has been stored and by September 20 it is expected that the entire school plant will be in splendid condition – comfortable, sanitary and attractive.
The increased enrollment last session made necessary the purchase of school desks and other equipment for several additional school rooms. The rooms occupied by Home Economics classes at West End and Chas. L. Floyd schools were equipped for this work and the rooms for the commercial department of Lanier high school were furnished with filing cases, typewriters, bookkeeping, desks, etc.
During the summer, as far as time allows, the school desks now on hand which are not in good condition will be repaired and refinished.
The course for study at Lanier high school will be practically the same as that followed last year, except that special emphasis will be placed on the subject of physical education. The board has secured the services of Maj. H.H. Burdette who will have charge of military training, etc.
The study of Spanish was introduced last year and proved a very popular course. Mrs. Helen Laughlin, well known in the city as a teacher of Spanish will be at the head of this department.
The commercial subjects also proved very popular and this work has been selected by such a large number of students that it has been found necessary to employ an assistant in the department. The commercial course is a regular high school course leading to graduation.
The work at Lanier High school last year was of it’s usual degree of excellence. The standing of the school is evidenced by the fact that its graduate students are accepted without additional preparation by leading colleges and universities. Last year we received report of the excellent records made by our students from the following institutions without the state: Yale University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Goucher Wellesley, Randolph-Macon and Agnes Scott. Similar reports were received from state institutions as follows: University of Alabama, Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn, Ala., Alabama Girls’ Polytechnic Institute, Montevello, Ala, State Normal schools at Troy and Florence.
A new course of study in the elementary schools provides for physical education. Miss Annie Tyson who last year successfully conducted the classes in physical training for girls in Lanier High school will have charge of the work.
A course in Civics begins with oral lessons in the first grade and continues throughout the grades. Its object is the train the pupils for citizenship and the for service and to teach the spirit of democracy.
The text book commission has changed texts in only two subjects – Geography and Spelling- so no undue hardship will be due to change in text books.
Extra Curriculum Activities
Many activities outside the daily lesson programs were undertaken by the pupils and teachers during the past session and will be continued when school opens again. These were chiefly of a patriotic nature and the teachers have expressed the opinion that these activities were a very potent factor in teaching “the heart to feel, the mind to think, and the body to act” which is the end of education.
There was organized at each school in the city a branch of the Junior Red Cross of which every child in school became a member. A War Savings Society was organized in every grade in school and thousands of dollars were invested by the pupils of war savings stamps and liberty bonds. Patriotic leagues were organized by the older students and hundreds of garments were made by the members for the Red Cross.
Numbers of entertainments were planned by the teachers and executed by the children and a considerable amount of money thus secured was divided among various patriotic enterprises.
On the whole a most successful year’s work was done due to the enthusiastic help of the Board of Education along all lines looking to the rendering of efficient service to the children enrolled in school, to the loyalty and efficiency of the principals and teachers and to the ready response of the pupils.
Mr. J.S. McCants will return as principal of Lanier High school, but there are several changes in the personnel of the faculty Mr. E.N. Mallory of New Orleans will succeed Mr. H.L. Weatherby as teacher of manual training, Miss Lila Overstreet and Miss Ruby Crawford, who last year taught mathematics at Montevallo, will teach mathematics, Miss Gussie Harris will assist in the English department, and Miss Zilla McWhorter of Athens, Ala, will teach chemistry.
Misses Sara Walker and Frances Duggar have been recently elected grade teachers in the elementary schools and Daisy Turner a grade teacher in the colored schools.
The Montgomery County Institute will be held in this city the week beginning September 21 and at that time the city teachers will assemble at that time and the new course of study will be discussed, plans made for next year’s work, etc., at these meetings.
The pupils of Bellinger Hill and LaFayette schools planted and cultivated successful and profitable school gardens. These gardens brought in additional revenue for patriotic causes. Similar gardens were cultivated by the pupils of Day street and Booker Washington schools.
A full list of teachers for 1918-1919 follows: (long list of names follows)
In 1940 my 75 year old great grandmother, Jennie Virginia Turner, lived with her daughters at 4536 Harding, Detroit, Michigan. She lived about 10 minutes by car (not that they had a car) from her oldest daughter, Fannie Graham and her family on Theodore. Her nephew, James Edward McCall, lived about half way between the two with his family on Parker. She was listed as a widow and retired with 6 years of schooling. Everyone in the house is identified as “Negro”. Jennie gave the enumerator the information.
Aunt Daisy was 48 years old, single, with 4 years of high school. She was the only one in the house working outside of the home. She is listed as a stock girl at a retail fur company. It had been my understanding that Daisy was a seamstress but she was also listed as head stock girl at a fur store in the 1930 census so I guess she wasn’t sewing. My mother told me years ago that Daisy also collected numbers at Annis to supplement the family income. When she lived in Montgomery, AL, Daisy was a teacher for several years and worked in her Uncle Victor Tulane’s grocery store as a clerk.
Aunt Alice was 32 years old, single and had completed 9 years of school. This answered a question I had about Alice, did she finish high school after she moved to Detroit at age 15. I don’t think she did. If she started school at 6, she probably stopped when she moved to Detroit.