Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Unexpected Finding of Amanda Swift

In search of my grandmother, Annabelle Swift's grave site in the Tulot Arkansas Grave Index, I learned that the graveyard had been vandalized. Tombstones had been overturned and broken and the area had been overgrown with weeds. Only a few markers had been able to be salvaged by the recovery efforts of a university in Arkansas. My grandmother's was not one of them. Knowing that I would not be able to find any kind of physical marker to represent her resting place was a great disappointment. It meant that my plans to take my mother there as a surprise visit to see one had been ruined. I wanted her to lay her eyes on the tombstone of her mother, who had passed away more than 70 years ago, when she was just two years-old. In my failure to find a grave marker for Annabelle, I came to realize that the all had not been lost. I did not know at the time that Annabelle's grandmother had been buried in the same grave yard, until I unexpectedly found a picture of her broken headstone on a website for the graveyard. The name on it was Amanda Swift. She is my great, great grandmother. I discovered the picture a few months ago. It was an incredible uncovering, but it was only one part of a great, great find, as I found out later there was more to come.

At the time I found the picture of Amanda Swift's headstone, I wasn't completely sure that was even my great, great grandmother's name. Nor did I have any idea of how she looked because I had never seen a picture of her. That is, until a couple of weeks ago. That's when I received two more unexpected pictures from a newly introduced relative. One was a picture of her grandfather Henry Brown's obituary. The name Amanda Brown was listed on it as his mother. The relative confirmed that Amanda Brown had later married Joe Swift and became Amanda Swift. The other picture she sent put an image with the name. It was a picture of Amanda.

The opportunity to find my grandmother's grave may be lost forever, but at least in my search for it I verified another branch of our family tree. I also found out
how my great, great grandmother looked and I, along with other family members are pleasantly amazed to see how much she and my mother resemble.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Open Letter to Ancestry

Dear Ancestry Marketing Department,                                   November 1, 2014  

Hello, my name is Raymond House. Over the past 5 months I, my fiance', my mother, my daughter, my great aunt and two of my cousins have all completed DNA testing with Ancestry. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to take advantage of some of your discounted pricing. Realizing the importance of completing our family tree I continue to work to get more family members tested (with Ancestry), and often use my own money to do so. In my search to uncover our history through DNA testing one of the most obvious obstacles, aside from the lack of family knowledge, is the lack of tested African Americans in the database. While DNA testing is more affordable than it once was, and even though your company frequently offers other discounts, some African Americans are still unable to or haven't taken advantage to get tested. There is a need to have a massive push to get more African Americans tested. A few years ago, to address this issue 23andMe launched its African American Ancestry Project. For a limited time they offered free DNA testing kits to our underrepresented population. To substantially increase the numbers in the DNA database, still more work needs to be done. I'm writing this letter to appeal to your ability to address this matter in the form of a broad promotional effort to target African Americans.

January 31 2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. On that day in 1865, after 246 years of legal slavery in this country, the amendment declared that, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except by punishment for crime whereof the party has been duly convicted shall exist in this United States or any place subject to its jurisdiction". While the end of slavery was the beginning of legal citizenship for African Americans, the impact of slavery continued to exist and is still present today in the form of their missing family lineage. There is no way to right the wrong of slavery. Your company was not responsible for it in any way nor are they obligated to show favor to assist African Americans in matters related to it. However, if your company's good will is interested in investing in a worthy cause, they can participate. Remarkably, after almost 2 1/2 centuries of countless family separations during slavery and the passing of 150 years since, something can finally be done to help reconstruct the fragmented history of the African American family.

The day after the anniversary of the historic event marking the beginning of freedom for African Americans would be a perfect time. It's the start of Black History Month. What better way to celebrate the anniversary of the momentous occasion that ended the lawful separation of African American families through slavery, than to honor it with a major promotion that would allow them to connect back to their families through the descendants of their ancestors. The value of this kind of promotion would be priceless!  A major promotion would dramatically increase the number of African Americans in the database, start important dialogue between them and give passionate hope to those searching for family history through newly discovered relatives. For Ancestry it would be great for public relations and it would grow your database. It would likely resonate throughout the African American community and produce residual business, making Ancestry their family choice of DNA testing companies, further growing your business. Also, many more African Americans who follow Dr. Henry Louis Gates' show Finding Your Roots, could finally join in and take part in DNA testing. I understand that even if your company is interested, with such short notice, this suggestion may not be possible during Black History Month 2015, but any kind of promotion at any time would be greatly appreciated.

Annie B. Garrett    Annabelle Swift
In closing, I'd like to say that know that there may be almost no chance for what I'm asking to happen (a belief echoed by others). I don't have any group support or the backing of anyone considered important. I am the voice of one, but I represent the voice of many from the past and present who are important. Perhaps your company would consider this kind of endeavor important enough to start advertising more to African Americans through promotions to make DNA testing more of a possibility for them. DNA testing confirmed the relationship between the slave owner and my paternal 4th grandmother, whom Annie B. Garrett, my grandmother descended. I am hopeful that it leads me to the descendants of Amanda Swift, grandmother of my maternal grandmother Annabelle Swift. With Ancestry's help in the near future African Americans in the present would have the opportunity to be introduced to their relatives in the past, something never thought to be possible prior to the scientific breakthrough of DNA testing.


Raymond House

Ancestry's response to the open letter I sent indicated that they had received it. As of today, March 12th, 2015 they have yet to respond to the actual content of the letter. Black History Month has come and gone and the ethnic holiday St. Patrick's Day is March, 17th. Here are two promotional ads to honor Irish ancestry

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Transformation and Ascension of Young Cassius Clay

                         The Rematch 1965 Lewiston Maine
Many people know of the fighter Muhammad Ali and the greatness of his legacy, but 

some don't know the backstory that made one his most remarkable accomplishments even more extraordinary. This entry highlights the villainous background of the once
invincible fighter whom he dethroned to become the heavyweight champion 50 years ago. It also provides a description of some of the action that took place from various rounds of the highly anticipated bout. Finally, the text describes an account of one of the most bizarre occurrences in the history of professional boxing, one that the then little known Cassius Clay would have to also fight through if he were to become the heavyweight champion of the world.

“I feel great, I don‘t have a mark on my face and I just upset Sonny Liston and I just turned 22 years old. I must be the greatest!” These were the words jubilantly expressed by the then 8-1 underdog as he was being interviewed by Steve Ellis after fighting and defeating one of the most feared heavy weight champions that ever lived.

The night of February 25,1964 in Miami Beach, Florida the transformation and ascension of young Cassius Marcellus Clay into Muhammad Ali began, but the historic victory through which he
metamorphosed and meteorically rose could very well not have happened, at least not then.
How could it have been that Cassius Clay, a 22 year-old unproven fighter had won the 1964 heavyweight championship title fight?  Many experts had predicted that he would fold under the inexperience of his youth. Not only was he expected to lose the fight, he was expected to lose by a knock-out. Clay had only 19 professional bouts. Although he was undefeated and appeared well skilled as an up and coming fighter, his victories were not against the highest level of competition in the heavyweight division. Also he had been knocked down and almost counted out in his previous contest by England's Henry Cooper, a challenger considered to be a far less adept fighter than the rugged opponent he would meet for the title. Clay's opponent for the title fight would be Charles Sonny Liston, the world’s heavyweight champion at the time.  Liston was a career felon who started his boxing career while serving time in the Missouri State Penitentiary. Liston looked and acted the part dramatically well. He was more physically imposing than Clay and with a record of 35-1 he was far more experienced than his youthful challenger.  Included on his resume and documented in an article written by Jack Puma for Classic Sports, was an arrest of Liston for assault of a policeman in Saint Louis. Liston reportedly broke his knee, gashed his face and took his gun, for which he served nine months in the city workhouse. In a different incident after he was released, a hardened Liston assaulted another officer and left him upside down in a trash can.  Liston's record of bad behavior in the ring was equally menacing. On the very first punch he threw as a professional, he knocked his opponent out.  Then he walked through the division of heavyweight contenders competing for the throne like he was taking a stroll through the park and snatching candy from babies. In his first attempt to win the title he beat one of the best heavyweights ever, Floyd Patterson by an astounding first round knockout and for good measure in the rematch he knocked Patterson out again in the very first round.
It was in part because of Liston's violent nature that Clay fittingly nicknamed him, "The Big Ugly Bear". Liston struck paralyzing fear in the minds of his adversaries before his fights and inflicted paralyzing pain to their body's during them. Going into the championship fight with Clay, because of the criminal element and his pugilistic prowess, Liston was clearly viewed as having the advantage in the public's eye as well as with odds makers. Already the favorite to win, a couple of weeks before the fight
Liston gained another psychological edge.  It was described in Thomas Hauser‘s book, The Life and Times of Muhammad Ali. Clay saw Liston while Liston was losing at the craps table in a Las Vegas Casino. Clay taunted him. An upset Liston threw the dice and threatened Clay. Clay left. A short time later Liston saw Clay, walked up to him and slapped him. After Clay sheepishly responded by asking Liston, "What you do that for?" After answering with an expletive, Liston turned to a friend standing nearby and said, “I got the punk’s heart now”.

Fast forward, two weeks later to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Clay and Liston meet in the center of the ring for the introduction and the stare down. Standing face to face Liston glared at Clay in a curiously mean way, as if part of him was trying to frighten Clay and the other part was trying to figure out what to make of him and all of his pre-fight antics. Clay, slightly taller, peered down at Liston with a facial expression that exuded a silent confidence that boldly stated that he had no respect for him, and no fear of him. After the men returned to their corners Clay bounced lively up and down in his corner as he anxiously awaited the sound of the bell to start of the match. When the bell rang for the first round Liston came out and immediately pressed the fight. He pursued Clay aggressively throwing several punches. He was unsuccessful at landing any as Clay moved away effortlessly. Several seconds into the fight, still throwing hard punches, Liston missed one and Clay countered with a well timed pin point accurate left hook. Midway through the round, Liston swinging wildly with all of his might continued to miss punches. Later in the round for several seconds more, an undeterred Liston proceeded to stalk Clay as Clay fluidly danced away. Then suddenly Clay stopped and stood his ground, at which point he became more offensive. He carefully landed a quick jab as he simultaneously dodged Liston's punches. Then Clay, switching from defense to offense at a second's notice gradually started to establish control of the round by landing more lightning quick jabs.  An undaunted Liston relentlessly attempted to attack Clay, whose movement beautifully displayed a style of illusiveness that had never been seen. Conditioned to expect Clay to move away during his pursuit, Liston became more of an easy target when he moved in and the much quicker Clay stood and  went toe to toe with him. Near the end of the round Clay landed a solid combination and barely missed another while slipping Liston's punches. As the bell sounded to end the round, unable to hear it because of crowd noise, the fighters continued to fight until they were separated by the referee. Despite all of his effort Liston had only managed to land a few grazing punches and to the surprise of Liston, the experts and many of the spectators, the round was over and Clay was still standing. The end of the first round also signaled the beginning of the realization to the befuddled Liston, who had been handled unlike ever before that he was in for one of the toughest fights of his professional career. 

Early in the third round, Liston barreled forward and Clay unleashed a fury of hard punches that staggered Liston. It was the highlight of the round. As the round progressed Clay appeared to tire and Liston landed a few significant blows.

Before the bell rang to start the fifth round, Clay stood in his corner blinking his eyes and intently asking his trainer Angelo Dundee to cut his gloves off because he couldn‘t see. Something had mysteriously gotten into his eyes and impaired his vision.  Dundee attempted to flush his eyes with water to restore his vision but to no avail. Dundee persuaded Clay to go back out. He instructed him to avoid any physical contact by posturing defensively and moving away. The prospect of beating Liston with good vision was already a monumental task. Now to win the heavyweight title, he would have to overcome a critical disadvantage, temporary blindness. As instructed, Clay went back out and exposed himself to the ferocious attack of the Big Ugly Bear. Liston, immediately aware that something was wrong, savagely went after Clay, swinging with wild abandon and renewed vigor. Clay covered up and struggled to stay away from his opponent who seemed rather anxious to end the fight instantaneously. Clay desperately tried to hang on as the heavy handed hitter went after him even more aggressively.  Then suddenly out of nowhere Liston hit Clay with a huge left hook! It wasn’t clear if Clay had been hurt as he continued to back away with his hands up to protect his face. As time was running out in the round and Clay’s vision gradually returned he started to fight more offensively, and at one point to the amusement of the crowd, he even taunted Liston by peppering his face with several soft but bothersome jabs. Shortly thereafter Liston's effort ended with the round in futility.  At least for the time Clay had managed to survive an attempted mauling that was intensified by a blindsiding twist of fate.

Having been tested in the previous round, at the start of the sixth round Clay showed tremendous poise as he moved confidently around the ring demonstrating that he was in total command of the contest. Using his trigger quick jab Clay tagged Liston hard repeatedly, seemingly at will and generated surprising force with his stinging power punches. He was virtually flawless as he continued to moved from offense to defense as necessary to avoid being hit. Between round six and seven Liston's corner men worked frantically to close the cut under his left eye as he sat there on the stool looking like a man who had been beaten into submission. Then suddenly, it was over! Liston, one of the toughest fighters ever to lace up a pair of gloves refused to come out for the 7th round to defend his title, making him the only heavyweight champion in history to lose his championship belt by way of retirement.  
Through the course of the fight in Miami Beach that night Clay transitioned from contender to champion. Shortly after his magnificent rise to greatness he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Chuck Berry: The Vine of Rock and Roll

Photo By: Linda Gardner
Born 87 years ago on October 18th, Charles Edward Anderson Berry became one of the most influential pioneers in music.  Better known as Chuck Berry, his musical contribution is considered to have been a vine for the growth of rock and roll. The popularity of the genre expanded greatly through Berry as it vibrantly moved from his unique lyrical style, electrifying guitar solos and his animated showmanship. Berry cleverly fused his catchy tunes with the common experiences of teenage life. The formula crossed over into mainstream music and gave a loud voice to the first generation of rebellious teens.  Driven by the themes of automobiles, rock and roll and education, the lyrics and music to his songs revved up vivid imagery of what American teen culture was like and led to several hits, including School Days, Maybellene and Johnny B. Goode. Berry scored his only number one song on the Top 100 Billboard in 1972 with “My Ding a Ling”. Berry holds the distinction of being the first inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1984.  Referring to the style of music, John Lennon once said that if you had to give it another name, "You might call it Chuck Berry". Considered by some to be the father of rock and roll, Chuck Berry is a native of Saint Louis, Missouri. The home that he once lived in  is located on Whittier Street and  is registered as a National Historic Site. A statue of  Berry was erected in the Delmar Loop, an area of his hometown. The structure stands not far from the Blueberry Hill landmark restaurant and music club where the "Vine of Rock and Roll" still performs once a week.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

East St. Louis Trayvon Martin Rally/March

On July 20th childhood friends of Tracy Martin, Tommie Liddell, Undre Howard, Reginald Jordan and Raymond House with the assistance of Stephanie Miles planned and organized a march/rally in Martin’s hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois. The march to the United States district court and the rally that took place there were to show love and support for Martin in his continued fight for justice in the aftermath of the acquittal of his son's killer. The peaceful demonstration, attended by several hundred people, started at the East St Louis Board of Education. It occurred under the umbrella of the National Call to Action Day, a nationwide protest where people in over a 100 cities marched on the lawns of federal courts to pressure the U.S. Justice Department to file charges against George Zimmerman for the violation of Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.

Barry Malloyd, a minister at Mount Sinai M.B. Church and author of the book Mama Said Write It, started the rally on a spiritual note.  He petitioned God with a passionte prayer asking that justice be served in the nationally known case. Malloyd said, "Truth crushed to stone will rise again." He also pleaded for peace in East St.Louis, a community plague by violence and crime.

Among  the featured speakers were personal friends of Tracy Martin, Tommie Liddell and Raymond House, Ayonna Khayyam, financial literacy educator and vice president of Young Money Entertainment Inc., and Saint Louis radio personality Carol Daniel.

House (left) professed the community's love for the Martin family. He said, "East St. Louis loves Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton and we are especially proud of them for the way they have expressed themselves with dignity, from the circumstances surrounding their son's death and throughout the trial of the man who killed him. They took the high road when there where so many other avenues they could have taken".

Daniel (left) delivered a powerful message to the youth in attendance. She said “We need you to be all that Trayvon Martin will never be”.

Liddell (right) read a statement from Martin to the residents of East St. Louis. His message in the wake of the aquittal verdict was “My faith is being tested right now".
14 year-old Khayyam (right) also addressed the younger people. She said "Knowledge is the key to success. If you're illiterate nobody's going to take you seriously, and with our generation, not taking school seriously, society is going to treat us like a joke"!

As Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton continue to pursue justice in the killing of their son, they are advocates of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, a non-for-profit organization that raises awareness of ethnic, gender and racial profiling. A goal of the organization is to educate youth in the area of conflict resolution as part of a larger effort to prevent deadly confrontations between them and strangers.