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This is Who We Were: In The 1950s

Former Slave and Proud Matriarch

Born as a slave on a plantation in South Carolina, Ida Davis was the proud matriarch or four generations. She lived for over 70 years in the same cabin she and her husband built when they were married. Despite her strong desire for her children to get the best education possible, Ida wasn't sure how she felt about integration in the schools, a concept beginning to take hold in 1951.

Life at Home

  • Ida Davis was old, but not exactly sure of her age, so she told her friends she was 88.

  • Born as a slave on the Davis Plantation in Pine Tree Bluff, South Carolina, Ida lived on the same property, in only two houses, her entire life.

  • The first was the wood cabin in which she was born. She lived there until she was 16, when she married Columbus Davis, known as Boy-Boy.

  • They built a cabin together on the Davis Plantation, where she lived ever since.

  • Neither house had running water or an indoor bathroom.

  • Electricity arrived in 1940, thanks to the rural electrical cooperatives that brought service to the farm regions of the state.

  • Ida and Boy-Boy had 14 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood.

  • Over time, eight of their children moved away—one to New York, three to Baltimore, two to Columbia, SC and two to Sumter, SC.

  • One child moved to the nearby town of Summerton, while the oldest child, known as Junior, sharecropped with his daddy in Pine Tree Bluff.

  • Today, Ida has 56 grandchildren and more great-and great-great-grand children than nearly anyone can count, except for Ida.

    Ida Davis was the matriarch of several generations.

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  • She meticulously created a set of scrapbooks, dedicating a page or two for each great grandchild using pictures, locks of hair and other memorabilia to honor every birth.

  • Her favorite leisure activity, after churchgoing, is to look at her “sweet memory” books, or listen while her children read her letters or the newspaper clippings stored in the books.

  • Born during the Civil War, Ida never learned to read or write; times were hard and schools few for the former slave children of the Reconstruction South, when Ida was a girl.

  • Following a lifelong habit, Ida listened hard and remembered well when the Bible, letters and articles were read aloud.

  • Ida placed great stock in the belief that education is the key to lifting the Negro out of poverty.

  • She was proud that all of her children stayed in school until at least the eighth grade; two even graduated high school, as have many of the grandchildren.

  • Many of the grandchildren, who were raised in the North, returned to Summerton to raise their children and live near the family matriarch.

  • Ida was particularly focused on the progress of the great-grandchildren who were drafted into the newly racially integrated army to fight in Korea.

  • She was almost beside herself with joy that one of the great-grands was accepted at the new law school for Negroes in nearby Orangeburg, SC.

    Ida's family visited her often.

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  • Having one of the family on the verge of becoming a lawyer ranked alongside the moment her grandson Zebulon became a minister, or when the first of several granddaughters became teachers.

  • Most of the family up North had jobs in industry, a couple worked as domestics, two sons in Baltimore owned a grocery together, and one son was a porter on the railroad.

  • Though she never considered herself an activist, Ida was always been keenly interested in seeing that the members of her community had opportunity and education.

Life at Work: Midwife

  • Ida Davis was trained by her aunt as a midwife, and for more than 60 years she cared for most of the black babies and many of the white ones born in her part of the county.

  • Her family insisted she “retire” on her eightieth birthday.

  • The family offered to build her a brick home with electricity, running water and a septic system, but she figured that the little unpainted frame house where she spent the last 72 years had too many happy memories to move away from.

  • The house started out with a large main room and a small bedroom, and two other bedrooms were added over time, one for the boys and one for the girls.

  • The living room was neatly wallpapered with the covers of Life magazine, a project of many years in which Boy-Boy took great pride.

  • One of the former bedrooms was where she made quilts, and was filled with cloth scraps that family members brought whenever they visited.

  • All the descendants came to expect a Mama Ida quilt on their sixteenth birthday.

  • She said that she was too old to sew anymore and will stop soon, but her family knew that when she stopped, her last breath would be near.

  • She went to the Mt. Hebron Methodist Church where her grandboy Zeb preached.

  • He often complained, only half in jest, that she knew the Bible better than he did, even though she couldn't read.

  • Years of careful listening made an impression.

  • When Ida was in her forties, she was so active in the church, the congregation asked her to represent them at a church convention in Little Rock, Arkansas.

  • She traveled by train and was quite proud of going, but never accepted another call by the church to travel that far again.

  • The unfamiliar places and names were just too hard to comprehend without knowing how to read.

  • Her illiteracy also prevented her from voting, although she knew of many neighbors who could read, but were prevented from voting by draconian “literacy” and poll taxes.

  • In her part of the state, it cost $2.00 to vote in a local or national election.

  • Just a couple of years before, South Carolina's governor, Strom Thurmond, ran for president on the States’ Rights ticket, promising to preserve segregation.

  • Still, things were are better now than they were earlier in the century when the Ku Klux Klan ran rampant.

  • During those days, one of her sons-in-law was lynched. The newspaper ran a picture of the lynch mob with his body and the photographer tried to sell prints of the lynching for $2.00 plus postage.

  • No one was ever punished, and no trial ever held.

  • Over the years, many of her family members were threatened and harassed by the Klan and less formal groups.

  • By and large, however, white people treated Ida well over the years, especially the women whose babies she delivered.

  • Five years ago, after her husband Boy-Boy died, the Davises, the white family still in possession of the plantation, paid his medical bills.

  • She kept a garden beside her house, although the grandchildren and great grandchildren did most of the work.

  • Depending on the season, she grew corn, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, collards, mustard and turnip greens, lima beans, field peas and peanuts.

  • When peanuts were in season, Ida had a kettle of them boiling in the yard whenever large numbers of young guests were expected.

  • Ida was known countywide for her boiled peanuts.

  • Until electricity came to the area, vegetables had to be used quickly.

  • Since electricity, they were stored in the refrigerators and freezers of nearby relatives in the area, which helped feed the family in winter, when food was scarce.

  • Fall was Ida's favorite time of year.

  • During September, October and often November, she sat in a chair Boy-Boy made for her, located just outside the door of her home, and smoked her hand-carved pipe.

  • It made her feel close to Boy-Boy and the life they had together.

  • She liked to sit and look at pictures, and her favorite was of her and Boy-Boy pretending to drive Mr. Davis's car.

    Ida and Boy Boy liked pretending to drive Mr. Davis's car.

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  • The porch chair was also a great place to watch for the old Ford truck that belonged to her grandgirl Lucasta's husband Tom.

  • They regularly brought Ida a meal that included steaming greens and cornbread, along with a mess of children who demanded Ida's loving attention.

Life in the Community: Summerton, South Carolina

  • The Summerton community was in an uproar when the school district refused to buy a school bus to transport black kids to their school.

  • Every school morning, the whites’ school bus rolled past black children walking several miles to the colored, segregated school.

  • Nationally, a movement was started to integrate the schools, Ida's children told her.

  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was determined to fight the issue in the courts.

  • Ida was not sure how she felt about this.

  • She knew she wanted her family to receive the best education, but she also believed that the Lord made the races different for a reason.

  • When school integration talk started, one local gas station and store posted signs reading, “No Nigger or Negro allowed inside building.”

    Talk of school integration encouraged racism.

    GH1950_p012_001.jpg

  • Another sign read, “Negros not wanted in the North or South. Send them back to Africa where God Almighty put them to begin with. That is their home.”

  • With the backing of the NAACP, 20 parents of black schoolchildren filed a lawsuit on May 16, 1950—Briggs v. Elliott—challenging the unequal treatment of their children.

Citation Types

Type
Format
MLA 8th
. "Former Slave And Proud Matriarch." This is Who We Were: In The 1950s, edited by Scott Derks, Salem, 2016. Salem Online, online.salempress.com. Accessed 26 Jun. 2022.
APA 7th
(2016). Former Slave and Proud Matriarch. In S. Derks (Ed.), This is Who We Were: In The 1950s. Salem Press.
CMOS 17th
. "Former Slave And Proud Matriarch." Edited by Scott Derks. This is Who We Were: In The 1950s. Salem, 2016. Accessed June 26, 2022. online.salempress.com .