2010-12-09 / News

Family history unveiled, traced back to Jamestown

By Geoff Campbell

Andrew Lodkey (left), with friend Oliver Sprague, pose for a photo circa 1920. Lodkey was Walter Anthony’s greatgrandfather and owned three lots in Jamestown. Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society Andrew Lodkey (left), with friend Oliver Sprague, pose for a photo circa 1920. Lodkey was Walter Anthony’s greatgrandfather and owned three lots in Jamestown. Photo courtesy of the Jamestown Historical Society Walter Anthony was the first black student to walk across the stage at Sheepshead Bay High School’s 1961 inaugural graduation in Brooklyn, N.Y.

He remembers walking to school, running track, and going home. He said that he received a good education but had “no social life,” evidence of the cultural isolation that was part of his experience.

“Eighty-five percent of the student population was Jewish, 10 percent Italian,” he said. Walter was part of a small contingent of black students, which made up part of the remaining group.

At his 45th high school reunion, he recalled his well-meaning classmates recounting the memories of shared coming-of-age experiences, from which he had been excluded. When asked to join the reminiscing, he said, “I really don’t know what you are talking about.”

It was, in part, the essence of that cultural isolation that brought Anthony to Jamestown this summer. He was in search of his family history. He said that black people often don’t know their history, and that they are isolated or disconnected from their own family’s past. He says that it’s the result of “the legacy of fear.”

“They would rather forget, keep quiet,” Walter said.

Further exacerbating the problem is the difficulty of researching official records for blacks, particularly in the South. Anthony explained that surnames are often absent, and ages and addresses were far from accurate.

He moved to New England at the beginning of a 13-year stint as the senior dean at Brandeis University and moved to Providence, where he now lives. Before moving to Rhode Island, he said that he and his mother visited quite often, including trips to Cape Cod and other parts of New England, part of an effort for her to get to know his adopted region.

It was during one of their visits, and “out of the blue,” that Anthony’s mother, Juanita Dash, who was born in New York City in 1922, offered a surprising revelation.

“My grandfather is from Rhode Island,” she said.

Anthony remembers thinking, “What keeps us from knowing this stuff?”

The seed had been planted; Anthony was beginning a quest that would eventually lead him to Jamestown.

While dining at a Providence restaurant, Anthony overheard Jamestowner Jane Bentley talking about family histories. The ensuing conversation eventually led to Bentley connecting Anthony to historian Sue Maden of the Jamestown Historical Society.

“Sue was lovely,” Anthony said, and immediately began to provide some links to missing pieces that revealed Anthony’s familial connections to Jamestown.

Through extensive conversations with his mother and aided by the rich finds that Maden was discovering, Anthony learned that his mother’s grandfather was Andrew W. Lodkey. His obituary appeared in the Newport Daily News on April 27, 1936:

“Andrew W. Lodkey, a wellknown steward and restaurant keeper, died Sunday night at Bates Sanitarium at Jamestown where he had been a patient for nine months. He was born in the South and was over 80 years of age. He was engaged in Newport for several years as a cook and steward and early in the present century removed to Jamestown where he conducted a restaurant on Ferry wharf, as long as his health permitted. He was formerly a member of Stone Mill Lodge of Masons and of Benjamin Gardiner Commandery, Knights Templar of Newport.”

Lodkey’s wife Melissa died several months later and her obituary appeared in the Newport Daily News on Aug. 10, 1936:

“Mrs. Melissa Lodkey, wife of the late Andrew Lodkey, died Sunday at her Jamestown home in her eighty-third year. For many years, Mr. and Mrs. Lodkey conducted a restaurant in Newport and later removed to Jamestown where they conducted a restaurant on Ferry wharf in that town. Mr. Lodkey, who was a member of the Masonic orders in this city, died a few months ago.”

Maden revealed additional facts about Anthony’s great-grandparents by uncovering their death records. His great-grandfather was born in Georgia in 1850, and was 86 when he died. He lived on Clinton Avenue. The record also stated: “Unable to obtain father’s name or mother’s maiden name or parents’ birth place.”

His great-grandmother was born in 1855, also in Georgia. Like her husband, her father’s name, mother’s maiden name or parent’s birthplace were all unknown. The death record included an alternate spelling as well: Milissa.

Also revealed in the JHS collections was a report of a fire in 1916 at Anthony’s great-grandparents home on Clinton Avenue, and names of the next generation, including Etta Lodkey, who married Nathaniel Dash of Newport.

Maden used “land evidence, newspaper articles, vital records, photographs, and census records and directories” in the search. From Jamestown tax records, it is known that Andrew and Melissa Lodkey owned and paid taxes on three lots according to Jamestown’s 1921 tax list.

Anthony conceded that speculation as to why his great-grandparents migrated north to Jamestown must include assumptions about life in the South for an African- American man born 18 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. Details regarding the social context of Jamestown in the early 21st century are, of course, absent from the recorded facts.

Anthony, who is grateful to Bentley and Maden, made an emotional trip to the property this past summer and although there are still questions to be answered and details to be flushed out, he is pleased with the gift of family history that he has been able to give to his mother.

“I am so grateful that you found this for me,” Juanita told her son.

Anthony described the joy that his mother expressed upon learning previously missing details about her grandparents. “All I know is that this is special gift to my mother,” he said.

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