By Barbara Sherf
As the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library celebrate the first anniversary of their speaker series, the second speaker this year, will be Willadine Bain, a longtime Mt. Airy resident and public school educator who recently published “The Gold Necklace” about the stories of her slave ancestors, passed down to her through oral histories.
As we celebrate Black History Month, Mrs. Bain, 93, will share some of the stories as her daughter reads from the book on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the Chestnut Hill Library, 8711 Germantown Ave., at 2 pm.
“It’s been two years in the making, and I wanted to publish it as we just marked the 400th anniversary of the first boatload of slaves surviving the Middle Passage to land on the shores of America to be sold as slaves,” said Bain. “These stories were passed down to me from my ancestors, and I felt strongly that they not be lost.”
A Howard University graduate, Mrs. Bain shares a host of stories from her great-grandmother and grandparents that otherwise may have been lost. The reader will hear the story of the beaded gold necklace purchased by her grandmother whose first husband had died in a duel.
“The necklace has been worn by four generations of women, all educators, who all have their own stories,” said Mrs. Bain, who also details the story of her grandfather, Franklin Jones.
Known as “Captain” Jones, Franklin was a slave who was beaten and ran away from a Georgia plantation only to meet up with Union Army soldiers in the forest. At the age of 14, he joined them, fought in the Civil War and after the war, with hard work, determination and a bit of luck, became one of Savannah’s first black millionaires.
“I feel that people who might not know about slavery might be interested to know that some slaves, once freed, did become affluent citizens,” Mrs. Bain noted.
Here is an excerpt from that chapter: “When grandfather first came to our house at 23rd and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia, I had to look way up at him. He must have been over 6 feet tall. I remember he wore a gray suit and a wide, flat gray hat. His skin was smooth and brown, and when he looked at me and smiled, his eyes twinkled. From the start, I knew we were going to be great friends!”
The reader is then charmed by the story of Grandfather Willard Grinnage, who slept under the bed of his best friend at Howard University in order to get an education. When he was discovered, Grinnage talked his way into a scholarship by playing for and holding the title of team captain for the Howard University varsity football team.
The reaction to the book from family, friends, residents and staff at Stapeley Retirement Home in Germantown, where Mrs. Bain now resides, has been extremely enthusiastic, as evidenced by Troy Jackson, an employee at the retirement community. “I’m super excited. I never knew she was writing a book. It’s funny how you walk by people every day and don’t know their story. I’ve read a lot of books, but this will be the first in which I know the actual author,” said Jackson.
Mrs. Bain certainly had the background to write the book, having worked in the Philadelphia public schools and been the first African American to appear in a host of televised educational shows in Philadelphia. After 33 years with the district, Mrs. Bain was promoted to curriculum specialist, and she retired as an assistant director.
“I wasn’t surprised by writing it, but it was a surprise to bear the burden of rewriting it and the burden of my own criticism,” Mrs. Bain said. “I thought it would be fun for relatives to read, I didn’t think it would go beyond the family to a wider audience.”
Her daughter, Coralie Barksdale, who followed in the footsteps of four generations of educators, proudly wears the gold-balled necklace that has been passed down through the family of women educators. “I’m very proud of my mother for publishing this book during this chapter of her life,” said Barksdale, who sat in on most of the weekly sessions with a personal historian and helped edit the book, select photos and serves as saleswoman for her mother.
The library program is free, although donations to the Friends are greatly appreciated. For more information about the Friends and the full speaker series, go to www.chlibraryfriends.org.
Barbara Sherf captures the stories of businesses and individuals. She can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.