Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cornelia Chiles Washington

This is my grandfather Clarence's mother.
Cornelia Washington

I used to have this reoccurring dream. I was a small child playing in a Church pew. My mother was sitting in the pew near me, letting me play. Various people were milling around the room. All of a sudden, the organ started to play and the wailing began. It scared the shit out of me. I ran into my mother's arms crying. Then I would wake up.

Sometime during my late twenty's early thirty's, I overheard my mother telling a friend about her grandmother, Cornelia Washington's funeral. Her story was my dream. Turns out that it wasn't a dream, but instead an early memory. Cornelia died when I was five, and I was actually remembering her funeral.

Cornelia was born in May 30, 1887 in Caldwell, Texas, although on her death certificate her birthday is listed as May 30, 1901, and only 60 years old. In fact, she was 73 years at her death.

Cornelia's Parents
Her parents were John Chiles and Charlotte Bellinger Chiles. I have also seen this name spelled as "Childs" and therefore am not clear about the spelling. John was born in Missouri in 1854. The records indicate that his parents were from Virginia. Charlotte was born in Texas in 1855. John and Charlotte married in Caldwell Texas on December 29, 1873.

Charlotte was a housewife whose brother was the infamous Charles Bellinger. John Chiles was a policeman in San Antonio. When Charles Bellinger died in 1936, John Chiles purported when around smashing the cameras of reporters because the gangsters attending the funeral did not want their pictures taken.

Charlotte and John had the following kids:
Louvenia Chiles b: 1875 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas
Blick John Chiles, Jr. b: 4 AUG 1877 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas
Aleck Chiles b: 1879 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas
Birdie Chiles b: 10 DEC 1880 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas
Florence Chiles b: 10 APR 1883 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas
Cornelia Mae Chiles b: 30 MAY 1887 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas

Lex Bernice Chiles b: 4 JUL 1889 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas
Nora Chiles b: 25 JAN 1892 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas

Nora Chiles Todd

Myrtle Chiles b: 29 JUL 1894 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas

Cornelia has several sisters and two brothers. One brother, Aleck, died as a teenager. The other was named Blick.

The Chiles Sisters
Cornelia (upper left) and her sisters.

Her sisters were: Louvenia, Birdie, Florence, Lex, Nora and Myrtle.

Cornelia and her sisters
Married Life

Cornelia married Clarence Washington, Sr.

Cornelia and Clarenxe Washington at the Tidal Basin

Cornelia and Clarence (Big Papa)

They had three sons: Harold, Clarence, and Chiles.

My mother middle name is Cornelia and she was named after her grandmother. They were very close.

Cornelia talking to Thelma and someone

Thelma, (unknown), Cornelia

Clarence's Nephew, Hamilton Hughes, also lived with the family.

John Blick Childs, Jr. (Son of John and Charlotte Childs)
Hamilton Hughes (born 1909 in Texas)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Family Tree

Gibson Washington Families Tree
"A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Donovan Patten

Donovan was the youngest boy, but older than Eliza. I know even less about him. The things I think I know about him, do not match the existing records that I have been able to locate.
Donovan Patten: over the years

When I look at his picture, I am reminded of my own brother, Mark. Donovan was obviously a very handsome fellow. As demonstrated by the photographs below, he was very close to Eliza. So close, that Eliza claimed that Donovan had come home from Alaska where he purportedly worked on the Alaskan pipeline. During such time he contracted TB/Tuberculosis and returned home to Texas to die. My grandmother told me that one day he grabbed her up and smothered her with kisses all the while telling her that he was dying and was going to take her with him.

Eliza and Donovan
Eliza with a playful Donovan

My grandmother actually did contact TB. Since it is a highly contagious disease,and tuberculosis is spread through the air, when people who have the disease cough, sneeze or spit. I just do not know if transmission is possible from being smothered with with non intimate kisses.

Eliza and Donovan
Eliza and Donovan

Whether he could transmit it or not, in fact, Donovan died at the age of 19 on March, 8, 1927. His death certificate indicated that pulmonary tubercolosis was the cause of death. The death certificate was signed by his sister, Dr. Thelma Patten Law. Of note, the certificate indicated that he was a student, not a pipeline worker.

Donovan Patten Death Certificate
Donovan Patten's Death Certificate

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mason Barnett Patten (Jr)

Mason B Patten, Jr.

Mason was the oldest boy of the Patten clan. He was Mason (Sr) and Pauline Patten's first son born on July 31, 1906. I don't know that much about Mason (Jr). First, my grandmother allegedly contracted Tuberculosis (a deadly infectious lung disease which is abbreviated as TB for tubercle bacillus) from her brother, Donovan. My grandmother, Eliza, was very fair with blonde hair and could easily pass for being white. She supposedly traveled to Los Angeles to spend time in a sanatorium for Tuberculosis treatments which were apparently successful since she ultimately lived to be 83 years old. The story goes that she returned to segregated Texas and was met at the train station by MB. She was overcome with passion for seeing her brother, but he allegedly push her away addressing her in the subservient tone that black people used with white people back in the day. His purpose was to avoid being lynched for having a "young white girl" pay him so much attention. She was too young to realize that she was blowing their cover. Anyway, supposedly she was one of the first people to survive the disease.

Once I saw a picture of MB (see above), I wondered why the facade. Mason was supposedly disappointed with southern segregation and supposedly moved to San Diego, California to pass as white himself. Interestingly, he apparently collected public assistance while there, but failed to disclose that he was being supported by his doctor sister, Thelma. The County of San Diego, California sued him Mason for overpayment of indigent relief benefits because he failed to report that "he had received a certain sum of money from his sister". Mason appealed the decision and it is reported at Mason B. Patten v. County of San Diego, et al, 106 Cal.App.2d 467 (1951)

I also found another case involving a Mason B. Patten of Oakland, California: Patten v. Dennis, U.S. Attorney, 134 F2d 137 (1943. J. Charles Dennis was the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington between 1934 and 1953. Dennis is probably best remembered for his involvement in the internment of Japanese- Americans during World War II. Although not clear, this Mason B. Patten sued the United States attorney for failing to enforce the laws against discrimination in connection with his lost of employment at the navy yard, and lost. I have no idea if this is my M.B., but I suspect that it is.

As part of the pact to give the insurance monies from their father's death in the train accident to Thelma so she could go to medical school, all of the Patten kids went to college (save Donovan who died in 1927), and Mason attended Hampton University in Virginia. Hampton is an historically black university that is still operating today. It is also the location of the Emancipation Oak.

According to the university's website, "One day in 1863, the members of the Virginia Peninsula's black community gathered to hear a prayer answered. Ninety-eight feet in diameter, Emancipation Oak was the site of the first Southern reading of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, an act which accelerated the demand for African-American education. The peaceful shade of the oak served as the first classroom for newly freed men and women - eager for an education. Mrs. Mary Peake, daughter of a freed colored woman and a Frenchman, conducted the first lessons taught under the oak located on the University's campus. The Emancipation oak is designated as one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society." I can imagine that M.B. might of spent some time under the old oak tree during his education.

Mason B Patten (Jr.)

I don't have any recollection of having met Mason. I did find a letter from him to my mother in which he asked about me and told of an earthquake that had hit San Diego in 1957. He died on July 10, 1957 in San Diego, California.

Sunday, September 7, 2008



My grandmother’s big sister was Thelma Adele Patten. Thelma was nine years older and born on December 30, 1900. Her birthplace was Huntsville, Texas. Located about 70 miles north of Houston, Huntsville is best known for its prison. Huntsville is known as the also the Death Row of Texas. I read somewhere that one out of every four citizens of Huntsville is a prisoner. Before 1923, Hanging was the means of execution. Huntsville is 25 more or less miles from Evergreen, Texas where Eliza was born. I don’t know a lot about my family’s life in Huntsville, although I know that when I was a kid we used to go there and also to Lockhart Texas, a lot. My mother, Thelma, was named after her.

By 1917, the family was living in Houston, Texas where Thelma was her class valedictorian. She attended Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, DC, and received her medical license in 1923. Thelma was one of the founders and the first President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Houston Alumnae Chapter, in 1927. The HAC was the first black Greek-letter organization in Houston, and currently has a public service award named the "Thelma Patten Law Award".

aunt thelma and baby

She began practicing Obstetrics and Gynecology (Ob/Gyn) at Houston’s Negro Hospital in the Third Ward. My mother would be born there in 1937. Planned Parenthood of Houston began in 1936 as the Maternal Health Center. On February 21, 1936, Doc as Thelma Patten was known in the family, delivered the third child of her cousin Arlyne Patten Jordan and Benjamin Jordan, Barbara Charline Jordan. Barbara Jordon would grow up to be a United State Congressional Representative from Texas.

By 1938/39, Dr. Thelma Patten the first black female Obstetrician/Gynecologist in the state, served the black community at Planned Parenthood, and did so for more than twenty-five years. She completed her internship at Washington D.C.’s Freedmen’s Hospital.

Howard University's Freeman Hospital
Freedmen's Hospital was established 1862 in Washington, DC by the Medical Division of the Freedmen's Bureau to provide the much needed medical care to slaves, especially those freed following the aftermath of the Civil War. The hospital was located on the grounds belonging to Howard University and was the only Federally-funded health care facility for Negroes in the nation. It still exists today as Howard University Hospital, one of only three remaining traditional Black hospitals.

Thelma began practicing medicine in Houston in 1924. She was the first Black woman to start her own practice in Houston.

She is also the first black physician admitted to membership in the Harris County Medical Society in 1955. She was a member of the City Health Board, the Texas State Tuberculosis Board, the Texas Medical Association, and the American Medical Association. Tuberculosis was an important issue to her because her brother, Donovan, died from it in 1927, and her sister, Eliza, was one of the first persons to survive it.

Doc was married to James H. Law, a gym teacher and coach at Houston’s Jack Yates High School.
James H. LawJames H. Law

HISD's Law Elementary school is named after him. Together they had a daughter, Pauline Anna Law.


Excluded from virtually all residency programs before the 1950s, only a fraction of African-American physicians were specialists. Doc was unusual because she had a speciality. Most doctors at the time were general practitioners who treated patients of all ages for any health concerns. They set broken bones, treated infectious diseases, and sometimes operated. Her practice focused on Obstetrics and Gynecology, addressing in particular the needs of Houston’s poor women for more than forty years. Since the Jim Crow system prohibited African-American physicians from obtaining privileges at other hospitals throughout the South, the Houston Negro Hospital became a desirable place for black doctors to practice medicine.

Thelma Patten Law died on November 12, 1968 in Houston, Texas.

href="" title="Dr. Thelma Patten Law Obituary by AfroPix, on Flickr">Dr. Thelma Patten Law Obituary

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Pauline Patten (nee Garza)

Pauline Garza was Eliza's mother. She was born in 1873 in San Antonio, Texas to a Mexican named Antonio Garza, and a negro slave named Eliza Lewis.
I believe the first photo is also of Pauline Garza, but my cousin
claims that the photo is of Pauline's father, Antonio Garza!!

Pauline had one sister that I know of, Arnetta Jones. In 1900, she married Mason Barnett Patten. They had four children: Thelma, M.B., Donovan and Eliza.

She was a school teacher. Although a few African Americans received a public education in the late nineteenth century, many taught their children at home.

Pauline's children attended a public school. This is a photograph of my grandmother's class.
Eliza Patten's class. My grandmother is in second row, second kid from left

 This is another picture of Pauline taken in the backyard at the Ruthven House.

Pauline died in 1930 at age 58.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mason Barnett Patten

Mason Barnett Patten, Sr.
Mason Barnett, commonly known as MB, was the son of Silas Patten and Kitty Hortense. Kitty was a slave whose father was a white man named Judge Robinson.

In 1910, for $1,100 MB purchase a house at 1018 Ruthven in Houston, Texas. The house was located in a section of the fourth ward, in a part of town then known as Freedman's Town, also known as Buffalo Bayou.House on Ruthven
House on Ruthven

Detail: House on Ruthven
Detail from House on Ruthven
Donovan is being held by the unknown woman on left, perhaps a housekeeper or babysitter. I believe that the next woman is Pauline Garza. MB,Jr, and Thelma are on the steps.

Esteemed Employment
MB worked as a postal railway clerk, which at the time was very high employment for a black man.

Postal Rail Clerks were not allowed to join the white union - Railway Mail Association (1891) aka National Association of Railway Postal Clerks (1904), then the National Mail Handlers (1912). M.B. was instrumental in the establishment of the National Alliance of Postal Employees (1913) whose mission was to eliminate discrimination in employment of postal mail handlers. The Alliance obtained a couple of beneficial changes to the employment regulations, including the elimination of the use of photographs as a part of the appointment process and the addition of race as criteria upon which employment decisions could not be made.

In 1920, the train he was working was in an accident near Shreveport, Louisana. Family history says that as he laid gravely injured, the train company insurance man came around and offered a settlement which he accepted. He died three days later.

This is the scene of the train accident from which he died:

Emailing: ws.jpg

The insurance settlement was $1200 paid by the "United Railway Mutal [sic] Benefit Association" according to the petition for probate filed on behalf of the Patten children on May 8, 1920. The petition valued MB's property at $2,000; $1,500 in community property and $500 as his separate property. However, the appraisers valued his estate at $1,950. The benefit association's name also raises some questions. George Pullman established a company union for his negro employees in 1920. The committee, called the Pullman Porters Benefit Association of America, provided disability and death benefits, as well as a small pension plan. The United Railway Postal Mail Mutual Benefits Association was a white organization established in 1874. It could be that the Patten Kid's lawyers got the name of the insurance provider wrong.

M.B. died on April 10, 1920 in Caddo, Louisiana, USA.

By agreement of the family, although my grandmother was only 10 years old at the time and therefore likely could not legally agree, her sister, Thelma, used the insurance money to go to Howard University's Medical school. Thelma agreed to finance her siblings'education for allowing her to use the money in this fashion. As a result, my grandmother, Eliza went to Howard University, too. She got her Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 1932. Her diploma, which hangs proudly on my wall, is a real sheepskin. M.B. Jr. went to Hampton University. Donovan died at 21 and therefore did not go to college.

Politics in the blood

The Patten family would have political connections in the state of Texas.

Edward A. Patton
MB's brother, Edward, served in the 22nd Texas Legislature as a representative from Evergreen (San Jacinto and Polk Counties) during reconstruction from 1891-1892. Edward apparently spelled the family name as Patton. Although history has recorded that he was shot by the sheriff while running for reelection to his second term, the books do not disclose what family lore has. He was shot by his white grandfather, Judge Robinson who was the sheriff at the time. Edward survived the gunshot and left town. He wound up in Washington, D.C. where he lived out his final days.
Edward A. Patton [sic] Patten
Edward A. Patton [sic]

Barbara Charlene Jordan
Barbara Jordan Barbara Charlene Jordan (1936-1996), who in 1967, would become the first African American elected to the Texas Senate since Reconstruction was also a Patten. Her maternal grandfather, John Ed Patten, was a son of Silas Patten. Barbara would also be brought into this world by Thelma Patten Law, who by then was a practicing ob/gyn. According to Barbara Jordan, An American Hero by Mary Beth Rogers, Thelma made a crude remark about Barbara's dark skin color when she delivered her. I believe the remark was true because my grandmother would be disowned for marrying a dark man, my grandfather Clarence, by her sister. Barbara served as a congresswoman in the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 1979. In 1974, Barbara made an influential,televised speech before the House Judiciary Committee supporting the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. The other deep, dark family secret was that Barbara, along with Pauline Law (Thelma's daughter), were lesbian.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Eliza was the youngest

Eliza was the baby of the family. Her siblings were Thelma, the oldest; Mason Barnett or M.B., (on right) named after his father; and Donovan (on left).

Before my grandmother was born, the following portrait of the Patten kids was taken. Thelma is holding M.B. who is staddling the chair. Donovan is seated in the chair. Unfortunately, I do not know which professional studio took this picture.

This following picture, apparently taken during the winter because they are wearing coats and hats, was also of the Patten kids.

That picture of the Patten Kids is a real picture postcard. On the back, it was postmarked February 19, 1913, and addressed to Arnette Jones who was the sister of Pauline Garza, their mother. Arnetta is living in Nogales, Arizona. The post card warns her to be prepared to run "when the U.S. Intervenes. Because there will be war along the border." At the time, Victoriano Huerta is about to overthrow, in a violent coup, the Mexican regime of President Madero. History will show that the U.S. declined to intervene, and on February 20, 1913, Huerta formally became the (then) President of Mexico.

Arnetta Jone's granddaughter, Rachel, will eventually marry Jackie Robinson, the famous baseball player who broke the color line in the the sport.

Eliza Patten

Eliza Patten circa 1911, originally uploaded by AfroPix.

My grandmother, Eliza Mae Patten Washington,, was born in Evergreen, Texas, in an unincorporated part of San Jacinto County. About 65 miles or so north of Houston, the town was named for its forest of evergreen trees. When my grandmother lived there only about 50-100 people lived there, too. This picture of her as a baby suggests that they had some money. Her Father, Mason Barnett Patten, was a railroad porter. Her mother, Pauline Garza, a school teacher.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How I Got Started in Photography

My grandmother was a photographer. Not by trade, but she had her Kodak and she loved to take pictures. Her Kodak had her named engraved - - in 18 karat gold - - on the front: "Eliza Mae Patten."

My Mom and Her Camera
My mother was a photographer too. Like me, she carried her camera everywhere. I found this picture of Thelma with one of her cameras from her days as a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in the 1950s. I was lucky. My parents took me to spend a lot of time with my grandparents on both side. At my grandmother's house in Houston, Texas, I learned my family history while looking through the old photographs of various people long gone. That is one good thing about people who love cameras. A camera makes photographs. By default, a love of cameras creates a love of photographs. Being surrounded by camera people, and their cameras and their photographs, I grew to love it too. Photographs of my family; photographs of my friends; photographs of my friends' families; photographs of people I did not even know and their families; photographs of things around families, like dogs, cats, houses, books, sunsets, etc.

Every Picture Tells a Story
I got my first Kodak Brownie at age 6. Unfortunately, photographs taken by me in my earlier years have not survived. However, my love of cameras and photography did not end. I also developed (pun intended)a yearning for collecting pictures. I wanted my grandmother's pictures. I wanted my grandfather's pictures. I wanted any and all pictures I could get my hands on. The day that I would control my family's pictures, or at least my mother's side of the photographs, has come. I have decided to use this blog as a means to show off my photograph collection and to tell my family history. Since my love of photographs started with my grandmother's pictures, I have decided to start with her and her side of the family first.