Roosevelt Rayford was one generation removed from slavery. In 1929, he was the married father of six children, including my wife’s mother, Lorraine. Roosevelt was a hard-working entrepreneur and owner of a dry-cleaning establishment. One cold Saturday morning, a month after the stock market crash, his son, Roosevelt, Jr., found him dead  at age 29 under mysterious circumstances in his dry-cleaning establishment. The coroner concluded that he had frozen to death, leaving his widow, Eva, pictured to the right of her father on this page, to struggle alone during the Depression to provide for their six children.

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Clocton F. Robertson was born the son of a slaveowner and his slave, Mandy, in 1854, probably in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. It is said Clocton was treated well by his slaveowning father. His first marriage ended with the death of his wife, Paulina, in Franklin County leaving him widowed with five children. He moved to Roanoke where he married Fannie Wade. His white father provided a house and assets for a dray business. Clocton’s daughter, Eva, and Roosevelt Rayford married in 1917, eventually becoming the grandparents of my wife, Peggy Ann Jones.

My wife’s uncle, Phillip Leon Rayford, enlisted in the U.S. Army right out of Lucy Addison High School, joining his two older brothers already serving in World War II.  After the war, he enrolled at North Carolina A & T College where he obtained his bachelor’s degree, then earned his Masters and doctorate degrees at the University of Maryland. He had a fruitful career in medical research at the National Institutes for Health, eventually chairing the Medical Department at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock before retiring as Professor Emeritus there. After his death in 2002, NIH gifted a 1.6 million  dollar endowment in his name to UAMS for minority students.

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Another of my wife’s uncles, Lewis Rayford, volunteered for the Army and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II. In July 1944, while stationed on the island of Corsica, he had his first encounter with “Red Tails”, i.e. Tuskegee Airmen fighter pilots returning from  an escort mission. Ironically, though Hitler would not have approved, after the war ended, Lewis met and married a young German woman with the full blessing of her white parents.  After settling down in Maryland in the 1950’s, they were blessed with many wonderful neighbors and co-workers, both white and black. They remain devoted to each other after more than sixty years of marriage.

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My wife’s mother, Lorraine Callahan (left), is shown with sisters Vivian Wilkins, wife of a Baltimore policeman and Elaine Williams,  wife of a high school assistant principal. They were devoted Rayford daughters who graduated Lucy Addison High School with only Lorraine now surviving. Mims, as Lorraine is known to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was divorced in the 1940’s with two young daughters. Like her widowed mother, Eva, before her, Lorraine dedicated her life as a single parent to provide for her children, working as an insurance agent in Roanoke before moving to Baltimore where she worked at the Social Security Administration to put her daughters through college. Both daughters earned teaching degrees at Morgan State University.

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Slavery and White Supremaacy: My wife’s family is typical of many that I discovered as I researched our genealogy and history. Eva Robertson Rayford, her maternal grandmother, came from very strong, Americana Black stock, beginning with their slavery experience.  Eva and her family, including her father Clocton, husband Roosevelt and children shown on this page, overcame the yoke of slavery, the Depression, personal tragedies and World War II as well as the headwinds of white supremacy in their native Virginia and still thrived. Willis Rayford, grandfather of Roosevelt Rayford shown below, was born a slave in Bath County before being taken to Franklin County to work in Willis Tinsley’s tobacco fields, then to downtown Roanoke’s Elmwood Park plantation by Willis’ son, Benjamin (See photos at right below). Rayford and Robertson descendents today continue to be as hard-working, as accomplished, as religious and as patriotic as the best of their peers, white and black, despite the many man-made and natural barriers in their paths. Eva’s three sons - Roosevelt, Lewis and Phillip - like many black Roanoke males, enlisted in the military during World War II and served with distinction though their service was rarely acknowledged.

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