The  Dudleys of Franklin County, Virginia

     As if it weren’t enough for my grandfather, Harvey Gray Dudley, to be born of ex-slave parents in 1893, four months afterwards, Thomas Smith, an innocent black man, was lynched about two miles from the home of his parents, Henry and Harriett Potter Dudley in Roanoke, Virginia. Though baby Harvey was indifferent to the messaging sent to Roanoke’s black community by that blood-thirsty and brutal vigilante mob of nearly four-thousand white men, women and children,  my great-grandparents were surely aware of the fragile grasp on survival of Roanoke’s struggling Africa-American community in Jim Crow Virginia. Just as with Roanoke’s lynching of yet another black man a year earlier,  there was much irony in the fact that  such large numbers of whites could celebrate such brutality while only a paltry few individuals tried to prevent it. To their credit, some whites, including Mayor Henry Trout, risked life and limb in the pursuit of justice to protect the doomed Mr. Smith.  Once again, justice did not prevail for Roanoke’s black community. Such was the norm for the southern politics of white privilege routinely practicing such terrorism with virtual impunity in Roanoke as elsewhere in the country.  The fact that the real criminal later confessed to authorities made little difference to a justice system totally exploitive of African-Americans.

    Henry Dudley would be dead of unknown causes by 1896. City officials and newspapers remained as indifferent to bookmarking Henry’s life and death as his former slaveowners had been to memorializing his parents. Such was the black legacy in a supposed “emancipated” South that still maintained two very different social tracks of privilege, rank and entitlement based on color. With apparently no public records in Roanoke or Franklin County to shed light on their lineage,  I have little hope of discovering either the identities of my Dudley ancestors  or slaveowners or the circumstances and conditions of their lives.   

     I am left only with cherished memories of that baby boy, turned conservative Baptist father and grandfather, whom I loved and admired and whose life totally vanquished inane southern obstructions and notions of white superiority.  Even as an adoring youth following him from place to place, I sensed that the articulate, well-dressed man I called “Daddy Harvey”  had  character, spirit  and intelligence that shone, not only in the presence of his black contemporaries, but alongside white co-workers whose snaggled-teeth, crude language and poor dress belied their assigned positions as his superiors in rank and pay grade as dictated by racist Norfolk & Western Railway Company policy. Daddy Harvey sacrificed his pride, but never his values, as he tolerated racist nonsense for over forty years at the N&W before retiring.  Along the way he remained a devoted son, brother, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather as he raised the standard of living magnificently for his family and descendents,


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