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Karen Tyler-Ruiz, Black History at Home

One hundred years ago, my grandfather, Ely Leon Lofton, was sent to Clarksville, West Virginia to grow the congregations of the Methodist Episcopal church. It was his second appointment after graduating from the Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. And he did this while married and with three children all under the age of five! He arrived in Georgia, family in tow, from Marianna, Arkansas, just a few years prior—after graduating from Philander Smith College. My grandfather wasn’t rich and he wasn’t light-skinned.


Looking back in time, I find this all quite amazing. Amazing that he completed degree programs at not one, but TWO institutions of higher learning. Amazing that he did this during the Jim Crow period when lynchings took place everywhere. Amazing that this information is documented in writing. And amazing that 100 years later, I know this. Even without the documentation, I carry this history in my head. It keeps me upright. It keeps me moving.


In the 1930’s, Rev. Lofton was working hard to create food co-ops so that he and his congregants could be more financially self-sufficient. He’d grown up on a farm in Arkansas, as had his wife—my Grandmom—and I heard these stories all my life about how he fed his family, including six children, by going down to a marketplace where he could buy the seconds and thirds of locally grown produce on the cheap. Many of his congregants worked farms or had staked-out patches of land—as did he, and a food co-op was one way to come together to share that produce and create more prosperity for all. Cooperating during the depression also included bartering to get the commodities needed for a growing family.


I share this snippet in time to celebrate Black history and perseverance in 2022. It is a piece of my history that contributes to the story of our history; and it links to my story as a child of Detroit and to the rich history of our African American tenacity. I hope that 100 years from now, my descendants will be sharing my story because we are, I am, history in the making. What’s your story?

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