Family History in Missouri
My Missouri roots run deep. My maternal great-great grandmother, Chaney, and great-grandmother, Hester Williams, were brought to Missouri from Kentucky by the Williams family as slaves. Their slave quarters is now an exhibit at the Miller County Historical Society in Tuscumbia, Missouri. Hester was ten years old when they arrived in Missouri. http:// http://www.millercountymuseum.org/bios/bio_black.html
When slavery ended Hester had nowhere to go so she remained in her cabin and gave birth to my grandmother, Violet Williams, who was the offspring of the former slave owner’s son. With the arrival of this very light-complexioned child Hester was forced to leave. She later married Jake Landers who helped raise Violet as his own.
Violet would later fall in love and marry my grandfather Bill Driver. Bill was a farmer and fiddler. He was respected for his playing prowess and he was always called Mr. Driver by the people in Iberia, Missouri because of his kind demeanor and talent. https://mofiddledance.org/profiles/bill-driver/
Bill’s father, my great-grandfather, was William Driver Sr. who was also a slave in Missouri but became a traveling evangelist spreading the gospel and was known for having a huge drum to fire up his flock.
Bill and Violet would have a son and seven daughters. Their children were not allowed to attend school in Iberia, Missouri because there weren’t enough students to authorize a “colored school” so they were educated at home by Bill and Violet who were both literate.
One of those seven girls was my mother Gertrude. She was a stay at home mom who raised us and loved us completely. She married my father Lewis F. Rolen who was from Rolla, Missouri. They raised four daughters (Mercedene, Betty, Billie, Patricia) and one son (me).
My mom shared the story with me of how upset my dad became when they were first denied a marriage license until they brought proof that she was indeed “colored”.
My dad was born in Rolla, Missouri and had a younger brother, Windel. He earned money shining shoes and working odd jobs as a kid. He moved to St. Louis as a teenager and stayed with an aunt in order to attend Vashon High School because Rolla High School was for whites only.
My dad was a strong, proud, independent thinker who shielded my sisters from the realities of “Jim Crow”. My parents moved to Wellston, Missouri and later to the corner of Ashland and Whittier in St. Louis, a few doors down from where Chuck Berry lived. My sisters would sometimes babysit Chuck’s children.
At the age of 67, after retiring from the post office, my father was the first African-American to ever run for mayor of St. Louis.
My paternal grandparents were Arrie and Bessie Rolen. Arrie was a preacher and Bessie worked many years in the cafeteria at the Rolla School of Mines. Bessie lived on Park Street on the spot which is now the Phelp’s County Sherriff’s Office across the street from the Old Courthouse and Jail.
Bessie’s parents, Lewis and Mary Bradford, were both slaves in near Rolla, Missouri. Lewis and Mary Bradford were owned by the Bradford family who had a lumber business and farm. After slavery had ended Lewis Bradford bought property in Rolla was very respected in the community. They all attended church at Elkin’s Chapel where Bessie taught Sunday School and played piano.They are laid to rest in the Rolla Cemetary.
My family has a long history in Missouri, we are rural and urban. We have endured hardships and have prospered. We are embedded in the quilt which makes this state and this country.
This Senate race is a referendum on which direction this country should turn and whether we can indeed make it a more perfect union. I hope you view the positions of all the candidates, make an informed decision on who will represent your interests, and whose ideals are best for our state and our country. Thank you for taking the time to read this. – Lewis Rolen