Remember this haunting photograph from this week’s Tumblr Sunday? I was determined to find out some facts about the subject and/or the photographer, and also to bring her into the Kekionga universe. The second task is proving easier than the first.
It turns out that Shelley just found the portrait among some of the Berry family treasures, and asked her grandfather, old Professor Berry, to tell her the story. Here are ten facts about the beautiful Victorian lady, as Grandpa Berry remembers hearing them from Great Grandma Ida (who died before Shelley was born) and Great Aunt Leah (who she remembers very well).
- The beautiful Victorian lady’s name was Lilah Franklin. Her full name was Delilah, but she never liked it because it “made her sound like a cook”.
- Although Lilah couldn’t cook, she was an excellent housekeeper and seamstress and was never ashamed that she earned an honest living with those skills at several different times in her life.
- Lilah was born in freedom after the Civil War, but her parents had been slaves. Since her father, a blacksmith, had a trade, they were able to move North and settled first in Baltimore, then in several places in Ohio.
- Although Lilah went to school, she considered herself primarily self educated, mostly through free libraries.
- Lilah was a devout Christian, but with a definite Universalist bent. She was broadminded and very progressive in her politics.
- She came to Kekionga in the late 1880s to attend Rutherford College, which had just begun admitting women. (The school had always been integrated.) She stayed with the Berry family, although she wasn’t a relative as far as anybody can remember.
- Lilah was the first black woman to graduate from Rutherford. She was a fine writer and journalist, and studied both English and library science.
- She traveled around the country working as a newspaper and magazine journalist, freelance writer, librarian and teacher.
- She never married, but was rumored (by Ida and Leah at least) to have had romances with several very distinguished gentlemen.
- Later in her life, Lilah settled in New York City and eventually became a grande dame of the Harlem Renaissance.