Updated: Oct 2
My family line is filled with so many stories that it's hard to distinguish fact from fiction. There was no shortage of stories I heard through the grapevine. There is no doubt that this is true in every family. Some stories are more intriguing depending on the ancestor that told the story, and some seem so outlandish that you had to listen with a Berean mindset to "see if those things are true." The griot grapevine in our family is a long, winding, and ever-changing thread with stories old and new. While visiting my Aunt Jackie's house in Georgia, I looked through family photos my paternal grandmother left in an envelope before she passed. As I took the photos out of the envelope, one picture fell to the floor.
I was immediately drawn to the gaze of the man in the picture as soon as I picked it up. Although the image was old, that gaze connected with me. This was an old, weathered photo of a confident, well-dressed man with a stern gaze that could cut through stone. This gaze reminded me of my father, who had the same gaze which some of my family members believed he bestowed upon me. Aunt Jackie said, "That's your great Uncle Horace. Oh, he didn't play." I asked her, "Can you tell me more about him?" She said, "Oh, he was a sharp dresser. He was short-tempered and a fast talker. He didn't take no mess from nobody." The more she talked, the more I wanted to know. Who was Horace Grigley?
My great uncle, Horace Grigley, was born on Christmas Day in 1903 in Butts County, Jackson, Georgia. His father, Richard Grigley, my great-grandfather, was 28, and my great-grandmother, Addie Lummus, was 24 at the time. He had six brothers and five sisters. In 1920, my great-grandfather owned his own farm. At thirteen, Uncle Horace started working on the farm with his father. He continued in the tradition of my great-grandfather and worked on the farm until the 1940s. Even though he had no formal education beyond the second grade, he could read and write. Uncle Horace was a faithful member of Travelers Rest Missionary Baptist Church. He had been married twice and had no children. All of this information was good, but I wanted to know more.
Well, Aunt Jack had a story for me. As an avid family historian, I found her story quite interesting. She heard the story about Uncle Horace through the grapevine, and now it was time for me to be a recipient of the news on the vine, whether it was true or not. I really wanted to know what was on the vine! As I waited for her to tell me the story, I couldn't help but appreciate the fact that I was privy to such knowledge from my ancestors. So now I'm part of the vine! I knew she was ready to talk when she gave me that "front porch stance."
She said that when Uncle Horace came of age, he worked in the fields for a white family. Many black people were still working in fields back then to support their families. One day the white owner's youngest son asked him to do something but talked to him in a demeaning and disrespectful manner. According to the story, Uncle Horace felt disrespected and asked him, "Who you think you talking to?" He slapped the boy and ran away. According to Aunt Jackie, the klan was looking for him around town, but he escaped! After she told me the story, I was shocked. I asked, "Did they ever find him?" She said, "Nope." I thought Aunt Jackie's story about Uncle Horace was fascinating.
Well, this had been the word on the vine for many years until I came across a newspaper article during my genealogical research. Of course, the chance of finding your ancestors in old newspaper clippings is rare. But, in my research, I found another story about Uncle Horace that may shed light on what really happened. In December 1925, a few days before his birthday, Uncle Horace was involved in a car accident while driving a touring car. According to reports, the other driver was severely bruised and crushed in the accident. The other passengers in the vehicle were taken to Grady Hospital to be treated for their injuries. But, instead of staying to see if the passengers in the other car were okay, Uncle Horace fled the scene. Later, it was discovered that he had not paid for the car. The car was later claimed by Hapeville Motors, and a notice was posted for his arrest.
As I read this article, I wondered if this is what really happened to Uncle Horace. How did the story go from running from the scene of a car accident to a story about running from the klan? Unfortunately, the grapevine is not always accurate when it comes to sharing stories. Stories may change over time as they pass through our ancestors' ears and into the hearts of those who have learned to let them speak. Even if the grapevine stories I heard are not true, I still enjoy listening to my ancestors. It is an honor to be in their company and to be a part of the family grapevine!