The Brewers and Watts families meet at the table of brotherhood and live Dr. King's dream!
Online PR News – 23-October-2012 – New York, NY – Forty-nine years after the 1963 March on Washington, author Beatryce Nivens (Rising To The Top: 15 Black CEOs and Business Leaders Help You Succeed) and the Brewers, her African American family sat down with the white descendants of Thomas H. Watts, her great-grandmother—Emiline Watts Brewer’s slave owner and father. In this year commemorating the nearly fifty years since Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and shared his dream that the sons of slaveholders and slaves would meet at the table of brotherhood one day,” the Brewers are living his vision.
A pleasantly surprised Nivens was originally contacted via email at her family’s website (http://robertandemiline brewer.net) by Nancy Merriman, a Watts in-law who sent her a copy of Emiline’s 1925 obituary in the Pageland Journal. Author Cynthia Porcher (Gullah and Geechee: The Journey from 17th-Century Africa to 21st-Century America), the great-granddaughter of Townley Watts (Thomas H. Watts’ son) found the newspaper article in a Watts family scrapbook at her aunt’s home in Pageland, South Carolina. She learned that Watts family lore stated Townley had carried the obituary around in his pocket until the day he died. He treasured it because Emiline, a midwife had brought him into the world. It is also believed that she was his half-sister. The obituary’s discovery raised both Porcher and Merriman’s curiosities.
“When I realized that I had a copy of Bea's great-grandmother's obituary, I contacted her immediately,” Merriman recalls. “I was so struck by the realization that it was obvious the Brewers deeply respected their ancestor…Emiline. I also saw that the Watts family had deeply cared enough about Emiline to have her obit published in the local Pageland, South Carolina paper.”
For months, Merriman, Porcher, Clayton Mann (another Watts family member) and Nivens exchanged daily emails and genealogical documents. These exchanges led to a recent August 11, 2012 meeting of the two families coinciding with the 150th year anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation that began the process of freeing the slaves, and a few weeks prior to the forty-ninth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
That historic meeting followed an initial gathering of the Brewers and Watts on October 16, 2011, the same day as the dedication of Dr. King’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. Merriman remembers the day well. “We held hands around Emiline's grave......grieving together for past wrongs and hopes for the future. I am humbled that we are among those fulfilling Dr. King's dream. As we discussed politics, our families, and our careers....as we joked and cried together, race was not a factor. Humanity was.”
The Watts Family Members Welcome the Brewers
While it is generally unusual for a white family in a small Southern town to embrace their black relatives, the Watts welcomed them. When Vanessa Brewer-Tyson and Nelda Brewer Davis, Nivens’ cousins visited Elton James Pigg, 92, Townley’s grandson and the oldest living Watts, he shared his remembrances of the Brewers and Watts’ connection. When asked if he had ever heard of Emiline Watts Brewer, he replied “All of my life.” He remembered overhearing a conversation at age seven between his aunt Effie Watts Agerton, one of Townley’s daughters who told Arthur V. Brewer, Sr., Emiline’s grandson that they were cousins.
Although she has mixed emotions that her family once owned slaves, Edythe Agerton Hansen, 88, a granddaughter of Townley Watts expressed happiness regarding the Brewers and Watts’ kinship. “We are really related. We thought we were. Now, we know we are,” she said.
Mildred Watts Graves, 91 recalls conversations with her father Lex Watts’ sister Ida Ellen “Hugie” Watts Rivers. “I remember her saying that we were related to Joe Brewer’s (Emiline’s son) family. Graves who wasn’t able to attend the second Brewers/Watts meeting also expressed joy of the two families coming together. “I think it was wonderful! I would have given anything to attend.”
While many African-Americans will find great difficulty in tracing their families before 1870 or the first time blacks were listed by name on census data, Nivens has been able to discover relatives as far back as the early 1700s. In the coming months, she and the Watts will continue their genealogical search to learn more about Emiline. A documentary is planned for the future. Nivens has also written Children Go Where I Send You: The Brewers Uncover Their Roots, a 190 page book exploring her family’s history.
The family will also be on tour to share their story in 2013. For more information, contact Janine Fondon at Unity First (413-221-7931).