Mignon Gregory Wilson

Atlantic City, Atlantic County, New Jersey, USA
Death 9 Jul 1987 (aged 59)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, USA
Burial Burial Details Unknown, Specifically: No church or cemetery in obituary. Parents, sister Yvonne, buried in Gregory plot at Mount Auburn (Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts). Cemeteries near Howard University possible.
Memorial ID 190262261 · View Source
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Her sister, Yvonne, was : Poet, writer and eldest daughter.
What does a middle daughter do?
She takes a different path.

Mignon's and other family photos are at geni.com. Yvonne's photo is here.

About her unusual family history, then her unusual sister and herself-- Writing In Progress,
Scroll to ...Her children
Scroll to ...Bottom (SOURCES)


Both favored their lovely mother, Hugh Ella, but Yvonne looked more like their father. Mignon and her elder sister had a unique father, a dramatist. He was a professor back in DC, where Yvonne was born. Their father then left a good job in the English dept. at Howard University, taking his family to NJ, as the family said he desired a better education for his growing young children. He became a school administrator, allowed to run things a certain way maybe not permitted in DC. (DC was not an independent city, but subjected to the whims of Congress, yet, without a right to elect a Congressman. )

Mignon was born in NJ. Her memories of early childhood, more northern, would have differed from Yvonne's more southern ones, Yvonne having been born in DC.

Their father eventually wrote some family memoirs. These covered Mignon's grandfather, James Monroe Gregory, after his parents took him from south to north as a boy.

THE GREGORIES. The family crossed into the North with remembered timing, the morning after John Brown invaded at Harper's Ferry. Harper's Ferry, then in Virginia, would later split from coastal Virginia, inside a new state called West Virginia, as they felt seceding from the Union was wrong . Brown, a religious man from upstate New York, had hoped the surrounding enslaved would join his volunteers and battle for freedom. The local slaves were either unaware, too distant, or not equipped, so Brown and his team members found themselves killed or executed.

The Gregories already had a measure of freedom, were already "freedmen". Their goal in moving was to take advantage of the schooling for ex-slaves in the north that was still missing in what was still Virginia.

Mignon's grandfather, James, just a boy, would thus attend schools in in La Porte, Indiana, in Niles, Michigan and in Chicago, ending in Cleveland, Ohio. He did well in high school in Cleveland, was ready for college, , said her father's memoirs, so headed for Oberlin in Ohio about 1865-66.

COMMENT. Those chosen towns were in the migration path taken by the Puritan-descended ancestors of this writer's spouse. The former Puritans brought the idea of co-ed places called "academies" with them from New England. These were to teach more age levels than did the old grammar schools, to prepare older students, females not just males, to be teachers and, if male, to move on to the professions. The academies and "preparatory schools" morphed later into a mix of public high schools, "normal schools " for teachers, and professional curriculums at land colleges, which expanded to include agriculture. The Gregories approached the Great Lakes region where these institutions were, from the South, after leaving Virginia, via what became West Virginia. The Frenches and Farleys of this writer's spouse instead followed the Great Lakes west ending in the Cleveland area, , after leaving Massachusetts, then moved on with a large group of other Puritan-descendeds to the Indiana-Michigan border.

Her father's memoirs, cited at pbs.org, talked also of his in-laws' moves. On her mother's side, Mignon's grandparents were Susan James and Hugh Hancock. If Hugh was already sick with what led to uremia, her grandparents may have viewed Mignon's mother as her father's "last chance for a namesake baby". Her mother's birth lagged the youngest of three older sisters by nine years. Thus, there was no Hugh junior, but the uniquely named Hugh Ella. Once Hugh senior had died, there would be no confusion, so Mignon's mother then called herself Hugh

Three different families had attended Oberlin, first James, and then, later, Susan and Hugh. A marvelous college in northern Ohio, up by Lake Erie , Oberlin was named for a Lutheran minister, non-Calvinist, even though it was started and led by a team of Congregationalists.

(Mignon's relatives, when they declared a faith, had been Episcopalian. Her mother Susan was sent, pre-Oberlin, to a convent in Baltimore. Its nuns might have been Episcopalian. Given the state was Maryland, the convent nuns could also have been Roman Catholic. That huge church had an anti-slavery subset strongest among its French members and those of its central Europeans that had too long been serfs. Slavery was too similar to recent serfdom to be supported by the central European. France, even under its kings, had, for hundreds of years, forbidden it.

Susan's father paid for the education and thus freedom of his mixed-race daughter. He had been a major on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Named O'Connor, Irish-sounding, he perhaps kept his daughter secret via a different surname, perhaps her mother's name. Hugh's father had been quite different, Hugh was always allowed to use the surname of his white father, that John Hancock who was a Texas attorney and sometimes a Texas legislator and judge, one of those who opposed Texas seceding from the Union . The name "Judge Hancock" was cited on grandfather Hugh's handwritten death record in Pocatello, Idaho, viewable online. His father's name had been discussed, having been the one who paid for Hugh's Oberlin education and his boardings at the Patterson and Henderson houses. Friends and relatives of his were suspected of assisting Hugh in obtaining land in Bastrop County (next-door to Travis County ), when he returned to Texas with Susie, marrying her in Travis County, not Bastrop, as she had perhaps found work in Austin . The marriage was of record in 1879, as between Hugh B. Hancock and Susie E. James. Susie's E stood for Elvira, her middle name seen in an old Oberlin"catalogue", but not found online elsewhere. Mignon's father said Hugh's B stood for Berry. That name is not yet seen in any more official record found by this writer. However, there was a tendency for many of his white relatives in Austin, stretching down to the Manchaca area inside northern Hays County, to use surnames as middle names. Especially used was the maiden name of their mother. Was Hugh's mother or a grandmother on his slave side called Berry? While still living, by his last census, in 1900, he, wife and four daughters, the youngest, just 4, mis-listed as Huella, were counted residing in Evanston, Illinois, near Northwestern University. Racist propaganda of the time insisted they be mis-listed as "Black", whereas Hugh and many others back in Oberlin Township had been called a truthful, but politically charged "mulatto" in 1860 and 1870.

Mulatto was a Spanish word out of the Arab language. Some called "Moors" may have brought it with them when the left Africa for Spain. (Shakespeare's Othello had been a Moor.) The "mu" category on the 1860 Census, pre-Civil War, when counts were made, helped to identify states and counties with considerable racial mixing of black and white. However, it came to mean complexions midway between B and W. Thus, the dark-haired Germans and Canadian French in the former "Northwestern Territory" who "tanned nicely" would be listed as "mu". Thus, birth state had to be checked to detect former slavery. While Hugh and another boy in the Patterson house when Hugh was 5 were Texas-born, the others called "mu" were North-Carolina born, so from the same birth state as his mother. (His mother would be described as a "coffee-colored woman" in a Cleveland newspaper decades later discussing her son's role in national party politics.)

Historians tell us that local residents around Oberlin defied the new Fugitive Slave law passed by a US Congress with too many unrepentant slaveowners among its southern legislators. (Stories vary, but in a colorful one an angry South Carolina legislator used his cane to beat a northern one about the head, right in Congress, and that was that. South Carolina led a campaign to secede, some others following willingly. Others felt bullied, expecting to be invaded by other seceders if they themselves did not secede. What was the plan? To invade Kansas or Colorado or any other place the worst of the slaveowners wished to expand into? to breed extra slaves re-sale, taking them west and north, splitting up slave families even worse than done in the past? Most in the North and border states said no, with West Virginia splitting off from Virginia to agree. The South called the result the "War of Northern Aggression". Legislator John Hancock and governor Sam Houston were to say no in Texas, with Mignon's great-grandfather John Hancock already having sent his son Hugh out of the state and Susie James to be sent later to her convent, well after her secret father enlisted in the war on the Confederate side. Voters were white males who satisfied other rules (property ownership?), with the cowboys and ranchers of west Texas excluded from voting as still in a territory not officially part of old Texas. Without backup from west Texas, the majority in central Texas voting against secession, from Georgetown down to San Antonio, was outnumbered by the voting classes in Dallas and Houston.

NOTE-- the rest is very rough, redundant parts be fixed.
Not long after the revolution, the republic called France had refused to sell its huge territory along the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River to the fledgling republic of the United States UNLESS a promise would be made-- no slavery. It was made.

The few slaveowners in the north were largely Dutch-descended and Quaker landowners from NY, with some Baptist plantation owners in Rhode Island on a short list, plus some wealthy people in the East Coast's large cities who preferred Blacks for house servants. Many of those gave up slaves voluntarily after the War of 1812, as more ministers and neighbors more loudly made their opinions known. The Quakers decided on their own, from personal experience that slavery was morally wrong, so required themselves to give up slaves, with southern Quakers often having to move south to north in order to do that legally.

Before then, when these people migrated into slave-forbidding territories, soon to be states, they were required to give up any slaves and in fact did so. This writer's family history includes a Scotch-Irish branch whose daughter married someone who descended on his mother's side from the Van Benschoter/Benschoten family. These were Dutch-descended New Yorkers form a larger family, their branch going to the so-called "Firelands" around what became Oberlin very early. One man of the multiple family males moving there owned a few slaves back in western NY. Their family records showed the names of those slaves freed as their Jeremiah entered Ohio and headed for the Huron River, just west of Oberlin.

Oberlin's leaders included Rev. Finney, who was a son of a more famous Rev. Finney. The Oberlin leadership was abolitionist pre-War, pro-Reconstructionist after. The college and surrounding towns and counties were the same. A young man from there, named John A. Copeland, whose parents survived him, went with John Brown to Harpers Ferry and was then executed, Dec. 16, 1859, several weeks after John Brown was executed on Dec. 2. His parents' grieved, described as local people "of African bood and amiable", said a speaker at Oberlin some decades later, in 1898.

A family named Patterson, in surrounding Oberlin Twp., the parents to produce many teachers, housed Mignon's grandfather Hugh when he was just 5 , counted there in the 1860 Census. The Pattersons' father, North-Carolina born, was already a teacher, of the right age to be Hugh's uncle, but relationships were not stated. His daughters and a son would be teachers. Hugh was at the house in the summer when Mary Jane was there, described as the first woman of African blood in the US to receive a four-year college degree. She insisted on taking the longer men's curriculum and Oberlin allowed it. She would try to take Ohio's New England-based methods to DC's common schools.

Another Texas-born young boy was in the Patterson house as well. Hugh's slave-born mother was said to have died after her escape north with two little boys. Hugh would have been age two by 1857, old enough to travel then or the next year.

Mulatto was a politically loaded word, resented by the southern contingent, long in denial that race mixing had occurred despite their own anti-mixing laws. Reasons stated were unflattering to both tellers and victims. Unstated reasons were that they did not want wills challenged, marriages to white women deemed bigamous, and property handed over to mixed-race cousins.

Census used codes to squeeze a lot of data in to one row per person counted. Affecting this family were Mu/mu, B and W (other groups Asian/Native American, had their own categories). Use of the word was forbidden temporarily for the 1900 Census (taken by Hugh Ella's family in Evanston, where they were thus labeled B for Black). The word was again allowed, just one time, in 1920. In the 1930 Census and after, the term was permanently forbidden, restricting interviewers to using B and W only.
The Jim Crowists succeeded in adding a further rule, that if someone did not look B, but had even 1 percent of B blood , they were to be labeled B and not W.

Census data on the category mu was useful as it showed which states or counties were most open to mixing, so sociologically and historically the least racist of the whites. The percentage of coloreds silenced by Jim Crow thus increased, no longer allowed to"pass" as white and thus vote against Jim Crow laws.

Oberlin offered advanced educations in an era when most people were lucky to finish grammar school. Reconstruction was still in play, but dying, Jim Crow about to put a boot on its neck. The era was in the decade or two after the Civil War ended, too many of the former slaveowners, not paying back wages to freed slaves nor offering them land ownership as a substitute, pushed for what would be called "Jim Crow" laws, no voting, no eating in restaurants with white, no using public bathrooms or water fountains unless a special one was provided. This writer growing up in Iowa and Minnesota with bathrooms free for all. My first airplane flight involved spending time in Chicago, to learn that a dime had to be inserted in the door to use a toilet. Someone explained it was to keep the poor whites and blacks out. Disgusted at that, I waited for someone to leave, then grabbed the stall door before it closed, refusing to pay my dime. Farmers had been mistreated by some "town people" where I grew up. It made me angry to see more people mistreated elsewhere.)

How old was Yvonne in 1930, as mu's even in less racist places were changed by national policy to B's?

YVONNE AND MIGNON. With her male ancestors' background at Oberlin, Harvard, and then Howard, the elder sister (Yvonne) would want to be different. She first tried her mother Hugh Ella's college, Fisk University in Tennessee, writing for their literary magazine while there. Arna Bontemps was on their faulty and would include her poetry in one of his books. She found things oppressive, presumably as Tennessee was a former slaveholder state, so transferred to the Univ. of Michigan, run by people who had fought on the Yankee side . Her grandfather Hugh might have attended law school there, his white father offering to pay, given the father, Hugh's white half-brother and at least one white uncle had all been attorneys, but Hugh preferred to teach.

Yvonne set up an adult life in NYC, working as a journalist, living in Greenwich Village in downtown Manhattan. She seemed to stay single in official records, not having had children, but stories from people who knew her indicated she married, not just once, but three times .

Mignon was the opposite. She married just once, did so young, not parting until death. Marrying early would have made her education shorter than her pro-education father might have preferred?

Mignon and Ernest J. Wilson, Jr. married in Delaware, on Dec. 3, 1946. Ernest was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Ernest Sr. and Berniece. He was living in Philly, while Atlantic City was still Mignon's address. They had emerged from the Great Depression as youth. As young adults, they were now living through WW II, but soon life would be less worrying. He called himself an administrator. She called herself a telephone operator, work that no longer exists due to automation. He was 26 to her 19. Did the age difference mean they had some negotiating to do?

Ernie was said to write poetry. Mignon may have liked that if she missed having Yvonne around. His war service was in the Pacific. They moved back to Washington DC and Howard University. He would run the university's office for foreign students.

Mignon raised children who "turned out well". She participated in activities at Harvard for faulty wives.

Mignon would have worried about Yvonne, we think. Over these years, Yvonne's life alternated between glamour and pain. History professor Dayo F. Gore, in a study of African-American women who were activists, said Yvonne and her friend Lorraine Hansberry were described as turning men's heads when they walked into a room at some party before the two went to Paris for some event. The person interviewed then said that, while there in Paris, one of the young women married a Frenchman. (The marriage must have been Yvonne's, as Lorraine married someone else later. Lorraine was a dramatist like Yvonne's father. She wrote "Raisin in the Sun", which some of us remember reading for English lit in HS and college.)

While working as a journalist, Yvonne covered some disturbing things. One was a Georgia murder case that became a political cause. According to Prof. Gore, in 1951 Yvonne would become one of those asking for the freeing of a widowed mother (Rosa Lee Ingram) imprisoned for trying to protect herself from a rapist, her teen sons having actually been the ones killing the rapist in her defense. Yvonne wrote a book on that. Motivated by this and similar things, Yvonne helped Paul Robeson, an attorney, of some fame for his baritone voice and film acting, write an important piece they and others submitted to the United Nations. Their petition asked that the UN pressure the US for an end to lynching and other atrocities ("We Charge Genocide"). Triumph turned sour. Robeson was blacklisted in the film industry. The women involved in such things found themselves investigated by the FBI, for speaking out as the just-arrived McCarthy era defined too many people who spoke out as subversive. Lorraine Hansberry's file, highly redacted and blurry, can be seen online at archive.org, Her own file was under the name Yvonne Gregory Perkins, indicating another marriage.

After McCarthyism ended, Yvonne had one last marriage. A young neighbor to her mother admired Yvonne and studied journalism because of her. June Cross then authored her own autobiography, in which she remembered "Auntie Hugh" ( Mignon's and Yvonne's mother Hugh Ella ). Auntie Hugh told the news when Yvonne was not herself visiting. Yvonne married a pilot in the German airforce, so lived in Germany for some time. Yvonne had the relief of being treated wonderfully there, being able to eat in all restaurants, shop in the top stores Then came the withdrawal pain of a wicked combination, looking like a white woman, so knowing people were ABOUT to treat her well, but slowly decided not to, once she returned to the States and Jim Crow. Some say she had a mental breakdown once back in NYC. Some said she fell into alcoholism. Were these two ways of saying the same thing?

Yvonne fell out of contact with people. She became isolated. This was had happened with mother's father (Hugh Hancock) fifty to sixty years earlier, in the decade before he died . Then, Yvonne died. The date given varies, as memories have aged, but the death date that seems right was reported in her obituary in the NY Times and then preserved in their archives.

Mignon sparkled in her own way, more quietly than Yvonne, thus, with far less of the criticism that Yvonne had received. Mignon stayed among people who mainly treated her well, as that was a gift that Howard could offer. Eve Zibart, a columnist for obituaries in the Washington Post, noted that Mignon's last work was with handicapped children at the National Children's Center. She had also been a past president of the Howard University Faculty Wives and among the first members of a group at Howard that worked with wives of African diplomats, to improve American-African relationships.

HER CHILDREN. Zibart listed Mignon's survivors, but not her cemetery. At 59, Mignon died sufficiently young that almost everyone else survived her ( spouse, all siblings but Yvonne, and her three children). Daughter Wendy Gregory Shaw still lived in DC, sons Ernest III and Gregory Calvin Wilson had gone to Ann Arbor, Mich. and New York City, respectively, said Zibart.

Her grandfather Hugh (on her mother's side) had died youngish as well. Hugh Hancock was a teacher after Oberlin, on his return to Texas, and then a saloonkeeper. He became probably the last Texas delegate of color to his party's national convention, as thereafter Jim Crow spread in to Texas and demeaned the good parts of Reconstruction with stereotypes. If one was a carpetbagger, they were all carpetbaggers. Howard University was never mentioned, nor Oberlin. There had been no bringing of teachers down from the north for both poor whites and ex-slaves, trying to teach them for the very first time how to read and how to count money. That the ex-slaves in southern Louisiana were found healthier and better clothed than the ones in South Carolina is not mentioned. And so on.

He had left Texas permanently, sometime between Hugh Ella's birth there and their time in Evanston. He would not want to return with Susie. Perhaps they needed an income if he was already ill and she still had connections there who could find work for her.

Mignon's mother Hugh Ella had clearly been named for him. She had born late, nine years after the last of her three older sisters, Mignon's three aunts. Hugh Ella was born about as their mother Susie turned 40, making it unlikely there would be a son.

Hugh the senior died "out west" in Pocatello, Idaho, after a considerable absence from his wife and daughters. His absences were never well-explained in Hugh Ella's mind. Her doubts were described by her spouse in his family memoirs. Having spent little time with senior Hugh, junior Hugh probably did not understand how a worsening illness might have kept her absentee father looking for a cure or put him into a bout of depression in which he avoided the people he loved. His Idaho death record cited Uremia, meaning death by kidney failure. The failure could proceed slowly, but also fast in a time of no dialysis. Its onset was said to be brought on by high blood pressure, for which there was no medication back then.

Also, Pocatello was a newish rail town, not everything about it good for children. Its businesses often served unmarried men (rough miners working in the nearby mountains), creating some tendency for prostitutes to come through, looking for work. There were struggling hay farmers wondering how to feed their children. There were land men with money, interested in finance irrigation systems for tree farms alongside the Snake River, not in paying for schools.

Some speculated that Mignon's maternal grandparents had divorced in the interim he was gone. However, Pocatello obituary said Hugh senior was married and that his wife, "Mrs. H.B. Hancock" had traveled up from a good-sounding institutional job in Austin and was at the funeral. People looking for her mother as Susie Hancock would not find her named in the obituary. She is found widowed in the 1920 Census , residing in Austin TX as a live-in "officer" in what appears to be a reform school, live-in officers and teachers about equal to students in number, the students age 10 to 20, boys outnumbering girls 8 to 1
For the 1920 Census, in DC, Susie James Hancock had left Austin, to live with the recently married Hugh Ella, while a baby Yvonne had her brief moment as the only child. . Was a little bit of Susie too much of Susie for their father? Or, was it merely a case of less room as the family grew, adding five more children?

Susie had been the only one of the three ancestors going to Oberlin to spend time in their conservatory program. If poetry is music without instruments, was she the one to teach cadence and tempo to Yvonne, who then taught it to some of the others? By their 1930 Census, in NJ, Susie was gone. She had left for the Los Angeles area , presumably to join one of her older daughters, accounting for her death and burial out there. By 1930, Yvonne had had a poem published in a national journal, a hopeful and light thing, called "Morning". The introduction said she was only 12. That was as the Great Depression started. Over the next years, morning turned into high noon, the glare extra-bad for farmers and miners, worse for blacks. Mignon's timing was the reverse, moving directly into a post-War boom that seemingly had jobs for everyone.

*WashingtonPost.com, obituaries for self and spouse (hers published July 11, two days after death; her spouse's, in 1990).
*NewYorkTimes.com, obituary for sister Yvonne (published Oct 29, 1979, her sister having died of cancer at Bellevue the prior Friday).
*FamilySearch.org, image of handwritten Delaware marriage record.
*1942 issue of "Who's Who in Colored America", by Thomas Yenser, biography for her father and his children's precise birth dates, on page 218.
* www2.oberlin.edu/archive/exhibits/john_brown_new/lecture.html Lecture on John Copeland by James Monroe. (Not the same man as Mignon's first ancestor to attend Oberlin, James Monroe Gregory.)

*Neighbor June Cross, pages 50 and 136-137 in her autobiography "Secret Daughter: A Mixed-race Daughter and the Mother who Gave Her Away". She ended with "We rarely saw Yvonne anymore---she was consumed by alcoholism. Still, I believed, as Yvonne had, as Aunt Peggy did, that racism was the result of ignorance, and I thought that by becoming a reporter I could help educate the masses."
*College professor Deyo F. Gore, "Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War", numerous mentions. Yvonne had quit politics, apparently before marrying the German pilot. She was reported as having had issues since early adulthood, but a severe breakdown in 1961, returning home from Germany in 1968, dying in 1971. The death date is a bit early, so the other dates might also be approximate, not exact rememberings by sources. See especially page 199, Note 4, where Gore reports interviews with June Cross and also with Yvonne and Mignon's younger sister, Sheila Gregory Thomas. Gore then cites the FBI report, of which she owns a copy.

*"Frontline" program, "The Gregory Family", interviewing June Cross, whose adoptive family had been neighbors in NJ. She reported a letter she had received when young from "Uncle Gum", her family's pet name for Mignon's father, whom she knew formally as T. Montgomery Gregory. He lamented that his own father had never written the details of the Gregory family, so he would try to make up for it:

*"Who Do You Think You Are?" at TLC.com Researchers investigated the parentage of Aisha Tyler, talk show artist and actress. Her mother, Robin Gregory, descends from Hugh and Susie, via their youngest, Hugh Ella. If poetry came into the family via Hugh Ella's mother and drama via Hugh Ella's husband, maybe Aisha's choice of career does not surprise?

*A professional genealogist, Janice M. Sellers, reviewed the material given to Aisha, including a letter from Mignon's younger sister wishing she had asked their mother Hugh Ella for more information, but knew that Hugh Ella had attended Fisk. Janice's blog is at AncestralDiscoveries.com (dated 2016/04, as who-do-you-think-you-are-aisha-tyler.html)

*Ancestry.com has posted a news article about the show :

They showed the false rumors about ancestry could circulate. An article on the 1880 Presidential election started a rumor that the Democratic Party's presidential candidate, Gen. W. S. Hancock (Winfield Scott Hancock, of Pennsylvania) had been his father. They then retracted this and noted that another Democratic Party member, John Hancock of texas, was instead his father.

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  • Created by: JBrown, IA, MN, Calif, AustinTX
  • Added: 1 Jun 2018
  • Find A Grave Memorial 190262261
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Mignon Gregory Wilson (30 Aug 1927–9 Jul 1987), Find A Grave Memorial no. 190262261, ; Maintained by JBrown, IA, MN, Calif, AustinTX (contributor 48697180) Burial Details Unknown, who reports a No church or cemetery in obituary. Parents, sister Yvonne, buried in Gregory plot at Mount Auburn (Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts). Cemeteries near Howard University possible..