First of all, let me, for the record, make something clear. As many of you know, I wrote a book called Child of God…
…that was very well-received and has also been optioned for film by hip-hop star, Kanye West. The storyline, which spans several generations, includes everything from prostitution, heroin addiction, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, rape, violent drug lords, homosexuality, the Vietnam War, murder, voodoo, rural Tennessee, and 60’s era Detroit.
One of the most predominant themes, however, is incest. Because that was a part of the storyline, many people have wondered whether the incest aspect was autobiographical. The answer is NO. I read lots of Greek literature and mythology as a child, and anyone who’s ever read the Greeks knows that their stories are rife with incest. I wanted to write something that was a nod to those stories and my favorite writers (Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, the Russians, and the Greeks). Apparently, however, incest occurs a lot more than I imagined, because since the publication of the book, several people have thanked me for telling “their story”.
My father, the late Arthur James Files, Sr., had A LOT of siblings (I’ve never been straight on the real number, having heard everything from 17 to 21). Naturally, I don’t know them all, nor their offspring, and they are spread all over the place. My mother, Lillie Belle Files, who was born in Alabama and moved to Mississippi when she was eight, has 6 siblings (one of whom is deceased), and I know her side of the family much better because it’s more manageable in size. I also know her lineage better. Her father, the late Roosevelt Brackett, was a half-Choctaw, half-Irish man who was 17 years older than my grandmother when he married her (my grandmother used to stay with his first wife when my grandfather, who was a chauffeur when he lived in Alabama, would have to travel). Throughout my life, I’ve heard my mother mention that she was born in York, Alabama, so yesterday, while on the phone with her, I asked her about the place. She replied:
“Well, actually, I wasn’t born in York. It was Butler, Alabama. Well, it wasn’t really Butler, either. It was Oakchia, Alabama, but Charles (one of her brothers) says he can’t find Oakchia anymore.”
Huh? Okay. I was holding my laptop as I talked to her (natch), and, being the Google whore queen that I am, asked her to spell the name of the town for me (“O-A-K-C-H-I-A,” pronounced “OAK-chi,” last syllable rhymes with “eye“), and I commenced to searching. 664 items came up, but it was the eighth item on the first page that gave me everything I needed, which was both eye-opening and alarming. It was an article called Return To Oakchia. I began to silently read, then shrieked…
“Ma, Oakchia was not a town!! It was a plantation!! You were born on a plantation????!!!!“
…and it was though I had uttered some esoteric password, because she began to babble endlessly, parroting the very things I was silently reading in the article, down to the most obscure names. I let her talk first, then read the article aloud to her, alarmed at her absolute recall. This was stuff I’d never heard anything about. Turns out she and four of her siblings were born on this plantation, and this plantation was home to my mother from her birth in 1939 until her family moved to Mississippi when she was eight. Her father drove for the master of this house, a Mr. Green Berry Chaney Evington. I kept reading, and noticed that Green Berry Evington’s wife was named Lillie Bell. I scream, “Ma, his wife has the same name as you!!!” My mom says, “I was named after her. She delivered me. She was a midwife.” I then ask, “So grandma decided to name you after her because she delivered you?” and my mom replies, “No. Mrs. Evington named me herself.” “Was grandma cool with this?” I stupidly ask. “What could she do?” my mom replied. “Mrs. Evington was white. We worked for them and lived on their property. She could name me what she wanted.”
EVINGTONS OF OAKCHIA
The Evingtons had ten children, with three sons to die at an early age.
1. Stella, who was Stella Blanche Plattor and served as Post Master at Oakchia in 1898, but by the time her mother’s will was probated in 1900, she was married to Ed Kelly and lived at Mount Sterling. 2. Eugenia A.; 3. Minnie T., who died at age 28; 4. Nettie Mohr, who married Charles A. Batton and was Postmaster at Oakchia in 1901; 5. Marvin, who was mentally handicapped; 6. Green Berry Chaney Evington, who married Lillie Bell Lindsey; 7. Carrie H.; 8. W.H. Evington, Jr. who lived a year and three months; 9. W. H. Evington, 2nd, who lived three years and 10. John Kendall Evington, who lived only seven months,
After his two daughters, William H. Evington served as Postmaster from 1901 through 1913. His son Green B.C. Evington held that job from 1917 until 1928. when the mail was re-routed to Edna. The old wooden store/post office building still stands behind the house at Oakchia, which was built to face the river. W. H. Evington served in the Alabama State Senate representing that area from 1884 to 1887.THIRD GENERATION OWNERS OF OAKCHIA
Green Berry Chaney Evington and Lillie Lindsey Evington’s daughters Coralie Bell and Kathleen grew up in the isolated area of Oakchia. Times were changing and young people craved excitment and companionship, not isolation. Coralie married Robert Seale Eddins and Kathleen married A. B. Stutts. After inheriting Oakchia, the Stutts sold the house and built a modern brick home in York, notable for its decorative wrought iron grill work. The old home had stayed in the family for four generations.
Resting in peace in the small family cemetery a few hundred yards from the house are Caroline and William H. Evington, the three youngest sons, daughter Minnie T. Evington and her sisters Eugenia and Carrie and brother Marvin, the last three with no grave markers. Probably other family members and slaves lie there also without headstones. There is an Oakchia African-American cemetery “deep in the woods” in a different place, land purchased in 1898.
My maternal grandfather was the one who drove the above-mentioned Evington daughters, Coralie and Kathleen, on trips during those changing times when the girls “craved excitement and companionship” outside of the isolated plantation. Those were the times when my young grandmother would stay with his then-wife and keep her company (this was long before my mother was born). I asked my mom what happened to her father’s first wife. My mom said he divorced her. I asked why and she said, “I don’t know. I heard she was a ‘rough’ woman.” I asked her what ‘rough’ meant. “I think it means she was a loose woman,” she said. Oh.*
It’s like finding out you’ve got a long-lost brother, sister, mother, father…something…that you had no idea even existed. Something about it has shifted my universe, although I can’t exactly pinpoint how. I just feel something’s…different. Maybe because I feel so blindsided by it all. My mom was born on a plantation? A white midwife forced her name upon her? At some point during my childhood, my mother added an “e” to end of her middle name to make it more sophisticated, but that doesn’t take away the fact that her name was not of her family’s selection, even though I can’t imagine my mom having any name other than Lillie Belle (my dad always called her “Belle“).
Oakchia is now a hunting lodge.
There’s some irony in that somewhere. I just haven’t figured it out yet.
*This is the same woman who once told me that my alarmingly well-read grandfather, in a fit of strictness, called her a ‘strumpet‘ as she was about to go out on a date when she was a teenager. “What is a strumpet anyway?” she asked me. I could barely keep a straight face as I explained to her that it was an Elizabethan term for ‘whore.’ With a family like this, what else could I be but a writer (or a strumpet)?
From the web: Return To Oakchia