My newspaper column updates the previous article on Ms. Pinnix and Trooper Alexander from the Union Cemetery, courtesy of the crowdsourced reporting done by readers.
Update from Union Cemetery
By Edward Cone
News & Record
My previous column ended with a request to readers for more information on two people buried in Greensboro's oldest African American graveyard, Union Cemetery: a woman named Harrett Pinnix, who died at "about 100 years" in 1918, and Thomas Reese Alexander, a cavalryman with the famed Buffalo Soldiers who died on the Mexican border in 1914.
I was intrigued by the stories suggested by the inscriptions on their headstones and curious to find out more about the people memorialized by the weathered stones on South Elm Street. Did Ms. Pinnix share her long life with a family? Was she born a slave? How did young Alexander come to join the legendary 10th Cavalry? I browsed a few Web sites, then wrote up what I knew and asked you to do some more.
In new media parlance, getting a bunch of people to do the work on a journalism project is called "crowdsourcing." I find that much more impressive than the old terminology, "being lazy." In any case, readers quickly availed themselves of online databases, microfilm in the UNCG library and other resources, and I learned enough from their e-mails to tell you a little more about these residents of an earlier Greensboro.
Alexander's gravestone says he was a son of R.S. and M.J. Alexander. Warren Dixon of Liberty perused some census records and death certificates and identified the parents by their calling names, Sandy and Maggie. "Sandy was a barber in Greensboro and owned his own shop. Maggie was a school teacher," says Dixon. In 1900, the family was living in Gastonia, but by 1910 they had moved to Greensboro and were living on East Market Street. At that point, Thomas Reese, then about 17, was listed as an errand boy.
Alert reader Carol Moore sent along a scanned copy of pages from an Army enlistment register. The neat cursive handwriting says that Thomas R. Alexander enlisted in 1912, at Fort Slocum, N.Y., for a period of three years. He is listed as being born at King's Mountain, North Carolina -- near Gastonia, so that makes sense -- and working as a laborer. He is brown-eyed with black hair, 5-feet-6 ¾-inches tall, and seemingly -- it's hard to read -- dark-skinned. A careful reading of the pages suggests Alexander may have taken a short vacation from his duties, as the document states: "Des., June 7, 1913. Appr. June 16, 1913."
A reader named Chris, who writes the Whig Hill blog, found a story from the Greensboro Daily News of May 12, 1914 -- an edition, he says, "full of news bulletins about hostilities with Mexico." The headline on the article: "Greensboro Negro Trooper is Killed." The story says no details were included in the telegram to his father, Sandy, "who runs a barber shop under the Greensboro Loan and Trust company. Sandy said yesterday upon receiving the message that although it was a great shock it was nothing more than he expected."
The telegram message reads: "Your son, Thomas R. Alexander, was shot and killed here today. Do you wish remains shipped to you? If so, where? Answer at once. C.S. Babcock, Captain 10th Cavalry." A fascinating last line to the story says that at the time of his enlistment, young Alexander was in art school in New York.
So much information, but questions remain. How exactly did Thomas Reese Alexander die? How did he get to art school in New York, and what made him enlist, and possibly desert? Dixon provided me with names of his siblings and at least some of their children, so more answers may be forthcoming.
The story of Harrett Pinnix has been fleshed out a bit, too. Ingrid Keltz of Jamestown scanned census records and reports that the 1900 census says Pinnix was born in June 1826 in North Carolina. Her mother was born in the state, but her father's birthplace is listed as "Do not Know." Harrett had 12 children, only three of whom lived to 1870. Her occupation is "Day Servant." She lives with a daughter, Flora; they have a boarder named Bransard Mook. The 1910 census has her living alone and puts her birth date in 1825; now her father is listed as born here, too. "She is widowed, the mother of 12 children, only 2 still living in April 1910," writes Keltz. "She is listed as still working as a 'washer woman.' "
Reader Robert Reinbold used census records to determine that Harrett and Flora lived on "Whitington" Street in Greensboro's Ward 5; Whittington Street is in the historic African American neighborhood of Warnersville. He also found Harrett's death certificate, which lists her mother's maiden name as Hanks or maybe Hawks.
Again, much remains unknown, and some details may never be uncovered. Many more stories, from Union Cemetery, where only a fraction of the dead have headstones, and from Greensboro's other historic graveyards, remain to be told. The lives of many of the everyday people who lived here before we did, perhaps especially the lives of African Americans, are barely remembered and poorly understood by the inhabitants of the modern city. That is our loss.
Thanks to some interested readers, though, we know a little more now than we did just a couple of weeks ago.
© News & Record 2008