Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Selma Glory In My Family's Blood: James E. Gildersleeve, the Courageous Eight & Ola Burroughs Dunning

Welcome to the ROOTS section of my blog, where I focus on general and personal Genealogical and/or DNA stories of my interest. (NOTE: I still explore Genetic Genealogy subjects in the "Recombinant Genetic Genealogy" section of my blog). This inaugural post pays homage to the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and Selma's role in the fight for Voting/Civil Rights by spotlighting two courageous heroes who also happen connected to my Curry, Dunning, Harper family of Marengo County, Alabama. I briefly discuss(I) James E. Gildersleeve & the Courageous Eight; (II) centenarian Mrs. Ola Burroughs Dunning, and (III) James Gildersleeve's genealogical connections to my Curry, Dunning, Harper family. Also be sure to visit the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute in Selma. ENJOY and LEAVE COMMENTS.
James E. Gildersleeve's Arrest card, 1965, Selma, Al. Source: Alabama Dept. of Archives and History | 2009. 
Marchers on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma; Source: Google Images
Protesters being attacked during Selma-to-Montgomery marches.
SELMA, DALLAS COUNTY, ALABAMA, is a haunting place that I'm earnestly familiar with. About 20 years after Bloody Sunday, we travelled there often -- sometimes to return my cousin to Selma University on Sunday afternoons, and other times we passed through en route to some place else. When we lived in the Northeast the Selma Highway (aka US Highway 80) was the best route to my dad's rural hometown of Dixons Mills, Marengo County, Alabama, located about 50   miles southwest yonder Selma's legendary St. James Hotel with its facade transplanted right out of Orleans French Quarter; ghostly Spanish moss (New Tillandsia     usneoides) black veiling stoic Oak trees (Quercus virginiana), and oh, that courageous Edmund Pettus Bridge hunching over the clayed Alabama River. It was always approaching this unassuming stubby steel through-arch span that Monarch butterflies swarmed en mass aflutter in my gut as I conjured up brutal images of Jim Crow-era Selma. And day-nightmares of the hell unleashed on "Bloody Sunday," the first (March 7, 1965) of three Selma-to-Montgomery marches against civil injustices against Black Americans that ended with 600 peaceful protestors being attacked by Alabama state police and racist mobs. On one such trip, I asked my dad if he knew whether any of our family participated in Selma's demonstrations, especially since his extensive family -- Curry, Dunning, Harper of Marengo and Clark counties -- migrated there during the first two "great" Black migrations. My dad could only muster foggy details, but he did mention something about the Gildersleeve's (they were severally married into our family in Marengo County) and his first cousin Ola Burroughs Dunning (she was a Selma centenarian that I've met when she visited my grandmother). I remembered these queries to my dad after watching the tour de force film, Selma, and beatifying the song "Glory" as my new anthem. So for the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I felt compelled to do some research on the information my dad gave me. Turns out he was on to something:
Members of Selma's Courageous Eight portraits. James E. Gildersleeve is first pic from left, top row. Source: Google Images/Flicker
(a) JAMES EDWARD GILDERSLEEVE was a Selma educator and grass-roots Civil Rights activist, most notably as President of the Dallas County Voter's League (DCVL) and member of the Courageous Eight. A truly courageous soul, Gildersleeve was arrested on January 7, 1965, for "Criminal Provocation" when racial violence plagued the south and US in general where Black folks lived. Criminal Provocation probably means Gildersleeve was brave enough to resist arrest.  Gildersleeve was born in Pineville, Marengo County, Alabama, in 1918, the fourth of eight children born to Edward & Alice Gildersleeve. According to Selma-Times Journal: A Courageous Man: James Gildersleeve:1918-2004  Gildersleeve also served his country as Military Police in Japan during World War II. Thereafter he settled in Selma, where he spent 41 years as a teacher and principal in both public and private schools. Gildersleeve was married to Ludy Dunning; they had two children and was the grandparents of four. He died on June 17, 2004 at the age of 86 and his wife Ludy Dunning passed away a year before on February 7. James E. Gildersleeve's achievements have been memorialized at the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute (among others) in Selma. On the national scale  Gildersleeve is perhaps an unsung hero of Civil Rights, but he is unquestionably a giant among giants for his courage and grassroots contributions to the movement. Salute!

(b) THE COURAGEOUS EIGHT began as the three-member Trustee Board of the Dallas County Voter's League in Selma.  Later the board expanded to eight members and later became known as the Courageous Eight for their work fighting segregation and voting rights in Selma, which received international attention in the 1960's and became a pivotal to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1968. "They tested the 1964 Civil Rights Act, wishing to determine whether its provisions would be allowed and enforced. They defied the white powers that sought to keep blacks oppressed. They fought for the right to earn a fair wage, equality in education, the right to elect leaders, and other basic freedom," according to Selma-Times Journal: A Courageous Man: James Gildersleeve:1918-2004

Courageous Eight members were (alphabetical order):

1. Ulysses Blackmon - teacher at Lutheran Church School 

2. Amelia Boynton - owned an insurance agency; ran for Congress from Alabama in 1964, the first female African-American ever to do so and the first female of any race to run on the ticket of the Democratic Party in Alabama. According to an LA Times article, "... in the weeks after the march a group of U.S. congressmen met with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders at Boynton Robinson’s home to produce the first draft of the Voting Rights Act. Boynton Robinson was at the White House when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act into law in August 1965. as of 2015, Mrs. Boyton is a surviving Courageous Eight member and believed to between 104 and 109.

3. Earnest L. Doyle - interior decorator; one of the first African Americans to be on the Selma City Council 

4. Marie Foster - a widow working in a dental office; taught citizenship classes to help others gain permission to vote; brutally beaten on Bloody Sunday while participating in the Voting Rights March 

5. James Edward Gildersleeve - principal at Lutheran Church School; president of the Dallas County Voters League 

6. Rev. J.D. Hunter - minister and agent for a black insurance company; head of the local Selma NAACP; member of steering committee for the Dallas County Voters League 

7. Rev. Frederick D. Reese - taught for the Selma City School System and pastored two churches; president of the Dallas County Voters League when Dr. King and SCLC were invited to Selma 

8. Rev. Henry Shannon, Jr. - barber and minister, member of the steering committee of Dallas County Voters League

[Source: Selma-Times Journal: A Courageous Man: James Gildersleeve:1918-2004]


At this point, I thought it would be good idea to put the Selma and the Courageous Eight in context of the US Civil Right Movement. As such, I will share a great timeline I sort of reconfigured using material (and direct quotes) from sources Selma-Dallas County Friends of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail Association, and Wikipedia articles:
  • Historians view the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March as the emotional peak of the Modern Civil Rights Movement that began in the 1950’s. Mrs. Amelia Boynton, Mrs. Marie Foster, Mr. Ernest Doyle, Rev. John D. Hunter, Mr. James Gildersleeve, Rev. Henry Shannon, Mr. Ulysses Blackmon, and Dr. Frederick D. Reese, the steering committee of DCVL referred to as the “Courageous Eight” continued to meet and strategize on the Selma movement. The voting right campaign was a grass roots effort, where the actions of ordinary, but courageous, people led to major social change. Violence was happening all over the South. 
  • In the 1960’s, Alabama, like most states in the former Confederacy, restricted the right of African-Americans to vote. County registrars throughout the Black Belt region of Alabama imposed various obstacles to prospective African-American voters, including limitations on voting office hours and staffing, difficult literacy tests, and a voucher system that required sponsorship of each new registrant. 
  • In 1963, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) arrived in Selma at the request of local civil rights leaders.
  • In 1964, only 2.2 percent of African-Americans over age 21 were registered to vote in Dallas County, Alabama. The ability of African-Americans to register in Dallas County was due to the long-standing efforts of the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) and its key organizing figure, Samuel Boynton. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 added momentum to Selma’s grass roots campaign. Local law enforcement, led by segregationist Dallas County Sheriff, Jim Clark, met renewed protests with physical violence. In July of 1964 Circuit Judge James Hare prohibited meetings of three or more people in Selma, effectively bringing protests to a halt. 
  • On January 19, 1965, James E. Gildersleeve, member of Courageous 8 and president of DCVL gets arrested for "Criminal Provocation in Selma, Alabama. [Source James E. Gildersleeve's Arrest card, 1965, Selma, Al. Source: Alabama Dept. of Archives and History | 2009.]
  • On February 26, 1965, activist and deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being mortally shot several days earlier by a state trooper during a peaceful march in Marion, Alabama. To defuse and refocus the community's outrage, SCLC Director of Direct Action James Bevel, who was directing SCLC's Selma Voting Rights Movement, called for a march of dramatic length, from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Bevel had been working on his Alabama Project for voting rights since late 1963. [Source: ]
  • On March 7, 1965, aka Bloody Sunday, some 600 civil rights marchers, including US Representative JOHN LEWIS, headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma. Two days later on March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a "symbolic" march to the bridge. This set up what became known as Turnaround Tuesday.
  • On March 9, 1965, Troopers, police, and marchers confronted each other, but when the troopers stepped aside to let them pass, King led the marchers back to the church. He was obeying a federal injunction while seeking protection from federal court for the march. That night, a white group beat and murdered civil rights activist James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, who had come to Selma to march in the second march. Many other clergy and sympathizers from across the country also attended the second march. [Source: ]
  • On March 21, about 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery, walking 12 miles a day and sleeping in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, they were 25,000-strong. Less than five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965--the best possible redress of grievances. (
OLA BURROUGHS DUNNING was a Selma resident and centenarian who participated in the Voting and Civil Rights movement, including marching up to her city's Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday at 77-years old. Subsequently she returned to church to help prepare food for courageous sojourners. Mrs. Dunning's AUNT Carrie Harper was married to James E. Gildersleeve's PATERNAL UNCLE John Gildersleeve. In addition Ola's husband Walter Dunning was James E. Gildersleeve's MATERNAL UNCLE via his mother Lula Dunning Gildersleeve. Mrs. Ola Burroughs Dunning is also my dad's first cousin on his maternal side; my dad's mother Charlotte Harper Pritchett and Ola's mother Sally Harper Burroughs were sisters. Cousin Ola actually belonged to an elite class of family elders blessed with extraordinary longevity. And we were not allowed to be around them too much. However I vividly remember cousin Ola and her daughter Maude from when they would come down from Selma to visit grandma Charlotte -- her last surviving aunt who lived to be 119 years old -- in Dixons Mills, Alabama. Cousin Ola herself lived to be 105, and her sisters survived to 104 and 108 respectively; they all attended their Aunt Charlotte's home-going services in 1985.
Ola Burroughs Dunning at her 101st birthday, private family photo
Speaking of which, I will share a passage from Cousin Ola's own obituary that best sums up her extraordinary life and contribution to Selma's Voting and Civil Rights movement:

OLA BURROUGHS DUNNING, born April 9, 1889 (or 1888), in Marengo County, Alabama, was the oldest of six children born to Henry and Sally Harper Burroughs. She was married to George Walter Dunning and this union was blessed with 15 children. Six children died as infants and five preceded her in death, Ira, Violet, Artie, Ossie and Addison. She moved to Selma in 1941 and lived at 1802 Lawrence St until her death in 1993. George Walter Dunning died in that house in 1950. In 1965 at the age of 77, she joined the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, AL and walked with the marchers as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge before turning around. She went back to the church to help with the food preparation. In 1969 she received here GED from R. B. Hudson High School at the the age of 81.  At her death in 1993 at age 105, she left to cherish her memories: 3 daughters [redacted]; 1 son, [redacted]; 21 grandchildren; 33 great grandchildren; 9 great, great grandchildren; 2 sisters, Carrie Burroughs (lived to 104) and Lizzie Burroughs Coats (lived to 108).
  • Here is a US Census for 1900 ( showing Ola Burroughs Dunning living with her parents Henry Burroughs and Sally Harper Burroughs. At the time they lived in Choctaw Corner (today known as Thomasville), Clarke County, Alabama:

BONUS -- Legacy of Ola Burroughs Dunning: Mrs. Ola Burroughs Dunning's current descendants -- the Blount Family of Dade City, Florida -- being featured in WTSP 10 News story for participating in the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, where US President Barack Obama gave a rousing speech:

James E. Gildersleeve spent his childhood alongside my dad's Curry, Dunning, Harper family in the same area. More recently I learned that  Gildersleeve was indirectly intertwined into my family through his uncle's marriage to my father's aunt; his first cousin's marriage to my father's niece, and his cousin's union with my father's nephew. Gildersleeve's wife Ludy Dunning is also member of our Dunning branch via Connie Dunning and Pearline Norton Dunning; Ludy's uncle was George Walter Dunning, who was Ola Burroughs husband. (Sorry to confuse you, but I think it's worth pointing out that Ludy had an aunt Ola DUNNING who married Ola BURROUGH'S first cousin Armistad Harper). 
Next I will briefly present genealogical information on James E. Gildersleeve's paternal side (via his father Edward and paternal grandparents Philip and Tempe Gildersleeve), AND their connections to the Curry, Dunning, Harper family using several records and photos. So James E. Gildersleeve's paternal grandparents were Philip Gildersleeve (born in North Carolina) and Tempe (or Tempa) Gildersleeve (parents born in North Carolina); together they had 12 children in total. Philip and Tempe first lived in Choctaw Corner (now Thomasville), Clarke County, and then moves Pineville, Marengo County (included as Dixons Mills today). Phillip and Tempie Gildersleeve, like the Curry, Dunning, Harper family, had progenitors who were born as slaves in the Carolinas and sold down to southwest Alabama's region where Clarke, Marengo, and Wilcox counties intersect. At one time Marengo County had the second highest number of slaves in US, and I theorize many first arrived from the Carolina's via boats that reached Mobile harbor then sailed points north up the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, the latter of which formed a boundary between the Choctaw and Creek Indians before the Indian Removals of 1831. According to Gildersleeve family Web site and descendant Kajuana Gildersleeve, both Philip and Tempe were enslaved by John Gildersleeve who had a plantation in the Marengo County area. Records show John was born in North Carolina and also shipped enslaved souls from North Carolina probably to new plantations he opened in Alabama's extremely fertile Blackbelt region like so many slave owners did. Tempa was reportedly the daughter of slave owner John Gildersleeve and met her husband  Philip on the same plantation. According to a post by Gildersleeve descendant Walt Sanderson, "Phillip was a native of the Gambia and that he and Tempa (whom he described as half black, half Native American) were purchased as slaves in NC and brought to AL." In the future personal DNA tests offered by, AncestryDNA, and further genealogical research should help buttress some of this family history. Here is what the genealogy says:
  • The 1930 US Census ( "Show Others" page listing James E. Gildersleeve, his family  (including a brother named of "Booker T") in Pineville, Marengo County. Also on this record is James's uncle Lawrence Gildersleeeve whose son McAdoo married my father's niece. NOTE Armistad Harper at the top of this page. Well Armistad Harper is the child of my father's and Ola Burroughs Dunning maternal uncle George Harper. (In other words James Gildersleeve's paternal uncle John married Armistad Harper's aunt Carrie Harper):  
  • Photo of TEMPE (or TEMPA) GILDERSLEEVE, who is the paternal grandmother of James E. Gildersleeve, and wife of Philip Gildersleeve. She is reportedly of Africa, European and Native American descent; her father is allegedly slave owner John Gildersleeve and her mother  enslaved woman of African and Native American descent:
Tempe Gildersleeve in Alabama. Photo date unknown. Source: Kajuana Gildersleeve and Flickr.
Used by permission.

  • 1850 US Slave Census -- The "Black Male" listed below is believed to be Philip Gildersleeve (who is James E. Gildersleeve's paternal grandfather). Philip was enslaved by John Gildersleeve, a slave owner in Marengo (and possibly bordering Clarke) counties, according to this 1850 US Slave Census. Two of John Gildersleeve's slaves were Philip and Tempe who married each other -- they were not kin to each other. This could be why Philip & Tempe named their own son John and is most likely where the Gildersleeve surname derives:
  • James E. Gildersleeve's paternal grandfather Philip was born in North Carolina, and reportedly enslaved by John Gildersleeve. This U.S., Southeast Coastwise Inward and Outward Slave Manifests, 1790-1860 (source, shows on April 12, 1838, that a "brown" 20-year-old male by the name of "Philip" was aboard steamboat CAROLINA. The shipper or owner was  John Gildersleeve, who is residing in Mobile, Alabama.  Here I cautiously speculate that the Philip listed on this Slave Manifest is possibly the father of the younger Phillip, who was reportedly born about 1830. Perhaps John Gildersleeve sold the senior Phillip to another plantation in Louisiana, especially considering Steamboat Carolina appears to be departing Mobile and bound for New Orleans. Of course this John Gildersleeve of Mobile could be a different one from the one in Marengo County (but I doubt it): 
Source: National Archives and Records Administration - Southeast Region (Atlanta) (NRCAA), Morrow, GA; Coastwise Slave Manifests, 1801 - 1860; Record Group: 36, Records of the U.S. Customs Service; ARC Identifier:1151775

  • The 1870 US Census ( showing Philip & Tempe Gildersleeve;s family. At this time they lived in Choctaw Corner, Clarke, Alabama (source included in pic):  
  • 1870 US Census ( showing my Harper family also in Choctaw Corner, Clarke, Alabama. Mitchell & Lizzy Harper's daughter Carrie Harper (born after 1870) married John Gildersleeve (he is James E. Gildersleeve's uncle), and granddaugher Ola Burroughs (daughter of Sally Harper below) married James E. Gildersleeve's mother Luda Dunning:

  • 1880 US CENSUS ( showing Philip & Tempa Gildersleeve's family living in Pineville, Marengo County, Alabama. NOTE: the household included Henry Lightfoot, 75 years old, listed as an uncle to Philip Gildersleeve and also born in North Carolina: 

  • 1880 US Census ( showing my dad's grandparents Mitchel and Elizabeth "Lizzy" Harper. Choctaw Corner (now Thomasville) was near Pineville and Dixons Mills, about 9 miles north. Their daughter Caroline "Carrie" Harper married John Gildersleeve (an uncle to James E. Gildersleeve) and their daughter Charlotte Harper's granddaughter married Lawrence Gildersleeve (an uncle to James E. Gildersleeve):
  • Pictured here is my father's aunt Caroline "Carrie" Harper (daughter of Mitchel and Elizabeth Harper) and her husband John Gildersleeve (son of Philip & Tempe Gildersleeve and uncle to James E. Gildersleeve). NOTE: Carrie Harper Gildersleeve was also the aunt to Ola Burroughs Dunning (her mother was Sarah Harper Burroughs) and a sister to my grandma Charlotte Harper Pritchett:
  • 1990 US Census record ( showing John & Carrie Gildersleeve family living in Pineville, Marengo, Alabama, with their family, including a young Tempe named after her grandmother. NOTE: This younger Tempie Gildersleeve-Drake became instrumental in helping organize our Curry, Dunning, Harper family reunions and rich family history
  • This is James E. Gildersleeve's FIRST COUSIN McAdoo Gildersleeve (son of Lawrence "Lonnie" & Onnie Gildersleeve). He is the father to my cousin Rose Gildersleeve George, whose mother is my dad's niece; this also means Rose Gildersleeve George is James E. Gildersleeve's first cousin once removed. Of course Rose's grandmother is also a first cousin to Ola Burroughs Dunning. Cousin Rose graciously allowed me to share these photos of her father McAdoo Gildersleeve, who is currently 94-years-old,  and her family:
McAdoo Gildersleeve. Source Rose Gildersleeve
George. Used by permission. 
Rose Gildersleeve George's (right) with her parents and sons.
McAdoo Gildersleeve is center. Photo courtesy Rose Gildersleeve George. Used by permission.
  •  1900 US Census ( showing McAdoo Gildersleeve's father Lawrence, as well as his first cousin James E. Gildersleeve's father Edward living with their parents in Pineville, Marengo County, Alabama:
  • 1930 US Census ( showing McAdoo Gildersleeve living with his parents Lawrence and Onnie Gildersleeve. Again Lawrence is James E. Gildersleeve's uncle:

Finally, thanks for allowing me to share my inaugural Roots blog post with you. All information herein is subject to change or being updated at any time. This blog is intended for educational purposes only. If you have any questions, inquiries, or concerns, and if you see any broken links or unsourced material, please contact me immediately at


  1. What a wonderful tribute and legacy to the descendants of these courageous men and women. Bravo!

  2. Thanks Kelly! I'm happy you enjoyed it.

  3. I'm a very PROUD GILDERSLEEVE, James E. Gildersleeve was my grandfathers uncle. Love my roots!

    1. Raquel,
      Thanks so much for responding. You should be very proud of your roots. The Gildersleeve genealogy is fascinating as well, and I encourage you to deeply explore it.

    2. Raquel,
      Thanks so much for responding. You should be very proud of your roots. The Gildersleeve genealogy is fascinating as well, and I encourage you to deeply explore it.

    3. Job well done, T L Dixon. My name is Cheryl Wynn and I am a decendent of the Phillip and Tempa Gildersleeve legacy. My great, great grandmother is Mary Alice Gildersleeve Boykin. They called her Mollie/Molly, and she married Willie Boykin. I reside in Southern California.

  4. My name is Rodney Marsh and I'm the Great Grandson of Armistad Harper and Ola Dunning Harper, My Grandmother name was Niece Harper Marsh, which was their daughter and she was the first cousin of Cousin Ludy. I also remember cousin James and cousin Ludy Gildersleeve, I rented a house from them while I attended Concordia Lutheran College in Selma, AL. I also remember cousin Ola and her daughter Maude, when I was out of class I would go sit on the porch with them because their house was next to the gymnasium on Concordia campus. I also have a Original news paper clipping that my Grandmother Niece gave me of Aunt " Babe " " LOTTIE " Charlotte Elizabeth Pritchett celebrating her 117th birthday. I Love the history of our Family and I Love them dearly and they are truly missed but never forgotten!

    1. Hi Cousin Rodney,
      Thanks for commenting and taking a look. I appreciate for your experience with James and Ludy Gildersleeve. Like you I met cousin Ola and her daughter Maude when they would visit my grandmother Charlotte Harper Pritchett (as you called her Aunt Babe)...

    2. This is amazing. I am the granddaughter of Lawerence and Onnie Gildersleeve. My father's name is Hubert Gildersleeve.

    3. Blessing Luci....Fascinating