THE HISTORY OF THE FOUNDATION
The origins of the “William H. and Mary L. Boyd Foundation Incorporated” began with a visionary:
Mary Johnson (Pride-Boyd)! Growing up as a person of color in rural Alabama. Mary Lou Johnson worked in the farmlands and in servitude to others.
While living in Bullock County Alabama, Mary met and married Mose Pride. Their address was Route #2 Box 49, Bullock County, in rural Union Springs, Alabama. Together they had five (5) children and all of them were born in Bullock County in Union Springs, Alabama except Lilly Belle Pride.
The oldest was a son, Johnnie Lee Pride and he was born when Mary was seventeen (17) years old. This was a common age for childbirth and rearing for young women during this period of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s in the United States of America.
Their second child was Orie Dee Pride, their first daughter. Their 3rd child, who was born to this couple was Noma Lee Pride. Unfortunately, this sister was deceased shortly after birth. The fourth child was son William Pride. William was the only child born to Mose and Mary Pride who was not given a middle name! However, Mose Pride did not have a middle name either.
The fifth and last child born to Mose and Mary Pride was Lilly Belle Pride. Unlike Lilly’s other brothers and her sister born in Union Springs, Alabama, she was born in Belle Glade, Florida. During this timeframe, Mose and Mary were working as migrate farm workers. At the time of Lilly’s birth, Mary was 26 years old and Mose was 36 years old, It must have seemed like a long way from Alabama!
During the 1930’s and 1940’s the Great Migration was appealing to millions of people in Black communities throughout the southern states. This was during the times when the Harlem Renaissance would have been included in conversations about what was happening during those times of change in American history; especially for people of color (known as colored, negroes, African American, and/or black) in all the southern states.
Those were challenging times for the Pride family. Mary and Mose Pride left their humble beginnings as farmers and laborers to become Migrant Workers, travelling to different cities and states for employment. During those days, there was the “Migrate Bus” , which was usually owned by white farm owners and sometimes owned by a few Blacks who had a drivers’ license. “Word of mouth” was the method of communicating for people of color and to find out where and when they would be driven to and from the farms. Many of the farms had “shacks” where to Migrate workers stayed while the workers stayed while working the fields. It must of took “courage and a leap of faith” to move their family with extremely little possessions, no vehicle, and four young children, which included a newborn. That was a testament for these two people striving for something that was better than what was the “normal” for people of color in Union Springs, Alabama. The unofficial motto of the William H and Mary L Boyd Foundation incorporated, which was started by William “Bill” Pride is: “ Do something that is greater than yourself”.
After ten years together, Mose and Mary decided to go their separate ways. Mose moved to Chicago, Illinois when he was lured by the factory jobs available in the Midwest. These opportunities were also a part of the “Great Migration” during those times. Seeking employment and escaping the violence and racism in the southern states was foremost in the minds for many within the African American community. This significance included Mary with four young children, whose ages were ten years old and younger. She stayed on the “migrant circuit” going from “farm to farm working in the fields.” This took tremendous faith, passion, grit, determination, and inner strength to keep moving, and not try to make her way back from whence she came (Union Springs, Alabama).
During this timeframe, Mary (age 24) met William Harlis Boyd (age 26) in Florida. William had a previous marriage to Mary Ellen Boyd in South Carolina, and they had one child, our stepsister Octavia Boyd-Dawson .William and Mary decided to continue with the “migration farm circuit”, which was heading north. They stayed in the eastern part of the United States, as opposed to going to the Midwest, and got married on June 18, 1948 in Syracuse, New York. They were able to benefit from the “migration circuit” and continued to live in upstate New York. The fertile grounds supported crops such as potatoes, corn, string beans and many apple farms in and around Onondaga, Cortland, Monroe, and Oneida Counties, just to mention a few. As a youngster, I remember that all four of us worked in the fields and the apple trees, adding the “honeypot” a few extra pennies that we might bring in for the family. The “family motto” was that every able body in the family was working in the field and/or the apple trees. Those life lessons of work ethics were instilled in all of us, young and older children from those times to today. Our family always had apples during fall season, and I acquired a taste for apple cider, which I still have today. Also, a small portion of the crops and or fruits from the different migrate farms, always seem to make their way back to our homes wherever we lived.
Eleven (11) years after Mary had her first child born in Alabama, William and Mary had their first child together. A son, Eulas Gene Boyd was born on April 5, 1949, and five more children were born in a hospital and not with a midwife. Harlow Boyd was born on May 22, 1950, Verline Boyd was born on January 25, 1952, Geraldine Boyd was born on February 28, 1953, Marion Boyd was born on April 21, 1955, and Mary Elizabeth was born on February 12, 1957.
The first family member to move to Syracuse to join Mary was Aunt Eva. She had one child at that time, our cousin Oscar Lee Shell. Although Oscar was a few years older , I was able to follow him around and spent many nights over Aunt Eva and Oscar’s home. They had an apartment over a department store called the “ G & H “ on the corner of Harrison St and Townsend street in the fifteenth ward, which was the colored section of the fifteenth-voting ward in Syracuse, NY.
When Mary’s sister, Eva (Alexander) Hammonds died in an automobile accident, her husband, Eunice, was injured and unable to care for himself and passed away. They left behind two children, Oscar Lee Shell, and Joanne Hammonds (born 1956). William and Mary continued to raise them as their own.
During the mid-1950’s, families did not adopt relatives, they just “added” children to their present family and raised them as their own. That added a total of 12 children in the Boyd family household. Just like “Harriet Tubman,” Mary was always concerned about her sisters and brothers and others living in Alabama and other rural Southern areas. Helping her sisters and family by moving them to the North was particularly important to her. In addition to raising 12 children, William and Mary were able to provide support and assistance to four of Mary’s family members, while transitioning with moving to Syracuse New York.
The next family to come to Syracuse was sister Elgertha Johnson ( James). She had been married to Frank James and had two children, Frankie Carol James (born 1952) and Terrance “Terry” James (born 1953). Mary and Aunt Gert were always in touch with each. Also, Aunt Gert was the first of the sisters and brothers in the family members to go to college. She matriculated at Central State in Dayton, Ohio, a historically Black University. Also, later in her life one of her daughters Gwendolyn Rolle also matriculated at Central State University in Ohio.
I remember playing with our cousins “ Frankie Carol ” and “ Terry “ during the days that they lived with us at 412 Cedar Street in Syracuse, New York. Aunt Gert finished her undergraduate degree and obtained a master’s degree as well.
As Aunt Gert moved forward with her life, she met and married Sam Rolle. Aunt Gert and Uncle Sam had two more children, Gwendolyn Rolle, and Lilly Kay Rolle who we affectionately called ‘Kay”. Uncle Sam was a chef by profession and earned an excellent reputation and was sought after to prepare the menu’s and cook for Weddings and events that had prepared meals as part of their agenda.
I remember when Uncle Sam chose me to work along with him as a “waiter and dishwasher” for the different events. During my junior high school days, I was able to purchase clothes, give money to mom, as well as have a “little change” in my pocket. This relationship was great during the 6th thru 9th grades, while I was in junior high school. My participation when working with Uncle Sam ended when I moved from junior high (Madison Jr High School) to senior high school (Syracuse Central Technical High School). Once in senior high school, I was involved with sports and that was my focus for the next 20 years and beyond. Aunt Gert joined Mary by becoming involved with the community through her church, as a teacher, member of the I.B.P.O.E. Lodge of Syracuse ( Elks), and a member of the Order of the Eastern Stars for over 50 years.
Aunt Bessie, along with her four children, was the next family members to come to Syracuse, New York (Her husband, Uncle Warren came later). They lived with us until Mary was able to help them obtain an apartment on “Rich Street’ to move into their own home. I can remember when Aunt Bessie came to Syracuse with her four Children. Our cousins from the oldest are Sheila Robertson (born 1953), Janice Robertson, Cynthia Robertson, and the only boy, Warren Jr.
Also, Aunt Bessie had skills which helped her bring in extra dollars She was a hairdresser, an excellent seamstress, and a creative designer with costumes for entertainers, as well as making clothes for her family and others.
Uncle Warren came a few months later and he was a hardworking man, and he was an impressive speaker. He was also a military veteran and that discipline was evident in his work ethic. He found employment quickly and in a few years Aunt Bessie and Uncle Warren were able to (1) purchase a home of their own and (2) was able to purchase another home later as a testament to their perseverance.
Uncle Roosevelt was the last family member to move to Syracuse, New York. He was single “and no children or family members came with him at that time. Uncle “Roos” which we called him, blended in with the family. I recall Uncle Roos shooting marbles and riding bicycles with me and some of our friends. I also remember all of Uncle Roos “self-trained” skills. He was a mechanic, repairing cars, and fixing mechanical issues with both old and new cars. He always was a “handy man” and continued to work regardless of the times, be it working at a daily or weekly job.
Many African Americans, including Mary were aware of “The Green Book.” This book obtained by people of color listed businesses and places of interest. They included such places as nightclubs, restaurants, beauty salons, barbershops, gas stations, garages and rooming houses that catered to Black “American road-trippers”, and those headed North or back to the southern states. I became aware of some of these road stops and refugee areas when I accompanied my parents on a trip south for a funeral of Mary’s brother Robert Johnson. Together on that trip were Aunt Eva, my sisters Orie and Lilly, myself and of course William and Mary. We all spent a night at one of the “safe houses” in North Carolina during the summer of 1949.
Many of these “safe places” and locations were communicated through “word of mouth” by people of Color throughout this period. “The Great Migration” was in full throttle for Blacks, because of killing, lynching, and maiming of people of color all over the USA. The east coast routes were always a major concern. Places that were “relatively safe” for people of Color provided some sense of comfort for their themselves and their children. Mary was aware of some of the locations for automobile fuel and boarding where we could spend a night. We spent one night at one of the safe houses in South Carolina. We had been harassed by Whites in North Carolina going through a small town. I remember hearing the “cool, calming voice” of Mary as she instructed everyone to close their windows, lower their heads, and not to speak. While Whites in the crowd pounded on the car and windows, Mary calmly told William to keep “ moving and driving slowly but, Don’t stop ”! To this day, that was one of the scariest times in my life; I was only 6 years old! There were no expressways or Interstate roads for travel, so Mary guided us through the rural routes that she and William knew or heard about. Ultimately, we missed the funeral service for Uncle Robert but many of the family and friends that Mary knew and left behind in Alabama almost twenty (20) years ago, welcomed us with the warm southern hospitality. It was wonderful ! Big hearted William and Mary did not stop with their own family members. They also helped others from the southern states to relocate and get settled in Syracuse, New York. During the mid-1950’s and the early 60’s, there were still many people in the south who were looking to migrate north to find jobs and escape from servitude and violence. Most people of color in those days either knew of someone or heard about some Black person who was beat up, threatened, lynched or on the run. I heard many stories about someone Black, who was missing and never heard from again in our family, as well as other Black families.
The “ Murder of youth Emmitt Till ” was front and center for most of the people of color and continued to energize the “Great Migration“. Black newspapers such as the “Pittsburg Courier was read by Mary and others in the Black communities. The “ Harlem Renaissance “ must have given Blacks hope, to think that good things were coming if they could persevere!
William and Mary Boyd were known in the Syracuse community for helping others from the South with assistance looking for jobs and renting rooms in her upstairs rooming house to those in need. They were one of the few “Black Families” who purchased and owned their home. Our home was located at 412 Cedar Street in Syracuse, New York. As part of Urban Renewal projects in Syracuse, our first purchased and owned home was demolished and now an expressway and for commercial operations. The entire Black neighborhood included businesses owned or serviced for people of color. Those businesses and many of the people of color were never able to recover from the ownership and standing they had in the “ Fifteenth (15th) ward in Syracuse New York.
Mary was in good standing in the masonic family and was known throughout the Central New York region of Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, as well as the state capital, Albany, New York. This was a big help to her family. Lilly and I were “youth members” of these organizations, in addition to being members of the Elk’s marching band where Lillie was a Majorette, and I was the Cymbal player. The rest of the siblings joined in as they got older. Mary started out doing “day work”; however, she was able to obtain a manufacturing position with Carrier Corporation (known for manufacturing air conditioners). This was a prized job for those who were part of the Great Migration.
Carrier Corporation had a recreation department which was mostly used by the white workers. Most workers of color did not participate. That did not deter Mary Boyd. She signed up two of her younger children William (8) who learned tap dancing, and Lilly (6) took ballet. We were the only children of color in the dance classes. During recitals, the only Black people in the auditorium besides Lilly and I was Mom (Mary Boyd). We learned that Mary was further planting the seeds for our growth and development.
An Entrepreneur, Mary cooked and sold dinners from our home after being laid off from the Carrier Corporation. She also rented and set up an outdoor kitchen at Cedar Grove, a backwoods area outside of Syracuse, New York where “colored” folks went on weekends to socialize. It was much like they did in the south, where ownership of businesses was at best limited in towns where they lived. The backwoods places were less restricted.
Mary’s reputation was further enhanced when she and William were able to lease the kitchen section of a local establishment in Syracuse called “Rich-Mel’s Tavern” located on the corner of Harrison Street and Almond Street of the 15th ward in Syracuse.
This was one of the first Black Women owned businesses outside of beauty parlors, taking care of the elderly, babysitting and day work care in the Central New York areas. William worked two full time jobs for more than 30 years. He found work early, at the Syracuse Rendering Company (they made fertilizer). He worked there for more than 36 years until his retirement. His second job was at Loretto Rest (a retirement home) in maintenance services until his retirement in 1984.
Mary L. (Johnson) (Pride) Boyd died in Syracuse, New York at an early age. She was 48 years old when she passed away on May 14, 1969.
After Mary’s death, William a few years later, he met and married Larleen Bradley (Boyd). They had one child, Crystal Boyd (born 1976), and who is another sister to our family. William Boyd lived until the age of 84 and passed away in Fort Pierce, Florida in July of 2004.
This Non-Profit organization is named the William H. and Mary L. Boyd Foundation Incorporation because they started the legacy of helping ALL of us and others. This Foundation is honoring both by providing Educational Scholarships, Awards and Programs for others in our communities, Cities, States and our Country!
William H and Mary L Boyd planted the seeds for our descendants who currently are or have been: Business Owners, Corporate Executives, Medical Professionals, Educators, Lawyers, Military, high ranking Masonic Family members, Athletes (Dallas Cowboys, Eastern Professional Basketball League, two-time Maryland State Gymnastic Champion, Outstanding Woman in America, and Retired Educators.
These are just a few accomplishments ! The dreams of our family will continue to come true, with God Blessing . Siblings like Geraldine Boyd-Whitehead (Geri) has always had a passion for the family and our history. From the time that she finished her undergraduate degree and went on to obtain her master’s degree in Social Work at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work, Graduate Division, she has traveled, cataloged and photographed many of the Johnson – Fitzpatrick descendants, Buchanan, Pride, and Boyd events and locations. Geri has reached out for and obtained more information than most of us descendants. She is the First (1st) Historian for the William H and Mary L Boyd Foundation and has reached out to other family members to continue to recharge and update all of our “ Families Histories “ We should challenge the next generation to participate and educate themselves about their history. Hence, help and assistance is on the way ! All generations should continue to support and build this non-profit organization. Be a part of helping our Communities, Cities, States, and our Country. The current motto is: “ Do things that will help others and stand for something greater than yourself “ !
Bill Pride – May 2020