My wife and I were recently invited to meet with the Page/Paige family at their reunion where we heard some interesting stories.
The Pages are a black family that traces its ancestry back to 1813 during the slave years. Before and during the Civil War, the slaves were owned by the Kent family at the plantation now called Kentland. After that war, they lived in the Wake Forest area on land given to the former slaves by Elizabeth Kent. Many of their ancestors are buried in the Wake Forest cemetery.
As with most families, the earliest names in the family tree are just that, names. There are exceptions, however. Lewis Farrow, born into slavery in 1854, married Kittie Hawkins, a white woman from Pembroke. Their marriage was strictly illegal in those days of brutal segregation, but the laws were stated in terms of blood, not DNA.
According to the law, if you had even one drop of black blood in you, then you were legally black. One account is that Lewis cut his arm deep enough to bleed, and Kittie swallowed a few drops of his blood. Since she had at least one drop of black blood in her body, they got a legal license to marry.
Much of the modern family history is traced from John Thomas Page, born 1874, married to Annie Farrow. Their marriage was blessed with eleven children, spread out over quite a few years.
When the younger children went to school, the teacher told them that P-A-G-E was not a proper name, it referred to a page in a book. According to her, the name should be P-A-I-G-E. Being dutiful children, they started spelling the name that way while the older children kept the original spelling. Thus we now have Pages and Paiges in the same extended family. Sometimes we forget the power a teacher can exert over our lives.
In the first half of the Twentieth Century, the Page family developed a relationship with George Washington Carver. Carver was a nationally recognized botanist who worked to revolutionize farming practices.
He was allowed to come to V.P.I. to meet with students and work on experiments, but was not allowed to stay in Virginia hotels or eat in local restaurants. The Page family opened their homes to him, and he stayed with them on his trips to the area.
The family lived in the Blacksburg area for years, centered on Gilbert Street near the Saint Luke and Oddfellows Hall. Starting in the 1940’s and 1950’s, it gradually broke apart and individual families moved to other states.
There were at least two societal reasons for the moves as well as private and personal ones. The yoke of segregation was heavy, and a freer life beckoned from the northern states.
In addition, good jobs for black people were almost non-existent in this area but were available in the industrial mid-west. At the present time, the family is spread out over eight states, from New York to Florida, with quite a few living near Blacksburg.
There is one permanent reminder of the Page family in Blacksburg. Page Park is a small town park off Prospect Street behind Dayspring Academy.
This is one of the best organized extended families that I have encountered. The reunion group has a president, Larney Michael; vice-president, Monica Reese; secretary, Brenda Roberts and treasurer, Kaywood Price.
The Pages are proud of their family traditions and try to maintain them as much as possible. They have returned to their home territory of Blacksburg for their reunions every two years since 1992. We hope to be invited back to the next one.
They know how to have a good time.
James Shockley writes a monthly history column. He lives in Blacksburg.