Janette: Frank and I had one of those days that we live for as historians when we had the pleasure of meeting Bud, Eulah, and Sterling Ward in Washington. Sterling learned about our project through Cheryl Toney Holley, when she publicized the project and our attendance at the Strawberry Moon Festival at the Hassanamesit reservation near Worcester. Sterling phoned me and said it appeared that we had photos of numerous family members—not just Wards but Wilsons, Smiths, Kennedys, and others. And, most notably, we had photos of his grandfather, James Harold Ward, Sr., as a baby. Not only did he want to see the photos, but he also hoped that we would share them with his 89-year-old father, James Harold “Bud” Ward, Jr. We were happy to do so!
The Ward family is well represented in our collection (see our post of the photo list) and we were thrilled when Sterling reached out to us. He is an accomplished genealogist and historian who has done an amazing amount of work on his family’s story, which he generously shared with us. (Sterling has also illustrated his genealogical research with numerous photos of family members, which helped us identify a number of unknown people in our collection.) Sterling has traced his family back to Minger Brimage, originally from current-day Nigeria, and Maria Gatling, from Guinea, West Africa. Sold into slavery, they ended up in New Bern, North Carolina, where they had three children. One of their children, Mary Matilda Brimage, migrated to Worcester after the Civil War and died there in 1900. She was the matriarch of an extensive family, some of whom I wrote about in First Fruits of Freedom, as part of the Southern black migration to Worcester after the Civil War. But until I saw Sterling’s massive genealogical text, I had no idea about the nature and extent of those relationships and the impact that this family has had on the city of Worcester. (Time for a second edition! There is so much more to say!)
On August 18, Frank and I boarded the Amtrak to Washington and spent an amazing afternoon with the Wards. It was a thrill to share family photos with Bud, his wife, Eulah, and Sterling, and to hear more about James Harold, Sr. Known as “Boot,” he was an accomplished jazz drummer, who died at the age of 32, when Bud was only 7. We also heard stories about Bud’s Aunt Hattie and Uncles Clarence and Louis, who also appear in the photos. Sterling also identified some of other people in the collection, whose names we did not know. For example, “Mrs. Kennedy’s Baby” is Emily Kennedy (Sterling has this exact photo made from Bullard’s glass negative). Sterling also shared with us a valuable photo album given to him by his cousin, Stanley Gutridge of Worcester, filled with images from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Stanley’s grandfather, New Bern migrant George Wiggins, and a photo of a white Civil War officer, “Col. Cummings.” Could Col. Cummings be another “link” in the ex-slave migration to Worcester? Another lead to explore! More questions, more layers of complexity . . .
Not only did we have the chance to share photos and learn more about this remarkable family, but we also had the chance to get to know Bud and hear his extraordinary life story. As the son of widowed mother, Bud attended North High, served in the Jim Crow Navy during World War II, and then graduated from Cornell University. He pioneered in the hospitality industry and was the first African American Senior Vice President and Corporate Officer of a major hotel chain. He worked for the Marriott Corporation for almost 20 years, and played a key role in expanding the hotel division, including working with the team that developed the Courtyard by Marriott Hotels. After retirement he spent another 29 plus years as an entrepreneur in the Information Technology (IT) industry. Symbiont, Inc., a family-run IT business, now headed by Sterling, has provided IT services to the Defense Department, the Executive Office of the President, the Mayor and Council of the District of Columbia, Verizon, AT&T, Phillip Morris, and countless others. At one time Symbiont employed over 200 associates and generated over $21 million in sales. Though Bud is thrilled to be an entrepreneur — his career as an hotelier looms large. The Civil-Rights struggle was a two-pronged thing, he states. Marching and non-violent protesting in the streets was critical. But it was also important to have somebody on the inside of corporations to advise and counsel top officers. Bud saw this as the role of himself and other blacks in similar corporate positions. Today, Marriott Hotels ranks among the leaders in their practices of non-discrimination in hiring and promotions. In recognition of his vital role at Marriott, in December 2005 edition of HR Magazine, in a cover story article, Bud was recognized as one of fifty people that has most influenced the Human Resources profession during the last fifty years.
Bud is blessed with a playful sense of humor and a refreshing straightforward manner that resulted in a delightful afternoon and evening. The Wards even treated us to a delicious dinner before we boarded our train for the trek home.”
Many thanks to Bud, Eulah, and Sterling for welcoming us to their home and for the many generous ways they have enriched and helped shape this project!
Frank: When Janette says ONE of those days you live for as historians it is meant literally because the August 18th trip to D.C. and back took 23 hours and 58 minutes. Upon meeting Bud, the first thing he asked us about was if we were aware that planes were much faster than our 7 hour train ride and we all had a conversation-opening laugh. As Janette stated, Bud is straightforward and has a wonderful engaging personality. To those reading this who wonder “why the train” the answer is quite simple. The long ride allowed Janette and I to discuss and brainstorm our project in relative peace and quiet. As we research this project we continue to make connections in many directions so we constantly have to update one another.
Speaking with Bud we could not help feeling a strong sense of completing a link by meeting the son of the child in this negative from 1901, that we had looked at and wondered about so many times. We would look at this small child in the photo and wonder what life had held for him: Did he have a family? What were his dreams and how did life unfold for him? Bud had not seen these pictures before and it surely was a joy to hand them to him.
As Bud showed me around his wall of photos, we stopped to discuss one in particular that was of great interest. There he was on the early 1940’s championship basketball team from North High School in Worcester, MA. Any Worcester sports fans will love to read the connection here. Next to Bud, whose career rose to great heights, was his teammate Andy Laska, the legendary Assumption College coach for whom their gym is named. This was just one more connection and slice of community that make this project so fascinating. The story of James Harold Ward Sr. expanded for us as Sterling shared a photo of “Boot” as a drummer in a band. Janette spoke about the impact this family had on Worcester and we are looking forward to researching so many other families as our quest continues. We left with several questions answered and many questions posed as the memories from Bud’s of his Aunt Hattie and Uncles Clarence and Louis along with stories about other relatives opened more avenues for us to research. It was a distinct pleasure to listen and learn knowing that we have much to research and many more connections to make.