January 2021 – Speak Up Talk Radio announced the winners of 2020’s fourth quarter FIREBIRD BOOK AWARDS contest. Seventy-two winners were announced in 87 categories.
Among the winning entries were two from Maryland author Margo Lee Williams, whose books, titled From Hill Town to Strieby and Miles Lassiter, won First and Second Place respectively in the African American Non-Fiction category.
Authors and publishers from around the world submitted their work to the Firebird Book Awards. A panel of 12 judges within the writing and publishing space then read every book and independently scored each entry according to a set of standardized criteria that evaluates the quality of the writing as well as production aspects. Only entries with the highest of scores are awarded the coveted Firebird.
Patricia J. Rullo, founder of the Firebird Book Awards, says, “The quality of the entries were stunning and speak to the talent out there that needs a marketing voice. At Speak Up Talk Radio, our mission is to offer radio interviews and podcasting services to help authors expand their reach. In addition to additional prizes, our winners have the opportunity to be interviewed and aired on radio stations, iHeart Radio, Pandora, as well as 50 additional online venues, giving them new ways to speak up and share their work.”
Pat adds, “We’ve included a charitable component to our awards by making all entry fees tax-deductible to the author. In return, we personally make and send handmade fun and whimsical pillowcases to women and children in homeless shelters via Enchanted Makeovers, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. All entry fees fund this project. In this way, authors can get notoriety for their work while doing good for others. It’s been such a rewarding venture for everyone.”
The Firebird Book Awards run quarterly contests so authors can receive recognition on a timely basis. Authors from all genres, mainstream, independent, and self-published are welcome. Additional winning authors and titles as well as entry information is available at https://www.speakuptalkradio.com
Not too long ago, a friend and supporter, Marvin T. Jones (Chowan Discovery Group, Inc.), was researching Freedmen’s Education records in an effort to identify the involvement of members of his community of Winton Triangle in Hertford County, North Carolina. He was reviewing receipts for monies received for rent or other supplies that were signed by Winton Triangle residents when he began to notice receipts referencing both Asheboro and “Uharie.” He downloaded copies and forwarded them to me. I noticed that receipts referencing “Uharie,” were signed by “A. O. Hill.” I was not surprised to learn there was a school in Asheboro, but the school in Uharie (as it was spelled on the receipts) I did not know about. That school was of great interest to me.
While researching reports of the American Missionary Association (AMA) for my book, From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Associaion in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina(Backintyme Publishing, Inc., 2016), I came across a reference to a school already existing in the Uwharrie area when the Rev. Islay Walden returned to the area after graduation from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey. I knew from my research that the nearby Quaker community had run a school in the area. I thought the reference in the American Missionary was to that school, but that school was further up the road, closer to the old Uwharrie Friends Meeting House. On the other hand, this Freedmen’s school seems to have been in the Uwharrie, possibly in the area called Hill Town. It may have been the basis of a public school referenced in the article.
Hill Town was said to be called such because of the large number of Hill family members that lived there. Most people have believed that it referred to the descendants of Ned Hill and his wife, Priscilla Mahockley Hill. However, there were also white Hills who lived in the area and A. O. Hill was one of them. Was there a connection between A. O. Hill and those people of color who lived in the Hill Town area of the Uwharrie that would have predisposed him to take responsibility for the school?
“A. O. Hill” was Aaron Orlando Hill, born about 1840, son of Aaron Orlando Hill, Sr. and Miriam Thornburg, Aaron Sr.’s second wife. Aaron Sr. can be found on the 1840, 1850, and 1860 censuses. He died in 1863. Ned Hill was a free person of color also known to be living in the area. However, he could not be found any further back than 1850. Since the 1840 census only lists heads of families and enumerates others in the household, including any free people of color and slaves, it was very likely that Ned and his family were living in someone else’s household. The most likely places to look were the homes of any Hill families living in the area. They could have been living in some other family’s home, but the logical place to start was with Hill family members. After researching each of the families, it turned out that the only Hill family with free people of color living with them was Aaron Orlando Hill Sr.
The Aaron Hill family were Quakers. It seems reasonable that he would have free people of color living with him. Ned’s family originally may have been slaves of Aaron’s parents, before Quakers condemned slavery and began freeing their slaves as well as helping slaves of non-Quakers to gain their freedom. There were six free people of color living in Aaron’s household. Ned and Priscilla had four known children living at the time of the 1840 census (Nathan, Charity, Calvin, and Emsley), which would equal six individuals. As stated above, Aaron’s was the only Hill household with any free people of color. While currently not proven beyond any doubt, the evidence supports the probability that these six people were Ned and his family. Certainly, such a close relationship and his Quaker background could have predisposed the younger Aaron to be willing to take responsibility for the Freedmen’s school that served the Uwharrie community.
By the time the Rev. Islay Walden had returned to the community in 1880, to begin his missionary work and start a school under the auspices of the American Missionary Association (AMA), Hill Town and the neighboring Lassiter Mill community were already primed to want a school and the educational opportunities it would bring. It was a logical next step to build their own school with the help of the AMA. Thus, Hill Town, which would later become Strieby, apparently already had a strong tradition of education by the time Walden returned, making them eager to have a school over which they could exercise leadership and direction for the first time. The Uwharrie Friends School and the Freedmen’s School had prepared them for this.
Aaron Hill did not remain in Randolph County. By the time Islay Walden was actively building the church and school in Hill Town, Aaron had moved to Carthage, in Rush County, Indiana, where many other Quakers, including several of his old neighbors from Randolph County, had moved. He died there in 1926.
 Roy, J. E. (1879). The Freedmen. The American Missionary, 33(11), 334-335. Retrieved from: Project Gutenberg
 1840 US Federal Census, South Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 77; Image: 160; Family History Library Film: 0018097. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1850 US Federal Census, Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head, Dwelling 895, Family 814. NARA Roll: M432-641; Page: 135A; Line 19; Image: 276. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1860 US Federal Census; Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. Dwelling, 1230; Family 1214. NARA Roll: M653-910; Page: 221; Line 11; Image: 446; Family History Library Film: 803910. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 1840 US Federal Census, South Division, Randolph County, North Carolina; Aaron Hill, head. NARA Roll: 369; Page: 77; Image: 160; Family History Library Film: 0018097. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
 Williams, M. L. (2016). Descendants of Edward and Priscilla Hill: Generation 1 (pp. 163-172). From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing Inc.).
 Indiana, Death Certificates, 1899-2011 [Database on-line], Aaron Orlando Hill, died: 27 Mar 1926, as cited in Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1926 – 1927; Roll: 05. Retrieved from: Ancestry.com
Next weekend (22-24 June), descendants of the families who attended Strieby Church and School, in southwestern Randolph County, will gather for a reunion. Those planning the reunion wanted to make every effort to invite as many descendants as could be located from the core families, Hills and Lassiters, and those they married, including Laughlins, Phillipses, and Waldens. I understand about one hundred family members are expected to attend from around the country, including some who have never met anyone from any other ancestral branches.
Over the years, family members and descendants moved away in search of greater opportunities. One branch of the Hill family moved farther away than most living today in North Carolina were aware. Nathan Case Hill, oldest son of Edward “Ned” Hill and Priscilla Mahockly Hill, the principal progenitors of the Hills of Hill Town, later Strieby, and his wife, Sarah Polk Hill, had 10 known children. By 1900, two of those children, Milton and Thomas Julius, had moved away to Jefferson County, Arkansas. Exactly why they moved away is not clear, since they are listed as farmers in Jefferson County, just as they had been in Randolph County, North Carolina. The areas had another similarity, both were significant lumber producing areas. Descendants of these two men knew to this day that their roots were in Randolph County. However, they had lost touch with those back in North Carolina. DNA and on-line family trees changed all that.
The first contact with descendants I was able to make was through a site called “Tribal Pages.” A descendant had a public tree that listed these men and their descendants. She did not seem to know much about their ancestors back in Randolph County. I attempted to contact her, but she did not respond. Nevertheless, I was able to use her information to further my own research and confirm what had happened to descendants and other family members. Later, I would find this same woman had a public tree on Ancestry. Just as I had added the names of descendants identified because of her information on her publicly viewable family trees, so she had added the names of ancestors based on the information he was able to view on my public trees, both on Tribal Pages and on Ancestry. Though we had each benefited from the research of the other, we still had not talked personally. There things stood until I began to DNA test family members.
One family member I tested was my cousin, Aveus Lassiter Edmondson. At the time she was our oldest living family member. She was 100. Among Aveus’s matches was a man called “W. W.” whose results were managed by “ShanksSharon (Sharon Shanks).” By examining the associated tree, and other information on Sharon Shanks’ contact page, I learned that W. W. was descended from Thomas Julius Hill.
W. W. also had an ancestry hint shaky leaf. Since Aveus (who has since deceased) was not a direct Hill descendant, the only connection between them was through Sarah Polk Hill, Thomas’s mother. Aveus’s grandmother, Katherine Polk Lassiter (wife of Colier Phillips Lassiter) was presumed to be Sarah’s sister. Both women had been living in the home of Jack and Charity Lassiter in 1850.
Colier Lassiter, who would marry Katherine Polk, was the bondsman for Nathan and Sarah. However, since the 1850 census does not name the relationship of those in a household, one can only speculate based on later records or other non-census documents. DNA can also help. In this case, the only plausible reason for Aveus and W. W. to be biologically related would be because Sarah and Katherine were related. Thus, the DNA link between Aveus and W. W. helped confirm that Sarah and Katherine were most likely sisters. Test results of other descendants have continued to reaffirm this genealogical link and reunite our separated family branches. Consequently, I contacted Sharon and we began exchanging information and developed an on-going relationship. Sharon was instrumental in providing pictures of family members from these branches for use in my book on the history of Strieby Church, school, and community.
For the reunion, each of us was encouraged to reach out to those we knew were not in touch directly with the planners, but whom we knew and could invite personally. I knew that Sharon would be interested. She had already expressed a desire to have a reunion with descendants from the Arkansas families returning to North Carolina to see where their ancestors came from. Happily, I was right. Sharon was excited about the reunion in Winston Salem next weekend. I am excited because Sharon will be coming. So, in a way, the Arkansas descendants (who have themselves moved on to other cities, such as Chicago or St. Louis) were far away. They were not only physically far away, but they were, for those in North Carolina, emotionally far away, so far away that they were, in fact, for most, non-existent. It is almost like the prodigal son (daughter?) returning. I am very excited to know that we will be able to talk and hug this once lost, but now found cousin.
I have chosen Vella Lassiter, whose full name was Novella Anna Lassiter, not because the name itself is my favorite over others, but because of who she was and what her name represents to me. I have written about her before. Unfortunately, through some unforeseen circumstances, that post is not currently accessible. However, this time I am pleased to be able to post this information because it is Black History Month and this year she is being honored in her home town for her courage in standing up against injustice. This post is excerpted primarily from my book on her family’s community, From Hill Town to Strieby.
Born 4 September 1894,Novella Anna Lassiter, “Vella” was the second of thirteen children (twelve of whom survived) of Winston and Ora (Kearns) Lassiter, of the Lassiter Mill community in Randolph County, North Carolina. She was the granddaughter of Colier and Kate (Polk) Lassiter, and great granddaughter of Miles Lassiter, an early African American Quaker, about whom I have also written. Vella was my 2nd cousin three times removed.
Vella attended Strieby Church School, about two miles from her home in Strieby, in neighboring Union Township. Strieby was founded by the Rev. Islay Walden under the auspices of the American Missionary Association. From there she went on to Peabody Academy in Troy, in the next county, Montgomery County, and then to Bennett College, in Greensboro. Vella graduated in 1913 from the Normal program and eventually earned her Masters’ degree from Miner Teachers College, in Washington, DC. (Miner became part of DC Teachers College which became the foundation for the Department of Education at the University of the District of Columbia.) Vella went on to become a teacher, first back at Strieby, then the combined school at Red House School in the nearby Mechanic area, then at Central School, a Rosenwald school in the county seat of Asheboro, and finally at a school in Reidsville, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, where she taught for 40 years. However, being close to her family, she often came home on weekends to visit, so it was in 1937.
Vella was returning to Reidsville on Easter Monday afternoon. She was on the first of her two bus trips. The first bus would take her from Asheboro to Greensboro, about 35 miles away in Guilford County. From there she would take a bus to Reidsville. She had bought her ticket and was seated on the bus – next to a white person. The bus was crowded and there were no more seats. The bus driver apparently objected to Vella sitting next to a white person. Vella was asked to give up her seat, get off the bus, and wait for the next one. Anyone who knew Vella knew she was a force of nature. Vella said “No.” The bus driver attempted to force her off the bus. Vella resisted. Eventually two policemen were needed to drag her to the door and throw her onto the sidewalk. She would later tell people there was no way she would make it easy for them to throw her off that bus. After all, she had bought a ticket and she was just as good as any white person.
Vella called one of her brothers to come and take her to Reidsville, but she also called a lawyer, her cousin, prominent High Point, North Carolina, African American attorney, T. F Sanders (grandson of Wiley Phillips Lassiter and great grandson of Miles Lassiter). With his assistance (and that of prominent civil rights attorney, F.W. Williams, of Winston Salem) Vella sued the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line, on the grounds that they had sold her the ticket for that specific bus trip and consequently were required to transport her. To everyone’s surprise she won the case in a jury trial in November of that year. She was awarded $300 in damages. The bus company appealed to the North Carolina State Supreme Court.
Two years later in 1939, the decision was upheld by Judge Allen H. Gwyn. Vella had won. In reporting the victory on 12 August 1939, The Carolina Times newspaper, published in Raleigh, wrote that: Possibly the most significant victory regarding the rights of Negroes was won in Randolph County last month when attorney P.[sic] W. Williams, prominent Winston-Salem lawyer emerged victorious in a suit against the Greensboro-Fayetteville Bus Line.
Her success was particularly significant because there was only one other lawsuit before hers that had gone to the North Carolina State Supreme Court and won, that was a 1914 housing segregation lawsuit in Winston-Salem.
After more than 40 years of teaching, Vella retired to the family home in Lassiter Mill, where she lived until her death in January 1994, at 99 years of age. She is buried in the Strieby Church Cemetery. 
I have many examples of longevity in my mother’s family, who come from Randolph County, North Carolina. My mother, herself, lived to be just one month short of her 98th birthday, but there were several cousins who lived as long or longer. In recent years, there were five: Vella Lassiter (99), Will Lassiter (98), Clark Lassiter (97), Kate Lassiter Jones (100), and Aveus Lassiter Edmondson (101), all siblings. However, the person in our family who lived the longest of anyone as determined so far, was Abigail Phillips Lassiter, who lived to be between 104-110 years of age, based on public and private records.
Abigail was the daughter of Miles Lassiter and his wife Healy Phillips Lassiter. Their marriage was what we would consider common-law because Miles was technically a slave, although he lived most of his life as if a free man. His wife, Healy Phillips, was a free woman of color. Thus, Abigail was born free, per the laws that said that a child followed the legal status of the mother. Based on a private document in the possession of her grandnephew, the late Harold Cleon Lassiter, she was born in February 1812. Census records show birth years anywhere between 1810 and 1816. She was last recorded in the 1910 census. Family members, specifically those listed above (especially Kate) reported that she died in 1920, obviously before the 1920 census was taken. She was buried in Strieby Church Cemetery according to Kate, who was able to show me the depression in the earth over the site where she said Abigail was buried. There is no tombstone, or other marker.
Abigail never married. Thus, she can be found under her name, Abigail Lassiter, in every census from 1850-1910. Since she was not married she always lived with family members. In 1850, she was living with her father, Miles, by then widowed. After that, she lived in the home of her brother Colier and his family until he died circa 1893. After he died, she lived with her nephew, Ulysses Winston Lassiter and his family, including his above-named children Vella, Kate, Will, Clark, Aveus, and Harold. In her later years, Kate reported that she was blind. There is no way to find out if she was blind due to Glaucoma or Macular Degeneration, which I would like to know since I have Glaucoma. Kate said that she was responsible for helping “Aunt Abbie” get around. Unfortunately, Kate was of an age where she balked at this responsibility. Combined with a rebellious personality, she was not always a genuine help to Aunt Abbie; sometimes she was negligent, resulting in some minor injuries to Aunt Abbie. Of course, in later years, reflecting on that inappropriate behavior, for which she was punished, Kate had to admit that her behavior fell far short of exemplary.
Aunt Abbie’s name does come up in a few other documents, mostly land records. She is recorded in in several deeds over the years, reflecting the inheritance of property from her mother and father. After her brother, Colier dies, she gives her portion of the inherited property to her nephews, Ulysses Winston and Amos Barzilla, in exchange for her care, indicating she could no longer perform farm or household chores, undoubtedly a result of her blindness as well as advanced age. She did not leave a will.
Interestingly, although the state of North Carolina began officially recording births and deaths about 1913, there is no death certificate or indexed recording of Aunt Abbie’s death. There are two possibilities for this. First, the year of death, as remembered by Kate, when she herself was of an advanced age, was incorrect. I did not begin talking with Kate about our family history until the 1980s, when Kate was in her 80s. Trying to remember exactly how old she was when Aunt Abbie died could very likely be inaccurate. The second reason is simply that the death may not have been reported. The family lived in the country, about 13 miles from Asheboro, the county seat of Randolph County, and the nearest town. They might not have realized that they were supposed to report the death, or they did not think it important. Either explanation is plausible. Both could have contributed.
Sadly, there are no pictures that have survived of Aunt Abbie, despite her long life. Perhaps even sadder, is the realization that there are no stories that have been passed down that would tell us about her personality, her sense of humor, her interests or talents. The only tangible object from her life is a ceramic pot (pictured above) that has survived and is still in the family’s possession. Additional information about her family can be found in my books on her father, Miles Lassiter and on the church where she is buried Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ.
 Williams, M. L. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 106-107.
 Williams, M. L. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 76.
 1850 US Federal Census, Free Schedule. Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Miles Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 136. NARA #432-641. 1860 US Federal Census, Free Schedule, Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 148. NARA #653-190; 1870 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 24. NARA #593-1156. 1880 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, sister, p. 1. NARA #T9-978. 1900 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winson Lassiter, head; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1, Dwelling 15, Family, 16. NARA #T623-1213. 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.
 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.
 Williams, M. L. (2011). Miles Lassiter (circa 1777-1850) An Early African American Quaker from Lassiter Mill, Randolph County, North Carolina: My Research Journey to Home (Palm Coast, FL and Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing, Inc.), 107, #17n.
 1850 US Federal Census, Free Schedule. Southern Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Miles Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 136. NARA #432-641.
 1860 US Federal Census, Free Schedule, Western Division, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 148. NARA #653-190; 1870 US Federal Census, New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina, Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, p. 24. NARA #593-1156. 1880 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Colier Lassiter, head; Abigail Lassiter, sister, p. 1. NARA #T9-978.
 1900 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winson Lassiter, head; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1, Dwelling 15, Family, 16. NARA #T623-1213. 1910 US Federal Census. New Hope Township, Randolph County, North Carolina. Winston Lassiter, head, Sheet 1A; Abbie Lassiter, Aunt, Sheet 1B, Dwelling/Family 11, NARA # T624-1198.
 Estate of Healy Phillips or Lassiter, Will Book 10:190-192. F(amily) H(istory) L(ibrary) #0019645.
 Abigail Lassiter to Winston Lassiter and Amos Barzilla Lassiter, Deed Book 90: 268. FHL #047255.