Submitted by Stephanie Liggins with the assistance and information corrections and additions of Betty Hempstead.
The Ricks family historian has blessed New Hope Missionary Baptist Church the past several years with mementos of several generations of her family. Annually, the Mission Department has a Black History Display which highlights contributions and accomplishments of our people. Sister Betty Newbern-Hempstead has a quarter of the room to display the relics of her family history.
Raised by her maternal aunt, Rebecca Ricks-Winston, and her husband L. J. Winston (whom she called Mama and Daddy), she has collected many things that belonged to her mother, aunt and uncle – things many would have long since thrown away and forgotten.
In her collection are Western Union telegrams delivering bad news reading, “Your father died suddenly.” Another read, “Your mother died yesterday. Funeral on Thursday.” If the younger generation never understood why Western Union was dreaded, these notices clearly reveal the reason. There is also a receipt for funeral expenses from 1928 for her uncle’s brother in Detroit. One could still afford to die back then and be properly buried for under $300. Certainly, the price might have been considered high then, but looking back and comparing, there is no way that it could have been as exorbitant as the cost is today.
Also among her collection are original N.A.A.C.P. membership cards from 1923. Her beloved uncle, known as Happy Winston in the city of Decatur, Illinois, was very active in the organization and often served as President of the Decatur Branch – so much so that his activities were often published in the Crisis Magazine. In her archive of pictures is three year old Betty with her Uncle Happy Winston among the officers and delegates’ First Annual Conference of Branches of Illinois N.A.A.C.P. Meeting at Springfield, Illinois (1934) where the organization began. Yes, she is the only child in the picture, but somehow she is not out of place.
One of the most interesting items in the collection is the high school diploma from “The Colored High School of Tuscumbia, Alabama.” Her Aunt Rebecca was able to leave “the country” and stay with a relative in the town of Tuscumbia and graduate from the high school in 1910. That was an extraordinary opportunity during a time in history when many of our people could not attend school at all– especially not high school. In 1921, the name of the high school was changed to Trenholm High School. One of her school mates was Harper Councill Trenholm who went on to become the fifth president of what was then called Alabama State University – now known as H. Councill Trenholm State Community College at Montgomery, Alabama.
At eighty-five years young, Sister Hempstead has stories of historical events, ways of life and relics that helped shape the way we live and operate today. There was an old toaster, a popcorn popper, a bottle capper, a Remington watch and a grooming kit unlike I have ever seen. But more pertinent than the artifacts, are the people of yesterday that opened a door for our present opportunities. We must learn of them. We must know who they are and we must know who we are. Next year, when New Hope’s Mission Ministry has the Black History Display, make your way to see it and be enlightened and inspired– and ask Sister Hempstead to tell you a bit about her family.