If you’ve been reading KINterested over the past two months, you know that during my time in the South (I’ve been wintering in the awesome city of New Orleans) I’ve been exploring the lives of my Evans and Harris family ancestors in Alabama. One person whose life I’ve been particularly digging into is that of my great-grandfather Theodore Johnson, my father’s mother’s father, who was born Steve Evans and later changed his name. You can find posts here and here and here.
I promised at the end of that series that I would post a timeline of what I currently know about him. Then, on a research trip to Alabama, I was (amazingly!) able to meet the granddaughter of one of Steve/Theodore’s sisters! Through my conversations with her, I can now flesh in a little bit more of his timeline. I’ll continue to update this post with information and links to other posts that touch on specific moments in his life as I learn and write more.
1913, April 15 – Steve is born in rural Montgomery County, Alabama to James Steven
Evans and Laura Ann (Scruggs) Evans. He will be one of about 14 siblings. (I’m still learning birth dates and birth order.)
1918, September: His parents James Steven and Laura Ann are still living in
Montgomery County, Alabama, where his dad is a farm laborer working for a farmer named L.D. Zuber.
Between 1918 and 1920: When Steve is between 5 and 7 years old, his mother passes
away. As I learned it, Laura Ann was kicked in the stomach while chasing a pig or hog that had gotten loose on the family farm. She was pregnant at the time, and unfortunately the injury was so bad that neither she nor the baby survived.
(The story dates this as happening closer to 1914, but Steve’s father’s World War II Draft Registration Card states that Laura Ann is still alive in September 1918. I do not yet have a certificate of death or other record to confirm a date.)
October 1920: Steve is 7 years old when his dad remarries. While his dad and step-
mother now live in Jefferson County where his dad is mining coal, Steve doesn’t appear in the 1920 Census in their household, so it’s not clear if he’s living with them or with someone else. Perhaps he’s with family, either back in Montgomery County or in another home in Jefferson County.
1930: Steve, about 17 years old now, and his also teenage brother Henry, are living in the
household of their older sister Janie Mae and her family in Majestic, Jefferson County, Alabama. Steve is listed as being able to read and write, but he’s not in school – he’s working as a coal miner, as are most of the other men living in this community.
Steve’s father and his third wife Florence (I don’t know what happened to Ella) are also living in Jefferson County, but his dad is no longer farming or mining, he is a Methodist minister. Family lore says that he traveled often throughout the state and was rarely home, which may explain why Steve and Henry are living with Janie Mae.
1933, August 15: Steve marries Beatrice Harris, who lives in Majestic with her mother,
sister and son, Robert. Like Steve, Beatrice was also born in Montgomery, and again like Steve, her family had also made a break from farming by 1920. Both families were probably affected by the devastation of cotton crops in Alabama by the boll weevil during the 19-teens. Montgomery County was hard hit and families who could sought out other work, including in the cities (like Beatrice’s dad who took work in the city of Montgomery) and in the coal mines of Jefferson County (like Steve’s dad).
1930s: Steve and Beatrice grow their family. Their oldest daughter is named after Steve’s
mother, Laura Ann. Their first few children are born in Alabama, but their last girls, born 1938 and 1940, will be born in Ohio.
Steve’s siblings are also getting married between the 1920s and 1940s. Some stay in Jefferson County, some move back to (or never left) Montgomery, and some eventually travel to Detroit, Michigan.
1930s: According to family lore, Steve gets into a fight with a white man and kills him
(in self defense, as the story is told). The local Ku Klux Klan immediately sets out after Steve and he flees to Ohio, changing his name to Theodore Johnson in the process. He will take years to return to Alabama to visit, and only does so with assistance from his brother, under cover of darkness and a veil of secrecy, fearing continued harassment from the KKK.
1937, July: Steve, now Theodore, has put his Alabama coal mining experience to use by
finding work with the Powhatan Mining Company, in Powhatan Point, Ohio.
Early 1940s: Theodore and Beatrice separate and divorce, temporarily throwing
Beatrice’s life and that of their children into financial turmoil. The children are split up between family and the state (one daughter lives with Beatrice’s sister Lillian in Kewanee, Illinois, another daughter and son spend time with Beatrice’s mother and step-father back in Alabama, at one point some are temporarily put into an orphanage) until Beatrice is able to get back on her feet.
1941, Spring: After a major labor agreement between the United Mine Workers
Association (a union for coal miners) and various coal mining companies expires at the end of March, hundreds of Ohio Coal Miner go on strike. They are back at work by the end of April. However, during the time that they are out, they – including Theodore Johnson – apply for unemployment benefits. Their claims are approved at first, but the coal mining companies protest. So begins a long court case that makes it to the Ohio Supreme Court and eventually ends in May 1946 with the coal miners (including Theodore Johnson) losing their final appeal.
1940s: Theodore moves to West Virginia and probably continues to work as a coal miner
until retirement. He becomes involved with another woman, to whom several additional children are born.
1950s and 60s: Theodore becomes a grandfather many times over, as his children marry
and expand their families.
1963?: According to family lore, Theodore’s father James Steven Evans passes away in
1986, October 26: Theodore passes away in West Virginia. He is laid to rest at Restlawn
Memorial Gardens, in Bluewell, WV.