“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.” — Chinese proverb
With the John and Maldonia Fullwood Family Reunion coming up this summer and my dad’s birthday this week, sentimentality and family pride have been stirred. The portrait below is of Mary Maldonia McGimpsey Fullwood, my great-grandmother who was born 132 years ago. She died before I was born, yet I have always felt a deep connection to her because of my father’s profound affection and memories of his grandmother, as revealed in the story that follows. Maldonia was a mother of 10 children and I recently posted stories about some of them here, as well as a story about her dad here.
by Allen Fullwood
A story from Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists
Cherished times grew plentiful on the front porch of my grandmother’s home. My sister, cousins and I spent a large share of our childhood playing up and down Bouchelle Street and around Mama’s house. Mama Fullwood is what the other grandchildren called her, but to me she was always just Mama.
Mama’s porch was a beloved gathering spot for extended family while I was coming up. During the long stretch of summer in the South, you could find Mama sitting in her favorite chair, uncles and aunts perched on the banister and visitors often overflowing to the lawn. One too many cousins and I usually pressed our luck to sit snugly together in the porch swing that hung by a slim chain. As passersby neared the house, Mama would invite them to come up and sit a spell. Unless something was pressing, refusals were few.
At the corner of the porch sprung a beautiful rosebush that bloomed bountifully around Mother’s Day. It was sort of a tradition for neighbors along Bouchelle to stop by Mama’s house Sunday morning or the day before for a red blossom clipped from her rosebush. This simple gift was emblematic of her generosity, and I can picture her smile as she graciously gave each rose.
Monetary wealth was not found in our family, yet Mama earned a reputation for being a generous woman who loved her family deeply, served her church devoutly and gave to all freely. Her manner of treating people provided lessons everyday about giving of yourself, your time, your energy and a kind word. When called to give material objects including money, she taught us to give ungrudgingly.
Mama cared for her family like she tended her rosebush. She exposed each of us to the light of church and faith, rooted us in tradition, nurtured us with encouragement and was prompt to prune us when we grew unwieldy and wild. Her good deeds were a trellis during our upbringing. She likely smiles among the clouds as she watches the seeds of her generosity blossoming today.
This is a story about Riley R. McGimpsey (28 Mar 1845 – 20 Apr 1934), my great-great-grandfather, as told to me by my elder cousin Nettie McGimpsey McIntosh for my book Giving Back:
Despite common perceptions, Black men have long been industrious. And evidently my grandfather Riley was as hardworking as men of any race come. I call him a Black entrepreneur, but back then industrious is the word people used.
I archive and keep our family’s history. I have scoured over family artifacts and Census data. Some time in the mid-1800s on the McGimpsey farm in Burke County, North Carolina, a slave named Clarissa gave birth to a son she named Riley. While born into slavery, Riley eventually became a sharecropper who sold his part of the produce—corn, wheat, molasses and such. Documents I have come across show his products sold as far away as Mullins, South Carolina, which was hundreds of miles from the farmland of Fonta Flora. He even owned one of the county’s few reaper-binders and loaned it out to others.
Fondly remembered and respected by people all over the county, my grandfather prospered in farming and with various small enterprises. He grew well known for giving away fresh produce and all kinds of things to community people, regardless of color. Riley was born a slave, but died an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Don’t let a meager start or scant resources limit what you do in life.
The portrait above is on display at the History Museum of Burke County. Riley is seated on the far right and his wife Christian V. Moore McGimpsey is seated next to him. Their daughter Mary Maldonia, who is my great-grandmother is seated on the far left.
Fast forward one hundred and ten years: There will be a family reunion this summer, kicking off at the History Museum of Burke County, with five more generations—the far-flung descendants of Maldonia McGimpsey and the man she would later marry John Wesley Fullwood. Cannot wait!
“Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most that they may taste the happiness of giving.” — Ohiyesa, Native American physician, writer and change agent
My cousin Britt recently shared this photo as our family prepares for a reunion this summer. The original photograph was taken in May 1983 at my great-aunt Annie’s wedding anniversary party. It features my grandmother and four of her sisters: (l-r) Annie, Esther, Laura, Goldie and Evelyn, known to me at Nanny Evelyn.
In 2007, the Morganton News Herald ran an article in its Faith and Values section about the Fullwood sisters’ “old-fashioned kindness of yesteryear.” At the time this piece ran, they all had passed on except Aunt Annie, who is still with us and is profiled through portraiture and storytelling in Giving Back. The article laments how “communities are losing a generation of good citizens.”
Referencing my great-grandparents, the writer observes:
“John and Maldonia Fullwood aspired to teach their children the goodness of serving and sharing with others. Having parents that believed in family and putting into practice the old mission of being good to and helping your fellowman was just natural.”
I am a fortunate heir to a prized legacy of giving. And I believe that a spirit of generosity prevails in my generation and in younger ones. Generosity does, however, need nurturing in children, and oftentimes adults too, through example, expectation and opportunity. The book Giving Back stands as a centerpiece of the Giving Back Project, which ventures to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation of Americans to recognize their power and responsibility to give back. Along with others igniting this movement, I want to fan the flames—with my writing, my public speaking, my creative and artistic endeavors, my social media interactions, my giving and my life.
So grateful that Fullwood family members, generation after generation, showed me their values and told me clearly through their deeds, girl #getyourgiveon
My father’s philanthropic spirit has been a substantial force in my life, too. For as long as I can remember, he has shown profound compassion for people experiencing struggles. I suppose then it makes perfect sense that his background is in social work and that much of his employment and community service have focused on enhancing the lives of the mentally ill, the developmentally challenged and the marginalized.
During the entirety of his life and mine as well, Daddy has served in the church and for community causes. He was active in the Jaycees before I entered kindergarten, and some of my earliest memories are of the family taking part in his community service projects and fundraising events. Throughout my school days, he served on the school board and even led it as board chair. As little kids, Diatra and I helped with his campaigns each time an election rolled around. Daddy later became a trustee at the community college and eventually president of the National Association of Community College Trustees. He has always loved community service and in each instance poured himself and his resources into it and brought along his family on every pursuit into philanthropy.
In his retirement, Daddy remains active on nonprofit committees and still supports education by leading his local NC Central University alumni chapter. He volunteers so frequently, it’s often hard for me to keep up.
Daddy’s imprint on me is undeniable and quite obvious to people who know us both. My book Giving Back reflects the creativity he passed on and then nurtured within me. The book’s focus on philanthropy is the result of beliefs bequeathed to him and then handed down to his daughters. In recognition of philanthropic fathers everywhere and the power they possess to change the world through their children and generations yet unborn, below are excerpts from Giving Back about or from fathers and grandfathers. — VF
— Daryl Parham (portrait with one of his three daughters shown right)
“I never consciously associated Granddaddy’s life with one of a philanthropist…I just thought that was who Granddaddy was. But, now I get it.”
— Marcus Littles
“I have always admired how he overcame obstacles to blaze trails in business and eventually become the Raleigh region’s first African American owner and operator of McDonald’s franchises. While my father made an indelible mark in business, his servant spirit in giving defines his legacy.”
— Reggie Pretty (shown left)
“My father is a deacon and he believes in taking care of the elderly and the widows. My father did shift work. I can remember him getting off graveyard, coming home to eat breakfast, and then, he and I would go out into the community.”
— Lyord Watson, Jr.
“I feel obligated to give regularly like I am paying my monthly bills.”
— James Mitchell (my late grandfather, shown right)
“My father modeled giving. His generous spirit touched everyone he met. And I came to realize that giving begins with belief – belief that the smallest gift can make a difference; believe that everyone is worthy of a chance and that each of us can provide that opportunity.”
— Ruthye Cureton Cooley
— Lisa Crawford (her father John Crawford is shown left)
“Monetary wealth was not found in our family, yet Mama earned a reputation for being a generous woman who loved her family deeply, served her church devoutly and gave to all freely.”
— Allen Fullwood