Seven Generations and One Hundred, Ten Years Ago

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

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!

— VF

What They Prize Most

“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

Photograph, from the 1980s, of my late grandmother and her sisters featured in the Morganton New Herald

Photograph, from the 1980s, of my late grandmother and her sisters featured in a Morganton News Herald story on giving.

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

— VF