The second formerly enslaved person interviewed by the WPA (see The Story of Mrs. Julia King) was Mrs. Hannah Davidson. Mrs. Davidson was approximately 85 years old at the time of her interview in 1937. She was interviewed by a person identified as K. Osthimer.
At the time of her interview, Mrs. Davidson lived at 533 Woodland Ave. Below is a picture of her home obtained from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s “Images in Time” collection. This collection contains many pictures of homes, businesses, and neighborhoods in Toledo from the 1800s forward. Mrs. Davidson’s home was photographed between 1937 and 1965 and the photograph was a part of a tax assessor’s records.
UPDATE: I recently found a picture of Mrs. Hannah Davidson at the google news archives website. She is pictured with another woman who is labeled as the “oldest members” of an organization. I am thinking they were the oldest members of Third Baptist Church:
Mrs. Davidson is on the right
In the narrative, it was shared that Mrs. Davidson lived off of a $23 a month “old age pension.” She was a boarder and rented a room in her home. Many black Toledoans rented rooms as boarders or rented out rooms in their home for extra income during this time period.
Mrs. Davidson stated that her maiden name was Hannah Merriwether and that she had four sisters and two brothers. Her parents names were Isaac and Nancy Merriwether. She was born in Ballard County, Kentucky in approximately 1852. She and her family were the slaves of Emmett and Susan Merriwether.
Mrs. Davidson’s story is dramatically different from that of Mrs. Julia King’s being that Hannah Davidson’s family did not come to the Toledo area via the Underground Rail Road as runaway slaves.
Mrs. Davidson stated that her folks were sold so many times that she “lost track” of them. She also mentioned that she and her sister Mary were kept over twenty years after emancipation by their slave master as slaves because the master would not let them leave. She spoke of how she desperately wanted to learn to read and go to school but that the one black man who came to her county to teach “colored” people was beaten and run out of town by whites. Mrs. Davidson eventually learned to read by herself with the help of WPA programs in the 1930s.
Mrs. Davidson reiterated many times about how hard she had worked her whole life. She spoke of how one time she was so tired that she hid under a house just to take a nap and go to sleep because she was exhausted.
She also mentioned that her mother was the last slave to try to leave the plantation. Her mother tried to take Mrs. Davidson as well but their master would not let the mother take her children. Her mother was kicked off the plantation and Mrs. Davidson never saw her again. Later on in life Mrs. Davidson forced her own sister Mary to leave the plantation by threatening her with a rolling pin.
Mrs. Davidson mentioned that “terrible” things happened to herself and her sister Mary. She did not go into detail but it is well documented that female slaves were highly likely to be sexually assaulted and abused.
When she was 31, Mrs. Davidson stated that she married her husband William L. Davidson. She stated that at the time of the interview, she only had one grandchild still living – Willa May Reynolds who was a teacher in City Grove, Tennessee.
Mrs. Davidson was a member of Third Baptist Church in Toledo.
My favorite quote from Mrs. Davidson was “I believe we should all do good to everybody.”
The idea that she maintained such positivity throughout her lifetime is a testament to the human spirit and is indicative of black American culture in regards to strength in faith and hope for the future.
I was very saddened and inspired when initially reading Mrs. Davidson’s narrative. It is also interesting to compare the two persons interviewed in Toledo – Mrs. Julia King and Mrs. Hannah Davidson. Mrs. King’s family escaped slavery when she was a young girl and so Mrs. King did not have to live with the trials of this horrible institution like Mrs. Davidson. Mrs. Davidson did not get the benefit of being educated and thus could not obtain employment such as that afforded by Mrs. King’s background and subsequent work for the local government. Mrs. King owned her home while Mrs. Davidson rented a room in her old age. The contrasts between the two women really do show how oppression and forced servitude and a lack of freedom can drastically reduce the opportunity afforded to one in their life.
GENEALOGICAL INFORMATION REGARDING MRS. HANNAH MERIWETHER DAVIDSON AND FAMILY
William DAVISON/DAVIDSON born 9/8/1865 died 3/10/1920 (familysearch.org – Ohio Deaths 1840-2001)
George DAVIDSON born 1898 in KY, lived in 1930 in Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census) son of Hannah DAVIDSON
Wanda DAVIDSON born 1915 in OH, lived in 1930 Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census) daughter of Hannah DAVIDSON
Hannah DAVIDSON born 1852 in KY, lived in 1930 Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census)
Helen DAVIDSON died 1/18/1928 in Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – Ohio deaths 1908-1953) wife of George Davidson