American Pioneer Chronicles
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Frederick Curry was born on George Washington’s birthday—February 22—in 1907. It was an unusually cold winter day in Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, where winter days were usually mild. The ninth child of Duncan Curry and Elizabeth Alston, Frederick was born into an already large and active family, with three older brothers and five older sisters: William was born first, followed by Elizabeth, Ira, Hilda (who died in infancy), Rosa Leola, Solomon, and Edmonia. Frederick was not the last child either—brothers Frampton and Charles came along after Frederick, rounding out the siblings to an even ten.
Frederick’s father, Duncan, supported this large brood by doing heavy labor, first for the railroads and later the docks at Savannah’s harbor. With a little help from the older children, the family barely got by. But financial hardships were the least of the troubles for most black Georgians in those days. Those years of the early 1900s were tough, tense times for the black people of Georgia. It was Frederick’s bad luck to have been born into some of the harshest of all the Jim Crow segregation years.
An unsafe existence went on amid Jim Crow segregation, and the lack of major racial conflagrations allowed Savannah to present itself to the world as a more cosmopolitan city—one that did not have a “colored problem.” But every black person living there knew how strongly racism still thrived and how it was still taking large, if less obvious, bites out of black lives. The threat of violence, while not always obvious, was constantly there.
In June of 1914, the lives of the Curry family suddenly and unexpectedly got even harder, both emotionally and financially. Four months after Frederick’s seventh birthday, his father, Duncan Curry, died. The older children stepped up and initially took on most of the burden of earning the family living. Two of the girls worked in a local match factory and the older boys found jobs as laborers. When Frederick got old enough, he did his part by going to work as a laborer in a fertilizer plant.
It was while working in this job Frederick met and took a liking to the girl next door. Frederick and seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Brown hit it off and Frederick was soon courting her in earnest. Elizabeth accepted his interest and, later, his proposal. Frederick and Elizabeth were married in September of 1928.
Elizabeth Brown was born in June of 1911 in Allendale, Barnwell County, South Carolina. She was the daughter of Joseph Brown and Nancy Frazier, and the first of what would eventually become that couple’s ten children. Like Elizabeth, her parents had grown up in Allendale and had made a life for their new family there.
But for much of his life, Joseph Brown earned his living as a farm laborer, and times were getting difficult for farmers in Georgia. Much of South Georgia still had cotton as their major cash crop, but in 1915, the boll weevil hit the area, devastating crops. From there, things got worse for the farmer—competition from new made-made fabrics, overproduction by farmers trying to make up earlier losses, and the continuing effects of the boll weevil hit the price of cotton hard. By the mid-1920s, workers like Joseph Brown were finding it hard to earn a steady living. Eventually, Joseph Brown gave up on his home town and moved his family to Savannah, seeking better economic opportunities.
Unfortunately, his timing was terrible. A little over a year after Frederick and Elizabeth Brown’s marriage, the beginning of the Great Depression hit the entire country, and like millions of other Americans—both black and white—Joseph Brown found himself out of work again. By 1930, both Joseph and Nancy Brown were out of work and living next door to their new son-in-law and seven of their minor children. Frederick still had one hugely valuable thing that year—a job.
Frederick Curry proved himself a hardworking and responsible man when he took on the task of supporting his new wife’s minor siblings. He supported this crowd, along with his own increasing family, by working as a laborer in Savannah’s Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company, a fertilizer plant.
The economy remained poor throughout the 1930s and real recovery did not start until the beginning of World War II. There were small pockets of improvement, though, and these small changes allowed Elizabeth Brown Curry’s siblings to begin their move out of the Curry household. Some went to new marriages, some moved out on their own, and some went in together and lived with one another until the economy recovered.
By 1940, Frederick and Elizabeth were back to having only their own family living in the household. This was a good thing for the Curry’s because while the aunts and uncles were growing up and moving out, the Curry family was growing on its own. Frederick and Elizabeth’s first child, daughter Lucretia Jo Curry, was born on March 5, 1929, but she did not stay an only child for very long. Sister Nancy was born in 1931, and brother Frederick Curry, Jr., followed on August 18, 1936.
Frederick’s job with the Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company had protected his family against the very worst of the Depression—though wages and perks dropped with the economy. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, the Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company began to expand into new fields. It went through a few corporate name changes, but operations kept growing and expanding into many divisions in several states. For Frederick, this assured him of indefinite full-time employment. Toward the end of the 1930s he had been moved into a job as a tractor operator for the company’s plant in Savannah. It turned out to be a position he was to keep for the rest of his working days. Like all families, the Curry’s had their successes and their failures. After WWII, they settled down and got on with life. They watched their children grow up and go out to seek their new lives as adults.
Neither Frederick nor Elizabeth Curry lived long lives. But in their lifetimes, they had seen some subtle changes in the humiliating behavioral dance that black people were forced to perform during their long segregation. Near the end of their lives, they got to see the beginning of the end for segregation—the 1963 street protests in Savannah where black men did not step off the sidewalk to let white people pass; where black men came before the whites, not with their hats in hand or with downward cast eyes, but with their heads up. They saw black people come into the streets, not asking for favors, but demanding their rightful place in the American story. Perhaps it was enough to allow them to them see the beginning of a new future.
Frederick Curry died in Savannah on November 13, 1964, at the age of 57 years. He was buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. Elizabeth Brown Curry outlived her husband by about 11 months, and died on October 16, 1965, in Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia. She was also buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah. Frederick Curry and Elizabeth Brown’s first child, Lucretia Jo Curry, is the direct line ancestor of this family line.
Being raised during the discriminatory Jim Crow laws, the Disputed Election of 1876 and Little Big Horn. Remembering the beginning of the Railroad Era, Thomas Edison, the Labor Movement and the Spanish-American War. They experienced the country’s Reconstruction leading to the Second Industrial Revolution as they were starting families. This family pushed onward through remarkably challenging and burdensome times, living stronger than before and providing us our opportunity!