Skip to comments.Mom, daughter first blacks in Daughters of Republic of Texas ~ Pair trace roots to history books
Posted on 04/20/2003 6:49:43 AM PDT by buffyt
SHANKLEVILLE -- While tracing their ancestry back hundreds of years, Larutha M. Odom Clay and her daughter, Lareatha H. Clay, discovered that their family's roots extended deep into Texas history.
The mother and daughter have made some history of their own, recently becoming the first blacks to be inducted into a 112-year-old organization known as the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
"It's nice to be the first, but we don't want to be the only ones," said Lareatha, 45, a management consultant, adding that she wants "other blacks to start researching their history."
To become a member of this prominent organization -- whose responsibilities include maintaining the Alamo in San Antonio -- an applicant must prove she is a direct descendant of someone who helped establish the Republic of Texas, which came into existence in 1836. Its male counterpart is known as the Sons of the Republic of Texas.
The Clays traced their family roots back to the 1800s and the Shankleville freedmen community in Newton County.
According to the Newton County Historical Commission, the Shankleville community was named after former Mississippi slaves Jim and Winnie Shankle. Shankleville is about two miles southwest of Burkeville, between State Highways 63 and 87 in north central Newton County.
Historians aren't clear on what year the couple married, but it was in the early 1840s when their marriage was torn apart after Winnie was sold to a family moving to East Texas.
Love and distance would not keep the couple separated forever, however.
Taking the risk of being flogged or hanged for escaping his master, Jim walked more than 400 miles from Mississippi to Texas looking for his true love.
One day as Winnie was washing clothes at a stream, a familiar voice called her, and there stood Jim, said Bonnie Smith, division director of genealogy at the Newton County Historical Commission.
Their reunion put the family back together.
Reunited, Winnie got permission from her master to establish a family unit. Her master then wrote a letter to Mississippi and arranged to purchase Jim.
Winnie had three mulatto children before her marriage to Jim, said Jean Ann Ables-Flatt, a commissioner with the Texas Historical Commission.
Together, the couple had six more children.
The Clays' family tie that made them eligible to join the DRT came through Larutha Clay's great-grandfather, the Rev. Joseph Odom.
Odom was married to a Shankle daughter, Harriet, in June 1867, Flatt said.
In that same year, Harriet's parents began buying land shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation. The Shankles' master gave the couple some land, Flatt said.
Jim farmed the land, and after saving up enough money, he acquired more than 4,000 acres.
"I'm just proud of how those people could do so much with so little," said Larutha Clay, 76, a retired educator from Beaumont. "They didn't have very many resources or an education."
Within a few years the Shankleville community in Newton County became the site of a sawmill, a gristmill and a cotton gin in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Another of Winnie's daughters, Mary, married Stephen McBride, who established McBride College in Shankleville, which operated from 1883 to 1909.
As of today, the Shankleville community has three churches, two cemeteries and about 30 families, according to Shankleville residents.
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