One Black NW Corner family’s link to the NAACP
SALISBURY — A Zoom talk sponsored by the Salisbury library and the historical society managed to cover 300 years of the history of a Black family from Salisbury.
The Scoville Memorial Library hosted the event, which attracted 100 viewers —including robust attendance of Cesar family descendants from throughout the nation.
These generations of Black lives mattered greatly in contributing to the early history of the Northwest Corner towns and subsequently to the nation.
Family historian Katherine Overton was joined in conversation by historian and Salisbury School faculty member Rhonan Mokriski, who in turn premiered a showing of a film created by Salisbury School students detailing their search for traces of the early Cesar homestead.
Five generations of the Cesar family made their homes in Northwest Corner towns, spanning 140 years in the area.
The last family member to live in the area was Rae Eleanor Williams, who graduated from Lakeville High School in 1936, departing to attend Howard University, Overton noted.
Timothy Cesar, originally from New York, served in the Revolutionary War as part of a Black regiment known as the 6th Connecticut, Overton reported with pride.
Rachel Cesar was Timothy’s mother and progenitor of the family line. She was native American. Because the children of that time aligned with their mothers’ status, the ensuing generations lived lives as free people.
“I’ve always been a proud American,” Overton emphasized. Overton described her historical research as “knitting threads.” Records and information are often spotty, but she found a document with Rachel’s name from January 1789. She was living in Dartmouth, Mass., and being boarded by the state as an “Indian pauper.” She lived to be 104.
Another family member, Titus, lived in Salisbury as a landowner and is buried in Town Hill Cemetery, Overton said. George and Eleanor lived in Sharon, owning 130 acres on Sharon Mountain. They are buried in Hillside Cemetery in Sharon.
In 1870 came the passage of the 15th Amendment, clearing the way for Black men to vote. The Cesars created a family poster marking the date, July 4, as a date for a parade and a celebration.
A guiding principle within the Cesar family was the advancement offered by education. Education was key to the success of so many of the Cesar women throughout the generations, Overton said.
“We all did not live the same lifestyle,” Overton said, but the emphasis was on education, education and education.
The Cesars’ story intertwines with that of the early years of Troutbeck in Amenia, Overton said.
Her great-uncle Arthur served for many years as the chauffeur for Joel Elias Spingarn, who was in turn essential to the story of the of the founding of the NAACP.
Mokriski spoke of the power of oral history in handing down the family stories that guided much of Overton’s research and quoted an African proverb that says, “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”