Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Year's Day 1920 -- "Our Year"

It was January 1st, 1920, when Edwin Harleston finally proposed to Elise Forrest, who had been studying photography in New York City. Nearly seven years had passed since the day they met, and though she was instantly smitten, it had taken him a very long to fall in love. She must have been ecstatic to read this letter.

121 Calhoun St.
Charleston, S.C.

My Little L,
Happy New Year. I am so glad to hear of your having a tolerably pleasant time at Christmas. I had been straining my nerves to have that good news from you, for you are such a poor little creature when you wish to be so.

We had a rather quiet and uneventful day here, my only diversion being a little dance that night in chilly Dart's Hall where I took Hilda Johnson Jackson.

As usual, Santa Claus forgot me but I found pleasure in making a few gifts to as many folks. ...

Perhaps next Christmas we shall have the same old condition again, but somehow we always seem to survive -- I remember one I spent away from home with not even the price of breakfast, but I heard a good sermon that day and was happy ever afterward. ...

I am glad to learn that you are doing a little work sufficiently good to "charge" people for it -- keep it up, it is good practice. Find out for me, please, every fine point about photographing a drawing and a painting for patent reasons -- we may need it someday.

When you have leisure afternoons and evenings, stop up at the N.Y. Public Library and ask to see the collection of "prints" and photographs of paintings and of course you will go to the Metropolitan Museum, Fifth Ave. and 82nd St. via the Bus at a dime (?) and see what artistic posing and lighting and arrangement mean. Is this too asking too much of my Little One? In other words study! study!! study!!! That's the way to become a shark.

Today I had occasion to look through a batch of my mother's old papers and letters and found some documents which I had read often. Some of them are of pleasant interest to me. Others are somewhat sad. But two in particular are of general interest. Of these one is the Bill of Sale delivered to my great-great grandmother in 1804 when she bought herself and Flora her little daughter from slavery -- brave woman. The other is the deed of emancipation and manumission which she presented to her daughter Flora in 1820 that this daughter might marry then as a “free person of color” not being owned even by her mother. This was my great-grandmother.

That was a hundred years ago. Nineteen Hundred and Twenty must be our year.

It may seem like a hundred years to you since first we met, and it has been a fairly long time, but then your know we have not been in love that long – I didn’t know you and you surely didn’t know me, but love did come – it grew with me, which is safer than a flashing spurt. You must know that I regard it as a holy thing that has no relation to opportunity in the sense of furthering one’s position either socially or materially else I should have been married already and have had much of this world’s goods.

But you know I am not made that way and so I have waited, and you came. Maybe the future holds something fine in store for us – maybe not, but I will bet my chances that if we continue honest, we shall fare happily – you know they say “all the world loves a lover."

At any rate this is “our year” – the month, I cannot say for I must get ready for the material phase of the matter and you know what that takes.

Within a short while I shall be able to say, for we must do this thing right. Of course I love you; of course I want you, of course we will marry, and of course it will be this year and before Scorpio crawls up the sky too. ...

Goodbye! Happy New Year! Our year. ...

With love,

1919 -- "Christmas is a short day"

This letter from Teddy was dated November 25, 1919, two days before Thanksgiving. Tantie is still in New York and longing to be home for the holidays.

Her sister Marie has a new baby, little Sylvia Elise, and Tantie wants to see them before they return home to Summerville. Uncle Teddy, however, is a perfectionist who believes she should stay in New York and concentrate on improving her photography skills.

121 Calhoun St.
Charleston, S.C.

My dear Lady,
It was very much of a relief to have your last letter after thinking over the previous one as a sort of nightmare -- it didn't have its silver lining, only the dark cloud. This last found me so much on the run that I have not been still enough during reasonable writing hours to write. I arrived here yesterday after running the gauntlet of rising waters in Georgia. The floods were more terrifying but my train out of Augusta ran through about a mile of covered tracks without any damage.

I can readily understand how a sojourner like you would like to be at home at Christmas time -- especially as you're a woman, but I have wondered if you are quite ready to come especially after your intimation more than once that you were not satisfied with your advancement in your special mission to New York. Of course, you may be through, but don't measure your course with Christmas as your limit, please! Leave this one thing well until you are "hanging over" -- master it!

I shall be so happy to see you, as I am happy to be near you, always, but not at the expense of anything worthwhile to you.

I have had a very pleasant stay in Atlanta, and a nice trip to Florida. Found everyone wondering when I should arrive.

The baby has grown fine -- looks like Gussie as a baby. Both have slight colds at present. Everything and everybody else is about as usual.

What about your going to Washington for Christmas and then back to NY? If you are ready it would undoubtedly be a nice trip for you. Write me [immediately] if you will and say what you need and it will be forthcoming. In any event, write me soon soon and I will be glad to respond.
Here's some change -- not your fare.

With love 'neverything,

The first page of this letter has been lost. In it, Teddy tells her about the unveiling of the Herndon portrait at First Congregational Church in Atlanta. He was not present for the event, but friends told him it was well-received, leading Teddy to hope it might finally help him achieve the success that had eluded him so far.

It may have been pleasant for you to come for several reasons -- to help Marie off and to say "Merry Christmas" to your folks and friends. But Christmas is a short day and you have foregone too many things for yourself as I have done so long. I think it high time to look out for your own interests without being selfish. Marie is planning to go after Christmas for which I am very glad.

This promises to be a sort of dull season here so far as I can see and I hope that you will find it pleasanter there among your friends -- new and old.

You ask about my picture. I am much gratified at the result both technically and in its appeal to the people.

They had a great celebration at its unveiling two days after I left, and a few friends wrote me that it has made for me "some reputation" there. It is a portrait 4 by 6 feet almost full figure with a bit of still life like this: [drawing of man standing next to table]

Already I am wanted back in the spring. I have been much encouraged by the general approbation of my "stuff," and am at a loss to explain why I am not permitted to get about it more regularly. But we'll "see what we can see" as to that very soon.

Tantie had a visit from Teddy's brother, Moultrie, who was visiting New York. She was unaware that Moultrie harbored a secret desire for her and was jealous of Teddy.

In this fairly lengthy letter, Tantie tells Teddy how she spent the holiday in New York. As she often does, she mentions a male friend, another guileless attempt to make her sweetheart jealous and provoke a marriage proposal.

New York City
Dec. 28th 1919

My dear Teddy,
Moultrie brought your letter Thursday evening and I was out, so I have not seen him. Where is he?

Nevertheless [the cash] was quite a surprise and a very welcome one. Like you tho, I am at a loss what to buy unless it be a mesh bag that I have longed for, 'twould be in the nature of a gift. ... I may save it and start my camera fund -- you see how worried it keeps me.

Everybody will want to know "and what did He give you?" and it is so much pleasure to say what that I am halfway tempted to get the bag.

I have had a lovely Christmas. The night before Christmas I went to Ethel Dawson's and trimmed the children's tree for her. Then at one o'clock went carol singing with Miss Sims and the Y girls. It snowed from 5 p.m. until after 4 a.m. and we were out in it, happy. No gentlemen accompanied us on this trip, only girls.

Was it coincidence that I should do that same things this year that I did last year and yet not at home?

Gee! Boy! but I missed you. The longing for you has become such that it is painful to have one of your sex get too near me. For instance, Miss Sims and I visited Charles Winthrop at his dormitory and on one occasion in his assisting me on a crowded car had occasion to put his arm around me to protect me from the crowd and so help me it was beyond me why I should felt as I did but it was merciful that it was only for a few seconds.

Teddy boy -- please hurry -- Does it mean wait until Spring? Can I last that long and not blow up? Four long months have gone -- away from you -- before that three, that's seven -- seven ages, Ted, lost.

I think you remember Charles Winthrop that came to see me at Marie's ...? He is at Union [Theological Seminary] and since I have lived in N.Y. he has been very nice to me. I took dinner with him at DeVann's Xmas night. And went to the Strand afterward. ...

I had a job to do some Xmas cards for the matron. Got $6. I wanted to make some photos of myself for Xmas but this came just at the same time and so prevented my doing so. I have several small jobs to do next week besides some snaps to develop and print. So you see I'll have a little [money] to help out with expenses. ...

O yes. Charles brought me a two pound box of candy so I was not without that. I am patiently waiting for my boxes from home as I'd dearly love to have some cake. I haven't had a bit of fruit cake.

Did you go home for the wine or are you still saving it?

I did not tell you that I made [$]2.50 retouching plates for the main Studio during the Xmas rush. They gave work to all the advance students. ...

Be sweet dear heart and write me immediately -- can you, this once? Since I can't have you New Years, let me have a letter if you write me the very night you get this. ... Will you?

Yours -- wanting you badly,

October 1919 -- "It's a golden day"

During the winter of 1918, Uncle Teddy had completed a portrait of Myron Adams, dean of the faculty at Atlanta University, a job commissioned by the alumni in honor of Adams' 30 years of service.

Now, he is back in Atlanta to do another painting, and his spirits are high. Teddy had been a popular student at Atlanta University, a member of the football and debate team who sang with the glee club and wrote and performed plays. He remained friends with the people he met at AU through the years, many of whom supported his artistic aspirations.

Whenever he visited Atlanta, he stayed in the home of his friend and former AU professor, George A. Towns. It is probably during this period that he does a charcoal and pencil sketch of Towns' young daughter, Grace. (She later becomes Grace Towns Hamilton, the first black state legislator in Georgia.)

Meanwhile, in New York, Tantie is broke and lonely and wants to come home. But Teddy has his eye on a bigger prize.

2 University Place
Atlanta, Ga

My Sweetie,
That's how I feel today -- just fine. It's a golden day and all that, but I have just about consummated an extra job of a commission that promises well -- work to begin tomorrow, or next day and so I just feel as if I'm walking on the air. I have been working on my other big portrait for a few short sittings and it is coming along pretty well. I can assure you ... it was some relief to get at it after an unexpected and distressing delay caused by my illness.

I sent you a little change by wire which I hope reached you in time to cheer. I will send some money by the end of the week and hope you will never run out again -- I will see to it.
Cheer up for your own sake as well as mine and don't court the blues.

I am not sure how much longer I shall be in Atlanta -- it all depends upon the work for I presume I may be useful back home, although I grow so weary of the quiet purposeless periods there, and when you are not in town it is awful. These accumulated years of loneliness are telling on me.

I go for a sitting now, so good bye, good luck. God bless you. Will write again before the close of the week.

With love 'neverthing

2 University Place
Atlanta, Ga.
Oct. 8 '19

My dear Lisa,
I am still on the job in the Gate city [Atlanta] with the time of winding up still uncertain. The folks for whom I am making the big portrait are pleased so far with the progress of the picture as it grows. They are spending about $75.00 for the frame -- so you see they mean to lay it on.

Have seen some of my old friends as well as my athletic adversaries of years ago.

Have just returned from the funeral of the mother of some former schoolmates. Imagine -- she has been a teacher continuously in the public schools for 41 years and the first time she was ever tardy in all those years was the day she was stricken on the way and died that night.

I have just had an invitation from my sister Katie to come to St. Augustine to address the N.A.A.C.P. on the 24th. I'm not sure if I can make it. We'll see.

Here's a little change. Will send something more and more before I leave.

I hope you will cheer up and say more of yourself -- whom do you see, what do you do, etc. etc. etc. How's the work?

Am trying to get this off so good bye with love and more love -- I am appreciating your value, your meaning to me more and more and more by comparison each day and week. Don't worry, we shall be happy together, just be a little patient with me, for the world is different today from what it was -- even last year.

Yours forever,

121 Calhoun St.
Charleston, S.C.
Oct. 3 '19

My little Lady,
If you feel as I have felt recently when you expect a letter and get none I will surely write you often, for I had expected at least a card to say that you had had my letter of the 24th as I had your "Blue" note of the 25th. I hope you will not need to have to send another such.
Perk up and cheer up!

What's the matter, cold feet?

... Now I hope you will settle down to a genuine enjoyment of your stay in the metropolis, see the king and queen and the Prince of Wales and all the swells, have a real alround good time, behave yourself perfectly, keep in perfect health , make friends of worthwhile folks only.

I will close with best wishes for your happiness, kind regards to Mrs.Elzy and every assurance of love to your dear self.

Fondly yours,

2 University Place
Atlanta, Ga.
Oct. 23 '19

My dear Little One,
I have been in Atlanta several days and by some sort of perverse fortune have spent most of that time in bed. While working to get my canvass and background etc ready to begin work that afternoon -- I just had to quit, call off the engagement for the day and take to bed. It came on with headache and fever as the flu used to, and has just about left me, but I am all punk as a result of the bout with the fever. ...

I hope to begin work tomorrow or Saturday if the wretched weather clears up. ...

Today I am down in cash. if you need anything write me forthwith as I shall soon have something for you.

With love

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Editorial Guidelines

Hundreds of documents comprise Edwin and Elise Harleston's letters. The correspondence telegrams, letters, postcards and notes between the couple, as well as from family members, friends, business associates and clients.

The bulk of those appearing on this blog were written by Tantie and Uncle Teddy between 1913 and 1930, during their courtship and marriage. I also plan to include letters from the early 1900s, before they met -- during his years as an undergraduate at Atlanta University and as an art student in Boston.

In the early years of their courtship, Tantie and Uncle Teddy's correspondence is sparse, but by 1919, when the couple began making plans for their future – plans that required her to study photography in New York – their written communication is more abundant. I excluded letters that I decided were redundant or that would not interest a general audience.

Most of the letters were handwritten. The few that were typewritten contained spacing errors that I have silently corrected. Generally, I transcribed the letters verbatim, using ellipses when deleting words and using brackets to note added verbiage.

I corrected errors that were obviously unintentional, such as repeated words, and some misspellings that I thought distracting. Idiosyncratic misspellings (“thot” instead of “thought”) were retained, as were abbreviations of city names (“Chaston” for “Charleston,” for example, and “Phila” for “Philadelphia”) and shorthand addresses (“121" meaning the Harleston Funeral Home or its third-floor apartments at 121 Calhoun Street; “97" meaning the Forrest family home at 97 Morris Street).

Blacked-out passages generally were not noted, unless the letter writer mentioned the erasure. In that case, I noted in brackets that a passage had been blacked out.

Edwin Harleston is referred to Teddy, Ted or Tedwin, among other nicknames. Elise Harleston appears in the letters as Lise, Lisa, Liza and other iterations of Elise.

The vast majority of the letters were written on plain stationery. If deemed significant, the use of letterhead stationery is mentioned in notes.

Over the years, many of the letters were removed from their envelopes, making it difficult to determine the dates of undated correspondence. In those cases, I made an educated guess and inserted the letter where it appears to belong.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

September 1919 -- "I am the only woman"

Tantie took a train from Charleston to New York City in the fall of 1919 and enrolled in the E. Brunel School of Photography.

Uncle Teddy supported her financially and arranged for her to live in the home of his friend, Robert Elzy, and his wife. Elzy was executive director of the "Brooklyn Urban League for Social Service Among Negroes." Her first letter from New York, penned September 15, was written on the organization's stationery.

Monday Evening

Dear Ted,
Your telegram came last night and I went for the money this morning, got it without much trouble and went to school where I was cordially received.

I am the only woman, there is one other colored, a young man from Wilson, N.C., and a Jap. The others are Jews, Germans and Irish. They are very polite and today, every one wanted to show me something.

The instructor is a very young man, German, I think. I can hardly understand him. He started me at retouching negatives to see if I have an artistic touch. He didn't say wether I have or not but very encouragingly said it would take practice to develop what he wants. The Jap is the model of the school, every one seems to try to retouch as well as he.

Thanks very much for the extra. There was $1 for lockers, $1 for album. I had no parasol so bought one, 'spec that's alright? Carfare does eat a hole in one's cash. I have 20 cents carfare per day & lunch.

Why don't you write?

Shall attend N.A.A.C.P. meeting tomorrow night. Gee how I do wish for you.

Several days I have been home alone all day. It is such a nice place, I feel so contented and would be happy if you were only here. ... Please write.

Your own Lise

This next letter was undated but obviously written soon after the first.

Dear Ted:
I went to the Studio this morning where I was courteously received and invited to come in any day during the week and make myself at home.

I told him I'd be ready to start next Monday, so I am writing you as per instruction to let you know he said $100 down and sign contract to pay $50 before the end of term. If it's all the same to you, send money payable to E. Brunel.

Am a little tired so bye bye.

Much Love,
Your Liza

P.S. Tell everybody Howdy and love to all. Kiss Gus & Sylvia Elise. And W.R.I.T.E. soon and say something extra nice. Call my Ma and ask if I gave her the correct address.

Teddy must have been surprised to learn of the $150 fee for Tantie's course work. He had been told it would total $100. The school wanted her to take a "moving picture" class.

Money was an ever present problem for Uncle Teddy. He had grown accustomed to surviving with little when he was an art student in Boston. But once he went to work for his father, Teddy had hoped his finances would improve. Captain, however, controlled the pursestrings tightly, doling out small amounts to Teddy and Elise as he saw fit.

The couple hoped their investment in Tantie's education would pay off once they launched their studio -- and that they could free themselves from Captain's grip.

121 Calhoun St.
Wed 24th Sept.

My Little Lady,
... I was very glad to have your letters and the snaps and to find that you are about your business at the school, and of course I hope you will continue to like it and to do well. While you are at it you will, of course, make every inquiry as to paraphernalia of every description, lighting, appliances, furniture, screening, etc etc. etc.

I am hurrying this letter while a funeral is in the church that you may receive it Friday morning. This change (15.00) is all I have for you this week but hope to send some more next week. Do not fail to let us know what you need. Maybe I can supply it.

I gave your mother the message and she said she would write you. ... Have a good time but work hard, and oh yes, keep a complete notebook of your stuff. I miss you so much.

With love 'neverything.

121 Calhoun St.
Charleston, S.C.

My dear L. Lady,
Your very pleasant letter came last week and strange to say I read it with a grin -- it didn't seem that you had been gone that long.

Oh child, yours truly has been some lady's man since you left. Such entertaining you never saw (by me). I certainly wished for you with your excellent managerial ability.

You might inquire of the rate without moving picture work for I can hardly see the need of your taking the latter, and unless I am mistaken the assistant to Mr. Brunel told me that without it the fee is one hundred in advance only. I wired you one hundred and five ($105.00) and let me know early what are your needs in any way as early as you find them out.

I am depending upon you to use your time to the very best advantage without any directions or restrictions whatever, for you ought to know that I am satisfied if only you keep the big things in view.

I will close with several things -- but wishes for your success, and early reply and of course with love.

Lovingly, Teddy

As a postscript to this letter, Teddy wrote, "Marie says she misses you dreadfully and hopes nothing happens before you return -- whatever that is." Tantie's sister Marie had lost a lot of weight and was so weak she occasionally had to be carried into the house. It is possible she thought death was imminent.

June 1919

For much of the summer of 1919, Uncle Teddy was away from home. He had gone to Atlanta to paint a portrait, traveled to Florida to visit his sister, and went to Cleveland for the NAACP's 10th annual conference.

Tantie, as would become their pattern, remained in Charleston. Her letters were filled with news from home. In this one, she write about programs she attended at they school they both had attended, Avery Institute, and their church, Plymouth Congregational.

She wanted to get married in September, before going to photography school in New York, but it would be another year before they would wed.

Chas’n, S.C.
June 16, [19]19

My dear Edwin,
I shall not close my eyes this night until I at least write that I have received both letter and card and altho I have not hastened to let you know, I have wanted to long before this. (I am really not trying to write poetry.)

I have just come in from a very nice program at Avery under the auspices of the City Federation. There were some good numbers on the program among them Mrs. A.E. Baker who recited Enoch Arden, Miss Maud Smith, piano selection and of course the selection of the Aurorean [Orchestra].

Not a large number attended Monday evening and lots of other affairs. There were two affairs for Plymouth last week. I attended one. Went to a ballgame one afternoon. Had some work at home and generally kept busy, quite busy.

Two days of last week were spent in an attempt to make a trip to Snake Island. On last Tuesday a party of thirty started out and got nearly there when the engine balked. We floundered and drifted for several hours when a boat came along going to town and towed us home. We landed at Chisolm’s Mill and spent the rest of the afternoon playing games and eating ice cream.

We are going again however. ...

The moon is gorgeous! Sunday night I sat on my back porch and just wished.

There is a mosquito in my net and I shall kill him as soon as ever I am through this letter. O yes, I’m writing in bed, only way I could, the mosquitoes are so bad.

Say Ted, may I get ready for “a trip to the moon” in September? Say the latter part, eh?

Or don’t you want to send me to that school of Photography any more yet again? Or would you rather buy me [an] auto? haha. While I think of it why not bring me one from -- (where does Mr. Ford live?). ...

Rev. Burroughs was buried last Friday. Was dead a week, paralysis.

Paul Winds says I must tell you he beat my ring -- he & Euphrasia Lewis were married very quietly last Wednesday evening -- no cards.

Ethel C. Has gone to Columbia [location of the state mental hospital] -- no she isn’t insane -- went to rest up before assuming the burdens of matrimony -- help!!!

I’m going after that mosquito. All join in love to you.

Your very own

As president, Teddy Harleston represented the Charleston branch of the NAACP at the organization's tenth annual conference. This letter, in which he told Tantie about the event, was written on the letterhead of The Negro Welfare Association of Cleveland, Ohio, an affiliate of the "National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes."

The addresses he mentioned at the end of his letter are those of the Forrest family (97 Morris Street), where Tantie still lived, and the Harleston Funeral Home (121 Calhoun Street).

June 23, [19]19

My dear Liz,
The Conference is under way and a fine gathering of men and women from every section of the country. ... Had a nice trip up from Atlanta where I made three pictures and had an engagement to go to Maine to paint the Pres. of Atlanta Univ. See that I go -- it will take a week or ten days longer to do it.

I like the idea of your going to the school of Photography -- if you be good, think I can arrange it.
Enjoyed your letter. Do you think we could manage things this fall? They want me back in Atlanta in Oct. to do a nice job or two -- one good one. How about November? It seems that we can fix up by then and have both ventures done with, provided we can find somewhere to live.

It has been very inspiring and reassuring to be here at this conference. Last night in half an hour $10,300.00 was subscribed to the Assn. for the coming year and tonight it was increased to more than $12,000.00 above regular dues. I have reason to be proud of the Charleston Branch in comparison with other cities and the officers here appreciate what we have done. We go to Oberlin tomorrow for a session (by trolley). I am to speak at the Thursday aft. session, and hope to crowd some helpful words into the twelve minutes. There are over three hundred delegates registered.

I have very often had your image in my mind's eye since leaving. You are a sort of steady company with me. I judge folks by you. I compare you with them. Perhaps I am too severe a judge sometimes, but do not forget that I can be only a just judge in such moments; so do, my lady, let me have the abiding happiness to declare in your favor by deserving it, for if you love me, (and do you not?) you will make and keep yourself perfect for me, as I keep myself clean and wholly for you.

With every wish for your happiness, and love to all the folks at 97 and 121.


Shall probably leave here Sat. for Detroit. Miss Eva Bowles spoke here tonight.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

April 1919

In April 1919, with the war ended, a U.S. Navy ship arrived in Charleston from France. The local newspaper, the News & Courier, carried an announcement of the event and invited the public to celebrate the ship's arrival. However, Uncle Teddy and other black Charlestonians were rebuffed at the dock. He wrote a scathing letter to the editor.

I do not know, Mr. Editor, who was responsible for the order, but it certainly caused a number of people an unnecessary and unwarranted humiliation. In future announcements state when possible whether it is the "public" that is invited or "whites only." Perhaps, I do not need to tell you, Mr. Editor, that we know how to stay away.

Later that month, he traveled to Atlanta, where he was painting a portrait of Alonzo Herndon, the nation's first black millionaire. The portrait now hangs in the Herndon Home, a museum dedicated to the life of the former slave who acquired his wealth as the owner of a barbershop catering to a white clientele. Herndon later established the Atlanta Life Insurance Company.

While working on Herndon's portrait, Teddy took a side trip to St. Augustine to visit his older sister, Katherine, who had married and settled there.

Tantie, meanwhile, remained in Charleston, planning a trip to New York, where she would enroll in photography school.

2 University Place
Atlanta, Ga.
April 1919

My dear Elise,
Oh you saucy one! I had your letter with the two pictures and my! oh my, some blessing out. Well, if you say I do, I do, and I will not argue back.

It seems that you have tried to make [me] toe a certain line which I can't seem to be able to toe. ... I cannot fathom the psychology of you little women and maybe you can't ours, so don't worry, you'll get wrinkles. (This is an essay -- it starts from anywhere and gets you nowhere.)

You are perfectly at liberty to go where you will to stay -- if to the "Y" so much the better and you shall have funds sufficient for your needs.

I am leaving Atlanta tonight for Florida, and have to return by way of Atlanta as the Herndon picture is neither varnished or framed -- the frame has not yet arrived from Boston. Everybody concerned is very highly pleased with it -- I have been much flattered with the enthusiasm. It is to be "unveiled" next month.

Here's a stake for "Liza" with more to come next week. And please cheer up. I'm getting off or I would write more sensibly -- I will write you from St. Augustine.

Yours with love -- I mean the real sure 'nuf kind as they say in Georgia.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

September 1918 -- Marie Forrest Harleston to EAH

Tantie's sister, Marie, wrote Uncle Teddy a letter in the fall of 1918 to let him know how his brother (her husband, Robert Harleston) was faring.

Robbie and Marie had gone "up in the pines" of Asheville, North Carolina, to ease the symptoms of tuberculosis, which they both had. The disease would kill Marie less than two years after she wrote this letter.

Tantie, referred to here as "Lease" (short for Elise), was staying with Robbie and Marie awhile. At some point during the visit, she took this picture of Marie and Gussie, who is referred to here as "Ras," possibly short for Rascal.

Asheville, N.C.
Sept. 7, 1918

Dear Mr. Teddy:
You surprised me quite a few weeks ago very agreeably. Hope that you will be able to say the same thing when you receive this.

I wonder what are you folks doing tonight. Would you be surprised to hear that we have had on coats all day also had to have a fire with the windows [shut] like winter time. Those who had to go out have come in with rosy cheeks. Together with rain I tell you it makes one feel very homesick.

Mr. Bob tried himself again today. He came down a hill then went back up bicycling. We raised so much fuss that he went off to the doctor. He told him to be careful of all strenuous exercise as it might cause a [hernia] -- but that he saw no signs caused from his actions today. If he can swim and ride a bicycle, walk the hills go whenever he wants to, I am of the opinion that he is well enough to come home and do something.

I saw where you asked Lease if he seems well one day and sick the next. Since we have been here he has had about three days, on which I might say he went back. Twice he had fever and once he lost half a pound. Since he lost the pound he has regained it along with a pound more. Now he is 138 ½. Looks fine, eats well, sleeps (over well). Not only me but the doctor remarks how steadily he came along.

Sometimes he coughs, the sound still makes me shudder. It is hollow and sounds very strange. Then I might say he is irratable at times. The least thing just throws him off. I asked him to have the doctor come see me I suppose he will come out in a few days. Will question [the doctor] then about Bob's coming home when I come on the fifteenth. Also about his coughing.

Its raining brickbats now. Lease has gone across the street to a farewell dance. I made the punch, but no dance for me; it's too cold, then I feel a bit tired so will retire instead.

Lease made three quarts of apple butter today, her jelly is cooking now. Her hands turned dark from the apples and when she was sealing the jars of course they were hot and her hands got burned a little. I wish you could have heard her. I was sewing today so she said she could cook the dinner. I waited nicely until she started to make the fire. Then I hollored to her to clean the stove. Believe me she fussed some. A little girl across the way says she is not coming over here any more because lady name Miss Lease hollors after you too much. Some old maid sister I have.

Ras is still terrible. She won’t ever go to bed unless she has her dirty doll baby. Even when she is eating it's right on the table. She goes all over the house running the window shades up. If the bathroom door is left open she goes in and turns the water on in the tub. I will be glad when I get her home every day I will send her in the office. ...

Every body says that I look good. I am ninety one pounds now. Would give any thing if I could reach one hundred. ...

Hope this won’t tire you too much. Remember us to all inquiring friends. Will write later just when to expect us.

Us Harlestons

Ten days had passed with no response from Teddy. In that era, mail was delivered twice and day, and people often wrote each other daily. Marie is hungry for news from Charleston, especially because she has sent Gussie back home to stay with her parents for a month.

Gussie had not contracted tuberculosis, despite the fact that both of her parents had the disease, and their doctor had advised Marie and Robbie not to have any more children because of the threat of infection. He also suggested they allow other relatives to care for Gussie.

Shortly before her second birthday, she would become the permanent ward of her Uncle Teddy, his brother Moultrie.

Asheville, N.C.
Sept. 17, 1918

My dear Mr. Teddy:
Can’t you spare a few moments and answer my letter. Or have you forgotten all about me. Suppose you are satisfied now that you have a house keeper. You don’t have to keep on speaking terms with this one as you don’t need her any more.

Say Mr. Teddy, Lease said you wanted to give Ras something but did not know just what, so I told her to tell you to give her a pair of shoes and two pairs of white socks. Mr. Mout wrote that he has bought her a pair, if his are white then you buy black or if he bought black then you buy white. Her birth day is next week so it can be a birth day present also.

How do you like her? Do you think is still as ugly as she used to be? Tell Capt. he sure can call her "Breeze" now. The back of her head just won’t behave.

I miss her very much. Mae and Bob actually make me ill playing that they are she. Robbie even goes so far as to roll all over the bed saying, "leave me lone, Daddy Bob" or some other little saying of hers.

The doctor came out to see me tonight. Says he sees no reason why Bob won’t get along alright at home, but he must be prudent. He considers him a very childish young man and not at all careful or particular as he should be. Says most folks in his stage are hard to manage, that they do not realize the seriousness of it until it is generally too late. I asked about when would he suggest leaving. He said around the first of the month, the fifteenth preferably. Says he does not advise me leaving him alone as he sees he is a person who requires attention.

It will be awfully hard to stay another month when my mind is all made up for home, but no one realizes more than I just what and how Bob has to be managed. I have to take him his breakfast, and beg him to eat his dinner, then some how I manage to get the milk and eggs down. Every day it’s the same thing.

Am awfully sorry to hear of Mama being sick, especially since Gus is there. It will be just one more to worry her. Sadie wrote that she looked awfully bad.

Tell Mout to go for Gus as often as he can so as to relieve the folks at home. As soon as she gets use to you all, you will find her a pretty good baby as long as she is left alone. Am awfully afraid that a month will have her some rotten.

Has she sung and played the piano for you yet? Please take her one of her dolls. She used to cry for this one she left here every night. It was too dirty then the arms were off. She had a fit one day because I did not have time to fix it.

Say Teddy, take that piece of brown goods in the bottom [drawer] in the front room, the piece Robbie gave me and have Erwin make it up at once for Bob. He says to make it just like this brown suit. Three pieces. You must try it on. His brown suit has two punches in the seat, is beginning to look shabby. The blue is about gone. He is very much in need of the suit so please have it done at once.

Please answer me at an early date. Tell me all about my daughter. ...


1918 - "And now comes the Draft"

A wave of patriotism had swept the United States after it entered World War I in April 1917, and African Americans were eager to be part of the war effort. Teddy's brother, Robbie, had gone to the Colored Officers Training Camp in Iowa, where he contracted tuberculosis. After returning home to Charleston, he passed the disease to Marie.

In an effort to spare two-year-old Gussie's health, Robbie and Marie sent her to live with her two bachelor uncles, Teddy and Moultrie, in their apartment on the third floor of the funeral home at 121 Calhoun Street.

Teddy, as head of the local NAACP, had helped the Army recruit black soldiers, and he wanted to enlist, as well. This thought sent Tantie into a panic. She had fallen in love with Teddy the moment they met five years earlier and had waited for a proposal ever since. If he joined the Army, she dreaded what might happen to him.

101 Hill St. Asheville, N.C.
Sept. 2, 1918

My dear Ted,
Your letter this morning surprised me a little. Like you, I have not written because there was nothing to say, at least what I would say would not be what I would want to say and I am sure you know what a task it is to keep one’s thoughts from invading ones letters. ...

And now comes the Draft.

The winter we were in New York I had reason to believe we would by this time be "next door to heaven." Christmas coming makes two years we have surely lost. There are only a few months left – and you may be] gone – forever. And I?

... Rob’s improvement has been wonderful. Dr. Walker says if he will only keep good habits – eat well, stay out of doors as much as possible and don’t worry, he will very soon be as sound as a dollar. ...

How about myself, eh? Well how about me? You can answer that better than I. Honest. I can’t think of home & you without thinking of that horrid draft.

I surely don’t intend having you go to camp leaving me in Charleston. As near as I can figure it, if you & Moute pass, which I have no fear you will, Spring will find you in camp as they are planning to have this draft in France by June according to the latest report. Ted, is this the way?

This is why I have not written you before. Every few words I write, I must stop to choke down the sobs and smile so the rest won’t guess my thoughts. I had planned to go to the woods today to have a good cry out all alone. I’ll feel better when I do, so don’t mind.

... Sometimes I think I’ll not come home and sometimes I think I will. If I do come promise to see me every minute possible? Do!

What are you planning, Ted? Anything at all?

O well, if you’ll accept this as a letter, I shall expect to hear from you – sometime soon.

All join me in love to you, Capt. Katie, the kids & Moot.

Mamma told me of the melon you took for her and how much she enjoyed it.

Be good.


Teddy received a draft notice on October 12, 1918, but was disappointed that he was not called up. But during this period, he painted two war-themed canvasses, "The Gas Attack" and "The Dough Boy." When the war ended with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, it appeared Teddy would never get to Europe to see the great art museums, something he longed to experience.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

1918 - EAH to W.E.B. DuBois

Uncle Teddy had been DuBois' student at Atlanta University, which he attended from 1900 until his graduation in 1904. They remained in contact after Teddy left Atlanta for art school in Boston. He knew DuBois' wife and daughter, and gave the latter a painting as a wedding gift upon her 1928 marriage to poet Countee Cullen. Because money was often tight, Uncle Teddy occasionally gave his artwork as a gift.

121 Calhoun St.
Charleston, S.C.
Mar 2, ’18

My dear Doctor,
I had hoped to have you receive a bookplate (a drawing for which I have mailed separately) in time for the celebration of your fiftieth birthday, but my eyes have been bothering me and I had to give it over. The little thing is done now, and I send it with this one regret – that it will cost you a few pennies to have the plate made. That may be a bad kind of gift to make, especially to an editor, but then you might make the excuse that it is from a student to his friend and teacher.

It may have been better made or designed differently, but I am quite sure that no more fitting device could border the plate than this prophetic sentence “The problem of the Twentieth century is the problem of the color line.”

And now that you are fifty, we are all thanking God that you have not yet lowered your colors nor turned from that straight course that leads through honor to glory. We who know you have preached you and prophesied this very day – which must be somewhat cheering after those painful days of misrepresentation and slander, as you intimated in that charming bit of autobiography in the February Crisis. Please give us something like it again – it sounds like the “Souls of Black Folk” essays.

I am writing Dill to ask of you the honor of your … signature in “The Souls of Black Folk” and “The Negro.” This is my eighth copy of the former, having presented seven copies since 1903 to friends I thought should know you better.

I do not know how many more birthdays to wish you – it might be very embarrassing, but I do know that there will be sad days in Ethiopia when they cease.

Kindest regards to Mrs. DuBois and Miss Yolande.

Loyally yours,

"Dill" was Augustus Dill, who graduated from Atlanta University in 1906 and later became editor of the NAACP's Crisis magazine.

Summer 1917

Tantie wrote of her brush with racism during a visit to Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, in the summer of 1917. She had been in Asheville for a teacher's conference and was staying with relatives. The "Dr. Proctor" mentioned in this letter was the Rev. Henry Hugh Proctor, who had pastored the First Congregational Church in Atlanta. As a student at Atlanta University, Teddy had attended the church. Rev. Proctor would officiate at Tantie and Uncle Teddy's marriage three years later.

Asheville, N.C.
Aug. 7, 1917

Dear Ted,
Your second letter came this morning, surprising and cheering as nothing else can do.

Am so glad you enjoyed your launch party and sorry I was not there to enjoy "our" island once more with you. Perhaps, someday, we’ll go again together, at least we can hope so. I hardly think a day passes I do not think of our first trip there and all the memorable instances pertaining thereto.

If this weather holds up some, we may have a hike or two to the mountains. Friday a week ago, the Teachers summer school closed and a party was made up for a trip to Mt. Mitchell. A private concern runs the road up the Mt and none but "white" have been allowed. But the R.R. agent said if we were twenty-five in number he could accomodate us. There were nearly fifty of us willing to spend $3.05 to visit "the highest point east of the Rockies" but our money happened to be black, as some of the white people hearing of our party refused to go, which caused the agent to notify us that we could not go that day but could go some day when the white people wouldn’t. This we refused to do, and so we didn’t go up on "the highest point east of the Rockies."

Last week the Sociological Congress met here with several prominent speakers white & colored. I got to go Friday afternoon to hear Dr. Proctor of Atlanta. Mrs. DeMond and her mother & sisters were there. Am enclosing newspaper report of that day & night. It got torn before I had a chance to clip it. You may paste it for me and put it away, after reading it of course.

That same night I went to see "Christus" [an Italian silent film] at the auditorium. Colored people have accommodations in half of balcony. ...


Tantie followed Uncle Teddy to New York, where he had gone to study mortuary science, and she often visited him in the city on weekends. She had found a job at the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum, which had been established in 1866.

According to the website Commack History, "For the Howard Orphanage ... things were not going well by 1917. ... Due to war rations when the winter came there was no more coal to heat the buildings with and the children were sent into the surrounding woodland to cut cordwood for heating the houses. Then some of the hot water heaters broke down. Now forced to sleep around the stoves for warmth some children were told to place their cold hands or feet as close to the stove as possible, but it was too late frost bite was setting in on some and they were taken to hospitals where a few had to have limbs amputated."

Kings Park, L.I.
Jan. 11, 1917

My Dear Edwin,
I am glad you have made your decision and are complying with our father’s wishes. That means of course that you will soon be homeward bound. I wish you God speed.

I sincerely hope your brother [Moultrie] will be spared to reach home once more and that all at home will be there to welcome him. I am sorry to think I will not even but a witness, yet I shall rejoice with you now in the prospect of having him home after so long an absence. Perhaps you may persuade him to stay and help you and Rob with the business.

I am enclosing a letter from home which I am sure you will enjoy. You may keep it until I see you which may be sooner than either of us know. The first part concerns – not you – skip it.

I also received my box. I really did wish for you to enjoy it with me – devilled crabs – chicken – cake (I’m saving you a piece) candy – nuts. Wasnt’ that lovely? Some "Mudder" eh?

I am a little nervous tonight. Started laughing at supper and – well I wasn’t thinking of you just then so you can’t say I had hysterics over you for I did not. I was unduly nervous and felt like crying and so there. But I’m going to bed soon and sleep it off. ...

Perhaps I shall be able to come in the last of Jan. But surely Sat. Feb. 3rd & Sun. Feb. 4th 1917 – if not sooner.

Hope to hear from you before that time. You can imagine what your letters mean to me out here.

Lovingly your own

Kings Park, L.I.
Jan. 28, 1917

My Dear Edwin,
Yours received a few days ago. Am sorry & then glad I did not come Friday as I thought but glad when I do come I can stay. I expect to come in next Thurs., if I do I will drop you a card Thurs. A.M.

Am very tired tonight. Have been on the job since 6.30 A.M. It is now 7 P.M. I shall welcome my pillow.

I am very glad of your success. Now home & work. I almost envy you. But I hope I’ll be home with you next Christmas.

Don’t worry about me. I have always "looked out" for myself since I can remember and others quite sometime. [Two lines blacked out.]

Please excuse this; it doesn’t happen often but I’m too weary to start another sheet. That was one of my extravagant thoughts and I just remembered how distasteful they are to you.

Just a few more days and you shall see & love
Your own

Monday, Feb. 26, [19]17

My dear "Mr. Harleston",
Did you expect me to answer that note? I have been expecting a letter from you, and even as I write I am listening for the Post man’s whistle.

I hardly know anything that is happening in town, but what you may read of, and what concerns me, is not of such importance to you that I need mention it here.

It seems you had only to get home again to display a bit of meanness in your very first letter. Will you do me the very great kindness to explain why this is? Why do you become so very irritated and annoyed whenever my name is mentioned to you? Any other friend (?) of mine would have been glad to say they had seen me and it is no more than natural. And it has always been a puzzle to me how you can have this feeling, and yet are so very different when with me.

Now then Sir, take this vital question up in your next letter, and explain away all my doubt. Please Ted, write me as soon as you can, a nice long letter; I am anxious to have some word from you.

You did not say a word about the baby.


Through his association with W.E.B. DuBois, who had been his professor at Atlanta University, Uncle Teddy became the founding president of the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One of the group's first accomplishments was petitioning the state legislature to change the law forbidding black teachers from working in Charleston's public schools.

[Handwritten in the left margin] This is my second letter on the machine. The first was to Mamma.
New York. N.Y.
March 1, [19]17

My dearest Edwin,
Your letter received this morning, found me home, with a very bad neck. I have two boils in my head which have given me some trouble, had to have them lanced. The pressure caused several lumps to form on my neck, which are very painful. I did not go to work two days this week, as the day after the doctor lanced the boils I have had the fever. You know what this means to my pocket, and to my spirits also.

I enjoyed your letter so very, very much; and am sorry you are not able to say the same this morning, when you get my letter. But you will understand, Ted, and forgive me, and write me real soon, won’t you?

... My work has not been as successful as I had hoped and it is only my desire to fulfill my promise to you that keeps me here and to other things too.

But don’t let this bother you. I am sure I shall be alright in a few days.

Have you been to see my mother yet? And what do you think of the baby? I can just see the studio.

Have a little patience, dear, and all will come right soon. ...

Tell Ethel to write me, also my sister. That is very fine about the [NAACP]. You will make a very fine President.
Love to all, and write me soon.

Your own

P.S. I had to cut my hair so am sending you a curl, if you do not want it give it to Marie. Phone Ethel as soon as you receive this. Have you been to church yet? In the choir?


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


During the year she taught in rural South Carolina, Tantie had to contend with cold one-room schoolhouses in the day, bedbugs at night and the ever present loneliness and longing for home.

In the letter below, Tantie mentions a Mr. Pendergrass, reminding Uncle Teddy that she has other potential suitors. It also is the first indication that she and Teddy were contemplating the idea of a studio.

Cades, SC
c/o Mr. W.L. Fulmore
January 3, 1916

My Dear Teddy,
This is the first letter this year and it must be a short one as I am sleepy, tired and my eyes hurt considerably.

Arrived O.K. Folks met me and took me home for breakfast. You see my train got in at 8.15 A.M. sooner than I expected which was very fine. The lunch came in good nevertheless. Thought of you while unwrapping it, could hear you say "You’re not going to take this cake?" – see you enjoy it -- but now I think of it – did you eat the pineapple? I don’t remember when you did.

Did not only think of you at that one time, have scarcely thot of else. If I were to write the thot [that] comes to me at this time you know what it would be. You are so exceedingly kind, too kind, so kind that I hardly know wether to come home for the [Roland] Hays-[Will] Lawrence Recital or not. You see dear I am taking advantage of my privilege (being leap-year) and am inviting myself as your guest, and being wholly your guest you know how much trouble and worry the trip will cause you, it is up to you. Say the word – and I’ll be down with bells on.

Gee whiz! but I nearly boo-hooed! If I had started crying you could not have stopped me. Am not far from it now but am determined I will not.

Met Mr. Pendergrass again who asked the privilege of calling on his next trip home. O they do make me tired. Well dear, dearest boy, I must quit. Say "howdy" to "our" Studio. And a kiss for the best boy alive.

Truly your very own
Little Lady

By the summer of 1916, Tantie was back in Charleston working as a seamstress at the Union Millinery & Notion Company. (In the photo above, she is standing to the far right in front of the business, which was located at 469 King Street.) Besides missing Teddy, she probably wanted to come home to be near her sister Marie, who gave birth to her first child -- my mother -- Gussie Louise Harleston, on September 28, 1916.

Uncle Teddy was growing increasingly frustrated. As an art student in Boston, he had been free to visit art museums, galleries libraries and other public spaces. But in Charleston, racial segregation meant he could not set foot in the city's only museum, the Gibbes.

Although he viewed himself as an artist, his primary occupation was as an undertaker at the Harleston Funeral Home, a job he took at the urging of his father. Teddy was deeply unhappy with this line of work, but he had a strong sense of duty, and so not long after Tantie returned to Charleston, Uncle Teddy was headed to New York to enroll in the Renouard School of Embalming.

Monday Oct. 9, 1916
At work

Disappointed? Well, I guess so. It seems such an age. I would not come to the store early but waited until I knew the mail had gone so I could hear the girl say "Yes, a letter from N.Y." Then I would hurry oh! so fast to get here. Please write me tonight! Ted I’m missing you more every day.

Well you see, since you left I have not been attending any affairs, there haven’t been many, but what there have been, I have used "Marie" as an excuse to stay home. Now that that excitement is over I feel foolish telling folks I prefer staying at home. Friday evening there was a small affair for the benefit of St. Marks in "our" Hall and I went down at about 10 O’clock. It kept up until 12 but I went up just before the last dance.

This is the second affair Dr. McGill has asked me to go to and each time I’ve had an excuse but while I went last Friday evening I did not go with him but alone and when he called me to account I simply said I had changed my mind. But you know Ted, none of these men are going to take me places unless they are allowed to call evenings and calling evenings means getting better acquainted, and affectionately so.

There are several reasons why I do not wish to become too closely attached to any of them. Firstly and mainly – none of them appeal to me, secondly For three years I have been using one brand of xxxxx and don’t want any substitute. Thirdly I work too hard days and need to sleep nights. etc. etc. etc.

Wednesday Evening the Owls give a card party & dance. I have accepted Dr. McGill’s invitation to that. Will wear my blue dress – remember it? Will fix my hair "a la Billy Burk." All frizzly around the face. I am pretty that way.

Mr. Scott the artist is in town again for an indefinite stay. Much attached to Carrie. By the way haven’t you written her yet? Shame on you boy! We are great friends. She, Robbie and I were to visit Mr. Scott’s rooms to view his work or at least some of it. I haven’t "met" Mr. Scott yet, but I would surely like to shave his chin.

Bob Morrison just left interupted me two hours. Brought me some ice cream. ...

Strange – the people that we like go miles and miles away. And those we do not like we see most every day. If that man doesn’t let me alone I’ll give him a scrubbing.

Am going to dinner now.

Monday, June 16, 2008


In 1915, when Elise left Charleston to become a schoolteacher, it was against South Carolina law for blacks to teach in her hometown's public schools, so she had to teach in rural South Carolina.

Her younger sister, Marie, and Teddy Harleston's brother Robbie had married earlier in the year, and Elise was eager to become a bride, too. She was clearly trying to make Teddy jealous in this letter, which she wrote from Fowlers, South Carolina.

Fowlers, South Carolina
November 25, 1915

My dear Edwin Augustus,

This is Thanksgiving's Day, and there are lots of things for which I am thankful. You are chieftest among them all. I am thankful to have met you; I am thankful to have had the opportunity of knowing you so well as I do. ...

You asked me not to think hard of you. I never shall. Rest assured on that score. You are a man, and human. I do not see you with a halo about your head; neither do I look upon you as a beast, but somewhere between the two I have placed you, the One Man, the embodiment of men, the Alpha and Omega of my too short life.

I shall learn to ride horseback before I return, perhaps we will take a jaunt or two during the holidays. My lessons begin Monday after work. Ben will teach me. You don't know Ben, but he is as fine a specimen of young American Negro as you will find anywhere. Tall, nearly six feet, broad shouldered, with a nice, kind open countenance and as kindhearted as they come. He is black, with a wide mouth, white teeth set apart, flat nose, large nostrils and soft dark eyes set just the right place. And best of all, a large heart and the best disposition in the world. He is my friend. ...

I had for Thanksgivings Dinner, pork, chicken, turkey, 'possum, coon, squirrel. Do you like 'em?

Ben just called to ask if I want to go to town with him in his road cart -- do I? "Well I reckon!!" Bye.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


This is the first known correspondence from Elise Beatrice Forrest, then about 22 years old, to Edwin Augustus Harleston, nicknamed Teddy to distinguish him from his father, Edwin Gailliard Harleston.

"Robbie" is Teddy's brother, Robert Othello Harleston, who was courting Elise's sister, Marie Forrest. Elise (or Tantie, as she was known) met Teddy in 1913, when Robbie asked him to deliver a package to Marie. He had just returned home after spending 13 years studying at Atlanta University and the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.

Monday, September 8, 1913
97 Morris St., City

Dear Teddy:
Had hoped to see you 'ere this. Our club meets Tuesday night at Mrs. Beaubian and I would like you to be my guest - if it is convenient and agreeable to you. Should I not hear from you by noon of Tuesday, I will look for you at 9 or 9:30 p.m.

Did Robbie give you my message?

Am pasting pictures tonight after having packed Mamma off for a few days in the country.