I am a Professor at Berklee College in Boston. Last May my husband John and I came to Farmington to do some research for a book I am writing about my family. My grandfather, Jesse Ernest Wilkins Sr., was a prominent Chicago lawyer who became the first black Assistant Secretary of Labor in 1954. He was born in Farmington in 1894 and lived there until 1912, when he left to attend Lincoln Institute. His father John Bird Wilkins, also know as Bird J. Wilkins, also spent time in Farmington around 1885 and again between 1890 and 1894. According to an old Farmington Times article I received from Mr. Robert Lewis of the St. Francois Historical Society, my great grandfather helped to organize the fundraising for the construction of “Colored Hall,” the meeting house which once stood at the corner of Second and Jefferson Streets.
My search for factual information has been difficult. Many of the members of Farmington’s once thriving African American community left the area in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, leaving few clues behind. My husband and I have been to libraries in Harlem, St. Louis, Harvard, and Chicago trying to discover information about J. Ernest and John Bird Wilkins. We left Boston in the beginning of the year hoping for the best, but not knowing if we would find anything at all useful.
But Farmington Public Library’s genealogy collection provided us with a wealth of useful information, including records that could be found nowhere else. Genealogy librarian Travis Trockey was most helpful, and a small collection of contemporary newspaper articles prepared by Faye Sites proved invaluable.
Kudos to the Town of Farmington and to the Farmington Public Library for housing this collection, and for making it available to the public.
Carolyn Wilkins, Cambridge, MA.
P.S. I am still searching for information about my great grandparents Susie Douthit Wilkins and John Bird Wilkins. If anyone reading this has any information about the Wilkins family in Farmington, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (or contact the Farmington Press for mail address.)