Revisiting the McMillans

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By , November 21, 2014 1:50 am

Ding, ding, ding. Little bells are going off in my head this morning. Don’t know why it has taken me so long to put this together. The clues have been there all along. Cousins in my generation will remember that our parents always told us that Papa’s father was a Mr. McMillan. Well, that was called into question by my research a long time ago and finally put to rest with DNA results that proved that Papa’s father was a Norris. But the McMillan connection was still nagging at me. There were white McMillans living nearby when Papa was a child and he farmed land owned by Lee McMillan. Papa also named his son Earl Lee after the middle names of Lee McMillan’s two sons, Emmet Earl and Edwin Lee. Why? Ding, ding, ding. He obviously had a close personal relationship with the man in addition to the business one.

This morning I was looking at the ancestors of Robert’s firstborn James Henry Norris’ wife, Susie Mixon. Susie was the daughter of Charley Mixon and Charley was the son of Sam Mixon. Well, there were a lot of Mixons in the area and a lot of Sams and Charlie Mixons so I was spending a little time sorting them out. I have known for a long time that In the 20-30 years following Emancipation when black folks were still trying to decide what they wanted their surname to be, that Susie’s grandfather Sam and one of her uncles, Jim, were sometimes recorded as Mixon in the census and sometimes as McMillan. Also, in 1880 when he was 19 years old, Robert lived with Jim Mixon/McMillan. After staring at these names over and over, I remembered two things: (1) our cousin C. George Mixon (actually a Dawson but his step-grandfather who raised him was a Mixon) told me once that Robert’s children were their own cousins (through the Mixons), and (2) when Dad and I visited Wilcox County in the late 90s, our guide Mr. Shaw told us that Robert could go behind the counter at the general store and help himself to whatever he wanted (Lee McMillan was a merchant on the 1910 census) and that whites treated Robert differently than other blacks because everyone knew that he was “related to the folks around here.” Hmmm.

So here’s my breakthrough this morning . . . . we know that Robert’s father was not a McMillan but what if his maternal GRANDFATHER was a Mr. McMillan! That’s right, what IF his MOTHER’s (who we know absolutely nothing about) father was a McMillan. So this is my homework this weekend (and my assistant researcher Arianna Cydney-Laurel Williams’s too) to find the connection between Robert’s mother – who must have died in childbirth or when he was very young – and the McMillans of Wilcox County, AL. Lesson learned: listen to the family stories. The facts might not be exactly right but there’s always a kernel of truth in there somewhere.

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