Browning Family involved in Harpers Ferry – Part 1
How well do you know your family’s history? Have you ever wanted to learn more? The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is here to help. The Browning family has a connection to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum through J. Lyle Browning, who formerly acted as the President of the Museum’s Board of Directors, but his family’s connection to Southern Ontario goes beyond his dedication to the Museum. Did you know the Browning family settled in Sandwich (Windsor), Ontario almost 150 years ago, and in an article discussing the family, entitled, “Meeting the Browning Family,” they are described as one of Canada’s “most distinguished” Black families? If you’ve ever wondered about the contributions of the Browning family make sure to keep reading.
Ever heard of Harpers Ferry or John Brown? On J. Lyle’s mother’s side of the family were members of the Richardson family, who were involved in the events of Harpers Ferry, which involved John Brown leading a small group, including a member of the Richardson family, in a raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The raid was an attempt to start an armed slave revolt in order to end the institution of slavery. The raid was unsuccessful, but what an honour it must be to have such an important connection to North American history. On J. Lyle Browning’s paternal side, his great grandfather escaped enslavement in the United States and came to Canada, where he met and married a Miss Duval. A 1932 land title from the museum’s collection also tells us that James Clinton Browning, the grandfather of J. Lyle Browning, lived in the Township of Chatham, County of Kent. The son of James Clinton Browning was Joseph Browning, J. Lyle Browning’s father, who married Gladys Richardson, whose family we just discussed at Harpers Ferry. Joseph and his family lived on Assumption Street in Windsor and he was for many years a foreman for the City of Windsor. He left that job to become Windsor’s leading Black barber. Anyone have memories of going to Joseph’s barbershop in Windsor? In “Meet the Browning Family,” Joseph says, “As his children grew up, he was more and more impressed with the necessity of giving each of them a better- than-average education, in a world that knew and recognized distinct barriers of color. That he was successful, with the kind and careful assistance of his wife, is evidenced by the fact that of five Browning children, all hold good positions, and two of them hold responsibilities which no other Negro in Canada has ever attained.” Stayed tuned for more next week.
Browning Family involved in Harpers Ferry – Part 2
The children spoken of in this 1951 article are Delores, Lorraine, Velma, Ernest, and J. Lyle. Delores, the youngest, graduated with a business degree and was a secretary at Sterling Automotive Products, later working for the Unemployment Insurance Commission. She also married Roland Henderson. Lorraine, at the time of the article (1951), was one of only a few Black dental laboratory technicians in Canada, which was quite an accomplishment. She previously worked for Dr. Roy Perry, a Windsor dentist, but quickly realized her talents as a laboratory technician. Velma attended Patterson Collegiate and the O’Neill Business College, and was the assistant manager of Zinke’s Shoe Store on Griswold Street in Detroit. Does that store sound familiar to any of our readers? She also married a war hero, Thomas Vincent, who was killed in action during WWII. Velma was also an active club woman, who was the president of the Amstead Club and the president of the Can-American Club. She was pretty active in the community.
Ernest, the oldest of the Browning children, was a graduate of the Windsor Vocational School and was employed with the City of Windsor. In a Windsor Star article, “Ernie recalls the good times,” it states that Ernie’s “45-year tenure with the city is thought the longest on record.” Forty-five years. Wow! He started his career with the City of Windsor in February 1935, collecting garbage with a horse-drawn wagon. The article also says that “Before he retired last March, he had done ‘just about every … job imaginable’ with the public works department … He moved lawns, drove trucks, swept streets and retired a ‘building maintenance’ worker – a jack-of-all-trades.” He also headed up a company that specialized in precision grinding and was the only African Canadian doing this work in Canada in the 1950s. Ernest’s company held contracts with Windsor hospitals and was responsible for keeping surgical instruments razor sharp. There’s still more to come next week in part 3 of the Browning Family History.