Brinase Merritt, a native Clevelander who has been writing the life story of her grandmother, a member of the Tuskegee Midwives, will finally see their contributions recognized in the nation's capital.
In a four-month exhibit opening on Nov 14, The Smithsonian Institute and the Anacostia Museum wil pay tribute to African-American midwives from 1800 to the present. The exhibit will run through April 2006.
Merritt's maternal grandmother, Elvira Barrow Martin (Ms. Dump) will be one of the featured midwives who was delivering babies from the early 1920s through 1950s in Tuskegee's Macon County. The Merritt family will allow The Smithsonian to showcase Elvira's original birth books along with other artifacts it has belonging to her.
"This has been a long seven-year run, a journey that seems to be finally paying off," said Merritt. "This is a dream come true for me for I have always believed that there was a story to be told about my grandmother's life.
A southern woman born in the year of 1884, the third eldest child and eldest daughter born to Calvin Barrow and Annie (Sistrunk) Barrow, she was one of seven children. Merritt's great-great-grandfather, Thornon Barrow, and his wife, Eliza, were born during the height of slavery, in 1838, and were probably slaves. Calvin Barrow was born in the year 1855, 10 years before The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln.
The African-American Midwife Exhibit will chronicle the lives of these of these courageous women who stood the test of time during some of the worst of times for African Americans. Like Elvira Barrow Martin, they provided a much needed service, delivering babies all over counties throughout the United States, especially in Macon and Wilcox counties in Alabama.
At the age of 82, Merritt's mother, Eva L. Merritt, the only living child of Elvira Barrow Martin and Philip Martin's 10 children, has managed to share some of the trails and triumphs of being born and raised in the South during turbulent times. Elvira Barrow Martin not only delivered babies in and around Macon County, she also delivered over 20 of her own grandchildren, including Merritt's eldest sister and two great-grandchildren.
"Although there are records of most of these births, unfortunately, some have become lost or misplaced over the years," said Merritt. "However, we have managed to maintain some of our heritage and legacy to be proud of, along with other significant and impressive documentation of our heritage."
Merritt says that she is in the final stages of completing her book on her grandmother's life story. Hopefully, she says, before the exhibit closes in April of next year, she will return to Washington for my very first book signing for "I Ain't Noways Tired: Grandma's Hands," the story of her Tuskegee Midwife grandmother.
"I look forward to sharing her story," Merritt said, "but also taking her exhibit and sharing her story on a national tour throughout the United States with God's permission."
Merritt says she is grateful to the Smithsonian and the Anacostia Museum and the many others who have deemed it necessary to honor the great women for their outstanding contribution to society and to the midwifery medical field.
Some of the surnames mentioned in Elvira Barrow Martin's birth book are: Barrow, Martin, Howard, Ligon, Campbell, Stackley, Webb, Johnson, Parker, Blue, Harris, Harrison, Whitlow, Moore, Persall, Sullin, Bryant, Menefee, Hugheley, Wesley, Hart, Minnifield, Crawford, Thomas, Spark, Smith, Roberson, Story, Stafford, Young, Gamble, Wright, Ellington, Person, Williams, Pace, Whitehead, Carter, Wilson, Pruett, Willis, Boyd, Hall, Thompson, Harvey, Peterson, Germany, Crayton, Borom, Nolen, Reynolds, Grady, Calloway, Stinson, Sullivan, Buchanan and host of others born in Tuskegee.
Anyone with any information who would like to share it with Merritt about Barrow Martin delivering a child, either themselves or someone they know, contact Merritt at firstname.lastname@example.org or her mother, Eva (Doll) Merritt, at (216) 921-7433.
Elvira Story - Part 1
This article appeared in the Cleveland Call & Post, November 3, 2005-Page 5D