During my early years, I was blessed with three grandfathers – my mother’s father, my dad’s father and his stepfather. Uril Hollis was my step-grandfather and the grandpa I got to see most when we’d spend the weekend with he and my grandmother in Hamtramck, Michigan.
I didn’t know much about Grandpa Hollis except that his full name was Franklin Uril Hollis, he was born in Mississippi and he didn’t have any children. I knew he was smart – an engineer of sorts at the Music Hall in Detroit. And I knew he had two things he loved to do – hunt and “tinker” (as Gram called it) in his basement workshop.
My grandmother was Grandpa Hollis’s third wife and best friends with his deceased second wife, Ethel. My grandmother told me the story that some respectable time after Ethel’s death, Grandpa asked if Gram if she wanted to get married. She said “yes” if he would get some new teeth. He did – and they did. They were a loving couple until he died. And to this day, I still remember the pair of his and hers dentures sitting in two glasses of water on the bathroom sink.
Grandpa Hollis was a man with big bushy eyebrows and a solemn demeanor. He was a man of very few words but I always got the impression he liked having us grandkids around even though he never said much. Also he had a special ritual when it was time for us to go home after our weekend visits.
As my parents would arrive to pick us up, Grandpa Hollis would give a wry little smile and slightly nod his head in the direction of his and Gram’s bedroom. Both my sister and I knew what that meant and we’d race into room to Grandpa’s side of the bed where there was big glass jar on the floor filled with King Leo jumbo peppermint sticks.
Now it’s hard to tell from the picture, but these peppermint sticks were huge. Probably the size of my skinny little girl arm back then. And I loved them!
I’m sure my mother cringed every time she saw us walk out with candy that could take out at least a tooth or two. But to me, it was an extra-special gift from Grandpa Hollis who clearly knew the way to my little girl heart.
Grandpa was gone by the time I was 10. Gram died many years later at age 97. When we were going through her things after she died, we found something belonging to Grandpa Hollis. A very old, worn Bible. I thought it was his but now that I look closer, the Bible appears to have belonged to one of his parents.
What was interesting is that inside the pages we discovered a little slip of paper (that unfortunately, I don’t have to share here). I’m not sure if the note was sent to Grandpa Hollis or his father but it was an ominous warning –
Get out of town tonight. KKK
Now I’m no expert on how the Ku Klux Klan operated, but I’m guessing they didn’t typically give Black people advance warning that they were a target.
What I remember hearing is that Grandpa Hollis had been harassed by a White man in his town and killed him. Although people apparently knew Grandpa acted in self-defense, he still had to leave town.
The genealogist in me couldn’t resist digging around a little to see what I could uncover about this story and Grandpa Hollis’s early years, even though he wasn’t a direct ancestor of mine. For someone who might be researching this particular line of the Hollis family from Mississippi, here’s what I found:
- Grandpa Hollis was born on July 21, 1897. His full name was Uril Franklin Hollis but that name often got misspelled and turned around. [Hollis Bible; U.S. Draft Registration for Uril Hollis in WWI]
- Uril’s father was Frank H. Hollis who was born August 27, 1855 in Lamar County, Alabama. Frank’s parents were Friday Hollis and Caroline Griffin. [Hollis Bible] According to Uril’s draft registration for WWI, his father was born in Sulligent, Alabama.
- Uril’s mother was Laura Jane Wise born May 21, 1873 in Monroe County Mississippi. She was the daughter of Mariah Wise but there’s only a scribble of some kind where her father’s name should be in the family bible. Laura is listed as Mulatto in some of the census records.
- Just so you know Lamar County, Alabama and Monroe County, Mississippi are right next to one another on the Alabama/Mississippi state line.
- In the 1900 United States census, Uril is listed as “Franklin W. Hollis”, 2-year-old Black child living with his parents in Marman Springs, Monroe County, Mississippi. His birthdate was July, 1897.
- By the 1910 United States census, Uril is listed as 12 years old, Mulatto and living with his parents in Gattman, Monroe County, Mississippi.
- In the 1920 United States census, Uril Hollis is shown as a 22-year-old Mulatto man living with his wife, Mollie L. Hollis age 19 who was born in Alabama. Uril is renting his house in Gattman and lives next door to his father, Frank Hollis. Uril could read and write and was employed as a farmer.
- Between the 1920 and 1930 censuses, Uril’s wife, Mollie likely died.
- During the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was on a mission to increase its ranks and influence. And then race relations in Mississippi went from bad to worse during and after the catastrophic flooding of the Mississippi River in 1927.
- In the Bible is this handwritten entry: “Husband – Frank Hollis – August 24, 1929”. [Hollis Bible]. Most of the family entries are in pencil and in a neat and legible handwriting belonging to the same person who recorded Frank’s death and referred to him as “husband”.
- My theory is that the Hollis Bible actually belonged to Uril’s mother, Laura and she gave it to him when he left Mississippi to move North. The timing would have been after his father’s death in August 1929 and before the 1930 census was taken on April 23, 1930 that shows Uril living in Michigan. Specifically, he was in Hamtramck, Michigan where he and a subsequent wife, Ethel owned a home and he was employed as an auto factory worker. Ethel was born in Tennessee.
- I don’t know why he left Mississippi but the 1920s were a time of massive migration of Blacks from Mississippi to the North.
I haven’t found any reference to any murder in Gattman that involved Uril Hollis. So the big question is still out there about the note from the KKK and if it was meant for Grandpa Hollis. If you happen to take up this question as part of your family research on the Hollis family, please let me know if you find the answer. I’d love to know.