Thursday evening at Wayne County Historical Society's Annual Meeting, Enfys McMurry gave highlights from her latest book, Centerville A Mid*American Saga. Although the book is the story of Centerville, Iowa and its inhabitants from its founding up through World War II, there are some Wayne County connections.
One of the connections that Enfys highlighted in her speech Thursday evening and in her book, is of George Allen, an African-American gentleman who lived and worked and is buried in Wayne County.
In Chapter 26 entitled Centerville's African Americans, McMurry wrote about the "earliest permanent County residents of African descent". The first was a child, Frank Wells, who was brought from Texas to Appanoose County.
According to McMurry's book, "The second permanent resident was also a boy brought north from the South. He was unsure of his age, estimated to be six, but sure of his name---George---and that of his family's owner, Mr. Allen. George Allen became his name. For the slaves of Jackson, Mississippi, emancipation reached them five months late. In the melee following that city's fall in May 1863, in the chaos of slave fleeing owners and jostling and wounded soldiers making for the river, George became separated and lost from his parents.
Appanoose County's Dr. Nathan Udell, an early Democrat but a convert to Republicanism and then a surgeon with Iowa's Seventeenth Infantry, found him crying and brought him to Centerville. George was passed on to several local families before being raised by John Conger, one of the County's earliest abolitionists. When Conger moved west into neighboring Wayne County, George went with him. Always hardworking and well-liked, George appears in a photograph, presented to the Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County by Mose Sager of Seymour, with his white friends sitting at the front of a porch in full sunshine. George stands alone behind them..."
In this photo from the Prairie Trails Museum, the caption reads:
A GROUP OF FRIENDS
Clyde Greenlee, Vanch Nelson, Ed Hart, Wm. Miles, Bertha Harper, Floy Freeland, Stella Mardis, Eva Tedford, Clarence Cark, Charles Miles, Bert Miller, and N----- George
According to a story published on June 14, 1934 in Centerville's Daily Iowegian and Citizen newspaper, "George Allen began farming for himself on the Jerry Evans farm 3 miles north of Seymour, Iowa. From here he farmed a few years on the Lew Donald farm northeast of Promise City, Iowa, then rented the Davis farm near-by and continued farming here until about 1921. Affliction overtook this generous colored man. He then made his home at the Wayne county poor farm. Here he was made superintendent over the gardens and truck patches, and made his time self-paying to the taxpayers of his county.
Geo. Allen passed out of life in February, 1934, and his body was layed [sic] to rest at his request, in the Promise City cemetery, along with the white people who had passed on before, to the unknown world."
It was reported in September of 1960, that a group of Promise City women collected money to buy and place a stone at George Allen's grave, nearly 27 years after his interment in that cemetery.