Our Diverse Heritage: Marion’s Black History Part 9

Celebrating Black History Month in Marion County

Part 9: Nadine Williams Ezelle

Fairmont lost a great historian with the passing of Mrs. Nadine Williams Ezelle in May 2022. She was born in Fairmont in 1926, daughter of John Barker Williams and Lettie Edward Williams. Nadine was the youngest of five. I was in high school with two of her children and admired her as a community leader for many years. When I was researching the story of Aunt Hat, I discovered Alfred’s story as well. I contacted Mrs. Ezelle about Harriet Wilson, whom she remembered. Mrs. Ezelle explained that her father established Evergreen Cemetery in the 1930s for the black community to have a burial ground that would be a well-maintained memorial park.

When I asked her about Harriet Wilson, whose death certificate noted burial at Evergreen, she said “Oh, we have her.” Nadine was about 14 years old and remembered Harriet Wilson Whitely. She stated she would have her son Lambert mark the grave for us as she agreed that placing a raising funds to place a memorial marker (on her unmarked grave) would be proper. She agreed that by doing this, the intent was not to memorialize the institution of slavery, but to tell the story of someone who experienced it in her early life. “She was the last one who knew it first hand,” Mrs. Ezelle said. “We need to keep these stories in front of our young people.”

Many times she helped me during our work to save Woodlawn Cemetery. Mrs. Ezelle knew about the old city cemetery that adjoined the Woodlawn property from Spring Street. She described burials there. She knew their stories including two men who served in the Black Union Army of the Civil War.

With the help of the Woman’s Club of Fairmont, we ended up placing markers on graves of both Mary Crews (long time housekeeper for Thomas and Annie Fleming) and Harriet Wilson Whitely, who lived a block over in the Clark mansion.

Mrs. Ezelle was a high school student at Dunbar when Aunt Hat died, and she remembered all the local support for her burial, the newspaper stories, and all the people who went to the funeral home. She connected me with “Aunt Hat” and made her come to life.

Following high school, she attended Howard University in Washington, DC. She married William Taft Ezelle and reared six children.

She was active in the community and local politics. She ran for the board of education at a time where few women, and certainly few black women, would do this.

In her later years, mobility was a problem, but we spoke often. I tried to remember to send her Christmas cards. Her words were always supportive and kind when I talked about projects or local research. I often suggested that someone record her stories, as she knew the real history of the black community. I am saddened that it never happened due to COVID. And I’m sorry I didn’t figure out how to do it myself.

Evergreen Cemetery is a key to our local history, and telling stories of those who rest there and in other locations is important. The vision for John Williams’s cemetery is strong today.

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