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Writing my family history! What was life like for an African American Family – plus others!

Saturday, December 10th, 2022

by: Marceline Donaldson

This installment is about my great-grandfather – Rev. Dr. David Franklin Taylor. It gives you a small idea as to what his life was like. A coincidence that I married Rev. Dr. Robert Bennett? To have the time to look back on your life many years later, it looks a lot different than it did when living through those hard times and those exciting times and more.

This is the beginning of our documenting what racism and sexism was like for one racially, religiously, etc. mixed family. It has been slightly unbelievable that there could be any of us left.


Rev. Dr. David Franklin Taylor was my great-grandfather. I didn’t know him personally. He died before I was born. I do know him through many family stories. Some of these I will pass along to you and hope they have some impact on your life and help you to better understand one African American who had an impact on many, including the Episcopal Church. He, along, with the rest of our family, broke barriers. While that was helpful to many, it cost us our lives.

Rev. Taylor was born in Mobile Alabama March 31, 1869. He was part African American and part Black Feet Indian – and probably a few other such groups were in his background. His young years were very eventful.

His father was an elected official in Alabama until Reconstruction began to come to an end and the family was, quite literally, run out of town. His parents moved to Texas from Alabama when he was quite young. When I was young, my grandfather (Rev. Taylor’s son) told us many family stories about his family. Particularly, about his father. One that stands out and I remember with great pain still was how and why the family moved from Alabama to Texas. It is one of his family stories he did not want me to forget.

It was a story his father told him many times when he was young. According to my grandfather, Rev. Taylor wanted those stories to stay in the family memory because they would not be recorded elsewhere. My grandfather’s story about his father was that as many violent things began to happen across the United States and especially in Alabama, as reconstruction came to an end the family was tarred and feathered and put on the railroad tracks from which they walked to Texas.

With that beginning and into those experiences, Rev. Taylor lived most of his life. He married Capitola Summerville in Houston, Texas and they had three children – Frank Taylor, O. C. W. Taylor (who was my grandfather) and Olivia Taylor. O. C. W. stands for Orlando Capitol Ward Taylor. He was named for his mother – Capitola and for Bishop Ward. He and Bishop Ward were close friends all of their lives.

Rev. Taylor was sent to Philips University and Philips Seminary for school n what was then the Oklahoma Territory and later became Nevada. He received a doctorate in Theology in Nevada and was ordained into the Episcopal priesthood.

My grandfather (his son) went to Wiley College in Texas and went on to study for his masters’ degree at Columbia University, which back then was known to be a school with Episcopal roots. He also co-founded the Louisiana Weekly Newspaper with C. C. Dejoie, Sr. and worked with George Schuyler to put a strong foundation under the Pittsburgh Courier – which had its first office in New Orleans in our living room.

Frank Taylor, another son, became a Pullman Porter. He was a part of the Pullman Porter’s Union and that was one of the reasons the entire family spent their time between a society lifestyle and fighting for the establishment of unions. The connection between Frank Taylor, his brother – O. C. W. Taylor and the development of the Original Illinois Club in New Orleans – one of the older social clubs which introduced young women into the society as debutantes each year at its annual ball, benefitted from these connections.

Olivia Taylor, his daughter, taught school, married and moved to another state where she lived only a short time. Someone behind a gun killed her. That has been something that has stayed in our family as has the way the family first moved to Texas.

Rev. Taylor’s entire life was spent crossing boundaries from his inter-marriage, to his church, to the rest of his life. Rev. Taylor’s first love and commitment was to God and the Church. When he became rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans, LA., he moved the church from a mission to a parish church. When the family moved to New Orleans they lived in the rectory of St. Luke’s on Carrollton Street in New Orleans. His wife and daughter spent lots of time at the New Orleans Tennis Club, a rather exclusive white tennis club not far from their home. How that happened we do not know, but we have pictures of them in tennis outfits at the club.

One of Rev. Taylor’s close friends was Sam ZeMurray – founder of United Fruit. He was not the wealthy founder when he and my great-grandfather were friends, although that friendship continued through three generations. At that time Jews were about on the same level as blacks. Sam Zemurray was from a Jewish family who immigrated to the United States from Russia. They were quite poor, however, Sam ZeMurray had a strong entrepreneurial spirit. He started his business by going to the docks In New Oleans and picking up the bananas which were thrown away because they were ripe and could not be sold to the stores. Eventually, the workers on the ships that came into the port saved the rip bananas for him. He put the bananas in an ice cream-type push cart and sold them throughout the city.

Mr. ZeMurrays business began to grow. He brought people from Honduras to work with him. The people who came, had a very difficult time acclimating to the culture and therein was the core of the Taylor/Zemurray friendship.

My husband and I are in the process of writing a book entitled “A Tale of Two Families”, which will give more detail about the ZeMurray/Taylor friendship. In particular, it struck us that the two families relationship looked at from today into the past shows the influence they had on one another in ways not imagined. The ZeMurray family today has Episcopal Roots – which we trace to Rev. David Franklin Taylor. The Taylor family has Russian Jewish roots which can also be traced to those two families friendship. Rev. Taylor was an Episcopal/Anglican priest. The people Sam Zemurray brought from Honduras were Anglicans. Zemurray sent those having trouble to Rev. Taylor who worked with them to help them understand and live within the culture. They, of course, attended St. Luke’s Church which helped Rev. Taylor build his congregation. Without the work Rev. Dr. David Franklin Taylor did with Mr. Sam Zemurray we might not have had United Fruit.

Rev. Dr. Taylor also worked with the Frances Joseph Gaudet School. Frances Joseph-Gaudet was a family friend of the Taylors all of her years in New Orleans. She founded the school which was a school and orphanage in Gentilly which had strong connections to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Frances Joseph Gaudet was a woman who had a native American mother and a father who had been a slave. She is known as and was declared a “saint” by the Episcopal Church. The school/orphanage which she worked hard to create and grow was the orphanage in which Louis Armstrong was raised. My grandfather, O. C. W. Taylor, used to bicycle out to the orphanage and pick up Louis Armstrong and they would bike to the French Quarters and sit in back of the jazz clubs. Mr. Armstrong’s love of jazz was acute even back then. Rev. Taylor encouraged it and provided Louis Armstrong with as much support as he could. That forged a very strong relationship between my grandfather and Louis Armstrong for the rest of their lives.

When Rev. Dr. David Franklin Taylor reached the time he felt he should retire, he and his wife moved back to Texas and he pastored a church there. I heard stories about a Church he pastored in Galveston and another in Houston, Texas. He died in Houston, Harris Texas September 7, 1934. His wife moved back to New Orleans to live with her son and she died shortly thereafter.

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