Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Zenia Blasingame

Zenia Blasingame

If you really want to learn about Zenia, you will be curious about her father and mother, and what their lives were like; and where Zenia was born, what her childhood was like, and how she came to be married to Charles; all those things that neighbors are curious about, but does it matter? Is it not enough that Zenia was strong willed and beautiful, that she and her husband raised and educated their children, and that for the most part, though there was tragedy and difficulty, that their lives were well spent and happy?
Her name was Zenia. From a photograph, she looks to be a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, and though it is hard to be certain, and it is hard to be certain of many things, she wears rings on one or two fingers on her right hand but none on the left hand. She wears a narrow dark dress popular for the late 1880's with a lace collar about he neck and a thin rope at the waist. Her dark and wavy shoulder-length hair is parted in the middle, and pulled back. The photograph does not tell us if the color is black or brown. She wears a pair of simple earrings.  The hint of a smile show on her lips, a Mona Lisa smile with an air of mystery.

But the most remarkable feature on her face are her piercing dark eyes which gaze directly into the camera, as if to say, "Stop staring."

Zenia Blasingame Pearson

Blassingame, Blasingame, Blasengame

There are multiple spellings of the Blasingame name. I have found nothing of her before this photograph. She married General Charles Lafayette Pearson. That I know about her. I do know that several of her children were educated at Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia. I do know that several sons went to Manhattan, Kansas to attend the Kansas State Agricultural College. One son Nevels, after graduating from Kansas State, taught at Michigan Agricultural College (Michigan State) in Lansing. And that her youngest son Varlourd joined the Army in Manhattan when the First World War broke out. Another son Bert played eight years for the Chicago Bears.

In the year 2014, while looking for Pearson headstones in a cemetery near Dadeville, Alabama, I was told by a white gentleman that Charles and Zenia sent their children north to be educated.

What does one make of this?

Unspoken words

My grandfather James Madison Pearson was born in Alabama in 1894 or 1896. (Discrepancies often appear in research. The story I heard was that he fibbed on his age in order to enlist in the army. To his grandchildren, he was known as Daddy Matt. I can still hear in my mind my grandmother addressing him as Matt, and I suppose that is where we picked up the habit.).

If Daddy Matt spoke about his aunt Zenia, it was to others not me. Nor did he speak of Varlourd and that seems curious to me*, but then Daddy Matt spoke little of his family. He spoke fondly of his days on the family farm, eating watermelon, and playing Indians with his cousins in the forests and along the river bank, but that is it.

*Sergeant Varlourd (Varlaurd) Pearson was killed in action on September 28th, 1918 and is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. He posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross. My grandfather fought in the same battle, but in different units. One does not even know if the two of them were aware of this.

Varlourd (Varlaurd) Pearson was two or four years younger than my grandfather. The discrepancy arises because my grandfather lied to enlist in the service and serve in the Philippines.


  1. According to a trove of documents found in a hidden compartment of Nevels' attic after his death, Zenia was colored. That's hard to see looking at her photo, but several of her children are a lot darker than she. One of Nevels' daughters had her DNA tested and came out about 10% sub-saharan African and 0% Native American.

  2. Thank you.

    I find it strange and disturbing that when I went back to Alabama several years ago, this was still a topic of conversation. Passing for white was well-known phrase that made people choose ethnicity when it shouldn't matter.