Upstairs I’m reading Zora Neale Hurston's 'Their Eyes Were Watching God', a novel and the downstairs book is 'Black Cloud, The Great Hurricane of 1928' by Elliot Klienberg. Both Florida natives, Hurston's book was published in 1937 and Kleinberg's in 2003. Hurston's fictional account of what happened to the Black folks around Florida's Lake Okeechobee mirrors Kleinberg's documentary reporting of the events surrounding the devastating hurricane. The two books are definitely enhancing my understanding of this chapter in American history. There's another reason for me reading these books.
My grandfather, Jack Hancock, perished in this hurricane of 1928.
His story begins at Williston, Barnwell county, South Carolina with his birth in 1880. A sharecropper, he and his family suffered under the boot of the Jim Crow south where circumstances undoubtedly forced him to remove his family to New York in the early 1920's.
One of his daughters, my Aunt Sayde, was thrown into a holding pen with drunks and criminals, for staring at a dress in a for-whites-only shop window. Armed with revolvers, her father and uncles shot her out of that pen.
One of his sons, my Uncle Robert, struck his white teacher and had to leave Williston immediately.
One of his brothers, my Grand Uncle Jim, was murdered.
Another brother, my Grand Uncle Tink, was a bootlegger and constantly involved in shootouts.
Uncle Robert ended up in Buffalo, New York and then Rochester where he summoned his family to join him. Grandfather Jack and Grandma Willa along with the older children, Uncle Leonard and Aunt Sayde went north. My mother, Pearle, and Uncle George had to stay behind with their Uncle Tink until they were called for. They were the youngest.
According to family oral history, once somewhat settled, Jack went back down South to Florida to make some money building cabanas during the real estate boom. That's when he met up with the Great Hurricane of 1928. The whites were buried in pine boxes and the blacks were gathered into large piles - and burned.
There's no gravesite or headstone for my grandfather, Jack Hancock.