By Richard Gwynallen
Susie D. Allen
(1894 – 1990)
Relationship to Fawn: 2nd great aunt
I wrote about my great aunt Susie Dent Allen in a previous essay. Since then, I was in communication with some members of her church and a few more items have surfaced. The choir was named after her, and is still called The Susie Allen Choir. There is a photo and write-up of her that hangs in the church’s choir room, and they are sending me a copy. When I get it I will post it here.
In going through some of the church’s online scrapbook entries, I found a few items that included a photo of Aunt Susie, or other information that I thought was interesting. I also learned from the February 2005 church newsletter that Aunt Susie had served as the church clerk for many years.
First the photos:
In this 1961 photo Aunt Susie is being presented a letter of appreciation by a church official, James Washburn.
This 1958 photo is of particular interest to me because it includes Aunt Susie’s sister, and thus another aunt of mine, Fannie Bell Jones.
This 1956 photo has two of the church’s elders (one being Aunt Susie) conversing with two young members of the choir and other performances. The past and future of the church meeting in the present so to speak.
My memories of my Aunt Susie are all about her welcoming us into her house for one of her teas. So, this photo of her welcoming arrivals is one of my favorites as it seems to represent the hospitality that I recall.
And some articles of interest
The original United Church of Raleigh Aunt Susie had been part since settling in Raleigh was given up by the church in 1969 and torn down as the congregation moved to the suburbs.
In my last essay I noted that my aunt’s receptivity to the “new ideas and values” mentioned in the Spectator column (posted in that essay) of a changing south seemed consistent with her selection of church because her church is involved in arrange of social justice issues today.
That commitment to social change was evident throughout the newsletters I reviewed. Going through the newsletters I found articles throughout the years about social justice issues like farmer workers organizing and anti-segregation. This opinion piece spoke directly to that commitment.
This photo from 1961 shows the church’s integrated bible school in a state park. The site noted that the church was very involved in the integration of state parks. For transparency purposes, the site also noted that the dancers in the photo imitating Native Americans would today be considered inappropriate. We learn as we grow.
I was told that in addition to the choir and supporting various events, Aunt Susie was involved in the creation of the church’s Institute of Religion in the 1940s. The Institute was committed to the idea that religion could not remain aloof from critical issues of the day, and hosted cutting edge discussions as the presentation in 1963 by James Farmer, National Director of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), and organizer of the historic Freedom Rides of 1961.
Of course I might be just viewing this through my own political lens, but I feel a certain pride that my aunt lived a life so close to issues of social justice in an era when it would not have always been popular. It made me wonder if her family life in her youth imbedded those values in her or she came to them on her own as she entered the work world.