Museum honors early Blacks in Birmingham
By Lisa Brody
The Birmingham Museum has done extensive research into three early African American families who made their home in the area in the late 19th century, determining George Taylor, who journeyed north on the Underground Railroad to Oakland County, met his wife and eventually settled in Birmingham, and has created a special series of online articles honoring them and two other families in connection with Black History Month.
The research into the formerly enslaved Taylors led museum researchers to look into a bigger story of early African Americans in Birmingham, museum director Leslie Pielak said.
“We had more questions,” said Pielack. “What drew George Taylor to Oakland County in the first place? Did Eliza find her mother, and why and when had she come to Royal Oak? Were there other family members in the area? What became of the Taylors’ adopted daughter after their deaths? In essence, she said, what is the back-story, and how do George and Eliza Taylor fit into the big picture?”
She said when George Taylor fled enslavement in Kentucky in 1850, he made the harrowing journey north on the Underground Railroad route to Oakland County. He worked as a laborer on area farms until after the Civil War, when he met and married his wife Eliza. She had come to Royal Oak seeking her biological mother, from whom she had been separated as a child while still enslaved in Kentucky. By 1893, the Taylors were able to purchase a lot and build a home in the village of Birmingham.
“George was proud that they were the first African Americans to own and pay property taxes here, and the couple was active in the United Presbyterian Church (now Birmingham’s First Presbyterian Church). When they died six months apart in 1901 and 1902, they were mourned by the town and buried in Greenwood Cemetery,” Pielak explained.
“It turns out that the Taylors were at a kind of confluence of three important African American families in the area, and that their story is the tip of an iceberg of Black history previously unknown outside the families themselves. Our mission is to tell Birmingham’s story,” said Pielack. “And that includes the entire community, and the whole story, if we can discover it.”
To recognize Black History Month, the Birmingham Museum created a special series of online articles on the three families and their connection to Birmingham history. The series will be published on the museum’s website at bhamgov.org/history/museum/ throughout the month of February and will become a permanent part of its online educational materials. The museum is also planning related video content in the near future to share over its virtual platforms.