Inspiring Stories from a Storied New Hampshire Family
In the summer of 1957, the Ward family moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Lee, New Hampshire to escape gang violence. It was an era when racial tensions were high and they were the first “colored family” in the area. Needless to say, over the years they encountered many interesting experiences and created a storied life. They also became respected members of the community, led by parents, Harold and Virginia Ward, a couple with strong convictions and compassion.
Harold, Michael Cameron Ward’s 94-year-old father, was hospitalized in the beginning of May 2015, with only weeks to live. On May 20th he made a request of his son: “Michael, I want you to write the stories of our existence. I want my great grandchildren to know where they came from.”
Then, as Michael sat beside his father’s bed on the 4th floor at Exeter Hospital, his father recounted stories of his life that had never been told before. If not captured, they would be lost forever. On June 9th, 2015 Harold died, and Michael has been fulfilling his father’s request ever since.
The Sketches of Lee collection is not just the tale of a family’s relocation in the summer of 1957 from Brooklyn, NY to Lee, NH. It’s also a chronicle of family life as the “Index of Integration” for Lee and other New Hampshire towns.
Volume 1 – A Colored Man in Exeter
This first volume, “A Colored Man in Exeter”, recounts some of Harold’s experiences in the Exeter, NH area from 1959 until 1975. During this time he often worked with people who had never spoken to or seen a “colored person” before. He became an ambassador for his race in an era where people were known for their deeds and not their bluster. Sometimes the challenge was overwhelming, but he and Virginia were equally relentless in disproving the existing stereotypes of the era… and they succeeded.
Volume 2 – The Colored Folks Ain’t Gonna Make It
“The Colored Folks Ain’t Gonna Make It” continues Michael Ward’s fulfillment of his father Harold’s dying request. It’s a window into a family’s existence as the “Index of Integration” in rural New Hampshire from the late ’50s until the present time. Michael’s recollections are powerful and precise. The events recounted span the full range of emotion and thought. They will make you laugh, cry, feel angry and thankful; sometimes all within the same story. But above all, his stories will make you reflect on the commonality of human experience.
The Sketches of Lee Collection
My family history represents tales of the diaspora; a Negro family’s 1957 migration from the bustling city streets of Brooklyn, New York to a dirt road in Lee, New Hampshire. These stories were transcribed after my father, Harold E. Ward, requested that I do so as he laid on his deathbed in the short days before he passed on June 9, 2015.
The Sketches of Lee Collection consists of 4 volumes. With the exception of “A Colored Man in Exeter”, the titles and delivery dates are tentative:
- “A Colored Man in Exeter” – 9/1/2017: A recounting of my father, Harold E. Ward’s geneaology and working life experiences in Exeter, NH.
- “The Colored Folks Ain’t Gonna Make It” – Stories of “normal life” as the only black family in Lee, N.H. and the surrounding area.
- “Big Hook Road” Fall of 2020: Tales of the road we lived on and some of the notable individuals on it.
- “Sweet Virginia” TBD: My mother, Virginia E. Ward’s biography. If Harold was the fisted glove, she was the steel petaled rose.