‘Part of the Flow’
Tracing a Black Family’s Roots in St. Charles
By Susan Skowron (2000)
Yvonne Almo presses back the curled edges of the sepia-colored and black-and-white photographs to take a closer look at the images.
Here is one of her grandmother, Ida.
“Ida was an enterprising woman,” Almo says. “Very frugal.” She never threw anything out. She would sweep the linoleum floors of the house, and if she found any hairpins in the dustbin, she would put them back in her collection.
“Could you imagine having your original set of hairpins?” asks Almo.
Ida always had some money stashed away in some place that only she knew. When Almo’s grandfather, Randall Luckett, wanted to trade his old, green car for a big 1937 Buick with jump seats and extra whitewall tires along the sides, Ida was able to help him meet the $2,700 price tag.
“Now this is Leroy. Isn’t he handsome,” Almo comments, as she adds his photo to the “looked at” pile.
And here is William Luckett, looking dapper in a pin-striped suit. William was Almo’s father. He brought her back from Chicago to St. Charles, his original home, when she was four. The city’s population then was about 5,000. He thought that it was important that she should grow up in St. Charles, with him and his parents, and learn about her roots.
Almo’s roots in St. Charles go way back to 1865. That is when Joanna Garner, an escaped slave, came to St. Charles on her way from Missouri to Canada. At the time, St. Charles was known as a great abolitionist town. While she was here the Civil War came to an end, and Joanna was granted property to homestead.
A couple of generations later, Ida came along and married Randall, Almo’s grandfather. In 1894, he built the house that Almo grew up in and now lives in.
Growing up in St. Charles had its good times and its bad times for Almo. She was born in 1927, when the city hall building and the Arcada were new. She can remember taking a shortcut through a wooded path behind the Manor Restaurant, which was considerably smaller and built like a log cabin.
One of her fondest memories was when black entertainers came to stay at the house. Even though they would play throughout the Fox Valley, blacks were not welcomed in the hotels back then, Almo says. So Ida would put them up for the night. And sometimes they would play for us, she says.
However, being the only black in her high school graduating class was not easy for Almo. While her peers were pairing off, Almo often was left by herself.
Now Almo looks around the house and appreciates the treasures she has inherited. Although many of those who came before her are dead, reminders of them are still around.
The beautiful roll top desk in the corner that belonged to her grandfather, the half-finished mural her father painted on the dining room wall, an 1851 grandfather clock with a copper face that has been in the family for years. It keeps good time, Almo says.
Almo also has inherited her father’s love of art and antiques. She, like her father, attended the Art Institute of Chicago. Both of their works grace the walls of the house.
William also restored antiques and art treasures for about 35 years, and now Almo buys and sells antiques and vintage dresses at flea markets on the weekends. She also keeps track of the old family documents. When a family never moves from a house, not many things get thrown out, Almo says.
These documents include an 1885 St. Charles census; a property tax bill for $18.01 dating from 1900; a letter from Col. Edward Baker thanking her father for restoring one of his paintings; a little brown book that has information on the family’s 1918 Maxwell touring car.
“Now I’m part of the flow,” Almo says.
And then Almo’s story and the stories of all those who came before her, will be passed on from her daughter to her grandson – and then on.
Yvonne Luckett Almo passed away in Chicago, Illinois on March 16, 2009.