CORNELIUS — John Connor was a respected African-American property owner, farmer and businessman, whose legacy lives on in his community and through his bountiful family.
During the standing-room-only Cornelius Black History Month celebration Feb. 22 at town hall, Michael Connor presented the history of his grandfather, whose street namesake is part of The Peninsula. Joining him, were family members from multiple generations, including John Connor’s sister, Mildred Morey, who at 103 is the only one of the 21 children of Cheesman Monroe Connor still alive. Morey was given resounding applause as she stood from the front row at Saturday’s event as were each of the relatives of John Connor, including some of his 14 children down to his great-great grandchildren present.
Family is a big deal to the Connor family. They used to hold reunions under an old oak tree, which is no longer there.
“We were a close-knit family,” said Deborah Mingo, who's related to Cheesman Connor’s first wife. “We would go to the Connor reunions by the lake. It was a pleasure meeting the Connors and seeing them and getting to know many members of the family.”
Seeing so many relatives come to the event, intermingled with community members and John Connor Road residents was a big deal for attendees.
“I enjoyed seeing people, some that I knew, some that I don’t," said attendee and Connor relative Michelene Quick. "It was very inspiring and uplifting,” She added it’s important for the family to know about “from whence they came” to pass on to their children.
Resident Ruby Houston attended the event having known the Connor family for a long time. They have a legacy that exists “with dignity,” she said. “Their family is rich and strong in their roots.”
In a video interview, John Connor Jr. remembers his father staying late in the evening at the cotton gin as cotton was a prominent area crop. White farmers often got priority and could skip the line. But John Connor Jr. remembers the manager saying, “’No, you can’t do John Connor like that.’ They stuck up for my father in many instances.”
John Connor Jr. also remembers another time his father wasn't treated fairly. Their cows once escaped and his neighbor made John Connor pay him to come over and get them back. Later when that neighbor's animals escaped, John Connor had his children bring the animals back as a favor. When the neighbor reluctantly asked what he had to pay, John Connor Jr. remembers his father telling him that it was no charge and that animals just don’t understand fences and boundaries. The neighbor later asked for forgiveness for the way he treated John Connor, but was told it wasn't necessary.
In addition to the presentation, the Connor family also brought in several family mementos, including pictures, notices of births and deaths, clothing and other items, still on display at the Cornelius Town Hall.
During the event, attendees joined together to sing “We Shall Overcome” and the “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Michael Connor also gave a performance of Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a Dream” speech, which moved some to tears and was met with a standing ovation.
The Smithville CommUNITY Coalition, which co-sponsored Saturday’s event with the Cornelius Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture department, was organized in 2011 to keep the history alive and improve the area formerly a historic black community known as Smithville. They help and support the area through a community center, job training and economic development, programming and housing.