“When you know your name, you should hang on to it, for unless it is noted down and remembered, it will die when you do.” — Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Like American history, the American family is rife with “hidden figures” — wayward daughters banished to boarding schools for their imprudence, unplanned babies raised as nephews rather than sons, missing fathers rumored to be on exotic military deployments. In a country where Thomas Jefferson’s indiscretions with Sally Hemmings weren’t publicized for 300 years and Strom Thurman’s black daughter was denied her true name and birthright for 78 years, it’s no surprise that some of the most pervasive figures were “hidden figures.”
The auntie with light skin and wavy hair who moved up north, married a white man, and never looked back…The third cousins with gray eyes and straight noses who never come to family reunions… The white folks across town with your same last name who your granny always claimed were family…
Although Brie’s father, William Murphy Malloy, also known as Willie and W.M. — or “Daddy,” as he was affectionately called by his progeny — was born a year after the Emancipation Proclamation, his family was in no need of the elusive 40 acres and a mule promised by General Sherman that same year. His father, a white man with the name of Daniel Murdock whose family lineage dated all the way back to Queen Elizabeth while his family surname shifted from O Malley to Malley to Molloy in Richmond and Scotland County in Laurinburg, NC, owned acres of land, a cotton mill, a textile business, farms, and houses most of which he built by hand.
His mother, the “mulatto” daughter of a Scottish immigrant and his North African seamstress, was raised in an isolated community created by her father to protect her from the dangers of racism. While the men were at war, she held down the home front and when they returned battered and bruised physically and mentally — the work continued. Through the work she maintained the wealth and luxury given to her. Daddy inherited his maternal grandfather’s surname and grew up in comparative luxury.
Daddy never claimed to be white, a tall, fair-skinned man with straight hair and a broad, handsome face, his complexion looked no different than the white residents of Scotland County, North Carolina. Black people knew he was black, but white people assumed he was one of them, and “passing” enabled him access to achievements forbidden to blacks of that era. As a “white” man, for example, “white” Daddy was able to study medicine and become a doctor just like his white half-brothers. Eventually his ethnic heritage was discovered, and he stopped practicing, but by then “black” Daddy was able to invest in several lucrative businesses which allowed him to own a Model T ford, co-own a textile company that sold weaving yarn and tire fabric to top companies, wear fine clothing, buy a luxurious home, own a nightclub, build a church, build homes for the community, and send all of his children to medical and nursing schools. His businesses provided jobs to the community — both white and black — and his home provided respite to celebrities like tennis star Nathaniel Jackson and musician Dizzy Gillespie.
Brie, the youngest of eight, was born into the wealth and luxury of the Malloy empire. At that time, the family consisted of five African American doctors, business owners, and the deeds to over six thousand acres of land. Alongside the men were Daddy’s daughters, tough women who were nurses, teachers and seamstress. The women held down the home while working. Everyone in the family had to know how to sew and fashion came first, clothes and hair had to reflect their status at all times. Brie was many shades darker then Daddy who could go to the front doors of businesses while he had to go to the back, due to the brown complexion of his skin.
When his father sent him around to collect money and handle business, it became more evident to the town that this was a black family. What followed was a story that became common among thriving black families in the south after Reconstruction: Their homes and businesses were burned down, and they were forced to sell their businesses. At one point Daddy was even forced to leave Laurinburg but eventually returned and rebuilt his empire. This separation by complexion also showed itself inside the family. When Brie was brought to his white grandparents’ house, he was chased off the property with a pitch fork by a relative and forced to hide in the former slave quarters. Brie, as the youngest, took over the operations of many of the businesses but was the only son to grow up and not become a doctor from a fear of blood developed while fighting World War II.
With so many books and films on slavery and sharecroppers and survival in our compass, it is important that we also know the stories of triumph. The African American Malloy doctors are no longer with us but made huge strides in medicine from assisting Dr. Charles Drew in discovering the blood bank at Howard University to performing the first successful omphalocele surgery (removing and reinserting intestines) for a toddler. Brie was the architect of the sequence of U.S. zip codes and worked as executive editor for The Postmaster General and two congressmen for many years editing the Postal Manual.
Like Black Wall Street in Alabama, these stories were buried under the gravel from burned down houses, sold land, and destroyed businesses — but we must uncover this part of the legacy to inspire the next. A lack of acknowledgment has created a thirst for knowing these triumphs as seen in the success of the film Hidden Figures and the always-sold-out National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Laurinburg today is barely recognizable from what it used to be with families such as the Malloys, prosperous businesses, and schools sanctioned by Booker T. Washington, but there is still a strong spirit in the air. The Malloy name is still instilled in the community with The Malloy house acknowledged as a historic home, The Malloy library in Winston Salem. Malloy streets, and a community named Malloy Woods. Through the trending DNA genealogy tests and searching our ancestry, we can discover our history and bloodline which may shock the hell out of us but give way to us knowing who we are and why we are where we are today, which is what I have done with my daughter LeeAnet. In our unveiling of our family story, we hope to spark inspiration by bringing their thrilling stories back to life in television, film and books.