In the spirit of Black History month, I thought I’d share some African American firsts from my own family’s history. While these ancestors and distant relations may not have the stature of Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and other American black luminaries, in their own way, they paved the way for others to follow and set an example within the family. Their achievements echo down the generations to me and mine. They are certainly a source of inspiration to me.
So without further ado:
Arthur Oscar Rison Sheffey
Arthur Sheffey, son of Arthur Rison and Laura Sheffey, was born in Huntsville, AL in 10 June 1880.
Arthur was the first black pharmacist in Alabama and owned Sheffey Drugstore in Decatur.
The search is on for more information about Arthur, his education and his pharmaceutical career.
As the family works on building the Alabama Sheffey family tree, it’s currently believed his connection to the Virginian black Sheffey family comes through slave owner Lawrence Brengler Sheffey, who left Virginia with his slaves to settle in Alabama.
Daniel Sheffey, son of former slaves Daniel Sheffey and Jane A. White, was born in Wytheville, VA in 1884.
My great-uncle Dan was known as the “colored” foot doctor in Rocky Mount, Franklin Co, VA. Because of his pale complexion, he was the only colored merchant to have a downtown office. While only saw white patients in his office, he would go home in the evening, eat supper, and see black patients in his kitchen. Dan would accept payment in the form of eggs, milk, food, etc if the patients didn’t have any money. Dan was also the choir director for the black 1st Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, VA, where he was affectionately known as “Danny Boy” by the residents in the town.
Major General Fred C. Sheffey, Jr.
Major General Fred C. Sheffey, Jr., a descendent of Virginia slaves Samuel Sheffey and Hester (or Esther) Bates, was born in McKeesport, PA on 27 August 1928 to Frederick Clifton Sheffey, Sr. and Jane A. White (not the same Jane A. Sheffey who was the mother of Daniel Sheffey).
He received a BS degree in Economics from Central State University, Wilberforce Ohio in 1950. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Infantry after his graduation as a Distinguished Military Graduate from the ROTC program. His higher education achievements include an MBA from Ohio State University, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University, and he is a graduate of the National War College.
General Sheffey’s command experience includes three combat tours: the first in Korea with the 25th Infantry Division as an Infantry company commander (1950); Battalion Commander of the 266th Quartermaster Battalion in Vietnam (1966); and command of the 54th General Support Group in Vietnam (1971). While in Korea, he was wounded in a battle documented in the 1953 book, “Back Down the Ridge”, by W.L. White.
On 29 September 1977, General Sheffey became the first African-American officer to command Fort Lee, the Quartermaster Training Command, and the Quartermaster School.
Among General Sheffey’s numerous contributions to the Quartermaster Corps are his creation and implementation of Armywide training strategies for supply storage, distribution, maintenance and accountability. As the Director of Financial Management, he was responsible for programming, budgeting and justifying the Army’s logistical budget of over $5 billion dollars annually to both the Pentagon and Congress. Finally, as the Commander of Fort Lee, he planned and implemented many programs that enhanced the welfare and morale of service members and their family members.
General Sheffey’s awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal , the Legion of Merit (with two Oak Leaf Clusters), the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster), and the Purple Heart. He also earned the Combat Infantry Badge.
Their legacy continues among later generations. My cousin Dr Carol Sheffey Parnham has excelled in her field of education, racking up an impressive list of firsts within the state of Maryland. She was the first woman and first African American to serve as Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
My father, Joseph, also achieved a number of firsts within public office in Connecticut and throughout his extensive naval career.
In the words of those old Virginia Slims commercials, we’ve come a long way baby.