|Minna C. Wilkins|
(Portrait by Elsa Wells)
In 1950, she moved from Greenwich Ave. to Staten Island. Much like Dawn Powell or Dorothy Day, she had fallen in love with the Island after taking the ferry to St. George to explore its beaches and countryside. Wilkins had already begun to volunteer with the Staten Island Historical Society, focusing mostly on genealogy. And, eventually, on the history of the Sandy Ground community. Much of her research was conducted through interviews with members of the community in their homes.
Her article, "Sandy Ground: A Tiny Racial Island," was published in the October-December 1943 issue of the Staten Island Historian. The writing is detailed and informative, and, as you might expect, tinged with sentiment. Here Wilkins describes the Sandy Ground oyster industry, the main reason free blacks settled in this then desolate part of the Island (the painting below depicts Sandy Grounders at work, c. 1890):
|Alex Matthew (SI Historical Socitey)|
A great deal of the article is given over to recounting individual family histories: the Henry's, the Cooley's, the Harris's and others. Some of the earliest Sandy Grounders were free blacks from Maryland's Eastern Shore. Wilkins asks,
Why then, was our group minded to leave the Eastern Shore where they are probably property owners engage in in the chief industry of Snow Hill [oysters], among people some of who were filled with the spirit of brotherhood? The reasons were many and various but all might be comprised in the statement that the white community did not want the Free Negroes among them and kept making it more and more difficult for them to make a living.
|241 Ascot Ave. (Jan. 2014)|
She moved from the house in 1960 and passed away while residing in the Mariner's Family Home in Stapleton, the far side of her adopted Island from Sandy Ground.
(The Research Bureau is indebted to the editors of the Staten Island Historian, and especially to Ms. Elsa Wells, for biographical information about MCW. The cell-phone photograph of a black-and-white reproduction of her oil painting of MCW provides the only image I could find of MCW.)