Distinguished Detroiters: The Barthwell Family History

Production has begun for the pilot episode of the new television series Family Pictures: USA! We continue to highlight the histories of everyday Detroiters throughout the summer. The story below has been shared by Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans about the many accomplishments of her family members despite the racial adversity they faced.

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Family photo of parents Sidney and Gladys Barthwell with Akosua and Sid as children

“My family has always been a very important part of me. I was fortunate to grow up in a family which was loving and blessed. My father was Sidney Barthwell. Born in Cordele, Georgia, in 1906, Daddy grew up in a home with no plumbing or electricity. Two of his earliest memories were the death of his oldest brother, Leo, age five or six. Leo died from a respiratory disease which today would not have been life threatening. But he died because there was not high quality health care accessible to African-Americans. He also recalled the death of one of his childhood friends who was lynched. There were no public schools for African-Americans in Cordele. Daddy went to a school sponsored by a local African-American church. A school that mysteriously burned down.”

“Part of the Great Migration, Daddy, age 15 or 16, took a train by himself from Cordele to Detroit. As the oldest living son, it was his place to join his father, Jack Barthwell in the Promised Land: Detroit. Even when he was more than 90 years old, Daddy still remembered that train ride. He remembered the convergence of several trains in a station in Ohio. Most importantly he remembered the opportunity to, for the first time, of being able to sit among whites, when the train reached Ohio.”

“In spite of these humble beginnings, Daddy accomplished a great deal. Although he had no school records because of the fire, his cousin, Eddie Eubanks, took him to Cass Technical High School, where they convinced the principal to admit my father on a probationary basis. He went on to complete pharmacy training at what was then the City College of Detroit-today Wayne State University. And from there he went on to own the largest chain of drugstores ever owned by an African-American: 10 drugstores, three ice cream stores, and two patent medicine stores. Most importantly, he also owned Barthwell’s Ice Cream Company, which had more than 20 delicious flavors.”

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Employee Banquet of Barthwell Drugstores. Courtesy of Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans.

“Daddy was often the “first” or the “only”. Committed to his community, and never forgetting where he came from, he served on the Board of the Detroit Urban League, pharmacy professional organizations, and was elected to public office (a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention) on his first attempt.”

“My mother, Gladys Marie Whitfield Barthwell, was as beautiful as my father was handsome. Although she, like my father, came from a “poor” family, her family had many distinguished members, particularly on her mother’s side. These included in her generation many who were educators and who served Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Her uncle, Dr. David”

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Investiture of Magistrate Sidney Barthwell, Jr. with extended family and friends. Courtesy of Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans.

“Dallas Jones, was the President of Bennett College who established it as a women’s college, and raised much of the funds for the buildings which comprise the beautiful campus. His wife, Susie Williams Jones, a distinguished lady in her own right, was the daughter of Frank Williams, a St. Louis high school principal, and a graduate of Berea College. One of her sisters, Edith (called “Bill”) married Oscar Anderson Fuller, the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in music. “Uncle Fuller” was the son of a Dean of Bishop College, a former HBCU, and an early graduate of Bowdoin College. All of Uncle Fuller’s five brothers earned doctorates, and his sisters had master’s degrees.”

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Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans and Walter K. Evans with Rubadiri Family and Jacques Henri Bidet. Courtesy of Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans.

“Another of my mother’s uncles, Bishop Robert E. Jones, was the first African-American bishop of the Methodist Church who served in the U.S. Bishop Jones first wife, Valena, has a school named in her honor in New Orleans. Bishop Jones and a group of African- American men purchased hundreds of acres on the Gulf of Mexico in Waveland, MS where he founded the Gulfside Assembly.”

“But this is just the tip of the iceberg.” – Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans

 

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Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans

Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans is a strategic organizational innovator and CEO of The Barthwell Group, the Detroit-based strategic management consulting firm she founded in 2005. She brings to the corporate boardroom a three decade track record help- ing leaders of Fortune 500 companies, the military and major universities look to the future as she guides them in tackling new market opportunities and enhancing their organizations’ competitive advantages in changing global environments.

She has provided board leadership for prestigious not-for-profits throughout the United States, including the 1,000-chapter Student Veterans of America, as Founder and Chair of The Museum of Modern Art (NY) Friends of Education (a minority outreach model), the Yale Law School Executive Committee, the Executive Leadership Council (African American C-suite leaders), the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation (community revitalization, social justice), the Detroit Science Center and Hutzel Hospital, among others.

Learn more about Dr. Akosua and her work here.


WE invite you to share your Detroit story with us by reserving a spot at one of our community photo sharing sessions. See schedule

Send an email to: 1World1Family.me(at)gmail(dot)com and mention: “My Detroit Story” in the subject line, or call us at: (212) 281 – 6002 and ask for: “Detroit Desk.”

You can also share your story on social media with hashtags #MyDetroit and #1world1family to be part of the Detroit Family Album.


We are delighted to work on our Detroit Digital Diaspora, in partnership with Detroit Historical Museum as part of it’s D67 commemoration project and working with Detroit Public TV along with our community partners: Detroit Historical Societythe Horace L. Sheffield, Jr. Center – Detroit Association of Black Organizations, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Arab American National Museum, and Church of the Messiah.

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One Response to Distinguished Detroiters: The Barthwell Family History

  1. Ghyail Williams July 21, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

    this was a wonderful blast from the past
    I can still remember the ice cream cones and the peppermint sticks from Bartwell drugs. My sister told me she played Bridge with Doctor Barthwell about 10 years ago. This. Was Wonderful, again, thank you so much.

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