Distinguished Detroiters: The Barthwell Family History

 The story below has been shared with Family Pictures USA by Dr. Akosua Barthwell Evans about the many accomplishments of her family members despite the racial adversity they faced.


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.”


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”


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.”


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



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.

You can also share your story on social media with hashtag #1world1family to be part of the Family Pictures USA 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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11 Responses 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.

    • Natalie Shmuel August 14, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

      Hi Ghyail, so glad you got to enjoy our blog!

      You are welcome to become part of our photo sharing community! We welcome everyone to dig into their family archives and share what they can find and share some favorite memories. You can contact us through our email 1world1family.me@gmail.com. From there you can send us digital copies of your family photos you wish to share as well as a written story and photo description based on the photos you share with us! Let us know if you have any questions!

      Looking forward to hearing from you and Thank you!

      – Lindsey

  2. Patricia Barthwell February 18, 2019 at 1:04 pm #

    Hello…….My name is Patricia Ann Cobb Barthwell, wife of Andre Louis Barthwell, whose parents were Gertrude and Woodrow Barthwell. As a Barthwell, I’ve always been asked about Sidney Barthwell but my husband says he has no idea. His entire family is Jehovah Witnesses, which I find troubling and puzzling if related to Sidney Barthwell. Because I come from such a rich and blessed legacy of Christians….my uncle is Tuskegee Airman, Colonel Alexander Jefferson and my great grandfather founded Morehouse College. I am curious to know if my father in law was any kin to Sidney Barthwell. Btw, I am also a graduate of WSU with my MA in Education, which I earned in 1998. Any information is appreciated. Thank You

  3. Christopher Wafer February 27, 2019 at 7:18 am #

    I grew up in Southwest Detroit and often went to the store on Schaeffer to buy comic books, ice cream and candy. Mr. Barthwell, unlike the people at Greenfields Drug Store, never complained about us kids reading the comic books.

  4. David E. Robinson III August 21, 2019 at 4:27 am #

    I grew up in Southwest Detroit (born in 1955, moved to Highland Park in 1964). I remember going to Barthwell’s Drugstore on Schaefer Rd. with my parents. I loved their ice cream. Ronald McLain worked there as well. He and his family stayed a few blocks from us. We stayed on Annabelle. The McLain men and I are in the same fraternity (Kappa Alpha Psi). I graduated from Morehouse College in 1978. I am so delighted to find the history of the Barthwell Family. My father, David E. Robinson II passed away in 2011. I live in metro Atlanta (Decatur) with my wife, Alycia. I have three daughters and two grandsons. I just retired from teaching in the Dekalb County School System. I taught orchestra for 36 years. I actually taught a student who looked a lot like Mr. McLain. He did work in a drugstore (CVS Pharmacy), but he wasn’t a pharmacist. I have a youth orchestra called Still Waters Youth Sinfo-Nia of Metropolitan Atlanta. I have taken them all over the U.S., twice to West Africa, and once to Jamaica. My mother (Jane Robinson) lives in Decatur, GA. My brother, Rick Robinson (who played with the Detroit Symphony) and my sister, Dr. Amorie Robinson live in Detroit. Have a blessed day.

  5. Michael Blackburn April 9, 2020 at 12:30 am #

    I can remember the store located on the corner of Visger Rd. and 19th St. in Southwest Detroit. I never knew there was more than one store. I remember the ice cream, candy, and buying my mother cigarettes which were 5 cents a pack. I am 74 years now.

    • Tyrone Stephens November 8, 2020 at 10:24 pm #

      Hello , I grew in southwest Detroit myself from from 1951 to 1969 . I remember going to Barthwell with my dad when I was around 5 or 6 years old. I remember getting a half pint French Vanilla ice cream, during that time that was a real treat to have some Barthwell hand pack ice cream it didn’t get no better than that .😅Mr Barthwell in my opinion was pillars in southwest business Society. May peace be with you Mr Barthwell and your family forever .

  6. Michael Blackburn April 9, 2020 at 12:32 am #

    You also must remember Dr. Thornton. I often wonder where he was buried. If anyone knows please let me know. Thanks

  7. Keith williams July 7, 2020 at 12:09 am #

    Hi, my name is Keith Williams, my grandfather and great grandfather name Charles Cornelius Williams they were born and raised in Cordele, Georgia during time Sydney Barthwell was born. I was having a conversation about a black businessman who should be an honor for being a trailblazer in Detroit. My sister said they are your cousins, and she there was a Jackie Barthwell that she remembers having a relationship with, and she also said there were some Bardwell that grew up on eight miles. If there is a Jackie Barthwell, I would love to hear from a family member. I can be reached at 1-313-215-4121

  8. Larry Clark August 23, 2020 at 5:57 pm #

    My name is Larry Clark and I live in Phoenix, AZ. I was born in Americus,GA to Albert and Carrie Clark. My mother’s uncle was Jack Barthwell who left Cordelle, Ga to escape the white man. After Jack left Cordelle he never reached back to help anyone in his family. He did well by his kids and his, forgot about the ones he left behind. Because his kids and grandkids did well they don’t recognize their family from Georgia. GOD bless and be blessed.

  9. Linda Cheifer Weissler September 19, 2021 at 8:04 pm #

    Hi, My name is Linda Weissler, but was Linda Cheifer when I lived in Detroit. I remember my young elementary school( Roosevelt ) friend named, I believe, Mary Jane Barthwell. She would be about 75 now. I remember she was related somehow to the Barthwell Drug Stores. I do know she was very special to me. Just wondering, perhaps, if anyone in the family presently knows about her.

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