The Youngs: Eating From the Same Table




Young family eating at the table in 1909.


Descendants of Catherine Young meet for the first time at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture. Approximately 100 descendants and 100 visitors were there for the reunion. It was a packed house.


When Catherine Young’s eleventh child, Jesse, was six months old, her husband, Andrew Jesse Young, died of tuberculosis. The year was either late 1907 or early1908.

I assume that Catherine wanted nothing more than to provide for her children. She held on to those starving aspirations until April 1909, three months after a social reformer named Lewis Hine snapped a photo of her with her sons and daughters.

She held onto those dreams until she made a decision that probably haunted her until the final days of her life. Catherine Young delivered the seven youngest of her children to the South Georgia Methodist Orphan Home in Macon, Georgia, 100 miles from Tifton, 100 miles from Tift Cotton Mill, 100 miles from the duplex at the mill village she called home.

Imagine what the scene might be the night before Catherine Young gave her children away. She and several children walk home from the mill, tired, dirty, and hungry after working all day. Seaborn, Elizabeth, and Jesse rush to her as she approaches. They hang onto her skirt. She reaches down and picks up Baby Jesse and takes Elizabeth by the hand. With Seaborn behind her, she lumbers up the steps and into the mill house. Outside, smoke from the towering smokestack rises and spreads ghostly over the village.

Catherine Young and nine of her eleven children. Three months after this photo was taken at Tift Cotton Mill village, she gave the seven youngest children up for adoption. Several of the children had been working in the mill to help support the family. The photo was taken by Lewis Hine. Joe Manning spent years searching for the identities of the children in the photo. The descendants gathered Saturday at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture in Tifton, Georgia. Joe and Carol Manning were there for the reunion. The children from left are: Mell, Matty, Mary, Alex, Eddie Lou, Elzy, Seaborn, Elizabeth, Jesse. All but Mell and Matty, the oldest children in this photo, were taken to the orphanage.

Has she, in preparation for the event, put aside enough money to afford to prepare a delicious last supper? Turnips and collards would still be available in southern Georgia in April. Perhaps she has some sweet potatoes and has been able to purchase a chicken to fry. 

Or maybe she has nothing and can't feed her children a decent meal the last night they spend together. Love doesn’t cost money, and I believe Catherine Young’s heart is filled with love, yet tortured on this night. I believe she is starved of hope, afraid and anguished, after a cold winter with not enough food, not enough heat, and not enough money to purchase clothes for the growing children.

In Tifton and throughout southern Georgia, dogwoods bloom, shimmering gracefully on layered branches. Pecan and oak trees put out new leaves, and birds build nests on branches, and in bushes and shrubs. Spring, the season of new life, new growth, has tiptoed into the mill village. It is ten days after Easter and in the morning Catherine Young will leave her children behind at the orphanage. I like to believe she hopes to give them new life. After all, it is the season of resurrection.

Perhaps she sings to the smallest ones and holds them overflowing from her arms when darkness wraps around their duplex on April 21, 1909. Does she dare sleep at all and close her eyes to her babies? I suspect she holds them as long as she can, and, as they sleep, she inhales, one last time, the scent of their hair. She kisses their cheeks and listens to them breathe. Perhaps delivering her children to the orphanage is the highest act of love Catherine will ever perform. Perhaps.

Eddie Lou Young is on the right. She is Dr. Earl Parker's mother. He never knew until Joe Manning contacted him that his mother ever worked at Tift Cotton Mill as a child.

We will never know for certain the events of that night or the following days. We will never know Catherine's heart, the extent of her pain and how scarred the erosion of poverty and her final sacrifice would leave her. I wonder if she boarded a train to Macon early the next morning with her children. Or did an agent from the county escort them to the orphanage? She certainly would not have been able to afford the train fare for seven children and herself. Help had to have come from somewhere. Catherine's story and the stories of her children are scattered throughout with the word perhaps.

Descendants of Catherine and Jesse Young came together Saturday at the Georgia Museum of Agriculture, many meeting for the first time, 105 years after their family was torn apart. One handsome young man said in awe, to nobody in particular, “We are eating from the same table,” as he chose a few treats from a spread of desserts. He said it as a person who had never met the family members crowding around him and certainly had never shared a table of food with them.

We are eating from the same table.”

Because of the perseverance of Historian Joe Manning, who was determined to discover the identity of the children in a Hine photo taken in January 1909, approximately 100 Young family members joined for the first time Saturday to laugh, share family stories, and examine each other for familiar traits and expressions. They ate from the same table for the first time since April of 1909 when Catherine and her children shared their last meal together as a family. 

Mr. Manning and many of Catherine's descendants were brought to tears again and again at the reunion. I witnessed a happy and forgiving family, a beautiful family, a family overflowing with love and reaching out with open arms.
Mr. Manning meets Dr. Parker, son of Eddie Lou, the dark haired beauty in the photo of the two girls at the cotton mill.

Joe and Carol Manning in front of the smokestack at the abandoned mill.


So how do we thank Joe Manning who spent years digging through the Young soil, searching through a family’s roots, when "thank you" amounts to merely 8 letters of the alphabet, 2 syllables, 2 spoken words? He would tell us the reunion isn’t about him at all and he wants no thanks. He would tell us it is all about the children standing in bare feet beside their mother in January of 1909 at Tift Cotton Mill village. He would tell us it is about family.

“We are eating from the same table.”


When it became evident there would be standing room only, the partitions were opened and another 100 chairs added to the 100 that had already been reserved for the event.

Published 3/16/14
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