Would you have kept this secret for two generations? Maybe my Grandmother Hattie Finney Banks kept secret the fact that my grandfather Hugh Banks killed my Great Grandfather Daniel Finney (Hattie’s Dad) so that she could keep her sanity. Guilt, embarrassment, shame, humiliation. I’m sure in the beginning after the murder it was all there deep within her soul, mind and spirit. But My Grandmother Hattie Finney Banks kept the secret so she could raise her three daughters (one of whom Mable was to become my mother) in relative peace, quiet and safety without passing this terrible haunting to future generations. No judgment from me, only understanding.
The Legacy of Hattie Finney Banks
Hattie Finney was born Feb. 1905 in the poor coal mining hamlet of Davy, West Virginia. A real looker in her youth blessed with a great sense of fashion and good taste Hattie though living in poverty was able to enhance her beauty through thrift and the ability to create something out of nothing.
With African and Sioux blood running through her veins her beauty soon caught the eye of the young men in the town. One named Hugh Banks seemed to have good prospects. Hugh like her Hattie’s dad Daniel R. Finney worked as a janitor. Not a high living job but one that could support a wife and future children. It also didn’t hurt that he was a strong strapping young man who was easy on the eyes.
They married sometime in the late 1920s when Hattie was in her early 20s looking forward to a bright future. Their first born child Mable Banks, (My Mom) was born May 2, 1930, and then came Helen on September 13, 1931 and finally Gladys on May 2, 1935. However as time progressed and the marriage wore on the initial first joys of wedded bliss gave way to drinking and horrible physical abuse from her husband Hugh. He regularly stayed out late getting drunk, spending the food and rent money on booze. A spirit of anger possessed him and he took out all the days slights on Hattie and their young children. Hattie always put herself between Hugh and the kids when he went on these violent tirades taking the brunt of the physical beatings and verbal abuse.
Finally on April 30, 1939 after a particularly horrible beating Hattie couldn’t take it anymore. In fear of her life she grabbed her three little girls and ran to the shelter of her parents’ house not far away. A very drunk Hugh Banks in hot pursuit of his wife followed her and demanded that Hattie and the girls return home with him. Hattie’s Dad, Daniel James Finney told Hattie to stay indoors while he went out to confront Hugh. Daniel Finney seeing Hugh in a violent drunken rage refused to allow his daughter and granddaughters to go with Hugh. An argument ensued and Hugh took out a pistol shooting Daniel Finney in the chest killing him instantly. Daniel’s brother Charlie Finney saw the murder, called the police and Hugh Banks was arrested.
Hattie and her mother Mary were devastated and in addition for many years Hattie carried the burden of guilt and shame that if she had not ran back to her parents’ house for protection perhaps her Dad, a strong healthy man would have lived even longer than his age of 75 years at the time of the shooting. Her choices haunted her for a long time but at least she found peace knowing that she had protected her three innocent young daughters and pride in the great love her Dad had for his family laying down his life for them.
My Grandmother strong in her Baptist Faith eventually forgave her wayward husband supplying the information for my grandfather’s death certificate after his untimely death in prison from tuberculosis at age 30. No one from my grandfather’s family came to claim the body and he is buried in the Potters Field attached to the prison.
Shortly after the trial my Great Uncle Clarence came for Hattie and her daughters taking them to Dayton, Ohio where my mother grew up and later met and married my Dad Edward G. Palmer a union of 40 years that produced me and my brother Stephen.
Fast forward to the year 2000 when by then both my parents and my grandmother had gone onto glory. I met my common-law husband who like my grandmother’s relationship with her husband started off with great dreams and hope for the future but gradually deteriorated into an abusive relationship from which I too sought escape. For our final year together when the emotional, physical and psychological abuse was at its worst I prayed to God that this man would leave me and he did. He left me for a younger woman. A sigh of relief. A burden lifted from my shoulders. However though his physical presence was gone his psychological presence was rooted in my mind and soul. Though I had forgiven him it took years to dig up the roots and weeds of self-doubt and self-hate he had planted within me. Spirit never fails and after a brush with death from a minor stroke at age 49 and being Blessed to see 50 I began to experience a Change of Life. Not just from menopause which began physical changes within my body but spiritual and emotional changes. During all this upheaval my ancestors were with me, guiding me every step of the way. Each succeeding year as I progress through my 50s has brought me greater enlightenment and spiritual growth. Once I made the decision to answer my calling in this life doors open, thus here I am today to carry forward my Grandmother’s Legacy and be a blessing to survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
But unbeknownst to my Grandmother and Great Grandmother a little girl cowering in front of a dusty little used attic window had peered out becoming an eyewitness to her Grandfather’s being shot to death by her Dad. Mable was always the quiet one of the three girls who took in many things but let out little. As the Bible says of conversations concerning Mary and Jesus, Mable Finney Banks was a small girl who took in and absorb all the things around her and pondered them in her heart………………. From now on the events of that day would follow her all through childhood, young womanhood, and as a married woman with children and as she battled her own demons of schizophrenia. I shall take up Mable’s story in the next segment.
Thank you Sisters and be Blessed!