After Dr. William Craft Brumfield obtained his doctorate. in Slavic languages (with a major in 19th-century Russian history and literature) from the University of California, Berkeley, his unparalleled photographic odyssey began at Harvard, where he was an assistant professor from 1974 to 1980. But thereafter, fortunately for us, he landed in New Orleans at “blessed Tulane” as he called his place of refuge.
As I explored my material, what caught my attention was Brumfield’s election in 2002 to the Russian State Academy of Architectural and Construction Sciences and in 2006 Honorary Member of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts; he is the only American to have been elected to not one, but two Russian state academies. Dr. Brumfield lived and studied for fifteen years in Russia, beginning his photographic work there in 1970 as a graduate student and carrying out post-doctoral research at the universities of Moscow and Leningrad as well as the Russian Institute of art history in Moscow. These days, fifteen years seems like an eternity.
To a packed house at the New Orleans Book Festival at Tulane University in early March, Dr. Brumfield and moderator Dr. Lidia Zhigunova, Tulane German and Russian Practice Professor, gave us an insight into the invasion of Ukraine. I understood from the start that they did not support the Russian invasion. Describing it as a full-blown disaster, Dr Brumfield said – while hoping for a miracle – “I’m not optimistic.”
Deflated I clung to every word of Dr Brumfield as he is a recognized authority on Russian history who not only photographed Russia but also Ukraine in 1979. During the question and answer he explained that Russians feel wronged and threatened by the West, and “they see a manifest destiny.” Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have a desire to recreate the Russian Empire and, from my own perspective, become the superpower. Witness Russia’s serious and brutal attack on the Ukrainian people. But Ukraine to date has not changed its mind. The Ukrainian people have courage and seem ready to fight to the death.
Discouraged by the war, I focused on ancestry. What intrigued me, even more than the illustrious career of Dr. Brumfield, is his beginnings, his roots. He is the son of Lewis Floyd Brumfield, Jr. (1895-1975) who, born in 1895 in Bolivar – seventeen miles west of Franklinton, a straight shot on Highway 440 – grew up on a small farm , with a stand of hickory trees behind. The heartfelt way Dr. Brumfield described him, during his presentation at Tulane, struck a chord. And something else rang out. Lewis Floyd Brumfield, Jr., depicted in his son’s beautiful book “Journeys Through The Russian Empire: The Photographic Legacy of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky”, was a United States Marine in the American Expeditionary Force during World War I in France. Dr Brumfield proudly reflected: “He made his way through France.”
And like my father during World War II, Lewis Floyd Brumfield crossed paths with a group of Russians in the French army towards the end of World War I. It was actually Dr. Brumfield’s father who first told him, when he was playing toy soldiers in his youth, that he had met the Russians and that they were our people, our allies. The poignant anecdote reminded me of my own father.
To digress, in my father’s case, it was in the spring of 1945 that the Russians surrounded his US Army observation plane in northern Germany, holding him and the New York journalist he was transporting to the front line at gunpoint. It was a great relief when the Russians finally realized they were Americans. A liaison pilot for the 28th Field Artillery Battalion, 8th Infantry Division, Daddy waited for the reporter to identify them, speaking Russian, but the civilian was paralyzed with fear. If a possible exchange of identification had not taken place, the two would never have managed to get out of this ground. Once he realized that they were allies – part of the “Big Three” (the United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) – my father shared many toasts and is left with a gold watch (exchanging a Zippo lighter), and more importantly, his life.
These previous experiences of our fathers, in World Wars I and II, make the current cataclysmic events all the more disconcerting.
Tracing back to Dr. Brumfield’s ancestry, born in 1944 to Lewis Floyd Brumfield and Pauline Elizabeth Craft Brumfield in North Carolina, Dr. Brumfield grew up primarily in Gainesville, Georgia, which had a large poultry industry in which his father had specialized, with a diploma. in agriculture, he had worked as an extension agent in North Carolina. Dr William’s sister, Carol, was born in 1951.
But let’s go back to the beginning and at Bolivar’s little farm – digging into the past – I made the connection. Lewis Floyd Brumfield, Jr., one of many descendants, was born to Lewis Floyd Brumfield (1861-1946) and Alice “Allie” Frances Statham (1870-1941), daughter of Gus Statham.
And the eldest Lewis Floyd Brumfield was the son of William “Bill” Brumfield (c.1830 – c.1910) and his wife Sarah Lewis (1835-1886). All three, along with Dr. Brumfield’s father – young Lewis Floyd Brumfield – are buried in the Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery, which Dr. Brumfield referred to in his presentation to Tulane. Once he said Bolivar and Beulah Baptist Church, it clicked – I knew we were related.
It turns out that Dr. William Craft Brumfield’s great-grandfather, William “Bill” Brumfield, was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Thomas Colter Brumfield. Twenty years my senior, Dr. William Craft Brumfield is the great-great-grandson of William and Harriet Statham Brumfield of Washington Parish. I am their great-great-great-granddaughter. William Brumfield (c. 1788-1868) was the influential statesman, soldier, and sheriff of Washington Parish in the early 19th century, as described in Part 1 of this series.
My focus was limited to Dr. William Craft Brumfield and his Louisiana lineage. I did not push my research further. But I have gone far enough to establish the connection between Dr. William Craft Brumfield and Washington Parish. He was closer relative than I thought. But then, the people we admire usually are.
Credit for the Brumfield ancestry here goes to two noted historians – Dr. E. Russ Williams, Jr., and his book “History of Washington Parish, Louisiana, 1798-1992 The Story of a Land and People on Three Rivers: The Pearl, The Bogue Chitto, and The Tangipahoa in Southeast Louisiana” (1994), and my Mama Dell Magee Clawson, and her “Fields of Broom” series, with information derived and updated from her book “Fields of Broom” ( 1972), which was published in “The Tylertown Times” from 2014 to 2018.