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Our Black History – the Larkin Family in Fourth Creek

In 2004 the Finley-Larkin family had a reunion in Fourth Creek, Alabama. This branch of the family doesn’t have very regular reunions, but this one is generally felt to be among the best because we all went back ‘home’. We still have people who live in the area, though many have spread out to other parts of the South and some up North. Sadly, much of the land we once owned is no longer ours.

Still, it was an extremely moving trip for me. I stood on the land my ancestors walked and lived on. I stood in the church where they worshiped. I stood on the ground they were buried under. I stood inside my own history.

My cousin John Finley told us family stories during our tour of the area and one in particular stuck with me. The story of how the Larkin boys–my great-great grandfather and his brothers–came to own land in Fourth Creek. I recently called to ask that he tell me the story again so I could get it straight. I thought my computer was recording the conversation, but, alas, it betrayed me. Good thing I was taking notes.

The three Larkin brothers that started our branch of the family were Charles, Mose (or Moses), and Sump (or Sumpter) Larkin. They were from the Carolinas and of Irish descent. They came down to Alabama in order to buy some land and establish themselves. On the way down from the Carolinas they ‘picked up some wives’; at least one of the wives was mulatto. When they got to Alabama, the boys discovered that they would need more money in order to buy the land they wanted. So they went to Texas (sans wives) to make some money. Apparently, the opportunities in Texas were not as lucrative as they believed. According to legend, they conceived and pulled off a train heist. The proceeds were enough that they were able to go back to Alabama and buy land in Fourth Creek.

There was some sort of strife among the brothers regarding race. Apparently Charles and Sump objected to Mose having relations with women that were considered too dark. It isn’t clear if the Larkin brothers were fully ‘white’ themselves or were somewhat mixed. But at least one of them definitely wasn’t having any really dark-skinned folks in his family. Thus, there are now two Larkin graveyards in Fourth Creek, about a mile apart. One referred to as the ‘white’ cemetery and one referred to as the ‘black’ cemetery.

Mose was Julia Larkin Finley’s father. He was more tolerant of darker-skinned folks because Julia’s husband, Dallas, wasn’t light-skinned. There are no stories saying that Mose objected to this marriage. However, his brother Charles wasn’t so tolerant. His son, Archie, is my grandmother Ree’s father. He loved my great-grandmother, Kate, so the story goes. But the family would not allow him to marry her because she was too dark.

Tut Larkin - Julia's BrotherOne of the things I’ve always heard about the Larkins is that they were very keen to keep their light skin. Then as now, light skin was a status symbol. Light-skinned folks were seen as better or more white–or, at least, they thought they were. Because of this, there were quite a few marriages between too close of kin (by our standards).

The Larkins did have a modicum of influence in Fourth Creek because they were land owners and there were a lot of them. They were one of four interconnected families in that area; the Finleys, the Tidmores, and the Hicks were the others.

Julia married a Hicks and a Finley. My grandmother married a Tidmore (Derry) and so did her aunt Ida (Sam). Ree and Ida were close in age – really like sisters since they were only a few years apart. My grandfather, Derry, was the youngest of 8 or 10, I think, and just a few scant years older than Sam, who was his nephew. So my grandmother’s aunt married my grandfather’s nephew.

Yeah, it gives me a headache, too.

Eliza Alice Finley

I visited the cemeteries my ancestors were buried in. In one (which I was told is the ‘white’ cemetery, but I think whoever told me that was confused) Mose is buried along with Julia, Dallas, their daughter Eliza, and, oddly, Archie Larkin. As I said, it was an incredibly moving experience.

Before the reunion, my cousin Richard and great-aunt Peggy also told me stories about the Larkins.

On the Larkin side are very colorful characters.
The Larkins were Irish.
And I remember asking Aint Katie
about my grandmother Julia
and I said
“Who in Gramma’s family was black?”
And she said

And I’m gunna tell you
why I asked that question.
They were being held
just like the slaves were
and I thought they might have been
workin’ off a debt
or somethin’.
Indentured in some way.
Although indentured servitude
should have been outlawed
maybe a hundred years
prior to that.
But when they freed all the slaves,
the white man had
locked them up
he wasn’t gunna let them go.
He had locked up
two of them
and the other sisters
came lookin’ for them.
They all jumped on him
and beat him up
then they all left.

So I just assumed they were
they had worked around
black folks
and were very familiar with them.

And also my
great-great grandfather,
(that’s three greats for you,)
would have been
Tom Larkin [father of Charles, Mose, and Sump].
And Tom had two families.
He had a white family
and a black family.
So the Larkins have been
kinda mixed race
for a long time.
They were Irish
and had that Irish temper.
So when the fights would start
the whites and the blacks
would get together
and fight anybody else
but when there was peace
they had nothin’ to do
with each other.
The black side and white side.

Ida Larkin - Julia's sisterThere were no black part of the family.
Gramma Julia’s mother was
Rose Larkin
she had about three sisters
one was named Jane.
Jane married
Sump Larkin
Rose married
Mose Larkin.
And that was gramma Julia’s
mother and father
Mose and Rose.
And then Sump married Jane.
Also great-grandmother Rose
had a brother named
and they were Carpenters
before they married the Larkins.
Their mother’s name
I think her name was
Lucy Carpenter.
I don’t know her husband’s name.
But to the best of my recollection
and everything that I’ve uncovered
they were all white
Irish white.
They told me the story
that when Sump and Jane
had their first child
they had to lock Sump
out of the house
because they had said
the child would be black.
Jane was darker than her sisters,
but she still had straight hair
she just had an olive complexion.
And Sump had made the statement
at the time
that if he thought
he had an ounce of
black blood in him
he would cut it out.
Of course
the baby came out white.

Yeah they wanted to keep
that side of the family
That’s why a lotta
mental problems
on that side of the family.
Because they married
each other
first cousins
and that kinda stuff.
So it was a lotta
mental problems
in the family
because their inter-family marriage
and havin’ babies by
too close of a relative.
So it was just a messed up situation.

That happened in all the
high yellow families

All the higher yellow blacks
treated the darker color blacks
you know
like inferior
because they thought they were better.
They thought just because of
the color of their skin
they took the white man’s attitude.
And they wouldn’t
socialize with ‘em,
didn’t hardly marry
a darker skinded black.
They would go and
lay down with them
you know
like Archie did with Mom
and had a baby,
but as far as marrying
they didn’t hardly ever
marry outside of their
“High Yellow Clan”
I called them.
They were black people
so they lived with the black people
maybe next door to them
but they didn’t live with them.
You understand what I’m sayin’?

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12 thoughts on “Our Black History – the Larkin Family in Fourth Creek”

  1. Los Angelista says:

    You are very fortunate to know so much about your family history. I am also thinking about what a world it is and has been that folks would intermarry so closely just to preserve skin color. Thanks for sharing.

  2. pllogan says:

    This is making me want to go visit Louisiana again and find out more about my family. What a poignant story. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Ann says:

    “Yeah, it gives me a headache, too.”

    Yes. I was thinking which analgesic to use (Extra-Strength Excedrin or Bayer 1000 mgs), what with great-great-great-great-great-great……….

    But, ABW, all in all, a fascinating history.

    So wonderful that you are recording/archiving it. This is history that not many people know, actual family history that was lived daily, and in itself, was just as important as what the historians write down in books, except what historians write is dryly written. This is living history: what people did on a daily basis, how they intereacted with each other, how they affected each other. Not some footnote in history, but actual families who loved, hated, fought, lived, died.

    It’s not what historians write that makes history come alive.

    It’s what the “everyday folks” say, retell, and leave behind in passing down orally in the form of family histories, that brings the past alive and presents itself to us of the present, all of its panorama, all of its joys, all of its sorrows.

    Please, bring us more of your family’s history.

    (I shall keep the pain relief nearby when the relatives start becoming his sister’s-cousin’s-brother’s-nieces’s-nephew.)



    That many mixed-blood blacks wanted to keep themselves white that they denied themselves full and loving relationships they could have had with black-skinned blacks.

    “All the higher yellow blacks
    treated the darker color blacks
    you know
    like inferior
    because they thought they were better.
    They thought just because of
    the color of their skin
    they took the white man’s attitude.
    And they wouldn’t
    socialize with ‘em,
    didn’t hardly marry
    a darker skinded black.
    They would go and
    lay down with them
    you know
    like Archie did with Mom
    and had a baby,
    but as far as marrying
    they didn’t hardly ever
    marry outside of their
    “High Yellow Clan”
    I called them.”

    And to continue the abuse and disrespect towards black women (that white men had done), just to keep the family “white”.


    Anyway, thanks for the “history”.

  4. brownfemipower says:

    absolutely beautiful. I especially love the pictures. I am so glad you thought of this, I have loved reading all the different stories that people have had to tell!

  5. Josh says:

    Amazing story!

    FYI: We are celebrating Black History Month in Germany and focus on Afro-German artists.

    We want to bring the concept of Black History Month to Germany.

  6. Tara Gillespie says:

    I enjoyed reading your history, I’m wondering if we might be distant cousins, my great grandma was a Larkin, but not from the south as far as I can tell. Stories I’ve heard about my great-grandmas family though, make me wonder. I’ve heard that her 1st cousins were pretty dark skinned for white folk, but of course noone ever asked a thing, because they are family.

  7. Blanky says:

    I love this article–seriously. I love “family history/bloodlines” studies in general.

    I wish I could trace my own heritage like that.

  8. Phoenix (Larkins) Asifa says:

    This was WONDERFUL! I have very little knowledge of my family, but remember being told that the last name was Irish and that many were settlers in the south and some were abolitionists. My father’s side (Larkins) are light, in fact my father has light brown eyes. So reading the section regarding the inter-marriage was very interesting. I know this is very distant, but thank you for sharing this online fam. Thank you

  9. Kimberly Lindsay-Larkin says:

    i am a larkin relative but i did not have the chance to attend the family reunion…i know it had to be a ball…but i would love to reconnect to some of my family and find out more about our family history…please stay in touch and feel free to contact me at anytme…219-455-2018

  10. Patricia Winston says:

    Dear Kim:
    I am your mother’s first cousin. I am Archie Larkin grand daughter too. I am writing to say that some of the information you have on this website is incorrect. Our cousin did a family tree since that reunion. You need to see the family tree and then you would understand some things. As far as Archie Larkin (our grandfather )is concerned my grandmother Laura Larkin his wife was very much dark skinned. So I do
    not know where you are getting your information. I have never heard of anyone say that our grandfather had a color problem. Maybe you should talk to some more people in the family. Your Larkin side were very respectful people in the community. I don’t know if you stayed until that Sunday or attended the church service, but the preacher of the church came to the reunion and said that our great-great grandfather Charles Larkin gave the church the land that the church now stand on. Our gandfather Archie was a deacon at Fourth Creek Baptist Church. Your grandmother’s brother James remained a deacon there until his death. He lived in Birmingham but would go back to Fourth Creek for service because it was his family’s church.

  11. Otis Chamblee says:

    First off, thank you for sharing your story. My mother is a Larkin that married a Chamblee who lives in Birmingham, and since nearly all of my older relatives have passed on, I’m at a loss as to the origins of this side of my family. I have always wanted to piece together a family tree and reading this has fueled that desire. Thanks again.

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