College Matters | The legacy of Anna Raye

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, June 23, 2022 - 2:00pm

Juneteenth is being celebrated this week. But in reality, it is every day of every year. Juneteenth recognizes the day that slaves in Texas were proclaimed to be free on June 19, 1865 — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued on January 1, 1863.

We recently gathered to mark this occasion, celebrate African-American history, and continue our anti-racism work at the inaugural Juneteenth Symposium of the California State University. Hundreds of people attended, including 24 from Cal Poly Humboldt that included students, alumni, and employees.

I was given an opportunity to speak. I chose to heed the message I heard this year from Judge Abby Abinanti, who spoke at our Commencement about remembering where you come from and honoring your ancestors.

One can learn a lot from a story. Long ago, as a child, I remember many of us sitting on the couch and listening to our elders tell stories. If you were a child, and all the seats were taken, you sat on the floor. This wasn’t a time to play. This was a time to listen.

The story I am about to share is of the Boggess family, and specifically the legacy of Anna Raye.

The Boggess family resided in Denison, Texas, near Sherman in the northeast area of the state. It was a rural community largely focused on agriculture. This was also an area where many slaves lived. On Juneteenth in 1865, Thomas (#1) Boggess was the first person in the family to be free.

The family settled in the area and the second generation of free people were born, including Bessie and Herman Thomas (#2). They were farmers and had a small plot of land they tended to daily. These were difficult times. The area was very warm and humid, and of course, this was long before air conditioning. In fact, the automobile wasn’t invented until 1885 and the lightbulb in 1879.

In 1907, Anna Raye was born in Denison. She worked on the farm, cooked, and loved to read and to learn. She loved school and ultimately graduated from the 8th grade, the highest level African-Americans were allowed to complete at that time in that area. She wanted to learn more, so she started collecting books. She would read those books and continue to learn.

Years later, Anna Raye would marry Leaford Andrew and together they would move to Kansas City, Kansas for better work opportunities. They bought a small home near Sumner High School and started raising their three young children. Sadly, Leaford died suddenly when a fireplace he was working on exploded. Anna Raye was left alone with Barbara Jean (the oldest), Leaford Jr, and Thomas (#3). Thomas, who the family called Raymond, was only four years old.

Anna Raye would read to her children from the many books she had collected. It was her goal to have her three children accomplish something she was not permitted to do, and that was to finish high school. Anna Raye was a true educator at heart.

As the children grew up, Barbara Jean began to work for Western Electric. Leaford, who was referred to as Junior, worked the assembly line at the local Ford Motor Company after returning from the military. Raymond would join the Air Force.

Raymond traveled the world in the 1950s, with stations in Morocco and Tacoma, Washington. He was a genius with electricity, and he studied new techniques for his trade. He would also read everything in the newspaper, he knew and understood all the current events, and would talk about them with you if you asked. Otherwise, he would stay to himself.

While stationed in Tacoma, Raymond met a woman he fell in love with instantly. They spent time together and later they would travel back to Kansas to meet the rest of the family. Gloria Evelyn was from a rural area along the Frazier River in British Columbia, Canada, and had migrated to the Seattle-Tacoma area. Unlike Raymond, whose roots were African-American, Gloria’s father was Irish and her mother was Filipino and Indian. A mixed marriage in the mid-1950s, even in multicultural Seattle, was bold.

Raymond served as an electrician for the city of Seattle. He was part of a small three-person truck crew that would install and repair traffic signals, lights, and signs. Gloria worked briefly in the hospital as a nurse’s aide, cleaning bedpans, assisting nurses, making beds, and helping patients.

Raymond (Thomas #3) and Gloria would have two children. Thomas (#4) was the oldest, followed by Tonya Raye. Thomas was called Tommy Jr., to not be confused with Raymond.

Tommy Jr. loved graham crackers and milk. He also loved to climb trees and walls, ride his bike, and cook and walk with his mother. He liked learning and reading short stories. He would often sit with his father, read the paper, and talk about current events. Both Tommy Jr. and Tonya Raye graduated high school, making their grandmother Anna Raye very happy.

Not surprisingly, both Tommy Jr. and Tonya Raye would attend college. Tommy Jr., while serving as a reservist in the military, first finished at a community college. He kept going and ultimately became the first in the entire Boggess family to earn a four-year college degree. He also continued on to complete his master’s degree and doctorate. He had Anna Raye’s educator’s heart.

Anna Raye, a descendent of those freed on Juneteenth, loved to learn; and through her love of learning and teaching, she inspired those around her to do the same. This was especially true for her children and grandchildren. Thomas #4 (Tommy Jr.) would one day become the first African-American president at Cal Poly Humboldt. He carries the suffix, Jr., out of respect for not only his father, but Anna Raye.

Juneteenth is not a holiday. It is a remembrance of those who waited years for freedom as slaves. Anna Raye, her spirit, and her legacy is all around us. This was a story about Anna Raye, her ancestors, and her legacy that continues today. Be well.

In Loving Memory of TJ (Thomas #5) Kumar Jackson, Feb. 18, 1998 to Oct. 6, 2020. Dr. Thomas (#4) Raymond Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.