The American Dream

back to Family Stories, Spring 2020

by Asia Gray-Edwards

I found out many interesting things during my ancestry research, but I think the one of the most interesting things I discovered was my grandfather worked for Philip Roosevelt, the 1st cousin once removed of President Theodore Roosevelt. The image shown here is the registration card for the WWII draft of my great grandfather, Robert Coles. I have always been told that my great grandfather used to work for one of Theodore Roosevelt’s relatives and that was how he was able to get our family house in Oyster Bay. So, to see that name on the card really solidified the likelihood of this story. 

WWI draft card of my GGrandfather Robert Coles

I think this event is also very important because in a way it’s a reminder of how my great grandfather was able to have access to better opportunities. I genuinely do not think that my great grandfather would have would have had this much success if he remained in the South. See, my grandfather originally was from Suffolk, Virginia but he and my grandmother Sallie(y) Coles migrated with their 3 children at the time (one of whom was my grandmother) to Oyster Bay NY, a town in Long Island.  My great grandparents, on my paternal side, were some of the many African Americans to move up to the North during the Great Migration during the early 1900s. 

The primary reason for the Great Migration was that there were more economic opportunities and to escape some of the racism and discrimination in the South. I definitely think that my great grandfather was very successful in creating a better life for him and his family and for the future generations after. I also found out that the man he worked for Philip Roosevelt had many credentials of his own, other than being the cousin of a notable president. He was a WWI captain for the united states army, and editor, a banker, and a yachtsman. So, just from learning this, I was amazed that my grandfather was able to come by this opportunity of working for this wealthy man. It was also nice to know that he likely was a good, and kind employer as my family has always mentioned how he helped my grandfather buy a house in Oyster Bay, during a time which was hard for African Americans, especially in this neighborhood (which was predominantly white).