By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on December 12, 2023
My family’s story begins when Dougald A. Carmichael and his wife Katheryn Carmichael, both of whom were born in 1817 in Scotland, migrated to America in the late 1830s. The new immigrants initially settled in South Carolina.
Dougald and Katheryn, who were white, had six sons -- James, George, John, Thomas, William and Robert -- and one daughter named Ann.
As recorded in the 1850 U.S. Census, the Carmichael family was living and farrming in Hinds County, Mississippi. The Census records listed them as Dogold and Catherine Carmichael. However, their true names were Dougald and Katheryn Carmichael.
The 1850 U.S. Census Slave Schedule for Dougold and Katheryn Carmichael shows that they owned two black female slaves. One was a 31-year-old slave and the other one was a 12-year-old child.
Dougold and Katheryn's son, William Carmichael, who was born on December 5, 1838, met and fell in love with a beautiful “mulatto” girl in Hinds County named Olivia Williamson, who was born on April 20, 1847.
Olivia's "mulatto" racial classification is confirmed in the 1870 U.S. Census, which was the first time African-Americans were counted in the census in Southern states as full citizens.
Prior to 1870, blacks in slaveholding states were counted as "Slaves" or "Free Coloreds." Slaveowners listed the number and description of their slaves on U.S. Census Slave Schedules. The names of slaves were irrelevant for census counting purposes.
Under the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787, three out of every five slaves were counted when determining a state's total population for legislative representation and taxation.
Olivia Williamson’s biological father was reputed to be Michael Daley, a white immigrant from Ireland who was born in 1798. [U.S. Census records for 1880 record Daley's name as "Michael Dailey"]. Daley , who was married but had no biological children with his wife Bridget, lived and farmed on land he owned in adjoining Madison County, Mississippi.
There is evidence that Olivia Williamson was one of the 13 female "Free Coloreds" in Hinds County in 1850. The evidence also suggests that Michael Daley secured Olivia's freedom shortly after her birth in 1847.
The First Interracial Marriage in the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins Family Occurred in 1865
Olivia and William Carmichael married in Crawford Station, Mississippi, on March 25, 1865 -- about two weeks before General Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 confederate troops to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.
This young interacial couple lived in Hinds County, Mississippi. Their love for each other was more powerful than the entrenched and prevailing racial customs in Mississippi at the time.
Olivia and William Carmichael were my maternal great-grandparents.
During the next 36 years, Olivia and William Carmichael would start a large family and build bridges for a host of former Hinds County slaves and their descendants to help them get a basic education, secure good jobs, own land, and vote in Mississippi.
On February 26, 1887, Olivia Carmichael broke the color barrier in Mississippi by becoming the first black female to own land in her name, alone. Michael Daley signed and recorded a Warranty Deed that transferred title to his Madison County property to Olivia.
Daley's conveyance of land to Olivia Carmichael 136 years ago empowered her as a black woman and boosted the Carmichael family's socio-economic clout in Mississippi's property ownership-based society.
Olivia and William Carmichael had nine children, one of whom was Oda Etta Carmichael (my maternal grandmother). All of their children engaged in a lifetime of bridge-building, as well.
Etta, who stands at the knee of her mother Olivia in the featured photograph to this article, and her eight siblings attended local schools in Mississippi for “colored” children, where they excelled in academics. All of the Carmichael children did well in life. They eventually became highly successful land owners, businessmen, educators, service professionals, and homemakers.
Olivia and William Carmichael and their progeny are credited with the rise of the black middle-class in Hinds County, Mississippi during the Reconstruction, Post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Post-Jim Crow eras. There are also credited for giving our family a significant headstart in life.
Finally, Olivia and William Carmichael taught our family that "love sees no color." As a result of this invaluable lesson, there are (and have been) a lot of interracial couples in the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins extended family for many decades.
The Huge Economic Impact of Carmichael Family Member Doris Louise Varnado Conic
Nowhere is the impact of Olivia and William Carmichael's emphasis on economic empowerment clearer than the case of Doris Louise Varnado (1915 to 1998) and Frank N. Conic (1911 to 2005).
Doris L. Varnado was Olivia's grand-daughter. Her mother was Oda Etta Carmichael.
Doris and her husband Frank N. Conic owned and operated Conic Beauty and Barber Supply Company at 615 North Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi from 1950 to 1975. They were also civil rights icons in Jackson from the 1940’s through the 1970s.
Frank Conic was the son of John Edgar Conic, Sr., a prominent black businessman in Jackson. Frank’s father operated the City Barber Shop and was the only independent distributor of the Chicago Defender and Pittsburg Courier newspapers in Jackson for 30 years. Both newspapers were influential black-owned weekly publications that called for improvements in housing, healthcare, and education for African-Americans.
Long before Doris and Frank Conic retired in 1975, their business was delivering beauty supplies throughout the entire State of Mississippi. Their sales grossed more revenues than any other African-American business in Jackson.
Doris and Frank Conic were the first African-American members of the Carmichael family who traveled the world and established an international network of business relationships. They served as our family's private mentors on international travel and global business in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
Voting in Mississippi Prior to the Passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
In Southern states, very few African-Americans dared to exercise their right to vote during the Jim Crow era. Two Mississippians who did were Doris and Frank Conic.
The Conics paid the poll taxes that white segregationist officials imposed upon blacks to discourage them from voting and did so each year from 1940 until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
William Carmichael died on March 24, 1901. Olivia Carmichael died on June 20, 1927.
In 2023, the Olivia and William Carmichael family commenced its seventh generation of family members with the birth of my great-granddaughter, Azayah Jordan Deese.
Today, there are hundreds of immediate and extended Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family members living, studying, and working in the United States and around the world. Every day, the bloodline of Olivia and William Carmichael is positively impacting the quality of life (in objectively measured ways) for millions of people in the fields of medicine, business, education, multimedia, finance, and energy.
Since the 1830s, our family has overcome and/or outlasted every adversity we have encountered in America. Our familial foundation, business network, and interpersonal relationships are rock solid and truly global in nature.
Because of Olivia and William Carmichael, our family has known since March 25, 1865 that "love sees no color." Michael Daley's conveyance of his land in Mississippi to his "mulatto" daughter Olivia (in her name only) in 1887 affirms that love trumps all.