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Inside Finding the Motons

By Edward Epstein

Washington, D.C.

May 24, 2022

Having been a newspaper reporter for eons, I figure I know a good story when I see one.

So I just knew when I reached out in March to the industrious John Kelly (in the photo at left) of the Washington Post to tell him about the Lincoln Group's search for descendants of Robert Russa Moton that he would find the story irresistable. Sure enough, John, who turns out four or five local news columns a week, went right to work trying to find the heirs of Moton, the African-American leader whose speech at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in May 1922 was censored because he wanted to upbraid America in an era of segregation for not living up to Abraham Lincoln's vision of racial egalitarianism.

The busy Kelly did research and tried to contact some descendants of Moton, who had five children. But he got no response. Instead, he wrote a column that appeared on March 29 asking for people's help in tracking down the family of Moton, who died in 1940. We got lots of comments, but no real leads.

One of the Lincoln Group's members, an amateur genealogist who wants to remain anonymous, swung into action and came up with the names of other people who appeared to be related to Moton. He contacted them and before long two great-grandchildren of Moton agreed to come to Washington as honored guests at the Lincoln Group's program on May 22 to mark the Lincoln Memorial's centennial. They are Robert Darrell Moton of Atlanta and Consuela Moton Austin of Kissimmee, Fla. Robert brought along his wife Jennifer Frey-Moton and their daughter Parker.

I figured this great turn of events would also appeal to Kelly for another column, so I called him again and he signed up to come out on May 22 to meet the Motons and interview them.

Here's John, the fellow in the pink hat and tie, interviewing the Motons, The guy in the reddish shirt with his back to the camera is me. (Photo by Bruce Guthrie).

John spoke with them before the two-hour ceremony at which they had front-row seats and then again afterwards, when we took them up the memorial's steps to see the statue of Lincoln and visit the exact spot where their ancestor gave his speech in 1922.

The result was another column that appeared today in the Post.

So the Lincoln Group got two bites of the apple in the Post. Not bad.


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