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Tracing one family’s roots back to first Juneteenth

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Special to the AFRO

(Photos top left-clockwise): George Ross Sr.; Vina Ross was a devout wife and mother; George Ross Jr., a previous publisher of the Denver Star; and the application Vina Ross created in order to get her husband George’s military pension. It shows the “colored” regiment that he served in.
Credit: Courtesy Photos

Annapolitan Caldwell McMillan Jr, aka Shajid, is very proud of roots traceable to his Juneteenth ancestors, specifically his mother’s side of the family—Sylvia Ross McMillan.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Two years later on June 19, 1865 word finally got to enslaved Texans in Galveston that they had been free for over two years. Further west lived McMillan’s great grandmother, Vina Ross, née Elliot. She was born a “bound person” to a Quaker family in Kentucky which later migrated to Las Vegas, New Mexico. It’s highly likely that her freedom was delayed as well as those in Texas. She was born in 1853.

McMillan’s great grandfather, George Ross Sr., was born a slave in South Carolina in 1849. Life’s twists and turns led him to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he joined the Union Army at the age of 15. He served with the 83rd Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry later known as the 2nd Regiment, Kansas Colored Infantry. This unit saw action against the Confederate Army at Baxter Springs, and Jenkins Ferry Arkansas, along with escorting trains on the then western frontier. It’s not known if after the Civil War, George Sr. joined the 10th Calvary out of Fort Leavenworth, the “Buffalo Soldiers,” and wound up in New Mexico as so did they. It is there he met Vina Elliot. He married Vina and had three children; Ella in 1876, Albert in 1878 and George Jr. in 1879.

The young family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado where George established a wood and coal business. George died in 1882 at the age of 33. Vina moved the family back to Las Vegas, New Mexico where she had more community support. Eventually two sisters, a brother, and her mother joined her in New Mexico. In 1891, Vina applied for her husband’s Civil War pension. In 1943, she died in San Diego, Calif. at the age of 90.


McMillan’s family members were proud, industrious, mid-western people. They lived in New Mexico, Kansas City, Kansas and Denver depending on their generation.

In the early 1900’s, Albert, Shajid’s grandfather, taught at Western University an HBCU in Kansas City, Kansas. He then attended and graduated law school at the University of Michigan in 1917. The entire graduating class enlisted in the army during World War I. Unfortunately, he was gassed and shell shocked in France; ultimately ending up in VA hospitals first in Texas and finally in San Diego, where he died.

George Ross Jr. eventually became one of the first Black lawyers in Denver Colorado. For a time he was the publisher of Denver’s Black paper, The Denver Star. He is the original documenter of the Ross family history.

“Using, I was floored when I found that my great grandfather escaped from slavery and joined the Union Army at 15 years of age,” McMillan said. “My great grandmother, Vina Ross, instilled in her children the importance of ma- king something of themselves,” The fruit of their labor contains lawyers, educators, journalists, and community activists.”

“My mother, Sylvia Ross McMillan was the first executive director for the Community Action Agency in Annapolis,” added McMillan. “I can feel my ancestors courage running through me. On my father’s side, I have my great grandfather’s, double barreled, ten-gauge shotgun. He used it to put food on the table and to keep the Kluxers (the Klan) from the door during Reconstruction Alabama and beyond.”


Shajid, a musician and an educator, is proud of his family and its persevering nature. He understands the challenges his family faced. He feels their spirits live on, going all the way back to the first Juneteenth.

Shajid McMillan contributed to this article.

The post Tracing one family’s roots back to the first Juneteenth appeared first on Afro.

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