BETHLEHEM — Dr. Maurice Thornton, an 88-year-old Delmar resident, has certainly lived a remarkable life so far.
He is a Korean War veteran, attained degrees from three universities, participated in the Historic March on Washington, DC in August 1962 during the Civil Rights Movement, worked numerous jobs including teaching Africana Studies for 10 years at SUNY Albany, attended former U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address as Congressman Paul Tonko’s official guest, and more.
While these facts offer just a glimpse into his lifetime, he has chosen to write a book titled “The Thornton Family” this year which focuses not on his personal journey and accomplishments, but rather his ancestral roots, dating back to the American South in the late 1800s.
The book — which Maurice said was published in the spring and is around 160 pages long — looks into numerous stories and information about his older family members, whom he said “lived in pretty tremendous times like the Great Depression, racial segregation, World War II, and so on.”
Maurice narrates the book, offering some historical photographs of family members of past generations; he acknowledged how they “fought to keep their dignity and pride” despite facing unemployment, racism and threats of wars through the decades. The oldest family members that the book discusses are his Great Grandma Lizzie Manley Thornton (1861 – 1924) and Great Grandpa John Thornton (1857 – ?), whom Maurice said were literate farmers living in Alabama.
He said that it took just four months to write the book.
Maurice added that he was partially inspired to write the book after attending his brother-in-law’s funeral in Birmingham, Alabama around two years ago, where all his other family members were present.
His curiosity about his family’s roots started here where he said he began asking for help with looking into past censuses and he gave his family names to start tracking down whatever historical records they would show up on. After around a month, he then enlisted the help of his children, including his daughter, Karen and son, Christopher to further get DNA tests done and organize all the research materials thus far.
The DNA test results revealed that Maurice’s ancestors originated somewhere from the West Coast of Africa and some had lived in Western Europe too like Great Britain and Ireland. The year of “The Voyage of No Return,” when Maurice’s ancestors were forcibly shipped to the U.S. and settled into Alabama as slaves, is unknown though.
Regardless, the researching process revealed anecdotes and stories including how Maurice’s parents fell in love while attending Union Springs High School, where they graduated in 1927, in Union Springs, Alabama; how his father lost his job and later rebounded during the Great Depression shortly afterwards; and how Maurice’s life was impacted by racial segregation, for instance.
When asked why he felt it was important to find out and write about where his family originated from, Maurice brought up parts of a supposed quote by classical Greek philosopher Socrates. “Unless you know yourself, you really are not living in the world. You have to know yourself and in order to know yourself, you have to know as much about yourself because you’re not just yourself. You also are your ancestors all put together. And that helps to make your self.”
Maurice said he hopes that the book would make for “a nice, comfortable read about family, history, loyalty and stories” for readers. “The Thornton Family,” published by Mill City Press, is available in bookstores and on online platforms like Amazon.
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