Inez E. Willis was born in Phoebus, Virginia in 1935 to Elizabeth Hammond and Scott Willis. During her early childhood, her father worked as a bellman at the Chamberlin Hotel, while her mother worked as a servant in the household of Gordon B. Welch, an ordnance officer. The Welch family lived in Quarters No. 123, pictured above, on Ruckman Road, where the Willis family stayed in the servant’s quarters. As the daughter of a Black servant in 1940, what might Inez’s childhood have been like living on Fort Monroe?
By 1950, Elizabeth and Inez had moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where Elizabeth still supports her daughter by working as a household servant in a private home. In 1960, Inez marries Howard W. Crocker. Unfortunately, not much is known about Inez after her marriage. The Crockers have at least one son, Simeon Crocker.
Inez’s story is one that staff located browsing through mid-20th century census records, and her life raises important questions about Black childhood in the mid-20th century, especially as segregation continues and the World War II war effort takes over United States industry. After finding the 1940 United States Federal Census, we located Scott Willis’ obituary which names his daughter as Inez Crocker. With her married name, it took just a few more searches to locate her husband’s name and the notice of their application for a marriage license in a Philadelphia paper in 1960. Unfortunately, neither Inez nor Howard Crocker appear much in newspapers following their marriage. The United States Federal Census is only made public after 72 years, therefore the latest census available is 1950. This limits our knowledge of where life took Inez and Howard after their marriage and poses another challenge for genealogical researchers; however, new records become available everyday, so make sure to check back frequently!
Fort Monroe Authority. “Inez E. (Willis) Crocker.” Illuminating Shadows, May 4, 2023. [access date]. [URL].