Mattie Freeman Childs was born to Stephen Childs and Julia Childs on October 1, 1872 in Marion County, Alabama. An 1880 census reveals that Mattie’s father, Stephan Childs, was born in 1848 in North Carolina before working as a grocer in Perry, Alabama. Her mother, Julia Childs, was born in 1855 in Virginia and kept house. The second oldest of five children, Mattie and two of her siblings were already in school by 1880. While her father could read but not write and her mother reported that she could neither read nor write, Mattie also shared her home with Willie Childs, her father’s younger brother working as a school teacher in Marion County. The family as a whole is described as “mulatto.”
According to the catalogue of Atlanta University, Mattie was one of two female graduates in the class of 1895 (along with Georgia Louise Palmer). Before leaving Atlanta, Childs delivered on oration on Emancipation day 1894 entitle “Progress of the Colored Woman since 1863,” the first column included below (see source page for additional text):
The 1900 census finds Mattie back in Perry at 8 Clay St., a property recorded as a “farm” that the family owned, mortgage-free.Now a schoolteacher, Mattie is noted as literate and still unmarried. Her mother is now widowed and described as the head of the household – she is housing three of her children. At this point, her brother Stephen Amzi Childs owns the Childs Bakery, known for their peanut brittle candy throughout Marion. Mattie’s younger brothers also worked at the store as clerks.
By 1920, Mattie is 45 years old, married and listed as “Mattie Bray” or “Broy.” She is living in Jefferson, Alabama with her husband, James A. Bray, who lists his occupation as “Sanitary” on the “Educational Board.” Bray had been previously married to Mattie Benlah Davis, who had been the President of the Woman’s Club of Athens, GA. Mattie’s children – Ella, age 15 and Martha, age 8- are both in school and can read and write. They own their home, and are paying a mortgage.
Census data from 1930 finds the Childs-Bray family in Chicago, Illinois, where Mattie works as both a homemaker and a college teacher and James is employed as a Minister in a Methodist Church. The family owns a home on Forestville Avenue worth $20,000. They do not own a radio set. In addition to Martha and Ella, the Brays house James’s nephew, Wesley B. Johnson, a 25 year old post office clerk, and Susie Baker and Irene Tucker, both lodgers widowed in their late 30s and working as maids for private families.
On June 11, 1943, Mattie is the featured speaker at the Walter White Center at an event sponsored by the Freeport branch of the NAACP. The event honored several recent female graduates in the local area. The article (below) note that Bray would also speak at the St. James Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. The piece notes that James is the “presiding bishop of the Chicago conference of the CME church.” The piece also clarifies her experience in education: “She has had wide experience in the field of education, having been dean of women for seven years and instructor at Tallahassee college, Tallahassee, Fla.”
A note in the 1925 Columbus city directory finds Mattie back in Georgia in 1925. James passed away in 1944 in Little Rock; finally, the Social Security Death Index confirms that Childs passed away in December of 1969 in Chicago.
Note: Thank you @Pauloyramos for your incredibly helpful research on Ancestry!