Although there is only scant information about her life, the details that are known underscore the trials and tribulations of African-Americans who were part of the “Great Migration” to the northern states from the southern states from 1890 to 1940, seeking to improve their opportunity and their lives.
Born in Virginia around 1886, Cordelia is recorded in the 1900 US Census, at the age of 13, living as a boarder in a residence on Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. Another boarder is Mary Spencer, age 65, possibly a relative.
Cordelia appears again in the 1910 US Census and in the 1915 New Jersey Census as a boarder and working as a housekeeper in a residence on Clinton Avenue in Irvington, identified as the residence of Alexander Spencer, who again may have been a relative.
In the mid-1920’s street directories, Cordelia is reported working as a maid and living with a family on Elm Street in Westfield. In 1925, she purchases a lot on Fanwood Avenue, near St. Thomas A.M.E. Zion Church (Note: no house appears in the Sanborn Maps of the 1920’s at this location).
Edward Perry, a railroad worker who had moved to the area about 10 years earlier and was a member of St. Thomas Church, purchased a lot next to Cordelia’s lot, also in 1925.
Then, in 1927, Cordelia buys another much larger parcel of six lots at 1126 Fanwood Avenue, next to John and Aina Cladopulos’ home. It is presumed that Cordelia had a house built soon thereafter, as she and Edward married in September, 1928; she was 42, he was 59.
Cordelia occupied this house for the rest of her life.
Edward died in 1939. Reverend Collier of St. Thomas A.M.E. Zion Church officiated at his funeral.
In 1943, Cordelia married Mack Manair. He was from Bermuda and an active member of Metropolitan Baptist Church. Cordelia had taken in a boarder from Bermuda when Edward was still alive, which may explain how she and Mack first met. Mack died in 1958.
Cordelia sold her property to the Town of Westfield in 1968 for $14,000, but was granted lifetime occupancy of her home. She lived in her home until 1984, even after the Park opened to the public. Neighbors recall seeing her in her yard, when they walked through Brightwood Park, even remembering delivering “meals-on-wheels” to her.
Cordelia died in a nursing home in 1985 at the age of 98.
Brightwood Park is on the North end of Prospect Street. Go past Franklin School and look for the entrance on the left.