Twins Alonzo and Alfonso Fox: Treating the body and the soul
Dr. Alonzo Fox was pictured in the Hannibal Courier-Post on April 7, 1949, in conjunction with his appointment to the Lincoln University board. The photo was accessed on the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website, African American Community 1880-1960.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The 1200 block of Center Street – west of North Maple Ave. - was biracial long before the Jim Crow Laws were enacted.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Alonzo and Alfonso Fox were 8-year-old twins living with their grandparents, Richard and Maria Saunders, at 1214 Center St. Richard was a laborer, and Maria was at times during her life the organist for the Allen Chapel AME Church.
Next door lived 16-year-old twins Tom and Bob Robinson, Episcopalian by faith, and the youngest sons of Thomas and Belle Ayres Robinson. Thomas Sr. and his twin, Robert Sr., were Irish emigrants who operated Robinson Paint and Wallpaper Company on South Main Street.
While next-door neighbors, the two sets of twins didn’t attend the same schools. The Fox twins walked each day to Douglass school, where they attended classes with others of their race.
The Robinson twins walked to Central school, segregated for members of their race.
The Robinson twins followed in their father’s footsteps, and became Hannibal businessmen. They operated R.B. and T.C. Robinson Plumbing and Electric, located first on Broadway, and later on South Main. While leaving the residential neighborhood shortly after the turn of the century, they both remained Hannibal residents. Bob died in 1932 and Tom died in 1959.
Alonzo and Alfonso left Hannibal to attend college. Alonzo returned after graduation from MeHarry medical college. He raised his family and practiced medicine in the same house on Center Street where he had lived with his twin, his mother and his maternal grandparents.
Alfonso graduated from Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio in 1915, and became a Methodist minister. He served churches in Palmyra, Mo., Macon, Mo., Portland, Ore., Nashville, Tenn., Covington, Ky., Huntington, W.Va., Xenia, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Kansas City, Mo., among others. He was the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree in 1924. At the end of their lives, the Fox twins were living in Chicago, where Rev. Alfonso died in 1962, and Dr. Alonzo died in 1972.
In a feature story on the life of Dr. McMechen, published during December 2018, we learned that both Dr. Mech and Dr. Fox were graduates of MeHarry medical college in Nashville, Tenn. While Dr. McMechen adopted Hannibal for his home, Dr. Fox returned to his hometown, moving with his bride into the Center Street house with his grandparents.
We also learned that the two doctors each made house calls, and treated patients in the absence of the other. They also each drove big, black Cadillacs in their later years, a fact that is still remembered with awe by their former patients.
The sons of Rev. and Dr. Fox had united in Chicago by the time of the 1940 census taker came to call. Richard Harmon Fox and Alonzo Fox Jr., sons of Dr. Fox; and Walter Fox, son of Rev. Fox, were in their early 20s, living together on South Michigan Avenue. They were working as musicians in a nightclub. At the time Dr. Fox was still living in Hannibal, and Rev. Fox was in Philadelphia, Pa.
In 1931, while Rev. Fox was pastor of the Lee’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Brighton, Pa., he “was accompanied by his orchestra” during a special service, suggesting that he was also a musician.
Previously mentioned, the twin’s grandmother, Maria (or Myra) Saunders, played the organ for the Allen Chapel AME Church in Hannibal. Maria’s daughter and the twin’s mother, Anna Saunders (Fox Cook Jordan) was identified as a music teacher in the 1916 Hannibal city directory, and the 1930 census.
Tragically, Alonzo Fox Jr. – son of Dr. Fox – was killed in a one-car accident near Galesburg, Ill., in November 1964. Dr. Fox was a passenger in the vehicle, but his injuries weren’t life threatening.
The Fox family
The Fox twins were the sons of Aaron W. Fox, a native of Paris, Mo. Aaron was the son of Benjamin and Mary A. Fox, who in 1873 had moved to Hannibal, making their home on the south side of Rock street, west of Eighth street. In 1885, when Aaron was 17 years old, they were living at 719 Hill St.
In 1894, when the twins were about 3 years old, Aaron W. Fox was a porter at the Union Depot Hotel.
The twin’s parents parted ways circa 1900.
Aaron Fox moved to Kansas City and remarried. He lived in the city for 40 years before his death in 1940. He was buried at Highland Cemetery at Kansas City.
Anna Fox married Frank Cook, who worked as a cook for the Burlington Railroad. They had a daughter together in 1904, named Florence. Frank Cook died before Florence was 6.
She married Joseph Hugh Jordan, and he died June 1, 1936.
Anna M. Saunders Fox Cook Jordan died in October 1943 at the home of her daughter, Florence Robbins at Rock Island, Ill. Burial followed at Ottumwa Cemetery, Ottumwa, Ill.
Both Dr. Fox and Rev. Fox are buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Ill. The proud cemetery – established in 1927 – was one of the few early Chicago cemeteries to serve the needs of the African-American community (Wikipedia).
Unfortunately, the Burr Oak Cemetery was later shrouded in scandal.
Wikipedia information indicates that The Cook County Sheriff’s department investigated allegations that more than 200 graves had been dug up by cemetery employees and the human remains had been placed in unmarked mass graves. The empty graves were then resold. The cemetery became a crime scene during the investigation.
A study of the cemetery records was conducted, showing that there had been between 140,190 and 147,568 burials at the cemetery, while there were only 130,000 graves.
There were arrests and convictions.
It is unclear from internet records whether the gravesites of Dr. and Rev. Fox were affected.
• Jim's Journey, The Huck Finn Freedom Center, offers resources to those who are interested in building cross-cultural understanding by documenting, preserving and presenting the history of the 19th and 20th-century African American community in Hannibal and northeast Missouri. ht Jim's Journey, The Huck Finn Freedom Center, offers resources to those who are interested in building cross-cultural understanding by documenting, preserving and presenting the history of the 19th and 20th-century African American community in Hannibal and northeast Missouri. http://www.jimsjourney.org/ G. Faye Dant is a fifth-generation African American Hannibalian and descendant of Missouri slave, James Walker.
• Researcher Rhonda Brown Hall of Hannibal, Mo., moderates the Negro Family's Research Center on Facebook. She is a descendant of J.T. Brown, who founded McElroy and Brown Transfer in 1909. J.T. Brown later bought out McElroy, and was joined in the business in turn by his son and grandsons. The business is still in operation.
Dr. Alonzo Fox and his twin brother, the Rev. A.R. Fox, grew up in the house to the left of this duplex, located at 1212 and 1214 Center Street, Hannibal, Mo. The house where the Fox brothers lived was demolished and a frame house built on the lot. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
This advertisement in the 1942 Douglass High School yearbook indicates that in addition to working as a physician, Dr. Fox was also the owner of a barber shop at 1631 Market Street, Hannibal, Mo. Yearbook accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.
This undated photo depicts the old Douglass School, which twins Alonzo and Alfonzo Fox attended when boys growing up in Hannibal, Mo. Steve Chou collection
Gale Conley and Jim Riding each remember from their childhoods in Hannibal that Dr. Fox and Dr. McMechen drove big black Cadillacs. Bob Stehman - a musician and auctioneer in Hannibal during the same era that the doctors practiced medicine, is pictured with his wife next to a big, old Cadillac, possibly of the same vintage that the doctors drove. Steve Chou collection