Tiberius E. Julius

Boston served as one of the many destinations for African American southern migrants searching for new economic opportunities and fleeing discrimination during the Great Migration. This article highlights the journey of one of these southern migrants who settled in Boston, as shared on Boston National Historical Park’s Stories of the Great Migration page.

Tiberius E. Julius spent the first half of his life in Virginia, working as a blacksmith at a local shipyard. We do not know what sparked his decision to leave Virginia nor what path he took north. While parts of Tiberius’s path remain a mystery, he began a new life in Boston, getting a job at the Charlestown Navy Yard and joining one of the local Black churches.

Explore the story-map below to learn more about Tiberius E. Julius's Great Migration journey. Please use the arrows to navigate between the points. To view a larger version of the image, click on the image.

Tiberius Esquire Julius

June 20, 1891 to April 27, 1958

1900 Census record listed Tiberius and his family.This 1900 Census Record lists Tiberius Julius and his family living in Elizabeth City County, Virginia. (Credit: United States Census Bureau)

June, 1891: East Hampton

Elizabeth City County, Virginia

Born June 20, 1891, Tiberius Esquire Julius spent his childhood in East Hampton, Elizabeth City County, Virginia. His uncommon name echoes those of emperors of the Roman Empire hundreds of years prior. As Isabel Wilkerson stated in her work The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, “sometimes parents tried to superimpose glory on their offspring with the grandest title they could think of… It was a way of affixing acceptability if not greatness.” Doing so would require both Whites and Blacks to call their child by their “grand” name despite their position in society. Tiberius’s parents possibly viewed naming their child “Tiberius Esquire Julius” as a way to chip away at racial barriers they knew their son would face.[1]

Map of Elizabeth County, Virginia, 1902.Tiberius grew up in East Hampton, a short distance away from Point Comfort. (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

1900: East Hampton

Elizabeth City County, Virginia

Growing up in Hampton, Tiberius’s father, Jesse Julius, worked as a farm laborer while his mother, Martha (Mattie) Ball Julius, took care of their home. The African American community of Hampton has a long history. In 1619, English privateers brought about 20 Africans to nearby Point Comfort and sold them to English colonists. This marked one of the first recorded cases of slavery in Virginia and British North America.

Over the next 250 years, enslaved peoples of Hampton found ways to resist and liberate themselves. They most notably fled to Union controlled Fort Monroe at Point Comfort during the Civil War. After the Civil War, free African American men and women formed new communities in the area.

African Americans running to Fort Monroe.

(Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Though born a couple decades after the end of the Civil War, Tiberius may have been aware of this legacy, and it may have influenced his decision to take a different path than his parents and brother, Theodore Lorenzo, who would live their entire lives in Virginia.[2]

28th Street, Newport News, Virginia around 1906.With his home on 27th street, Tiberius lived a short distance away from the businesses on 28th street. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection)

1913: 519 27th Street

Newport News, Virginia

By 1913, Tiberius moved to Newport News, Virginia, a short distance away from East Hampton. In the late 1800s, Newport News emerged as a booming port city due to the extension of Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and the founding of a new shipyard, Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. An already established African American community with growing businesses and industries, Newport News may have appealed to Tiberius as a young man looking for employment. We know little of Tiberius’s first years in Newport, only that he worked as a waiter.[3]

Launching of a ship at Newport News, Virginia.Tiberius Julius worked at Newport News Shipbuilding for several years and possibly attended this launching. (Credit: The Mariners' Museum and Park)

1917-1920: Newport News Shipbuilding

Washington Avenue, Newport News, Virginia

World War I sparked growth in the defense industry, especially at shipyards such as Newport News Shipbuilding. In 1917, Tiberius worked as a laborer at the shipyard, playing a role in the construction of 25 destroyers completed for the Navy over the course of the war. The shipbuilding industry pervaded the city, with many of Tiberius’s neighbors working as riggers, drillers, riveters, and laborers at the shipyard. After the war ended, Tiberius continued his career at the shipyard, eventually changing positions from laborer to blacksmith. Tiberius’s job at the yard helped him support his wife Cornelia and a young child, his niece, also named Cornelia.[4]

1930 Census Record for Cornelia Julius.The 1930 Census Record listed Tiberius Julius's wife Cornelia as a widow. (Credit: United States Census Bureau)

1930: Newport News


Tracking down the next chapter of Tiberius’s life reveals a mystery. We could not locate Tiberius Julius in any Virginia records after 1920. While we know Julius lived in Boston in 1940, we do not know where he lived during the intervening years between 1920 and 1940. The 1930 Census recorded his wife Cornelia still living in Newport News, Virginia; however, the record listed her as a widow. Her death record from 1954 also listed her as the widow of Tiberius Julius, and on the death record, information next to Tiberius’s name appears to be blocked out.

1954 Death Record for Cornelia Julius.

(Credit: Virginia Department of Health)

This evidence leaves more questions than answers. Why did the census record list his wife as a widow if he was still alive? Did Tiberius leave Cornelia to look for work and never returned, resulting in her thinking he died? Did Tiberius and Cornelia have a falling out and he moved north? Or, did Tiberius flee for his safety due to southern violence? Unfortunately, his reason for leaving Virginia remains a mystery.[5]

Railroad Company N.Y.N.H.&H. Tunnel, Providence, R.I.Tiberius Julius may have worked in the railroad industry in Providence, RI. (Credit: Rhode Island Collection, Providence Public Library)

1924-1934: Providence

Rhode Island

We have identified one possible path Tiberius took on his way to Boston. City directories recorded a “Tiberius E. Julius” living in Providence, Rhode Island in 1924, 1930, and 1934. This Providence Tiberius first worked for the railroad industry and later for a car washer. These manual labor jobs could have appealed to a man who previously worked as a blacksmith. In the late 1920s, he married Adella W. Julius. While the 1930 Providence City Directory recorded Tiberius and Adella living together, the 1930 Federal Census did not list Tiberius with Adella Julius.

We have not located other evidence to prove this “Tiberius E. Julius” was the same man who lived in Newport News, Virginia. However, with a unique name like “Tiberius E. Julius” and similar occupations, we suggest these men may be one and the same. We may never know whether the Tiberius E. Julius born in East Hampton, Virginia took this path, or whether it is purely coincidental that there was another Tiberius E. Julius living in Providence, Rhode Island.[6]

Charlestown Navy Yard with view of the USS Hambleton in Dry Dock 1.As a laborer and blacksmith at the Navy Yard, Tiberius Julius would have walked by the dry docks during his workday. (Credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

1940: Charlestown Navy Yard

Charlestown, Boston, Massachusetts

While his path to Boston warrants further research, Tiberius lived in Boston in 1940. Working as a helper at the Charlestown Navy Yard, surely he brought the skills he learned from his time at Newport News Shipbuilding to this new job. Tiberius kept some of his strong Virginia ties after his move to Boston; he listed his brother, Lorenzo T. Julius, who still lived in Hampton, Virginia, as his primary contact for his World War II draft card in 1942.[7]

Boston Guardian article from Dec. 30, 1944 that mentions Tiberius Julius.This clip from the Guardian mentions Tiberius Julius worked at the Navy Yard and served as an usher at Peoples Baptist Church. (Credit: The Boston Guardian)

1944: Peoples Baptist Church

Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts

A paragraph from the December 30 “City News” section of the Guardian reported a gathering Tiberius attended for Christmas. The brief account described Tiberius Julius as “a native Virginian, a blacksmith’s helper at the Navy Yard” and “an usher at People’s Church.” Peoples Baptist Church descended from the first American Baptist Church of Boston founded in the early 1800s at the African Meeting House. By the early 1900s, the church moved to the South End and became known as Peoples Baptist Church.

African American southern migrants frequently turned to church communities to help them transition to living in the North. When Virginia-born Reverend Richard M. Owen began preaching at Peoples Baptist Church in the 1930s, he attracted other Black southern migrants. Tiberius Julius may have joined Peoples Baptist Church because he could relate to this southern-born preacher.[8]

1931 Atlas Map of Roxbury showing Windsor Street.While at 36 Windsor Street, Tiberius lived a short distance away from busy Roxbury streets as well as a local park. (Credit: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection, Boston Public Library)

June, 1945: 36 Windsor Street

Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts

After living in Boston for several years, Tiberius Julius bought a home at 36 Windsor Street. On June 27, 1945, he deposited $500 towards the $5000 price of this townhouse. Julian D. Steele, President of the Armstrong-Hemingway Foundation and President of Boston Branch of the NAACP, owned this property and sold it to Tiberius. Steele shared Julius’s southerner roots as he had grown up in Georgia and moved to Boston with his family as a young boy. Steele had previously rented the apartment to David Lombard, who also worked at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Perhaps Lombard and Julius’s paths crossed at the Navy Yard, which led to this purchase.

While living in this house, Tiberius Julius married Mabel S. Julius around 1947. They spent a few more years at 36 Windsor Street before moving to 23 Homestead Street at the end of the decade.[9]

Intersection of Berkeley Street and Stuart Street in Back Bay.At this intersection Tiberius got in a car accident on his way to work. (Credit: Boston City Archives)

1952: Stuart and Berkeley Street

Back Bay, Boston, Massachusetts

Throughout the 1950s, City Directories recorded Tiberius Julius’s occupations as a furnace man and as a machine operator at the Navy Yard. While the end of World War II led to a workforce reduction at the Charlestown Navy Yard, Julius kept his job and continued his career at the Yard.

While driving to work on April 7, Tiberius Julius got in a car accident at the intersection of Berkeley and Stuart Streets in Back Bay. The five other men who rode in the car with Julius all had to be treated for minor injuries. Julius and the two men in the other vehicle remained uninjured. Although the article did not specify whether the other members of Julius’s car worked at the Charlestown Navy Yard, frequently Navy Yard workers formed carpools to make their commute easier.[10]

Death notice for Tiberius Julius.Notice of Tiberius Julius's death. (Credit: The Boston Traveler; Genealogy Bank)

April, 1958: 132 Harrishof Street

Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts

Tiberius Julius passed away April 27, 1958, leaving behind his wife Mabel S. Julius. While his Great Migration story raises several questions, Tiberius Julius’s life presents another journey people took when they left the South. Boston may have not been the first place migrants tried to begin their new lives. They may have tried looking for employment opportunities in one city, only to find better ones in Boston.

As we learn about Great Migration experiences of Black southern migrants who settled in Boston, Tiberius Julius’s story suggests we may never fully comprehend the variety of paths people took.[11]


[1] Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (New York: Random House, 2010), 189.

Image: United States Census Bureau, Census Record, 1900, Chesapeake, Elizabeth City, Virginia, Enumeration District: 0005, FHL microfilm: 1241706, page 25.

[2] “1619 First African Landing,” Hampton VA, Hampton History Museum, accessed April, 2020, https://hampton.gov/3585/1619-Landing.; Andrew Lawler, “Fort Monroe’s Lasting Place in History,” Smithsonian Magazine, July 4, 2011, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/fort-monroes-lasting-place-in-history-25923793/.; “Give Me Liberty,” Hampton VA, Hampton History Museum, accessed April, 2020, https://hampton.gov/3184/Give-Me-Liberty.; Ibram X. Kendi, “The Hopefulness and Hopelessness of 1619: Marking the 400-year African American struggle to survive and to be free of racism,” The Atlantic, August 20, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/historical-significance-1619/596365/.; Michael Guasco, “The Misguided Focus on 1619 as the Beginning of Slavery in the U.S. Damages Our Understanding of American History,” Smithsonian Magazine, September 13, 2017, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/misguided-focus-1619-beginning-slavery-us-damages-our-understanding-american-history-180964873/.; United States Census Bureau, Census Record, 1900, Chesapeake, Elizabeth City, Virginia, Enumeration District: 0005, FHL microfilm: 1241706, page 25.

Image: Semple, E. A, Wm Ivy, C Hubbard, and E.W. Smith & Co. Map of Elizabeth City Co., Va.: from actual surveys by E.A. Semple, Wm. Ivy and C. Hubbard. Philadelphia: E. W. Smith and Co, 1902. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011588010/.; Stampede of slaves from Hampton to Fortress Monroe. Fort Monroe Hampton United States Virginia, 1985. [? from a Print In1861] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/92515012/.

[3] “African American Life,” The Old Dominion Land Company and the Development of the City of Newport News, Corporation of Newport News Virginia, accessed April, 2020, http://cdm15904.contentdm.oclc.org/ui/custom/default/collection/default/resources/custompages/odlcexhibit/index/african_american.html; Tiberius Julius entry, Newport News, Virginia City Directory, 1913 (Newport News, VA: Hill Directory Company, Inc., Publishers, 1913), 178.; William A. Fox, Downtown Newport News (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010), 13, Google Books .

Image: Detroit Publishing Co., Copyright Claimant, and Publisher Detroit Publishing Co. Twenty-eighth St., Newport News, Va. Newport News Newport News. United States Virginia, ca. 1906. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016817807/.

[4] Fox, Downtown Newport News, 13.; United States Census Bureau, Census Record, 1920, Newport News Ward 2, Newport News (Independent City), Virginia, Enumeration District: 100, Roll: T625_1899, page 9A.; Tiberius Julius, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Registration State: Virginia; Registration County: Warwick; Roll: 1991375; Draft Board: 1.

Image: "Liberty launching day, Newport News Shipbuilding," Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company E.O. Smith, Archive Number: P0001.019/01-102#PS456, The Mariners' Museum and Park. https://catalogs.marinersmuseum.org/object/ARI87326.

[5] Cornelia Julius Death Record, 1954, Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.; United States Census Bureau, Census Record, 1930, Newport News, Newport News (Independent City), Virginia, Enumeration District: 0009, FHL microfilm: 2342203, page 9A.; Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns.

Image: United States Census Bureau, Census Record, 1930, Newport News, Newport News (Independent City), Virginia; Enumeration District: 0009, FHL microfilm: 2342203, Page 9A; Cornelia Julius 1954 Death Record, Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.

[6] Tiberius E. Julius entry, Providence City Directory, 1924 (Providence, Rhode Island: Sampson & Murdock Company, 1924), 496.; Subsequent entries also Sampson & Murdock Company: Julius entry, Providence City Directory, 1930, 878.; Julius entry, Providence City Directory, 1934, 567.

Image: "East Side Tunnel, Providence," postcard, 1913, published by Charles H. Seddon, Rhode Island Collection, Providence Public Library, https://www.provlibdigital.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A17035.

[7] Tiberius Julius, World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Massachusetts; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System; Record Group Number: 147; Series Number: M2090, The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri.; "United States Census, 1940," database with images, GenealogyBank (https://genealogybank.com/#), Tiberius Julius, Ward 9, Boston, Boston City, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States.

Image: "DD-455 USS Hambleton in Drydock after Torpedoed;" Administrative History of the First Naval District in World War II, 1946 - 1946; Record Group 181: Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784 - 2000, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7326759.

[8] “African Meeting House,” Boston African American National Historic Site, Massachusetts, accessed April 2020, https://www.nps.gov/boaf/learn/historyculture/amh.htm.; “City News” section, cropped image, Boston Guardian (Boston, MA), Dec. 30, 1944, 6.; Robert C. Hayden, Faith, Culture and Leadership: A History of the Black Church in Boston (Boston: Boston Branch NAACP and Robert C. Hayden, 1983), 6, 8.

Image: “City News” section, cropped image, Boston Guardian (Boston, MA), Dec. 30, 1944, 6.

[9] Tiberius E. Julius entry, Boston City Directory, 1945 (Boston, Massachusetts: R.L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1945), 888. Subsequent City Directories have the same publisher. Boston CIty Directory, 1946, 946.; Boston City Directory, 1947, 977.; Boston City Directory, 1948, 980.; Boston City Directory, 1951, 940.; Tiberius E. Julius Purchasing 36 Windsor Street, Deed, June 27, 1945, Julian D. Steele Collection, Armstrong Hemenway Foundation B Correspondence, Box 11, Folder 4, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.

Image: G.W. Bromley & Co., "Atlas of the city of Boston, Roxbury," Map, 1931, Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:1257c361w.

[10] “Back Bay Crash Injures 5 Men,” The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), April 7, 1952, 10.; Tiberius E. Julius entry, Boston City Directory, 1951 (Boston, Massachusetts: R.L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1951), 940. Subsequent City Directories have the same publisher. Boston City Directory, 1952, 1123.; Boston City Directory, 1954, 1125.; Boston City Directory, 1957, 1056; Walter Jennings, interviewed by Celeste Bernardo, Oral History, September 2, 2000, Boston National Historical Park, 11.

Image: "Berkeley Street at Stuart Street," photograph, ca. 1940, Record Identifier: 5000-009-1338, Public Works Department photograph collection (5000.009), Boston City Archives, https://cityofboston.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/digitalFile_676c8a19-045e-4643-a37b-46d1dd986e7e/.

[11] “Other Deaths” section, cropped image, Boston Traveler (Boston, MA), Apr. 28, 19458, pg. 10 . Genealogy Bank.

Image: “Other Deaths” section, cropped image, Boston Traveler (Boston, MA), Apr. 28, 19458, pg. 10 . Genealogy Bank.

Last updated: July 6, 2020