Conley family

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The Conley Family
Green Conley c.1850
Current region Tennessee Valley, United States
Place of origin  United States
Members Paschal Conley II
Mike Conley, Sr.
Larry Elder
Maurice Cheeks
Binford Harrison Conley PhD
Vernon Baker
Steve Conley
Roger Cameron Wood
Mike Conley, Jr.
Houston Conley PhD
Traditions Conley Connections
Estate Conley Mountain

The Conley Family is a prominent American family descending from husband and wife, Green Conley (b.1816) and Harriet Conley (b.1817), who were unrelated, and Harriet's three brothers Paschal (b.1823), William (b.1826) and Hamilton (1834). Green was born of a union of an Irish slaveholder and one of his Black African servants in Georgia. Harriet and her brothers were born of similar circumstance in Alabama. Based in the Tennessee Valley Region, they formed the foundation of the Free Black Elite in the region prior to the Civil War, and subsequently, the Talented Tenth community at the turn of the century. Starting in the early 1800s, their business success, extensive community service, and photogenic quality of the family members, elevated them to social prominence until Civil Rights Movement brought about sweeping changes to social structure of the American South.


Early roots[edit]

Through some series of events, the four siblings Harriet, Hamilton, William and Paschal (sometimes spelled Pascal in official records) migrated to Madison County, Alabama, where Harriet Conley met Green Conley, a migrant from Georgia, who in spite of the same surname was of no relation.[1]

the 1870 Census. U.S. Government.

Quadroons documented as born circa 1816, Green and Harriet were believed to have been married around 1840 in the greater Huntsville, Alabama area, of the Tennessee Valley. The Family is among the first Free Mulatto African-American families in Alabama to organize themselves formally prior to the Civil War. The 1870 Census, which was the first after the Civil War destroyed many Southern government buildings records, holds the first evidence of the emerging family. The marriage produced the children: Sarah (1840); Alexander (1845); Milton (1849); Katie (sometimes spelled Hattie in official records (1850); James (1852); William (1855); Jonas (1857); Willie (1868). All birth years are estimates, based on U.S. Census Records. Before the American Civil War records for births and marriages between citizens of even partial African origin were poorly kept, and rarely filed in public records.

Pascal Conley II, Spanish–American War hero
Lucy Conley, far leftl

Of the sons of Green Conley, Alexander was especially gifted in athletics and the arts, and William's offspring continued the military traditions started by their Uncle Pascal Conley II. Jonas pushed the broader family into the world of higher education, producing a number of academics. In some branches, their descendants blended into the white population. Passing, was a common practice in the 18th and 19th centuries with people of mixed-race heritage. Assimilating into the white majority, was a survival mechanism when legal and social definitions of hypodescent exposed them to physical danger.

According to public landownership records, the family was the largest African-American landholder in Alabama before World War II, acquiring tracts of land throughout the Tennessee Valley in a series of inter-marriage arrangements and land title transfers with other the Scruggs, Moore, Stewart and Pruitt families. Members of the family would pool their financial resources to build 'homesteads' or compounds with multiple buildings at the base of the mountains east of Madison County Lake in Madison County, Alabama, which came to be known as 'Conley Mountain' during the Reconstruction Era. During the backlash against Radical Reconstruction the common name of the mountain was revoked.[2]

In the late-19th century, when participation in the Spanish–American War and subsequent military conflicts, carried military family members and their accomplishments beyond the Southeastern United States.[3] Major branches of the family developed in Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Montana, New York, Nevada, Ohio, and Vermont. The family's public profile was diminished during the Great Depression, then saw a resurgence in after the end of World War II.

Contemporary era[edit]

Today, the family unites several strands of modern life, with family members in performing arts, medical science, technology, finance, political media, and a high-profile presence in athletics. Family links are solidified through the practice of ritualized family meetings – known as Conley Connections, which started with the regular family meetings of the original siblings, around 1870.

Contemporary descendants include:artist T.B. Jackson-Williams,[4] basketball athlete Mike Conley Jr., social and political commentator Larry Elder,[5] Three-time Olympic athlete Mike Conley, Sr.,[6][7] Silicon Valley entrepreneur Roger Cameron Wood,[8] musician Earl Thomas Conley, and academic Dalton Conley. Houston Conley,[9] family elder, helped launch the desegregation of public schools in America,[10] and is among a long list of educators produced by the family. The family's tradition in medical science began circa 1900, and continues today with Dr. Nina Joy Butler[11] and organic chemist Nicie Conley Murphy, PhD.

Fields of interests[edit]



The Family has a legacy of unbroken military service in every major conflict of the 20th century, including: the Mexican–American War; Civil War; Spanish–American War; Philippine–American War; World War I; World War II;The Korean War; the Vietnam Conflict; and The Gulf War. Pascal Conley II, was the family’s first military hero.[3] U.S. Senator Al Sessions (R) of Alabama,[12] recognized Sgt. Conley’s service in the Spanish–American War in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt;[13][14] Coincidentally, Scott Conley was a part of Sgt. Conley's famed 10th Cavalry.[15] Willie Conley led the family’s participation in World War I, with Charlie Ed Ford.

Booker Conley, Tuskegee Airman signing replica of World War II plane

Brothers Coleman and Booker Conley, along with cousin James III Conley were depicted in the George Lucas film Red Tails; Vernon Baker was the only living black American World War II veteran of the seven belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor when it was bestowed upon him by President Bill Clinton in 1997.[16]

Religious affairs[edit]

Shortly before his death, Green Conley foresaw a fundamental shift in the society as a result of the debate over slavery, and encouraged his sons to establish churches and take leading roles in the community of recently emancipated Blacks. Alexander, Jonas, and their uncle William financially supported the establishment of several churches in the Tennessee Valley region, including the Meridianville Baptist Church,[17] and The Conley CME Chapel.[18] Members of the Conley family dominated church life in Madison County and Limestone County in the 19th and 20th centuries when Black churches were often the primary link between the black and white communities. In particular, Jonas rose to prominence as a leader of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Northern Alabama soon after the denomination was established in 1870. Benjamin Harrison Conley rose to the leadership seat of the AME Church in Alabama, and his daughter Sadie Conley and Her husband Lawrence Jacobs played major roles in the Seventh Day Adventist church. Several family members also established benevolent societies and fraternal orders, becoming prominent leaders in Prince Hall Masonry, and many other organizations.


Early college photo.

Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, educations at Alabama A&M, Tennessee State University, Oakwood College Howard University, Hampton University, Spelman College, Fisk University, Morehouse College, Tuskegee University have been common among family members, and they have contributed heavily to the development of those schools.


Several family members played pivotal roles in the formation, and subsequent evolution of Alabama A&M, which was founded initially with land from the Conley and the Stewart families. A Conley family member has been enrolled as a student at Alabama A&M, or has worked on staff, in each year of the school’s existence. Oakwood College, also began on land bequeathed by Conley and Jacobs families, which eventually intermarried. Tennessee State, another traditional family school, has educated Conley family members since its accreditation in 1922. Morehouse College graduate and historian Binford Harrison Conley, PhD, managed the historical archives for Atlanta University. At Howard University, Dr. Binford H. Conley served as Director of University Libraries, including the Moorland–Spingarn Research Center, the largest archive of African-American history in the U.S. Houston Conley PhD, was a pioneering architect in the desegregation of America’s secondary schools.[9] In the modern era, several branches of the family created new education traditions at University of Michigan, University of Arkansas, Cornell University, Columbia University and University of Chicago.


Since 1850, various Conley have owned and operated businesses throughout the United States.

David Conley, Investment Banker

The early generations were mainly in agricultural businesses, but the turn of the century brought commercial diversity along with relocation of several branches to new regions of the U.S.

Rita Mack, Chair and CEO of the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association.

Jonas Benjamin Conley was an example, having played a leadership role in developing the Black-owned businesses in Huntsville while owning the only Black-owned grocery store, Conley & Smith, in Northern Alabama after World War II. In the modern era, the family's business activities cover a range of endeavors including: food services, financial services, logistics, retail and sports entertainment. Rita Mack, Co-founded the McDonald’s Women Operator Network, which now boasts a membership of five hundred female franchise owners. A national figure in the McDonald's network, she is the immediate past Chair and CEO of the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association.[19] David Conley, investment banker, is formerly Managing Director at Robert W. Baird, as well as Seasongood & Mayer.

Jess "Long Shot" Conley


Mike Conley, Sr.

The family has experienced considerable success in athletics, and sports have been a theme for the family since the 1880s with Jess Conley, to the modern era with NBA coach Maurice Cheeks. Jess "Long Shot" Conley,[20] was a popular horse jockey from the 1890s until 1915. He attracted large crowds from California to New York, riding horses owned by G.A. Singerly, John E. Madden, and famed African-American horse breeder Raleigh Colston. Jess Conley was the last African-American jockey to place in the Kentucky Derby in 1911.[21] Sports agent Mike Conley, Sr. remains one of the most decorated Olympians in the history of the United States.[22][23][24] Donald S. Conley, brother of Mike Alex Conley Sr., was a professional football player. Mike Conley, Jr. is a standout in the NBA for the Memphis Grizzlies, and son of Mike Alex Conley, Sr.[25] Jason Conley, a professional basketball player in Europe is a descendant of the original family, but not of the Alexander Conley branch. NBA coach Maurice Cheeks is a descendant of Jonas Conley, one of the original Conley Brothers, he holds several NBA records for assists, and was captain of the Philadelphia 76ers.


Bennett M. Stewart

Chicago congressman Bennett Stewart led the creation of historic legislation to ensure fair housing for all Americans. He initiated additional legislation that led to the elimination of 'redlining' practices that allowed banks to restrict mortgages by ethnicity.[26] Larry Elder is a radio and television personality who rose to prominence as a conservative political pundit. He is now one of the highest profile Black conservatives in America.[5][27][28]

Regina Morris

Regina Morris, a city administrator, led all of city operations for New York City under Mayor David Dinkins, and became the first woman to hold such a position in any U.S. city.[29] Other family members hold positions at the State, County, and Municipal levels throughout the country.

Arts and humanities[edit]

The family has produced a number of artists in the past 100 years. George Conley, Jr., great-grandson of Alexander Conley I, is a poet and creative writing professor at University of Tennessee, where he was the first graduate from their creative writing program to concentrate in poetry.[30] H.C. Conley was one of the first Black filmmakers, and created an exhibition to showcase Richard Theodore Greener, the first African-American graduate from Harvard.[31] Alexander Conley II, son of Alexander I, was the family’s first known visual artist, and his descendant, Justin Wilson, is an emerging artist, working in video montage.[32]

T.B. Jackson-Williams

Donald Conley, a young filmmaker and graduate of the prestigious NYU Film School, has shown early career promise. He has won several awards, including Winner, Best Short, 2012 Montreal Black Film Festival; Official Selection, 2012 American Black Film Festival; HBO young filmmakers aware, 2013; Best Direction, Best Picture, Audience Choice Award at 2013 Soul 4 Reel Film Festival.[33][34]

Teresa Brandy Jackson-Williams,[35] a visual artist also known as T.B. Jackson-Williams, is an artist of regional notoriety in the Kentucky and Ohio.[36][37] The youngest of three artistic siblings, she is the daughter of Christine Conley, of the Jonas Branch. After attending the prestigious Parsons School of design, she chose to work in a variety of mediums, including torn paper mosaics, illustrations and oils. her work has been featured through Louisville and the midwest in private collections, office buildings and public galleries for more than 20 years.[38]

In theater arts, Melinda Wilson, PhD, was President of the Black Theater Association.[39] A graduate of the Theatre and Drama at Northwestern University, she is also Chair of African American Theatre department at California State at Sacramento.[40][41] Her acting and directing credits include Dearborn Heights, Day of Absence, The Colored Museum, and various productions with Rhythm & Roots Performance Company in Nashville, Tennessee.

JaBen Early is the latest acting talent to emerge from the family, with two dozens acting credits in screen and stage productions.[42]

Medical sciences[edit]

Dr. Nina Joy Butler

The Family has a 115-year tradition in medical science. Largely built by the female members of the Family, the history in medical science dates back to 1879, when Burgess Scruggs graduated from Meharry Medical College, and returned to Huntsville to become a respected medical doctor, city leader,[43] and property owner.[44] Sallie Conley Thornton, served as an army nurse from 1892-1901, in military conflicts in the Philippines and Cuba. Several family members followed that path into nursing, and the when the modern era allowed later generations branched off into nearly every area of medical science.

Patent of organic chemist Dr. Murphy for SIEMENS MEDICAL SOLUTIONS microporous spherical carbon molecular sieves

Nicie Conley Murphy, PhD, leads the newest Conley generation in medical science. She is a published scientist in organic chemistry, supramolecular chemistry and photochemical reactions.[45] She holds a patent for her work in properties of microporous spherical carbon molecular sieves. Quentin Wilson, a descendant of Alexander Conley I, propelled the family into a new area of medicine, and will soon begin a residency in Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Nina Joy Butler is[11] is the latest family member to focus on pediatric medicine. Dr. Angela Thornton, descendant of William Conley, is a published authority on Reverse-transcriptase inhibitors (RTIs),[46] and Revascularization.[47][48]

Major James Conley

Family tree[edit]

Selected members of the Conley family:

  • William Conley I (born 1826) who married Rachel Conley. William was brother of Harriet.
    • Pascal (Pony) Conley III (1865–1939), a business owner and co-founder of the Meridianville Baptist Church. Pascal III was named for his uncle, war hero Paschal Conley II, nephew of Harriet.
      • Pascal Conley IV (1898-1986(Junior)
        • Viola Conley Elder
          • Larry Elder (1952–), a political commentator, radio and television personality.[28]
        • Houston Conley, pioneering architect of public school desegregation
        • Belle Conley (born 1900) who married James Moses Stewart
          • William Stewart (1918–2001), was first African-American policeman in Cleveland, OH
            • Helen Conley Stewart who married Vernon Baker (1919–2010), a decorated World War II veteran
        • Bessie Conley (1905–1991) married Drawie Rodgers
          • Cleatus Rodgers (Wife: Flossie)
            • Juliette Rodgers Thornton
              • Dr. Angela Thornton, Published medical academic in pharmacokinetics. Protease Inhibitor and Nonnucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors and related subjects.
          • Ozella Rodgers Morris
            • Regina Morris, former Operations Chief for New York City[49]
      • Jimmy Conley Sr. (born 1888)
        • Jimmy Conley Jr.
          • Posey Conley (born 26 May 1929) m 24 Mar 1951 Lucy Garner (born Nov 25, 1932)from Marriage Cert
            • Donnie Conley, decorated Illinois State Trooper [50]
              • Donald Conley, Filmmaker
      • Josie Conley Wilburn married Al Wilburn
        • Rachel Wilburn Pruitt married Will Walter Pruitt
          • Robert Pruitt, (born 1926) decorated Korean War veteran with brother Johnny
          • Johnny Pruitt, (born 1928) decorated Korean War Veteran with brother Robert
  • Paschal Conley I (born 1823-1883)
    • Paschal Conley II (1858–1919), a leader of the famed Buffalo Soldier 10th Calvary. Protege of John J. Pershing.
    • Sallie Ann Conley Thornton, nurse during Cuban and Philippine military operations[51]
  • Green Conley (born 1816), a free Black who married Harriet Conley (born 1817). Family founders for whom Conley Mountain and Hazel Green, Alabama were named.
    • Sarah Conley (born 1840)
      • Lucy Conley, student first class of Alabama A&M University, an HBCU built on land donated by the Conley Family.
    • Alexander I (born 1845) who married Louisiana Conley (born 1850)
      • Alexander II, the family's first visual artist. Self-taught painter and sketch artist.
      • Milton Conley II (named for Uncle, Milton I, brother of Alexander)
        • George Conley I
          • George Conley II, Poet and Creative Writing professor at University of Tennessee.
    • Milton Conley (born 1849)
      • Coleman Conley, Tuskegee Airman in the 92nd Buffalo Division
      • Booker Conley, Tuskegee Airman in the 92nd Buffalo Division in Italy during World War II. Draft architect of the hangars for the original Tuskegee Airmen planes.[52]
    • Kattie Conley (born 1850)
    • James Conley (born 1852)
      • James Conley III, the last living Tuskegee Airman[53]
      • Earl Thomas Conley, a country music personality
    • William Conley II
    • Jonas Conley (born 1857), who married Judy Conley, a religious leader and founder of the Conley CME Chapel
      • Eddie Conley
        • Christine Conley
          • T.B Jackson-Williams, Visual Artist and Painter
        • Lorean Conley
          • Lorean Conley II
            • Nicie Conley Murphy, PhD. Published Organic Chemist and patent holder in molecular chemistry.[54]
        • Gurley Mae Conley
          • David J. Conley, Investment Banker, Robert W. Baird and Co.
        • John W. Conley (born 1868)
      • Benjamin Harrison Conley, a religious leader and CME church founder
        • Jonas Benjamin "JB" Conley, owner of several businesses, including Conley & Smith Grocery. Leader of the Black business district in Huntsville Alabama in the 1940s and 50s.
        • Helen Conley Cargle, with husband Frank Cargle, Sr., helped found Cargle Realty in Detroit. The couple also helped establish The Museum of African American History in Detroit.
        • Sadie Conley Jacobs, with husband Lawrence Jacobs, helped establish Oakwood University as a four-year college
        • Binford Conley, PhD. Head of University Libraries at Howard University, and Director of the Moorland-Spingarn Archives[57]
      • Mary Conley married Morris Moore, Jr.


  • Darwin Road, Meridianville, Alabama. Named for the Annie Conley Darwin Branch.
  • Lawrence Jacobs Silos Plaza was dedicated to Lawrence Jacobs, husband of Sadie Conley Jacobs who had helped establish Oakwood University as a four-year college.[58]
  • The Conley CME Chapel was dedicated to Jonas Conley who had founded the chapel.[18]
  • Conley Drive in Meridianville, Alabama was named after the Conley family.
  • Jacobs Farm Road in Huntsville, Alabama was named after Sadie Conley Jacobs and Lawrence Jacobs.
  • Moores Mill Road
  • Hazel Green, Alabama Hazel Green, Alabama. Believed to be the original homestead of Green and Harriet Conley, and the hazel birch trees abundant in the area.
  • Townsend Cemetery
  • Conley Cemetery, in Huntsville, AL. One of five main family burial grounds in Huntsville and Madison, Alabama; Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Burlington, Vermont; and Montana.[59]
  • Black American West Museum. Denver Museum of Black History in the Rocky Mountain region. Military exhibits donated by the Conley Family.[60]
  • Wright Museum of African American History. Founded in 1965, it holds the world's largest permanent exhibit on African American culture. Established with land grant by Frank Cargle Sr. and Helen Conley Cargle with Dr. Charles Wright.[61]

See also[edit]

  • Vernon Baker, decorated World War II vet, husband of Helen Conley Stewart Baker
  • Bennett Stewart, Federal housing innovator and Chicago politician.


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