william_joe_citadel_1937My Chinese-American heritage stretches back much farther than most, dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

My Great Grandfather, Heng Fong Joe (transliterated from Zhou), was a university professor from Canton who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s via Vancouver to reunite with an older brother. My Great Grandmother, Bessie Joe, was born in San Francisco to Chinese-American parents in 1892.

They settled in Augusta, Georgia where there was already a small community of Chinese-American laborers who had built the Augusta Canal in the mid-1800s. Many of Heng Fong’s friends and family from China (educated and with financial means) immigrated to Augusta with his encouragement; and as a result, he soon became the patriarch of the community. Heng Fong made his living as the proprietor of a grocery store.

Heng Fong’s first child was my grandfather, Col. William G. Joe. He was born in Augusta Georgia in 1915 and was the eldest of 12 children. As a teenager he enrolled at the Citadel, and became the first Chinese-American from Augusta to attend college. As an interesting side note, each of his siblings went on to attend college, with the next oldest sibling paying tuition for their younger sibling. His sister Frances attended Columbia University in New York.

My Grandfather joined the U.S. Military upon graduation from the Citadel in 1937 and had a decorated and venerated career. He served as an Airborne Ranger with the 101st Airborne in WWII and was awarded medals for the liberation of France (Normandy), Holland, Belgium (Bastogne), Germany (awarded by the US), a Bronze Star, etc.

While stationed abroad in Europe he was appointed a translator, Ruth Erika von Rosener (born in Danzig in 1920), who he would later marry in the United States. My Grandparents raised four daughters, one of whom is my mother.

I’m only ¼ Chinese but I couldn’t be prouder of my Chinese-American heritage and history. I visited the Chinese American Inclusion/Exclusion exhibit in New York and was compelled to share my story, AND CODUCT FURTHER RESEARCH.

If there’s an interest in my providing more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would greatly appreciate having my family story shared with the larger Chinese-American community.

Lexi Steigelman

Georgia State Archive References:

My grandfather’s graduation photo:

Augusta, GA Kindergarten class here:

My grandfather with his sister Frances here: