Bittersweet Memories

When I was a small child, there was an old woman I remember seeing when we visited my grandfather’s house on the Southside of Chicago. She was extremely quiet, very tall (although slumped with age), with light brown skin and braided hair. My mother told me she was more than 100 years old.

Rhoda REEVES LESLIE (pre 1900 @ Opelika AL)It was not until I was a grown woman that I realized who “that woman” was… Rhody Leslie, my father’s grandmother. She migrated to Chicago in 1939 to live with her sons, Tommie Joe and Robert (my grandfather), after her husband of 67 years died in Alabama. When she passed away in 1954, at age 104, I was three years old. Too young to ever have a conversation with her, I do not even remember attending her funeral. And, until I became an adult, I had no idea that Rhody had been enslaved – along with her husband and mother.  Those in my family who knew her well say I remind them of her. A regal six feet tall, she smoked a pipe, swallowed an aspirin and downed a shot of whiskey each and every day.

In retrospect, I credit Rhody for inspiring me to become a genealogist.

My father left Alabama when he was a child (sometime around 1922). He seldom talked about his childhood and never went back to his birthplace on Ripley Street in Montgomery, Alabama. After years of prodding, he eventually gave me the key that unlocked the mysteries of our family origins. He told me that Rhody, her mother (Easter), and her husband (Tom), left slavery together from Lowndes County, Alabama.

For my entire adult life, I have been on a relentless quest to uncover every bit of information I can find about Rhody, Tom and Easter. I want to vicariously enter their lives… discover their personalities… witness the hardships they endured …. delve into the very essence of their beings. They were, after all, my great grandparents; blood of my blood. I have a compelling need to honor them by telling their story.

Rhoda could neither read nor write. She would thus have been unable to confirm or contest any of the notations in the sparse historical records that mention her name. On that note, it never ceases to amaze me how scrupulous record takers were in keeping (or not) documentation that confirms the existence of African Americans like Rhody. I can’t help but believe they purposefully obscured the past so people like me would never be able to piece together the details of our holocaust.

These days, having gotten involved with Coming to the Table, I am frustrated because I cannot find a slaveholder descendant who is directly connected to my family. I have been all around the proverbial bush and my best result has been an unrelated white man in Tennessee whose ancestor was married to the niece of the man I believe enslaved Tom’s mother. Then, there is the white Leslie descendant who submitted to a DNA test because I thought his ancestor was Tom’s father (no prize). I suppose I should take solace in the discovery of several relatives who were raised as white and had no idea of their black blood — with whom I am now conjoined. But where is the “father lode”?!!

Pondering the thought that my personal connection to slavery ended less than 60 years ago, I remain viscerally and painfully chained to its blight. Being the one in my family who remembers, I am on a mission to make sure that no one else forgets.

Sharon Morgan

Sharon Leslie Morgan is the founder of, a website dedicated to African American family research. She is co-author of Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press, 2012). This blog expresses the views of the author and should not be attributed to Coming to the Table or any other associated activity.

12 thoughts on “Bittersweet Memories”

  1. Ms Morgan- My name is David Clark Leslie. Currently, I live and work in Afghanistan, but my family is from South Carolina- I am an 11th or 12th generation South Carolinian. My family is from the entire breadth of the state- coming to SC from Barbados it appears roughly around 1700. One of my ancestors, Moses Leslie (born 1774 in Fairfield County SC), had three sons, two of which I believe, (Wilson Leslie born about 1803 in SC and Moses Jr born about 1805), migrated to Alabama in the early 1820’s. Wilson Leslie had children born in Alabama by the mid- to late 1820’s; I’m uncertain about Moses Jr. This branch of the Leslie’s settled in Alabama and Mississippi. I might be able to help you with some of your search.

    I won’t mince words- the South Carolina plantation system was the basis for the agrarian society of the Deep South. It differed from the Virginia and Maryland tidewater greatly as, the South Carolina system was based identically off the Barbadian system, and even in the 17th and 18th century, the Barbadian plantation system was renowned for its harshness.

    By the time of this message, you may have found the genealogy information you seek, but if I can assist in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me. Genealogy is my hobby, and I would be happy to help if I can.

    Warmest regards,
    D. Clark Leslie
    Kabul, Afghanistan

      1. Sorry, should have checked closer, before writing. I’ll write to you from that site.

  2. Sharon- Clark Leslie here again in Kabul. I have restarted some of my genealogy search and there were multiple Leslie/Lesley men from my ilk that moved west…Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas. Your great grandfather was born about 1850, correct? Where in Alabama was he born? I had some incorrect research (in fact was my original thought, but talked myself out of it, then came across evidence that I was correct originally). My ilk came directly from Scotland in 1716 as a POW from the First Jacobite War, not from Barbados as I had thought. Although, I suspect they were relatives- in 1650 an Alexander Leslie came to Barbados as a rector of the Church, and my ancestor was named Alexander Leslie born in Scotland about 1690, both with origins in Aberdeenshire and Killiecrankie Scotland, but I digress. The Alexander in my ilk, had a great grandson named Thomas Leslie, who had 5 sons. Two remained in South Carolina, and three moved west, with some stopping in Alabama. Wilson Leslie in particular would have had four sons that were in Alabama and of the right age. Wilson’s other brothers that moved west, Abel and Jacob, both had sons but they seemed to have moved further west, and I am unsure of their time in Alabama, if any. Need to check that. When I have more time (work on a State Department project here in Kabul, and its quarterly report time, so I need to get back at it), I will look more, particularly at Wilson Leslie’s 4 sons as they were in Alabama about the correct time. Want to say Jefferson County Alabama for Wilson, but can not recall for sure. If you can remind me exactly where your great grandfather Tom Leslie lived, I will check the records I have access to and let you know.

    Warmest regards,
    David Clark Leslie
    Kabul, Afghanistan

  3. Tom LESLIE (1845-1938) — Born @ Lowndes County, AL. I have only ever found three LESLIE males in Lowndes = Tom, Willie (born around the same time, both Mulatto) and James E. LESLIE (white blacksmith). Tom left slavery @ (Lowndes) > married 1871 @ Opelika (Lee) AL > died 1938 @ Montgomery AL.

    1. See you have same address on that site. Write me from FamilytreeDNA. You do have 2 hits. The one with the surname Leslie, is at 12 markers. The gentleman only did a 12 marker test and as you go further with testing, you can lose that person. The other is Jill.

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