“There was Nothing We Could Do About it”

By Antoinette Broussard

Violet Craig Turner (1828-1906)

When I was a child, Uncle George’s stories and the serious inflection in his voice always commanded my attention. He frequently told me about my maternal great-grandmother, Violet Craig Turner, who had been enslaved until 1865 by W. P. Wallingford from Platte County, Missouri. Uncle George was my mother’s brother. He always emphasized the middle initial “P” and Platte County in his stories, and that Wallingford fathered eight of Violet’s children, including my grandfather. 

My family’s slave history was an injustice, and the person responsible was never held accountable for it. In my late fifties, with the help of a genealogist, I started to look for the Wallingford family. 

 

An idyllic spot on the Missouri River. How could someone mistreat people in such a peaceful place?

When my plane landed at the Kansas City Airport, in July 2013, I was 65 years old. From my airplane window, I could see beautiful green rolling hills. Missouri was unexpectedly beautiful. I had imagined something that would reflect the ugliness of its history, the ugliness of slavery. 

The author flanked by her two, newly found cousins, Myrna (L) and Dixie (R).

I was on my way to meet two inviting strangers, W.P.’s great-great granddaughters. Despite their openness, I was scared. My grandfather and his siblings were not recognized as members of the family. Did I need to be recognized? No. Did I need to claim him as my great- grandfather? Not particularly. Did I want a connection with the living Wallingfords? Yes, provided that it was positive. At least, I hoped for the recognition of our existence. 

My intent was to find the people who had enslaved my Violet, but of course, they, including W.P., were long gone. Instead, I found two loving sisters, Dixie and Myrna, who had been unaware of the history of slavery in their family. Dixie had graciously invited me to stay with her while I visited Missouri and I humbly accepted. 

That night, when I arrived from the airport at Dixie’s home, the two sisters met me at the front door. “Welcome, Antoinette,” said Dixie. “This is Sis (Myrna), also your cousin.” 

I was grateful for the warm reception and immediately felt at ease with them. We had cocktails, ate dinner, and talked about our families as we identified them in family photos. 

“Can you imagine how terrible it must have been for Violet, to have W.P. coming for you? That she had to submit to his demands?” one of the Wallingford sisters said. “It was terribly disappointing to realize he committed these sins, when he was postured by the family as someone to admire.” “We are really sorry about it,” Myrna said. 

“Thank you, but it wasn’t your fault,” I said.

I had provided them with W.P.’s land records. From those records a local family friend had mapped out 10 farm locations. I wanted to pinpoint the area where Violet and her children had been kept. “We think Violet lived with her children on one of his farms about an hour from here,” Myrna said. 

The author narrowed down the area in Wallace, Missouri where her family likely lived, enslaved, and apparently isolated.

Two days later, Myrna, Dixie, and I drove to the vicinity of Wallace, Missouri. “There were four farms in this area,” Myrna said. “Violet probably lived on one of them with her children.” I took photos of the lush green rural countryside, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my family once lived here, enslaved, and apparently isolated. How could someone mistreat people in such a peaceful place? 

In nearby Dearborn, where Myrna and Dixie grew up, we visited the cemetery, and Myrna pointed to each Wallingford headstone, as she explained their relationship to me. I was grateful to the sisters for pointing out to me that they were my relatives, too. They expressed no doubts that we were related. 

How would Violet feel that her great-granddaughter was getting acquainted with her enslaver’s kin, I wondered. In the only photo I have of Violet, her soft brown eyes mirror a gentle nature. I imagined that she would say to let the healing begin. 

The trip gave me a lot of clarity. It was like a breath of fresh air. Now I am very close to Dixie and Myrna. They read all of my writing and give me advice and encouragement. I’ve returned to Missouri numerous times and found more family members, Black and white. And fortunately, I was able to convey the sisters’ warmth to my mother who had always remained bitter about the exploitation of her grandmother, Violet. 

It wouldn’t have been fair for me to make Dixie and Myrna feel responsible or guilty for the offenses of their forefathers. There was nothing we could do about it but embrace each other and talk about our feelings. That didn’t mean I had to forget what had happened. But now I could write about my family’s history effectively, without anger, and be an example for others to heal. Truth is power.

 

 

Author: toni6191

Antoinette is a writer, researcher, and public speaker committed to the pursuit and documentation of her ancestral roots. Citadel Press published her first book, African American Holiday Traditions: Celebrating with Passion, Style, and Grace. The book pays homage to her African American culture and the traditions that grew out of the South, and from various other ethnicities in America, including Caribbean peoples, who melded with the African American race. She has contributed biographies to the African American National Biography, editor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Columbia Magazine, the Washington State Historical Society’s journal; Harlem of the West, Chronicle Books; The Baobab Tree, a journal of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California, Inc.; BlackPast.org, a reference guide to African American history; Everything Has Its Place, an Anthology published by The San Leandro Writer’s Workshop; and Slavery's Descendants: Shared Legacies of Race and Reconciliation, published by Rutgers University Press. Antoinette's eighteen years of research are the inspiration for her current work on a second book, Sweetwater: History Meets Personal Journey. More information can be found at www.antoinettebroussard.com.

One thought on ““There was Nothing We Could Do About it””

  1. Antoinette,
    I am Beverly Bevel and in 2019, I connected with the descendants of my slaveholders in Mississippi.

    Like your experience, my cousin Rhonda welcomed me with open arms. We are presenting our story at the 2021 Rootstech Genealogy Conference and I have an opportunity to purchase my slaveholders plantation.
    I would be honored to speak with you and share. Please go to Rootstech. Com and register for the conference. It is free this year and electronic. My course is Once Enslaved, once slaveholder, forging a forever bond

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