To Honor the Dishonorable

There is a problem I have been wrestling with for many years. One of the refrains I hear over and over among people working for racial reconciliation is the necessity of honoring the ancestors and the insistence that the ancestors are helping us in our work, especially in the unraveling the intricacies of enslavement and its genetic and cultural legacy.

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Meeting Mrs. Jones

I’ve been avoiding writing for this blog, because I thought I have not been able to find any linked descendants. But thinking about it a few weeks ago, I realized that is not true, though I was far too young to realize the importance of the meeting.

The story begins in Richmond, VA, in 1860. My father’s maternal great grandfather was John Venable Hardwicke. He lived in Richmond with his wife, Margaret, his son, Charles Wood Hardwicke, and three anonymous enslaved people. One was a young woman about 25 years old. The others were boys 7 and 8 years old, perhaps her sons. I now believe the woman was likely pregnant, though I have no direct evidence to that effect.

The story now moves forward to 1920, still in Richmond. Charles Wood Hardwick had grown up and lives there with his wife, Alice, and his daughter, Louise, her husband, Charles Henry Collier, and their children, Charles, Louise, and Sarah. Charles Hardwick also employed several African American servants, one of whom was a cook, named Mary Jones, who was about 60 years old, though no one knew her actual birthdate. Mrs. Jones had worked for the Hardwick family for years, since she was a young woman, and she and the Hardwickes had a very close relationship.

Finally, the story jumps forward to 1950, to Wilmington, DE. Little Charles Collier had married Katheryn Powell. They had two sons, Charles and Ken, me. There was a family gathering in Richmond of some kind, and we traveled down for it. My parents decided that I was too young to attend this event, so they arranged for me to be cared for at the home of my father’s aunt.

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