My father Charles Joseph Bocage Sr. died when I was almost five years old. We moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles within six months of his death. My mother told me many stories about my father’s family. As I got older, I tried to find out if the stories were true. My genealogical search revealed a lot about my family.
“You owe me what was always mine” is the title of Briayna Cuffie’s latest blog post on reparations4slavery.com. She is speaking to enslavers whose family records, letters, journals, photos, plantation accounts, etc. contain valuable information about the men, women, and children they enslaved.
In December 2020, Eric Kolenich of the Richmond Times-Dispatch interviewed several descendants of President John Tyler. He was prompted to write about them and their ancestor when John Tyler Community College began to consider changing its name, and his conversations with members of the Tyler family highlight the issue of how descendants of Confederate enslavers choose to regard their ancestor.
What are the salient facts? Tyler stepped into the position of tenth president of the United States for a single term, but later betrayed his country when he was elected to the Confederate Congress in 1862. When he died shortly thereafter, he was buried with a Confederate flag draped across his coffin. Although Tyler led a country founded on the principle of human equality, he was a plantation owner whose wealth was gained from the exploitation of an enslaved workforce. His great-great-granddaughter’s recent research has discovered 46 enslaved people listed in the 1850 census. During his presidential career, Tyler stood up for his own principles and values, and vetoed much legislation. As a result he was thrown out of his political party, was the first president to have a veto overridden, and was the first president to go through an impeachment vote.
Sharon Leslie Morgan moved to Noxubee County, Mississippi to research her ancestors’ history. Morgan’s great-great-grandmother, Betty Warfe Gavin, was enslaved there, and gave birth to 17 children. The father of all of them was Robert Louis Gavin, a white man and the nephew of her enslaver.
“My ancestors came from here and fled,” says Morgan. “For me to come back and reclaim memories, experiences, relationships, I think that is going to help with healing the historical harm of slavery.”
“Transcolonial kinship narratives seek to transform exploitative and dehumanizing social relations that characterized the European invasion of the Americas, and Eurocentric understandings of history, knowledge, power, citizenship, and humanity.”
(Reyes-Santos, Our Caribbean Kin, pg. 8, 2015 )
I sit here in Harlem, New York, meditating on the healing potential of bringing “linked descendants” together at the table. I literally share a table right now, with people of all sorts of backgrounds. Some descended from enslaved peoples; others are descendants of enslavers; and most of us are descendants of both. What an ideal place to respond to BitterSweet’s invitation, to share some thoughts about kinship and solidarity based on my recently published book, Our Caribbean Kin: Race and Nation in the Neoliberal Antilles.
Story by Quest Whalen, Class of 2019, Tuskegee University, submitted kindness of Dr. Lisa Bratton, Professor, Tuskegee University
Dr. Bratton shared Ms. Whalen’s essay soon after their overnight at Historic Brattonsville on Friday, September 12,
and participation in “By the Sweat of Our Brows,” including a gathering of the black and white descendants of the historic site.
I asked if it could be published in BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery, and Ms. Whalen gave her permission. I have done virtually no editing other than adding these notes.
The first person narrator is Quest Whalen.
By Marian Baker, Opinions Editor Furman University. FU. “Furmie.” Or most commonly, Furman. These are the names with which we refer to our cherished university. However, many studen…
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It’s a quiet place, on a quiet road, in a quiet county. A few dozen miles west of Richmond, Virginia. Louisa County, Virginia. Gordonsville. Bracketts Farm.
Part 1 – Finding the House, Looking for the People
At the Telling the History of Slavery conference, the woman I sat next to looked to be about my age, and like most of the attendees, not someone I knew. We introduced ourselves before the speakers began, and at the first break, shared more information. Something about the same way we each dealt with the question “where are you from?” alerted me to listen more carefully. As my neighbor listed the countries she had lived in as a child, “Burma” rang all the bells. “Alice! Alice Cannon! Are you Alice Purnell who lived next door to me in Rangoon?” She is. Our families were next door neighbors when Alice’s and my fathers worked for the American Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, in the early ‘50’s. We were very small then, but we could remember our cats who were siblings, our shared disaster with the bees in the hedge, and our study partnership in Miss Gevney’s one-room American school. Alice is an only child, but she remembered my little brother, too.