From South Carolina, my sister sends me this link about descendants of enslaved people and enslavers who come together at Wavering Place Plantation in Hopkins, SC. I am gratified that these reunions of linked descendants seem to be happening more and more, as it promises additional conversations about the possibility of transformation and reconciliation. I will be trying to reach these descendants about joining Coming to the Table.
While drafting the post Half-white Slaves of Aristocratic Masters at my blog, I acknowledged that Edward Ball, in his text, The Sweet Hell Inside: The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the Segregated South, employs the term ‘concubines’ to describe intimate, long-term relationships between master and female slaves. It was a theme I followed up, at the post These Negroes Reveal A Curious Superiority, where cultural critic H. L. Menken observed in 1920 that the practice carried on, in 20th century society: “The more slightly yellow girls of the region, with improving economic opportunities, have gained self-respect, and so they are no longer as willing to enter into concubinage as their grand-dams were.”
What Linked Descendants Say About Making Connections Across the Divide
Reflections provided by participants of the December 2015 Coming to the Table conference call. Post co-authored by Sharon Morgan, Our Black Ancestry, and Prinny Anderson, Linked Descendants.
If you could have a conversation with a descendant of the people who owned your ancestors, or with a descendant of someone your ancestors owned, what would you want to say? What would you like to ask?
This was the starting point for a conversation when ten people recently gathered on a conference call sponsored by Coming to the Table — Bittersweet: Linked Through Slavery. The themes from what people shared on the call are presented below. Feelings – strong and uncomfortable — came up for everyone.
A friend of mine recently forwarded me this link to a story about two women who discover they are linked descendants. This story is not unusual to those of us who post on BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery. If anything, it reminds us that this “searching for each other” is happening all over the country, perhaps more often than we can imagine. For those of us who are linked, it is undeniable that we are emotionally drawn to one another. Many of us have spent decades tracking down our counterparts and have stepped far out of our comfort zone to acknowledge the legacy of slavery within our very families.
Part 3 – Connecting with the Descendants of the Bleak House African American Community
Part 1 narrated what happened when Alice and Jon Cannon bought Bleak House, the remnant of Bleak House Plantation, and then found a book with the names of its enslaved residents. Alice was galvanized into learning about those people and finding their descendants. Part 2 tells what she learned about them as talented, self-determining individuals, some still in Virginia, others farther afield.
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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 2 – Finding the Descendants of the Bleak House Community
Part 1 narrated what happened when Alice and Jon Cannon bought Bleak House, the remnant of Bleak House Plantation, and then found a book with the names of its enslaved residents.
Alice was galvanized into learning about those people and finding their descendants. Part 2 tells what she learned about them.
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.
A blessing of tracing genealogy back to colonial America is that so much of its documentary history has been so richly excerpted in published histories or reproduced in full in a variety of formats that it’s not always necessary to seek out the original sources. And of course, the internet has opened the doors to these documentary resources even wider.
In the blog BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery, we primarily focus on linked relationships between black and white people connected through US slavery—those descended from enslaved people or slaveholders who are linked by virtue of time, place or genetics. Finding a linked descendant from before the Civil War is powerful and empowering. We place a high value on these links because personal connections can create a compelling and intense desire for healing and reconciliation. But I would suggest that there is another link that joins many black and white people today that is an important yet unexplored piece of our national culture. This link occupies a more recent past, one which can provide another avenue of examination of slavery’s legacy and aftermath.