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.
Today is Giving Tuesday, the day when we turn our focus away from purchasing and toward giving to work that we care about. We hope you will consider a donation to help continue the work of Coming to the Table and Bittersweet so that we can continue to tell these stories and do the work of healing. Make your donation here – http://comingtothetable.org/grow-table/ And thank you.
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.
BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery is trying an alternative form of posting. For the first time, we offer a compilation of five people’s responses to a single question. We hope you enjoy the post, give it comments, and feel inspired to respond to the next question. Note: The authors’ names are shown as they requested.
Question: Why is it important to write and talk about the US history of slavery today?
It is necessary to talk about the history of US slavery today, because without truth there can be little or no reconciliation. Some of us learned that from people in South Africa.
It helps all of us, on both sides of the color line, to talk about the truth of slavery, as experienced by the enslaved, and as experienced by the slaveholders. By taking personal responsibility for our own feelings, and sharing them, by talking and perhaps by also writing about them, we are helping to create a healing of this deep wound that still lingers in this country. By listening to each other we increase the healing. And we don’t generalize or stereotype; we speak from our own truth, one by one.
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.
Betty Kilby was nine years old when the Supreme Court handed down the Brown versus Board of Education decision that declared segregation in schools illegal in 1954. Four years later, her father and the NAACP filed suit against the school board of Warren County, Virginia to allow Betty and other black plaintiffs the right to attend Warren County High School in their home town of Front Royal. At the time, WCHS was the only high school in the county. Only white children were allowed to attend. When a federal judge ordered the school board to comply with federal law, they responded by closing the school. Under Virginia law at that time, “the assignment or enrollment of any Negro pupil to a white school automatically forces that school to close.” Warren County High was the first of Virginia’s public schools to close during the “Massive Resistance” era.
As our car turns down the lane, I flash back to Mom in the driver’s seat, the blue Nissan van idling beneath us as we wait for the yellow behemoth of a school bus to mount the hill in the sunrise hour. It’s too far to walk to catch the bus, so Mom drops us off and picks us up each day.
Then, we drive past the entrance to the first plantation house, I think of my cousin Lauren and Dad trimming the boxwoods there. I see the carriage pulling up front, a woman in long skirts stepping out, dismay at her isolation etched into the corners of her mouth. She is white. Behind her, six people step out of the back of a wagon, pulling down trunks and flour, much more than dismay in their eyes. They are black.
“We need formerly slaveholding families to come to the fore, not hide.” Amen, my brother Michael.
Its unfortunate because of a massive internet hack we are in this particular place discussing your ancestral past. It’s horrible that your private matters were exposed because of something beyond your control. That’s untenable in any situation, but we need to address something right quick…this slavery thing. You were embarassed, and that’s reasonable given the situation and the circumstances that produced it. But Ben Affleck, take it from a Black guy; with a platform like yours, don’t you dare be embarrassed to come from an ancestor who held enslaved people. Because….We need to know.
I don’t think many Black people really understand the profound guilt, shame or embarassment some white descendants of slave holding families feel. It’s not just that many assume personal responsibility for the past or that they grasp that their privilege or power is not just based on perceptions based on skin color. Clearly these…
View original post 908 more words
Whitney Plantation, the first plantation museum to make the lives of the enslaved community the central focus of the site, to depict the truth of their lives and honor their contributions. This is what I read in the February 26, 2015 New York Times article. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/magazine/building-the-first-slave-museum-in-america.html?_r=1
A jambalaya of emotions was stirred within me.
How exciting, remarkable and inspiring! At last, truth is told, hidden history is brought to the fore, and people, whose lives and work were invisible, are seen. The past is not sugarcoated, the depths of the sin of slavery are out in the open. Perhaps this is a stimulus for serious, wide-spread conversation about the living legacy of slavery that burdens this country. I wanted to jump on a plane, fly to New Orleans, and visit Whitney Plantation immediately. I wanted to walk on the ground of this bold institution right now.