Up in Smoke: Slavery Researchers Pained Over Burning of Historical Records

January 9, 2014

(Post first written on January 4, 2014)

I am fighting back tears and my stomach is in knots. Most people probably wouldn’t have a physical reaction like this upon learning that 100 boxes of old official documents dating from 1840 and languishing in a county courthouse basement in Franklin County, North Carolina were destroyed beginning December 6, 2013, but I do.  They were incinerated at an Animal Pound no less.  Reportedly, it took the whole weekend and a lot of fuel to burn through all the leather bindings.  It also took more than $7,000 taxpayer dollars. I have this pained reaction because historical records are a passion of mine.  They helped me find many of my enslaved ancestors.  As a sort of obsessed family historian, I have driven far distances to research in ancestral towns and spent days in the backrooms and basements of courthouses.  I’ve combed through fragile 200-year old documents and I initiated a project in western Kentucky to try unfold and better preserve records still folded into small bundles like these burned in Franklin County.

Continue reading “Up in Smoke: Slavery Researchers Pained Over Burning of Historical Records”

Up in Smoke: Slavery Researchers Decry Burning of Historical Records

New Post

(Post first written on January 4, 2014)

I am fighting back tears and my stomach is in knots. Most people probably wouldn’t have a physical reaction like this upon learning that 100 boxes of historical documents in Franklin County, North Carolina dating from 1840 were destroyed, but I do.  They were incinerated at an Animal Pound no less.  Reportedly, it took the whole weekend and a lot of fuel to burn these records.  It also took more than $7,000 taxpayer dollars. I have this pained reaction because historical records are a passion of mine.  They helped me find many of my enslaved ancestors.  As a sort of obsessed family historian, for years I have driven far distances to research in ancestral towns and spent days in the backrooms and basements of courthouses.  I’ve combed through fragile 200-year old documents.  I even initiated a volunteer project in western Kentucky to try and unfold and better preserve records still folded into small bundles, like these burned in Franklin County.  Folds in old documents often wears away the fibers in the paper.

Continue reading “Up in Smoke: Slavery Researchers Decry Burning of Historical Records”

Being Linked Through Slavery Means …

Being a “linked descendant” puts racism and white privilege in a harsh light for me.  It makes speaking out honestly about the legacy of slavery a personal and family imperative.

I always knew that my mother’s ancestral roots went back to at least one plantation-owning Virginia family, but not until well into adulthood did I realize that being directly descended from one plantation family actually means being descended from many such families, and related by marriage to as many as 50 others.  Furthermore, this heritage for “first families of Virginia”  turns out to endow me with an extended family of European American cousins, but an equally large or larger extended family of African American cousins.  And the longer I studied my family tree, the more I realized how large, extended and “linked” it is.

Continue reading “Being Linked Through Slavery Means …”

What Do We Want to Say?

The Storytellers of BitterSweet have wide-ranging conversations and share stories on many topics, and we imagine that our readers and guest contributors will expand the exchange with new topics and themes. Our stories touch on all periods in U.S. history, from the arrival of Europeans and then of enslaved Africans in North America in the colonial period, right up to the present, and take place in regions all over the country and the globe. The characters we write about come from many walks of life, in stories of work, family life, creative endeavor and spiritual tradition.  The legacy of the relationships of bondage and vastly unequal power emerges regularly and has moved many of us to take action toward justice, healing, truth-telling and peace-making. Together and separately, we are on journeys of research, learning, connection and transformation, full of surprises, joys, frustrations, fears, uncertainties and fulfillment.

Who Are “Linked Descendants”?

 … (T)he great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.  It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations.  And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this …

James Baldwin, “White Man’s Guilt,” in David R. Roediger, ed., Black on White:, NY: Schocken, 1998), 321.

As social beings we are linked or related to each other in a million ways. As an expression of this, we often spend time with new people we meet trying to figure out positive linkages or connections in the recent past–people we both know, places we’ve both been, experiences we’ve shared.

Continue reading “Who Are “Linked Descendants”?”