Gathering African American Families’ Oral Histories – The Getting Word Project: African American Stories from Monticello – Part Two of Three

Part 2 of the Oral History post describes the kinds of impacts that oral history research can have, regardless of the circumstances of the family whose history is being woven together. The Getting Word project’s impacts and aftermaths are an interesting story, and I hope they give you ideas for what your research might inspire in your family and what else, beyond history, you might be able to create.

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Gathering African American Families’ Oral Histories – The Getting Word Project: African American Stories from Monticello – Part One of Three

So many of us want to know our ancestors’ stories and find out more about where we’ve come from. DNA research has advanced our ability to find and learn about our family members to an extraordinary extent, but family stories are still a basic piece of the work. Because of my involvement in several projects associated with the enslaved and slave owning families of Monticello, I have known about the Getting Word oral history project for many years. I’ve also been able to see the all the ways that project has lasted on and extended beyond just being an oral history project.

I am fortunate to know the three historians who initiated and conducted most of the work of Getting Word, and I realized what a significant resource they are to other oral historians, especially those who might be in the early stages of interviewing family members. The three women, Ms. Gray, Ms. Stanton, and Dr. Swann-Wright, graciously agreed to give me their oral histories of working on Getting Word, and included advice and guidance for others doing the same work.

The blog post will be in three parts, over three weeks.

Part 1 – The Story of the Getting Word Oral History Project

Part 2 – The Impact and Aftermath of the Getting Word Oral History Project

Part 3 – The Researchers and Their Advice for Oral Historians

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Unexpected Outbursts

Dedicated to Susan Hutchison, Co-Founder, Coming to the Table

Written by Pam Smith and Ann Neel

Publication facilitated by Prinny Anderson

 As all of us in CTTT know, honest communication between blacks and whites has historically been fraught with difficulty. We don’t share the same experiences so we don’t always speak the same language.

There are good reasons for sharing this series of poems written to each other over two decades ago by P(black) and A(white), as we were attempting to communicate honestly and fearlessly about the meaning of race in our entangled family histories. We think these poems are as relevant today as when they were written.

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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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Our Caribbean Kin

“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 )

Image: Cover of the text 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.

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Brattonsville Experience

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,
africanamericaninterpreters
By the Sweat of Our Brows re-enactors
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.

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Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation: What is the Furman Legacy?

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…

Source: Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation: What is the Furman Legacy?

Spontaneous Solidarity

Police guard the entrance to City Hall after removing protesters against the new police union contract in Portland, Ore., on October 12, 2016. the contract was approved by City Council this morning. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy) [Photo via Newscom]Serial, unpermitted marches; a die-in on a major bridge; even overnight encampment at City Hall did not get #BlackLivesMatter concerns into meetings with the Mayor/ Police Commissioner in Portland, Oregon. Instead of allowing public testimony on a secretly negotiated police contract, the City repeatedly ordered police suppression. One bone was broken; throngs were subjected to chemical weapons, nearly a dozen were arrested on 13 October 2016.

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Slave Descendant Unites With Plantation Owner for Heartwarming Dinner 181 Years After Families Lived There

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.

Families of Nkrumah Steward and Robert Adams.
Dinner at Wavering Place Plantation.

No Account For It

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.”

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