You Owe Me What was Always Mine

“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.

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The Gwynn’s Island Project Reconnects the Descendants of Black Island Families to their Roots

Maria S. Montgomery & Allison Thomas
Maria S. Montgomery & Allison Thomas

Maria Montgomery found me on Ancestry.com in 2016. Our family trees overlap because my ancestors enslaved hers. We are “linked descendants”—cousins regardless of whether we share DNA. She asked if I had any probate records that might list people my family enslaved on Gwynn’s Island in Mathews County, Virginia, a five-square-mile triangle of land in the lower Chesapeake Bay.

I sent Maria my third great-grandmother Mary T. Edwards’ Civil War diary that lists 20 enslaved people seized as contraband by the Union Navy in 1863. Maria’s great-great-grandparents, William M. Smith (“Billy”) and Dolly Jones (“Young Dolly”,) are on that list.

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Healing Historic Harms Through Research — Sharon Leslie Morgan

Bettie WARFE/GAVIN

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.”

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Cast In Bronze

by Trina Michelle Robinson

I’ve always been fascinated by migration stories. Hearing the details about why a person left the place of their birth to settle somewhere new always satisfied my love of storytelling and origin stories. Perhaps I was pulled into these tales because I was unknowingly trying to fill a void in my own life. Growing up I did not have many stories of my own that had passed down for generations in my family. But once I was able to unlock that door, and discovered the migration stories of my own lineage, I was introduced to a world I had never imagined. The triumphs and brutality, all living together, laid before me. My journey exploring my ancestry has taken me to the archives of libraries and old courthouses throughout the country and as far as the food markets, private beaches and slave prisons in West Africa.

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“There was Nothing We Could Do About it”

By Antoinette Broussard

Violet Craig Turner (1828-1906)

When I was a child, Uncle George’s stories and the serious inflection in his voice always commanded my attention. He frequently told me about my maternal great-grandmother, Violet Craig Turner, who had been enslaved until 1865 by W. P. Wallingford from Platte County, Missouri. Uncle George was my mother’s brother. He always emphasized the middle initial “P” and Platte County in his stories, and that Wallingford fathered eight of Violet’s children, including my grandfather. 

My family’s slave history was an injustice, and the person responsible was never held accountable for it. In my late fifties, with the help of a genealogist, I started to look for the Wallingford family. 

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Is Genealogy Racist?

“Is genealogy racist?” I typed into the search engine.

I had just received results from an ancestry DNA test. No surprises there — 99.9% northwestern European genetic heritage. I immediately wondered how many neo-Nazis use DNA tests to reinforce racism and claim racial purity.

As I typed my question in to the search engine that day, I was excited to find Coming to the Table. But it didn’t seem to apply to me. I come from a lower middle-class background: my ancestors were preachers, teachers, and laborers. None of my ancestors were slaveholders!

I later learned that I was wrong. Months later, once I knew where and how to look, I did discover slaveholding ancestors — among my working-class northern ancestors! But I didn’t make that discovery that day.

Image calls attention to a Resource Guide for White People in the study of 'Genealogy and Anti-racism.'

“Is genealogy racist?” I typed into the search engine.

I had just received results from an ancestry DNA test. No surprises there — 99.9% northwestern European genetic heritage. I immediately wondered how many neo-Nazis use DNA tests to reinforce racism and claim racial purity.

Continue reading “Is Genealogy Racist?”

Science May Enable Reparations

Reviewing a Book Review

beaconlogoA few days ago, I got an email from a friend who has become a leader in the field of researching African American family histories, up to and beyond the “brick walls” of slave lists that do not give names and the unwritten records of births, deaths and marriages. This email contained a link to something published by Beacon Press in “Beacon Broadside.”

With this double endorsement, I immediately clicked through.

alondranelsonWhat I found was Sharon Morgan’s review of Alondra Nelson‘s new book,  The Social Life of DNAfull of tantalizing information and pieces of Ms. Morgan’s own family research story. I learned that besides the documentary investigations she does so well online and in county courthouses, Sharon has long been researching DNA connections to her family’s roots in Africa. From Sharon’s overview of points in Ms. Nelsosociallifeofdnan’s book, I learned about an exciting and compelling new application of DNA research. The Social Life of DNA includes a discussion of how DNA profiles can be applied to making successful reparations claims.

Without hesitation, I bought the book!

Read the review.  Then read the book. And finally, come back here and share your comments!

 

BLACK RUG/WHITE RUG; A DIALOGUE AMONG THREE LINKED ANCESTORS

By Joyceann Gray, Sarah Brown and Monique Hopkins

Joyceann Gray, Monique Crippen-Hopkins and Sarah Brown are “linked through slavery”. Joyceann and Monique’s ancestors were enslaved by Sarah’s ancestors, the Washington family. When Sarah published her most recent post, about her connection with Monique’s family, Joyceann spoke out about her feelings about the piece. The three of them decided that the Facebook dialogue that followed was important, and would be valuable as a post of its own.

Read Joyeann’s blog for her full story:  http://jgraydiscovery.com/

Read Monique’s blog for her full story: http://genealogybreakingdownthewalls.blogspot.com/

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Tarzan Carried a Message

On 1 March, performer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte celebrated his 88th birthday. On 8 November last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Belafonte with its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award … and honored with an Oscar the man’s long pursuit of social justice. Swept into the civil rights movement with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Belafonte eventually shifted most of his energies from entertainment to advocacy: “I’m an activist who also became an actor,” said Belafonte, of his life’s trajectory.

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Redrawing A Community – A Washington Descendant’s Journey

In 2010, an archive of rare documents passed down in my family for over 250 years arrived at my home in Austin. Reading them I came face to face with my family’s role in both creating democracy and denying freedom.

 I’m the 5x great-granddaughter of George Washington’s brother John Augustine Washington. Although the President freed his slaves in his will, his brothers and heirs continued using slave labor to maintain their lives of privilege until the Emancipation Proclamation became law.

 My own life has followed a different cultural current of American history. I’ve been a professional blues musician for over 40 years. I launched my career playing with blues legends, learning authentic styles from those who grew up in the Jim Crow era.

 I’ve been looking for linked descendants, and specifically those who share a life in music. Soon after I began my search I found Coming To The Table. Susan Hutchison, one the founders, helped me to come to terms with my family’s legacy. I’m forever in her debt – thank you, Susan!

 I’m outlining my search – so far! – In three parts, as a Bittersweet blog post – “Redrawing a Community”.

Part One, “Paper” deals with the impact of learning about my family’s past as slave-owners.

Part Two “People”, tells the story of connecting to the living descendants of Solomon Thompson and Reuben Hatter.

Part Three “Music”, talks about the impact of African-American music on my life, and my search for linked descendant musicians.

I’m telling the whole story in my upcoming book “The Washingtons and The Blues”.

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