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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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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Part I: Facing Slavery and Finding Amanda

This post is the first of three pieces on 1) how I discovered slavery in my heritage, specifically focusing on a woman named Amanda owned by my ancestor Thomas Jackson and his second wife Courtney Robertson; 2) what more that official county records tell us about Amanda’s life of enslavement and release; and 3) how I found and met one of her great great granddaughters in 1982, my first “linked descendant.”

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Over thirty years ago, for my first sabbatical I set out to study pioneer women’s lives in Randolph County, Missouri. Having required my students to do extensive family history projects in a class on “The Social History of American Women,” I thought I should spend some time pursuing my own.  I was born in Missouri but we moved to California when I was eight and never went back, but still wondered about that place.  Because I was interested in genealogy, when my Grandma Neel died, I inherited her shoebox filled with locks of baby hair, letters, and obituaries so I knew the names of several generations of her people who lived in Randolph County. I wanted to know who these people were and what their lives were like.  I was particularly intrigued by the detail in the obituary of Courtney Robinson Jackson, my grandmother’s great grandmother who died from complications from a fall at  “74 years, 9 months and 20 days.”

In the course of examining the U.S. Censuses of Randolph County from the 1830s to 1870s, I was shocked to find out that ancestors of mine in this region of Missouri (which I soon learned was known as “Little Dixie” — hello!) had owned slaves – not on the order of Thomas Jefferson’s hundreds – but some of my ancestors in that time and place did own slaves, more on the order of five, ten, or fifteen people.  These particular ancestors were typical of white farming families in the upper South and Southern Midwest. Slaveholding for them was part of daily life, a legally sanctioned way to satisfy their labor needs in the effort to survive and “get ahead,” to make a yearly profit, and to accumulate even more property in a capitalist economy.  Slaveholding came with age and a modicum of “success” in large portions of this white dominated nation during the 18th and 19th centuries.

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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.

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