Thursday, April 17, 2008

Meeting David Wilson

"Meeting David Wilson" is a documentary that follows David Wilson on his mission to discover to find more about his family roots in Caswell, North Carolina. That mission includes David Wilson, the descendant of slaves, meeting David Wilson, the descendant of the owner of those slaves.

I missed the airing on MSNBC last Friday. I surf the television schedule hoping there would be a rerun. Unfortunately, they did not air the show again but luckily they did post it online. However, when I went back to the MSNBC page to find a link for the video, I discovered it was no longer there. Instead they are promoting the DVD.

I am glad I watched it. It was an amazing story that inspired me to visit my ancestor's homes sooner rather than later. It brought out points I hadn't considered in my own research such as trying to envision the hardships of the life they led. David Wilson was able to work in a tobacco field, a feat I will not try to recreate in the cotton fields of Mississippi or Tennessee. I am not that dedicated. But I was impressed with Wilson's dedication. He was also able to find an abandoned slave quarter that could have been lived in by his ancestors. That scene was haunting. He also made the trip to Africa and visited the slave fort that housed two million Africans destined for slavery.

After watching the video, one impression was engraved into my spirit. It wasn't anger as some expressed during the video. It was gratitude that I have "choice." That sentence sounds so inane but the emotion it evokes in me is monumental. I can choose where I live, what I eat, who I marry, where I work. I can keep my children close. No one can come and separate me from them. Tears comes to my eyes even as I write this. This is what the USA was supposed to mean for everyone born on its soil. Now it actually does. Yes, I know America is not perfect and there are still lots of inequities. But think about it. A man is running for president who just happens to be black and he has a good chance of winning especially if we as Americans judge him not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. It makes me so very proud to be an American right now.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Conversations I wish I could have with dead people

This is not an original thought. I saw this on a blog some weeks ago. And I'm sure every one into genealogy wishes they could sit down with a few dead people and ask some questions.

I wish I could ask my great grandmother Katie Featherston why she named my uncle "Ester." I met my uncle Ester. I remember him as a round, pleasant man with a bright complexion. I was just a child and I never thought anything about him having a girl's name. But I do now. What was Katie thinking? All her other children had nice common names like my grandfather Freddie so I'm thinking there was a purpose to it. Did she want a girl and got my uncle instead?

I wish I could talk to Charles Featherston and find out if he loved Matilda and her children. Did the rest of the family know about them? Was he ostracized because of he was white and she was a former slave or was it accepted?

And of course great-great-great-Amy and Solomon Koonce would be special guests of my interrogation. I would finally find out who she was and what happened to her. And while I had them, I would ask about their parents too and if they were born in America or Africa.

Wouldn't it be great if the television execs could produce "Ghost Whisperers--the Genealogy Edition." It would be a hit. People would be clamoring to be on the show to solve all their genealogy mysteries.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Race, Color, and Nationality

When it comes to certain labels in America, I am confused and I don't think I'm alone. It is not as simple as black and white, pun definitely intended.

The issue came up during our monthly genealogy meeting. I think it started because one of the members was displaying her DNA results. She was happy that her African roots had been identified but she was mystified that there was no trace of Native American DNA. She always believed she was part Indian. It forced her to accept her European ancestry. This led to a lively discussion about our collective identities.

I consider myself a Black American. Others see themselves as African-Americans. My confusion comes because I believe that anyone with ancestry from Africa and citizenship in America can be called African-American. Charlize Theron can be called African-American. And what about African slave descendants that live in the other Americas like Canada or Brazil? To compound my confusion, some people including some of my club members believe that Barack Obama can't be called an African-American or Black because he isn't descended from African slaves. But his father was African and he even knows what part of Africa from where he came unlike the majority of Black Americans. Crazy

When you add Native Americans into the mix it gets even more confusing. There are Black people with Native American genes and Whites who married Indians that are being denied their Indian heritage by the ruling tribal councils. Even though these individuals are descended from people on the Dawes Rolls (the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes) and have documented proof of their ancestry, they aren't recognized as citizens of their tribes. Those that are disenfranchised are accusing the Indian tribal councils of racism.

There are other divisions in our society and within the sub-cultures. It was pointed out at the meeting that someone knew a lady who was American but whose parents were from Japan so she considered herself Japanese not American. Puerto Ricans consider themselves Puerto Rican, not Black or African-American even if they have ancestors from Africa.

I guess it comes with our melting pot culture. And it is a testament to our democratic society that we all sort of kind of get along even with all the labels and hyphens. But it sure would be less confusing without them.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I remember MLK 4/4--40 years ago

Even though my search is for long ago ancestors , I am cognizant that my own experiences are also important. They should also be recorded. This is not conceit. It is for future curious generations. If only my ancestors had been able to leave more bread crumbs, this research wouldn't be so difficult.

April 4, 1968. I remember exactly what I was doing on that day. That was the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It also was the day of my first ever date. It was a double date me, my first boy friend "Pluke," my aunt Adrene, Smitty and Mickey. I guess that is a double and a half date.

My church was holding a state convention in my city. Pluke and Mickey were from South Bend and was there to attend the convention. Smitty was an evangelist and he was holding a revival afterwards. We left church to get something to eat. I suggested Bianchi's, a restaurant that our family usually frequented. When we arrived, the whole restaurant was in a jovial mood. There were nothing but White customers and they were loudly celebrating the death of MLK like it was a new holiday. This freaked Adrene out. She demanded that we leave immediately. So we did.

The next day I read of the violence in other cities. Eventually some of it came to our city. Buildings were burned. Store owners marked their own businesses as "black owned" or the such. It was a very scary, very sad time.

I remember that many people did not like Martin Luther King, Jr. Blacks didn't like him because he wasn't militant enough. Whites didn't like him because he was against the Viet Nam War and wasn't patriotic enough.

Forty years later things have changed a great deal for the better. But this is the 21st century. We should have improved so very much more as human beings and citizens of the world.

I wonder what MLK would say about Obama's candidacy. I think I know what he would say about the Iraq war.

In memory of MLK

These are photos that I shot while in Atlanta and Memphis:
Martin Luther King's childhood home in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church he and his father pastored, Martin Luther King, Sr., Mason Temple COGIC, the site of his last sermon, (also the headquarters for the Church of God in Christ, my church) and the pulpit from which he delivered it, Lorraine Motel in Memphis where he was murdered, and his memorial in Atlanta.