Monday, May 30, 2016

Tell Our Story

2nd great grandparents born into slavery
I remember watching Roots as a teenager when it aired in 1977.  It was hard watching the series, seeing the cruelty of an institution designed to strip away the culture, dignity and identity of Africans for selfish gain.  Knowing my ancestors were trapped in this institution made it even more painful.  I vividly remember going to school each day angry with those who looked like the people that enslaved my family.

Image from original roots

Like other historians, it peaked my interest in wanting to understand where I came from.  As a teenager, I would sit and ask my grandmothers, parents and great aunts questions about the family.

As a youth, each summer my dad would take us back to his hometown in Chickasaw County, MS to visit relatives.  At the time I was too young to appreciate the experience.  We stayed at my great uncle and aunt’s home, built by them – no air conditioner or indoor plumbing.  We had to go out back to the outhouse to use the restroom.  We took a bath in a huge tin tub in the kitchen.  Each morning I remember waking up early to help my uncle feed the hogs and get eggs from the chicken coup. 

Great uncle's farm where I spent summers

Going to town was a big deal just to see something other than the farm.

Houlka, Mississippi - Post Office

As I got older my curiosity of family intensified.  I took a class in college on African American studies.  Immersing into reading and writing papers on my culture, my anger toward a system that trapped my family began to change.  The anger was channeled to a different purpose.  The focus changed to wanting to know even more about my family because the lives of those who came before me mattered and share their stories.

Chosen for such a time as this.
On a prayer call one evening years ago I made my request known.  When it was my turn to state my request, I said, “I desire to know what I am called to do”.  The reply from one of the senior members on the call, “Linda, your ministry is to your family”.  Through my narrow lens, I didn’t see the bigger picture.  As time passed, it became clearer.  Yes, I had a responsibility to my immediate family but it was also to the extended family.  You have to know where you been to understand where you’re going.

We are an intricate and fleshly fine-tuning of divine wisdom – Psalm 8:5.  Like the late Alex Haley, I too stand on the shoulders of giants.  Our ancestors persevered so that we could be here today to tell their stories, learn from it and share it with future generations.

With millions of viewers, I will be tuned in to watch “Roots Reimagined” with my family, but this time with a fresh set of eyes and head held high because I descended from greatness.  This time will be used as a teaching moment with my children so they will understand the importance of remembering their heritage.

Grandma Josephine - Freedmen Bureau Labor Contract
In honor of my enslaved ancestors, I dedicate this day to partnering with other fellow historians and genealogists to help complete the last 15% of Freedmen Bureau Records that will enable us to further our research and tell their stories.