I Am the Dream

14 April 2013

I have long dreamed of being able to make a MAJOR contribution to the world of genealogy for African Americans. From the first day I realized how truly hard it is to uncover our roots in slavery (which is where the ancestral past for 90% of contemporary African Americans is buried), I have yearned to find my own way and to help others negotiate their path through this circuitous and brambled road to the past.

On my own behalf, I longed to discover the facts about my ancestors whose children departed the onus of slavery in Alabama and Mississippi — making a way out of no way as they recreated their destinies in the “promised land” of Chicago. I have since found the NAMES of 12 of my ancestors, associated with an awareness that there are many more who will likely remain “buried in the past.”

In my quest, I remember well the momentous day in the reading room of the Alabama Department of Archives and History when, after days of research, I FINALLY found a slave schedule for the white man whom I believe to be the father of my paternal great grandfather. I sat there in front of a microfilm reader, stunned in disbelief with tears in my eyes — stricken to my core as I confronted the FACT that there were NO NAMES … only an assaulting reference to to the owner. He WAS named, along with a list of the ages and genders of his “possessions”… My forbears were summarily reduced from being PEOPLE to being ticks on a slave schedule. At the very moment my discovery incited a searing pain that coursed through my my entire body, a white woman sitting next to me exclaimed with JOY, having found the NAMES and DETAILS of HER ancestors.

My reaction was instantaneous and visceral … I felt an almost overwhelming desire to slap the crap out of the woman next to me — blinded by the resonance of her joy juxtaposed against my pain. At that moment, it became painfully clear that meticulous white record keepers had preserved THEIR records but not OURS. (Which is one reason for the name of this website/blog =  OUR Black Ancestry.)

Sensing my alarm, the man who worked for the archives (a black man) put his hand on my shoulder and tried to comfort me. He said “We all feel that way…the first time — I see it all the time…”

Indeed we do and well we should.

As all of us who are dedicated to the quest to discern “from whence we came” are painfully aware of how EXTREMELY difficult it is to achieve our goal — to discover the dreamers who endured the brutal experience of slavery and yet held on to dreams of a different life… a dream of what their progeny might be today. It is only dogged pursuit that keeps us going… searching relentlessly for names in wills, deeds and family records… hoping against hope to find answers and to give honour to those who were deprived of their humanity as they built the economy of the western world.

In our quest, there comes a day when each and every one of us hits that proverbial “brick wall” — the census of 1870 — the first “legal” record that acknowledged black people as PEOPLE… with surnames, ages, birthplaces and … families…. connections that are vital to knowing who we are.

In 2007, I built the Our Black Ancestry website in the hope that — one day — I would find an answer… for me and many others. For all these years, I have financed Our Black Ancestry out of my pocket. But, in order to evolve into the site I want Our Black Ancestry to be… I have to build it into a business — one that pays for the expertise, records and technology that will transform my dream into reality.  

Today, I think I might have FINALLY found the route that can make my dream come true.

My goal is to build a one-stop repository that leads African Americans to their enslaved ancestors. Visitors to the renewed OBA portal will be able to search, see and download documents that NAME and claim our ancestors, engage in a social network based in the best that technology has to offer… share our family trees… make connections with living relatives, plan family reunions… post photos and do so much more.

To this end, I recently launched a campaign on Indiegogo to raise a$50,000 to make my dream (and the dreams of my ancestors) come true. (Here is a link to the campaign: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/our-black-ancestry )

I am hoping that ALL people — black and white — will appreciate how much a repository like this will mean to MILLIONS of people like me who long to know…

Here are photos of my three of my ancestors who were enslaved. In spite of my bounty, I long to know MORE.

Don’t you?

These are my people who DREAMED a better world. Help me find yours and give them the honour they deserve.

Bettie WARFE/GAVIN -- Captured as a 9 year old girl and taken from VA to MS to become the mother of 17 children with a member of her owner's family

Bettie WARFE/GAVIN –Taken as a 9 year old girl from VA to MS to become the mother of 17 children with a member of her owner’s family

Tom LESLIE -- Presumed to be fathered by the local blacksmith in Lowndes County, AL.

Tom LESLIE — Presumed to be fathered by the local blacksmith in Lowndes County, AL.

Rhoda REEVES/LESLIE -- Emancipated from slavery in 1865 in Lowndes County AL.

Rhoda REEVES/LESLIE — Emancipated from slavery in 1865 in Lowndes County AL.

2 Responses to “I Am the Dream”

  1. I’ll chime in with the sista who posted before me and with you in expressing a profound — as in down to the marrow and helluva way past sorrow — disappointment that I still (and relatives slightly older and much younger than I may never learn, via words or photographs the BIG picture of our family tree. There have been courageous attempts on my father’s side; hiwever, with so many family members aging and dead-and-buried, the oral histories are evaporating.

    As a fiction writer, I can’t help but create a logical familial mythology to fill in some gaps on my maternal and paternal sides. On the maternal side, there was and still appears to be so much shame about the slave past. Through writing fiction, I’ve found a psychic catharsis that heals contemporary existential wounds from racism’s canons. Forget bullets; I’ve learned to dodge those. But when a European American who’s more than six generations removed from “the Continent” boasts about being “German and Dutch and English and Italian,” I want to barf because any attempt I’ve made (verbally, in person, as opposed to in writing through my short stories) has been aborted by remarks akin to “but you’re black.” Note that at the end of the preceding sentence, I lowercased the “b” in “black.” That was to emphasize the speaker’s desire to — despite his/her defeat — make me feel inferior. I’m taking an educated guess that most African Americans with ancestry tracing back to the 17th through 19th centuries in North America includes a significant percentage of North European ancestry — although for many of us, Sub-Saharan Africa is the dominant force. For more than half of us, the indigenous American/Native American ancestry (when present) is almost as perplexing to prove as our pure Africanness. I
    For example, I recently researched Snoop Dogg, found his given name (which comes from his stepdad) and then found info on his mom and biological dad. Never mind the reason my middle-aged self was looking up Snoop; I wasn’t surprised to discover that a DNA test showed he possesses more than 20% Native American ancestry, more than 5% European ancestry but less than 75% African ancestry.

    Having written the above 411 about the bodacious rapper, I”m not trying to minimalize one’s Africanness; rather, I’m endeavoring to point out that while many of us African Americans (and, it should go without saying) many other people of the African Diaspora, *present* as Black and may self-identify as such, oftentimes our hidden Otherness isn’t so hidden. By indicating those unconsciously possessed ethnicities, bloodlines, genetics, it’s a way of enjoying the fascination of our genetic mysteries now that we are faced with living and loving who we really are.
    So it doesn’t bother me why I have an insatiable appetite for corn, for I know that’s my Choctaw, Creek and Blackfoot drumming through my brain for *maize.* I also understand the passion for speaking French despite all 12 years of Spanish studied and ignored (by Others who say, “You’re black. Why’re you speaking Spanish?” as if the language of one conqueror is superior to another conqueror’s). However, my love for some yam and some red rice (like jollof rice and like jambalaya) is just as fervent as my fear when I’m anywhere near ropes, chains, whips and handcuffs. Hmmm, guess that disqualifies me from becoming a rock climber, mountaineer, skier, dog walker, jockey, dominatrix, sex therapist, corrections officer, police officer and magician.

  2. Your quest is quite admirable. I too long to know where I have come from and a site like that would be indeed valuable. Meanwhile, in my writings, I use my imagination to fill in the blanks.

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