Musings on Malevolence

15 September 2013

Tom & Rhoda LESLIE Enslaved at Lowndes County, AL

Tom & Rhoda LESLIE
Enslaved at Lowndes County, AL

Delving into the past is not for the faint hearted… especially when your ancestors were enslaved.

I read the stories of the “grand men and women who made America great” and cringe at the thought of how their riches and acclaim were “achieved’ by crushing the backs and spirits of “others” = MY PEOPLE…. stalked and captured in Africa and transported to America in the holds of slave ships, destined for a life of nothing — other than unrelenting work, service to a “master” and erasure of their identity… transformed into people of NO nation, NO history and diminished prospects ever after.

There are days when I feel SO DEPRESSED upon the discovery of yet another abominable truth, the facts of which feed my fury about the unfathomably unjust past.The more I learn, the more compelling becomes my desire to know even MORE… fueling the frenzy of my discontent. In my more enlightened state — I yearn to integrate what I learn into making myself a better person — thus ascribing the overflow of pain into something positive.

On my worst days, I hear the voice of Bettie Warfe (my maternal great great grandmother), who bore 17 children with the nephew of her master. Surely these children whose genes I share could not have been born of “love” in the context of times in which NO woman (especially an enslaved black “consort”) could ever say “NO.” 

My heart recoils at the story of Rhody Reeves Leslie (my paternal great grandmother) who cries out as an infant, slung against a wall by the enraged wife of her white master/father and then banished/sold with her mother to a fate unknown.

My mind’s eye sees Tom Leslie (my paternal great grandfather) face down a sheriff in Montgomery, Alabama with his shotgun — welcoming death rather than sacrifice his grandchildren (my father) to the whims of white supremacy.

I cringe at the thought of Owen Gavin (my great uncle) witnessing his daughter violated by “Knight riders” determined to drive his family from the small plot of land he managed to occupy after fleeing Mississippi to Oklahoma in the hope of a better life.

I see my grandfather, Louie Nicholson, terrified to his core as his uncle was lynched in Noxubee County, Mississippi for no apparent reason other than the fact of his blackness.

I hurt with the knowledge of my mother’s distress as she was beaten and gang raped by men who knew they would not face prosecution because she was black as night but not at sight.

As the iconic Mississippi writer William Faulkner said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

It is this past  that continues to haunt a present in which Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, Trayvon Martin… and countless others victims of the American myth… continue to suffer the detritus of ignorance and misguided delusions.

LAWD… help me transform my trauma into triumph!!!

5 Responses to “Musings on Malevolence”

  1. Wow. Very powerful words. My ancestors were British Loyalists who emigrated to the Bahamas following the American Revolution. In tracing my roots, I’m always a little afraid of what I might find. I would hate to think that an ancestor of mine had inflicted pain, such as you’ve described above. So far, I’ve found nothing to make me ashamed, but I know the possibility is there. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. It really struck a chord with me.

  2. chmjr2 said

    We all have so much to learn, so much to work for, cry for, and to be ashamed for. However we must put our new found knowledge to good use and better ourselves. Let us not forget to play either, as it makes the work lighter and forms bonds. We also can cry about the past and the days injustices but finding things to laugh over and enjoy will make us all closer. Shame should not be worn everyday but put in it’s place, so we may find the many things to be proud of.

    I enjoyed your blog and it gave me much to think about. You come from some very strong stock. Your family has a proud and strong story to share.

  3. Tara said

    Your great-grandparents look so strong and proud! Reminds me of the saying, “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

  4. Beautifully written, the trauma and sadness and losses of your family are haunting.
    thank you for speaking the truth.

  5. Exposing and dealing with the trauma of our ancestors is part of our work, now, and looking forward to healing and oneness with the truth our pathway to justice……Onelove~~~

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