"Oh Freedom," what that meant to our ancestors

I arose early this morning to this song playing in my head.  I had not actually heard it for many years, so I consider myself to have heard a heavenly whisper.  I decided to look up the song on YouTube to listen and perhaps discern more.

Having been so focused on identifying the higher principles of freedom which my ancestors lived and desiring to further embrace and share, my open mind has again been enlightened.   Music has always been a significant part of our history and heritage.  I feel so fortunate to be able to continue to enjoy these songs of our heritage and to apply them in my own life today.

I am equally as fortunate to be able to find good mentors who have encouraged me to discover and use my talents.  We have always been able to find good mentors to take us under their wings and inspire us.  These unsung heroes accept us in spite of our imperfections and pour their own lifeblood into us. I am afraid they do so too often without receiving the acknowledgement they deserve.

At the end of 2010, I had reached a major turning point in my research.  I knew there had to be more out there to identify and document my ancestors. I knew the skeletal research I had done did not amply add dimension to their lives or tell their stories sufficiently. I decided to focus on a topic that they would have found important, freedom.

Genealogist, Antoinette Harrell at the National Archives. Walter C. Black, Sr., photographer.
There is a saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear."  Once I decided that I wanted to know about how my ancestors felt about freedom and the principles of freedom that were important to them, genealogist, Antoinette Harrell, contacted me.  She offered to shared with me all the research that she has gathered on peonage over the past ten years or more.
Photograph by Walter C. Black, Sr.

As Antoinette shares documents and the history behind them, I blog so that others can also learn about their genealogical value. So far I have discovered freedom to our ancestors meant land ownership, education, providing for posterity, serving our community, economic independence, and serving God.  I am perplexed by how far we have drifted and what freedoms we are sacrificing which they toiled so hard to achieve.

So now, I am more than just conducting genealogical research. I am saving the future of my posterity and that of anyone else who will hearken to these truths.  How valuable is that?  Well, Antoinette has not put a price on it for me or countless others.  I have not had to register to a attend seminar, purchase a book, or pay an hourly rate for the information that she has taken the time to share.

She represents those great African American leaders and teachers who achieved more notoriety in death than they were given in life.  As busy as she is with hosting and appearing on television and radio, lecturing and teaching at various universities, and providing for the temporal needs of the distraught residents of the Mississippi Delta with Gathering of Hearts, she has taken the time to include another student. Her service is invaluable.

Photograph by Walter C. Black, Sr.
For six weeks,  Portland State University students tuned into Nurturing Our Roots BlogTalkRadio Show where, under the direction of Professor Clare Washington, they had the opportunity to learn more about the history of peonage and the documentation which exists.  It was quite refreshing to interact with the students and hear their experiences as they shared what they were learning with family members and friends. Our last episode with the students was Thurgood Marshall notifies DOJ about 1943 peonage case in MS (June 1).

I have witnessed the resistance she faces due to the sensitive nature of peonage and the lack of understanding of the importance of the records that exist which document African American ancestors and others who were trapped in a form of slavery well up to 1945.  Perhaps those who discount her efforts will be influenced by the upcoming PBS special based on the book "Slavery By Another Name," by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Douglas Blackmon.  See:  Slavery By Another Name.

Please visit About Peonage as we continue to share original documentation and highlight the historical significance and genealogical value of these record-types. We are working on our next post which documents two African American young men, Iko and Eko,  from Roanoke, Virginia, who were kidnapped and forced to work for the Al G. Barnes Circus without pay.

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