In Search of African American Historical Narratives

6 years ago

I know that my great-grandmother was ten years-old when Abraham Lincoln ended legalized slavery. What I don’t know is what she experienced and witnessed between 1875 and her passing in the 1960s.

I can read about Jim Crow laws and segregation. I have experience the echoes of it. The ancestors lived in maelstrom of separate and unequal. History doesn’t stop at achievements, political whims or attempts at erasure of difficult topics.

African American history is being painstakingly re-assembled to connect people with their families and to the broader national history. It is hard task. Many of the elders are passing or refuse to speak of the hard times. It just means that we have to work harder on the effort.

Between Booker, Malcolm and Obama

There are so many stories. Black newspapers attempted to record the events and topics that the mainstream newspapers had no desire to cover. A few of the black newspaper archives are online.

The AFRO (Newspaper) Archives is ready for review. The Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper, is available for download. Instead of wondering what life was like I can now read news reports, advertisements and social activities to better understand the context of the time.

Oral Histories

The work of oral historians and genealogists isn’t just about the personal search for history. It is the collective gathering of the personal that helps us to understand the larger American narrative of economics, education, opportunities, sexism and identity.

Oral histories are first person testimonials of an experience or life.  The Regional Oral History Office of Bancroft Library/UC Berkeley interviews people who had experiences living and working in the Bay Area during World War 2.

This is Mary Newsom who talks about how she came to be married, money issues and the challenges of trying to stay employed when her employer was actively trying to fire women employees. Also included in the video is Phyllis Gould who talks about getting married when she was about 15 or 16 years of age.

The National Visionary Leadership Project contains a list of video oral histories of educators, entertainers, politicians and activists who brought my generation into being.

Antoinette Harrell has a podcast on BlogTalkRadio on African American genealogy and research. She also has a YouTube channel which features video histories of her relatives and ancestors.

Black and African American Genealogy Blogs

The narrative comes in many forms. What is your true name and who are your people. Original names and family histories have been destroyed, distorted or ignored.  Still the journey begins with a name.

The name could be the name of the former slave owner, the town lived in or an abolitionist who helped ancestors relocate to more hospitable environments. Genealogy can help find the missing relative of family history.

Robyn at Reclaiming Kin starts with the personal search of the author’s family but is generous in providing tips and resources that can be used to locate ancestor records.

Taneya’s Genealogy Blog also has resources and discoveries from the past but is looking forward. She experiments with creating a genealogy iPhone app. Diving deeper into her blog, there was a scanned image of a church brochure from 1954. That contains names, events, her grandmothers notes on her personal history of those people. No document is too small or insignificant.

I Never Knew My Father, from Sandra Taliaferro, shares her search on her paternal side of the family and her connections to her historical family in the Georgia area. On the sidebar of her blog, like many genealogical web sites and blogs, you can find the known family names, research resources and other genealogy bloggers.

There are so many more I wish I could go into detail about their contents such as In Honor of My Ancestors, Angela at My Ancestor’s Name, Mavis Jones at Conversations with My Ancestors and other genealogy blogs.

There is much work and story telling to do.

Gena Haskett is a BlogHer Contributing Editor. My Blogs: Out On The Stoop and Create Video Notebook

Original for BlogHer

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