Motivational Monday: Marching on Washington

The only bad thing about my recent trip to Brazil was the timing.  While my family and I were there, Americans were marking the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  I wasn’t at the first March in 1963 because I wasn’t born yet.  So, I hoped to be at this one with friends from my Unitarian Universalist congregation in Montclair and from Coming to the Table, an organization that brings together the descendants of slaves and slave owners in order to heal the historic harms of slavery. These are two groups near and dear to my heart that inspire me.

Coming to the Table was inspired by the vision of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his historic March on Washington speech that one day “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” On August 28th, the same day the march happened in 1963 and 50 years later, an essay that I wrote came out in MOREmagazine. My essay is about the relationship with my “linked descendants,”  the people whose ancestors once owned my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton. So, I guess in a way, even though my body was in Brazil, a part of me did make it to the march. And somehow, while I did not orchestrate it, my UU friends met my Coming to the Table friends and marched together.  That’s some serious synchronicity.

My friends, Phoebe Kilby, from Coming to the Table, and Emilia Colon from the Undoing Racism Committee at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Montclair.  They were together at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that took place last week.

My friends, Phoebe Kilby, from Coming to the Table, and Emilia Colon from the Undoing Racism Committee at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Montclair. They were together at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that took place last week.

 

 

 

 

Me and my essay in the September issue of MORE magazine on news stands now! (Photo courtesy of Greer Burroughs)

Me and my essay in the September issue of MORE magazine on news stands now! (Photo courtesy of Greer Burroughs)

 

 

Words of Wisdom Wednesday: MLK’s Vision Manifested

In his historic speech given at the march on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that one day, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

Tomorrow, I’ll be traveling to Richmond, VA for the first national gathering of Coming to the Table, an organization inspired by King’s vision. I’ll be among about 70 descendants of slaves and slave owners from all parts of the country coming together at that table of brotherhood from March 16th through the 18th.

Coming to the Table is an organization that aims to acknowledge and heal wounds of racism rooted in the US’s history of slavery.

Finding and becoming a part of this organization is one of the many unexpected perks of researching my family’s history.   All I really wanted to do when I set out on this journey was to discover what happened to my great-grandmother, Josephine, the daughter of a slave and master.   I didn’t bank on making new friends with my far flung family members or allies in the descendants of the people who used to own my kin.  And I certainly had no lofty goal of joining a group that wanted to heal the wounds of slavery.  But I’m doing all three. Who says genealogy can’t be life-changing?

What unexpected bonuses have you received from researching your family’s history?

The Power of Love

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbOQhyuKifw]

When I was a teenager, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday was a somber affair.  My parents and I would usually attend a church or NAACP breakfast and as the speakers talked about the life of the slain Civil Rights leader, shot and killed when he was only 39  years-old, I’d try to make sense of it all.

MLK was as tragic a symbol as Jesus, so good that he wouldn’t fight back when the southern police turned fire hoses or attack dogs on him or his legion of peaceful protestors.   I felt supremely guilty that because of his death and the Civil Rights Movement, I enjoyed rights, as basic as they were, that my parents had not.  I got an equal education with my white peers.  My parents went to “colored” schools notoriously underfunded.  I took whatever seat on the bus that I wanted within reason (in an ironic twist, older kids reigned over the coveted back of the bus, out of the watchful eye of our driver). My father however never sat where he wanted on public transportation until he joined the Air Force at 17 and boarded a train headed for basic training.  Even then, he didn’t get to choose his seat until he crossed the Mason Dixon line.  I dated boys of every race and religion and eventually married a white man.  When my parents married in the early 50s, interracial marriages were still illegal in 16 states.

Although my parents weren’t an interracial  couple, my great great grandparents, Col. W.R. Stuart and Temple Burton were.    At the time that their first child was born, slavery was just ending and since my great great grandmother was the colonel’s slave, he had a right to do with her whatever he wanted, including impregnate her. And he did, seven times apparently.  Of course I can’t know if they loved each other, but I can’t help but think that love of something, maybe the colonel, undoubtedly the children she had with him, kept Temple going.  She lived to be 104.

MLK understood the awesome and radical power of love and he threw it at every violent act or derisive word against him.  The love he spread, and not his tragic death, is what I thought about today as my family and I did service in our community in honor of MLK’s birthday.  As polyanna as it may sound, love really can change the world.  Even though he’s gone, the love that MLK spread endures.  My family is living proof.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.

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