A Meaningful Family Reunion
I belong to a family whose ancestors were stolen from the west coast of Africa into slavery in South Carolina during the 1700’s. My ancestors landed in Charleston South Carolina and journeyed to Sullivan’s Island where they were prepped for the auction block. I am an avid genealogist and I have searched my roots for over thirty years. Our family has held reunions every 2 years since 1962. On alternating years, we return to Anderson South Carolina where our ancestors were first enslaved.
In 2005, we met in Charleston SC. Charleston is the port where many West Africans landed after their journey from Africa. They worked the rice fields. The Africans spent time on Sullivan’s Island before being sold and branded.
We took a trip with a tour guide from Gullah tours to the shores where our African ancestors were unloaded like cattle or livestock. We all held hands and prayed. We felt the souls of our ancestors reaching up from the turbulent ocean. We felt their fearful spirits as they disembarked from the slave ships after their long, inhuman journey. Some of us cried.
Each reunion year, we celebrate our family’s accomplishments and we acknowledge deaths, celebrate births, and rejoice in the fact that we have some idea who we were before slavery. And we celebrate the fact that we survived slavery.
To imagine the scope of this reunion, you must know how we came to be here. Our ancestor was brought from West Africa during the 1700’s. He fathered many children; we really are not sure how many. One of his children named Jesse fathered 13 children. My great grandfather is one of the thirteen fathered by Jesse. My great grandfather had thirteen children also. So our family is huge. We have branched out all over the country and the world. We are doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, artists, CPA’s, managers, actors, entrepreneurs, preachers etc. Our family is very accomplished.
We held our picnic at a park near the city. We had noticed an older white couple in attendance at our hospitality suite. Everyone speculated who they were. Some family members had intermarried with whites so we were not shocked just curious.
The following day, the couple showed up at our picnic. I approached them and introduced myself and asked who they were. Imagine my shock and surprise when they said they were cousins and descendants of our slave master whom I will call William.
I talked with them most of the afternoon and they helped me unravel other parts of our family history. Best of all, they put me in touch with their family historian who later helped provide further details about my family.
This particular family was a participant in slavery because they were living in that time, not because they agreed with the practice. They were Scotch-Irish who emigrated from Ireland. From all accounts, my family was treated very well by them during slavery. They were educated and given land. Family oral tradition says that the lady of the plantation, taught the slaves to read and write and sew among other skills, risking her own safety by doing so.
Their attendance at the reunion was a cathartic episode. Those of us who were descendents of the enslaved felt comfort at the compassion of these people to come and reaffirm for us, part of our family history and provide us with information. They were octogenarians, and it was as if they were on a mission to atone for some of the wrongs of slavery. It was truly an interesting experience and a very unforgettable family reunion.