Asheville’s Sasha Mitchell helps families find their roots

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Sasha Mitchell was a fourth-grader in New Jersey when her class did a family history project and she innocently contributed photos of her white mother and African-American father. The response from some of her classmates was immediate and cruel. “I was called a nigger and teased and generally made miserable,” said Mitchell, who is now a happily married mother, entrepreneur and community volunteer in Asheville. That experience was followed by a memorable family talk related to a field trip that Mitchell’s younger sister’s class was planning to the Hayden Planetarium in New York, where … [Read more...]

African American history buried in unusual places

Katie Brown Bennett was whirling through reel after reel of microfilm when she found her great-great-grandfather Squire Cheshier. It was not a birth certificate that genealogists love to get their hands on. It was an 1843 bill of sale. Squire had been sold for $525 to Tennyson Cheshier. “I will remember that moment forever. I knew about slavery conceptually, had studied it in school. But here he was 27, probably sold away from family. When I saw that, all I could do was cry.” Since then, Bennett has found a wealth of information, including her father’s line of Joneses on a 1772 … [Read more...]

Passion drives effort to preserve history, search for roots

Candice McKnight all but moves mountains to help people find their roots. But it was on an imposing rock set down in a stranger’s yard in Missouri that she looked her own family’s past in the face. The president of the African-American Historical and Genealogical Society of Colorado Springs was visiting family when a cousin, who belonged to a historical society there, showed her the rock that had been a platform from which slaves were sold in the early 1800s. Intrigued, they found papers that showed that a great-great-grandmother had been sold there. But in an unusual twist, the woman … [Read more...]

When Family Trees Are Gnarled by Race

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My paternal grandfather, Marshall Staples (1898-1969), was one of the millions of black Southerners who moved north in the Great Migration. Those of us in the family who were born Yankees in the years just after World War II were given an earful about our place in 19th-century Virginia — and specifically about Marshall’s white grandfather, a member of a slaveholding family who fathered at least one child with my great-great-grandmother, Somerville Staples. Stories like this are typical among African-Americans who have roots in the slave-era South and who have always spoken candidly about … [Read more...]