African-American repatriates tribal treasures through eBay diplomacy

When family researcher William Holland flies back to his ancestral homeland in Cameroon next week, he'll be bearing gifts: ceremonial masks that were taken out of Africa decades ago, purchased by Holland in online auctions, and now destined to be returned to the tribes from whence they came. It's an unusual exercise in citizen diplomacy, but one that's fitting for Martin Luther King Jr. Day — an occasion that celebrates the late civil-rights leader's legacy and encourages volunteer service. You're always supposed to give back," Holland said. "Even if you have nothing, at least try to … [Read more...]

African-American descendants sue to save Revilletown cemetery

Former residents of Revilletown—an African-American community torn down 25 years ago in Iberville Parish—are trying to preserve a cemetery founded by ancestors there in 1874. The cemetery, started by ex-slaves, is now within the grounds of a vinyl-resin plant owned by Georgia Gulf Corp., based in Atlanta. The plant is in the city of Plaquemines, 17 miles below Baton Rouge. The Mount Zion Baptist Association is exploring legal channels to maintain its original keep on the cemetery and prevent it from being swallowed by plant operations. The group says it was formed in 1874 and continues to … [Read more...]

Asheville’s Sasha Mitchell helps families find their roots

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...]

When Family Trees Are Gnarled by Race

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...]

Relatives come from across nation to pay respects at black cemetery

In a once-forgotten cemetery, surrounded by family, both living and dead, 91-year-old Leon Lewis spoke of his heritage. “This is the starting place of my ancestors,” he said. “This is where they came out of slavery. It’s important for the children to see and know this.” Lewis, the oldest surviving member of the Lewis-Logan family of Lakeview, traveled from his home in Denver to address the group of about 35 relatives who gathered at the Lakeview cemetery Friday. Buried in the all-black cemetery, on a hill east of Lecompton, were about 30 adults and about 20 infants. Lewis said Thomas … [Read more...]

Library makes available ‘African American Newspapers, 1827-1998’

The University of Delaware Library announces the online access to a much acclaimed new database, African American Newspapers, 1827-1998, which will provide online access to approximately 270 U.S. newspapers chronicling a century and a half of the African American experience. This unique collection features newspapers from more than 35 states -- including many rare and historically significant 19th century titles. Newly digitized, these newspapers initially published by or for African Americans can now be browsed and searched as never before. African American Newspapers, 1827-1998, is … [Read more...]

Sketching The Family Tree, Discovering His Family’s History

Lawrence Jackson went through most of his life not knowing much about his family history. He didn't even know the names of his great-grandparents. That didn't bother him until he had kids and wanted to share with them stories about their ancestors. So he began a search, armed with only early boyhood memories, from his home in Baltimore for Pittsylvania County, Virginia, to try to find his late grandfather's old home by the railroad tracks in Blairs, Virginia. Jackson describes his journey in a new book, "My Father's Name: A Black Virginia Family after the Civil War." Read More … [Read more...]

Atlanta Man Plans Memorial Day Reunion With African Kin

It may sound strange, but for William Holland, 43, of Atlanta, incorporating the long-lost African members of his family into this year’s family reunion is a reality. From the first DNA test he took in 2004 to his upcoming reunion this Memorial Day, Holland has accomplished the seemingly impossible through patience and sheer determination. Tracing his family line all the way from the Virginia plantations where his American forefathers worked to the Oku people of Cameroon, Holland then discovered that several members of his "African side" were closer than he ever imagined — living in … [Read more...]

African-American’s roots revised

If you're an African-American, tracing your roots back to the ancestral continent is hard enough — but tracing them back to the ancestral family? That requires genetic testing, plus family-history scholarship, plus trips to Africa, plus a little bit of faith. William Holland has filled all of those requirements, and to celebrate, he's planning a cross-continental family reunion for Memorial Day weekend in Virginia, where his ancestors were once held as slaves. "Memorial Day is a time for remembering the loved ones you lost, right?" Holland said. "So it's a good time to remember all those … [Read more...]