Back when Mamie Locke was growing up in Rankin County, Miss., she had a great aunt who seemed to know the whole family story.
Not only could she tell who was who for several generations back but she also remembered where they came from and who they were married to.
Combined with some rare surviving plantation records, that long family memory enabled Locke and her clan to do something not many African-Americans can do — trace their history from modern Mississippi to slave-era Alabama — and then even further back to early 1800s Virginia.
But beyond that they ran into the same brick wall that has bedeviled virtually every black person searching for his or her past. Though they knew from the color of their skin that the trail led back across the Atlantic to the shores of Africa, they had no tangible lead when it came to rooting out their origins among the giant continent’s unrivaled proliferation of countries and ethnic groups. Read more …