Friday, June 8, 2018

Making a List

Every summer I assign myself a project that will enrich my life as a writer and librarian. One summer I read/reread all of Toni Morrison’s books. Another summer I read nothing but Octavia Butler. This summer I’ve been doing something different ... compiling a list of all of the enslaved people mentioned in the wills of the Peay family of South Carolina. 

I’ve read that the family owned 1,000 people on multiple plantations. Reading the wills is helping me understand the family that controlled every aspect of my ancestors’ lives, including, for example, how some ended up in Alabama. 

I had been wondering why I had so many DNA matches in Alabama. It turns out one of Austin Ford Peay’s daughters, Mary Lucilla Justina Peay Poellnitz, moved to Marengo County, Ala., with her husband, and took her inheritance — 30 slaves — with her. Those enslaved people are all mentioned by name in her father’s will.

At some point, it occurred to me that this list I’m creating has probably been done already, but I’ve decided to keep going. Typing these names is therapeutic and informative because I know many of these human beings listed amongst mules and tools and wagons and tablecloths and silverware and other ordinary things ... are my people.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Rosenwald Schools

Image result for rosenwald bookOne of the joys of doing genealogy is learning how our families fit into the larger picture of American and even World History and sharing the knowledge of this context with other family members.

This past weekend while visiting my father, he mentioned that he had recently learned that his church, Bethel AME Zion in Kannapolis, N.C., was once the site of a Rosenwald School. The Rosenwald Initiative was a collaborative project founded by Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute, and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Their partnership resulted in the construction of more than 5,000 new state-of-the-art schools for black children in the South in the early 1900s.

Ironically, part of my family is from North Carolina, which had more Rosenwald Schools than any other state, but I didn't learn about this story until I moved to Sapelo Island in 2005. Sapelo had two schools, and the one at St. Luke Baptist Church is still standing.

I showed Daddy the website for the Rosenwald Database at Fisk University, and he was able to see a photograph of the schoolhouse for the very first time. He also learned that his high school was the site of a Rosenwald School, as well as several sites in our ancestral home, Lancaster County, S.C., including Mount Carmel AME Zion Church. There were also schools in Mecklenburg County, N.C., and others in nearby Cabarrus County, where our ancestors lived.

Our ancestors no doubt helped build these schools and attended these schools, making our family part of the Rosenwald legacy, a fascinating chapter in the history of educating black children in America.

Black Communities Conference

It was an honor to participate in a memorial roundtable celebrating the life and work of Sapelo Island's Cornelia Walker Bailey. The panel discussion was held on April 25, 2018, at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, N.C. The event was part of the inaugural Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration hosted by the University of North Carolina's Institute of African American ResearchNCGrowth, and  UNC University Libraries Southern Historical Collection.

From left: Dr. Melissa Cooper, author of  Making Gullah: A History of Sapelo Islanders, Race, and the American Imagination; Althea Sumpter, a commissioner of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor; Michele Nicole Johnson, former manager of Hog Hammock Public Library on Sapelo Island; and Maurice Bailey, Sapelo resident, entrepreneur and the son of Cornelia Walker Bailey.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Davidson College

My ancestors were enslaved in the Davidson, Huntersville, Cornelius and surrounding communities in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties in North Carolina. So I am especially excited about Davidson College's new Commission on Race and Slavery

The commission is led by 1993 Davidson graduate Anthony R. Foxx, former Charlotte mayor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation under the Obama Administration. The commission also includes students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and community members.

Commission initiatives will strengthen dialogue and involve "teaching, research, scholarship, educational exhibitions, public events and other means of community engagement, college-created media content and permanent recognition of these aspects of our history," according to Davidson College's website.

Davidson College is a member of Universities Studying Slavery, a collaborative effort to explore and document race, inequality, and the legacy of slavery in higher education and in university communities.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017


This is Cornelia Walker Bailey on Cabretta Beach, Sapelo Island, Ga. The date was July 30, 2005, my wedding day. My fiance and I eloped and took Cornelia with us as our witness. Why? Because she was the reason we met. I read her book, fell in love with Sapelo, opened my mind and followed my heart to the man who would become my partner. What a strange and wonderful adventure life has been ever since, and it began with this proud woman and her story about growing up Geechee on a quiet Georgia sea island. I am forever grateful. Rest in peace, dear Cornelia.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday, June 23, 2017

Behavior Cemetery

This is an interview I did in 2010 with Dan Elliott, president of the LAMAR Institute. Elliott was in Behavior Cemetery on Sapelo Island using ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves. He was working with Dr. Nick Honerkamp and his archaeology students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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