Thursday, August 02, 2012

from Dave Strange

Finally....Slavery Made Personal

   It is often true that "what you touch, touches you."
    For example, I remember a few years ago, a family reunion was held to celebrate the restoration of a cemetery that we had done.  Members of the family came, literally, from all corners of the continental U.S.  After the ceremony, the leader of that family effort came over to me.  "See that man over there with his hand on the tombstone?"
    I looked and saw a grown man leaning respectfully toward a tall old tombstone, his hand flat against it .... tears flowing from his eyes.  "That is my son," the woman said. "He disagreed with this cemetery restoration work the whole time, thinking it to be just a silly waste of time over people he had never known."
    "That tombstone is his great-grandfather, and he just told me, 'Now I get it, Mom.  Now I get it.' "
    That is how I feel about some old papers that I come across from time to time at the Museum.
    We had several on loan a few years ago, for us to scan to our computer digital files.
    But I came across another just recently, as I sorted through one of our collections.
    Slave papers.  Slave bill of sales.
    Now I "know" about slavery and I "know" that it was wrong.
    But to personally touch a paper that was hand written out the same as if one was selling a cow, and touching the folds in the paper from when it was folded up and placed in the "owner's" pocket.

Now, I gotta say, that touches me.  It brings home, in simple terms, the reality of things.
    The slave bill of sale we have at the museum describes "for a sum of seven hundred dollars.....a negro man named Harry" described as "sound in body and mind except the tip of a finger on the left hand."
    It was dated 1859.  With the Civil War so close at hand, I wonder if the man ever saw freedom.
    Others I have seen describe women and children being bought and sold.  One I remember in particular was a bill of sale for a mother and two children in 1811.
    1811.  More than half a century before slavery was ended in America.  That bill of sale described them as "slave for life", and I suppose they were.  I wonder and fear what all might have happened to that family, so far from any hope of freedom.
    Now, this might all seem trite and silly to some who have closer ties to such things.  Silly to others because such things were so long ago.
    But it is not silly to me.
    And I doubt it is now silly to you.
    If it is, come touch one of these papers sometime.  Visit a grave site of a long-ago relative, touch the tombstone, and think seriously for a moment about real people of our past.
    If you touch the past, it will touch you.
Thank you for being a Friend of the Bullitt County History Museum. 
David Strange

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