Friday, December 21, 2012

“Y’all Are As Free As I Am”


Honoring the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

The old plantation home of Lemuel Reid near Abbeville, South Carolina as it stood in 2009.

On September 22, 1862, five days after the Union won the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, "all persons held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."  The finalized proclamation also authorized the recruitment of African Americans as Union soldiers in the Civil War.  We are approaching 150 years from the day that proclamation went into effect. 

However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free most enslaved African Americans in the South immediately.  Freedom came for most two years later after the Union won the Civil War.  Since I started researching my family history, I often wondered about the day my enslaved ancestors were told that they were free.  Undoubtedly, this was a dream come true for many!  Luckily, an elderly cousin, the late Cousin Isaac “Ike” Deberry, Sr. (1914-2009), recalled a special story that his maternal grandfather – my great-grandfather William “Bill” Reed (1846-1937) – had shared with him about that day.  Cousin Ike had a very close relationship with Grandpa Bill Reed and remembered many things my great-grandfather had shared with him. Although he was a reserved man I’m told, Grandpa Bill was not tight-lipped about his experiences during slavery in South Carolina.  Cousin Ike remembered so much, and he relayed so many mouth-dropping stories to me that Grandpa Bill had told him, that this vast amount of valuable oral history served as the solid foundation of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended.

With excitement, I listened as Cousin Ike remembered Grandpa Bill Reed’s story about “Freedom Day”.  He shared, “Grandpa told me that on the day they got freed, Lem Reid came out on his porch and called all the slaves up to the house and said to them, ‘Y’all are as free as I am.’  He asked them to stay on the place to help him bring in the crop and he promised to pay them.  Grandpa said that they stayed for a lil while and then they decided to follow this man to Mississippi to make a better living for themselves.”  In an earlier recollection, Cousin Ike had shared that an unknown man from Mississippi came to Abbeville, South Carolina and told them that “Mississippi was the land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.”  Cousin Ike further shared, “Hearing that there were fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths got them all excited.” Grandpa Bill, a younger sister Mary, and others moved to near Senatobia, Mississippi around January 1866.

Envisioning the happiness Grandpa Bill Reed and all of my enslaved ancestors probably displayed when they heard “Y’all are now free”, I deem the Emancipation Proclamation as a great turning point, not only in Black History but American history. I echo the following sentiments of President Barack Obama: “The Emancipation Proclamation stands among the documents of human freedom. As we commemorate this 150th anniversary, let us rededicate ourselves to the timeless principles it championed and celebrate the millions of Americans who have fought for liberty and equality in the generations since.”

My cousins, Armintha Reed Puryear and the late Isaac “Ike” Deberry of Senatobia, Mississippi, both listened to their grandfather Bill Reed talk about that life-changing day in 1865 when Lemuel Reid stood on this very porch they are standing and announced to all who were enslaved on the Reid Place that they were free. The Reed Family visited the Reid Place for the first time on July 8, 2004. The amazing accounts of that phenomenal day are told in Chapter 11 of 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended

Some of Grandpa Bill Reed’s descendants, along with several descendants of Lemuel Reid, standing in the foreground observing the plantation home of Lemuel Reid where Grandpa Bill was last enslaved.

6 comments:

  1. Another great post, Melvin! You are blessed to have such a rich oral history in your family. These are the kinds of stories most of us dream of! Keep 'em coming!

    Renate

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  2. Melvin...first-time commenter here. I just have to say to you (though we disagree on both, Lincoln and Barack Obama) -- thank you so much for this place!!! I found you through my cousin in NY, who'd done wa-a-a-y more genealogical work than I have. She recommended your first book to me (which I ordered, and full disclosure, have not yet read), as helping her dig through the muck to produce documentation of our family's history in South Carolina that most of us had no idea about. I thank you for that too! I also thank you for prompting me to go ahead and get that DNA test done. I haven't yet worked through the results, but I'm working on it!

    Brother, you make me so-o-o-o proud! When I had my Grandmama here, I didn't talk to her nearly as much as I should have. Now she's gone (passed in 2002), and now, that I'm less stupid, ashamed and more aware -- I'm patching together the pieces. As Renate said above, "You are blessed to have such a rich oral history in your family." Many of us had the same opportunity, but we (speaking for myself here) allowed the "great wish of hegemony" (read integration) to cloak what was really important, forgetting, as James Baldwin said, "...from whence we came."

    I've linked this site in my "Blogs I Follow," hoping other Black folk will read you, and be as inspired as I have been. Again, thank you so much for this wonderful post!

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    1. Thanks Deb! I appreciate this response! When you finally start reading "Mississippi to Africa," I hope that genealogical model will help you in your genealogical journey!

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  3. This was a sweet tribute to Melvin. You just gave me another clue to my Grandma Minty, That Aunt Armintha is another soundex! who have only a few documents on. I love the front porch picture! I"m glad we FREE!

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