In the Fluvanna County, Virginia census for 1860, there are 4996 slaves recorded by age, color, and sex. Only one of them is given a name – Sally, age 100. I can only guess that they recorded her name because her age was so remarkable. Yet, this one name sets it relief the 4995 other people who are nameless. As I read this, I felt my spirit sag under the weight of this history, my history.
I have conversations with people, people I love, and find them saying things like “They’re (meaning black people) are just different.” Or “That whole Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemmings thing is blown way out of proportion.” There’s pain in these personal revelations, too.
Perhaps the most painful part of this research is the lack of attention it has received before. People seem to often want to ignore this part of our history, not exactly to pretend it didn’t happen but to assume it has no legacy now. Maybe we think that if we don’t acknowledge it, we can simply put it behind us.
Yet, I just don’t know how that’s possible. It seems to me that the only way past pain is through it . . . and since this is national (and international) pain, I think we probably all have to move through it to get past it. . .
So here I sit . . . pouring through texts and stories that break my heart, hoping that maybe just a little of what I write will bring these things into the light where they can be felt and then, just maybe, tenderly healed. . .