Monday, December 03, 2007

my pedigree

The oldest person on my paternal family tree as it stands so far was born in 1820 in Virginia. I have about 5 or 6 other people about 6 or 7 generations back that were born Negro in a slave state before emancipation.

Many of the people I've found were not able to read and write, down into the early twentieth century. Hardly any of them had any formal schooling, but some children started to read and write around the turn of the century. Many rented land and hired out as laborers, railroad section hands, factory workers, housewives, maids, and laundresses. They married, had several children, and went to church. Eventually, folks started to pick up small parcels of land in the same little patch of the country where it seems we've been for at least a couple centuries.

My grandmother was the first professional, a licensed practical nurse. My dad's sister was the first, at least in my branch, to earn a bachelor's degree. Yet I've heard stories of my father's upbringing - there were hard times. Schools were still segregated up until they started busing my dad and other kids in the late sixties, and subsequently closed the colored schools. Even then, men in my family were doing "odd jobs," like digging wells and fixing things.

I am the second in my family to earn a bachelor's degree, and the first to acquire an advanced degree. I have letters after my name. My little cousin is in college - she wants to get her MBA one day.

Needless to say, I am not part of the black bourgoisie. I am not derived from any of the Talented Tenth. I didn't debut for society. My parents and grandparents didn't go greek and shuttle me to homecoming games in early fall. There are no family jewels, no hope chests, no trust funds, no rich uncles. And I am overwhelmingly proud to be who I am. I am a child of former slaves, who lived and loved through poverty and Jim Crow, and took almost a century and a half to produce a middle class not obligated to hoeing and weeding, scrubbing, hauling, or digging to provide for our families. My inherited legacy is faith, perseverance, and a respect for education.

We've been blessed to make it this far. We are the strong. We are the purposed.

I am the future.