Amazing, even in the comments — “We didn’t enslave anyone…”
Thaddeus Howze
293

I know that video. It makes me physically and emotionally sick so as I write, please understand, I am very upset.

I know this video intimately because 6 of the ships making multiple crossings were mastered by my Liverpudlian 4th great grandfather Thomas Rigmaiden. I have the ships’ names, routes, the number of human beings each carried from their home, their land, their freedom sold as if they were not as human as he. I have the records of atrocities he committed, as if kidnapping, killing and selling human beings were not atrocities enough. I have a copy of the commission he received from King George to blockade French ships from bringing soldiers and goods to the colonies as we fought for our independence. I also have copies of letters he wrote to and about his family, proof of his devotion to his church, to charities. He was a loving father, a devoted husband: like all of us, he was complicated, a mixture of shadow and light. But he made a fortune trading people.

I researched for years to learn exactly how my family, and therefore I, contributed to this blight on humanity, all that was and is now slavery, all that still permeates America even today.

I am accountable. I’d have to be willfully blind to believe otherwise.

My 4th great grandfather’s son and namesake, my 3rd great grandfather came to America. He left 26 years of diaries.

My 3rd great grandfather had 2 families: one with my 3rd great grandmother and one with their one slave. I have worked through slave censuses, DNA and Google. I have found some of my family because the offspring of the rape of that slave produced 4 sons, 4 great half uncles just as surely my family as are my beloved father, his mother, and all those with whom we share DNA.

I have apologized to my family members whose 3rd and 4th great grandmother’s body was violated by our mutual great grandfather. We share him but do not share responsibility because my great grandmother was not stolen from the land of her birth. My great grandmother consented to bear children. Her 1st was not born at 15.

If my family who “owned” only one slave has such a history, we cannot be alone when so many families “owned” many more slaves. And when even more worked and fought to maintain the system of slavery. If my family was involved in trafficking humans to be sold in America, we cannot be alone.

General knowledge of history brought me to this belief even before I read a word of the diaries. I cannot understand why anyone would try to refute such easily obtainable facts. What is the motive, the payoff? Truth always outs. And I cannot understand why any white American would not be accountable for what cannot be denied. I cannot understand why any American would not work to understand the ways in which this history has created the America of today. White privilege ought to make us work even harder to see the truth and work to make America what it should be: a nation of one people working together for the liberty and justice of all…ALL as in every American, regardless of color, creed, national origin.

White Americans hurt themselves, ourselves, by not knowing of, accepting and holding ourselves accountable for the past, present and future of the America that we created and our denial continues. The riches of knowing and loving all Americans has made my life sweeter, my calling stronger. By holding myself accountable, I lost nothing but gained grace, family and a higher calling. I opened a place in my head and heart I never knew was closed. I learn daily. I am grateful.

One need not be afraid of the truth! Why are so many? Answering that honestly, no easy task, is a good starting point for a better America. Empathy demands we put ourselves in the place of all. No one is asking for or demanding anything to which they do not already have a Constitutional right. Would you not fight for what is your right? As Americans if anyone is denied a Constitutional right, we are all denied what is quintessentially American: the very idea of America.

My maternal grandfather’s family landed here as part of the 3rd charter of Jamestown, a charter partly financed by my 12th great grandfather. His son, my 11th great grandfather was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the first democratically-elected legislative body in the British American colonies. During his tenure that body wrote laws to allow all formerly indentured white men, freed at age 21, to be given 50 acres of land, a mule and the vote. His son, my 10th great married a Nansemond Indian. Most of their offspring fought for America’s independence. My 10th great grandfather on my maternal grandmother’s side came from England as an indentured servant. At 21 he became a recipient of freedom, a mule, 50 acres and the opportunity to vote (sounds like reparations to me so why wasn’t the equivalent offered at Emancipation to every slave freed?) because he lived in Virginia. My point?

I am America. I reflect America’s promise and America’s faults. I yearn for America to become the promise reflected in the words of our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and our Declaration of Independence. We are a maturing nation. It is time we become adults, fully functioning by knowing and accepting ourselves, by becoming from this acceptance of our true nature the best we can be.

It starts with me.

We are all me.

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