The first 50 years after freedom

A question of documentation

George Geder

“Let’s be frank, the first 50 years after freedom did not generate records by African Americans.”

Recently I learned that a webinar sponsored by the Southern California Genealogy Society included the above statement. I became alarmed. This statement suggests that my people didn’t impart any information on their situations and lives, at all, between 1865 and 1915! My people? What?!?

Let us be frank? Who is us? Who is making this statement? An African American? Are the ‘us’ African Americans? Is the person making the statement a non-African American? Was this statement a quote? Is there a source or reason for this statement?

The declarative nature of this statement smacks of denial and revisionism of African American history and documentation. Now, I’m appalled.

I think the author of this statement is not taking into account that my people, my Ancestors, left or generated a plethora of records. I’m reminded of the quote attributed to the late Malcolm X — BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. My Ancestors, during this 50 year time period, generated books, newspapers, essays, church bulletins, obituaries, census records, military records, social registers, birth records, marriage records, death records, land deeds, probate records. My Ancestors made speeches, were included in school yearbooks, held political offices, and had their efforts struggling for equality, dignity, and civil rights documented by themselves and others.

You cannot disregard this mother-lode of information when you do your family history and genealogy research. The first 50 years after freedom DID generate records by African Americans. And they are not that subtle or hidden. Consider Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, George Washington Williams, George Washington Carter, Harriet Tubman, Mary Jane McLeod Bethune and countless biographies by former slaves, etc. These are records.

In my direct Ancestry, there are plenty of records to help me learn and understand my folks; from obituaries in the 19th century to newspaper accounts in the early 20th century.

The statement that freedom did not generate records by African Americans is absurd and needs to be discredited. Reconstruction and Jim Crowism, by themselves, generated a ton of records on both sides of the racial divide. What about the Freedman’s Bureau records, or the Freedman’s Savings records?

Come on, now. What are you really saying to the genealogy community? What are you saying to African American genealogists and family historians? If I were to believe and trust you, I would have to believe and trust my eighth grade history teacher who told me that I’m a negro and since there’s no country called ‘negro’, I come from nowhere and there’s nothing to know about me or my people.

Records contain the history of my people. I’m here to say that my people did generate records and that records were generated in the first 50 years after freedom. Come correct or don’t come at all.

Here’s another take on this statement on the African Roots Podcast;

    George Geder

    Written by

    Geder Writes Media Group

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