Gazing towards the Blazing Sun
The Story of an African American Family in Mississippi
In every conceivable manner,
family is the link to our past,
bridge to our future.
Screams. Capture. Chains. Ship. Cramped. Blood. Skin. Death. Arrival. Auction. Plantation. Oppression. Fear. Hope. Struggle. Freedom.
As I ponder about my ancestors, I can only wonder how much they felt, how much they wept, how much they prayed for a better tomorrow, while gazing into the blazing sun.
“Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.”
Their names were Hiram and Eliza Cole. A newly-wed Black couple residing in Neshoba County, Mississippi, an area that would later grasp the nation’s attention as the site of one of the most heinous race-related crimes in American History. It was 1880, a time when Lincoln’s lingering proclamation at Gettysburg was candidly ignored in the South.
Yet, they were not slaves.
I can only imagine how they must have stood on the porch of their Mississippi farmhouse, gazing towards the blazing sun, hoping that the fate of their children would be as bright as their own, hoping that the fruit of their labor would yield a plentiful harvest, hoping that their great great granddaughter would seize the opportunity to achieve greatness in every sense of the word.
Oh, how they must have hoped.
“Let us be mindful that the heritage we hold is a dear one. Nothing is more lasting and sustaining than God’s love and ‘the family.’ Our descendants will only be as strong as we give them the fortitude and courage to be so. The strength of the Black family has always been deeply rooted in strong family ties, love, and above all, commitment to God as the guiding force.”
It’s is 8 PM on Saturday, July 26, 1997, in Jackson, Mississippi. The walls of the University Medical Center tremble, as the shrieks of a newborn baby girl fills the one of the rooms of the labor and delivery wing. The newborn’s curly hair and soft, twinkling eyes of gray captivate the hearts of the individuals that witness her arrival. Family members gather to send a prayer to the heavens for the new baby girl. Her name is Alicia Danielle Worthy. She’s 8 pounds and 3 ounces of love and potential. Years later, she’d grow up to resemble her great great grandmother, Eliza — light skin, long hair and relentless passion.
It is the final Thursday of November.
The car is cranked and set in motion towards Fairwood Drive, Jackson, Mississippi. Upon arrival, the sweltering heat slows my pace, as I step softly towards the door and bring my knuckles firmly against it. Within seconds, the door is ajar, and I’m greeted by a curvy woman with smooth brown skin, soft voice, and deep crescents within her cheeks. I am welcomed into the home of my aunt, Delores Hopkins.
As I proceed to enter the house, the greetings increase and intensify, as I glide into the cozy, populous living room full or relatives that I have not seen since this time last year. Indeed, they are happy to see me.
Before I have to opportunity to take my seat, I am embraced by aunts, uncles, and cousins of all ages, who are inquisitive about school, my mother, and my latest accomplishments. Oddly enough, many of them seem to only notice how much prettier I’ve gotten. I appreciate their complements and their side-stepping of my apparent childhood hideousness.
As I make my way through the room, I meet the cousin that I’ve never seen before and the aunt that remembers me since I was a little girl. I do not recognize them, but I proceed to shyly greet them with a broad smile. After all, they’re family.
While I continue to greet loved ones, I’m engulfed by the aroma of country ham smothered in a sweet honey glaze, savory cornbread dressing stuffed and puffed with onion gravy and soft celery, and collards simmering in flavorful juices seasoned with ham hocks and special spices.
It’s time for dinner. But first, we must say grace.
As long as I’ve known my Aunt Delores, I’ve always viewed her as a soft-spoken woman prone to dot every I and cross every t. She encourages excellence and expects nothing less than the best of grades and sharpest of manners. While in her presence, I would be careful not to make the careless mistake of forgetting to respond to adults with a solemn “yes ma’am,” “no ma’am,” “yes sir,” or “no sir.” I suppose that her personality stemmed from her Southern upbringing in Louisville, Mississippi and Black heritage, where greatness is always encouraged as reverence to resilience.
It is my intention to interview my Aunt Delores Hopkins in an effort to uncover the untold stories of my family’s history on my father’s side of the family. I hope to gain deeper insight into how race relations played a critical role in the lives of my family member’s growing up and making living in the South. Also, I hope to incite the development of a stronger awareness of the the rich culture of African Americans among my peers. Personally, I seek to strengthen my own self-awareness, as a successful black female growing up in the South.Ultimately, I hope to unify and reestablish both sides of my family towards the essential goal of understanding and revering the importance of family history, culture, resilience, and excellence.
“The world of most men is given to them by their culture..”
-Richard Wright, The Outsider
1. When and where were you born and raised?
2. Describe the most memorable experience of your childhood.
3. What was it like to be the only girl in the family? How did it feel to be misunderstood, ignored and ruffed up by your brothers?
4. Describe your formal education.
5. Describe your parents’ formal education.
6. What information do you recall about your parents’ lives and their lifestyles?
7. What did your parents do for a living?
8. What was life like for as a Black female growing up in the South?
9. What was your community like growing up?
10. How did race relations and the Civil Rights movement affect your upbringing?
11. What do you know about the family members that moved to California in the mid-to-late 1900s? Do you think the historical nature of the time period influenced their decision to move? If so, how?
12. Tell me about your grandparents. What were their lives were like?
13. What do you know about Hiram and Eliza Cole?
14. Take a moment to think about the oldest relative that you are aware of. What do you know about him or her?
15. Describe a life lesson you’ve learned from an older member of the family.
16. If you could drop your things at this very moment and travel to one place in Mississippi, where would it be and why?
17. What do you like most about Mississippi?
18. Take a moment to think about your favorite family tradition. Why is it your favorite? What is the significance of it?
19. Can you tell me a little bit more about the family reunion in 1987 when the family compiled the family history book?
20. Think about the phrase “strong black family”? What does that mean to you?
21. What is the role of Black women in the household? How important are they?
22. In your opinion, how important is soul food to the Black family? Is soul food enhancing or detrimental to the Black life?
23. What do you know about the family members that moved to California in the mid-to-late 1900s? Do you think the historical nature of the time period influenced their decision to move? If so, how?
24. Have you watched the movie The Help? That’s one of my sources. If so, how oes it relate to our family experience?
25. Describe the importance of spiritually to our family today and to our ancestors then.
26. Is there any other pertinent information about our family or your life that you would like to share with me?
Hill, Robert B. The Strengths Of Black Families. New York: Emerson Hall Publishers, Inc., 1972.
Hill, Robert B. The Strengths Of African American Families: Twenty-Five Years Later. New York: University Press of American, Inc., 1999.
Lepore, Jill. “The Uprooted.” New Yorker (New York, NY), Sept. 6, 2010.
Mitchell, Denis J. A New History of Mississippi. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.
Moody, Anne. Coming Of Age In Mississippi. New York: The Dial Press, Inc., 1968.
Parham, Thomas A., Ajamu, Adisa, and White, Joseph L. The Psychology of Blacks. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2011.
Schweninger, Loren. Black Property Owners in the South 1790–1915. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. New York: The Penguin Group, 2009.
Taylor, Mildred B. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. New York: The Dial Press, 1976.
Washington, Kerry, Sojourner Truth. Ain’t I A Woman. Video, 2:58. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery/videos/aint-i-a-woman?m=528e394da93ae&s=undefined&f=1&free=false
Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Harper Brothers Publishers, 1945.