One of my friends sent me an encouraging note today, complementing this blog before posing the following question:
“Doesn’t it make you angry to uncover this stuff? Even just the language that is used in some of these documents- “sale” and “slave” -make me cringe…..yet your writing doesn’t have an angry tone. How do you do it?”
I think that by the time I write about my discoveries here, I’ve had a chance to digest them.
It was heart-breaking to see my great, great-grandmother, Temple Burton listed as property in a will after farm animals and equipment. The description of her owner, my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart as a “distinguished Southerner” in his obituary catapulted me into a temporary rage. But these two titles, slave, and slave owner are single aspects of my two ancestors’ stories. They’re hard truths, but they’re not the only truths and to focus on them solely leaves me with labels for great, great-grandparents as opposed to full people with aspirations and desires that I hope to discover. Information empowers me. Discovering that Tempe took a trip with her daughter, my great-grandmother Josephine that was important enough to commemorate with the pictured decorative glasses is balm to a wound. Knowing that the Colonel cultivated the Stuart pecan, named for him and still grown today engenders a certain amount of pride.
Of course my great, great-grandmother’s enslavement angers me and that my great, great-grandfather was her enslaver is a double whammy. But what’s harder to take is no information at all.
It still boggles my mind that Temple stayed on with the Stuarts after emancipation for another 60 years! Her son Alfred Burton Stuart lived in Ocean Springs as well, married with children, so why not just go and live with him? And then there is Josephine. Born and raised in Ocean Springs, married and raising children in her home town, she virtually disappears after the 1920 census. How does someone who lived her entire life in the same place just vanish?
These unanswered question are like a lead weight on my head. Maybe it’s my journalism background, but I’d rather know the truth than be in the dark, even when the truth is dirty and mean.
Which motto do you live by: “The truth shall set you free” or “What I don’t know won’t hurt me?”