As African-American history month winds down, I’m pleasantly surprised by all the new information I’ve learned about both ordinary and extraordinary black people and the integral part both played in building this country over the past four centuries. I’ve learned about the father of African-American film, Oscar Micheaux, the black man who patented the horse bit as portrayed in the Generations Project, and the former slaves who told their stories in the Slave Narratives, the Federal Writers Project which compiled their written and recorded histories in the 1930s. One of my favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston conducted some of the interviews.
Before I heard a segment of the Slave Narratives on NPR earlier this month, I didn’t even know they existed.
I knew my great great-grandmother, Temple Burton wouldn’t be among the other former slaves interviewed since she died before the Slave Narratives project began, but my heart skipped a beat nonetheless when I searched the index and saw listed among the biographies one for a 101 year-old woman named Tempy. I’m taking it as a sign that I will find more information about her. I’d love to get a fat tome about Tempy Burton and her family like the one YoYo Ma was handed in last night’s episode of Faces of America! But I guess that’s expecting too much, since I already did find an enormous collection of personal letters, poems and newspaper clippings that belonged to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart, Sr. whose son would go on to own Tempy and impregnate her with several children. The letters offer tons about my slave-owning side of the family from who was the favored child to who was the black sheep, but so far, no mention of Tempy.
But I’m still hopeful to find more information about Tempy’s original owners, (the Burtons, I assume) and maybe even some sign of her parents.
Thanks to our genealogy buddy, Ghita Johnson, we have found who owned Tempy before my great great-grandfather which puts us closer to our goal. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the voices of other enslaved people who lived to see freedom in the Slave Narratives.
What new piece of history did you learn during African-American history month?