Renira Morris (far left), the little sister I never had with my daughters and me at a pre-school graduation ceremony.
After my post on Monday about the book, “Freedom’s Child” and all the similarities I had with the author, Carrie Allen McCray, I received this comment:
I knew her as “Aunt Carrie” as she is the Grand-Aunt of my best friend Gila. She also happens to be the author of one of my favourite poems. I will be happy to put you in touch with the family.
Lots of Love, Renira”
Renira happens to be a good friend of mine who I came to know shortly after I moved to this town. As an undergraduate student, she babysat my children and quickly became like an older sister to my girls and like a younger sister to me. (I’m not ready to concede that she’s young enough to be my daughter!) So strong is her presence in my family that when my daughter had to write a report for Women’s History Month, she choose Renira as her subject.
In between games of Twister! with the girls and discussions about current affairs with us adults, Renira often spoke of her best friend, Gila. The two grew up in my current hometown, but I never met Gila because she choose a job on the other side of the country after graduating from an east coast law school. Now that Renira is a graduate student at Columbia University, we don’t see her as often, but we stay in touch via twitter, texts, and my blog.
A remarkable young woman, I’m not at all surprised that Renira would know Carrie Allen McCray and her family who also seem like remarkable people. I always knew Renira was a treasure, I just didn’t know about this particular treasure- a connection with the McCray family- that was also in her trove.
I wonder if this connection with the McCrays would have ever come up in our face-to-face conversations. Is there something you stumbled across because of your blogging or in the virtual world that never presented itself in “real time”?
I’ve just finished reading, Freedom’s Child: The Life of a Confederate General’s Black Daughter by Carrie Allen McCray. It tells the story of McCray’s remarkable mother, the child of a former slave and Confederate general who goes on to become a lifelong activist for what she calls “full freedom” for black people.
Anyone following my blog knows that my great, great-grandmother Tempy Burton was a slave and had several children with her former owner, Col. W.R. Stuart, a confederate like McCray’s grandfather. (Stuart wasn’t a colonel in the Confederate Army, however. This honorary title probably came from his association with a fraternal order).
Our parallel ancestries are crazy on their own (the hypocrisy of fighting to preserve slavery while fathering children with slaves still makes my eyes cross), but the places where our own lives connect is really wild:
- The author spent most of her life in the same town that I live in now. I pass her family home just about every day.
- Before moving to New Jersey, she lived in Lynchburg, Va. I’ve been traveling to a town just outside of Lynchburg annually for the past four years as part of a writing retreat.
- The person who lent me the book was my minister. It was a present to him from the writer. While McCray did not belong to my congregation, research for her book brought her there. Her mother collaborated on many anti-segregation causes with former ministers in my congregation.
I’m sorry I didn’t know about Ms. McCray before she died two years ago. How wonderful it would have been to meet her, perhaps here in our own town or down in Lynchburg during one of my writing retreats. I would have liked to thank her for her book. It’s both a moving tribute to her mother whose tireless efforts I continue to benefit from, (among other things, she helped integrate our town’s movie theaters) as well as an important addition to our country’s history.
You can read her obituary which includes a summary of her book here:
S.C. author Carrie Allen McCray Nickens, 94, dies | The Herald – Rock Hill, SC.