Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bone & Blood, Abolitionists & Slaveholders

I'm reading Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, written by three journalists of the Hartford Courant newspaper, so my thoughts are on the ideas that sparked the American Revolution on this 4th of July, as well as on the failure of that Revolution to follow through completely in its promise.

We had to fight a terribly bloody Civil War to end slavery, and then many more years of civil war called Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, the protests that turned bloody, the jailings of demonstrators, all to come to where we are now. It amazes me how recalcitrant human beings are to change. And, don't we all have the premonition that change is going to come, anyway?

My ancestors fought in the American Revolution. I am still researching the Dressers who were at Valley Forge and in the various battles. I had maternal ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War. The Browns were on the Union Side, and the Shannons on the side of the Confederacy.

My ancestor George Shannon, the youngest member of the Lewis & Clark expedition became a slave owner of seven slaves in Missouri. I may very well have black relatives in Shannon County there. His relation, Wilson Shannon, was the interim governor in the period known as Bleeding Kansas, which launched John Brown's acts of revolution.

I spent last weekend in the mountains with a group of women friends: two were African-American, one Chinese-American, one Irish-American, and another Jewish-American. We were an encapsulation of America's current ethnic diversity, and all of us, middle-agers, are dealing with family stories--the ones spoken and the ones not. I don't think America can move forward until it truly comes to an honest appraisal of its past, which is not to say we must focus on criticisms and disparagements.

I do not hold my ancestors guilty of anything except surviving, but I do need and want to know why they may have acted as they did and whether or not they caused harm in their actions that may need repair.
I am the bone and blood of my family's stories as much as of their DNA, and there is still a lot of work to be done to make this the greatest country ever.