Some Thoughts on Family History

The young people in my family are extraordinary.  My sisters and I have 23 living children and grandchildren, including our steps, who are as much family as the others.  They are well-educated.  Most who are old enough have college degrees, some have advanced degrees, and all the rest have at least some higher education.  They are talented.  They paint, sing, dance, knit, run, volunteer, write, sew, cook, read, play musical instruments.  Most have chosen to travel, join, lead and generally broaden their horizons.  Their interests range from finance to yoga.  I think that by any standard they would be considered an interesting, well-prepared group of citizens. 


I started on this path of contemplation because I was listening to a recording of one of these young people singing and playing guitar, then turned and saw a large piece of art produced by another, and before I knew it I was reliving various experiences with them at family reunions and other occasions.  We are currently preparing for our biannual family reunion.  I find it amazing and also afirming that most of these young people will come, are looking forward to the meeting, and enjoy being social with the rest of the family. 


I know that one of the keys to the formation of this self-sufficient, talented group is that they were raised to be educated.  Not one of them was ever told that they couldn’t be successful in school, or that school success was an option.  At the age of ten, every single one could tell you that they would be going to college.  Two brothers who are now seven and nine are already talking about their college choices.  Most of this bunch will benefit from the million-dollar lifetime earning discrepancy between high school- and college-educated people in America. 


This is the legacy of my grandparents.  In the 1940s my father’s father was a poor farmer in Kentucky.  He carried his crop to be sold every year, usually making about $5,000, and knew that he would have to make that last to take care of his wife and children for the whole next year.  In spite of that humble beginning, he sent two of his three children away to college, resulting in vastly different lives for them.  The third was military trained, then went to trade school, and became a successful businessman.  My mother’s family was equally insistent about education.  My grandfather was one of the first Black mail carriers in Chattanooga.  He had a sixth grade education.  My grandmother, with her superior eighth grade knowledge, tutored him so that he could pass the civil service exam and be hired by the Post Office.  Their son went to the military and then followed in his father’s footsteps at the Post Office.  Their two daughters went to college.  In turn, my parents passed on the love of education-the necessity of education-to their children. 


In my family there was talk of civil rights issues.  I remember the household discussions about Dr. Martin Luther King’s work when I was in elementary school.  Growing up in the integrated, prematurely progressive atmosphere of U.S. Army bases, we were greatly shielded from some of the discriminatory treatment of the time.  I fully understand what Senator Barack Obama means when he says that his story could only have happened in America.  We, too, had a multi-racial background (and in an intentional way, not as something that was forced) and very humble beginnings, and could still be told by our parents “You can be whatever you want to be, if you work hard.”  We could be just a few generations from slavery, have ancestors who-as Native Americans, suffered through the indignities of assaults and the theft of their land, be the great-grandchildren of a white woman rescued from Atlanta during the burning of the city in the Civil War, and still have access to the American dream.  That doesn’t change the fact that we have just passed the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, and that his work has still not been completed in this country. 


In my family we are realists.  Even though we know and accept all sides of our history, we are working towards a future.  We get together as a family, and we are proud of our background.  We make sure our children know it and appreciate it.  It is the stuff that makes strong, capable young people.  In a way, I feel that this is one of the strongest statements we can make for Dr. King, that we are moving forward, that we can take the positive and put it to use, that we will not be misled, mistreated, misused or misunderstood.  Yeah, I can talk like that.  And I’ve got 23 young people to back it up.




2 Responses

  1. I love hearing your story. And I cannot agree more – the whole key is EDUCATION!

  2. Such a good story and awesome family! I love it! More, more, more! Feel better and keep those Endorphins going..Thanks for being one of those people in my life who I call Friend! Tottle-loo, Bye, Bye

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