The sesquicentennial of the Civil War has produced and is producing countless stories of suffering during the five-year struggle to define our country’s future. Over 600,000 souls were lost, and many more that that injured.
One aspect that has been overlooked is the losses enslaved people endured when family members were sold and taken away. In many cases, no reunion every occurred.
History professor (University of North Carolina) and author Heather Andrea Williams has studied this forgotten chapter in a new book, "Help Me to Find my People, The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery."
She spoke yesterday at the National Archives, as part of their Noontime Speaker Program, and in conjunction with the Emancipation Proclamation series. Her motivation came while researching material for her first book. Williams kept coming across “information wanted” ads, printed in black newspapers.
“I couldn’t walk away,” she said, speaking about the emotional impact they made on her.
The book contains three sections. Part One deals with separation. Reading about a young child watching their mother and/or father being torn away is the kind of thing that makes you want to book the down or skip right to third part. Part Two is the search many made. Part Three is about re-union, which, unfortunately, happened far too scarcely.
Williams’ book has many moving passages. One that struck me is a quote by Delia Garlic, of Montgomery, Alabama.
Babies was snatched from their mothers’ breasts and sold to speculators. Children was separated from sisters and brothers and never saw each other again. Course they cry, you think they not cry when they was sold like cattle? I could tell you about it all day, but even then you couldn’t guess the awfulness of it.