Friday, July 2, 2010

Interracial marriages in our history

My husband and I have been doing a little genealogy research lately, which is made easier thanks to sites such as and others. By talking with family members we have found several instances of interracial marriage in our pasts, some in the 1800s.

On my husband's side, he learned that his great great grandmother had biracial children and her husband, his great great grandfather, then, had biracial stepchildren. This great great grandfather, who was white, married his great great grandmother, a white woman who had been married to a black man previously. Apparently, her family was not happy about the union and had pressured her to divorce him. Her children from her previous marriage then, were half siblings to my husband's great grandmother, and were uncles and aunts to his grandfather. The families stayed in touch at family reunions into the 1950s and 60s. My husband learned this information during a conversation with his last living great aunt last weekend. Amazingly, no one had mentioned this information to him before despite his marriage to me. On another note, his grandfather, a brother to this great aunt, was of the few older folks in my husband's family to not say anything negative about our marriage (that we know of). So, in some ways it makes sense given this history.

Both our histories indicate marriages between whites and Native Americans. For example, one of my husband's great great great grandparents had such a union, married in 1855, a white man and a Cherokee woman. Details of their union are now lost, due most likely to the negative stigmas associated with being Cherokee at that time, and also just because we so often forget to pass on our stories to our children, their children and children's children. We have a letter written from a cousin to my husband's great grandmother stating, "our grandmother would have been about two years of age when they marched the Cherokees to Oklahoma... someone could have hidden her out--some did hide out we know." She goes on to say how she wished she'd thought to ask questions when she was young while those with the knowledge were still living. Some of this information we have because of A. Randolph Shield's research in "The Families of Cades Cove 1821-1936." Cades Cove is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where my husband's great grandmother was born.

On my father's side, my great great great grandfather (black) married my great great great grandmother (1/2 white and 1/2 Native American). This grandmother's parents would have been married in all likelihood, in the early 1800s. According to my grandfather, the two did not seem to encounter problems from their families about their marriage, and in fact, were a bunch of scoundrels!

We each have two sets of grandparents (four), eight great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents, 32 great great great grandparents, 64 great great great greats, and so on. The many stories that make up who we are are practically infinite! A piece of history is lost each day we put off asking a few questions of an elder in our family. Listen to their stories, record them, and re-tell them.

Alex Haley's family passed on a few stories... which led him to eventually write "Roots."

From Haley's essay, "My Furthest-Back Person"

[The griot] seemed to gather himself into a physical rigidity, and he began speaking the Kinte clan's ancestral oral history; it came rolling from his mouth across the next hours...It was as if some ancient scroll were printed indelibly within the griot's brain..."

"About the time the king's soldiers came, the eldest of these four sons, Kunta, when he had about 16 rains, went away from his villiage, to chop wood to make a drum... and he was never seen again..."

Goose-pimples the size of lemons seemed to pop up all over Grandma, Cousin George and the others told of the African 'Kin-tay' who always said he was kidnapped near his village--while chopping wood to make a drum...

I showed the interpreter, he showed and told the griot, who excitedly told the people; they grew very agitated. Abruptly then they formed a human ring, encircling me, dancing and chanting... women carrying their infant babies rushed in toward me, thrusting the infants into my arms conveying, I would later learn, 'the laying on of hands... through this flesh which is us, we are you, and you are us.' The men hurried me into their mosque, their Arabic praying later being translated outside: 'Thanks be to Allah for returning the long lost from among us.' Direct descendants of Kunta Kine's blood brothers were hastened, some of them from nearby villages, for a family portrait to be taken with me, surrounded by actual ancestral sixth cousins.

Let me tell you something: I am a man. But I remember the sob surging up from my feet, flinging up my hands before my face and bawling as I had not done since I was a baby...

Alex Haley Heritage Square

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