Ancestry and Reconciling Your Past
The recent posthumous pardon of Tom Joyner’s great uncles is a great lesson. It teaches us the value of family and the value of persistence.
In 1915, Joyner’s great-uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin were executed in 1915 for a murder they didn’t commit. After they were electrocuted, his grandmother (their sister) was moved to Florida and was never told the story of her brothers. So, the Joyner family had always believed that their family history began in Florida. When researchers for the series African American Lives II told Tom about this part of his family’s history, he set out on a mission to have his great uncles pardoned.
While the pardon is something to be celebrated, I think the bigger lesson here is the importance of researching your family’s history. Our elders hold so much information about our family’s collective and individual experiences. Sometimes these experiences inform our personal experiences in ways that we don’t even realize.
One Thanksgiving, my father’s family sat around a large table discussing a plan to purchase the house next door to my grandparents’ house. The conversation turned to getting the mortgage and we began laughing about how no one in the family had “a job”. We were all self-employed. That lead to my grandmother sharing a story about the family work history. She and my grandfather had owned a barbershop and grocery store for most of their adult lives. Her father (my great-grandfather) built houses in Virginia, where she grew up. His father made the cinderblocks that were used to build the houses. Apparently, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs! When we traced one of my father’s lineages to the Hausa of Nigeria, I then learned that the Hausa women were the business people of the culture. Who knew that the line of entrepreneurship was that long!
What’s your family’s story?