“The only memory of a family was my grandmother, who reared me until I was six years old. One day, she took my hand and told me to walk with her for a spell. I loved to walk while holding her hand, as our arms swayed back and forth. The walk to the other plantation was about five miles. When we got there, she told me to go and play with the other children. And I did because I loved playing. We ran around all day but when evening came, I went to look for grandma and couldn’t find her. I asked where she was and nobody answered me. Then I ran all around, hollering, and screaming but she never came. That day was the last time that I saw grandma,” the story of Abolitionist Leader Frederick Douglass, PBS special, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” (www.pbs.org).
When Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, described the scene above, I felt like bursting into tears imagining a six-year-old boy, separated from the only family he had because someone else purchased him. And what about the emotions his grandmother must have felt because she had to release him to strangers, without as much as a goodbye hug, kiss, or explanation? That was probably enough to drive anybody crazy, but that was how life was for a slave.
Entire families could be dismantled at a moment’s notice. Imagine, never to see the look in your child’s eyes again, or to feel the warmth of your mother’s embrace, or hear your father’s strong voice because they were sold off the plantation. Imagine what is was like to be beaten to delirium because you didn’t pick the amount of cotton that was expected for that day, or to be repeatedly raped because you were bought to birth children to add to the number of slaves.
All these thoughts ran through my mind as I watched this documentary. Immediately a wave of gratitude swept over me. I thought, what do I have to complain about? Yes, some things in my life haven’t gone as planned, but nothing comes close to what Douglass and others who lived during that era had to deal with.
It’s my history, and a million generations from now it will still be my history. It is one of a people of resilience who I am proud to call my ancestors. They survived, although I know it couldn’t have been easy. What probably sustained them was that they held onto a little ray of hope that things would eventually change for the better and faith in God.
So what do I have to complain about? Nothing! ■
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5