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Delany sisters’ treasured 100 year oral history

The image of American educator and author, Sar...

Sarah Delany, Image via WikipediaBy Robin Foster

By Robin Foster

Last Friday, as I passed the check out desk at the Southeast Branch of Richland County Library, I noticed a display of yellow books on the counter.  Curious, I moved closer on my way out the door to discover it was the book, “Having Our Say:  The Delany Sister’s First 100 Years,” by Sarah and Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth.

It was near closing so I decided to come back the next day to check it out.  I noticed that there weren’t many left on Saturday morning.  A closer look at the bookmark that was being given out with the book helped me understand about the initiative called One Book, One Columbia.

The City of Columbia and the Richland County Public Library is encouraging all of its community to read “Having Our Say” between April 1 and May 15. I am so glad the author, Amy Hill Hearth, decided to let the sisters tell their story in their own words. I enjoyed reading this great piece of oral history.

Sadie, born in 1889, and Bessie born in 1891, share candid memories about ancestors and growing up when Jim Crow Laws were passed.  These are honestly the best two first-hand experiences of what life was like for African American women before during and after the Civil Rights Era.  My ancestors were reluctant to share their experiences during this time period.

The image of American dentist and author, Anni...

Elizabeth Delany, Image via Wikipedia

I love that we have this record of their struggles to get an education, earn a living, and make their way after leaving Raleigh, NC and migrating to New York.  This family stuck together and even sacrificed took care of their mother in her old age.  We see how sticking to the principles of virtue and morality, faith, love, education, and service brought them happiness and success.  They worked in the past and they worked for them in the present. Those principles worked for them for over 100 years, and they still work today.

I am proud to live in Richland County where such great effort is being made to bring us all together.  I have not quite figured out what all the objectives are yet for One Book, One Columbia, but I am sure they will be surpassed.  I am looking forward to bumping into friends and neighbors an chatting with them once they get an opportunity to read.

 

See City of Columbia reads oral history of 100 year old sisters to learn more.  I plan to make some of the local events centered around the the book as well.  Look for me!  Click here to see activities.

More links

Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years (film)

Bessie Delany Dies at 104; Co-Wrote ‘Having Our Say’

Sarah Louise Delany

Annie Elizabeth Delany

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in News

 

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After 26 years, not finished and still hooked!

By Robin Foster

People assume all the time that I am much younger than I am.  I have a youthful personality, I have kept up with technology, and I love learning new things.  After so many years documenting my own ancestors and helping others, I am still discovering resources and have helpful techniques to share.

Still discovering

A Bureau agent stands between armed groups of ...

Image via Wikipedia

We have yet to discover many genealogical resources to document our ancestors.  We have only touched the surface of the great depths of records which exist.  Most have not even been indexed or brought forward yet.  Those who are researching African American ancestors are still using the most basic record-types such as death, marriage, and census records.  We  will need to dig a little deeper in order to overcome the 1870 challenge.

During the last months of 2010, I decided to spend the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War bringing to the forefront history that has been buried, overlooked, or taught incorrectly.  I felt this would be a great opportunity to discover more about African American history and historical documentation about our ancestors.

I began to focus on the period after 1865 and the new legislation that may have caused documentation to be generated that mentions African Americans.  I began a study of the Black Codes, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and Reconstruction.  I knew that I would also be led to identify ways we have not yet been able to embrace freedom.

During Reconstruction, African Americans had the right to vote and exercised other rights which were eventually taken away by 1876 and 1877.  A economic system of forced labor which reared its ugly head in the form of labor contracts just after the Civil War became fully entrenched in the South for many decades.  From 1865 through 1965 and later many African Americans were under the control of this system and suffered great violence.

African American history is about more than slavery

Many genealogical researchers do not see the importance of revisiting this time period, however, in order to uncover vital information about our ancestors, we must start with ourselves and work backwards through every existing record of genealogical significance not just the ones commonly used.  Unfortunately, the history of African Americans has been reduced to the history of slavery. Without an understanding of the legal system during the years after slavery, we miss a wealth of genealogical records which were generated.

We must research the historical documentation generated by the Black Codes, Freedmen’s Bureau, Jim Crow Laws, NAACP, and records generated on the county, state, and federal levels to find the records that provide a wealth of genealogical data about our ancestors.  So when I suggest that we have only brushed the surface when it comes to available records, I am including these record-types and those that remain hidden that we have yet to discover.

History as a whole

Taking this holistic approach to historical documentation, has enabled me to identify resources that are helpful to all races.  Records are color blind, and they sound neither be taken out of the context of the time period that they were generated.  We cannot separate genealogical records from the context of history, neither should we select a portion of records generated while ignoring the others which exist.  I feel that even though I have been researching for 26 years, my journey has only just begun.

More links:

African American genealogical records yet to be unearthed

The true legacy of Election 1860, Secession, and Civil War

My love affair with Frederick Douglass

 

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