finding your roots

Redefining Black

Jamela Clark May 15, 2012
Jamela Clark

Jamela Clark

I am not sure how to tell my family’s story, as it indeed circles around the tragedy of slavery and the injustice apartheid. However, it is one the weaves itself around the very idea of “whiteness” and “blackness” and the misconception that these two adjectives are concrete and tangible descriptions.

Paternally, my heritage can be traced to both Europe and Africa. This is not because my father is considered bi-racial. My father is the decedent of Irish Immigrants from Tipperary,Ireland and a former slave from Mississippi. Escaping the increasingly harsh conditions in Ireland, my great great grandparents immigrated to Missouri and gave birth to my great grandmother who, as a young woman fell in love with a former slave who my sister and I suspect to be the result of an affair between Master and Slave girl. So beloved was this master, my father was even bequeathed his first name. My great grandmother, a first generation Irish woman born in America however, in order to marry this freedman from Mississippi renounced her “whiteness” and became black, as required by the miscegenation laws at the time.

How shocking it was to look at old census records to see that my great grandmother, born as white become black thirty years later! Even more shocking was to see how my great aunts and uncles who were born black according to census records become white as adults, with the exception of my grandfather who because of his more pigmented wife , chose a different path from his siblings; who opted to live as whites because of their fair complexions and features.
This is only a piece of my story, and I hope to learn more. The intrigue of my heritage glimpses into the racial and economic classicism that never truly removed itself from American culture and its ideologies of what is to be Black or White. I would love to learn more, but sadly the trail has gone cold…

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  • garth tuttle

    May 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    You’ve touched on something most people know nothing about; I did know that some Irish – in the Caribean region, were held in bondage; the late Louis Lamour, who did his homework, reported a slave raid on the coast of Ireland in the early-mid 17th c.
    And I suspect that some people born White were also denounced as being Black – either to get rid of an undesired neighbor, or, just out of greed.
    By the way, at least one man left the U.S, so he could marry the woman he loved, which she insisted on

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The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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