BLACK HISTORY UNDER ATTACK: THE SONG OF SANDY & EMMA – 15 YEARS OF STORYTELLING
I have always had a deep curiosity about my family history. I knew straight out of the gate that my ancestors’ stories would be difficult to uncover and stomach, but I was determined to know their names and what happened to these beautiful souls during American slavery! And I’ve been changed! Transformed! Now, I can testify about the power of Black genealogy to connect people across generations and honor the legacy of those who came before.
Since childhood, I’ve felt a deep longing to pinpoint my African roots and to understand the rich history of people who have been rendered invisible by most history books. I started young by talking to my grandparents, who told me stories about their parents and grandparents in Haywood County, Tennessee but knew nothing more. Although I didn’t get details about our enslaved ancestors, I was still fascinated by their tales of growing up in the Jim Crow South and how they managed to find some sense of belonging and normalcy while simultaneously living under the threat of constant terror if they made one wrong move.
The internet was not created to reconnect black people with their long-lost enslaved ancestors, but alas, that’s exactly what this technology did. With the click of a mouse, I scoured old newspapers and census records and found jaw-dropping clues about my ancestors.
When I discovered that my great-great-great-grandfather ran away from Edmund Wills’ plantation in Haywood County, Tennessee, and became a member of the United States Colored Troops in 1863, my entire world changed. A new identity washed over my entire consciousness. And then I learned that his wife, Emma West Moore Wills was a soldier in her own right! She was the first free mother in my family tree on my dad’s side and she made sure that all nine of her children were educated. After her Civil War veteran husband died, Emma courageously challenged the federal government when the pension department initially denied her military benefits. She hired a lawyer and won! Who knew such courage was in my DNA?
To say that I felt a sense of pride and purpose is an understatement. I realized that by understanding my ancestors’ struggles and triumphs, I could better understand myself, warts and all. Most importantly, I realized the power of genealogy to connect people across all ethnic groups and generations and to honor the legacy of those who came before.
Today, I’m so much more than an Emmy Award-winning journalist! I’m also a teacher!
It is not only an honor but MY DUTY to visit schools before I head to the newsroom and share the empowering stories of my ancestors while encouraging students of all backgrounds to research and honor their own family history.
Because by understanding where we come from, we can better understand where we’re going.
And with African American history under attack nationwide, now it’s my turn to be a soldier- just like my honorable grandfather Sandy Wills! Now it’s my turn to make sure children receive a thorough education, just like my grandma Emma Wills did with her babies.
I am putting on the whole armor .. primed and ready to defend the right of students to know the truth about AMERICAN HISTORY! Because as the old saying goes – The Truth Will Set Us Free!