The Sankofa bird is an Akan symbol, representing the African adage :
"Always remember the past for therein lies the future, if forgotten ...."
In my family, my generation, that is the generation comprised of myself and my first cousins, is only the fourth generation to be born out of slavery.
My family is luckier than most. We know of one of our African ancestors. Due to the economic enterprise known as slavery, and make no mistake, it was a business, regardless of the specific details of how the first Africans from the continent of Africa entered into enslavement, their identities were most often lost to time.
For most Africans, at the time of purchase, unlike the pedigree of a prized horse, there was no concern, on the part of the prospective buyer who sought to 'own' an African, for any accounting of the lineage of the African nor was the African allowed to speak his language or practice his culture without reprisal.
This form of repression and oppression has resulted in Americans of African descent having huge gaps in their genealogical tree. My family was lucky enough to have one ancestor, on my maternal side of the family, himself an enslaved African and Methodist minister, well known within his community in Maryland, pen his biography.
Because of his actions, reaching forward into the future from our family's past, my family is aware of our African ancestor who lived free on the continent of Africa in Guinea, of whom my ancestor speaks in his biography, later published by my cousin, five times removed from myself, in a book entitled From Whence Cometh. My cousin was the great, great grandson of my enslaved ancestor. It is the paternal branch of my maternal side of my family that I speak of here.
My enslaved ancestor speaks of his grandmother being sold into slavery, in 1767 or 1768, to an Englishman in Maryland for three hogshead of tobacco, a hogshead identified as a container that held between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of tobacco. Tobacco was used as currency during colonial times, largely in the colonies of Maryland and Virginia.
He wrote about his grandmother speaking of being robbed of her adornments and her sadness and longing for the family from whom she was taken. She had a husband and a child. She had a life in Africa before arriving here.
In Maryland, my ancestor from Guinea gave birth to two daughters, fathered by the man who claimed ownership of her. Nothing is known of them or their lives other than their names.
My great grandfather was forced to flee from Lynchburg, Virginia because he dared to challenge a White man for payment he was owed and when it wasn't forth coming, a scuffle ensued. Word had come to him to expect a night visit. Not all night visits were from the Klan. Often White citizens who felt it their duty to keep 'those people' in their place, did just that.
My great, great grandmother, on my mother's maternal side, was an enslaved person of African descent. Her daughter, my great grandmother, was born in 1887, twenty two years after the abolition of slavery.
My great, great grandmother found her daughter work in the home of a White minister. At the age of twelve, my great grandmother was raped by the minister. As a result of my great grandmother's violation, my maternal grandmother was born.
My mother and father, as young adults, during the time Dad was 'courting' Mom, had a near run in with enraged White youth because as Dad and Mom strolled along the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, because of Mom's fair complexion and hair texture, the White youth were following my parents, jeering at my parents, saying they were going to teach them both a lesson, until they were close enough to see my mother was not a White woman.
On my branch of the family tree, as I've said, I am one of the members of my family that represents the fourth generation of my family born out of slavery.
Shortly after I was born, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. the Board of Education, stating segregated schools were separate but not equal, a fact known by Black communities but seemed to be unknown, more honestly, overlooked, in most White communities.
I myself was a toddler when the brutal lynching and murder of Emmett Till occurred in Money, Mississippi, a 14 year old boy killed one week after his arrival in Mississippi from Chicago, Illinois, who was visiting for summer vacation with his family, after White folks said he whistled at a White woman.
His killers were acquitted by an all White male jury. The killers later sold their story of how they kidnapped and murdered Emmett Till to LOOK magazine.
Where I grew up, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Black workers had to go to court to force the transit system, at one time the now defunct, Philadelphia Transit Company (PTC), later known as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), to hire them as drivers, with those jobs being exclusively held for and by White workers, the unspoken rule being 'Negroes need not apply' .
At the age of eleven, my girlfriends and I, we called ourselves the 3 x 2 Club, three sets of two sisters, ranging in age from 6 to 11, myself being the oldest of the sisters, had gone to the library. The library was about five blocks straight up the street from our homes. We all lived on the same block.
As we made our way back home, in the late afternoon, near sundown, we were chased for about a block, with bottles and rocks thrown at us, by a group of teenaged White boys. We'd made the mistake of being in the 'wrong' part of Philadelphia late in the day, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that is, not Mississippi.
By the late sixties, I was sporting an Angela Davis sized natural. Like most of my generation, I entered a new level of political consciousness, determined to make a change and right the wrongs of this world.
But, that was then. Now, I proudly wear auburn locks over three feet long. Locks have become my newest expression of consciousness and for me, they are more than a hair style choice.
My hair and my life represent an acceptance of my sense of purpose, my mission, that being using my intellect and activism to assure that the attitudes and behaviors responsible for so much horror and pain within the African community, are never, ever, ever, ever allowed to sprout new roots to strangle the life out of another generation.
No more; no more; no more!