Are you familiar with your heritage, roots, and family birth line of relatives? If not, I’m suggesting your emotional future will be unsettling, or worse, lived without an identity of self. I know, that’s a long, careful, and accurate thought about knowing yourself. A familiarity that some may dismiss as unnecessary. Yet, it is essential to your growth as a person.
Furthermore, that knowledge gives one the impetus to succeed in this world. So, take it from a Baby Boomer, OG, or Senior Citizen, if your will. This is extremely important.
My cousin and her husband published a book a few years ago. They collected hundreds of pictures, and comments of our relatives, from Bradley County, Arkansas, from 1800 to 1930. Staring at the faces in my copy of Afro-Americans, I see one common thread among all those pictured in the book. The eyes that stare back seem to say I was here for you to be there. Yes, I was here. At this time, at this place, at this moment in what is now history, I was here. So see me as I was, and please remember me, for you are part of me and the result of my struggles to survive.
We know the Hamptons go even farther back than Jane Hampton, who was listed as 60 years old in the 1880 United States Federal Census. That would put her birth at some time in 1820.
My favorite picture is of my Great Grandfather David (Sambo) Hampton (1883-1953). Yes, Sambo, ain’t that a trip? He’s pictured with his wife, Sally Davis Hampton (1885-1943). Great Grandpa Sambo is a direct descendant of Jane Hampton. He is also the father of my Grandfather, John Hampton, who married Gracie Hall in 1924.
It’s the expression on their faces and those eyes that attract and almost demand that you see them as they were at that time. The equality struggles of the African American communities within the United States have been well chronicled in the written word and song over the last 200 years. All that has paid attention and those who have lived the life can attest to the night riders in the South. Songs such as ‘The Strange Fruit,’ so sadly sung by Billie Holiday, come to mind when recalling how a race of people can be attacked and hated simply for the color of their skin.
Yet, one can see the faces of determination in the Negro baseball team of Banks, Arkansas, in which my grandfather John Hampton (1906-1935) was a member. I wonder what that team would think of organized baseball as it is today. I wonder what they would say about the salaries.
There is one of two pictures of my father’s mother, grandma Gracie (Hall-Hampton 1904-1985). My parents sent me from Milwaukee back to Arkansas to stay with her while they went through their divorce issues. Boy, do I remember those times. Especially the time I dug in the ground in the backyard and filled it up with water. Then, I made a fishing pole from the branch of a tree. Then, using a safety pin hook, I sat down at my fishing hole, expecting to catch a fish. I don’t remember what I used for bait, but I do remember my disappointment at not catching a fish. I also remember the smile on my granny’s face when I told her we did not have fish for dinner. I had mixed emotions about leaving that lady when my father returned to get me. I was glad to return home with my father and sad about leaving Grandma alone.
Grandma Gracie, whose husband John died, was a strong-willed woman. The one thing I learned as a very young kid during that stay was Grandma didn’t take any stuff from anybody. And I do mean anybody. She later moved to Milwaukee to witness me running wild in my teenage years. I think she left her shotgun down South. I never saw it in Milwaukee. I remember the tea cakes she would cook and how glad she was to see me stop by and see her every week. Now there was a woman who had a reputation as ornery but showed me nothing but love.
Look at your family pictures, especially of those who lived long ago. Not many smiles, just the look of I am here at this place and time. You will find a good number of women and men pictured with the look of surviving and placing themselves in a position to thrive and prosper, albeit an inch or very small steps at a time. This was no small task happening within a hostile environment amidst a race of people who hated them simply because of the color of their skin. Some whites did not object to black neighbors, customers in their stores, and consumers of their goods. Yes, numerous whites could truthful say they were not racist.
Wikipedia reports that 6 million blacks participated in the general exodus from the South, or as it’s called, the Black Migration from 1910 through 1970, to cities in the Northeast, Midwest, and West.
I am a black man who can never say there were no strong black men in my life. But, starting with my father, that’s all I ever knew during my early childhood, well into my teenage years.
Visitors were a steady stream, especially during the spring and summer weekends. Upon reflection, it seems that every one that came through our door was related in some way or another. Until I started grade school, I thought almost every black person in Milwaukee was a cousin or some relation. It just shows the context of family involvement in our day-to-day lives. It gave you a sense of community.
And that is the last impression one gets from looking through the over 1300 faces in Princella and MacArthur Davis Afro-American book. Instead, it’s one of belonging to something greater than oneself.
You can look at the backgrounds of some of these pictures and see houses, trees, and other landmarks that bring back memories of visiting relatives at some time or other. Yes, family… tradition, and community are what one remembers from back in the day. But, at the risk of repeating myself, it makes me proud of who I am, who I have become due to where I came from, and who was there for me as I struggled to become a man.
I can’t imagine their thoughts or memories of daily life as an Afro-American in the South from 1800 to 1930 and beyond, up to, let’s say, 1950. What would they have given to be a part of Chicago’s Grant Park crowd the night the Obama family walked on that stage? Instead, I remember the televised sight of Reverend Jessie Jackson shedding tears at the election of a black man for President of the United States in this country.
To mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles, including mine, who came before us, I hope you are all sitting at the dinner table of your maker. I pray that you are looking down on your offspring and feel your legacy is in good hands. We remember the good times and bad, but most of all, we recognize the lessons of life you left us. We still feel the love you send our way. We want you to know the best way we can honor your lifetime is to let our children and their children know they came from a long line of heroes. So that they know they have a bevy of role models in their ancestry to look to when searching for inspiration.
Peace, blessings, stay healthy, and vigilant for our American rights. Make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II Author & Commentator
“The Episodic Thoughts of Hamp, Vol II” has been published. Check out my Authors webpage URL https://outskirtspress.com/HampsEpisodicThoughtsVol2
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Copyright 2011 Codis Hampton II, all rights reserved. A bi-weekly blog for your enjoyment