Descendants of slaves find incredible stories

Nov 2, 2015

Descendants of slaves participated in a three day workshop in Buffalo that wrapped up Sunday.  The University at Buffalo hosted the Descendants of Authors of Slave Narratives.  WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley says the event was designed to reconnect participants with their ancestors and examine their family histories.

University at Buffalo hosted the Descendants of Authors of Slave Narratives.
Credit Photo from University at Buffalo hosted the Descendants of Authors of Slave Narratives

"As W. E. B." Du Bois said, 'there is no story as dramatic and powerful as the story of someone who has been enslaved,'", stated Kari Winter, Professor of Translational Studies at the University at Buffalo.

Winter spoke from our WBFO studio with NPR's Michele Martin. Winter said they wanted to reconnect descendants of slaves with those who told the their slave stories.

"That's why we often saw, like in the case of Phillis Wheatley, 18-up-standing citizens of Boston had to attest to the authenticity of her poems," said Winter.

Two of the descendants, who participated in the workshop, also appeared in our studio.

Regina Mason is the great-great-great-granddaughter of William Grimes who wrote the first fugitive slave narrative.

"When I discovered the Grimes narrative, I didn't know this man belonged to me," stated Mason. "All I had was a story that was given to me in my childhood from my Aunt Catherine. She told me that someone with the surname of Grimes, from New Haven, Connecticut, had a connection to the Underground Railroad."
Another descendent, Rhonda Brace, also shared the story of Jeffrey Brace.  Brace was captured by slave traders in West Africa, then brought to United States. 

"Finally it helped me to connect myself to Africa. Often we're considered as black people, that you know, we're descendants from Africa," said Brace. "But for me, I can only trace my family history from St. Albans, Vermont and never had any inkling we were from a different continent, so for me, I kind of embraced the idea that my family, my lineage is connected to another land and connected to a greater people. Not that we are not all great people, but it gave me more of who I am once I discovered the narrative of Jeffrey Brace."

UB's Professor Winter, who is the author of books on slavery, is hoping this workshop will be the first in a two-year series and lead to a publication of essays to share these stories of slaves.

"It made such a huge impact on me. I literally could not hold my body up. I can remember just weeping because if you read the man's story. He talked about such horrid abuse. He wrote about slavery in such a way that I was never prepared for," said Mason.