My last blog post talked about the shift in direction my reparations journey needs to take. That post introduced the impetus for the change. This blog post talks about what it might mean to shift from white-centered reparations to respect-centered reparations.
Reparations: Story I
Here’s a story: my Bigmama’s grandfather fought for the South in the Civil War. His home—LaGrange peach plantation outside Vicksburg in Warren County, Mississippi—was occupied by General Grant during the war. After the war, this ancestor was one of thousands of white Southerners who fought to end Reconstruction. He founded a “white club” in the nearby town of Bovina that used taxation as an excuse to threaten the local government. Afterwards, he and others rampaged through Warren County, killing Black folks. His actions are documented in the Congressional Record. Vicksburg, of course, is the site of the famous siege that broke the back of the Confederacy. Vicksburg has hosted Civil War re-enactments every year almost since the cannons stopped booming. Rememberings of the 1874 Vicksburg Massacre are not as common.
Reparations: Story II
Here’s another story: When the Civil War came to Warren County, Black Mississippians accepted the challenge. They joined the side of Union forces to secure their freedom. General Grant mustered one such regiment on his encampment in rural Warren County where, at a former peach plantation, over 91 Black Mississippians had been held against their will. The regiment, Battery C, 2nd US Colored Light Artillery 1st Louisiana Battery (African descent), drilled and prepared to defend their right to freedom. After the war, white vigilantes sought to overthrow the county’s duly elected Black officials. To that end, whites rampaged through the countryside, murdering their fellow Mississippians. Despite intense intimidation and unimaginable risk, survivors appeared before a Congressional Committee to testify against local whites who had murdered their kin.
Wherein Lies the Difference?
Do you feel the difference in these two stories? They both cover the same ground. But, lord, do they do it differently. One is a white-centered telling. The other places African Americans at the center of the fight to make Mississippi a real democracy.
My last blog post quoted a woman quoting a descendant whose ancestors had been enslaved as saying what they wanted in reparative work was respect. It seems to me the “confession” of the first story does not focus on respect. Perhaps the second story comes closer.
Again, I believe grappling with my white family history is extremely important. If I hadn’t researched, I wouldn’t have known about the African American regiment mustered on my family’s peach farm. Nor would I have known about the Congressional Record on the Massacre where survivors testified. But, once known, the question becomes, how do you tell the story? I’m still learning, and I’m sure I’m making many, many mistakes here, but you obviously know my answer: focus on respect.