Monday, June 10, 2013

Slave v/s The Confederate - a Civil War in my Genes

Between 1861 and 1865, our country fought over whether slavery should be allowed or not.  The Union lined up on one side and the Confederacy lined up on the other and they commenced to killing each other over the disagreement.  The Union won the American Civil War and as a result, not only was slavery ended but the idea of 'human rights' or that all humans are created equal gained traction, which, I think, kept momentum behind America's path toward equal rights for all people that we still fight today, albeit, less bloody.

I'm glad that slavery was ended here and I hope that it eventually ends everywhere. The idea of slavery horrifies me.  The idea of dehumanizing a human based upon skin color - or any other trait- makes me uncomfortably sad.  I've been able to successfully relegate the reality of the Civil War to the 'history' compartment of my mind. History that I have no connection to.  That is, until genealogy.

Although it didn't come as any big surprise to me, being from a Southern family that I have a Confederate soldier on both my maternal and paternal sides, it was a slightly larger surprise that I also have an ancestor (or two) that was a slave.  I knew that from my research.  But recently, I got a DNA test, which confirmed African ancestry.  I say 'or two' because my percentage of African ancestry, according to my DNA, indicates that there is probably more than my one known African ancestor.

It's fascinating to me to consider that my 5th great grandfather, John Turner, of South Carolina, was a slave from the time he was born until his freedom was purchased by his wife, Patience Smith, of North Carolina, and almost 130 years later, my two 3rd great grandfathers, Drury Sinks of Tennessee and Zachariah Jones were fighting to keep slavery.  And all three family lines (they were completely separate), with such opposing values, joined, gradually, to produce one person - me.

Although history, in my opinion, has shown that the right side, the Union, won the Civil war, I respect that hindsight is 20/20 and my Confederate soldier ancestors had their own perspective built by generations of their culture.  I respect that they fought for what they believed in, regardless of what I think to be right or true.  Simultaneously, I also have a great deal of respect for my African ancestors for enduring what they did - and also more.... revulsion?  That any human would enslave another human.  I feel sympathy or empathy for them that is more personal.  A kind of caring for what they experienced that I'm unable to act on because hundreds of years separate us.

I am clearly not a product of the decisions of my ancestors - but I am a product of their DNA. How much of who they were I 'own' or take pride in has yet to be decided.  Given my relative separateness from identifying with the civil war, processing what I think about my soldier ancestor's involvement is slow going.  And given that I'm, by all appearances, white, so lacking a general awareness of what it means to have slavery in  my ancestry, that's a slow process as well.  But in the process, I'm putting together biographies of these men that I hope to post here some time soon.

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