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.

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 morbidly 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, 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.

While I respect that my confederate soldier ancestors fought for what they believed in, they were wrong.  Although hindsight is 20/20, my personal knowledge is that there are some basic principals that are obvious regardless of time and one is that all living creatures are deserving of freedom of movement and life and from pain and suffering, including all of the necessities required to support those freedoms.  Power over a people or group of living beings does not grant the power to usurp those rights. That has always been the case since there were living things in existence and will always be the case, if you boil down even the most complex, contemporary issues. 

I am a product of my ancestors' DNA but not of their decisions (in so much as epigenetics are not in play).  In my DNA are the genetics of people who fought to retain the right to enslave other humans as well as the genetics of enslaved people.  It is fun to discover that an ancestor did a thing but once that discovery is made, there is some level of discretion that can be exercised in the merit awarded to the decision. 

My own decision is to know and document and be objective with the facts regarding my confederate ancestors but not to glorify their service in the way that some family historians might.  I can't raise an effigy to that here or in my own life anymore than I think we should glorify it with statues and flags. 

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