Last week I taught a beginner’s class on research African American ancestors. As part of the prep, I ordered and read Thulani Davis’ My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-first Freedwoman Confronts Her Roots.
I recommend it. It was fascinating to follow her as she unravelled and verified the story her grandmother Georgia was writing about their family at the time of her death. Much of the story took place in Yazoo County, Mississippi. (A place where I also had relatives during the time.) Davis’ grandmother Georgia is the child of Will Campbell, a former slave-owner and son of a prominent family, and married freedwoman Chloe Curry. Their long, complex relationship had lasting effects on both families.
Thulani Davis tracks her relatives and her story through a variety of records and travels to the places where they lived and worked. Part of her record retrieval was stymied by Hurricane Katrina–and she draws comparisons between that disaster and the violence and tragedies and legacy of Reconstruction.
I learned a great deal about this particular chapter of African American history as well her research methods and records. She put meat on the bones, as we say–exploring the whys in addition to the whens and wheres for her family–in a tumultuous historical era. The story was powerful and the methodology was informative.