As I approach the end of 2018 and envision 2019, the Klein Homecoming looms large.
On October 20, 2018, about 40 persons whose ancestors were at Klein when it was a cotton plantation gathered together in the cemetery for a healing ceremony. On behalf of the white side of my family, I apologized for closing off the African American family cemetery for burial some 20 years ago. I also apologized for a much longer, unspoken history from slavery to the present. We rededicated and opened the cemetery with prayers and the singing of Amazing Grace. We then adjourned to the house for a facilitated discussion and meal together. Many of the participants were inside the house for the first time.
Theoangelo Perkins, Peter Datcher and I, along with our facilitator T. Marie King of Birmingham, planned and carried out the event. In the South, we are keyed into who is related to whom, and this was a time to learn about and celebrate these connections. Theo Perkins’ mother is a McGinnis. The McGinnises came to work on the land soon after emancipation and continued to do so for generations. As a child, I had known Theo’s great-grandfather, great uncle and great aunt. Peter Datcher’s great-grandmother was enslaved at Klein, and he has a beautiful picture of her and one of his great-grandfather, who was once whipped for leaving that plantation a mile away to visit her. They had met at the Scott’s Grove Baptist Church where services were still conducted during my childhood. So… in generational time, this wasn’t that long ago.
Here I am, trying to come to terms with the fact that my family enslaved others. We were sitting in the house their ancestors built, without pay. The bricks were made, the cypress milled, the nails forged by them. All part of the economy: the more free labor, the more land could be cultivated in cotton, the wealthier the planter could become to continue that cycle. The part of the story I had heard was of my great-great-grandfather coming down from Tennessee to settle the new territory; of my great-grandmother teaching black and white children to read; of the travails of the family and their persistence in the face of challenge. I had never heard the other sides of the story.
What is the size and nature of this debt? How can it be settled? How can we give back to these families? This didn’t come up in our conversations at the house. However, what became apparent was that respect for each other, acknowledgment of our complicated past, and beginning a new relationship at that moment will sustain us as we enter 2019 together. This year, we will come together again for a Klein Homecoming, bring art to the house, and work to establish our shared home as a community resource through the non-profit corporation Klein Arts and Culture.