In my previous blog I wrote about “overcoming”—and how we, as a nation, still have quite a lot to overcome. I do not want to minimize the progress we’ve made up to this point, for it’s been great in many ways. But there’s still more work to be done. Changing the conditions of a society is not an easy task, as we have experienced. Changing the condition in our minds can be equally as challenging. As we grow through life we, undoubtedly, experience hardships and pain. Few of us know of an existence free from difficulties, challenges, and obstacles. At some point in our lives, we will likely be faced with hurdles to cross. When adversity occurs, what do we have (within us) to rely on to help us through? What helps us to be resilient? How do we tap into our inner wisdom, our inner strength? How do we overcome?
In my own life, I’ve had to go deep within to get through some of the most difficult times. I had to find meaning and purpose. By understanding my connection to Spirit, I’ve been able to better navigate my way through life’s ups and downs.
Hearing true accounts of how individuals are able to come through the most tragic experiences, inspires us to persevere. When I learned about my ancestor, Rebecca, who lived through slavery—it gave me a profound perspective. Rebecca is an inspiration. Her story is a reminder of what is possible to overcome.
Rebecca’s life has been recorded in the (family history) book, “The Wind of Meridian”, written by Shirley Jenkins, Esq. Rebecca is our (3x) great grandmother. Shirley went to great lengths to uncover our family history and gain as much information possible regarding the origins of our enslaved people, both African and Native American. She gave us this gift: our family history. Shirley found Rebecca’s descendants and told us of our family bond and connection to our common ancestor. I am forever grateful. And now that I am aware of what Rebecca went through, I feel compelled to share her story. This is our legacy.
“The Wind of Meridian”: Summary
The Life of Rebecca: A Story of Overcoming
Rebecca was born in the early 1800’s to a free, full blooded Choctaw woman. Her father, an African American, was a slave owned by the Tinnin family. Rebecca grew up in a Creek village— living freely in her communal life. At age 14 she was kidnapped and taken by her father to the plantation where he was kept in captivity. Rebecca was illegally forced into slavery and “gifted” to the slave owner’s daughter as a wedding present. She fiercely rebelled, fought back and tried to escape. But the harder she fought, the more severe was her punishment. She was whipped, harshly beaten and pinned to the side of the barn by her ear lobes for several days. Her punishment. “Rebecca carried the scars from the beating the rest of her life. The physical pain she went through at the hands of her slave mater could never compare to the emotional pain she must have experienced being separated from her people”. One of the Tinnin daughters married a Scots-Creek man. Together they had several children. And then it came to be that she died, leaving Obadiah a widower with small children to care for. During a visit to his in-laws, he saw Rebecca and asked his sister in law if he could take Rebecca to be his slave and a nursemaid for his small children. Rebecca became the slave of Obadiah Barnes and left the Tinnin plantation. Rebecca and Obadiah grew closer and eventually fell in love. Together they had children of their own (Martha, John, Adam). Obadiah wanted his (enslaved) family to live freely (openly), so he planned an escape to Canada. When family members learned of his plan, they decided to poison him—to prevent them from fleeing. Obadiah died before they were able to carry out their plans. Rebecca ran and tried to avoid captivity. But eventually they captured and brought her back. She was punished severely by having all her children taken away. Her grief was so crippling they decided to return her youngest son, Adam. Rebecca and Adam were sold to a slaveowner in Mississippi, Hiram Mahan. Together they continued to live in captivity on the Mahan plantation. Rebecca’s other children were sold off to different owners. Her daughter Martha became the slave of Eli Shumate, a slaveowner in Mississippi. She experienced repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her master and his brothers. Martha was able to maintain contact with Rebecca though they lived separately. On the Mahan plantation Rebecca met an African slave, Granville Cole. They married and had two children of their own: Melissa and Joe. When Melissa came of age, she was taken (raped) by the overseer of the plantation, Lemuel Lewis. Melissa became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl, Alvina Lewis (my great grandmother) in 1859. During the Civil War, General Sherman marched through Marion Station during the Meridian Expedition. “Though Alvina was only 5 years old, the memory vividly stayed with her all her life.” The Mahan Plantation became the headquarters for Union soldiers due to its strategic location. The fate of Rebecca and her children was in the hands of the Union army. In 1865, at the end of the Civil War—slavery was abolished. Rebecca, and all slaves were finally freed. But sadly, they weren’t actually “free”, in the truest sense of the word. Their civil rights and liberties were minimal, despite the civil war amendments. Throughout slavery it was against the law to teach a black person how to read. Education meant freedom (and power)—and that was not encouraged. “It was not easy for African Americans to obtain education even after slavery ended….Alvina never had any formal education; however, her speech and deportment were such that she could hold her own against any college educated individual.” Though she was not allowed to attend school, Alvina was taught to read by a fellow African American child. Her home contained a valuable library of hundreds of books. She knew that education was their way forward. Alvina raised five children in Meridian, Mississippi. Though she herself never attended school, she was able to see all five of her children graduate from the Universities (Howard and Fisk) and become respected in society. They were Alvina’s greatest pride.
Adam became a blacksmith. Africans were very accomplished skilled artisans. They were responsible for the building of the South. “After the end of slavery, these highly skilled artisans were quickly blocked from pursuing their trades due to the discriminatory practices of the building associations, unions, and apprenticeship programs. European immigrants feared the competition and were instrumental in effectively blocking the progress of these newly freedmen. Skills artisans were forced into menial labor jobs and their skills were often not passed down to the next generation.” They were stripped of their gifts and contributions. The constant injustice lingers on…
Martha worked hard her entire life. In 1880 she purchased several acres of land, which she was eventually tricked out of. “She could not read or write and some unscrupulous whites coerced her into signing her land over.” Life after slavery was an uphill battle. Martha found comfort in nature and long walks in the woods. “No doubt Martha loved the opportunity to commune with nature and give honor to her mother, Rebecca, who had suffered so much loss and disappointment in life. After Rebecca’s death, Martha could hear the wind gently whispering to her in the sweet voice of her mother. Well done my daughter, well done. The blood of our family will run for many generations to come.” Rebecca died a very old woman. “In her loneliness she found refuge in God, who she referred to as Essaugeta Emissia—The Master of Breath. It was her belief in God that allowed her to survive the brutalities of slavery”.
Thank you, Rebecca. We will never forget all that you had to endure—and how your life was stolen from you. We, your descendants, honor you. You have passed on true resilience and love—and showed us the real meaning of overcoming. We will be forever grateful.