The Descendants of Walter Harris and Gladys Gibbs

By Lisa Harris

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave I am the dream and the hope of the slave… Still like air I rise.”

Since the birth of man, slavery has been in existence; shackling mentally the minds and physically the limbs of various men and women. Your ancestors and my ancestors who were subjected to inferior circumstances, bore the scars of slavery on their backs because no one possessed the power or no one was willing to use the power to fight this institution. And these scares have been internally embedded into “our” flesh. “Our” not just meaning African-Americans, but “our” meaning all Americans.



Webster
defines slavery as “the state of being bound in servitude as the
property of a slave holder or household;” however, we can not allow one
man’s writing to minimize slavery into a single sentence. Before the
death of this institution, just over a century ago, it was acknowledged
as a legitimate and prosperous industry that built America’s economy
from the bottom up and we would be remiss to not say “thank-you” for
that. So often we as Americans look back with blurred vision and can
only conjure intensely painful memories, but we must collectively work
together to see past this negative retrospect and celebrate the harsh
realities of slavery.


This is not an
attempt to glorify the horror experienced by our forefathers and this
is certainly not an attempt to applaud America for the constraints
placed on a people’s psyche. This is instead a long overdue tribute of
appreciation and an exhibit of extreme gratitude to a place and time
that forced a people to grow from negros and niggers, names that
belittled our existence and made us weak, into strong African-Americans
in search of the equal rights promised to us. A promise made by free
men who have never once felt the heaviness of chains at their ankles or
heard the thunderous crack of a whip that split their beautiful ebony
skin. The only thing allowed to run free was their blood.



This blood that
ran freely mixed with sweat that developed in massive amounts and found
comfort around eyes tired of crying, yet still able to produce tears
that flowed like rivers on the dirt stained cheeks of a people who knew
that giving up or giving in was not an option. Slavery produced great
minds that found education as the building block of their eventual
freedom. Frederick Douglass put it best when he said: “A little
learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is
a calamity to any people.” Douglass, one of the few educated
African-Americans of his time, shook the minds of enslaved people and
left a legacy in African-Americans that taught us to value and cherish
an education. We said “thank you” to slavery for teaching us the worth
of an education when Linda Brown fought the Topeka, Kansas Board of
Education and sat in the same classroom as white children. We say
“thank you” to slavery each time a first generation college student
graduates from a Historically Black College or University. We say
“thank you” each time a black student opens a book, writes an essay, or
raises his hand to give a provocative answer to a posed question.



The ingredients
of blood, sweat, and tears conceived through the cruel and often scary
life of our ancestors, has produced a powerful and capable nation of
people that understand the combination of hard work, determination and
dedication; which manufacture the wanted positive results. Slaves
worked overtime in extreme heat to develop and harvest the most labor-
demanding crops. Slaves nurtured children unfamiliar to the black womb
and nourished them to health with breast too black to be appreciated
and too black to set free.



Slavery
instilled in us an obligation for hard work and an appreciation for the
fruits of our labor. We say “thank you” to slavery when one of our own
makes—CEO, senior partner, or tries and wins a case to keep one more
innocent man from becoming a victim of the system.



“Thank you”
slavery for teaching us that running from inhibited circumstances is
not merely an escape but a flight to freedom. “Thank you” slavery for
making our calf muscles strong and our biceps unbreakable. “Thank you”
for making our physical appearance balance our mental mind-set.



Because “nobody
knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus,” was the song that
slaves cried when searching for and finding stability in the hands of
the Lord. And no matter what material possessions were taken from them,
our religion was one thing unique that could not be stolen, destroyed,
or sold. Slavery founded the black church and allowed enslaved people a
place to unwind and praise a man who promised to never forsake us, who
promised to strengthen our hearts, and who promised to direct us to a
better place in life if we waited on him. “Thank you” for patience.



This patience
that slavery equipped every mother with has commanded the
African-American family for decades. Slavery taught us that the family
unity is the single most important foundation to a solid and well
balanced life. We thank slavery for family each time we bless the food
that Big Mama has spent all day Saturday and Sunday after church
preparing. We thank slavery for family every summer when the limbs and
leaves of our family trees formed of mahogany sons, dark chocolate
sisters, caramel nieces, and chestnut brown uncles, come together for
celebration once more. With no family member the same shade of brown we
find ourselves thanking slavery for the diversity it created through
the rape and exploitation of our women. Slavery taught us to love the
skin that we entered God’s earth in because it would be the same skin
in which we leave.



We thank slavery
for the death of each African who could not make the journey from one
home to another and for each slave whose only bodily remains can be
found in a poorly made wooden box buried six feet underneath the same
soil he spent his life cultivating. Perished physically maybe, but his
spirit is felt in the grind of a woman’s hips luring her man to dance
to the rhythm of their ancestors heartbeat. “Thank you” slavery for the
music your captives composed filled with analogy that directed them not
only to the drinking gourd but to the opportunity to dance. “Thank you”
slavery for the movement of our hips and for the swiftness of our feet.
“Thank you” for the rhythm that runs adjacent to the blood in our
veins, this blood that has finally been set free.



We as a people
have risen and do not need to spend another 100 years waiting for 40
acres and a mule; our reparations can be found in the smiles we wear
daily with pride. The Constitution of the United States of America
written in 1776 promised us equal treatment under the law, slavery
promised us nothing but gave us everything and for this we can only be
forever grateful.



Lisa Harris, is
a Junior at Fayetteville State University. She is a full scholarship
honor student; a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; Vice
president of the Student Government Association; and an upcoming
candidate for Miss FSU. Daughter of Roy and Diantha Harris


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