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Do dreams come true?

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., excerpt from the  “I Have a Dream Speech,” delivered August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

“It’s Martin Luther King’s dream,” said Pamela Monk Kelley in the article, “Healing Slavery’s Wounds” featured in the June 27, 2011 issue of People magazine. Authors Wendy Grossman and Alicia Dennis detail the heart-touching stories of ancestors from both those who were bound by slavery and those who owned slaves connecting and bridging the divide, including the story of Pamela Monk Kelley. Pamela Monk Kelley connected with a long lost family member after years of researching her family’s history through DNA testing and a little luck. Godfrey Cheshire found himself as lucky as Kelley.

In 2005, Cheshire began shooting a documentary named Moving Midway.  In the film, Cheshire documents the move of his family’s plantation house while capturing the emotional effects on his family after uncovering and meeting descendants of slaves his family had owned.  In his research, Cheshire came across Robert Hinton, a decent of a slave on a plantation in Raleigh, North Carolina.  When Hinton and Cheshire finally met, Hinton said “I hoped he’d be somebody I didn’t like.  I wanted to have a negative posture.  But [Cheshire] is an interesting guy and hard to say no to.”  So the pair worked together for nearly three years on Cheshire’s documentary collecting and compiling written and oral history of the plantation.

The end product? A 2008 film that is “extraordinarily rich[, and] takes up the agonies and ironies of Southern history with remarkable empathy, wit and learning” reviewed by A.O. Scott, The New York Times.  Scott spot-lighted the film, Moving Midway, in the New York Times article, Packing Up the Plantation and Finding Distant, Unexpected Connections. The Amazon product description provides the following summary:

In the days of slavery, before a black man could be elected president, Midway Plantation sat in all its antebellum glory on several hundred verdant acres of prime North Carolina countryside. But more than a century later, this searing emblem of the Old South has been swallowed up by the onslaught of modern civilization: highways, stripmalls and big box stores. Now, Charlie Silver, a descendent of the man who built Midway, is determined to save the family home. To escape the urban sprawl, he decides to move the entire plantation several miles away, to a nice spot in a quiet field. And that’s when Charlie and his relatives learn that some other descendents of the plantation — descendents of slaves– have a vested interest in Midway. In Moving Midway, Charlie’s cousin (and film critic-turned filmmaker) Godfrey Cheshire turns his camera on his family and the ensuing drama surrounding the move, as the two heirs of Midway past– black and white– are unexpectedly brought together for, shall we say, an interesting family reunion.

At the onset of his film, Cheshire chose the William Faulkner quote, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” And the point being, I believe, is that Faulkner meant that we spend too much time dwelling on our past mistakes, thus the past isn’t dead, its here and now.   Using Faulkner’s quote could have been Cheshire’s way to show how he and Hinton made their pasts into their present in order to heal and move forward. Interestingly, the Library of Congress tweeted about Faulker on July 5, 2011 and how his characters could have been based substantially off of a diary of a plantation owner.  See the Emory Professor’s Lecture of Faulkner’s Link to a Mid-1800s Plantation Diary.

If you are interested in conducting some of your own genealogical research, you might want to check out the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Under the supervision of Professor Loren Schweninger, the Digital Library on American Slavery was opened in 2000 and “offers data on race and slavery extracted from eighteenth and nineteenth-century documents and processed over a period of eighteen years. The Digital Library contains detailed information on about 150,000 individuals, including slaves, free people of color, and whites.”

Interested in reading scholarly articles on this topic?  Check these titles out:

  1. July 7, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Sounds like a great film. It’s amazing how much our country’s past impacts our modern society on so many levels.

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