The majority of black Americans can trace their history to slavery. These are just a few of the stories from this disgraceful period in American history.
Angela Bassett's ancestors, Henry and Emily Stokes, were born into slavery in 1820s Georgia and lived through the Civil War. During an appearance on Finding Your Roots , Bassett learned that their master had been the first man in his county to volunteer for the Confederate Army.
A document reading, "I, Henry Stokes, colored, do solemnly swear in the presence of Almighty God, that I am a citizen of Georgia" and marked by Stokes indicates that he registered to vote soon after being freed. Bassett remarked, "It is astounding to see people who were considered three-fifths of a human being, to find them. And no, they are five-fifths. One whole. A human being."
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"They paid $830 for my great-great-great-grandma? I got more than that in my pocket right now," Nas noted as he looked at a receipt for the sale of his ancestor, Pocahontas Little, who was 15 years old. Nas' appearance on We Come From People revealed that his ancestors' owners kept detailed records, giving Nas a heartbreaking look into the lives of his ancestors, such as the amount of cotton they picked each day. When Nas learned that the house where his ancestors were enslaved burned down and is now just a forest, he noted, "I'm just thinking about buying that land."
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When Oprah was presented with the documents listing her maternal great-great-grandparents Grace and John Lee as property, she noted, "It's one of the reasons I work so hard. I feel like I have not even the right to be tired because I know I come from this." On the Winfrey side, Oprah traced her roots to Constantine and Violet, who were born in 1836 and 1839, respectively. Though the census where Constantine first appears after emancipation reveals that he cannot read or write at age 35, the following census noted that he could do both, suggesting he learned to do so between his time working on a farm and raising a family.
In 1876, Constantine went to a white man named John Watson and said he'd pick 10 bales of cotton, or 5,000 pounds, over the course of a year in exchange for 80 acres of land. Constantine completed the Herculean task and was deeded the land. In 1906 when whites were threatening to tear down the school for black children, Constantine had it relocated to his property so that the children there could continue their education.
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In the 1930s and 1940s, The Federal Writers' Project sent workers into the South to interview former slaves. Morgan Freeman's ancestor Cindy Anderson of Charleston, Mississippi, was interviewed for the program and revealed that her parents had been owned by a man named Herbert Cain. Though Cain owned the two since they were young children, he went on to sell Cindy's father years later when she was a child. "Not even treated as well as a mule," Freeman said of the buying and selling of his ancestors on the program African American Lives: We Come From People.
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