From KERA News:
Journalist Rodney Hawkins didn’t get a full picture of African American history from school.
“I grew up in Plano and so I read in the history books in large part about slavery, it wasn’t that long of passages, maybe a chapter if we got that in the book,” he said. “But it never really registered with me that the history I was reading in those books, my direct connection to it.”
Hawkins discovered his own history when his family was one of the first to participate in the Lone Star Slavery Project, which researches records to build an archive of enslaved people in Texas. For Hawkins, that discovery started with an interview with his great grandmother, Elise Powell Hurd.
The conversation was the catalyst for a three year journey, which included the uncovering of his family’s nearly 200-year-old ancestral burial site.
“We were able to find out relatives that we didn’t know were relatives, we thought were neighbors, friends,” he said. “But through this cemetery, we’re able to connect so many dots that even looking in ancestry and looking into our history and records, we wouldn’t have been able to if we didn’t have the actual physical piece.”
The Old Mount Gillion Cemetery in East Texas had been abandoned for over 30 years when Hawkins learned of it. Many historic Black cemeteries in the country like this have been neglected, which Hawkins says reflects how little our society appreciates Black history.
“All of us African Americans in this country should be able to look back into our history in some shape or form,” he said.