Well, beloved Black History Month has taken on a deeper meaning for me this year. I have learned of some noteworthy, and yet unknown Black folk in my family tree,Which I began tending back in 2006 but its growth was stunted because I could not get past my great grandma Alice on my mother's side of the family.
With the help of a genealogy group on FB, I was able to find some roots that went beyond my great grandma. I unearthed that there was a common thread crawling through my mother's side of the family. I found that most of her distant relatives were listed as coming from the state of Virginia, and as I am digging and unearthing clues, I'm getting so excited, because I know there is something there. How did they all end up in West Virginia?
I would discover to my amazement, that the common grounds which connected them all in Virginia were slave plantations!
I am the descendant of enslaved people! My mother would say: what did you expect? And you may be wondering the same thing as well!
Here's the thing: It's one thing to wonder about it, quite another to have the name, to see the entry on the census, listing your ancestors as a "laborer," "kitchen help," or as a "servant" on a certain plantation.
It is quite another to KNOW that in 1838, the first of the "Flemings" (my mother's people) was born on a plantation owned by the Cabell family, in Nelson County, Virginia. His name was Tarlton "Slave" Fleming (indeed, his middle name, reflected in the census is "slave"!). He was named after his owner/father: a Fleming originally from London England. Because of my great great great grandfather's parentage, they couldn't very well have a "Jr." at the end of his name. They had to make sure this person was distinguished as "slave" in order that they might not lay claims to anything his owner slash father possessed. Henceforth, the middle name being reflected as "slave."
Although, in hindsight, we know they were not slaves, but rather, God's holy Ones.
It didn't matter that the child was probably the product of rape, it didn't matter that our enslaved relatives had no say in the matter, no voice in the matter, no choice in the matter, when it came to sexual relations on the plantations between the owner and the owned. It's funny ... little did they realize it would connect us ALL by blood. The owner and the owned ... their blood runs through our veins, whether they like to admit it or not. We all, the different families on every plantation owned by the Cabells, are RBS's ... we are Related By Slavery!
So, what does my family history have to do with our readings this morning? Actually, it does fit in with Black History Month ... taking it all the way back ... all the way back to the field, as it were ... Amen?
Our reading from Leviticus takes us back to the field. It is a lesson which focuses on how we are to demonstrate our love for our neighbor. Whoever that neighbor may be.
We hear about what it means to show love for our neighbors, especially those less fortunate. It meant that some of the harvest was supposed to be left behind. They were not to harvest every single morsel of food ... every ear of corn ... every kernel of wheat ... every sugar cane ... every vegetable.
They were to leave some behind for the orphans and the widows and the poor who would come behind them and glean (gather up) what was left. It was like an open air "food pantry" (if you will), It was a very tangible way to care for your neighbor. And the strangers -- and those who lived on the margins of society. It was a form of justice to ensure no one went hungry.
God calls the congregation of Israel, who followed this practice, holy, because God is Holy ... and God is a holy God who has always sought justice for the weak, And those who were bowed down by the systematic oppression of that time. God called them holy because they were striving to seek justice and fairness for those less fortunate -- like God!
God also reminded the people of Israel about a lot of things they were NOT to do which were harmful and unjust to their neighbor. It was like a ten commandments of what you shouldn't do! One which speaks specifically to my message to you, is this:
"... you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor. I am the Lord."
Now, Let's go back to the plantation for a moment. Everything God told the Israelites not to do, has been done to our enslaved ancestors.
In fact, I will go so far as to say, that the ones who were gleaning the fields on the plantation were the enslaved themselves. Only, they harvested the fields for their owners.
If memory serves me correctly, there was a lot of blood spilled as those fields were harvested ... as we picked and toted that cotton, as we lifted those bales, as we worked from sun-up to sun- down.
A lot of profit was made off the backs and between the legs of our ancestors.