It started with a voicemail from my mom. Apparently, one of my aunts was having our family’s genealogy done and something surprising had turned up. I should call when I got a chance.
I listened to this voicemail while on lunch while working at the mall. Something surprising in my family genealogy? My interest was piqued. I called right away.
What my mom said floored me.
It turns out that my mother’s mother’s father’s father was black. And sometime before then, my ancestor’s had been slaves to the Callaway family. The Callaways that nowadays make fancy golf clubs, but before that owned Georgia textile mills, and held prime spots in cotton manufacturing. Not only was I descended from slaves, but I had living black relatives no further than Kalamazoo, Michigan.
I went to college in Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is only about an hour from Grand Rapids. I might have come across these relatives and never known it.
When I went back on the floor after receiving this information, I remember feeling very strange. My identity had changed a bit. I was no longer “Josh Mosey, whitest guy ever.” I was now “Josh Mosey, a bit black.”
Every black person I saw for the rest of the night and for the next few weeks, I thought, “I might be related to them.” It was surreal.
Shortly after the initial revelation, my mom told me a story about when she was a little girl. Some men had come to the house to give her family some inheritance money. One of my mom’s mom’s dad’s black relatives had passed away and included the family in the will. Apparently, the black side of the family was doing pretty well for themselves, or at least better than the white side. But instead of accepting the money, my grandma refused it, swearing up and down that the men had made a mistake and that she was not related to any black people. This would have been in the 60’s when this happened.
She spent years protesting the notion that she had any African-American blood in her veins. Truth be told, she was a bit racist. Probably not more than your average octogenarian, but still, sadly so.
When my grandma passed away a few years ago, the aunt who had done the genealogical research reached out to our black cousins in Kalamazoo. And though she spent years denying them, though she turned away her inheritance, my grandma’s funeral was attended by her African-American family, whether she would have wanted them there or not.