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The discussion surrounding slavery shaping the founding of the United States and its continued history is ubiquitous in contemporary dialogue. In tandem with that, the use of websites and online services like Ancestry.com and others has allowed people to further explore their origin story and dive into personal stories of how they came to be who they are, living in the places they’re in and growing up with the family they had. Writer Dionne Ford took this to another level through her brilliant new book, Go Back and Get It: A Memoir of Race, Inheritance, and Intergenerational Healing.
In this week’s Scheer Intelligence with host Robert Scheer, Ford explores the complex and emotionally perturbing history of her family, which happened to have been born out of a joining together of a slave and slave owner. Ford acknowledges the disturbing nature of the circumstance but does not shy away from confronting the reality head on and exploring what it means within her family. The original sin of slavery in America is certainly discussed, but “A conversation we still need to have is that that original sin is also on the backs of the women who were enslaved, whose bodies were also violated in this particular way of forced sex, and then all the children that they created out of that, that were then sold. It interested me to look at that part of my family’s history by finding out about my great-great-grandmother and excavating both of those stories,” Ford says.
Ford also mentions the importance of understanding the nuances of people’s situations. Despite being a slave and owned as property, once emancipation came around, some former slaves decided to stay with those same families who owned them because of these very complexities surrounding slave women who were raped and bore interracial offspring. “I look at my great-great-grandmother, Tempy…she made some decisions around whether or not to stay in Mississippi or go somewhere else in a way that would be beneficial to her family. And so in that way, she does take some more control over her destiny,” Ford says.
Despite the kind of pressure and duress people like her great-great-grandmother were under, they were able to make difficult decisions that could ultimately lead to a better situation for her family. “That was really powerful for me to consider that she would have been thinking about those kinds of things. And really just really having a lot of fortitude, and that gives me a lot of faith and also a lot of pride,” Ford says.
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Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from, my guest. And in this case, no question it’s Dionne Ford, and she has written an incredibly interesting book. And by the way, mercifully, not one of those thousand page tomes that I’m expected to read before this. I think it’s about 240 pages or something. And it just succeeds on so many different levels. And I’m probably not doing it a service by stressing more the political, historical rather than the personal. But we’ll get into all that. And what I would say, it’s really an American origin story and it’s really rape. Rape as an American origin story, as shocking as that may be. And you have personal experience which is described in the book that you bring to this as a woman who has been sexually attacked, at the age of seven has been raped in a later age. You’ve experienced all of America’s confusion. You are married to a white man. You have children who don’t always know whether they’re white or not or what have you. There’s a lot of that sort of interesting texture and history and the sort of madness of American life about race. But what I found absolutely compelling is it takes us back to the beginning of what slavery really meant for the consciousness, the whole meaning of America and the idea and particularly white men, you know, we know Thomas Jefferson was one of those who, in effect, raped a woman. You can talk about consenting, but a slave doesn’t consent. And we know this horrible exploitation is built into the fabric and it comes boom right up against a notion of Christianity, which is supposed to be proper and respectful, yet because black people were not considered human, that didn’t apply. And why don’t we just begin with your discovery of your origin and the nation’s basic origin, if that’s fair.
Dionne Ford: Sure. Yeah. I mean, if you’re talking about from the perspective of my book, I mean. Gosh. I obviously knew about slavery through school. And I guess I didn’t really think about it in terms of my family, probably until I saw Roots, like a lot of people. And then, you know, I was lucky enough to have my grandparents in my life, into my teens. And so the personal aspect of it, that this, the story of slavery was also the story of my personal family. I understood after speaking to my grandfather when he came to visit us from New Orleans, when he went to where we were living in New Jersey. And I just for the first time asked him about his complexion. He was a very, very fair skinned man who was often, you know, people often thought that he was white and he sometimes passed as white. And at 12, I guess you’re starting to think about, you know, more your identity then. And so I asked him about it for the first time, and he explained that he wasn’t white, but that his grandfather had been. And when I asked him more questions about that, he explained that his grandfather had been a farmer or a plantation owner in Mississippi and that his grandmother worked on his plantation. Even at 12, I understood that working on a plantation at that time, if you were black, meant that you were a slave. And I asked him if his grandmother had been a slave. And he didn’t answer me. So that was my introduction to slavery in my family. And I guess, you know, like many people, I came to understand about slavery in our country through school. But of course, as I got older, I learned that what I had learned in school was really only the very, very tip of the iceberg.
Scheer: But taking it back to that origin story, I mean, a lot of us do that, we check our DNA or we figure out where we’re from and we find mysteries and so forth. But you really found the American mystery. And I don’t want to cheapen this book, it succeeds on so many levels. I’m sure I’m going to you know, people will probably tell me, yeah, you missed the main point, which was the personal story and of being a mother and so forth. And I will concede the book is brilliant. It is so many, like four or five books. But, you know, given my bias and my interest in politics, I was a long time admirer of Jefferson, for example, and I always try to separate the founders. I’m actually an admirer of Washington. And, you know, I would always return. Oh, as bad as things seem, somehow there was this original brilliance of these wigged white males. And then, of course, we learn a great deal more about their you know, the slave owners were really the cradle. This was the cradle of America was in the South, and this was the basic economy for much of it. And so a lot of these wonderful ideas about governance and separation of powers and respect for the individual came from slave owners who lived a life of incredible contradiction and critical to it, if we think of what drives a male was sex. And so let’s tell the story of is it your great, great grandfather, I guess. And I can’t tell he was called a colonel, but he might have been a private you know, we don’t know. But he was a landowner. He had slaves and he had a wife who was weak and couldn’t have children, you know, frail. And then comes this figure of your great, great grandmother and who produces, what, six children?
Ford: That’s right.
Scheer: Yeah. Why don’t you just tell us that story and and your discovery of the photo and the whole deal and and actually, just to connect it to the personal, there’s one like, telling moment or so in your book with your child who appears white says I’m white Yes. And so it’s not just you’re trying to figure out what you are, you know, it’s perfectly understandable why this would be a fascination because why do you have these white relatives, including your own child?
Ford: Yeah, no, it’s absolutely correct. And that is the connection is sex. You’re absolutely right. You know, we look the way we do because of the people who created us. So when my daughter was five, I was reading her this story that I picked up from the bookstore for her called Black Is Brown is Tan, And it was a book about an interracial family like ours. And this you know, I read it to her many times before, but this time and I read it to her, I mentioned that she was like the little girl in the picture. Well, the little girl in the picture had darker skin than her. My daughter, this particular daughter, I have two daughters, but this daughter at that time, her skin was fair, very fair. And so she pointed out as a kid will do that, you know. No, she wasn’t really like that kid. I was talking about the fact that they were both interracial, that they were both biracial. But she was talking about the fact that physically the girl was darker than her. And so she said, no, I’m that little girl is brown, I’m white. And she must’ve understood by the look on my face that there was something about this, her saying that upset me. So she quickly said, well, I know that I’m black on the inside, Mommy, because I was in your belly. And this did make me think about my grandfather, who I was telling you about earlier, who was also very, very fair. And the story that he had told me about his grandparents. And it also, you know, just this thought of the people who created us. The fact that my great-great grandmother would not have had a choice in, you know, having sex with my great-great grandfather while she was enslaved did make me think about my own history of sexual violence from a very young age and also at the hands of a of a close family member. So, you know, what you were saying earlier about this American origin story is that, I think that’s very true that, you know, we talk about our country being founded on this original sin of slavery. And I think what interests me, something that a conversation we do still need to have is that that original sin is also on the backs of the women who were enslaved, whose bodies were also violated in this particular way of forced sex, and then all the children that they created out of that, that were then sold. So it just interested me to look at that part of my family’s history by finding out about my great-great-grandmother and kind of excavating both of those stories.
Scheer: But it’s not just a small group of people. I forget where, there’s a figure of 19% or something in your book, but you know, it was much closer to the norm, this rape. Rape was normal. Rape was normal in white Christian American culture. I mean, that’s one of the things that’s made quite clear in your book. And you involve very large numbers of people, some of whom were sufficiently white, I guess they could pass or somebody was inclined to help them pass and others didn’t do much for them. But why don’t we actually put, let’s put some names on them, because this Colonel Butler?
Ford: Colonel W.R. Stuart, that was my great-great grandfather.
Scheer: You know and his frail wife who couldn’t have children and do you have the picture handy? I’ll post it somewhere from the book. Yeah.
Ford: I do. Hang on a second. I always keep it kind of nearby. So it is right in front of my computer.
Scheer: You found this, tell us how you found the picture and the whole thing.
Ford: You see it?
Scheer: Very clear. Yeah.
Ford: So that’s the picture. So after I had that, I guess, gosh, two years after I had that conversation with my…
Scheer: Wait, don’t put it down yet. Just show us the great-grandfather and his legal wife.
Ford: That’s all right. So that’s my… Well, I’m going to start with my great-great-grandmother. So she’s in the middle since she’s in the middle of the photo. That’s Tempy Burton. And behind her is my great-great-grandfather. He’s Colonel W.R. Stuart. Next to him seated is Elizabeth McAuley. Stuart. That’s his wife. And then there are two girls sitting on either side of Tempy. And I suspect that those are her daughters because of their age and because of how they look. But they are not named in the photo, so that’s just my deduction. But I feel pretty confident that those are probably her daughters with the colonel.
Scheer: And just while we served the picture, he had six children. Right, your great-great-grandmother with the full knowledge of his wife. Right? And then I guess whether… I mean, take us through that, how you know, and then meanwhile, slavery is ended somewhere in the process.
Ford: Yeah. So he…
Scheer: Let’s put some years on it, too.
Ford: Yeah. So he and his wife, Elizabeth, got married in the late 1850s, and he had his first child. He and my great-great grandmother had their first child in around 1860.
Scheer: And she was a gift, too, to the wife, right.?
Ford: Right. So she was in Elizabeth’s family, had most likely probably cared for and brought up Elizabeth, you know, as her servant. And so when Elizabeth got married, her family gave Tempe as a gift to her and her new husband. And so two years later, Tempe’s first child Alfred comes. She had him. And then not long after that, her second child, Violet. Then the rest of her children, the other four, were born after slavery ended. And my great-grandmother, Josephine, was born many years after slavery ended. So, you know, their relationship definitely, I mean, I’m not going to call it a relationship, but their, you know, the children that were born from this, you know, from first her enslavement and then afterwards, you know, definitely spanned two very different times in her life. So that was something I was really interested to know as well.
Scheer: And for whatever reason, she made a decision to continue with, I guess, the family connection, right?
Ford: Yeah. And I think, you know, when you when you read about people who are enslaved at that time and then at, you know, what they decide to do afterwards, there’s a lot of reasons why someone might be motivated to stay working now for some money as opposed to in slavery with the same family that enslaved them. Maybe there’s fears about, you know, if they feel like these people were at all reasonable or tolerable, maybe there’s fears that if they left, they might encounter a worse situation, you know?
Scheer: Yeah. And you mentioned that she probably was, you know, illiterate.
Ford: And there is also that, you know, you weren’t allowed to read or write. So you’ve got to consider that as well. And there’s just the very, you know, very typical thing that many of us stay in a place for.
Scheer: You could put that down now.
Ford: We love our family, you know. And so, you know, she had six children. Who in the middle of their life wants to pick up and leave all their kids, you know, So unless the whole family was going to be willing to pick up and move to, I can absolutely understand why that wouldn’t be something that she wanted to do, maybe some of those kids had already started having their own families, you know, So I think a lot of times all these specifics, I think, get lost when we think about slavery. We don’t think about the people, that these are people who have to make very practical decisions for themselves and the people around them. So we think, oh, well, you know, if slavery was over, of course they just want to get out of the South and, you know, get far away from these people. But no, you know, we are human beings and even with people who have exploited us and been terrible to us, oftentimes there are other facets to our experience.
Scheer: One of the great strengths of your book. You did incredible research to track down all of these relatives and to show them as full human beings, that they had aspirations and talents. You know, some in music, some in farming and whatever. And even the chief villain, I guess, exploiter, the colonel, was somewhat complex. He turned out really wasn’t a military colonel. He actually, you know, distanced himself from the Civil War at some point. And also, I got a little confused in the book, but he did make some discovery with pecans and or was that his son?
Ford: Yes. No, that’s him. He did. Yeah, Colonel Stuart did, I guess, propagate his own strand of the pecan called the Stuart pecan. No, I guess depending on where you’re from, pecan or pecan. So you’re hearing my northern, the northerner in me says pecan. But the New Orleanean would say pecan, right? But yeah, so he did develop a strand called the Stuart pecan. And you can still find it today.
Scheer: Yeah. And which is really a great strength of your book, it’s not a cartoon, you know, you give texture. You find these people, you, you know, try to understand their lives. And yet at the heart of it is something truly evil, which is power. You know, one person by virtue of skin and the institution of slavery over another person. And, you know, again, like Jefferson has been a lifelong hero of mine. But the fact is, you have to use the rape word to think of his relationship to a slave, whatever qualities. You know, maybe they went to France in the same company and so forth. But the fact is, you know, one has the power and one has the other one has none. And then there’s, you know, the reminder. I mean, the good South always went by with manners and graciousness. And we had good Southerners and so forth and so on. But the what your book captures is the essential violence of the situation, whether it’s enforced through violence or just understood that violence is in the offing, that no matter what, this is the mother of six of your children, but the wrong look or the wrong word or something and she can be just killed, right?
Ford: Yeah, absolutely. And I think to me, the violence really comes out in how, you know, she’s separated from the rest of her family. So, you know, even when people weren’t beaten or weren’t, you know victimized in those other ways. The fact of the matter is, you know, through slavery, they lost their families. You know, they might be sold to one place while the rest of their family was sold up somewhere else. And yeah, absolutely the other, this point that you bring up about the sexual violence is definitely, definitely there. And I think one of the things that I really wanted to try and discover, to whatever degree that I could, was how my great-great grandmother could go on to live to be 102 with that history, you know. And I think your bringing up Sally Hemings and it made me think of how women, black women, enslaved women, while they were definitely victimized and, you know, didn’t have power, they did find ways to assert some joy and some authority over their lives. And, you know, I guess people would say that Sally Hemings did that in certain ways, making certain decisions while in France that might help her family. And when I look at my great-great-grandmother, Tempy, you know, I can surmise that, yes, she made some decisions around whether or not to stay in Mississippi or go somewhere else in a way that would be beneficial to her family. And so in that way, she does take some more control over her destiny. So I like to think about that flexibility under such duress, you know? To be able to continue and make decisions that might be good for your family in the long run. That was really powerful for me to consider that she would have been thinking about those kinds of things. And yeah, really just really having a lot of fortitude. And that gives me a lot of faith and also a lot of pride.
Scheer: Yeah, but we also should not forget how and your book certainly doesn’t forget how evil, and I use the word evil, the system was. And I, you know, Jimmy Carter is now hanging on to life. And one could argue he was certainly not the worst president and certainly a good ex-president. And I happened to interview him, you know, in a rather well-known interview when he was running and talked about lust in his heart and all that. But I had also been through that part of Georgia in 1960 with the folks who wanted to integrate bathrooms and so forth. And now there’s been volumes coming out, a couple of very good ones, these thousand page books about Carter. And the fact is, we don’t want to lose sight of what the segregated South was about, which was the continuation of the condition of slavery. And you know that the people were intimidated every hour of every day. I mean, Willie Brown, who went on to be very famous in California, talked about walking the streets of Mineola, Texas, with his father. His father would have to get off the sidewalk, if it was narrow, and let teenage white kids walk by. And in Plains, Georgia, and books now about Jimmy go into that, you know, yes, you could play with the black kids until you were about nine or ten, but then they had to start calling you Mr. Carter. And the power relations and the exploitation, you know, continued and certainly the sexual exploitation. And so the reason I bring it up as an American origin story is we can’t understand contemporary America, and your book does an excellent job of bringing the whole discussion into contemporary America, if we don’t understand that origin. It is the most abnormal path for a country to follow. And we always try to celebrate the improvement of the situation, you know, including people breaking through the glass ceiling and so forth. But your book is really a reminder that you don’t escape it. And because you take it through different generations. So maybe you could talk a little bit more about how you crafted this book, the trajectory. I think it’s brilliant work. I notice you’ve got a, you know, number of famous people who have already acknowledged that it’s an incredible story. And but, you know, tell us more about the real achievement of this book and what you wanted it to accomplish.
Ford: Sure. That’s thank you for asking that question, because I didn’t start out wanting to talk about what ends up being the essential point of this book, which is the, you know, the systemic rape of black women. I initially thought that I would tell a story about, you know, my family’s interracial history that then was forced through slavery, but now as a woman married to a Black man was, I mean to a white man with interracial children, was one of choice. So I was initially looking at it through that lens. But the more I guess I really got honest with myself, the more I realized that the story that I really wanted and needed to tell was the next level, which was about the systemic rape. And so yeah, the way that I ended up structuring the book was to just try and look, you know, search for the people in the picture. I wanted to really focus on the people in the photo and my journey trying to find out information about them. And however, that might then parallel or kind of shed light or connect to me in the present, because there were so many things that connected to things that were important to me in my life. For example, finding out about my ancestors’ religion. So it turned out that both my great-great-grandfather and my great-great-grandmother were the same religion. I don’t know why that struck me as so odd. I guess I thought that, you know, a spiritual realm is the one place as a slave where you might, you know, really try to have authority that was very different from your enslaver. So I was kind of surprised to see that they were both Methodist. But then, as I learned about the Methodist religion, I saw that, you know, enslaved people were among the first American Methodists. So that was kind of, that was a gift, actually, to discover that that inheritance could come very strongly from the enslaved people in my life and not necessarily be something that was forced on them. So that was really that was a lovely discovery.
Scheer: But it was certainly reinterpreted. And there was a black Methodist church and a white. And this was true in every denomination.
Ford: Yeah, exactly. I guess I had just kind of grown up and learned in school that, you know, religion was forced on the enslaved. And while certainly there’s a truth to that. But getting into the specifics of my family’s story, it was just nice to get the deeper story that enslaved people were finding their own autonomy spiritually and then that and that my family certainly was. And that was very freeing for me.
Scheer: Yeah, but again, I don’t want to edit this, be too editorial here, but just really was prominent in the Baptist church. And the idea that you could not only be praying to the same was not even the Catholic Protestant split, but within, you know, a fundamentalist variation of Christianity and yet find texture and lyrics and spirituals and so forth and diametrically opposed. And I want to bring it back to really what is the chilling truth of your book, is that Black people, particularly in this case the book Black women, were not seen as human. That they were there for your service. They were there too, yes, human in the sense that I can reproduce children. I didn’t even quite understand why they wanted these children. I mean, did they sell them? I mean, in the time of slavery, you know, because your book does examine all this and it’s usually… Yeah.
Ford: Yeah. No, I mean, there were certainly some enslavers who did create their own slaves for them to then sell. Absolutely. My great-great grandfather did not do that. So I can’t really say, you know, what was going on. Perhaps he had specific desires for Tempy and you know, I don’t know. And he did seem to, it’s possible that he did do some things to help out at least one of his children financially. I can’t prove that. But it’s possible. So, you know, there may have been some genuine affection that he felt for her. But again, as you pointed out, you know, the power dynamic doesn’t allow for that to be mutual. So I don’t really talk about slavery in terms of evil. I see it very specifically as greed. And then I think this moral aspect comes in so that people can then, you know, defend, you know, instead of just admitting that people were greedy and they wanted something, you know, they wanted to build a country and have servants and have a lot of comfort on the backs of other people that they didn’t pay. And to me, it’s really that simple. I feel like looking at it through the lens of good or evil lets people off the hook.
Scheer: [Indistinguishable] them off the hook. But while reading your book, I kept getting back again to the Founding Fathers and greed, yeah, greed explains a lot. But these are people who, after all, wrote a constitution designed to prevent the excess of power to respect the individual. And then they produced a child, children who they then deny are human beings actually, not just full human beings. So this is your offspring, this is half you. You’ve created this child, right, and granted, some of whom actually are white, you know, in appearance. And yet you stick to this bizarre… After all, much of the world had rejected slavery. You know, we were rather late to the party and it was being rejected in parts of the United States, and yet they held on to it. You know, again, that’s why I brought up Carter’s experience because his father was a racist, Jimmy’s father, you know. So it’s only Jimmy’s generation that stops being overtly racist, you know, and they they kill people in that party. I happened to stop at a farm, Koinonia Farm, which is one of the first Christian farms that had blacks and whites living there. I stopped there in… They tried to blow the place up and that was Hamilton Jordan, who was, you know, his uncle, Clarence Jordan, was at that one. So this contradiction of, you know, you have pretenses of a God that is unifying, of common religion, all these things. And what your book makes us confront is, wait a minute, I’m sorry, I’m going to use the word evil. I mean, the rape is evil, right? It’s evil. And it’s evil because, you know, whatever you say about it, it’s not that mean there’s no consent, there’s no respect, there’s no you know, you can rationalize… I don’t even know how you do it. And so when I think of the founders and, you know, your great-grandfather was not a significant figure in that respect. But, you know, he had pretenses. And these people, you know, I don’t mean he’s not a significant man, he was not…
Ford: No, I understand what you’re saying.
Scheer: But nonetheless, how do they live with this? That’s the reality, I mean, these people wrote books about the excessive power and restraint and civilization. And, you know, they were so against the Roman Empire and they were against the Greek and everything, you know, obsession of power. And how in your book dwells with it and gets into it on a personal level. But how does a person like, you know, have six children with a woman who presumably in some ways had feelings for your great-grandmother and then see them as chattel.
Ford: Yeah. I mean, you know, I think you brought up another word that along with greed, would explain that. And that is power, you know, which, you know, we’ve learned that that’s what rape is all about, right? It’s not about sex and it’s about power and domination. And so I think, you know, and certainly I’ve experienced these people right, where like they just have a very hard time seeing their part in the thing, right? And if you’ve been in charge for a really long time, I think it’s a lot easier to just justify what you’re doing, particularly if you’ve been in charge in a way like, you know, our founding fathers. So, yeah, I think that it really wasn’t that difficult, frankly, for my great-great-grandfather to justify what he was doing. Of course, you know, we have individuals who certainly didn’t take that same route and would also probably feel like you, you know, that these people who were doing that were evil. But, you know, look at the time and how many people there were, you know also doing similar things. And you know, also I think about today just how prevalent sexual assault is. You know, how much sexual violence is interpersonal. You know, that’s how it is most often experienced by people we know. You know, so I don’t think we can say all of those people are evil. I think most likely is that this country was built on a real skewed idea of power and who should have it, and that people who had it should be allowed to do whatever they wanted with it. And I think we continue to suffer from that. And I think you can see that in the numbers of how many people are sexually assaulted and how much interpersonal violence there is and how many people are sexually abused at the hands of family members.
Scheer: Right. But I’m going to… If we can wrap it up. First of all, I want to get people to read this book. It’s called Go Back and Get It: A Memoir of Race, Inheritance and Intergenerational Healing. And, you know, I want to say the subject is grim, the reading is I hate to say this, a joy. It’s an incredibly accessible book. I don’t want to turn anybody off from buying it, reading it. And one reason why it applies to everybody. I mean, for instance, I’m an alcoholic and some of those pages that moved me most were your own talking about 12 steps and ironically, I happened to be covering Paul Newman when he was making a movie, Blaze in Louisiana. And I was off the wagon and I felt the need for a drink. They purchased a whole town and I actually wrote about this in the article for Esquire, and I went to 12 A and it was still segregated, not officially so. And I showed up at the Black AA and the guy, you know, he said, well, you know, you might be more comfortable at the other one, you could stay. Of course we welcome you, but you might.
Ford: Oh wow!
Scheer: Be more comfortable and responsible. And, you know, I stayed there and a couple of other people said that to me. And then I realized AA was segregated and this was quite late in the 1990s, late nineties in Louisiana. So I want to end on that because if we want to understand America, that’s why I bring up the origin story, this legacy that you have, and you’ve done it in a very human way. And you’re right. I mean, you’ve taken me to school on, you know, wanting to just say evil. And yes, you know, these are complex human beings. And the book is nuanced and you find family identity with the enslaver. And, you know, there’s connection and there’s this shared history and so forth. But the fact of the matter is, you know, I know when I went through to the South in 1960, I thought this racial tension, which as you point out in your book, it’s a social concept, it’s not a biological reality would disappear. That was sort of the hope of the civil rights movement and everything. Well, in fact, even intermarriage of the kind you have is not the norm and racism is the norm and racism is born of ignorance of the other or supported by ignorance of the other. And, you know, we have just one horrible reminder of that after another. And I think, my own little editorializing, is that we never came to grips with the true horror of slavery, but also of segregation and the assumptions of what the South was really all about, and which, of course, was carried over into the north. There was plenty of racism in the north, but that cradle of American democracy, which was the South, after all, the first serious colonies and everything. Your book gives an indispensable insight into the normalcy of it. That is the shocking thing about your book. You’re talking about your family the way you know any of us would talk about your Uncle Harry and Anne and she was a little bit different, but not women. That one, you know, had total power over that one. So let me sort of wrap it up with that. This is really, again, using that word that you talked about before that I talked about, power. That there cannot be normal human relations with that kind of excessive power, particularly when it’s legal to rape somebody. What these people did, right, their mistreatment and rape of Black women, which was was really the norm. They were accessible. That was the norm. Everything else is just window dressing. That was the norm. You can of course use males in any which way you want and beat them and kill them. And that is what we have forgotten about our history, that it was based on this, virulent, you know, vicious destruction of people.
Ford: It’s absolutely right that consumption of people and using them up. And, you know, I mean, there’s a reason why we’re such a young country and a superpower. I mean, that didn’t happen for no reason. You know, we were able to do that because of forced labor, you know, because of slavery. And I think too, you know, what you’re saying about I mean, what I heard you saying was the the legacy of this that shows up through continued racism, that also shows up through continued sexual violence. And I think they’re… I think to me, they are both the legacy of slavery in this country that we have not dealt with. We’re beginning to confront the racism, but I still think we have a long way to go with the sexual violence. And so I do hope being able to just trace my family’s history and then also talk about my own history and the connections between them will maybe make people consider how deeply entrenched these two dynamics are and perhaps have a little bit of, you know, loosening up of about, you know, reflecting on it personally. And maybe we can discuss it more because I feel like, you know, we can’t do anything about it if we aren’t willing to really have a real honest, good conversation about it, how it shows up in our own families and certainly how we’re seeing it societally so. So, yeah, all these all these things that we have kind of pushed aside, they find their way up and out. You know, we know that, right? So we’re just seeing them replayed over and over again.
Scheer: Yeah. And, you know, when we try to understand, when we look at our society and, you know, the imprisonment of so many Black people and, you know, police violence that keeps popping up in front of us in the north as well as the south, we, you know, it’s like any other major problem that we’ve had with war and peace and everything else. We always think, well, that’s done. It’s over. It’s an old story. Why are you bringing it up? You know, and I want to pay tribute to this book because you bring it up in a way that we have to see the devil in ourselves, you know? And that is, after all, a Christian message that’s worth repeating. And this book, you know, I want to make it clear this is a really interesting, accessible book and a quick read. I’m not putting it down. It’s so quick, it’s a good read, but it is really profound. It’s a really profound book. I want to say that because you know, it really… You cannot understand, let me just put it right out there, you cannot understand the history of this country, who we are and what we represent to the world, because we yes, we have made a lot of contributions but my goodness, you know, there’s a rot in there, too. And this book shows where it’s in, you know, it’s like a family secret that you don’t really want to examine. But if you don’t examine, you don’t understand yourself. You know, we’re all part of it. The book is called Go Back and Get It. I’m talking to Dionne Ford. Go Back and Get It: A Memoir of Race, Inheritance and Intergenerational Healing. You know, we haven’t talked much about healing. You want to take one or two minutes to talk about the positive healing of this book?
Ford: Sure. I mean, if you mean for me personally, you know, going back and getting my family’s stories, learning about, you know, my great-great-grandmother going from being enslaved to owning her own property and learning about her daughter, Josephine, my great-grandmother, who also was a writer like me and published things in her Christian newspaper, were all extremely healing to me on my own personal journey and just being able to consider the ways that Tempy might have found authority for herself really brought me so much inspiration. And to, as you brought up, to be a woman who’s in recovery, you know, and hasn’t had a drink in 32 years. There’s a lot to drink about, you know, so that alone it’s allowed me to find my own personal spirituality. And I don’t know that there is any greater gift. So and of course, you know, being able to raise two daughters and have honest conversations with them, to be able to be open with them is an amazing gift. So for all those things, yeah, I feel like this has been an incredibly healing journey for me to have the opportunity to find information about my family and to make some meaning of it with my own life.
Scheer: And let me just finally, because everybody’s always putting down the Internet. This is great forensic work. It’s a great investigation. You’re a great detective. And your but your skill set is enhanced. I mean, getting this picture as a result of the Internet, you actually even find the ceremonial or maybe it was the real sword that your great-great-grandfather owned, and it’s engraved, and you somebody could buy it on eBay.
Ford: Yeah my cousin did!
Scheer: So the documentation, I mean, in the pre-Internet world, somebody would say, Yeah, you talk to some cousin, you talk to somebody, you’re able to document a lot of this story thanks to the Internet and your own diligence here. So we can’t ignore it.
Scheer: Yeah. And, you know, and it’s compelling in that respect because wait a minute, that’s actually the sword, you know? And then we learn about the pecans and where that was. And there are deeds and there’s this building and this document and so forth. And it stands in contrast to an unwillingness of some of your principal people like your great white grandfather or your appearing white grandfather not to talk about it. So you’re constantly up against these doors that people kind of want to leave closed. But thanks to this modern technology, you know, and I guess that includes DNA testing and everything else, you’re actually able to be this truly brilliant detective.
Ford: Thank you. And I’m so glad you brought that up, because it’s, you know, certainly not the place that you want to have to start, you know, on the Internet. I think I couldn’t have done any of this without my grandfather’s stories. But absolutely, there is something equalizing about being able to access information freely online and definitely with, you know, a speed that I certainly could never have done with just like pounding the pavement and going from archive to archive, etc. So, yeah, I don’t think I could have written this book without the power of the World Wide Web for sure.
Scheer: Right. And there’s a human development and dimension to it because you were actually able to engage in conversation and even house visits with people on different sides of this story, including the white side. And again, I don’t want to… The book is called Go Back and Get It. That is my message to people listening to this. Go Back and Get It, the book, A Memoir of Race, Inheritance and Intergenerational Healing. And it is actually, I hope, the beginning of a whole new genre of people investigating their own history and background. You have the tools now you can track down stuff not as a sort of vicarious thrill or so forth, but as a reality. I know I’ve done some of that in my own case. My father was a German Protestant, my mother, a Lithuanian Russian Jew. Why did one part of the family kill the other part? And thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to assemble different pieces. I’m sure everybody has that kind of story, and I think that as a genre, this book, you have really set a path that other people can follow. They won’t have your journalistic talent and your writing skill, which is formidable, but they can do that. They can open these closed doors to their own history. And it’s important because we have to understand where not only are virtues come from, but we also have tendencies to evil. And this book certainly opens up both of those zones. On that note, thank you for doing this. And I want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW, the terrific NPR station in Santa Monica, for hosting these shows and putting them up there. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer who got me and ordered me to do this book and to read it, you know, he said, you know, let’s break the mold a little bit and I’m very happy for that. Diego Ramos, who writes the intro, Max Jones, who’s on right now, is the TV engineer on this. And I want to thank the JKW Foundation and the memory of a terrific writer, Jean Stein, in honor of her that supplies some funding to do this show. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.