For as long as I can remember, I would boast to any victim who would listen to my diatribe about my family. It usually included my heritage of a slave-free ancestry, the black relatives who passed for white, the Indian blood I possessed, and the diversity of my family and church. To me, these stories were a necessary reality of unproven truths that defined the “me” of me. I willingly accepted the twisted family stories, spun them and massaged them into epoch size fairy tales that defied logic. Perhaps under microscopic review, one could find 20% reality but the other 80% was clearly muddied by the storyteller’s liberty.
I’m not sure why or how I became so suckered with the theory of a slave-free “Tobe” Morris family. Looking back, I can only assume that being a “free-colored” was an anomaly, and somehow under-underhandedly explained my less than usual lifestyle. Perhaps it was the pride in which these compilations of passed-down stories were told: Tobe was part Indian; Aunt Laura staked land in the Cherokee Run; Great-Grandpa Thomas had Indian head rights. Maybe it was the fact that we were one of the few blacks from Kansas without the term “Exoduster” attached having never residing in the all-black settlements of Kansas. But if you listened closely to my pride of a “slave-free” heritage, at least on the Morris side, you would also hear my doubts, my questions, and the absurdity of the stories.
In less than two months of research, I came to some mouth-dropping-open realities. Tobe wasn’t Tobe, we had no Indian blood, we were actually not from the Midwest, and there was at least one Morris ancestor who was indeed a slave.
And those aren't even the stories to tell. They weren't even the questions needing to be answered. They didn't even quench my thirst for ancestral knowledge. Why was my family listed as free-coloreds in the Appalachians 1860 census? Who taught the free-colored Morris’ to read? Why did they change not only their surnames but frequently their given names? Why did they choose to live in communities where they were the only coloreds?
This isn’t the story of another migratory family, it’s not a documentary of the Exodusters through Kansas, it isn't even a tracing of my Morris family’s roots, (although I was able to trace their paths through several states), these next few pages, challenge and defy the standard educational teachings of our American history, it erases the stereotypes of the masses, and formed for me a new reality.
Kathleen Brandt, Author Forging Metal To Freedom:
To be released summer 2014