Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dr. Ron Walters, eyewitness to residue of slavery

Antoinette Harrell, Mae L. Miller, Dr. Ron Walters at press conference held at 44th annual re-enactment of Bloody Sunday, in Selma, Alabama 2009.  Photographer, Walter C. Black, Sr.

Dr. Ron Walters (1938-2010) political analyst, professor, lecturer, strategist and more, was the mentor of Antoinette Harrell.  He understood the importance of educating the world about peonage, a form of slavery that did not end for hundreds of thousands of African Americans in 16 US states and 27 counties.

Another eyewitness

"I met Dr. Ron Walters at The State of the Black World Conference held in New Orleans, Louisiana.  I phoned Dr. Ron Walters four days later and invited him to take a tour with me in February 2009 to talk with former sharecroppers and peons.  Also joining this public tour was the co-founder of Gathering of Hearts, Inez Soto Palmarin, Rebecca Hensley, professor of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University, Donna Owens, journalist  with NPR, Mae L. Miller, along with 30 others.  Dr. Ron Walters was convinced after traveling to several counties in Mississippi that the people could not get away,"  Antoinette Harrell.

Photographer, Walter C. Black Sr.
Dr. Ron Walters, having been an eyewitness to the extreme destitution of the people of Mississippi, developed a working relationship to bring out what was happening in this modern-day to the people in the Mississippi Delta and the abject poverty which held them bound.

Desire to educate

"I am honored to be associated with Antoinette Harrell, who runs a non-profit organization in New Orleans known as "Gathering of Hearts."  She has researched files on 20th Century slavery in  state courthouses and the National Archives.  This enhanced her work as an activist, finding individual families and communities in the Black Belt who had links to the story of 20th Century slavery, and helping those who desperately needed food, clothing, and shelter.  As a result, she has become a lifeline to many  in isolated communities, ferrying clothing and food into Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta to poor black people, Native Americans, and others,"  Dr Ron Walters, August 2010 press statement.

He was scheduled to appear before the National Press Club to issue what would become his last press statement and an appeal to the American people on August 9, 2010.  He was unable to take the heat and requested that his statement be read by someone representing him.

"Antoinette:  I am really sorry, but I won't be able to get out today.  I can't take the heat.  So, I sent you this piece that can be read by someone representing me and hope that the session goes well.  I can also be reached by phone at home today. Be well.
Ron Walters" (E-mail on Monday, August 9, 2010).

Residue of slavery

Dr. Ron Walters explains that the tour arranged by Antoinette Harrell  gave him a "21st century opportunity to
see" with is own eyes what his own research on the documents had "revealed--the damaging results of slavery at the close of the 20th century and its extension into the civil rights period."  (August 2010 press statement)

Becoming an eyewitness to the present conditions of people living in the Mississippi Delta through the "Those Left Behind" Poverty Tour, provided Dr. Walters an increased understanding of the broad scope and plight of the African Americans living in small communities in Mississippi like Marks, Lambert, and Glen Allan situated in Quitman and Washington counties.

"What one can see is that their poverty is not merely that shaped by the lack of money, but a poverty of the spirit shaped by the oppressive forces that have robbed them of hope.  So much so that many (who) cannot conceive of leaving their circumstances are ignorant of the steps (to) manage the transition to a new reality of living.  They do not fit the model of Harriet Tubman's charges who struck for freedom; they fit her model of those who do not yet fully know they are free.  For example, while information is a modern key to freedom, on our tour we found only one person among the poor we encountered who had access to a computer,"  Dr. Ron Walters, August 2010 press statement.

Dr Walters goes on to address poverty and how the people suffer from much more than economic poverty.  This portion of his statement will be addressed in a subsequent post.  I feel it is vital that I briefly address how this relates to genealogical research.

My responsibility

Anyone who has captured the true spirit of the work at some point desires to go beyond what they have discovered among documents.  Since 1985 I have been researching my own ancestors who lived in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and South Carolina.  Records from South Carolina were much easier for me to find and obtain.  This led me to relocate so that I could be closer to resources and extended family there.

It has been a very rewarding experience.  Yet, my heart longs to know more about my ancestors who lived in Mississippi and Arkansas.  I was told in my youth very heart-wrenching stories, so I know that research there will not be pretty.  That will not stop me from taking the necessary steps to understand my history.

Because Antoinette Harrell has not been silent on the issue of peonage and existing documentation, the hand of Providence has brought her into my life and has instilled within her the desire to mentor me.  I will not turn a blind eye to these issues for it is highly likely that I will be turning a blind eye to extended family I suspect to one day discover.

I have a responsibility.  I have a duty.  I cannot walk blindly on the other side of the road.  Genealogy turns our hearts toward our ancestors, and it also turns our hearts toward the living descendants if our motives are not superficial and if we are not too short on integrity.

My heart has turned.  I am fortunate that by Divine intervention my paternal ancestors made it out of bad situations.  My father, who was one of the youngest of 12 children, sent money to the Mississippi Delta to get his siblings and their families out.  We have some unfinished business.  If any people have the capacity to make a difference and to help educate,  genealogists and family historians will be among those who lovingly seek their own.

For lectures, interviews,  and more information on the subject of peonage, contact:
Antoinette Harrell  504-858-4658

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