Edward Ball’s book Slaves In The Family came out in 1998 and inspired me to try and track down some of the descendants of the thousands of slaves on both sides of my family. Beginning in 1600s South Carolina on my mother’s side and spreading in a family dynasty across Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Pegues was the dynasty’s name, a name still borne by my maternal grandmother and great aunt when I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s. So by 1998 I knew there were no white Pegues still in Oxford, MS, and yet the phone book (remember those?) was full of Pegues names. I wrote them all but got no replies. I went to Oxford and, working with two popular black pastors, I tracked down two of them: an elderly woman still farming her family’s cotton land not far from the site of the old Pegues plantation on Woodson’s Ridge; and a young, and gay, man who was the principal of an integrated elementary school near Oxford.
The woman, who has since passed away, was indifferent to the photos I brought her of the plantation owmers and was mainly irritated by my presence and her memories of the past that I evoked. But she did send her handyman to show me the graves of her slave ancestors, some of whom were mentioned in an old letter I had. Later I wrote the county urging them to shore up the old graveyard whose land was badly eroding away.
The school principal was more friendly and he introduced me to his sister and her young son. They thought my effort was commendable but they didn’t know much about their slave forebears and I had no letters mentioning them. They said the black Pegues, in general, were known for their education and conservative spending habits and some were doing very well indeed.
So do I believe in reparations? No, I do not. Do I feel guilty? No, although as a kid I was embarrassed by my connection to slavery. Even in the segregated South of the 1950s, it was not something most white people talked about. My mother was proud of the dynasty, especially their two Revolutionary War soldiers and a Nobel Prize winner in medicine, but clammed up on the larger subject. I doubt she knew much about it.
Black Lives Matter is a great slogan. Who can argue with it? Then you find out the mainly white group are communists and are rioting, looting and burning shops and banks and government buildings to try to foment a revolution. When I was in the Army, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution. The oath was not abrogated when I left the military. Counter-revolutionaries are my enemies. Simple as that.