Monday, July 6, 2015

KICK is now LGBT Detroit

With a new name, the organization that was started to service the African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community expands services

News flash: KICK is now LGBT Detroit.

If you had no idea what KICK was before this, the new name says it all. And that's how you know that a name change is working.

For LGBT Detroit founder and executive director Curtis Lipscomb, the change was both necessary and painstaking. "You don't give up a 20-year-old brand easily," he says about the two-year change process. "The board researched and took a slow path. We treated our name like precious cargo. But in the end, we saw that we were already a changed business—it's just the name that hadn't changed."

Let me back up. Lipscomb founded KICK in 1994 as a one of the first publishing companies to cover the African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The name "KICK," which was a reference to a dance common in the LGBT community in the '80s, resonated among the organization's urban African-American readership.

In 2003, KICK became a nonprofit to help support African-American LGBT social activism and cultural pride. Lipscomb considered changing the name then. But KICK had already built both traction and trust in the community—so it stuck. And as the organization's mission grew, so did its prominence.

"Now we have paid staff and unique programs that have national recognition," Lipscomb says. "The name didn't work in a larger context."

Indeed, LGBT Detroit has made impressive leaps over the past 20 years. Lipscomb helped start the second-oldest Black gay pride celebration in the country, Hotter Than July, which still happens each summer in Palmer Park (back July 21-26 for its 20th year). He has also been invited to the White House three times to speak about LGBT issues and has met the president twice.

"People know about our work because we bring something to the movement that the movement doesn't do well," he says. "We do work in Brightmoor or Van Dyke and I-94. You don't see gay and lesbian game changers in those areas. We're not everywhere in Detroit, but where we are, others are not."

In 2012, Lipscomb received a leadership award from the Black Male Engagement project or BMe (pronounced "be me"). Founded by the Knight Foundation to highlight and support the positive leadership of Black men in their communities, BMe is now an independent nonprofit that has programs in several cities, including Detroit, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Lipscomb's leadership award came with a $20,000 grant to support a vision that he had for the community. He decided that the time was right harness the leadership potential of so many young people whose voices were never heard in Detroit. The result is the LGBT Detroit Leadership Academy.

"It's a popular notion that if you are gay and live in the Midwest or the South, you had to leave in order to be yourself," says Lipscomb. "But imagine being 22 years old and LGBT, and feeling like you can stay right here in Detroit in order to create change. That's what the leadership academy is about."

Since 2012, the academy has provided social justice training for future LGBT leaders in a six-week program featuring two cohorts annually. To date, there have been 47 grads, most under 30 and often work in mainstream environments including universities, public schools and large nonprofits.

Detroit native Rhiannon Chester, 27, was in one of the first classes. She's been a community activist since her days at Mumford High School where she organized efforts around issues like Detroit public school closings, affirmative action at the University of Michigan and HIV.

"But I wasn't involved in LGBT issues," says Chester, who is a lesbian. "My sexual identity wasn't lifted up or visible. It wasn't talked about in the spaces that I was in."

Chester is a photographer who is working on a master's degree in social justice and says she evolved in profound ways through the academy. "I learned to advocate for myself rather than for other people. I could bring my whole self to activism."

Now, Chester works for LGBT Detroit as the program coordinator for the leadership academy, which Lipscomb says brings his vision full circle.

"You should not have to leave your home to be yourself," he says. "Detroit cannot afford to have any of its residents leave. We're providing an avenue for people to stay put and fight for the Detroit they want. You can't pray for things to change; you have to act for change."

That's what LGBT Detroit has always been about. Now it's right there in the name.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

I'm a 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow!

The third time's the charm.

Here I am with my fellow Literary Artists!
After years of applying for this fellowship, I finally hit the jackpot! Those of you who have been scratching away at your novels and poems for years while trying to hold down a job, manage relationships, care for spouses/children/elderly parents, and be a good friend to those you love--you all know how impossible it is to be an artist and manage a "real life."

This fellowship marks a transition for me--a huge shift in the way I view myself as an artist. I should write, I must write and I will write. The fellowship is affirmation from the universe that the time is now.

There are so many of you who have been cheerleaders and supporters along the way. You kept my muse on life support when I had all but abandoned it. Thank you so much for being there!

And congrats to my fellow winners. I look forward to growing with you over the next year.


$25,000 FELLOWSHIPS GO to ESTABLISHED NAMES and RISING TALENTS in the literary and visual arts
Detroit, Michigan – June 25, 2015 – Sixteen metropolitan Detroit artists and two collectives have been awarded Kresge Artist Fellowships for 2015. Each of the 18 fellowships, rewarding literary and visual artists for their creative vision and commitment to excellence, includes an unrestricted $25,000 prize and a year ofintensive professional development support.
Kresge Artist Fellowships are funded by The Kresge Foundation and administered by the Kresge Arts in Detroit program of theCollege for Creative Studies. The fellowship program represents the foundation’s desire to advance the careers of artists living and working in the foundation’s hometown, as well as to elevate the profile of metro Detroit’s artistic community.
The work of the 2015 Fellows reflects the breadth of Detroit’s cultural communities, and highlights the wide array of disciplines within the literary and visual arts: from graphic novels to experimental poetry, from arts criticism to flash fiction, from fiber art to painting, from performance art to new media.
“From the traditional to the experimental, the work of the 2015 Kresge Artist Fellows exemplifies the creativity that continues to enliven our city and capture the attention of the art world,” says Kresge Arts in Detroit Director Michelle Perron. ”The fellows represent the depth and multiplicity of Detroit’s artistic communities.”
 2015-literary-artsLITERARY ARTS FELLOWS*
Jeffrey S. Chapman, graphic novels, fiction
Desiree Cooper, flash fiction
Kahn Santori Davison, poetry
Walerian Domanski, short stories
Billy Mark, experimental freestyle poet
Airea D. Matthews, poetry
George Tysh, poetry
Lillien Waller, poetry
 2015-visual-artsVISUAL ARTS FELLOWS*
Cuppetelli and Mendoza, new media art
M. Saffell Gardner (Saffell), painting
Cynthia Greig, photography
Carole Harris, fiber art
Tzarinas of the Plane, performance art
Tiff Massey, metalwork, sculpture
Nancy M. Mitchnick, painting
Jonathan Rajewski, painting
Chris Schanck, sculpture
Through a competitive process, more than 650 applications were reviewed by two independent panels of national and local artists and arts professionals. The panelists provided a balance of artistic perspectives, an understanding of the local artistic environment and extensive knowledge of the art forms being reviewed.
  • Samiya Bashir:Poet, founding organizer of Fire & Ink, anadvocacy organization and writers festival for LGBT writers of African descent, assistant professor of creative writing at Reed College
  • renĂ©e c. hoogland: Writer, professor of English at Wayne State University, editor of Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts
  • Kim Hunter:Writer, co-director of the Woodward Line Poetry Series, poet-in-residence with InsideOut Literary Arts
  • Albert Mobilio:Writer, editor for Bookforum, editor for Hyperallergic Weekend, assistant professor of literary studies at the New School’s Eugene Lang College
  • Anne Waldman: Poet, performer, co-founder of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University
  • Chakaia Booker:Contemporary sculptor
  • Sonya Clark:Artist, chair of Craft/Material Studies in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Elizabeth Dee:American gallery owner (Elizabeth Dee Gallery), co-founder of Independent (alternative art fair established in New York in 2010, expanding to Brussels in 2016)
  • Valerie Parks: Painter, educator
  • Senghor Reid: Painter, filmmaker, artist-in-residence at Cranbrook Schools
“The quantity and quality of creative work being produced in metropolitan Detroit is inspiring, and made it a challenge to select ninevisual artists from the pool of hundreds of applicants,” says Sonya Clark, 2015 visual arts panelistOverall, I was struck by how much of the work we reviewed demonstrated a deep commitment to thoughtfully and accurately reflect this moment in Detroit’s history.”
Administered by the College for Creative Studies, the Kresge Artist Fellowships represent one aspect of The Kresge Foundation’s investment in the artistic communities of metropolitan Detroit, providing support to artists living and working in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.“Even when the nation was fixated on Detroit’s bankruptcy, the vibrancy of the metropolitan arts community was an emblem of our renewal,” says Rip Rapson, president of The Kresge Foundation. “As we move forward into an era of new opportunities, our artists are ever more important, giving us a sense of our past and our ability to boldly innovate in creating our future. It is an honor to support artists who personify the creativity metro Detroit and our nation need today.”
Now in its seventh year, the Kresge Arts in Detroit program has contributed $3.5 million to the local creative economy through the Kresge Eminent Artist awards and through Kresge Artist Fellowships in dance/music, film/theatre, literary arts and visual arts. This investment in metro Detroit’s artists helps empower culturallyminded thinking and strengthens Detroit’s position as a major center for arts and culture nationally and internationally.
In addition to an unrestricted $25,000 award, fellows participate in a professional practice programdesigned and delivered byCreative Many Michigan.The professional practice program includes an intensive professional development retreat presented by New York-based artist-service organization Creative Capital. 
“Each new group of Kresge Artist Fellows reminds us of what fertile ground Detroit is for creativity,” says Richard L. Rogers, president of the College for Creative Studies. “This year’s fellows, like their predecessors, are highly inventive, experimental artists who are helping to reinvent this city. Through the Kresge Arts in Detroit program, The Kresge Foundation not only enables individual artists to advance their practice, but it builds appreciation for the invaluable cultural assets that bring so much vitality to our community and give it so much promise.”
Applications for the 2016 Kresge Artist Fellowships in dance/music and film/theatre will be available in fall 2015.
For further information please contact Christina deRoos at or 313.664.1151

Monday, June 15, 2015

"Embrace of Aging: The Women's Perspective" wins a Michigan EMMY!

As you may know, it was my pleasure to be the host of the 13-part, public television series," The Embrace of Aging:The Female Perspective." Well this weekend, the series WON A MICHIGAN EMMY!!!! I am so proud of producer Keith Famie. You ROCK!
Detroit Public Television will re-air the series starting tonight at 7:30 thanks to the Area on Aging Agency Association from the State of Michigan. In the coming months the series will be shown Michigan state wide on the other PBS affiliates thanks to the Detroit Public Television Launch. 
Congrats, Keith!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Author Angela Flournoy's Novel Tells Story of Detroit (This first appeared in BLAC Magazine 6.2015)

We've all attended that family get-together at mom's house where everyone starts sharing the same old stories. Those worn-out tales that keep you stuck in time, that are funny but stinging, that haunt you into adulthood. Remember when you peed your pants at your birthday party? Remember when you didn't get off the bus and no one noticed you were missing? Remember how skinny/fat/clumsy/dumb/nerdy you used to be?
That's life at The Turner House, a fictitious home on Detroit's east side, which is the epicenter of Angela Flournoy's first novel. It's a story about how families hold fast to their myths and memories—and how difficult it is to grab the future while clinging to the past.
Flournoy is a Southern Californian who fell in love with Detroit during her many childhood visits here to see her father and grandparents. "Detroit always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling," she says about her memories of places like Eastern Market.
But when the Great Recession hit the nation in 2008, Flournoy observed the especially devastating effect it had on the city she loved. Many Detroiters who had lived in the same neighborhood for generations lost their homes or were forced to walk away from underwater mortgages.
"The concept of the family home is important to everyone," says Flournoy, 30. "Deciding what to do with a home can tear families apart."
That's the dilemma facing the novel's Turner family. The patriarch, Francis Turner, had come to Detroit from Arkansas in the 1940s during another seismic moment in American history: the Great Migration. Facing segregation, racist housing policies and high competition for jobs, he landed in the fabled Black Bottom neighborhood, sharing one pallet in a boarding house. He slept in it by night, and another migrant slept in it during the day. Francis finally found his footing and married Viola, and the couple raised their 13 children in a three-bedroom house on Yarrow Street. For them, home ownership was proof to themselves and to the folks back home that they had achieved the American Dream.
That's the Detroit that brought so many African-Americans from the South during the Great Migration. And it's the dream that we continue to be haunted by, especially since the housing crisis. The Turner house is a metaphor for a city that once represented the American ideal.
While Flournoy's book is a love letter to Detroit, it's not blind love. There are images Detroiters will recognize well: broken streetlights, house fires, vacant lots, scarce first responders and even a theft so brazen, you'll shake your head and say, "Only in Detroit!"
"I was very conscious about the way I talked about the city," says Flournoy, a graduate of theUniversity of Southern California and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. "I didn't want a cover that showed abandoned buildings. Detroit isn't a place where everyone needs a gun. And it's not the place where everyone's a farmer now, either. I wanted an honest depiction, but I didn't want to be exploitative."
That decision proved problematic for one literary agent, who told Flournoy that the story wasn't "dark enough" to be set in Detroit. "Luckily, I found an editor who read the book and understood that it is a universal story about family," she says.
And about how hard it can be for the people who know you best to set you free. Over the years, the Turner siblings transform but continue to be haunted by the stereotypes and stories that defined them as children. The veneer of middle class pride presses each Turner child toward success, and makes each sulk in shame when they fall short of the ideal.
That's the same tumble that we've taken as a city. Like the Turners, we've had to reimagine our "house," let go of some expectations and even swallow some pride in order to get along. We've had to stare down the things that have haunted us and decide if we were going to cower in fear—or fight for our dreams.
In some ways, Detroiters have all been parented by Francis Turner, the man who, according to family legend, turned his life around, made a home for his family and brushed away fears by telling his children: "Ain't no haints in Detroit."

Why Movement is a Black Music Festival (This first appeared in BLAC Magazine 5.2015)

Stacey Hotwaxx Hale
Here's what I see whenever I go to the world-famous Movement festival over Memorial Day weekend at Hart Plaza in Detroit. I see gobs of international tourists who are like pilgrims coming to the mecca of techno music. I see a Woodstock-like embracing of humankind, complete with glow sticks, tutus and hair colors not found in nature.
Here's what I don't see: African-American Detroiters. At least not as many as you'd expect to see at a three-day international music festival that celebrates music born in Detroit. Techno music is credited to the Belleville Three—Juan AtkinsDerrick May and Kevin Saunderson. They were the African-American teens who bridged the gap between man and machine in the early '80s by fusing the rhythms of groups like Parliament-Funkadelic with the stark, futuristic sound of European groups like Kraftwerk.
There are a lot of reasons why Movement is an off-ramp event for many Black Detroiters, including the exclusive access and steep ticket price. When festivals were free at Hart Plaza, more people were likely to wander downtown to people watch and sample the offerings. Compare Movement or the Downtown Hoedown to the free Detroit Jazz Festival, which still enjoys both widespread national acclaim and broad Detroit support.
But perhaps there's another reason: The cultural divide between house and techno. While the Bellville Three are the godfathers of techno, Detroit's Stacey "Hotwaxx" Hale is lauded as the "godmother of house."
"Techno music is more mechanical," Hale says, "while house has more instrumentation and vocals. It's more soulful."
Although the two genres are musical cousins created by African-Americans, techno exploded in Europe while house music evolved as a more urban sound in clubs and parties in places like New York, Detroit and Chicago. To overgeneralize, techno has come to be associated with a White audience and house with a more African-American audience. Both genres (and others) are featured at Movement, but house has a much lower profile.
Hale has been a pioneer in the house scene since the early '80s, when she was a student at Lawrence Tech. Spinning at clubs like Cheeks, she remembers the crowd being "professional, educated and mostly Black. You saw a lot of the Pistons there and celebrities like Anita Baker. It was a regular spot for them."
House music cross-fertilized between Detroit and Chicago. Although it's debated, some say the name came from a club in Chicago called The Warehouse where the music was popular. For Hale, it was a thrill to be pioneering house alongside other DJs like Derrick May, Alan Ester and Jeff "The Wizard" Mills.
Christa Schrupp was only about 15 when she slipped into Cheeks where Hale was DJing. "I was totally impressed that a woman was playing," says Schrupp, a native Detroiter who is now a graphic designer and DJ in Chicago. "It had an effect on me to see a woman in that position. At the time, I never imagined that I'd be DJing one day, too."
Since the '80s, Hale has continued to be a standard-bearer for house music. When Detroit DJ Jenny "LaFemme" Feterovich and promoter Maggie Derthick decided to do a documentary about female DJs called Girls Gone Vinyl (scheduled to be released this year), they immediately turned to Hale. Feterovich told the Huffington Post in 2012 that the most moving part of the experience was watching Hale receive so much respect in Berlin. Schrupp, who has also traveled with the film crew, agreed. "Even in California, they knew Stacey as the 'Godmother of House.'"
Because the godparents of techno and house are Black Detroiters, it's a shame that Movement is such a non-event for so many of us. For her part, Hale just keeps pushing the edge. When she's not working or DJing, she's talking to youth about the music industry and advocating for music education.
"There are so many variations of house out now," she says. "I see White kids embracing 'soulful house' that comes straight out of the church. I see them taking Motown sounds, slowing down the beat and calling it 'minimal house.' In the end, it's not about the race or gender of the DJ. It's all about the music."

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Black History of the Barristers' Ball (This first appeared in BLAC Magazine 3.2015)

Iwas an infant the first time Detroit's Wolverine Bar Association threw its annual charity event, the Barristers' Ball. It was 1961, the high-flying days of Motown music and cars with sleek hood ornaments. Flash forward 25 years when I moved from Virginia to the Motor City after law school. The stories coming out of Detroit in the mid 1980s were mostly about the crack epidemic and carjackings. So while I was aware of Detroit's troubles, nothing prepared me for its grandeur.
I found myself at the Barristers' Ball in 1984 completely agog. I had stumbled into a massive celebration of Detroit's legal legacy, with its giants and their progeny. Even as a well-traveled military brat, I had never seen so many professional Black people in one room. I remember thinking, "I've arrived in the Mother Country."
This is the Barristers' Ball's 54th year. A black-tie event that regularly attracts upwards of 1,400 Black attorneys, along with business and community supporters, it's a good time—and the signature fundraiser for the Wolverine Bar Foundation.
Still, it remains one of the many "invisible" wonders of Black Detroit.

History of Detroit's Wolverine Bar Association

Chantez Knowles is the current president of the Wolverine Bar Association and has been active with it since she graduated from Wayne State University law school and passed the bar in 2008. Actually, even before that.
"I was raised by my grandparents since age of 5; it was such a blessing that they could take me in," says Knowles, the first lawyer in her family. "When I got to law school, I had no idea what was going on or how to navigate. The Wolverine Bar's mentorship program really helped me be successful."
The Wolverine Bar Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to diversity in the legal community and quality of life in Detroit. It offers a summer law clerkship program for students and a judicial externship for graduates. It has a mentorship program to help students pass the bar exam, and the Damon J. Keith and Wolverine Bar Foundation scholarships to aid exceptional minority law students.
It was through the bar's clerkship program that Knowles became an associate at Bodman PLCin Detroit. She has continued her work with the bar even after becoming a corporate attorney for Consumers Energy and moving her family to Jackson, Michigan in 2012. "It is surreal that not even 10 years ago I went to my first ball, and now I'm helping run it. I'm part of the history of this organization. It's a duty and honor."

The Black tradition of the Barristers' Ball 

Too bad the regular news cycle would have you believe that Black Detroiters only end up on the wrong side of the law. This town's African-American lawyers have been defending rights and breaking barriers since Robert Barnes and Walter Stowers opened their firm in 1905. The Wolverine Bar traces its roots back to 1919 and was formally established in the 1930s. George Crockett Jr., along with Ernest Goodman, Morton A. Eden and Dean A. Robb, formed the first known integrated law firm in the United States in 1950. Michigan Supreme Court Justice Otis M. Smith became the first African-American on any state high court since Reconstruction. Attorney Harold Bledsoe, mentor to countless Detroit lawyers, also headed the National Bar Association in 1954. Federal appeals court judges Wade McCree Jr. and Damon Keith altered the course of civil rights.
"We have such a rich history," says Diane Hutcherson, this year's event chair. "It blows my mind that people don't know about the many firsts that we established in Detroit."
Hutcherson has only missed the ball once since joining the bar in 1985. "Besides parenting and teaching, I think law is the third most important profession," says Hutcherson, who practices with in-house counsel for AAA Michigan and teaches paralegal studies at Wayne County Community College District
I'm a grandmother now, and Detroit is finally getting the bright spotlight it deserves. But I wish that light would shine just as brightly on all that was built while Detroit struggled in the shadows. If you need a reminder of who we've always been, go to the law prom this year and see.

How to Trace Your Family Roots (This first appeared in BLAC Magazine 2.2014)

You may have been watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta this season when the cast took a tour of historic Savannah, Ga. When they visited a church that had been a station in the Underground Railroad, one of the women lamented sadly over how our history was forever lost because of slavery.
That's a giant misconception that Detroit native Kenyatta Berry is dedicating her life to correcting. A lawyer and genealogist, Berry is the national president of the Association of Professional Genealogists and one of the experts included in the PBS fall 2013 series Genealogy Roadshow.
"It's not true that as African-Americans, we can't find our history," says Berry, who now lives in Los Angeles. "Slavery provides a challenge, but it's not the end. It just takes different techniques."

Tracing your roots, step by step

The first step, says Berry, is to begin with yourself.
"Start with what you already know about yourself and your parents and work backwards," she says. "For African-Americans, it's critical to interview your living relatives."
Ask them for the plain facts: dates of marriages, graduations, births and deaths. Ask who lived where and when they moved. Ask about their livelihoods and find out the maiden names of the women. All of these details can provide a gateway to the past.
"Make it casual, not like an interrogation," says Berry. "People know more than they think they know."
Your next step is to consult the census. The first U.S. Census was taken in 1790. The individual information compiled by the Census Bureau is released to the public 72 years after the date that it's compiled. That means that you now have online access to personal census data from 1940 or earlier.
"That's a wealth of information," says Berry. "The census can help you fill in the gaps. It will give you a picture of the relationships in the household, where people were born and what they were doing at the time of the census."
There are pitfalls, however, in relying upon census information. According to Leslie Strong Williams, "Census records are only as good as the enumerator." Strong Williams is thepresident of the Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society in Detroit. Founded 35 years ago, the society is the oldest such organization in Michigan.
"Many of the people taking the census weren't literate themselves," says Strong Williams, who makes sure she includes her maiden name, Strong, as a way for future generations to be able to trace her lineage. "Many spelled names phonetically. They often only documented who was present at the time, so family members were left out simply because they weren't home."
Both Strong Williams and Berry recommend the practice of "cluster genealogy." That means researching census records five pages ahead and five pages behind the record you're looking for. Related people often lived on the same block. And if someone wasn't at home at the time the census was taken, they could have been enumerated at the house next door.
And here's a tip to make sure you can retrace your steps and not lose valuable research. "Cite your sources," Berry says. "That will help you along the way."

Their history is our history

If you're lucky, your family research may be fairly productive—until you try to reach beyond 1870. That's the first year that formerly enslaved African-Americans were counted in the U.S. Census as humans and not property. That means that if you want to research Black family ancestry before 1870, the census won't be much help. Here's where your research will require a different strategy: Researching the history of the White families who may have enslaved your ancestors.
This, says Berry, is where it becomes clear how entwined the histories of Blacks and Whites are, despite the deep racial and cultural divides that still exist today.
"We know about the cruelty of slavery, but you have to remember that these families lived side-by-side and relationships developed," Berry explains. "Many slave owners only had one or two slaves, and they worked beside their slaves in the fields. And for those who had many slaves, they often willed their slaves to family members. This not only benefitted the White owners, but it was also their way of 'keeping the families together.'"
It may be counterintuitive that to find out more about a Black family, a researcher must know about the White families connected to them. But that's exactly what held true for Connie Taylor when she started investigating her family tree. A Detroit-area entrepreneur, Taylor got hooked into genealogy after trying to settle her mother's estate. In researching the legal title to the Chicago home that had been in the family since 1920, she realized that her ancestors had migrated from Mississippi. Her research and constant networking led her to the Dorsey A. Outlaw Plantation in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi.
"Having been raised in the North, my head was filled with all the stereotypes about the South," says Taylor, who lectures widely about her journey. "When I got off the plane, I was worried about what Whites would do to me, especially when I started asking questions about slaves. But the people who opened their doors to me were the White people I had been afraid of."
Along with a group of her relatives, she visited the plantation where her ancestors lived. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"It was incredible to be in the place where they had been," says Taylor. "That house was built by them. The fine fabrics were woven by them. I had no idea of the level of skill and craftsmanship that was in my family until I saw it firsthand."
That, says Berry, is exactly why a serious genealogist must eventually get off the computer and actually visit sites, libraries and courthouses firsthand.
"Much of the information and history is still kept locally and isn't necessarily online," says Berry. "To effectively break the barrier of 1870, you might need to follow how the property passed in the White families—bills of sale, wills, land records. If you want to know where the records exist about slaves, they exist in the documents of slaveholding families."
Berry offers a few more tips for tracking down ancestors who were enslaved.
"If your ancestor had an unusual surname like 'Ailes,' then look for Whites with the same surname living in the same county in 1870," says Berry. "If your ancestor had a common surname like 'Berry,' then you need to look at records such Freedman's Bureau labor contracts, which were sharecropping agreements."

Why The Past Matters Now

Berry has helped many ordinary people sift through records to piece together the extraordinary stories of their past. For many, the research is life-altering, often laced with awe and tears.
"When you learn about the struggles, triumphs and successes of your ancestors, it becomes an emotional experience," says Berry. "They are no longer faces in a photo or names on a record—they come to life in a way that is very powerful. "
Taylor agrees. "I remember finding the names of my great-grandparents and screaming out loud right there in the courthouse," she says. "This research has given me such respect for my family. The shame of being a descendant of a slave and the shame of having a mixed-heritage family has all evaporated. I'm through with that."