Imagine that your great, great grandmother was born into slavery. Mine was. I had the honor and privilege to tape record an interview with my 99 year old great grandmother, Mary Jeffries. Although our conversation was brief she shared these powerful memories of slavery before she passed away. The interview you will hear happened in the summer of 1999.
From the clumsy and awkward interview, I deduced that my great, great, grandmother was born in the early 1800s. My father’s family came from Virginia, so there is a high probability that my great great grandmother was a slave. I start the interview with asserting that Grandma Jeffries was born before the telephone was invented, but this was a blunder because there were telephones in 1900. “By 1900 there were nearly 600,000 phones in Bell’s telephone system; that number shot up to 2.2 million phones by 1905, and 5.8 million by 1910″. I do not know how many African Americans had telephones in the early 1900s and assume that rural Blacks didn’t get them until later.
If you listen real closely, you can hear my great grandmother say in a faint voice that they “talked about slavery all of the time”.
She was a loving, funny, sophisticated, and bright woman who was not afraid to show her fondness for my partner, Mark. Whenever I visited with her and Mark wasn’t there, she would ask me why he didn’t come and ask me how he was doing. You can hear my partner in the background. When she talks about slavery she says that “times have changed,” Mark and I respond with umm humms. I remember my feeling and my thoughts when she repeated “times have changed.” I felt a little wobbly on a cosmic level, not shame exactly, but something between, shame, love, guilt, and fear, because here I was in her room asking her about slavery with my white partner.
One of my most powerful memory of Grandma was her opening remarks on her 99th birthday. In a room with all her kinfolk, daughter, granddaughters, and great great grandchildren, she began, “I am spirit”.
Grandma Jeffries loved pie and cakes.
Mary Jeffries, was born on August 10, 1900 and traveled to the other side on October 10, 1999.
I still feel her love and her spirit will always carry me.