Toledo Deputy Mayor Shirley Green discovered that her ancestors' stories -- once tales passed down verbally as tradition -- were part of the historical saga reflecting the conflicts that the United States and its people endured while blossoming into a free nation.
As keynote speaker for the Lourdes University Black History Month Celebration tonight, she shared a complicated and interesting part of her family's history that is part of black history and American history, and is part of the country's military fabric.
She grew up thinking her grandfather, who lived in Nova Scotia, made it his home by way of the Underground Railroad. But after researching her family, she discovered that the great ancestors made their way to North America via the west coast of Africa, to Haiti, Rhode Island, Canada, Massachusetts and eventually Toledo.
PHOTO GALLERY: Lourdes University celebrates Black History Month
A crowd of about 100 people listened as she told the story of two brothers of the last name Franck, who served as soldiers during the American Revolutionary War as part of the Rhode Island Continental Army Regiment, called the black regiment.
Through insults and extreme poverty the young free black males kept on fighting, she said, even though they were faced with extreme poverty, a blanket tied by a sash for a uniform, cloth as shoes, little to no food, and insults heaped upon them by the countrymen whose towns they marched through.
“Towns people called them the ragged naked lousy regiment,” she said. She went on to explain that one brother eventually defected and joined the British Loyalists. After the war he settled in Canada with other former loyalists. The separation of the two brothers' loyalty magnified the national and personal conflicts of the country at that time.
“Maybe the Francks are a testament to the many conflicted feelings that many American colonists had to deal with during the American Revolution,” Ms. Green told the crowd. “Everyone was not a patriot, everyone was not a loyalist. Some were neutral and wanted a life free of violence."
Researching one's roots is significant because it is important to know one's family heritage, which fosters pride and self esteem, and teaches history, she explained.
“You should know your family and appreciate it for the good and the bad,” said Mahalia Edwards, 20, one of the runners-up in a Black History speech competition and a pre-med student. “Her story makes me want ask my mom about our family.”
Artisha Lawson, 30 of Toledo and a Lourdes student pursuing her master's degree in organizational leadership, was the winner of the speech competition, the first of its kind offered by Lourdes earlier this month.
“As African Americans it is important to find out as much as you can. It is vital to know who you are and where you came from to know what your family achieved,” she said after Ms. Green spoke.
“We are often just told we were slaves and freed.”
Ms. Lawson, who gave her winning speech before Ms. Green's keynote, was met with a standing ovation for her focus on the achievements of black women in the 1960s, a pivotal point in history where black women changed from being perceived as poor uneducated women to distinguished women who could “want” and contributed to improving civil rights for black women. One of those women, she discovered in her family research was her great grandmother.
The celebration also included a presentation by poet Annette McClaire, and musical performances.
Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-206-0356.