‘Ties That Bind’ remembers roots

  In her novel “Redemption Song,” author Bertice Berry named a slave owner John Hunn, after the man who owned the plantation her family had lived on during the time of slavery.
  Though Berry’s mother always had told her that her great-granddad, John Henry Freeman, was not a slave and that John Hunn was a kind man, Berry was blinded by her belief that all white people during this time period were evil and in support of slavery. When she began researching her own history she found out just how wrong she was.
  In “The Ties That Bind: A Memoir of Race, Memory, and Redemption,” Berry tries to right that wrong, and along the way shed light on the reasons people are divided and united.
  “The Story of John Hunn is tied to my own. In the United States, we are so intricately connected. There is no black without white, no white without black. In writing this book, I’ve learned that if an African American wants to find her history, she has to look through the history of white folks too. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is.”
  While researching her own history, Berry looks deeper into her mother’s family stories. She learns, or finally comes to believe, that John Hunn indeed was not a slave owner. Not only did he employ free blacks, but he also was a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves. His efforts cost him dearly, but he never lost his conviction.
  Berry encourages people to look into their own histories and educate themselves about slavery and the abolition movement.
  Where is your family from? Where did they live during slavery? What were the laws of that state in regard to slavery? What role did your family play during the period of slavery and abolition?
  Some of those question might have some very painful answers. But Berry stresses that it is important to know the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be, in an effort to heal ourselves from the shame of the past.
  At times, this memoir reads a bit like a thesis, but her story is interesting and her message empowering.
  We must tell our own stories, while allowing others to tell theirs too, free from judgment or disbelief. When we learn to value our stories and our neighbors’, then and only then will we be free.

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