Talking history connects family, friendships

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Once a quarter, the Crenshaw County Historical Society hosts “Let’s Talk History, Crenshaw” events around the county, encouraging community members to bring artifacts and to describe the people and places from the area’s earlier days.

These gatherings connect communities and encourage discussions of the past. But they also connect people, in the present, by fostering family reunions and new friendships born from the commonalities shared between people across racial, religious, and sometimes even geographic lines.

One afternoon, I attended a “Let’s Talk History, Crenshaw” gathering in Honoraville and have already reported on connecting with a distant cousin and also relatives of a close friend of mine. A few weeks later, I reported to the office and found an envelope from that cousin, Charles Russell of Honoraville.

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What I discovered inside felt like a blast from my past. Russell had delivered me a copy of a photo I had gazed upon many times as a young girl – a family portrait of our common ancestor, my great aunt Suzannah Cato Thomas, his grandmother.

Also inside the envelope was another photo I had not seen before, a snapshot of Aunt Suzannah as an older woman. And, I found, she had the family nose, the one I have and the one my mother had too.

On another afternoon, I enjoyed a phone call, an interview with Lowndes County Commission Chairman Charlie King Jr. The conversation turned to a description of King’s childhood, a recollection of poverty and perseverance.

I am not exactly sure how that conversation began, but as I listed to King described the necessity of fishing for his supper, of doing without, and helping his mother fend off men who were up to no go and who intended to take advantage of a single mother and her young son, I walked down memory lane with him. I thought of similar stories I heard from Mother, about the poverty and deprivation she endured as a child of the Great Depression growing up in rural Crenshaw County.

King and my mother grew up in separate counties. He is Black and she was white. But their stories were much the same, a commonality we discovered by talking about our pasts.

The Butler County Historical Society recently hosted the dedication of an historical marker at the former Searcy School near Greenville. I have no relations in the error, but as I attended that ceremony and learned about the school’s and the community’s history, I thought of similar community schools my ancestors attended and wondered about those buildings, long since demolished.

The connection helped me appreciate those in the Searcy community who had worked for generations to preserve their history. I wished that I could visit those places where Mom and Dad sat as children and learned their ABC’s.

And while I cannot view those buildings, I can imagine them because of the dedication of other local communities in preserving a part of Alabama’s history for modern generations.

Some people say, “History is not my thing.” And while that may be true, I encourage readers to talk about the past, within and outside your community. By doing so, individuals will doubtless realize a common bond revealed but talking about history.