I recently finished reading Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families Who Share the Tomlinson Name- One White, One Black by Chris Tomlinson. The white Tomlinson’s were the original slave owners who had moved to Texas from Alabama prior to Civil War and the black Tomlinson’s were the slaves that accompanied them and lived next to them into the 21th century – almost 200 years. I had read a review of the book and thought the topic interesting, especially since the Tomlinson’s lived in Falls County, kitty corner to Coryell County where one of the branches of my ancestral tree lived. My McCrary, Turner and Hollingsworth families had left Alabama and Mississippi to move to Texas in the 1870’s – just after the Civil War. I suspected that their experiences of migration and living in that area of Texas were very similar. Though I have found no evidence that there were former slaves accompanying them on their journey to Texas after the Civil war, there is every indication that their attitudes towards race were consistent with the dominant southern white culture of their time.
Quite frankly, I have been avoiding doing any deep research into my Southern families. I was born and raised in Southern California and have lived the last 30 years in Seattle. I am a Westerner at heart and I have embraced the other 75% of my genealogy which is a lovely mix of Yankee, English, German, Scandinavian and Mexican (with 4% Native American from that branch.) However, a few things have started me down the path of getting to know more about my Southerners. First, I moved to Tennessee in September of this year and finally have the opportunity to research those hard to find records in person. Second, I am curious about these families’ origins and experiences because they are so different from my own. I seek to understand and appreciate the aspects of their finer selves. And finally, I feel a responsibility. During my research trip to Washington DC last May, I found a genealogy of McCrary family at the DAR Library. Within the book, there was the will of Matthew McCrary of Alabama listing his 16 slaves by name. I knew that eventually I would find one my southern ancestors with slaves, but still it was disturbing. How can you get over the fact that your ancestors owned other human beings?
So, that is what brought me to read Tomlinson Hill. The author, Chris Tomlinson, is a journalist that spent most of his career covering Africa and the Middle East during the transition from Apartheid to the government of Nelson Mandela, genocides, civil wars, famine and terrorism. He came home to Texas to finally write his own family’s history with the sensitivity towards truth, that it might help to heal past injustices. From his experiences in South Africa, Rwanda, etc. he believed that “only once the truth is known can there be true reconciliation.” Chris recounts the political and personal histories of cotton production, farming, the American Civil War, the Ku Klux Clan, segregation, Civil Rights, desegregation, the births, deaths, marriages and family issues from both Tomlinson family perspectives. There were many low points and a few high ones. Truly, I spent a good many times willing myself to get through a particular passage without crying or feeling shame that these things happened in our country. But happily, the book ends on a high note when we hear of LaDainian Tomlinson successful career with the NFL Chargers. His mother worked 2-3 jobs supporting the family to ensure he had an education and a strong infrastructure. There is nothing like seeing someone triumph through a series of obstacles that would put most of us down.
I am so glad that I read this book and at this particular time. I will research my Southerners and I will look for different things now. I will go deeper into the newspapers and historical records of their towns to uncover their beliefs and experiences. But even more important, I am more aware of the work that is still left to be done in our country regarding racism. Like the song says, “we are still waiting on the world to change.”