Recently I had the opportunity to do some research on my family lineage through ancestry.com. I was able, because of some family stories that I knew and names with which I was familiar, to trace back to the 1870 census on both sides of my family. Prior to that, the names disappear because during the 1860 census my forefathers were not people but property.
I could, if I were a serious researcher, perhaps track back to a particular plantation, look at slave schedules, and research the slave owners—all of which would be very difficult to do. My lineage effectively disappears because of one simple reality: we were slaves.
This is no shock but it does pain me. To see the name of my great-great grandfather who could neither read nor write nor properly identify the year of his birth—and to know that he was during his childhood merely a means of production to increase someone else’s wealth—is no easy thing.
To know also that for years afterwards his descendants lived on the margins of society, never enjoying the full rights of citizenship until the years just prior to my own birth, is likewise no easy thing. The beauty and the pain of my research is that I and my forefathers are in some sense inextricably linked together. It is un-American in many ways to say this, because the American identity is intimately bound up with forging a new identity, unencumbered by the past or by the obligations which family and culture may impose. Yet it is true and is, in my view, much more biblical.
Joshua has served students through InterVarsity since 1998. He was campus staff for Collegiate Black Christian Fellowship, a group he founded as a student, and planted new ministry among Asian American students. He was Area Director for InterVarsity’s ministry in Tennessee, and has led both urban and international mission teams. He currently serves through InterVarsity Link as the Campus Ministry Director and Director of Communications for Ghana Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He and his family live in Ghana.