Kim Bettie

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IF HE CAN; WE CAN (PART 4)

Excerpt from my great-great grandfather’s slave narrative for black history 2019

Interviewer: Cecil Miller wrote: John W. Fields, 2120 North Twentieth Street, Lafayette, Indiana, now employed as a domestic by Judge Burnett is a typical example of a fine colored gentleman, who, despite his lowly birth and adverse circumstances, has labored and economized until he has acquired a respected place in his home community. He is the owner of three properties; un-mortgaged, and is a member of the colored Baptist Church of Lafayette. As will later be seen his life has been one of constant effort to better himself spiritually and physically.

“I married at 24 years of age and had four children. My wife has been dead for 12 years and 8 months. Today, I am the only surviving member who helped organize the second Baptist Church here in Lafayette, 64 years ago. I’ve tried to live according to the way the Lord would wish, God Bless you.”

https://www.accessgenealogy.com/black-genealogy/slave-narrative-of-john-w-fields.htm

Kim Bettie
IF HE CAN; WE CAN (PART 3)

Excerpt from my great-great grandfather’s slave narrative for black history 2019

“To eliminate this solid support of the South, the Emancipation Act was passed, freeing all slaves. Most of the slaves were so ignorant they did not realize they were free. The planters knew this and as Kentucky never seceeded from the Union, they would send slaves into Kentucky from other states in the south and hire them out to plantations. For these reasons I did not realize that I was free untill 1864. I immediately resolved to run away and join the Union Army and so my brother and I went to Owensburg, Ky. and tried to join. My brother was taken, but I was refused as being too young. I [HW: tried] at Evansville, Terre Haute and Indianapolis but was unable to get in. I then tried to find work and was finally hired by a man at $7.00 a month. That was my first independent job. From then on I went from one job to another working as general laborer.”


https://www.accessgenealogy.com/black-genealogy/slave-narrative-of-john-w-fields.htm

Kim Bettie
IF HE CAN; WE CAN (PART 2)

Excerpt from my great-great grandfather’s slave narrative for black history 2019

“My Mistress had separated me from all my family but one brother with sweet words, but that pose was dropped after she reached her place. Shortly after I had been there, she married a northern man by the name of David Hill. At first he was very nice to us, but he gradually acquired a mean and overbearing manner toward us, I remember one incident that I don’t like to remember. One of the women slaves had been very sick and she was unable to work just as fast as he thought she ought to. He had driven her all day with no results. That night after completeing our work he called us all together. He made me hold a light, while he whipped her and then made one of the slaves pour salt water on her bleeding back. My innerds turn yet at that sight”

https://www.accessgenealogy.com/black-genealogy/slave-narrative-of-john-w-fields.htm

Kim Bettie
IF HE CAN; WE CAN (PART 1)

Excerpt from my great-great grandfather’s slave narrative for black history month 2019

“In most of us colored folks was the great desire to able to read and write. We took advantage of every opportunity to educate ourselves. The greater part of the plantation owners were very harsh if we were caught trying to learn or write. It was the law that if a white man was caught trying to educate a negro slave, he was liable to prosecution entailing a fine of fifty dollars and a jail sentence. We were never allowed to go to town and it was not until after I ran away that I knew that they sold anything but slaves, tobacco and wiskey. Our ignorance was the greatest hold the South had on us. We knew we could run away, but what then? An offender guilty of this crime was subjected to very harsh punishment.”

https://www.accessgenealogy.com/black-genealogy/slave-narrative-of-john-w-fields.htm

Kim Bettie
I 'M THE GREAT-GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER OF JOHN W. FIELDS, THE INDEPENDENT SLAVE

I 'M THE GREAT-GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER OF JOHN W. FIELDS, THE INDEPENDENT SLAVE

A few years ago when I learned I had, as a legacy, one of the slave narratives from the survivors born into slavery, I admit I had mixed emotions of excitement and fear. I prepared myself for heart break, and expected the worse. What I read in my great-great grandfather's interview about his life as a slave and a free man, has impacted me more profoundly than I ever imagined. 

“My name is John W. Fields and I’m eighty-nine (89) years old. I was born March 27, 1848 in Owensburg, Ky. That’s 115 miles below Louisville, Ky. There was 11 other children besides myself in my family. When I was six years old, all of us children were taken from my parents, because my master died and his estate had to be settled.

I imagined my daughter at six, being torn from my hands. Scared and trying not to cry in fear of something worse happening if she did. 

"I can’t describe the heartbreak and horror of that separation. I was only six years old and it was the last time I ever saw my mother for longer than one night. Twelve children taken from my mother in one day. Five sisters and two brothers went to Charleston, Virginia, one brother and one sister went to Lexington Ky., one sister went to Hartford, Ky., and one brother and myself stayed in Owensburg, Ky. 

The resolve it took for him to survive being torn from his mother and siblings is mind altering.  

“When my masters estate had been settled, I was to go with the widowed relative to her place, she swung me up on her horse behind her and promised me all manner of sweet things if I would come peacefully. I didn’t fully realize what was happening, and before I knew it, I was on my way to my new home. Upon arrival her manner changed very much, and she took me down to where there was a bunch of men burning brush. She said, “see those men” I said: yes. Well, go help them, she replied. So at the age of six I started my life as an independent slave."

I am the great-great granddaughter of John. W. Fields, the independent slave. I believe it was his resilience and mindset of independence, in spite of his external circumstances, that resulted in his amazing life story and legacy that I will share with you as I uncover more and more. When we look back to move forward, we can all find a new level of resolve and requirement to beat the odds and set ourselves free from people and things that enslave us. 

Kim Bettie
WE ARE FAMILY
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WE ARE FAMILY

I decided to make a visit to the Family Center in Manhattan to do research on my great-great grandfather, John W. Fields, the independent slave.  I had learned that the Mormon Church obtained copies of post–Civil War records created by the Freedmen’s Bureau. When the slaves were set free, the Bureau opened schools, managed hospitals, gave food and clothing and legalized marriages during the reconstruction era.  By gathering the handwritten records on roughly 4 million African Americans., they digitized the footprints of those born into slavery. FamilySearch, along with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, galvanized organizations and people worldwide to help get the files indexed and digitized.

As my tour of the church and family center was coming to an end, I asked Elder Adams why on earth the Mormon Church cared so much about African Americans reconnecting to their roots.  As Elder Adams and I walked down the corridor of the family center together, he looked over at me and answered very sweetly, “We believe we are all brothers and sisters in the afterlife.” 

It was at that moment that my hunch was confirmed. The slave files were released in 2016, when our country’s political landscape changed. There has been an increase of racial tension and civil unrest. I feel deeply that this is no coincidence. The slave files are an invitation to heal and tap into our inner strength of resilience - like a sleeping giant - deep within.

Kim Bettie