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, 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.
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.