Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My black history: Thomas and Jane got married

I was doing some much-needed and long overdue filing of genealogical records and I came across this:



Can you read that? It says (as best I can make it out)

This day came before me Thomas Taylor and Jane, his wife, persons of color and servants of Christian County and declared that they have been and still aim to continue living together as husband and wife. Given under my hand this 27th day of July 1866.
G.W. Lawson, Clerk
Geo. C. Long, D.C.
It is dangerous to try and imagine why an ancestor did a thing or how she felt when she did it. My maternal great-great-great-grandparents, Thomas and Jane, and I are separated by more than 100 years of time and history and life experience. How can I begin to know what it felt like for a newly-free Jane, 22, to go on a Kentucky summer day to make legal her union with Thomas, 28--A union that was surely real before Misters Lawson and Long gave it their official government stamp?

Thomas and Jane declared that they had been living as husband and wife. And they already had two children--David, 5, and James (my great-great-grandfather), not yet a year old. But "marriages" between two enslaved persons could be ephemeral, subject to the whims of others. (Great NPR piece at link.) In its earliest days, Thomas and Jane's relationship and the resulting family did not enjoy the stability and benefits experienced by free, white citizens of Kentucky. But that was to change with emancipation.

I don't know what Thomas and Jane were thinking or feeling on July 27, 1866. All I have is an entry in a Freedman's Marriage Register. But I want to believe that they were eager to exercise their new rights as free persons. I want to believe that they were seeking respect for their long-disrespected partnership. I want to believe that after living under the threat of having their family dissolved against their wishes, they were celebrating the stroke of pen that would "let no man put asunder" their family bond.

I smile every time I see this document and think of Thomas and Jane and their young family.

As I write this post celebrating my ancestors' freedom to marry, Huffington Post is reporting that my state is one step closer to enshrining bigotry in our constitution.:
An amendment to Indiana's state constitution that would ban gay marriage and civil unions in the state cleared an important hurdle on Monday, passing out of a House committee and headed for a vote by the full body.
It is an abomination for sure that more than a century after men and women like Thomas and Jane exercised their right to marry for the first time, many of their descendants still cannot do the same.

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