I Definitely Got the History of Alabama “Wrong”


In an earlier post, I stated that my family could not have settled on Old Line Road before the Indian Removal Act of 1830. I was definitely wrong about that. The Mississippi Territory became a part of the US in 1798. Some of my ancestors were probably there before the Great Migration 1798-1819 (http://mshistory.k12.ms.us/index.php?id=169). They were definitely there before Mississippi was granted statehood and Alabama became a separate territory in 1817.

This timeline reconfiguration requires that I rethink the importance of the interactions between the migrants and Native Americans. In retrospect the idea that Native American groups had gone on their “trail of tears” before my African ancestors started theirs is not just a flaw in my knowledge of the history but also a failure on my part to think like a sociologist. (If you are old enough to remember Ann Landers, then picture me beating myself with the “wet noodle” that she used.)

This article on the Slave Trail of Tears does an excellent job of connecting Richmond Virginia, where I have lived for the past 35 years,  to the Great Migration to the Mississippi Territory, including the location in Alabama where I was born.

I have read more about the history of the Mississippi Territory in the past few months than in all of my first 69 years combined. My list of references has grown fairly lengthy and posting them here is definitely on my “to do list.” This post is my reminder and I will update to include reference list when that is practical.

What prompted this post was a chance encounter with one of the archaeologists who worked at VCU in 1994 when the human remains were found in the well on East Marshall Street on the health sciences campus. Yes, in 1994 VCU had  a program in historical archaeology. Historical archaeology and museum studies were important focal points in the first version of the degree in African American Studies.

It was these archaeologists who were initially called upon to determine if the skeletal remains were human. They also boxed and shipped some of the remains to the Smithsonian for additional authentication. Shortly after that the historic archaeology program ceased to exist.

Those of us who were working to design the new major, shifted gears and focused on first getting the major approved by the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia and then the establishment of the Department of African American Studies.   When Dr. Utsey became chair of the department these hard fought battles had been won and he was free to return to the subject of the remains found in the well.


The people around us looked on in astonishment as the archeologist and I jabbered loudly about the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality and the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project. We have great respect for how the community has worked on these projects.


I have always wondered if any of my Mississippi and Alabama ancestors were sold to the West from Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom. I wonder if my kin were ever imprisoned in Lumpkin’s Jail. I wonder if VCU offers any courses on genetic genealogy? I ain’t volunteering and I ain’t instigating. I am just wondering.

I have been invited to come sit on the archaeologists’ front porch as I did when we were much younger. I know what I want to talk with about. As a working academic, especially while serving in an administrative position,  you learn not to bring up work you are not prepared to tackle. We retired folks just gonna rock, chat, and remember the good old days when even I could spend a hot summer day working in the field and then enjoy a Slurpee brain freeze while still dirt covered.


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