I am the daughter of a former slave. In 1920 my father was sold to a man to clear the debts of his mother. Often my father told me of his childhood but I never considered the dire circumstances he endured was slavery. Shirley Sherrod mentioned the history of slaves living together with indentured servants during an interview on CNN. She indicated that they not only worked together, but often married; they often saw themselves as being in similar circumstance. I decided to read more about that part of American History. When I was researching “indentured servitude and slavery” I read the definition of each and experienced the epiphany that someone had owned my dad.
My grandmother had been abandoned by her husband in 1920, thus inheriting his debts in the local community. She decided one of her children would be sold to a local farmer to obtain the money to clear her debt. Being the strongest but not oldest of her three children my Father was the farmer’s choice. Dad recounted to me his just having finished the 8th grade and his mother telling him he could no longer attend school. On that day she took him to the farm, he became a piece of property of a Minnesota farmer.
He slept in the shack with the farm hands and worked alongside them tilling soil, building fences, feeding livestock etc. Year after year he toiled away without pay never sure if he would ever be free. This continued until 1928 when his brother arrived in a Model A Ford and helped him to “run away”. Their fear was that he would be caught and returned to the farmer. They drove to south and picked crops then drove across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona until they reached California.
After several years he rode the rails and picked crops working his way up the coast to Oregon. On his arrival in Oregon he obtained a job with the National Forest Service as a Ranger in the Ochoco National Forest. There he rode his horse in the park hidden from those he thought might want to take him back to the farm. He worked in the Forest until the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. On the day the news reached him he left the Forest and enlisted in the United States Navy.
While in the Navy during WWII his ship docked in Auckland, New Zealand. A man working at the docks invited my Father home for dinner on the same night his wife invited my Mother to do the same. After the war they were married settling in Oregon where he used the GI Bill to attend the University Of Portland to earn his degree. Soon he had a job with BPA as the chief of a survey crew, a job he kept to retirement. During his 50th year I was born, a late addition to the family. I was 13 when my father took early retirement in 1969. He began to share with me his personal history in the evenings as I cooked our supper, I am so glad I listened.
Note: My Father was never bitter about the circumstances of his childhood. He was a kind, caring and giving human being and I miss him everyday. This is dedicated to the children forced to slave on farms and in factories to cover the debts of their families.