, 2022-05-20 21:32:38,
This story is the first in a series about two families—one Black, one white—coming together to confront the wrongs of slavery.
“I have a dream that one day…the sons of former slaves and former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
Prologue: Searching for Her Story
The inheritance that was meant for Cheryl Wills, one that could have tempered her years of childhood pain, an inheritance that could have buoyed her spirits or brought distinction among her peers, was, in the end, locked up underground.
But Wills, a Black woman with archetypal New Yorker tenacity, was determined to find the key. It wasn’t a precious jewel collection she was after, nor was it a heap of Americana treasures from a hallowed estate. Instead, Wills traveled more than a thousand miles to western Tennessee, a land of rich soil dotted with rural homes and ranches, to search for bones in a place where, as it had been for more than 200 years, cotton was still king.
The first thing Wills noticed when she stepped out of the car on that day in November 2019 was the autumnal beauty of the land. “I immediately felt a connection to the earth,” she remembers. “I could see and touch the place where my ancestors had lived, right down to the cotton buds.” The sky was expansive, and the royal colors of fallen leaves stretched out like a carpet awaiting her arrival. “I was born in the city of steel, New York City, where things change on a dime, but I felt like I had stepped into a living museum, like I got out of a plane, got into a car, and walked into the 19th century.”
Wills’s reverie was interrupted by the warm…
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