My family’s story starts in a place called Ville Platte, Louisiana where my great-grandfather, S.P. Alexander, raised horses. Although he experienced the horrors of slavery, he managed to build a reputation as one of the top horse breeders in the region. Unfortunately, that reputation nearly got him killed by a lynch mob. Watch this video to hear the full story.
I learned about this story from my uncle, Ellis. As the oldest living relative on my mother’s side, he is the keeper of our family’s history. He told me this story when I was younger, but I never fully appreciated it until now.
Since I’ve had kids, I’ve learned the value of preserving family stories. A few years ago, I started documenting our stories and sharing them with my extended family. When I first began the project, I wanted to find out about my maternal grandmother. I have memories of her, but they are vague and unsettling. I asked Uncle Ellis to fill in some of the gaps. He told heartwarming stories about his mother that made me long to see her again. As an added bonus, I also got to learn more about my grandfather, Winston Alexander.
My grandfather was born in 1909 and spent much of his life as a sharecropper toiling in cotton and sugar cane fields. He was a good provider who always took care of his wife and 9 children.
Although he never learned to read or write, he was a brilliant man with a photographic memory. Everyone in the community sought him out for advice. He eventually earned the nickname “Judge” because of his wise counsel.
Noticing his influence on the community, white politicians offered to pay him to endorse their campaigns and drive people to the polls. My grandfather always told them that he would take people to the polls, but they had the freedom to make up their own minds once they got there.
My grandfather was never a rich man, but he was a generous man. Whenever he harvested crops or slaughtered a hog, he invited everyone in the community to share in the bounty. He made boudin, cracklins, and divvied the meat to ensure everyone would get some. My uncle said that he resented his father’s giving away their food, but he eventually learned to appreciate his father’s generosity.
My uncle went on to tell me stories about riding to a juke joint called Sam’s Bar in my grandfather’s 1946 Chevrolet. Blacks had to enter in the back and sit in a special section. The owner eventually closed the place because she refused to integrate.
Although my grandfather experienced racism, he never allowed it to hold him down.
“If I were an educated man,” he said. “I would probably be president.” He encouraged his children to learn as much as they could because “nobody can take your knowledge away.” He also emphasized the importance of owning your own business and your own land.
My grandfather finally became a landowner in the 1960s. He saved his money and bought a house for his family in Big Cane, Louisiana.
My grandfather died in the mid-80s after suffering a stroke. He lived with us for a few years before his death. I cherish the time that we got to spend together. I wish he could have personally told me about his life, but the stroke took away his ability to speak.
I may have missed the opportunity to hear my grandfather tell his story, but I won’t let my family’s stories fade away. I’ve decided to learn as much as I can from Uncle Ellis and other relatives to keep our history alive.
Join the Conversation: How are you preserving your family’s stories? Do you have an untold story that you’d like to share?
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