Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Stacie Marshall Confronts her Family's Past

Stacie Marshall has taken over the running of her family's farm in Dirt Town Valley, Georgia. She is excited by the chance to bring the farm back to life using organic methods, but also worried about about the legacy she has inherited. Two ruined sharecropper's shacks still stand on the farm, memories of a time when the owning family relied on black labor. In 1860, they owned seven slaves. According to family lore they bought their first slave as a wetnurse, when the farmer's wife couldn't produce enough milk for her baby. Not only that, but they acquired the farm in 1833 in a lottery of land stolen from the Creek Indians.

This is a story that could easily come across as ridiculous, but Stacie Marshall is clearly not a ridiculous person, and the telling by Times reporter Kim Severson is nuanced and open-minded. What would it mean to cleanse the land of such a history? To redeem a family? Here is an excerpt:

If anyone in the valley could help Ms. Marshall begin her self-styled healing project, it was Melvin Mosley. He had been the assistant principal at her high school. He is also her father’s best friend.

The two men met as boys, when Mr. Mosley’s uncle lived in one of the shacks on the Scoggins farm and worked for Ms. Marshall’s grandfather. Mr. Scoggins went to the white school, Mr. Mosley the Black one. Every book at Mr. Mosley’s school was a hand-me-down from the white school, but the boys didn’t understand that their educations were different until they started comparing notes.

“One day he asks me, ‘Did you choose white milk or chocolate milk today?’” Mr. Mosley said. “Man, we didn’t have a choice. We didn’t have chocolate milk. I didn’t even know what a spit wad was because we never got straws.”

Chattooga County integrated its schools in 1966, when the boys were in seventh grade. In interviews, the men talked about how unfair segregation was, but their perspectives on the past are profoundly different. Both recalled joining the adults as they baled hay for Mr. Scoggins’s father, and breaking for midday dinner. The Black workers ate outdoors. The white workers went into the house.

“My mama would call them to come in the house, but they said, ‘No, ma’am,’ and stayed out by that wall there,” Mr. Scoggins said. “They were humble.”

To Mr. Mosley, eating outside wasn’t about humility. “We did what we did because that’s what you did,” he said. “That was a sign of the times.”

For decades, he taught in public schools and prisons. At 67, he is a preacher, and lives with his wife, Betty, on 50 acres near Ms. Marshall’s farm.

On a summer day in 2019, Ms. Marshall sat in their yard and told them she wanted to start sharing the whole, hard story of Dirt Valley, and make some kind of amends. She asked if she was on the right path.

Mr. Mosley always considered her a bright girl who should go to college — as he told her after sending her to detention for kissing a boy in the school mechanic shop. His advice now was simple.

“Let’s say that’s the water under the bridge,” he said. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” All she needed to do was to pour as much love on their valley as she could.

“In all of our families, Black or white, there are some generational things that are up to us to break,” he told her. “And when we break it, it is broken forever.”
Remember. Contemplate. Pour love onto the world. That is my formula, too.

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