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The Legacy of Black Fatherhood

Aug 17, 2007
Some write and speak on the importance of embracing the historical contributions and legacies of our ancestors who were enslaved because of the significant role they played in shaping American society and culture. They emphasize the need of knowing where we come from in order to plant a stronger foot on the path to our future. However, few of us embrace the historical examples and legacies of family structure and life as set by our ancestors; in particular our male ancestors.

Despite the images of enslaved Black men, depicted in history books as lazy, cowardice beings, they were loving, nurturing and protective fathers. There are several periodicals and resources written by enslaved men and women as well as a collection of voice recorded interviews with former slaves who serve as witnesses to the true make up of the enslaved family and their communities. More importantly they document the positive images set forth by Black fathers during that era. They were said to take great pride in their ability to care for their families and would sacrifice their lives for their children with the same compassion and love as enslaved women. Many would purchase their wives and children with money or in exchange for extra labor in order to keep their family members out of slave auctions.

"Researchers acknowledge the business acumen of enslaved Black men. Their research shed light on the slave owners who acknowledged this as well. There are documented accounts of business transactions of enslaved men; how they brokered for land, bought their relatives freedom and made decisions which benefited their families' future. My great-great-great grandfather Frank Cooper was an astute enslaved businessman. Although he was responsible for driving his owner, he was also a Minister who later organized and founded five churches.

The founding of these five churches led to the Frank Cooper Missionary Baptist Association. My family's first church, McCanaan Missionary Baptist Church, was built in 1875 in Sardis, Georgia, Burke County. This area is known as "Cooper Hill" named after my family. Unfortunately the original church was destroyed by fire in the early 1890's and reconstructed in 1912. According to researchers, the church was more than likely burned down by klansmen. Today, this church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural design. He rebuilt the church on his property, over 340 acres, where he raised his twelve children and tended to his farm. My family still owns and farms on this land today. The land includes a family cemetery where several generations of my ancestors rest.

Black men during this era were dehumanized, humiliated and oppressed; however it did not deter them from being nurturing, loving, fathers, caretakers and entrepreneurs. They were able to rise above the social system set against them by pulling on their inner strength and love for their families. Even though some inevitably fell prey to the institution of slavery, there are more than enough documented stories and recorded family histories which evidence the significant and prominent role of Black fathers. These men were able to overcome the adversities of the institution of slavery on the strength of their family; leaving us a legacy to reconnect with. "

The above is an excerpt from my book, "Black Fatherhood: Reconnecting With Our Legacy." My main goal in writing this book and accompanying documentary was to show despite mounds of derogatory statistics about Black men in their roles as fathers, there is a strong legacy of Black men (from their time of enslavement to present) who were and presently are proactive fathers. However, in order to reconnect with this legacy, I felt it was imperative to unmask the many extraneous circumstances Black fathers face.

I interviewed over 360 Black men for my project and counting; there will be a part 2. No one has sat down to ask Black men who aren't in the home what keeps them from being a part of their children's lives or what their immediate family structure entailed. Most of the books and statistics published concerning Black men are based on erroneous "findings" and the authors' personal ideologies on the issue. This is dangerous and sets precedent for the perpetual cycle of negative stereotypes of Black fathers overall; casting an even darker cloud on Black men and families. I included Black men who were absent from the home in this project as well so we can clearly understand, explore and define their issues. Once defined, these issues can guides us as we take a proactive role towards alleviating as many of these circumstances as possible; laying a foundation of tools to build stronger Black families for future generations of Black fathers. This should be viewed as a small task when compared to our ancestors who were able to be proactive Black fathers while enduring the harshest physical and mental treatment known to mankind. It's time to reconnect.
About the Author
Dana Ross is a filmmaker/author and has written a book and documentary entitled, "Black Fatherhood: Reconnecting With Our Legacy." To view the documentary visit her site, http://www.purequality.com.
Dana can be reached directly via e-mail dross@purequality.com.
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