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The Search for a Meaningful Clue to the Mystery of an Enslaved Ancestor

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In the 1880s, Edward Taylor reached out to the editors of a weekly Black newspaper in New Orleans. Born into slavery, he had fought in the Civil War and established himself as a blacksmith when freedom came. He had a wife, six children and his own plot of land in a community near a winding stream known as the Bayou Maringouin.

But Mr. Taylor never forgot what he had lost during his decades in bondage. So he placed an advertisement in the Southwestern Christian Advocate. “I wish to inquire for my people,’’ he wrote.

Mr. Taylor was about 11 when he was sold away from his sister and three brothers in Maryland and sent to Louisiana. As a middle-aged man, he still remembered their names — Charlotte, Noble, William and Reverda — and the anguish of that forced separation. He joined thousands of Black people who placed notices in local newspapers in hopes of finding relatives after Emancipation. There is no record that he ever received a response.

More than a century later, Mr. Taylor’s descendants and two genealogists are using the information in his ad to try to reunite his family, one of the many Black families splintered by the American slave trade. I’m sharing his story with you because I believe that someone out there might have the missing clues that could finally bring the Taylors back together.

In recent years, historians have digitized a trove of the ads, which appeared in more than 260 newspapers, offering a rare glimpse of the aspirations of the newly emancipated and an invaluable online resource for Black families searching for their ancestors.

Black people across the country were determined to reconstitute families shattered by slavery, and the ads reflected their “extraordinary will to keep searching for one another, despite all of the odds,” said Judith Giesberg, a historian at Villanova University and the director of an archive entitled Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, a digital collection of more than 4,500 of the ads.

Mr. Taylor’s great-great-great granddaughter, Taiwo Kujichagulia-Seitu, learned about the ads in May. She had hoped to find more about her enslaved ancestors but thought it was unlikely she would find anything they had written. Enslaved people were typically barred by law from learning to read and write. So finding his words in the newspaper, she said, felt “overwhelming and emotional.”

“You put me here at this time for a reason, so that I can complete this process of reuniting our family,’’ she said, describing her prayers for guidance in her search. “Even though he’s not around to see it, it would be a sense of completion to put those pieces in place, to put our family back together.’’

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Mr. Taylor placed the first ad seeking his siblings in 1885. He placed a second in 1889, which included his parents, who managed to escape from slavery in 1842 but were unable to save their children. (Mr. Taylor’s older brother’s name is spelled Revida in one ad and Reverda in another.)

“My father’s name was Moses Taylor, my mother’s Eliza,’’ Mr. Taylor wrote. “When I saw them last,” he said, they were in Prince George’s County, Md. They were all separated “long before the war.”

The number of people who ultimately found their relatives through the ads remains unknown, Dr. Giesberg said. So far, she has found 92 notices that describe successfully reunited families.

Mr. Taylor died in 1902, and the memory of his story faded as the generations passed and his descendants scattered.

The Taylor family was one of hundreds of thousands swept up in the American domestic slave trade. Between 1800 and 1860, about a million enslaved people were forcibly relocated from states like Maryland and Virginia in the upper South to the cotton and cane plantations of the Deep South, according to Joshua D. Rothman, a historian at the University of Alabama.

Husbands were torn from their wives, mothers from their children, brothers from their sisters. The historian Michael Tadman has estimated that the domestic trade split up about one third of first marriages in the upper South and separated nearly half of all children in the region from at least one parent.

I came across this story because Mr. Taylor, his mother and three of his siblings were among the 272 people sold by Jesuit priests in 1838 to raise money to save the college we now know as Georgetown University, a story that I’ve been reporting on since 2016. (Mr. Taylor’s sister, Charlotte, was born after the sale, and his father was enslaved by another man.) Mr. Taylor ended up with a new owner in Maryland at first but was sold again and sent to New Orleans aboard a slave ship in 1846.

Exactly where he spent his first decades in Louisiana remains unknown. But he enlisted in the Union Army as a member of Company E of the 75th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops, a unit lauded for its bravery in the storming of Port Hudson, a highly fortified Confederate stronghold in 1863. Mr. Taylor took a bullet in the thigh during one battle, but he survived and was honorably discharged in 1865, his military pension records show.

By the 1880s, he had found his way to Iberville Parish, where dozens of the people enslaved by the Jesuits had ended up. By then, hundreds of Black people across the country were placing ads.

“Dear Editor,’’ a man in Holly Springs, Miss., wrote in July 1880, “I wish to inquire for my father, Thomas Duncan, who was sent to Texas during the war.”

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Four years later, a woman in Brenham, Texas, who had been sold, placed an ad seeking her son. “His name was Absalom,’’ she wrote. “When I left him he was three years old.”

When Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu decided to take a DNA test earlier this year, she had no idea that her ancestors had roots in Maryland. She was born in Oakland, Calif. All she knew was that her grandparents and their families were from Louisiana.

The results of the test shocked her: They showed a link to descendants of the Maryland families who had been sold to save Georgetown. So she emailed the historian who runs the Georgetown Slavery Archive, Adam Rothman.

Dr. Rothman had learned about the Taylor ads from Richard J. Cellini, the founder of the Georgetown Memory Project, an independent nonprofit dedicated to tracing the descendants of the people enslaved by the Jesuits. The project’s lead genealogist, Judy Riffel, discovered the notices in the Lost Friends online database, which is run by the Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum, research center and publisher.

Dr. Rothman told Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu about her great-great-great grandfather’s ads.

“It was heartbreaking,’’ said Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu, a performing arts teacher who incorporates African-American history in her work. “Did he go to his grave still looking for family?”

Ms. Riffel and Malissa Ruffner, the Georgetown Memory Project’s genealogists, have been following the family’s trail, poring over scores of archival documents. They found a Reverdy Taylor in Baltimore in 1900 — and other Taylors with similar first names in Maryland and Louisiana — and located a woman named Charlotte who ended up in Mississippi.

Charlotte was married to Creer Rayborn, who was enslaved by a man named Mark Rayborn. DNA testing shows a link between Mr. Taylor’s descendants and Charlotte Rayborn’s descendants, a promising lead. But so far, no documentary evidence ties Charlotte Rayborn to Mr. Taylor’s family.

Ms. Kujichagulia-Seitu hopes that someone, somewhere has a missing link.

“I pray about it,’’ she said, as she focuses her research on Reverdy Taylor, who stands out because of his unusual first name. “If we can find him, maybe that would be the missing piece to the puzzle.”

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A journalist since 1994, he also founded DMGlobal Marketing & Public Relations. Glover has an extensive list of clients including corporations, non-profits, government agencies, politics, business owners, PR firms, and attorneys.

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MAN ON A MISSION: Jackson State Football Coach Deion Sanders

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(JACKSON, MS) – His name is being heard all over the football world. This time, he’s not the star player. This time, Deion Sanders is the coach. And he is the coach at an HBCU, Jackson State. The school’s history goes back to 1877 in Natchez, Mississippi.

Natchez has a wicked history. Thousands of Blacks were buried there in a mass grave now covered by peaches.

Nonetheless, it is simply wonderful that Coach Sanders has lent himself to such a worthy effort. His sharing of his expertise with the young people in the football program speaks volumes.

According to the Tigers’ website: “Deion Sanders has always been a game-changer. In his tenure as Head Football Coach of Jackson State University, Sanders has again changed the game for Tiger Football, the Department of Athletics, the University as a whole, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, College Football, and the Nation.

An unprecedented calendar year of 2021 showed the power of the influence of Sanders and the brand of Jackson State University coming together as one, seemingly in perfect alignment.

As the Southwestern Athletic Conference played a spring 2021 football season due to the coronavirus, the number 21 Sanders donned on his way to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career became immersed at JSU.

Sanders, named as the 21st head coach in the proud history of JSU football on September 21, 2020, led the Tigers in his first game as head coach on February 21, 2021. A 53-0 win began the Coach Prime era that was a touch point of the elevation of JSU football and the University into becoming one of the most impactful and recognizable brands nationwide.” READ MORE

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Team Dream: 82 AND 77-YEAR OLD BLACK FEMALE SWIMMERS MAKE HISTORY AFTER COMPETING IN NATIONAL SENIOR GAMES

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(PLANTATION, FL) – Ann Smith (age 82) and Madeline Murphy Rabb (age 77) are two African American swimmers who recently competed in the 2022 National Senior Games and were the only Black women to compete in their age group.

Their love for swimming is deep and is a part of a documentary film profiling their passion for swimming as girls who didn’t let barriers to swimming stop them from seeking their sports dreams. Their story is a reminder of the days of segregation where Blacks often could not swim in pools saved for whites.

A documentary short called Team Dream from award-winning filmmaker Luchina Fisher follows their story and will debut at Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival in August (and then on BET in the fall) thanks to Procter & Gamble’s initiative Widen the Screen and Queen Collective.

Despite being omitted from the history books, Africans and African Americans have a long history of swimming. Team Dream sheds light on the lack of access to pools for Blacks during segregation that resulted in fewer Blacks learning how to swim.

About the Director
Luchina Fisher is an award-winning writer, director, and producer whose work is at the intersection of race, gender, and identity. She can discuss why this film is important to her, how she found Ann and Madeline, and the importance of breaking down the stereotype that “Blacks can’t swim.”

About Widen The Screen
Widen The Screen is an expansive content creation, talent development, and partnership platform that celebrates creativity and enables Black creators to share the full richness of the Black experience. “Only when we Widen The Screen to Widen Our Views can we all broaden the spectrum of images we see, the voices we hear, the stories we tell, and the people we understand.”

About Queen Collective
In 2018, P&G, Queen Latifah, Flavor Unit Entertainment, and Tribeca Studios launched the Queen Collective, a mentoring and talent development program designed to give women filmmakers of color a platform to share important stories from their unique perspectives. Now in its fourth year, the Queen Collective is enabling a record number of female directors and other creatives to produce their original documentaries and scripted pieces to share their perspectives through film.

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Liz Cheney Is Ready to Lose. But She’s Not Ready to Quit.

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — It was just over a month before her primary, but Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming was nowhere near the voters weighing her future.

Ms. Cheney was instead huddled with fellow lawmakers and aides in the Capitol complex, bucking up her allies in a cause she believes is more important than her House seat: Ridding American politics of former President Donald J Trump and his influence.

“The nine of us have done more to prevent Trump from ever regaining power than any group to date,” she said to fellow members of the panel investigating Mr. Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. “We can’t let up.”

The most closely-watched primary of 2022 has not become much of a race at all. Polls show Ms. Cheney losing badly to her rival, Harriet Hageman, Mr. Trump’s vehicle for revenge, and the congresswoman has been all but driven out of her Trump-loving state, in part because of death threats, her office says.

Yet for Ms. Cheney, the race stopped being about political survival months ago. Instead, she’s used the Aug. 16 contest as a sort of a high-profile stage for her martyrdom — and a proving ground for her new crusade. She used the only debate to tell voters to “vote for somebody else” if they wanted a politician who would violate their oath of office. Last week, she enlisted her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, to cut an ad calling Mr. Trump a “coward” who represents the greatest threat to America in the history of the republic.

In a state where Mr. Trump won 70 percent of the vote two years ago, Ms. Cheney might as well be asking ranchers to go vegan.

“If the cost of standing up for the Constitution is losing the House seat, then that’s a price I’m willing to pay,” she said in an interview this week in the conference room of a Cheyenne bank.

The 56-year-old daughter of a politician who once had visions of rising to the top of the House leadership — but landed as vice president instead — has become arguably the most consequential rank-and-file member of Congress in modern times. Few others have so aggressively used the levers of the office to attempt to reroute the course of American politics — but, in doing so, she has effectively sacrificed her own future in the institution she grew up to revere.

Ms. Cheney’s relentless focus on Mr. Trump has driven speculation — even among longtime family friends — that she is preparing to run for president. She has done little to dissuade such talk.

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At a house party Thursday night in Cheyenne, with former Vice President Dick Cheney happily looking on under a pair of mounted leather chaps, the host introduced Ms. Cheney by recalling how another Republican woman, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith, confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy when doing so was unpopular — and went on to become the first female candidate for president from a major party.

The attendees applauded at the parallel, as Ms. Cheney smiled.

In the interview, she said she was focused on her primary — and her work on the committee. But it’s far from clear that she could be a viable candidate in the current Republican Party, or whether she has interest in the donor-class schemes about a third-party bid, in part because she knows it may just siphon votes from a Democrat opposing Mr. Trump.

Ms. Cheney said she had no interest in changing parties: “I’m a Republican.” But when asked if the G.O.P. she was raised in was even salvageable in the short term, she said: “It may not be” and called her party “very sick.”

The party, she said, “is continuing to drive itself in a ditch and I think it’s going to take several cycles if it can be healed.”

Ms. Cheney suggested she was animated as much by Trumpism as Mr. Trump himself. She could support a Republican for president in 2024, she said, but her redline is a refusal to state clearly that Mr. Trump lost a legitimate election in 2020.

Asked if the ranks of off-limits candidates included Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, whom many Republicans have latched onto as a Trump alternative, she said she “would find it very difficult” to support Mr. DeSantis in a general election.

“I think that Ron DeSantis has lined himself up almost entirely with Donald Trump, and I think that’s very dangerous,” Ms. Cheney said.

It’s easy to hear other soundings of a White House bid in Ms. Cheney’s rhetoric.

In Cheyenne, she channeled the worries of “moms” and what she described as their hunger for “somebody’s who’s competent.” Having once largely scorned identity politics — Ms. Cheney was only the female lawmaker who wouldn’t pose for a picture of the women of Congress after 2018 — she now freely discusses gender and her perspective as a mother.

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“These days, for the most part, men are running the world, and it is really not going that well,” she said in June when she spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

In a sign that Ms. Cheney’s political awakening goes beyond her contempt for Mr. Trump, she said she prefers the ranks of Democratic women with national security backgrounds to her party’s right flank.

“I would much rather serve with Mikie Sherrill and Chrissy Houlahan and Elissa Slotkin than Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, even though on substance certainly I have big disagreements with the Democratic women I just mentioned,” Ms. Cheney said in the interview. “But they love this country, they do their homework and they are people that are trying to do the right thing for the country.”

Ms. Cheney is surer of her diagnosis for what ails the G.O.P. than she is of her prescription for reform.

She has no post-Congress political organization in waiting and has benefited from Democratic donors, whose affections may be fleeting. To the frustration of some allies, she has not expanded her inner circle beyond family and a handful of close advisers. Never much of a schmoozer, she said she longed for what she recalled as her father’s era of policy-centric politics.

“What the country needs are serious people who are willing to engage in debates about policy,” Ms. Cheney said.

It’s all a far cry from the Liz Cheney of a decade ago, who had a contract to appear regularly on Fox News and would use her perch as a guest host for Sean Hannity to present her unswerving conservative views and savage former President Barack Obama and Democrats.

Today, Ms. Cheney doesn’t concede specific regrets about helping to create the atmosphere that gave rise to Mr. Trump’s takeover of her party. She did, however, acknowledge a “reflexive partisanship that I have been guilty of” and noted Jan. 6 “demonstrated how dangerous that is.”

Few lawmakers today face those dangers as regularly as Ms. Cheney, who has had a full-time Capitol Police security detail for nearly a year because of the threats against her — protection few rank-and-file lawmakers are assigned. She no longer provides advance notice about her Wyoming travel and, not welcome at most county and state Republican events, has turned her campaign into a series of invite-only House parties.

What’s more puzzling than her schedule is why Ms. Cheney, who has raised over $13 million, has not poured more money into the race, especially early on when she had an opportunity to define Ms. Hageman. Ms. Cheney had spent roughly half her war chest as of the start of July, spurring speculation that she was saving money for future efforts against Mr. Trump.

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Ms. Cheney long ago stopped attending meetings of House Republicans. When at the Capitol, she spends much of her time with the Democrats on the Jan. 6 panel and often heads to the Lindy Boggs Room, the reception room for female lawmakers, rather than the House floor with the male-dominated House G.O.P. conference. Some members of the Jan. 6 panel have been struck by how often her Zoom background is her suburban Virginia home.

In Washington, even some Republicans who are also eager to move on from Mr. Trump question Ms. Cheney’s decision to wage open war against her own party. She’s limiting her future influence, they argue.

“It depends on if you want to go out in a blaze of glory and be ineffective or if you want to try to be effective,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who has his own future leadership aspirations. “I respect her but I wouldn’t have made the same choice.”

Ms. Cheney is mindful that the Jan. 6 inquiry, with its prime-time hearings, is viewed by critics as an attention-seeking opportunity. She has turned down some opportunities that could have been helpful to her ambitions, most notably proposals from documentary filmmakers.

Still, to her skeptics at home, Ms. Cheney’s attacks on Mr. Trump have resurrected dormant questions about her ties to the state and raised fears that she has gone Washington and taken up with the opposition, dismissing the political views of the voters who gave her and her father their starts in electoral politics.

At a parade in Casper last month, held while Ms. Cheney was in Washington preparing for a hearing, Ms. Hageman received frequent applause from voters who said the incumbent had lost her way.

“Her voting record is not bad,” said Julie Hitt, a Casper resident. “But so much of her focus is on Jan 6.”

“She’s so in bed with the Democrats, with Pelosi and with all them people,” Bruce Hitt, Ms. Hitt’s husband, interjected.

Notably, no voters interviewed at the parade brought up Ms. Cheney’s support for the gun control bill the House passed just weeks earlier — the sort of apostasy that would have infuriated Wyoming Republicans in an era more dominated by policy than one man’s persona.

“Her vote on the gun bill hardly got any publicity whatsoever,” Mike Sullivan, a former Democratic governor of Wyoming who intends to vote for Ms. Cheney in the primary, said, puzzled. (Ms. Cheney is pushing independents and Democrats to re-register as Republicans, as least long enough to vote for her in the primary.)

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For Ms. Cheney, any sense of bafflement about this moment — a Cheney, Republican royalty, being effectively read out of the party — has faded in the year and a half since the Capitol attack.

When she attended the funeral last year for Mike Enzi, the former Wyoming senator, Ms. Cheney welcomed a visiting delegation of G.O.P. senators. As she greeted them one by one, several praised her bravery and told her keep up the fight against Mr. Trump, she recalled.

She did not miss the opportunity to pointedly remind them: They, too, could join her.

“There have been so many moments like that,” she said at the bank, a touch of weariness in her voice.



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