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“The House of Gordons and the Return to their Ancestral Land” By Mae Catherine Godhigh

“We desire to bequeath two things to our children. The first one is roots; the other one is wings.” – Sudanese proverb

Welcome to Greenwood, Mississippi, the heart of the Delta, the cotton capital of the world, and the home of our ancestral land.

Greenwood is the home of legendary blues musician and composer Robert Johnson. The city’s gem is the luxurious Alluvian Hotel where Oprah Winfrey stayed during her mother’s funeral. Also, the movie “The Help” was filmed in Greenwood and surrounding areas. While we were visiting the city, I discovered a church that Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones’ family attended.

Greenwood is located in Leflore County. It is the home of Greenwood Leflore, the last Chief of the Choctaw Indians east of the Mississippi River. This city is also marred with ghosts of enslavement of black people, violence, and white privilege. The beautiful architect of its buildings whispers an eerie sophistication. The charming and historic district of downtown Greenwood has become low-hanging fruit for investors and entrepreneurs. This city is screaming with potential and is currently enjoying a slow renaissance recovery.

During the pandemic, we lost both parents during a 14-month span. The six of us never got a chance to properly grieve because we were in survival mode. The agony of being isolated from each other due to Covid-19 mandates added another level of frustration to the process.

It was the idea of my daughter Marcia for us to go home. She took charge of the planning and travel. Going home would prove to be more than a road trip.

Since my children and grandchildren were not born during the great migration, it was important to give them the experience of retracing the steps of our ancestors. Returning to the birthplace of our mother and ancestors provided the much needed healing we needed. There was joy, questions, tears and celebration as we stood upon the red clay dirt of Mississippi.

Come travel with me down Highway 49E. It is approximately 15 miles from Greenwood. Make a left turn into Cruger, MS. You will pass the blood-stained cotton fields of a bygone era. On the right side of the road is the old Killebrew Plantation. This is where two different heritages intersect. In the shadow of pecan trees is the property my grandfather and ancestors sharecropped for the prosperous Killebrew family. Merriam-Webster defines a sharecropper as a tenant farmer, especially in the U.S. who is provided with credit for seed, tools, living quarters, and food, who works the land, and who receives an agreed share of the crop minus charges. A sharecropper sounds more refined than a slave. Truth is sharecropping is nothing more than “reconstituted slavery.”

As we traveled the dusty roads of the hills, I was reminded of the great sacrifice that was paid. Our ancestors survived common lynchings and the ugliness of the Jim Crow South. They had the courage to escape the enslavement of the sharecropping system. The Gordons followed God and the North Star. Peoria, IL, was the Promised Land. In this new city, our family grew new roots. They worked hard to provide a life and a future for future generations.

At the end of those 581.5 miles was our delayed healing and Gordon Family Reunion. It was a weekend of celebration and remembrance. We talked about the struggles, laughed, cried and celebrated the victories of our ancestors. We lit candles in their remembrance.

As for my descendants, this is my prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for your goodness and for allowing us this moment in time. I pray they will never forget this epic pilgrimage. Lord, help them to remember the smells of the red clay dirt, pristine air and stars so close you could reach up and touch them. Help them to remember the endless rows of cotton and the black hands that planted, hoed and picked it. It is the hope and prayer of this grandmother that they will cherish the humble beginnings which sprang them forth. Amen.

As we drove north, we said goodbye to the “House of Gordons” ancestral home. In my heart, I knew my children had received roots and wings to carry this family forward. This article was written by a proud granddaughter of a Mississippi Delta Sharecropper named Willie Gordon. He was Second Generation Free!