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The Brooks


    This was my first attempt at researching family genealogy.  Because the Brooks by legend were freemen, I expected to find ancestors relatively free of harassment and oppression. Media brain-washing had led me to believe that free men in America were, in fact, free; that transgressions against free persons of color required acting outside the law. That was clearly not the case as I found in North Carolina counties like Rutherford and Cleveland where my Brooks ancestors lived. Southern literature, enamored with portraying slaveowners as kind gentlemen who treated belligerent, uncivil slaves with compassion, never addressed how these same “gentlemen” treated the relatively few African-Americans in their midst who were not owned, i.e. who were Christians, citizens and landowners like themselves.  I quickly learned what my textbooks never revealed. Until the Civil War, free African-Americans in the South, including mine, were forbidden by law from learning to read and write. Likewise, they were forbidden from keeping weapons or tools in or near their homes that could be used to defend their castle from invading white men. They could not testify against white men in court, even in their own defense against false charges by white men. And, of course, they could not vote.  There were two very different sets of judicial codes. Justice was not blind; she had blurred vision producing a “Bill of Rights” for one race and a “Bill of Wrongs” for the other. Free African-Americans in the south were never free at all; they were tethered on invisible leashes, rather than chains like their slave brethren. The term, “free African-American” was , in fact, an oxymoron.  For at least three generations  until the end of the  Civil War,  my Brooks ancestors,  like other free blacks, were subject to whims of white politicians and neighbors who might deem their activities a nuisance, resulting in the loss of property and forced removal or worse. Legally, they were all potential Trayvon Martins amidst dozens of would-be George Zimmermans free to act on any whim.

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