Slavery in the Family

Johnson Franklin Cunningham and Amos Blakey Cunningham, 1951

Rod Stewart said, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” Furthermore, the clich√© goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, the axioms must be true. This picture was taken at a Cunningham Family Reunion in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1951. The man on the right is my great-great-grandfather Amos Blakey Cunningham. He was born in Oglethorpe County, Georgia in 1871, but his family moved to Texas in about 1880. He went back to Georgia for the first time on the occasion of this reunion. It was the first time he’d seen his sister Lizzie Burkhalter since the family left for Texas.

The man on the left is Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was named for Amos’s father, Johnson Franklin Cunningham. He was born in about 1868, also in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, to former slaves named James and Charlotte Cunningham. I believe that James Cunningham had been owned by Amos’s father, and I feel quite certain that Charlotte was. I posted about some of my findings previously, so I won’t duplicate the entire post here. I have always been told by Amos’s grandchildren, including my grandfather and his cousin Mary Elder, that when they were little, the two men in the picture were playmates.

News broke recently that due to research efforts by Megan Smolenyak, Reverend Al Sharpton’s roots may be traced to a slave owned by relatives of Strom Thurmond. I found the story very interesting. I would like to find out what happened to the descendents of slaves owned by my own family, but I’m not sure how to go about it. First of all, the issue is sensitive, and rightly so, and I don’t want to offend anyone. Secondly, records are so sketchy, even after the Civil War.

My husband recently had to go to school to deal with a discipline issue regarding our kindergartner, Maggie. Her principal’s name is Mr. Huff, but he is a tall, distinguished African American. Apparently at one point, Steve and Mr. Huff broached the awkwardnes of the situation, and my husband asked Mr. Huff where his family was from. Mr. Huff told Steve, “Actually, my great-great-grandfather was white.” Steve replied, “Well, knowing my family, who knows?”

I would like to invite anyone who believes they have traced a connection to any of the lines I’m researching to contact me.

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