Whenever I’m faced with a challenge…whenever I’m feeling down and out…whenever I need to call on the strength that lies within, I remember that Patsy walked. In just a moment, you’ll come to understand why this is so important to me and how it inspires me no matter what. See, Patsy was born into slavery, lived and died in that state, too. But she did something so marvelous and so selfless that it is literally the reason why I’m here and able to write this post today.
The following is an excerpt from an interview my Uncle Porter conducted with his father (who is my great-grandfather) back in 1967:
Porter Jr. Remember you telling me about Grandma Patsy. Your mother’s mother.
Could you relate that again what you were saying over at the house. I have it on tape. What you were saying about Grandma Patsy.
Because she was born as a slave.
PAPA Yeah, you’re talking about when they sold her and they left her children. Porter Jr. Ummh. Is that as far back as you can remember? Or is this just related to you? Bertha C. He don’t remember that. He just heard his family say that. PAPA That’s what they told to me. Bertha C. Nah, he didn’t know nothing about that. PAPA That was before I was thought about. Before my mother was married. Bertha C. Before your grandfather was born, his dad. Porter Jr. Well, what happened then? PAPA Grandma, when she was sold, she left two children standing in the door. One was holding the other crying and she never saw those children any more. And she had walked from Cincinnati, I think, to Jackson, Mississippi, and carried my… My great-grandma had to carry my grandma. And old man Clam Day, old man Clam Day, helped them. Cause they won’t let her ride in the wagon. – and— Told her to throw the child in the river. She wouldn’t do it and he made her walk all the way from Cincinnati to Jackson, Mississippi and carried that baby. –and— Old man Clam Day helped her to carry it – my grandma. And she never did see those children no more. She left there—back where they had sold her from. Porter Jr. How many children did she have? PAPA She had three—she had three. She said one was holding the youngest one. The oldest was holding the youngest one. She left them crying, when they sold her and she come to this country. Come over the trail—called it Nigga Trail is what they called them—border.
So, as you can see, Patsy, though enslaved and though she’d already lost enough to break her spirit, possessed a raw determination to save her last remaining child no matter what. Remember, Patsy had zero say so over what she could and could not do. She did not have a voice. She did not have any rights and there was no law to protect her. No one cared for her or about her and she faced violence or death at every moment, but that didn’t stop her in standing strong against her oppressor and refusing to let her only remaining child go. Patsy is my personal heroine.
I literally owe my life and my success to this woman. I owe it to her to keep going no matter what I’m faced with. Her heart was broken, but her spirit never was. And if she can make it through the horrific circumstances that she did, I can make it through anything that I face. After all, nothing in my life can ever compare to her struggle. Nothing.
The woman that you see on the photograph at the start of this post is not Patsy. Sadly, we do not have a picture of her. The picture that you do see, however, is of Elmira Crutcher, her granddaughter who was also born into slavery. Fortunately, she lived to see its abolishment and live out her days with relative freedom. My mother even remembers her living with Porter Sr. (the gentleman in the interview who is my mother’s grandfather and my great grandfather who also lived to be over 100 years old) in Detroit, Michigan for many years before she passed on.
I share this today not only in memory of Patsy and all that she means to me, but I also share this story as an example of why topics of race and racial history are of such great interest and importance to me. It’s not uncommon for people to dismiss this sort of interest with statements like, “Slavery was a long time ago…it didn’t happen to you…get over it and let it go, already.” No, it did not happen to me, but it’s still deeply personal and deeply inspiring. I can go on for days about the effects of slavery which are still evident today; I can even elaborate on all of the other injustices suffered by all of my other ancestors– and that I’ve even personally experienced, but Patsy’s story is receipt enough to define my ownership in it all. Her bravery is not only an encouraging testimony to my personal life, but is one deserving of my efforts to keep educating myself and others so that we might correct America’s wrongs and eradicate racism wherever it exists. And, woven into the very fabric of this country, it exists everywhere.