I’d been a member of Wilson County Genealogical Society perhaps six months. The group’s Colonial Roads tour seemed like something I just couldn’t miss, so I made a special trip home to board a bus that would introduce me to Wilson County’s past. The late, great Henry Powell narrated, identifying and illuminating one obscure landmark after another as the county’s back roads unspooled beneath the bus’ wheels. For the first time, I began to understand Wilson as a palimpsest created not just by time, but by race and class. There were whole layers of memory and history and culture accessible only to those who had inherited the right keys. The keys I had unlocked none of these, but they did grant access to the Society.
From the beginning, I was welcomed into the group — encouraged, consulted, listened to, heard. WCGS’ efforts to be inclusive have been organic and sincere, and I have appreciated the opportunity to be a resource.
Two years ago today, I went home again for a WCGS event. That time, at the Society’s invitation, I used my keys to open a door to Wilson County to which few society members have access. My presentation touched on enslaved people and free people of color and Jim Crow as I focused on the life and awesome accomplishments of my cousin Dr. Joseph H. Ward, one of Wilson’s “lost” sons. After I set my nerves aside, my talk went well and elicited thoughtful questions and positive comments at its conclusion.
I thank Wilson County Genealogical Society for the opportunity to give back to a community that encouraged and supported my research for nearly 20 years. I urge everyone who shares my passion for history, for the stories of our African-American past, to join WCGS and support its activities. The mission of the Society — to chronicle the heritage of Wilson County families — embraces us all.