Woman promotes ancestral black community
June 17, 2012 at 1:17 a.m.
Updated June 18, 2012 at 1:18 a.m.
• Dating back to June 19, 1865, Juneteenth is the oldest observance celebrating the freedom of slaves in the United States.
• That was the day Union soldiers landed in Galveston with news that the war was finished and slaves were now free.
• More than two years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation that was supposed to free the slaves. However, few Union troops were in Texas to enforce the order.
• Al Edwards, a black state legislator, was instrumental in getting Juneteenth declared an official holiday in Texas. It was the first time a state had recognized an emancipation celebration.
GOLIAD - Martin Luther King Jr. led a march, and he had a dream.
That was pretty much the only information about the civil rights leader Danieal Brady said her 6-year-old son brought home with him from school one day.
Oh, but there's much more to it than that, she told him.
"These children are growing up, all these years, and not understanding the full spectrum of what happened in this country," Brady said. "Not even in this country, but even in this town. They're missing a whole lot."
The Goliad resident has only lived 35 years, but she can recount 220 years of her family's history. Her ancestors are part of the Flaccus Colony - a settlement near Runge that dates back to Reconstruction, when slaveholders released their slaves.
Fifty-seven family names make up what was the Flaccus Colony, with one name standing out in particular: Mary Fields.
"Stagecoach or Shotgun Mary is through our whole entire genealogy. It weaves back and forth. There are many different ways we are connected," Brady said.
It was at one of the Runge United Family Reunions, which now attracts as many as 1,800 relatives, where Brady learned about the legacy of Stagecoach Mary.
A former slave, Fields would go on to become the first black mail carrier in the United States. She was known for being a reliable and quick carrier, and for her uncanny ability to drink men under the table.
For Brady, the legendary figures are just as important to know and to remember as the common members of her family. These were the ones who settled the about 65 acres of land, just outside of Goliad, on which she and her family now live. They were the ones who passed along stories of cross burnings and people trying to run them out of their homes.
"My great-grandmother said never give up this land, no matter what you do. Never lose this land because they worked so hard for it," Brady said. "We try to hold on to as much as we can down here. I refuse to quit."
Brady is talking even more about history than she is the land of her ancestors. Since she was a teenager, Brady said she's felt burdened to know about her heritage.
"Wanting to know who your family is, wanting to know where you came from - those are big questions that sit with all people," she said.
Now, she has a thick, worn book tracing her ancestry back to a half-black, half-Indian woman who was a slave taken in by a white man from Gonzales. She has a laminated ancestor chart that shows the tendency families had to cross bloodlines multiple times.
"His father was my grandmother's brother, and then his mother was my great-grandmother's sister," she rattled off, along with other variations of the sort.
Even Brady and her husband, Felton, are distantly related through the original Flaccus Colony families. And, as coincidence would have it, he's a mail carrier too, following the path set forth by Fields.
Ever since her son came home with a glossed-over view of an iconic black man, Brady said she's made it her goal to spread greater understanding.
"It needs to be down here in this area, where you have the hanging tree that's so glorified - The Hanging Tree Antiques, the restaurant. But what does that represent about our history?" she said.
Brady seeks to add dimension to the history. She helped organize Goliad's first Martin Luther King march and developed a program called Hand in Hand Foundation that promotes tolerance and education while giving back to the community. Hand in Hand has given scholarships to students, and Brady hopes it can be a catalyst for more initiatives like a Juneteenth celebration and a black history fair.
"By knowing your past, you can make a better future," she said. "It inspires in black youth the will to succeed, to know that it's not just about trying to stand out, but it's about being the best you can be, no matter what it is that you are."
While she works on engaging a community, Brady continues to share her family's long-rooted history with those who will carry it on.
For her kids, she said she hopes they'll be proud of where they come from.
"I would hope for them to be ... fully informed, to be unbiased and just to be better because of it - because of everything that they know," she said.