Victoria man learns he is a descendant of slaves, looks for relatives

June 18, 2013 at 1:18 a.m.
Updated June 19, 2013 at 1:19 a.m.

Mary Rebecca Shields Ewers Yarbrough, Ewers' great-grandmother

Mary Rebecca Shields Ewers Yarbrough, Ewers' great-grandmother

For most of his life, Daryl Ewers believed he was white, but two years ago, he learned he is a descendant of slaves.

"I just found out a few years ago that I am part black. I did not know this," he said

Ewers, 54, of Victoria, said learning he has black ancestry is very exciting and his main reason for talking about it is because he wants to get in touch with his African-American relatives from whom his paternal family was separated during slavery.

"My great-great-grandfather was William B. Shields, a planter from Perry County, Ala., who had several biracial children by a black slave woman. I don't know who she was. I don't know her name or what their relationship was," he said.

Before then, the Shields family, who was of Irish origins, had lived in North Carolina, he said.

First Lady Michelle Obama has descended from the white Shields family of the Carolinas, and Ewers said they may be related.

In 1848, Shields moved to Mexico with his family, where slavery was already abolished, and began negotiating with Alabama legislators. He wanted to will his plantation to his children, but the state of Alabama wouldn't allow it.

"He also wanted to free them, so the state of Alabama did a special legislation on it where they could be free - but only in three or four counties," said Ewers. Eventually, he did manage to gain legal title for his children as "free blacks" within the United States. Shields bought 3,300 acres in Polk County, Texas.

He taught his children to marry white to avoid having their families kidnapped and sold into slavery. He also taught his children how to read and write and gave them an education. They lived in Mexico until the Civil War ended.

"My great-grandmother, Mary Shields, and her brother were both arrested in Texas for marrying white, and there was a $500 bail," said Ewers, who is a fiscal manager.

He learned his family's history from discussions with family members and a 2010 book titled "Positos/Oakley Texas 1886," by Mammie L. Ballard.

"Now, I don't know where I fit in," Ewers said. "I have been raised to believe that I am white, but now I find that is not true. Most people believe that I am Hispanic when they first meet me. Although I enjoy learning about my black ancestry, I certainly don't feel as if I am a part of the black culture. So, if not white, then what am I?"

Shields' son, Archie, and his son, also named William B., were Buffalo Soldiers in Brackettville.

And what is the most powerful message Ewers learned from all this?

"You don't give up, you fight. It's survival," said Ewers. "I am strong because of the older generations. I am here, and I have a life to look forward to. If the slaves lived today, they could celebrate with us."

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