Uncle George & Me: Two Southern Families Confront a Shared Legacy of Slavery
BY BILL SIZEMORE
Brandylane Publishers, 2018
158 pp.; $18.95
Bill Sizemore has written a little gem of a book. In Uncle George & Me: Two Southern Families Confront a Shared Legacy of Slavery he explores details of his own family history and the larger history of racism in America with enlightened understanding, honor, and compassion. More importantly, he does so without glossing over the horror of slavery.
It begins simply enough. Sizemore, a retired newspaper editor, finds out through the most basic research that he's descended from slave owners, a fact that rightly horrifies him but also intrigues him. Tracing his family roots back through court records and other sources he learns that his great-great grandfather expanded his slaveholding from fourteen to twenty slaves at the start of the Civil War. His great grandfather fought for the Confederacy (a fact that, unlike the slaveholding, had been passed down in the family). Sizemore finds a picture of the family's house at the time--no Southern mansion but rather a very small clapboard house with only two rooms and an upstairs loft. He points out that this small ancestral home doesn't lessen how striking slavery was but instead illustrates how widespread the practice was.
Sizemore then discovers that not only did his family own slaves, their descendants are still living in the area and share the Sizemore surname. The families have had no contact in almost 140 years.
Thanks to the internet, Bill is able to connect with family members who quickly direct him to Uncle George Sizemore, the family historian of the enslaved Sizemore clan, who, in his nineties, is amazingly only one generation removed from slavery himself; Uncle George's father was owned by Bill Sizemore's family. Through Uncle George and his welcoming, gregarious charm, Bill is connected to the large, sprawling family that still gathers for family reunions.
Despite the family histories, Bill is generally welcomed and directed to those willing to share their subsequent experiences. His own family actually seems more...