After slavery, slaves took the names of their masters. My Great-Great
Grandfather, Peter, took the name of Kennedy after is master. Slaves knew they had no identity. Instinctively they knew the only way to preserve their heritage was to adopt
an identity and the only identity available to them at the time was their masters’ identity. Peter adopted the identity of Peter Kennedy and was probably blessed by his white
relatives with the name. His father was John L. Kennedy, son of Sylvia Kennedy (she owned most of Sylvan Grove). They lived in Sylvan Grove, three miles Northeast of Midland
City. My Grandmother, Leanna Kennedy Warmack, told me she grew up on a farm in Pinckard. The farm was probably a wedding gift in 1904 from Peter to his son Papa Doug. My
Grandmother took me to Pinckard and showed me the house which looked like a large wooden structure resembling a barn. Life began here for my Grandmother and her brothers and
sisters. In 1990, the land was being rented out to people who grew peanuts on it.
When we went to Pinckard, we left Montgomery and drove about 2 hours south on
Rte 231. Then my Grandmother and Aunt Evelyn said turn left up ahead. My brother-in-law, who was driving, did not see any road to turn left onto and I did not see a road to
turn left onto. But Grandma and Aunt Evelyn said turn left. We turned left into four foot tall grass. Two dirt tracks eventual appeared. We road the track for about 50 feet
and then I saw a sign amongst all the grass. The sign read “Police Jurisdiction Ends Here”. I thought, what no McDonalds, no Seven-Eleven and now no POLICE. Little that I
knew, I was home because after about 100 feet the grass cleared opening up into a field. It was Papa Doug’s land. I saw what looked like a 200 year old barn on my left.
Grandma said “that is where we lived when we was kids”. Then she showed the fields where peanuts were being grown. Farmers were RENTING out the land to grow peanuts.
What was life like in Pinckard and Sylvan Grove? I had to consult with my
Grandmother, Leanna Kennedy Warmack. Sylvan Grove was most likely named after Sylvia Kennedy sometime between 1860 and 1870. Sylvia and her son John L owned most the land if
not all of the land in Sylvan Grove. My Grandmother said her memories of Sylvan Grove were that it was a park/place to BBQ where both the white and black Kennedys went for
relaxation and to be with family. She remembers her uncles spending all night barbequing whole pigs in Sylvan Grove. Even though it sounds like a place perfect for lynching,
I do not get the impression Sylvan Grove was used for that purpose.
Newton was the first town with a Post Office in South-Eastern Dale County. In
1860, Sylvan Grove, Pinckard and Midland City all shared Newton’s Post Office. In 1870, Sylvan Grove had their own Post Office (I am using the term Post Office very loosely;
i.e., they did not have stamp machines and stuff we expect to see in a Post Office). What does this mean? In 1860, the white Kennedy and Creech families (including Peter and
his wife Joanna) were working and living, with a few other families, in Sylvan Grove.
What was life in the fields? Peter Kennedy was a farmer and he owned land.
The land was given to him as wedding gift on his wedding date in 1871 from his father John L. Some of our ancestors were sharecroppers; they worked the fields of this and
other farms. They work for a farmer a year at a time. At the end of the year, the farmer would pay the sharecropper half the wages the sharecropper had earned and the farmer
kept the other half hence the term “share”. Some sharecroppers did not keep track of their earnings from crops they raised, (they drank too much or were too afraid to question
their former masters), so the farmer kept their wages and the Sharecropper would have to get credit in order to put food on the table the upcoming year and then work the next
year to pay the debt. This was a vicious cycle that most sharecroppers fell into and were never able to recover from, pretty much like the CRIDIT CARD cycle of today (credit
card debt, the new slavery; we owe we owe so off to work we go). The credit game was also an excuse the farmer used to pressure the sharecropper into having many-many children
(post civil war breeding) to pay off their debt.
Papa Doug’s wife was Laura Jones born about 1885. Laura’s mother was Sarah
Snell from Newton. Nobody knew who Laura and her sister Dora “Scrap” Jones father was, so they (her mother), gave her the name of Jones (that works for me). Some believe
Laura and Dora father’s name was Dan Jones and that Dan died about 1890. This is the deep-deep south, 20 years after the end of slavery and people did not question each other
too much, people had a tendency not to bother other folks. Laura and her sister Dora “Scrap” moved in with Sarah’s brother Elijah. Soon after, Sarah remarried and took the
name Barker. Sarah raised Laura and Dora as Barkers. When Laura was old enough, she reverted back to using Jones.
My Grandmother told me a story about her older sister Mary Douglas (named
after Papa Doug). She said Papa Doug sent Mary to school to learn nursing. On one of her trips to Atlanta in 1941, Mary never called back home. Everyone in Pinckard knew
something was wrong. So, someone called Atlanta to check on Mary and they said she had died. Papa Doug and Marcus, (Marcus ran/owned a mortuary), went to Atlanta to get
Mary’s body and bring her back home to Pinckard. No questions were ever asked about how she died or the circumstances surrounding her death. When you are away from home,
unexplained things happen.
Here is what I learned from researching our ancestry. We are the privileged,
we are blessed and we well endure and survive whatever obstacles that come our way. Our ancestors have engrained the knowledge and principles that we need to survive and
prosper. We will pass on our knowledge and experience to our children through our behavior and actions because they are watching and absorbing and waiting for their time to
Our heritage starts with Peter Kennedy. He afforded us with a privileged
life. He instilled values in his immediate family that has trickled down to us. First by establishing a two way trust with his white family and then by instilling discipline
that allowed his black family to coexist in an ignorant Neanderthal society. I can not begin to imagine what he had to deal with. I feel privileged, bitter, angry and hopeful
that his experiences and insight will eventually be understood by everyone that I will ever meet. My grandmother told me he was more white than black. She said his wife
Joanna, was more white than black. Her experience as a child of walking to his property to get water from his creek has left her with cold harsh memories. Her memories of
going to Mrs. Lizzie’s Red Shirt Market are of signs that read “Run Nigga Run Fast” and white men sitting in chairs and on steps holding shotguns. Only certain parts of the
store were blacks allowed to go. Southern Alabama was no joke at the turn of the century. But, Peter Kennedy maintained a relationship and mutual respect with his white
family that afforded him and his black family access to services available.
My Grandmother told me story about her older brother Peter Pounce Deleon. The
white Kennedys protected her older brother from the law one night. Peter Ponce Deleon, Papa Doug’s oldest son, got in a big fight one night and had to run and hide from the
law. Peter Pounce Deleon ran to the white Kennedys house, John L. Kennedy’s house, Sylvia Kennedy’s son, Peter’s father house. The white Kennedys hid Peter Pounce Deleon.
When the cops showed up at John L’s house, he told the cops that Peter Pounce Deleon is not here. That’s love, respect and understanding when you really need it. Peter Pounce
Deleon stayed in his grandfather’s house until morning, maybe longer. That is why I say, I am afforded privileges based on my Great-Great Grandfather’s pain, loneliness, hard
aches and sufferings. I am stubborn, arrogant, blunt and smart as hell. Now I know where it comes from. I am not alone in these attributes, they run in the family. This
leads me to Papa Doug, Peter’s son. My Grandmother told me, Papa Doug did not want his kids picking cotton or being a sharecropper/laborer or field hand or housekeeper or
anything that would put his kids in constant contact with the whites. She told me whites would slap a black without cause. She said Papa Doug feared this most because he knew
if someone would slap or abuse one of his children, he would have to kill someone. So he taught his kids how to be respectful, stubborn, arrogant, hard working, and not to
accept mediocrity. During the turn of the century, whites wanted blacks to produce children so there would be a workforce to work the cotton fields. But Peter Kennedy saw a
way to make a better world by equipping his offspring with a passion to rise above the norm. Hope to see you all in July of 2007.
Stayed tuned, more to come…