Black and white photos color what life was like in the 1930′s in Jacksonville, Texas, which is south of Tyler.
“There were so many different articles about it,” Candice Hammons said.
At 84 years old, Stearlin Arnwine told the original story about his slave owner Albertus Arnwine and his great-grandmother Gracie in 1936.
“She was my third great-grandmother,” Hammons said.
Nearly a century later— thanks to a DNA test and the internet, Hammons found dozens of archives and a new side of the family.
“It’s surreal,” Mary Tucker said.
With help from her newly found cousin Mary, they uncovered Stearlin’s story.
“Albertus died around 1855, and before he died he left a will,” Tucker recalled. “A handwritten will. In the will, he willed for Gracie, her sisters, and the children to be free and also to leave his property, his land to them as well.”
As told by Stearlin and detailed in a copy of the deed, the courts ruled in Gracie Arnwine’s favor.
“It was opposed by his family,” Tucker said.
This was before the Emancipation Proclamation and the ruling wasn’t honored. Gracie, her sisters and their children were sold to another owner.
“It’s a 150 years or more, and nothing has been done,” Hammons said.
Now, while living across the country, they are working together.
“We want to right that wrong,” Tucker said.
These long-lost cousins have started a petition.
“Just to make sure that their names are honored,” Tucker said.
While hopefully regaining a portion of 900 acres of land they say was stolen from their family.
“It’s almost like we’ve been connected for this very reason,” Tucker said.
“Does this change the meaning of Black History Month for you?” Sabirah Rayford asked.
“Yes, it has,” Hammons said. “It’s just so much more personal. It’s my family’s story that I can share with others.”
As for the land, Hammons says a lot has changed in 150-plus years. They believe some of it is underwater and part of it is a housing development. They plan to visit there in the coming months on their search for more answers.
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