Photo by Diane DeHamer.
The first African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in the 16th century and slavery was practiced in the country until the Civil War, when the Union army freed 4 million slaves and President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which stated that slaves within any states would be forever free.
Chino Valley resident Aaronetta Edmunds shares her story of being the granddaughter of slaves.
“My great grandmother (Fannie Brooks) was the daughter of the master of the Brooks Plantation in Virginia. My great grandfather (John Brooks) was a Mulatto slave, so of course, finding out my great grandmother was with child he had to flee to Canada to save his life. The Brooks family hid my great grandmother in the attic until the baby, my grandfather was born. His name was Robert and the Master gave him to his slave cook to raise as her son,” Aaronetta said.
Slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write, but because Aaronetta’s grandfather lived in the “big” house with the cook he learned just by listening to the other kids being taught.
“When my grandfather was about 19 to 21 he escaped from the plantation in a boat across the Chesapeake Bay. He married my grandmother (Edith Batton) and they raised 11 children. During his lifetime my grandfather was a farmer and raised walnuts, yams, corn, etc.” Aaronetta said.
Beverly Brown is Aaronett’s other grandfather. He was sold into slavery at the age of six. He was taken into the Knox family where he was raised, educated and loved by Etta Mae Knox (who was a white slave owner) along with her own children. When he was asked about his last name, he selected “Brown” because it was the color of his skin. He later married Mary Brown (Small).
“Another of my ancestors was a Seminole Indian chief named ‘Osceola’ so many of my male and female ancestors were given the name Osceola because they wanted to keep the name in our history,” Aaronetta said.
Aaronetta speaks at area schools and shares her unique history with the students.
“The students ask me questions afterwards which helps educate them not only in black history but all people,” she said.
“I have no ill feelings or resentment regarding the slavery, because this was a sign of the times. I was raised by parents who were taught and taught their children to love the person and hate the sin, and in this way I love everyone. My son said to me, ‘Mom I love that you taught us never to judge anybody who was different from what we were, and to look at the heart as God looks at our hearts,’” Aaronetta said.
Aaronetta will shortly be 80 years old and said she loves to share her story with others.
“With all the dynamics today and different opinions in our nation, we need to look at people’s hearts, you can see their souls, and not to judge anybody by race, creed, gender, religion or political beliefs,” she said.
“If we can do that we will find a lot of beautiful people beneath it all.”