Regina Mason and Sean Durant (Ep. 15, 2020)
Published his narrative on his own without deference to why energy publisher or sponsors his life and the intimacy candor and no holes by realism unparalleled in the famous antebellum slave narratives during that time mason in the same vein as the late Alex Haley at her stories about our great great great grandfather. William grinds following clues or my aunt. Catherine she embarked on a fifteen year journey. She Related Partner With William L. Andrews to publish a new edition of his Piney. Work in two thousand seventeen documentaries may combining two stories Mazen journey to discover and trace the steps with our ancestor and grime story as a slave at his thirst for freedom. I'm John Henson Junior. And welcome to another edition of in Black America on this week's program Genus Journey the search for William Grind with Sean Durant and Regina EMESA and Black America William Grimes himself. You know we read his narrative all that he endured and live this cruelty abuse at every turn. He was reminded that he was nothing but he never bought into the status quo. In fact he defied the status quo at every turn just the fact that he had the notion that he was capable of writing his own story. Without any assistance from white people speaks to who he was and how self assured he was so his example of perseverance and endurance. Gays me. The will to just carry on and see this project to to the end. Regina Mason is a remarkable woman. She spent fifteen years of life research alive for Great Great Great Grandfather William Grimes with nothing to go on with the connection to the underground railroad. She spent countless hours in libraries reading books. Looking Michael Film and Census Records grinds was changed so when he was sold away from the mother to Afaf Plantation. Here grew up in this and motherless with apparently no surrogates slave family or loved ones to embrace him. No one even to look after him. Grimes was the first person to go through slavery in the South and write about it. This was the first time dozen slavery with exposed from the perspective of one who had lived it and he was the author to write about the harsh realities of the north. Despite the nature of his being freedom land. Recently in Black America spoke with Sean Durant to produce erect of Genus Journey. The Search for William Grimes and Regina. Mac Okay. I was born and raised in Oakland California and I went to elementary school at Saint Augustine and went onto public school at Berkeley High School. My roots go deep in California back to shortly after statehood eighteen fifties and part of my being. He in the bay area is a result of the narrative that we're gonNA talk about in how I discovered those roots there and connected myself to this extraordinary man. William Grimes I have two daughters married to my husband for almost forty years out of the process on that life journey I Worked at the University of California Berkeley and I Fell in love with the libraries there and they were instrumental in Helping me uncover the story that your audience is about to hear and to authenticate William Grimes whose words so I was in the right place at the right time to This story materialized in a way that had never been done before understand. I want to tell our audience that mason had sent me an email back in twenty thirteen and I had yet to respond to that email until twenty nineteen and that email articulated that she had listened to a podcast that I had producing. It led her to think about her family lineage. And you can take it from there. Miss Mason. Yes that Podcast we were you were talking about was on the subject of Alex. Haley's roots you all were Sort of revisiting. His remarkable work and how it changed a nation in terms of Our mindset and how we looked at slavery. It was the first time that that slavery was talked about from the vantage point of those who endured it and I was just. I enjoyed that podcast so much and it it it maybe reach out to you to want to tell my story because it is a story very similar to Alex. Haley's story and Yes I I reached out to you and obviously didn't hear back right away but thank goodness you circle back to it. Regardless of how many years later and here we are today to tell the tell the story and at the time. I think it was twenty thirteen when I wrote you and we were. I we were in the middle. I believe a filming Genus Journey. The search for William Grimes at at that point. How did you Miss Mason get together Well it is more or less started with a family Barbecue in finding out that. Uh at Regina had actually completed The book and And then continue with Being atty book signing And just seeing all the scholars and all the people who were involved in this was You know right across from Berkeley and then realizing that that material Her Story William Grimes Story. The book And everything around it in all the research would make an awesome film and at the time I was You know coming around as a as a as a filmmaker at already produced a film Back in two thousand and I had been making music videos at the time and I was doing a lot of music videos that were on TV and bt most of it was hip hop. So I kinda knew my way around production but I hadn't actually directed a feature yet or produce something of this magnitude but I expressed to her that. I think this would make a great film and she said well. I don't know how to get a film made and I said well I do and once I kinda spoke those words I was we were kind of set on a destiny together to make this film. We didn't know how we're going to get it done. We didn't know where we're going to get the money And putting together the structure of an independent feature film is so complicated such a complicated machines such an expensive art form that it was really just a a wild dream but over you know the next years we were able to develop it and put together a enough pieces of from people who were kind enough to help us out and from our own will to get together. An actually after three years of development do four years of production and somehow through that new journey We made a film on the sand. I'll Miss Mason was William grinds the initial interest or you some of the some of your your grandparents and aunts and uncles were. They initially your to research their lives. I'm glad you asked that question. Because William grinds was not on the radar at all. But I wanNA tell you how I became interested in my roots and started way back in nineteen seventy one. When I was in fifth grade I was giving classes. Simon. In fact the whole class was given the same assignment and it was to be an oral report where we were talking about our country of origin and our roots and it was the first time that I had to face slavery front and center because it appeared in my family tree and up to that point I had not heard that we had that there were slaves of the family. In fact nobody talked about it. We talked about other things. of the Family history that had nothing to do with slavery for instance. I had always heard about CECELIA Victoria. Who was a tragedy and in the San Francisco Bay area and that she performed to in to integrated audiences so I had not expected to hear anything about someone who had been enslaved my mother when I sat down to talk to her about the family story. She had told me quite casually that her grandfather Henry Fuller was had been born a slave in that she knew him. And that really struck me in a crazy kind of way because here. I am a kid. I had heard about slavery but it was in the abstract. It was those people over there from long ago. It was not in my family history so when we talked about her GRANDPA FULLER. I can since the uneasiness she. She told me that he was very tight. Lipped about his history. She had never met anyone in his family line and he was just sort of a sad individual in the sense and on top of that very stern so when we talked about his background It made me realize how closely I was too connected to the institution of slavery. It was just a few generations removed from me and My thought was. How do I present to the class? I really did not want to stand up to say that I descended from slaves. Of course we know. There's nothing wrong with that. But imagine a child. Listen before Alex. Heavy Story Kate O. And so. I just didn't process it very well. And there were things that she did say that were quite compelling but they just were lost because I couldn't get on the inherent complexity of this newly revealed enslaved heritage but of course that changed when I did see route and it made me want to Pursue my history and backing up a little bit. My mother could sense that I was having sort of misgivings about how I was going to present this story. And she decided to take me to see my aunt. Catherine who was the keeper of the Family Lore and Catherine was a gifted storyteller who loved to talk about the family history and of course she was talking about Sicilia the tragedy and one little sentence that she gave me stuck in my head and she told me she said someone in the family by the last name of grimes had a connection to the underground railroad and she said he was from New Haven Connecticut. That was just one or two sentences that she gave me and I thought my God the Underground Railroad. I had you know. I'm just learning about American slavery Learning about the underground railroad. So I knew that was a resistant story and it was a story that I wanted to hear. I remember to ask you Catherine over and over. Well tell me more about this. Grimes person in the underground railroad but she could not give me any more. That was all she knew so fast. Forward Twenty some years. I'm a young mother of two little girls and married and and trying to raise my family and I thought about this mysterious grimes person because I had these children that I wanted them to know their family history. But I didn't know much about it so I began the process of genealogy for them and for myself. I wanted to see what I could find and I wanted to see if there was a measure of truth in the story that and Catherine head given me so after a you know about a year so getting Records like From the senses vital statistics and those kinds of things. I realized that records were indeed out there so then began to shift my focus on this grimes character. Could I find him so I began reading every book? I could find on the abolitionist movement. And on the underground railroad and about American history in general and It was kinda crazy because I was getting nowhere nowhere until one day I happened upon a library book that was due and it needed to be returned. I remember some means through it and I turn to the Free New England section of the book because Catherine it said you know I root for from New Haven Connecticut and within the first few pages of this book the underground railroad by Charles blocks and I find a reference to a William Grimes from Savannah Georgia who stowed away on a vessel. That brought him to New York City and while he was in New York workers from the underground railroad directed him on foot to New Haven Connecticut. So those little three clues just jumped out at me and I had to follow them and the rest is history as we can say because I did definitely make the connection so to your question in a roundabout way William. Grimes was not on my radar. It was just a project to to find my roots and and present this my heritage too much children William bribes to fell into place on the stand. If you're just joining US I'm John Henson Junior. And you'RE LISTENING TO IN.