What Doesn’t Get Said

1860 U.S. Census map with number of white and enslaved Virginians by county.

While revisiting my life history I’ve been increasingly aware of what doesn’t get said between family and among friends. In particular, a gap in the narrative exists on Father’s side of the family when it comes to the legacy of human enslavement.

I intend to use the 1927 Pound Gap, Virginia lynching of Leonard Woods as the coda to the autobiography. I have a photograph my spouse took of me standing in front of a Welcome to Virginia highway sign not far from where Woods was lynched, and a memorial of the event was erected in 2021. At the time of the photo, I did not know that history.

Below are two paragraphs I wrote Wednesday as an example of an approach to the section. Slavery was almost never discussed among family.

In 1860, the last year the U.S. Census counted enslaved African Americans, a third of the population of Virginia was enslaved. In Wise County, 66 enslaved persons were counted along with 4,416 white ones. Family lore does not include much about slavery. We note that Thomas Jefferson Addington, my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandfather, served in the army of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Family lore is men from Wise County served in both the Confederate and Union armies. There is no discussion of Thomas Jefferson Addington’s military service in his entry in The Stallard Connection, a thick family history tracing parts of our line back to the 17th Century. There is a Salyer – Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Wise County. I have family photographs of Father playing with some of the Salyer girls when they lived in Glamorgan. They attended school together. During the two trips I made to Wise County, I don’t recall seeing any African Americans or even once discussing slavery. There must be more to the story, although it may be lost in history.

Leonard Woods, a 30-year-old black coal miner, lived in Jenkins, Kentucky, the same town where Uncle Melvin and Aunt Carrie operated a bakery. He was accused of murdering a white coal mine foreman named Herschel Deaton (no relation). On Nov. 30, 1927, a mob broke Woods out of the Whitesburg, Kentucky jail and took him to Pound Gap, Virginia, where they hanged him and shot his corpse many times. Accounts vary, yet when the mob arrived with Woods around 3 a.m., the crowd numbered 1,000 to 1,500 people, in some 500 cars. Members of the sheriff’s office who were present failed to note any of the vehicle license plates. It is difficult to believe members of my family did not know of this history or participate in it. It never came up.

Draft autobiography by Paul Deaton, Feb. 2, 2022.

I don’t know if it fits, yet I feel I should make it fit. Avoidance of the legacy of human enslavement is as American as apple pie. The sweetness is of short duration.

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