“This morning, at Village Church in Charlotte Court House, Virginia, we observed All Saints’ Eve by remembering and paying tribute to those who have gone before us, who helped shape our faith journeys, and whose walks on this earth offer illustrations of the life of Christ. A candle was lit in honor of Joseph R. Holmes, and his name was spoken aloud.” — Jim Watkins
Tonight my family celebrated the 50th wedding anniversaries of two of my cousins (who are brothers) and their wives. Another of their brothers and his wife, who came in from Maryland, hit 51 this year. My parents made 60 years in May. So did my uncle and aunt. I can tick off an easy dozen couples in the 25-49 year range and a couple dozen more that only death parted after decades. That this kind of abiding love is commonplace among my people is a blessing beyond measure. We hear so much about the dismal state of the Black family, but here’s the Black family I know. Here’s the Black family I love.
Cheers to you, Effenus and Helen, and Fred and Linda, and Dock and Barbara! Many more!
One of the blessed couples.
“Renewal of vows,” eldest grandson presiding.
The youngest in his first hard-bottoms. (Stacy Adams!) He said he felt like a gentleman.
“First, I’d like to recognize my family, Joseph R. Holmes’ family, here today — including three of his brother Jasper’s great-granddaughters. Some here may remember their uncle, Dr. J. Maxwell Allen, who practiced dentistry in Charlotte Court House. His sister, my great-aunt Julia, first told me of Joseph Holmes when I was an inquisitive teenager digging for my roots. She did not know the details — only that her grandfather’s brother Joseph, born enslaved, had been killed because of his political activity. That was enough, though, to set this journey in motion.
“On behalf of the Holmes-Allen family, I extend thanks to all who made this day possible. So many in Charlotte County gave in so many ways — time, money, influence, prayer (look at God!) — and we are profoundly grateful for your embrace and support of this project. “We are also grateful to Kathy Liston. When I reached out to Kathy nearly ten years ago, seeking help to find the truth of Joseph Holmes’ life, I did not even dream of this day. I first visited Charlotte Court House in 2012 at Kathy’s invitation. She took me to Joseph Holmes’ homestead; to Roxabel, the plantation on which he may have been enslaved; to the school at Keysville whose establishment he championed; and finally to this courthouse, to the very steps on which he bled and died. The historical marker we reveal today stands as a testament to Kathy’s persistence and insistence, her values and vision, her energy and expertise, and we cannot thank her enough.
“The beautiful story of Joseph R. Holmes’ life, and the terrible story of his death, were all but forgotten in Charlotte County — suppressed by some, repressed by others. This is an all too common phenomenon of American history. Though Africans arrived in this very state in 1619, the contributions of African Americans to the building of this country — both literally and metaphorically — are seldom recalled, much less memorialized. Black communities dealt with their trauma by hiding it away, refusing to speak of their loss and pain. It is never too late, however, to reclaim our heroes.
“For hundreds of years, the Akan people of Ghana have used symbols, called adinkra, as visual representations of concepts and proverbs. The word Sankofa, often depicted as a bird looking toward its tail, means ‘go back and get it.’ The broader concept of Sankofa urges us to know our pasts as we move forward.Today, we have gone back for Joseph R. Holmes. In the shadow of Confederate monuments, we shine a light on his works; we affirm his life; we reclaim his legacy. As long as we speak his name, he lives forever. Will you say it with me?
“Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes. Joseph R. Holmes.
“Your family remembers. Your community remembers. We honor your life and sacrifice.