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kottke.org posts about Dan Smith

Meet the Living Son of a Former Enslaved Person

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

The Washington Post recently ran a profile of DC-area resident Dan Smith. Smith is 88 years old, participated in the March on Washington, and, along with other activists, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. He is also the living child of a former enslaved person.

The whipping post. The lynching tree. The wagon wheel. They were the stories of slavery, an inheritance of fear and dread, passed down from father to son.

The boy, barely 5, would listen, awed, as his father spoke of life in Virginia, where he had been born into bondage on a plantation during the Civil War and suffered as a child laborer afterward.

As unlikely as it might seem, that boy, Daniel Smith, is still alive at 88, a member of an almost vanished demographic: The child of someone once considered a piece of property instead of a human being.

Smith is an example of The Great Span, the link across seemingly long periods of history by individual humans. In this case, just two people span almost two-thirds the history of the United States, linking slavery and the Civil War to the civil rights movement and eventually to George Floyd. 155 years may seem like a long time, but Smith’s story is a testament to how slow progress has been in the struggle for social justice for Black Americans. After all, up until earlier this year the US government was still paying out a Civil War pension to the daughter of a former Confederate and US soldier.

See also an eyewitness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln lived to be a guest on a television game show and 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin dances in the White House with the Obamas. (via @tinmanic)