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Get Up In Your People's Business: Documenting and Exploring Your Family' s History

We've got photo albums, obituaries, family reunion t-shirts, birthday banners, shoe boxes of faded cards, and mementos from decades ago. These artifacts hold a story, a history in their folds and creases.

Recently, our very own Jasmine Williams had the opportunity to interview Ko Bragg, a well-renowned Southern Black woman journalist to gain insight on how and why Black people maintain legacy through family archives as collective memory.

Today we want to share a little more so that you can begin to record your own family’s story by doing the exact thing your granny said not to do: getting up in your folk’s business. 

"Black history is oral history..." - Ko Bragg

Firstly, as Ko noted, “Black history is oral history because of the way white folks stole our way to find –  first of all they separated us, they stole us – they separated us and they destroyed any way of us being able to find each other. And so, just to know your people –  it sounds strange to say –  but it is, such a privilege. And so, when we’re talking about "Black history is oral history", a lot of what we are talking about is just stuff that’s passed down.” 

We tell stories about ourselves, one another, the times, and goings-on as we see fit. As Mississippians, we know that word of mouth runs the world. Or at the very least, our worlds. That story your uncle tells every Christmas, that ‘one time’ your cousins can’t seem to let go, and that maternal warning about when and where to go are all living parts of our collective memory, each holding evidence of history happening around us.

The ability to reminisce has helped us maintain and overcome. It informs us of where we've been so that we can look forward to where we're headed on an individual and collective scale. 

I’m sure you have a few questions. What’s an archive? Do I have to be a librarian? Is this going to mean anything? I get it. I can help break it down, too.

An archive is a collection of historical documents, stories, artifacts, relics, and/or traditions maintained over time.

You can be, and probably already are, an archivist just by listening to your elders and passing on what they have to say and who they are. Record clips of the family get-togethers, listen to your uncles by the grill and your aunties in the kitchen, pay attention to the word around town about what’s happening in your communities.

These things are what build a framework for your archive to exist. By keeping records of who your loved ones are, how they lived, and what they lived through, you can allow future generations to know what it took for them to be here.

That heritage is uniquely ours and we should take pride in honoring it. It really is ok to be a little nosey; it's essential.

"You'd be surprised at what people have tucked in their bibles."

During their conversation, Jasmine and Ko both delve deeper into examples of how to get into your people’s business by cross-examining accounts from different sources.

Ko eloquently called these accounts from family ‘anecdata’, a hybrid of anecdote and data, meaning it lies somewhere between the historical actuality and fictive embellishments. I see it as ethnography.

Same as the work of Zora Neal Hurston or Franz Fanon. It is attached to real tangible events, like the retelling Ko mentioned about lynchings in newspapers, as well as the not-so-easily placed moments like the exact quotes of a great-grandparent from sixty years ago.

The artifacts that accompany these moments like newspaper clippings, photos with notes scribbled on the back, the family bible with baptism registries, and even the old drawer of receipts and forms can reveal information about your family's past.

One example Ko gave was her aunt's home with an old washboard sitting in the living room as a reminder of the days of sharecropping and how even now she still keeps a garden to help herself feel grounded and connected to her roots.

Your family may have a curio cabinet, or an old trunk with albums and musings from before your time worth looking into. As Ko put it, "you'd be surprised at what people have tucked in their bibles." Use those items you find as a launching pad for your questions for your elders. Talk to them about their lives and dreams.

What was their childhood like? Did they grow up to be who they envisioned? What moments do they carry with them everyday? Sit with them and ask. And when they answer, record it. Keep it so others know they were here with us contributing to our legacy.

As Mississippians, we know well how some stories get retold and warped to fit mainstream media while the truth is usually layered and varied. Our stories and narratives have power and your archive is like the battery pack that stores it all.

Reclaiming these stories and strengthening those links to the past is the gateway to a well-informed future. As a Black-owned and operated platform, ‘Sipp Talk is dedicated to shifting the narrative of Mississippi as a digital archive of contemporary Mississippians and the beauty we hold.

To learn more and to listen in on what Jasmine and Ko have to say about the importance of building an archive of your own, watch the full in conversation, Get Up In Your People's Business: Documenting + Exploring Your Family's History, below. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel as well!

Ko Bragg is a writer and editor based in the Deep South with a focus on justice and abolition. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper's Bazaar, Teen Vogue, Columbia Journalism Review, and she runs the "pop justice" newsletter at Scalawag Magazine on culture and abolition. While you can often find her on the hunt for oysters in New Orleans, she'll always consider Mississippi home.

@keaux on all Social Media Platforms

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