Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview

13 On Being the Object of Property

Patricia J. Williams


ON BEING INVISIBLE

Reflections

For some time I have been writing about my great-great-grandmother. I have considered the significance of her history and that of slavery from a variety of viewpoints on a variety of occasions: in every speech, in every conversation, even in my commercial transactions class. I have talked so much about her that I finally had to ask myself what it was I was looking for in this dogged pursuit of family history. Was I being merely indulgent, looking for roots in the pursuit of some genetic heraldry, seeking the inheritance of being special, different, unique in all that primo- geniture hath wrought?

I decided that my search was based in the utility of such a quest, not mere indulgence, but a recapturing of that which had escaped historical scrutiny, which had been overlooked and underseen. I, like so many blacks, have been trying to pin myself down in history, place myself in the stream of time as significant, evolved, present in the past, continuing into the future. To be without documentation is too unsustaining, too spontaneously ahistorical, too dangerously malleable in the hands of those who would rewrite not merely the past but my future as well. So I have been picking through the ruins for my roots.

What I know of my mother's side of the family begins with my great-great-grandmother. Her name was Sophie and she lived in Tennessee. In 1850, she was about 12 years old. I know that she was purchased when she was 11 by a white lawyer named Austin Miller and was immediately impregnated by him. She gave birth

____________________
From Signs 14/ 1 ( 1988), 5-24. Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1988 by The University of Chicago.

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