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By Blog Master
Posted: 05/25/2021

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. Martin Luther KingJr.


In May, 2021, Pasadena Village’s 1619 Project Discussion Group arranged for two special guests, Dr. Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin and Phoebe Kilby to introduce their book, “Cousins” in a Zoom presentation.  A rapt audience of members and guests listened as they described a Black family and a White family, descended from the same slave holder, and how these two women met one another, bonded with each other, and decided to share their story.


It all started when Phoebe Kilby was in college, at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg, Virginia, and became involved with a program called “Coming to the Table” sponsored by the Center for Peace and Reconciliation.  Coming to the Table takes the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. and seeks to bring together people of different racial backgrounds to explore racial injustice and to work towards reconciliation.


Although Phoebe grew up in Baltimore, her family was deeply rooted in Virginia dating back to pre-Revolutionary War days.  She knew they owned a farm, but she never imagined that her family may have been slave owners.  However, when she was at college she noticed articles in the local newspaper about people with the last name of “Kilby” who were Black and active in the civil rights movement.  She began looking at census records and legal documents and discovered, first, that in 1840 her great, great grandfather was listed in the census as owning two slaves.  Further research left her with the strong feeling that Betty Kilby Baldwin was a descendant of one of those slaves and that they were related. 


With encouragement from the folks at “Coming to the Table” she reached out to Betty with her findings and, with some trepidation, asked if they could meet.


At this point in the presentation, Betty Kilby Baldwin took over the narration.  Betty knew she was descended from slaves and always suspected she had relatives who were of mixed race.  She and Phoebe arranged to meet and afterwards Betty declared, “She walked in with no sign of fear, doing the very thing I had done so often when I walked into a new situation.  I knew then, she’s just like me, only in a different color.”


As it turns out Betty had played an important and traumatizing role in the battle for integration in the 1950’s.  As Betty tells it, “My father owned land at one time, but he lacked the ability to make the case to keep it.  He always believed that he lost his land because he wasn’t educated.”  Therefore, in 1958, Betty Kirby became one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit to integrate the Warren County High School in Front Royal, Virginia.  To try to avoid integration, Virginia actually closed its public schools for a year.  But in 1959 Betty Baldwin and 20 other Black students walked through a hostile crowd to begin their high school years.


Betty’s high school years, and those of other Black students who were the “foot soldiers” in the battle to integrate schools on a daily basis, were full of stress and trauma.  Not one white student reached out to befriend her.  On the school campus one day she was trapped in a room and raped.   And yet – Betty was eventually able to go from “being terrorized to saying, Hello Cousin.”  She did it by listening to her father who likened hating to taking poison.  She determined that no one was going to stop her from achieving what she wanted.  And with that in mind she realized that, while she couldn’t do anything to undo what had happened to her, people like Phoebe also couldn’t undo what their ancestors had done.  “It’s up to us,” said Betty, to make things better.


After Phoebe and Betty met, they continued their dialogue towards reconciliation.  Phoebe and Betty, along with members of Betty’s family, worked successfully to have a historical marker erected outside of the Warren County High School to honor and memorialize the courage and the sacrifices made by the young students who integrated the Virginia school system.


But Phoebe wanted to do more.  “My family, as slave owners, committed atrocities.  Even though I never enslaved anyone, my family did.  How could I begin to make reparations for what families like Betty’s endured?”  Phoebe saw how important education was to Betty and her family.  So, in 2014, she established the Kilby Family Scholarship fund that provides scholarships for the descendants of the Kilby family.  To date more than 15 scholarships have been awarded.  Explained Phoebe, “We think of reparations as a national issue.  But we can do things personally and at a community level to begin the process of healing.”


All proceeds from their book, “Cousins” go to the scholarship fund.  Betty and Phoebe continue their work of justice and reconciliation, and the presentation affirmed the difference that each person can make to bring justice to our nation.

To view the video presentation, Click here




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