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Cousins. One Family, Two Branches

By Blog Master
Posted: 05/13/2021
Tags: bios

Meeting Notes by Sharon Jarrett.

The group met on May 7, 2021 at 10:00.  There were 30 participants.

This meeting was recorded and the link is below.

The group was welcomed by Dick Myers, who introduced the topic of the session which was the book, Cousins: Connected Through Slavery, published by Walnut Street Books.  He introduced the authors, Betty Kilby Baldwin and Phoebe Kilby.

Betty began by indicating that the African American Kilby family members knew about the white family members, however, the white family members discovered their African American family.

Phoebe then shared the discovery story.  Since 2006, Phoebe has worked with the Center for Justice and Peace at Eastern Mennonite University and been a member of “Coming to the Table”, a community based organization focused on racial reconciliation and  peace building.

She began by sharing that her family did not talk about slavery.  She did not think of her family as slave owners but, realized, in hindsight, she “should have known”.  She based this on the racial attitudes of the family, the fact that they owned farm land in Virginia across generations and that there were African Americans with the last name Kilby in the Shenandoah Valley. These Kilbys were well known due to community and Civil Rights activism. This activism included Betty and her brother being involved in the desegregation of the Warren County School District. Phoebe’s research began with the current African American family members.

Beginning with census records,  she discovered her great, great grandfather LeRoy, owned two slaves.  For more information and with the help of a genealogist, she used court records including wills and bills of sale to discover an ancestor she suspected was a common ancestor to both branches of the family. (DNA testing has confirmed this white male ancestor fathered children with an enslaved female, Juliette).  During this period, Phoebe discovered the book, “Wit, Wills and Walls” by Betty Kilby Fischer (now Baldwin).  She found what she described as “hints” in the book, eventually learning that the white and black Kilby families lived within a mile of one another.

Phoebe shared her research with her “Coming to the Table” group, who encouraged her to contact Betty.  Phoebe determined that email would be the best way to contact Betty as it allowed Betty time to process the information.  Email offered and gave her the chance to determine how to respond.  Having received no response to her first email, Phoebe tried again indicating “someone needs to apologize and maybe that person is me”.  Shortly, Phoebe received an email with the subject line “Hello Cousin”.  Betty began her response with, “We are the key to healing”.  Phoebe indicated after reading the email, she felt no fear and saw Betty as “just like me only a different color.”.

Betty and Phoebe then shared a documentary film “Wit, Will and Walls: The Betty Kilby Fischer Story.”  The documentary was produced to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the desegregation of the Warren County Virginia Schools.  Betty Kilby was the first African American female to attend this high school.  On the fiftieth anniversary, a plaque was placed in front of the school indicating the history.

Moving to the present day, Phoebe shared that her view of reparations was making amends, making repairs as personal, local and national.  As a personal act, she established a scholarship fund in 2014 to help the descendants of the enslaved Kilbys attend college.  At present, seven descendants have received scholarships with one having graduated already.
Betty and Phoebe have decided that any proceeds they receive from the sale of their book “Cousins” will go to the fund.

A discussion followed:

●    A question was asked about the reactions of the two branches of the family to the book and talks given by Betty and Phoebe.  They indicated the reactions were mixed with some family members participating and others “not getting on board”.  Phoebe indicated that her family members were supportive.
●    Betty shared that Wit, Will and Walls  had been self published and sales are handled through a website.  Cousins was published by Walnut Press and easier to obtain.
●    Betty and Phoebe shared that Guidepost Magazine had an article about their story and book.
●    As a concluding thought, Betty and Phoebe offered the following “we have to come to grips with our past (at our own pace).

View the Video by clicking on this link Cousins Presentation

On our June 4th meeting at 10AM,  we will have another speaker.  Linda Pope did her  undergraduate work at Overland College. She graduated from Ohio State Medical School in Ophthalmology and completed her Residency at Baylor College, in Houston, Texas.  She then opened a private  practice in Houston, Texas, where she is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine and the Houston Medical Center. Linda is the daughter of David Pope, who played successfully in the Negro League and  Major League Baseball with the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles. Linda has participated in a mission in Central Africa, providing eye care to local residents on several occasions. This life experience has given her a rich story to tell us about and provide perspective that we can share. We look forward to Linda's presentation.

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