150 Years Later is a unique story of DISCOVERY, TRIUMPH, and CELEBRATION. No other book unravels a historical mystery that led to an unprecedented family reunion. This book takes readers on a mouth-dropping quest that mended ties that were broken during slavery.
In 1859 near Abbeville, South Carolina, 12-year-old Bill Reed was forever separated from his family. His father was sold away, and his mother, grandmother, and other family members were all taken away from the state soon afterwards. Waving goodbye to them, young Bill would never lay eyes on them ever again. He left South Carolina in 1866, shortly after he was emancipated, and moved to northern Mississippi after he was told that Mississippi was the “land of milk and honey with fat pigs running around with apples in their mouths.” He died near Senatobia in 1937, at the age of 91, never learning that his family had been within 75 miles away from him, also in northern Mississippi.
150 Years Later is a riveting story of discovery that chronicles Collier’s relentless journey of unearthing his great-grandfather Bill’s mysterious history, finding his family’s whereabouts and their living descendants, and breaking down barriers to mend the broken ties in an emotional reunion in 2009 – 150 years later.
The involuntary break-up of families during slavery due to selling and other means was very common. However, the discovery of those lost branches and the reuniting of the descendants after 150 years is uncommon. This is what makes 150 Years Later very captivating and uplifting.
"Few slaves escaped the pain of forcible separation from their kin, especially during the nineteenth century. The spread of cotton cultivation across the Lower South resulted in the removal or sale of some one million slaves from their homes in the seaboard states, deeply disturbing the civilization that black people had established in the aftermath of their forced exodus from Africa." – Dr. Ira Berlin, University of Maryland, from Families and Freedom
After the Civil War’s end, many emancipated African Americans sought tirelessly for their family members from whom they were torn asunder. They often thought of them, like William “Bill” Reed had done with a heavy heart, wondering about his family’s whereabouts. In South Carolina, when my great-grandfather was twelve years old, he watched his father being sold away, never to see him again, and he helplessly watched as his mother, grandmother, brother, and other family members were taken away, never to lay eyes on them again as well. Bill and a younger sister named Mary were then sold to a local owner. However, he never forgot his family. His soul would not allow him to forget them.
Family remained crucially important to Bill, as revealed by his decision to name his youngest son after his long-lost father. Family was paramount, as evident by the many stories he shared with his children and grandchildren underneath his sycamore tree on his 300-plus-acre farm near Senatobia, Mississippi. As a storyteller, Bill continued to share his childhood memories of his slavery days in South Carolina until his demise in 1937, at the age of ninety-one. He wanted his family to know from whence he had come.
150 Years Later tells Bill Reed’s stories. His stories and my family’s willingness to share them ultimately led to his mysterious history being unraveled and also redeemed in a grand fashion – an emotional and powerful family reunion that occurred 150 years after his family unit was dismantled. His stories displayed the terrible burdens chattel slavery had placed on the stability of African-American families. His stories also revealed the centrality of family in his life, as well as the lives of other former slaves who were always under the dreadful threat of being forever separated from their kin. From his stories, 150 Years Later also demonstrates the great value in oral history and the importance of capturing it.
In order to fully understand why Bill Reed and many other former slaves placed such a high value on family and to appreciate its importance, one must revert back to the roots – Africa. Inside a small region of a massively beautiful continent, stretching from Senegal to Angola, the ancestors of African Americans hailed from culturally rich communities where the family was the foundation for the survival and growth of the village. Traditional African societies were diverse in many ways, but a cultural feature shared by nearly all of them was that life was centered around the family – often an extensive kinship network that included all who descended from a common male or female ancestor. It did not matter if an ancestor was from the Akan culture of Ghana, the Yoruba culture of Nigeria, or the Mende culture of Sierra Leone, their familial ideologies were similar regarding family life, and those cultural values accompanied them to North and South America.
In spite of the physical and psychological trauma those chained ancestors would come to endure on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the institution of family never waned. Its importance among African Americans continued on after slavery, during Reconstruction, throughout the Jim Crow era, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement era, and up to the present. In the midst of the many injustices African Americans faced in society, the family was crucial in providing moral, psychological, and financial support, not only to consanguineal family members, but also to many unrelated individuals who were considered a member of the family. Family support enabled many former slaves to endure the atrocities of chattel slavery – if they were fortunate to be among their family members on farms and plantations throughout the South.
Bill Reed’s stories are an attest that people of African descent are not ethnically wired to be individualists. The tradition of family must and should continue in churches, schools, communities, and most importantly, in immediate and extended families. Aspects of modern society and thinking should not be allowed to erode the cultural essence of family that was undoubtedly brought over from Africa. 150 Years Later displays that powerful essence – one that should never die.
Chapter 1: "The feeling was just there."
Click here for a sample of Chapter 1.
"The author's success at recovering connections and renewing family ties severed by America's 'peculiar institution' of human bondage is at once educational and inspiring. Mr. Collier is a natural storyteller; his work is a page-turning thriller filled with thoroughly researched information and a unique perspective. Read and be encouraged to discover your own family story." - Danita Nelson, George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center, Austin, TX
150 Years Later Incorporates Everything Historians Dream About by Robin Foster: Often on the brink of tears while I read, “150 Year Later” has left me beyond words. It is a total masterpiece...a miraculous story full of mini miracles! The painstaking efforts of Melvin J. Collier to uncover his ancestry and to identify each member of the family group of Lewis and Fanny and their whereabouts had me cheering for his success the whole way through the book. I was incapable of holding the yearnings for my own Abbeville County ancestors at bay. My heart raced forward in anticipation of each new discovery of fact, locality, and person. He left no stone unturned in his search. He relied on the oral history of the oldest living descendants, but he also produced historical documentation in his unrelenting search . . . - Read more at “Over Troubled Waters”.
"I totally enjoyed reading this book. I felt like I was back during the 1800's when all of this took place. It is very informative as to how Mr. Collier was able to trace back to his roots and find missing family members that were separated during slavery. A very motivating book to read, especially for those who are doing research on their families. He shows that patience and perseverance (and the help from family alive and deceased) pays off." - Laura Keane, Memphis, TN
"150 Years Later" is captivating! It gave me such a beautiful imagery of a man's Godly character and the fruits of his labor. I admired his role as a family man and how he left behind a legacy of blessings, purpose, honor, and family values. This book allowed me to grasps a deep concept of having desires, hopes & dreams fulfilled, but not without injustice, and how to endure it without losing my self-worth. It caused me to experience different levels of emotions: weeping, laughter, cheering, sadness, curiosity, and shouts of "Amen" to God for the victory. I couldn't help but feel the sense of the ancestors gleaming with joy that their story is being told all across America. This book definitely sets a standard. It will educate you on how to seek, knock, and ask of your own roots. It will bless you with the level of respect for your existence and cause the gratitude for your ancestors to increase beyond measure. Excellent book! - Sandra Pollard-Scott, Atlanta, GA
"I really enjoyed your book. It reminded me so much of my journey in many ways. May God continue to bless you with all you do." - John F. Baker Jr., author of The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation
"150 Years Later" is so important on so many levels. It tells us what can be gleaned about family history if you speak to the elders. It gives us insights and tips on how you can be successful with our own research. It teaches us about chattel American slavery - and lets us know that we can have feelings about that peculiar institution. The book tells us of the importance of family; keeping it together and, just as important, putting it back together, no matter how long ago it was broken. - Read more by George Geder
"Every life story recovered from slavery’s snare has the power to help heal our nation's soul. In '150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended', Melvin J. Collier’s in-depth recounting of his spiritual and historical quest to recover his ancestors’ names and their stories is a celebratory inspiration for the African Ancestored researcher and an American history lesson for us all. The Barr and Reed family’s triumph belongs to each of us." - Alane Roundtree, Historian
"This book will captivate and transport the reader through a wonderful journey of discovering an extended family grounded in oral history and supported by factual data. In addition, each chapter of the book provides the historical context to grasp and understand the impact of slavery in this country. The setting for this book is in Mississippi and South Carolina. The miraculous connections with long lost family members; researchers and other individuals brought tears to my eyes... - Read more by Bernice Bennett
"When Michael Jackson recorded Thriller, he never knew the impact that Thriller would have on the public. Thriller is a timeless piece that touched many generations and it is still a classic today. "150 Years Later" is Melvin Collier’s Thriller. Melvin immediately captures your attention from the very beginning with a powerful introduction. There are so many concepts to this book. It will definitely touch people differently but all in a positive way. Yes, it tells the story of how he mended broken ties. However, it is much more than that. It makes people who have never done any research to start. It gives motivation to the ones who have started and stopped their research. Never leave any stone unturned. There are tips on how to read and decipher information that you may already have. Melvin not only got over the brick wall, he crumbled it. His writing style is very unique. At times, it feels like he is talking to you. At times, it seems like his ancestors are talking through him. At times, it feels like you are in his head asking the same questions that were going through his mind. Each chapter keeps you wanting to know "what’s next". You will not only learn "his history" but you will learn "Mississippi" and "African-American History". He paints a picture of that time frame and makes you reflect on how good we have things now and the pain and suffering that our ancestors had to endure. Melvin, you have definitely left your footprints on the sands of time." - Len Campbell, St. Louis, MO
"I actually finished reading "150 Years Later" before my trip to Liberia. It was a great story, and I felt as if I was reading the story about my journey. I realize that we, whom the Ancestors have called to find them, all have an universal story and connection and many similar paths and journeys. Great book Melvin! I am inspired to complete my story and journey into my family." - Herman "Skip" Mason, Atlanta, GA
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Contact Melvin J. Collier at authorAT150yearslater.com (replace AT with @) or complete the form below.