Richard and Edie Spencer, seen in a photo estimated to be from late 1880s or early 1890s.

Family Archives of the Spencers of Screven County, Georgia

Black Americans share stories of their ancestors to show that slavery wasn’t so long ago

'Too many people want to forget it ever happened, but we can’t and shouldn’t.'


Samira Sadeque


Posted on May 28, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 11:45 am CDT

A Twitter thread prompted by a Minnesota woman stands as a stark reminder that Black Americans are still only a few generations removed from slavery. 

On Saturday, Jocelyn Mammen shared how, growing up, she lived with her great grandmother whose parents were born slaves. “It wasn’t that long ago,” she wrote.  

Her tweet soon prompted hundreds to share how easy it was to trace slavery in their own families. Many had grandparents or great-grandparents whose parents were slaves or were directly impacted by slavery by becoming sharecroppers. 

“Even after emancipation, some were forced into becoming sharecroppers, which was just another form of slavery,” Mammen, who identifies as a disabled stay-at-home mom, told the Daily Dot in an email. “Then this country moved into the Jim Crow era…and in many ways, I’m not so sure that ended. The remnants of slavery are still very much with us.” 

That there are people alive who can talk about their close proximity to slavery is a testament to how recent it is in our history. Yet, these reminders need to be shared and re-shared because accounts of slavery continue to be disputed, or whitewashed, or even re-enforced in present day through institutional racism.

“I’ve noticed, particularly on Twitter, many people mainly on the right politically being dismissive of Black history, culture, and contributions. We still hear ‘Get over it, slavery was so long ago,’ but it wasn’t,” she says.

It eventually inspired the hashtag #NotThatLongAgo, which many used to share their accounts:

Some also shared instances where a family member was able to acquire land from their slave owners. Bryndis Roberts shared a photo of her great-great-grandparents, who she identified as Richard and Edie Spencer in a Twitter message with the Daily Dot. In follow-up tweets, she explained the image: “There was a familial relationship between my maternal Black ancestors and their white slaveholders. Because of that relationship, the white slaveholders, who were also my ancestors, sold land to my maternal Black ancestors…after the end of the Civil War. Being landowners afforded my maternal Black ancestors a higher standard of living and access to things like photography.”

Mammen says she is pleased that her thread has “prompted a number of people to start researching their family genealogy and, better still, have these conversations with older family members now, while we still can.”

It has also been a lesson for non-Black people, which is especially important in an education system that repeatedly sees numerous accounts of both teachers and students spewing racist slurs or enforcing practices that are insensitive and contribute to the erasure of slavery narratives.

The thread even prompted some descendants of slave owners to acknowledge their family’s past:

“Too many people want to forget it ever happened, but we can’t and shouldn’t,” Mammen says. “It’s important to call it what it was, to look at who was hurt by it and who benefited. Most of the people responding are three to five generations removed from slavery. Look how far we’ve come…and just how far we have to go.”

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*First Published: May 28, 2019, 11:34 am CDT