Present In Ancestral Spaces – Marianna FL

Written by on January 10, 2017

I have read the documents and heard the stories, but I needed to see the place for myself.

Last weekend, I fulfilled a long-delayed mission. I set foot in the first of a series of locations that are significant to my family history. First stop: Marianna, Florida

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From the city’s Wikipedia page:

Governor John Milton owned Sylvania Plantation and hundreds of slaves, and was the governor of Florida during the Civil War years. Governor Milton was vehemently against the Confederate States of America reuniting with the United States of America. He vowed that he would rather die than see the Confederates reunite with the Unionist states.

In late spring 1865, as federal troops were preparing to take control of Tallahassee, Governor Milton received word the Civil War had ended and that Florida would, once again, be part of the United States. On April 1, 1865, as the southern cause was collapsing, John Milton shot himself at “Sylvania.” In his last message to the legislature, he had said, “Death would be preferable to reunion.”

Pardon me if I find a significant portion of that description amusing, but in these waning days before America inaugurates President Trump and we face the likelihood of the confirmed appointments of scores of descendants of “Confederate stalwarts” like Gov. John Milton, there is a delicious irony in being present in this space at this moment in history.

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I was raised to think of myself as a Milton Girl. My great-grandfather, Richmond Milton Jr., was born in Marianna on May 6, 1878, according to documents I’ve collected. His father, Richmond Sr., was the property of this same Gov. Milton who took his own life in his study, distraught at the fall of the Confederacy. I cannot say for sure whether good ole boy politician John had anything to do directly with that branch of the bloodline, but I’ve seen photos of him and my great-great-grandfather bears far more than a subtle resemblance. What I do know is that these white Miltons practically came to America on the Mayflower, held all manner of elected office for more than a century, and laid roots in Alabama, Georgia and New Orleans before ending up slaveowners in Marianna. John was also a delegate for the Democratic Party. I’ll just let that linger in your mind for a moment…

The truest irony of this visit and this ancestral reality is that it was likely Gov. John Milton’s grandson, Florida Senator William Hall Milton, who–for reasons yet unknown–is the one credited with plucking my great-grandfather from a certain life as a farmer/sharecropper in this tiny Southern town and financing his college education at Howard University. William, born less than a year before John shot himself, seemed to have quite a different perspective on public service and Black potential than his infamous grandfather. So much of our nation’s history is tied up in the business of slavery: profits and heavy losses, access and oppression, ego, reputation and privilege. I owe a significant portion of my solidly middle-class upbringing to the fact that my great-grandaddy Richmond received a form of reparations in his transport North and a college education at “The Mecca.” Because of him, I am.

There’s much more to this story of Marianna, the Miltons and my family, but we’ll explore that in another blog. For now, join me in marveling at our first stop along this journey. The roads that pointed North. The transformed tragedies that provided opportunity. You have a first-class seat as the ancestors and their legends continue to reveal themselves. Thank you for coming along on the ride.

All aboard!


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