Extended Families in the African American Culture There are some lines attributed to Victor Hugo which read:" She broke the bread into two fragments and gave them to her children, who ate with eagerness. 'She hath kept none for herself,' grumbled the sergeant. "'Because she is not hungry,' said a soldier "'No,' said the sergeant, 'because she is a mother.' " These lines of writ are truly identifiable in my past. I have no doubt that my mother would sacrifice her own comfort, as she often has, in order to assure that I, myself, have that which I desire and need.
However I would surely be remorse d if I failed to admit that my happiest times come not only when I am in the company of my mother but also in the company with my father, brothers, and sister. The joys of a family are surely among the great gifts of God. It is this feeling of unity that I hate to see withheld from any human being, having experienced this fullness of joy myself. It is this reason among others that pains me to read the accounts of early African Americans that were enslaved and oft robbed of their biological families. The two pieces that I have most enjoyed reading, Equiano and Douglas, talked of this most severe suffering and pain. Equiano writes, "I remember in the vessel in which I was brought over in, in the man's apartment, there were several brothers, who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion to see their distress and hear their cries at parting...
Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery." Equiano who had already been stripped of his sister, with whom he was taken captive, would learn that if they had been brought to the auction block together, they still, most assuredly, would have been taken by two distinct masters and hence forced to live their confinements apart. Frederick Douglas recounts quite a different way in which he was stripped of his family. Following popular practice, his mother was sold while he was still an infant to a neighboring farm and he recalls seeing her only "four or five times." He says of these times, "I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night.
She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone." He later describes what I can't imagine and I hate to think that any should have to bear such an experience. He continues, "Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger." As we talked of bell hooks in class and how the African American people have been forced to take the "margin" but have found themselves in a position of "infinite possibilities." It is my position that the greatest achievement of the African American people is that to adapt to an extended family. Throughout history African Americans were denied the joy of their biological families and through their character they have been able to see what the average man struggles to see, that every man is thy brother. The African American has learned to joy not only in the biological family but in the entire community. It should be of no wonder that African Americans esteem each other as their "brothers and sisters" for they were and truly are just that.