By Antoinette Harrell, Vice
Historian and genealogist Antoinette Harrell has uncovered cases of African Americans still living as slaves 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The 57-year-old Louisiana native has dedicated more than 20 years to peonage research. Through her work, she’s unearthed painful stories in Southern states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Florida. Over a series of interviews, she told Justin Fornal about how she became an expert of modern slavery in the United States.
My mother always talked to me about our family history and the family members who had passed on. She only knew so many stories, so oftentimes she would tell the same ones over and over again. Each time she repeated a story, I felt like she was trying to give me a message. It was like she was trying to tell me that if I wanted to know more about who we were, I would have to dig deeper.
We knew our family had once been slaves in Louisiana. In 1994, I started to look into historical records and public records. I found my ancestors in the 1853 inventory belonging to Benjamin and Celia Bankston Richardson. Written down alongside other personal belongings that included spoons, forks, hogs, cows, and a sofa were my great great grandparents, Thomas and Carrie Richardson.