It all began with two documents. The first, said Lonnie R. Bunkley, author of “Journey to Freedom,” was an accounting of a slave who had been legally beaten to death in Alabama. The second was a will dated December 2, 1778 naming his own ancestors as personal property of a slave owner.
From there Bunkley began what he calls “a genealogical study of an African American family and the political and social issues that impacted their lives.”
“In ‘Journey to Freedom- which traces eight generations of Bunkley family from 1778 during the American Revolution to the present, from Hertford County, North Carolina, through the deep south, Texas to Southern California-this African American family moves through slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, poverty and discrimination and strives to triumph over the adversaries of racist legal, social and economic forces,” Bunkley explained.
In Hayley-esque fashion, Bunkley links his family’s story to the events of each time period.
“It’s much broader than a story about my family,” he said.
“It is in fact a study of African American history, where we as a people struggle in our collective journey toward freedom. My family’s history did not occur in isolation and it should be studied within the context of other contemporary events…”
Bunkley, who is a founding member of the African American Genealogical Society, began his research for “Journey” several years ago and was lucky enough to get help in the form of letters and telephone conversations with people from the local communities where his family lived.
“They collected data from court records and libraries,” explained Bunkley.
“Much information also came from census reports and other government records. In addition, I visited relevant communities in the South, and of course some came from personal experiences and interviews with family and friends.”
But even with that plethora of information and the availability of the World Wide Web, finding what he needed wasn’t always easy, he said.
“Researching African American families is more difficult, especially slave families such as mine,” said Bunkley.
“It was necessary to study the lives of slaveholders and extract information from their documents, which contain data about their personal property such as my slave ancestors. Valuable data were found in their wills, court orders, bills of sale and their genealogical stories.”
So far, “Journey” has garnered positive responses, including “inspirational,” “well done” and “thoroughly enjoyable.”
“[It’s because this book is about real people,” Bunkley said.
“It was my paternal grandfather who ran into the night, in East Texas. My maternal grandfather and his family traveled in covered wagons looking for land and freedom in the Indian territories that became Oklahoma. ..”
Significant barriers to freedom like poor education, poverty, ill health and crime remain a challenge but Bunkley maintains that Black Americans were and are a resilient people.
“Even though the journey continues, we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors who endured more than I or really any of us can ever know and their shoulders are stronger and require us to be optimistic and continue the journey,” he said.