From Slavery to
An Indiana Journey
Monday, February 17,
Carole Guess retired
from teaching. She now spends much of her time
studying her family’s history. Listening to her, you can feel the harm
and hurt of slavery.
Guess traces her family history to several former
slaves who lived in
Northern Kentucky. She grew up near Hanover in Southern Indiana and
often visited her great grandfather, Matthew Humes, and his wife, Nancy
Daughterty. Both were born as slaves in Kentucky.
They lived on a small farm near South Hanover. Matthew
and Nancy Humes
often gathered the large family at the farm for reunions. Nancy loved
to feed people and she loved babies.
"She was a soft, gentle person," recalls Carole.
Matthew Humes built his farm to resemble the farm he
“master” Payne's farm in Kentucky. But Matthew didn't talk much about
"It was too painful," said Guess.
But in the fall of 1937, Matthew Humes did speak about
experience when he was interviewed by a writer employed by the federal
Works Progress Administration. Carole Guess was given a copy of the WPA
interview and a newspaper article about her great-grandfather published
in a Madison newspaper about 40 years ago. Since then, Guess became the
family's memory holder. She has collected documents and photographs as
well as family facts and stories. A few years ago she joined a local
African-American genealogy group.
Carole Guess is not alone in her interest in family
and black history.
Genealogy is one of America's favorite hobbies, according to American
Demographics. And interest in black genealogy and history has also
increased. While black studies began to emerge in the 1960s,
genealogists and historians often credit the landmark work Roots by
Alex Haley as providing impetus for the steadily growing interest in
family and black history.
"Roots got the whole genealogy thing going," said
editor of American Legacy, in a recent phone interview. "People were
either too close to it . . . the source of pain, the era of slavery.
People were looking forward. They didn't want to be attached to
something they felt was shameful. And who was going to go down to the
Montgomery Courthouse in 1965 as a black person and start asking for
"When Roots came along people saw it was possible to
research and unlocking the files. So I definitely think it affected
genealogy research. And as a result of the genealogy research, history
comes along with it. So it opened a lot of things. Now you're fleshing
out the whole large, looming idea of slavery. We had the concept of
slavery, but now we're getting the intimate details. The real stories,
the personal accounts. It did American history a world of good."
Carole Guess' ancestors, the family of Luke Humes,
arrived in Madison,
Ind., in January 1865. Their son, James Matthew, known as Matthew, was
11 years old. While living in bondage wasn't great, the Humes family
was lucky. They were fortunate their master didn't allow his overseers
to whip or beat his slaves, as many slaveholders regularly did.
However, one overseer, new to his master, was of a different mind.
The new overseer cracked Luke Humes over the head with
a metal tool for
no reason when he climbed out of a corn crib in the barn. The next day
when Luke went to the corn crib for feed, he saw the new overseer
hiding in wait for him. This time Luke took a shovel and removed the
metal handle. When the overseer rose to strike him, Luke hurled the
handle at the overseer's head and injured him. The commotion got the
attention of his owner, Mr. Payne. When Payne learned of the overseer’s
use of brutal force he dismissed the man at once. Luke Humes was not
punished. Although Humes had acted in self-defense, most whites then
accepted no justification for a slave injuring a white man.
A year after the Civil War ended, Mr. Payne told the
Humes family they
could stay on the farm in a sharecropping arrangement. But the family
left their Kentucky home, their master's home, and came to Indiana
"friendless, homeless and penniless." That's how Matthew described the
family's arrival to the WPA writer. Somehow the family managed to
survive and eventually found a small measure of prosperity. Luke Humes
was able to pay for several of his children, including Matthew, to
attend subscription school for several years, where they learned to
read and write.
Matthew Humes never understood why some former slaves
chose to stay on
plantations in exchange for food and a home. Humes thought it was a
good thing for former slaves to gain independence and improve
themselves as people.
Wilma Gibbs, archivist of African-American history at
Historical Society, attended Crispus Attucks High School in
Indianapolis. Students there were always made aware of the importance
of education and their heritage, she said.
"There has always been a tremendous interest in black
history in the
African-American community," Gibbs said. Yet Alex Haley's work was
instrumental in telling the story of slavery from the perspective of
enslaved people. Besides an obscure work published by Yale University,
says Gibbs, Roots was the first work to tell the story of slavery from
the black perspective. "Roots helped black people realize that if Alex
Haley could trace his family from a small town in Tennessee back to
Africa, then they also could hope of doing so," said Gibbs.
Roots confronted white Americans with the painful
legacy of slavery
through human stories of brutality and suffering tempered with stories
of joy, humor and hope. Roots also awoke many Americans to the
possibility of not only finding their ancestors, but understanding the
past and their own roots through family research. But
Carole Guess was unable to watch the movie.
"It made me angry," she said. Upon reflection, Guess
conceded it was
not the movie itself that angered her but the painful history and
family memories Roots represented. It was a history to which Carole
Guess was closely connected.
Perhaps the most significant legacy of Roots is that
is set the
country's emotional compass on a path of racial healing. Modern
psychology tells us emotional healing can only occur when painful
realities are acknowledged and losses grieved.
"History to me is about truth," said Wilma Gibbs of
Historical Society, "what really went on before. There can't be healing
without truth. Education is a big part of the process, researchers who
put the past in context. Exposure and education is a big part of it."
As if living out grandfather Matthew Humes' vision of
development, each generation of the extended Humes family improved
themselves. Matthew's grandchildren all graduated from high school. The
next generation, to which Carole Guess belongs, were expected to
"It wasn't a matter of if you go to college," said
Carole, "but when."
Carole's children have also completed college, and about half have
completed graduate school. Among them are lawyers, doctors and computer
gurus. Her niece, Tina Cosby, is a familiar face on WISH-TV news in her
current job as community affairs director.
Despite the penchant to improve themselves and get an
Humeses faced Jim Crow laws
and discrimination that continued long beyond that era. Born
in 1934, Carole Guess attended segregated schools
in Madison. Many
college educated blacks had to leave Madison and Southern Indiana in
order to use their education. No one would employ them there except as
laborers, explained residents and former residents in All We Had Was
Each Other. Southern Indiana was largely settled by Southerners.
some came to Indiana to cross the slavery boundary, many of these
families retained Southern sensibilities.
Carole Guess studied home economics in college, then
advanced degree at Purdue so she could teach. Now retired, Carole and
her husband, Bill Guess, both taught school in Indianapolis for many
years. Yet when they moved to the Arden neighborhood on the Northside
in 1971, they found they had crossed another color barrier. When they
arrived they learned the neighborhood had been abuzz with the “ghastly”
news that a black family had moved in. A few of the white families
moved out. But things have changed. Race is no longer an issue in the
But other things haven’t changed much. Carole's family
together annually for family reunions. Last year they flocked to a
reunion at Eagle
While some of Carole Guess' family have roots in
slavery, her mother's
kin, the Tyrees, came to Southern Indiana as free blacks and helped
fugitive slaves in the Underground Railroad. From her family's roots in
slavery, as well as in a freedom movement where blacks and whites
cooperated and resisted the dominant culture together, it has been a
long and proud road to freedom for descendants of Matthew Humes and
"I think he'd be proud," said Guess.