This weekend my first choreographed work, a solo entitled Bloodlines, premiered in the OSU Department of Dance’s Spring concert, “Absolute Existence.” This piece was inspired by the lineage of my ancestors as African Americans in the Deep South. All my life, I have grown up hearing stories about how my family lived and worked in Abbeville, South Carolina. I have been brought up with a strong sense of pride in the people from whom I come, and their experiences of lynching and discrimination have fueled my desire to be all that I can be and to take advantage of the opportunities that they risked their lives to provide me with.
My distant uncle, Anthony Crawford was lynched in Abbeville in 1916 because he refused to settle for the poor price that a buyer offered him for his cotton crop. His legacy has traveled from generation to generation to me, and I have been rocked with the understanding that one of my blood relatives was murdered in cold, hateful, and evil blood. It fills me with a sort of righteous indignation akin to what I feel when the media splashes the death and mistreatment of youth like Martese Johnson, Mike Brown, and Trayvon Martin across my news screen.
Wess McBride, my paternal great-grandfather, my Great-Granddaddy, was the first black police officer in Abbeville County, where his grandfather was lynched. He was also the first black sheriff’s deputy in the county as well. This was a man that I knew; a man of whom I have faded memories. I remember going to his house and sitting on his scratchy couch. I remember his wrinkly face. I know the stories that my father still tells of the kind of man he was today. He was an upstanding man of integrity — much like the kind of woman I am striving to be today,
Mary Alice Smith, my paternal grandmother, my Nana, truly lived the role of the Help. She started in domestic work at a young age, working in the homes of many affluent families in Abbeville as well. She raised some families’ children from infancy, and they still hold her in high regard for this today. She went on to work in the sewing and textiles fields, and carried herself with the dignity our ancestors has passed down. For this reason, she was favored, and placed in positions of prominence in these fields as well.
Lastly, Walter Smith, my paternal grandfather, my Papa, was a man who has further instilled in me the value of hard work. He worked on CSX Railroad, formerly Seaboard Coastlines, from the age of 14 until he retired. He laid rail all the way up and down the Eastern seaboard. The hot southern sun turned his skin a deep ebony, earning him the nickname Blue Steel because his skin had a faint blue tint. My Papa passed away when I was 11, but the color of his skin is something that has always resonated with me. I look so much like him; in my baby pictures, he holds me to his face and our skin mingles together, almost the same shade. Thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes; I miss him so much.
These are the things that were in my spirit as I began the process of making this piece. I wanted to honor my family, and all that they have done for me to be able to live the life that I currently enjoy. Sharing this part of myself with the world has been an incredible experience. I have been totally humbled by the responses that I have received, and I believe that it truly was a success.
I will close with the spoken word segment that I conclude my performance with:
These Bloodlines run strong in me.
Coursing through my veins, driving me.
the blood on the root never dried.
The fruit on the tree never died.
A seed was planted.
You — Uncle Anthony, Great-Granddaddy, Papa, Nana — live on in Me.
Below are pictures taken by my lovely classmate, Hana Newfeld, of Bloodlines.