Waco woman starts family's oral history tradition

Posted at 2:24 PM, Apr 22, 2016
and last updated 2018-04-05 11:31:46-04

Waco native Nona Kirkpatrick El-Amin said her family’s history had been kept in the dark for too long - so she decided to share it.

El-Amin is related to victims of two of Waco’s most notorious lynchings - Jesse Washington and Sank Majors. She said that other relatives of Washington told her the two families are related a few months ago, but she’s known that she is related to Majors for most of her life.

She said the way generations before her were raised may play a part in why she had no idea the families are related.

“It was startling to me to find out that these two families were relatives,” she said.

In the days of  El-Amin’s parents and grandparents, African Americans did not publicly talk about lynchings or their victims. El-Amin said that’s because most blacks thought they would suffer some form of retaliation if they did. 

“They were bought up not to talk about it. They were afraid to talk about that.” she said.

But she said when given the opportunity, she decided to change that family habit.

El-Amin said the chance to change how her family kept its stories alive came when she was approached by Author Patricia Bernstein. She said Bernstein wanted her to tell her what she knew about her great uncle Sank Majors.

El-Amin's mother would not talk about the situation.

“She got on the phone and told all of them that somebody’s coming to write a book. And they’re talking to Nona and She’s gonna tell everybody,” she said. “And I did.”

Baylor’s Director of the institute of Oral History Dr. Stephen Sloan said oral history is very important in retaining history in some groups.

“These stories are handed down and it’s what makes them still live and still have meaning in some of these communities,” Sloan said.

He said that’s especially true in the black community because a lot of black history is not represented in traditional school books.

“Within that community these stories, these memories, these experiences are under documented,” Sloan said. “The historical record is not neutral.”

The scholar and Baylor’s Institute for Oral History has teamed up with The Texas Collection to start Sloan said the website was started so that more people can have more access to Waco’s history.

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