Racial tensions have once again flared after news of the shooting death of Alton Sterling by Louisiana police.
People are grieving. People are confused and upset. And it leaves many thinking that the nation’s racial divide will never be fully healed.
However, two families are offering up a message of hope and communion, forging a way forward, despite the fact that they share a turbulent history.
Nkrumah Steward is a black man, the patriarch of a blossoming family that includes two young children.
He is also descended from slaves who were forced to work on a South Carolina plantation for generations.
Robert Adams is a white man, a doting husband with a family of his own.
Adams owns and operates the modern incarnation of Wavering Place Plantation, the very same plantation where Steward’s forebears were enslaved.
His family used to own Steward’s family, in other words.
Still, the two families came together recently for a joyous dinner, acknowledging the dark stain of history, but not allowing it to rule their shared future.
Steward wrote about the moment in a Facebook post:
“Tonight my family and I were dinner guests at Wavering Place, an old plantation founded in 1768 near Hopkins, South Carolina where four generations of my grandmothers lived and worked as slaves when they were emancipated in 1865.”
“And now 181 years later, after almost two centuries, my mother and father, my two sons, my wife and myself sat down in that very house and broke bread with the descendant of those who owned members of my family.”
Adams expressed a similar sentiment to USA Today:
“It felt like we’ve known them our whole lives,” he said.
“Slavery happened and that should be recognized.”
“I think we can move beyond the past and work on a better world for everybody.”
Most people have been receptive to the idea that these two families can forge a path forward. However, there have been some that accuse them of ignoring the realities of slavery.
Steward sat down with Good Morning America to explain the fault in their reasoning:
“Robert is a descendant of people who owned my family. He didn’t own anybody,” he said.
“I am a descendant of slaves of that his family owned. I have never been a slave. This is about history. This is about family.
There is nothing he can do or I can do that can change the fact that I have relatives who may have died on that plantation.”
There is another wrinkle to the story, however.
In 1835, slave owner Joel Robert Adams had a child with one of his slaves, Sarah Jones Adams.
That child went on to become a mother, and grandmother, eventually resulting in the birth of Nkrumah Steward himself.
The two men are cousins, making it one giant family instead of two.
Steward was overjoyed at the connection:
“We are cousins by blood. And tonight we took the first steps together towards also becoming friends.”
“Our history is a shared one, and we celebrate our family connection.”
The two men say that this is merely the “tip of the iceberg” for their families. They will surely be sharing many more dinners together in the future.