Feb 242010
Authors: Allison Welter

There were times in her 15-year exploration of her ancestry when Regina Mason felt she was wasting her time trying to tie her roots to runaway slave and distant relative William Grimes, but she persevered.

Mason, the co-author of the “Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave,” guided about 25 listeners through years of personal discovery during her presentation Wednesday night in the Lory Student Center; her most important, the discovery of her “redwood” strength roots.

“I could do nothing but weep. I felt that the souls of my people had reached across time and had urged me to tell their stories,” Mason said of her feeling when she discovered a family Bible that included notes inextricably tying her to Grimes.

These words struck a chord with the audience, ranging from graduate students, to mutual friends, who were inspired by the perseverance in her research.

“She inspires others to be extraordinary; she shows us that we all have it within us,” said Emily Ambrose, a graduate student in Student Affairs in Higher Education.

In an attempt to put a face on the issue of slavery, Mason described for the audience the life that Grimes, the author of the first Southern fugitive slave narrative in American History, experienced.

An orphan who was always in fights and rebellious, Grimes was sold into slavery at age 10. And while a slave in Savannah, Ga., Grimes was whipped.

“Unrelenting misery plagued this man’s life,” Mason said.

Grimes escaped his servitude by hiding in cotton bails, later escaping to New Haven, Conn.

After his escape, Grimes authored his narrative, one that Mason described as “more cutthroat” than anything she had ever read.

Mason’s husband, Brandon Mason, read excerpts from “Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slaves” as if he were Grimes himself.

“The condition of a slave under any circumstances is painful and unfortunate. Such was my condition for more than 30 years,” Grimes wrote.

Mason, who called her ancestor’s autobiography an “indictment of everything this country stood for,” highlighted her ancestor’s celebrity.

She was particularly proud that Grimes’s narrative predated that of Frederick Douglass, who was only 7 years old when Grimes published his. Douglass is the author of history’s most famous slave narrative, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”

“Grimes’ first narrative was published in 1825 during a time when black autobiographies were very sparse,” Mason said.

This fact served to demonstrate the success Black Definition, the organization that hosted the event, had in providing CSU with untold stories about black heroes, their theme for Black History Month.

Mason’s original intention in coming to CSU was to spark curiosity in students about their own origins, but she also addressed a topic of interest for Paul Gugleilmo, a non-traditional student studying Watershed Science.

“The overwhelming gorilla in the room, of slavery in America, is always fascinating,” Gugleilmo said. “We’re the freest country in the world, and we have this huge scar of slavery in our history.”

Though she was successful in finally discovering her connection with Grimes, Mason was permanently drawn into genealogy. She said she will research her roots until the day she dies and continues to search for her ancestors in the pages of history to this day.

Staff writer Allison Welter can be reached at news@collegian.com.

About the Author

Regina Mason
-is co-author of the first fugitive slave narrative “Life of William Grimes, a Runaway Slave”
-is the great-great-great granddaughter of pioneering autobiographer William Grimes, who escaped slavery in Savannah, Ga.
-she spent 15 years researching his life and her ancestry

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