The Hideaway Times: Article
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Storyteller has mission to focus on historic facts
By ANNE GEGGIS | News-Journal Staff Writer
The same way black Civil War troops aimed to free their descendents, Mary J. Fears wants to get out the real story of African-Americans´ past for the future.
With the same tenacity that uncovered her ancestors seven generations ago -- even though there were no birth records -- she takes on the persistent myths about America´s slave-owning past.
Retired media specialist, Mary Fears, uses her storytelling skills to educate listeners on the role and contributions of African-Americans in history.
(Photo: News-Journal/Kelly Jordan)
Debunking the ideas that blacks troops didn´t serve with valor on the Civil War battle field or that few slaves were skilled in trades like sewing and smithing are what drives Fears. She is active around Central Florida, speaking of school, church and museum gatherings.
The author of three books, including “Slave Ancestral Research: It´s Something Else” (Heritage Books, 1995), was spurred to her mission 25 years ago when the TV miniseries “Roots” aired -- and she´s only just begun.
“The thing that bothers me the most is that children get the idea that the slaves were happy,” Fears says. She´s read from the slave narratives that were compiled during the 1930s and knows better.
“Some of it was so brutal and so cruel, you can hardly read it. But they leave that out of the textbooks.”
Fears´ research was part of last week´s Olustee Battlefield re-enactment, growing out of her experience at the re-enactment last year.
Then, she noticed, there was no information about the role of black women in the Civil War. Due to her efforts, the Central Florida chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society set up a tent at last week´s re-enactment.
“Most people know about Harriet Tubman, but they don´t know a thing about Susie King Taylor or Elizabeth Keckley,” Fears says, recalling former slave memoirists. They learned how to read and write, purchased their own freedom and recorded the firsts of the Civil War.
The watershed moment of her life came in 1980. The former school media specialist for the Volusia County School Board examined 45 rolls of microfilm in the Family History Center of her native, rural Georgia, before she came upon her folks in a list of a dead man´s inventory.
Her vision became blurry with tears when she saw the name of her ancestor from seven generations ago; her name was Visues, spelled numerous different ways throughout the old documents.
“She was valued at $25 for a whole life of slavery,” Fears says.
From there, her natural love of storytelling -- honed from years of telling the same story to class after class during a given school day -- merged with the material she found during her ancestral research. She started devoting her stories to those who were forced to fight for their freedom.
“I like facts in my stories, not fictional ones,” Fears says.
Her tales include serious stories, like the one about slaves who sewed secret symbols directing runaways to Underground Railroad stops, and humorous ones, including a young bride´s education.
“People always come up to me afterward to tell me they never knew that,” Fears says.
Special Project: THE FLORIDA QUEST
Laptop Lauren and the Trackers are the main characters in the Florida Quest, a 4-week, multi-media project involving thousands of students in Volusia and Flagler counties. In this quest they discover Homefront and Heritage!