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Seminar Review - Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family 1846-1926, by Adele Logan Alexander

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 6

So many books, and so little time! Fortunately, the author appeared at a seminar sponsored by the Smithsonian Resident Associates Program to discuss her book and how she came to write it.

Adele Logan Alexander knew she wanted to write her family's story after her mother died in 1993. That is when she began to piece together the scraps of family memories and photos, stories that started with the birth of her great-grandfather, John Robert Bond, in 1846. Born in Liverpool, England to an Irish famine refugee and a black dock worker, he lived there until 1862, when he immigrated to the United States at age 17 and joined the Union Navy. While recovering from battle wounds in a Tidewater hospital, he met and married Emma Thomas. She was a 'contraband' from a nearby plantation, earning a living selling fruit and vegetables to the sailors at the hospital. The story follows their lives, and the lives of the next two generations of the Bond family, up until Emma's death in 1926 at age 80.

Alexander details their lives and their substantial accomplishments. Among Bond descendants are businessmen, Harvard graduates, turn-of-the century women who earned Ph.D.s, and military heroes. She also describes their acquaintances, who include Archibald Grimke, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois. Woven throughout the Bond family story are the political and social issues of the day, such as the little-known Washington D.C. race riots of 1919; the rise of Jim Crow; and the pervasive and persistent limitations faced by middle-class African Americans. This, in spite of the fact that members of this family fought in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and World War I.

Modern America tends to dwell on the Frederick Douglasses, Michael Jordans, and Oprah Winfreys, but here Alexander depicts an "average" African American family, how they struggled and achieved what all families want to achieve--education, success, and happiness. These are the reasons Robert Bond, and all immigrants, came here, whether they were from England, Africa, Poland, China or Mexico.

While the book just touches on the Civil War, these issues emanate from the Civil War. In spite of sharing the same history and the same sacrifices, African Americans still do not share the same opportunities. This book reminds us that the Civil War was the Second American Revolution, freeing slaves as well as the immigrants who came after the founding fathers, whether they came willingly or not. The Bond family history is our history.