A foreign correspondent examines the intertwining histories of two Tomlinson families—one white, the other black—who shared a common past spent on a Texas slave plantation.
After spending more than a decade covering wars in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, Texas native Tomlinson returned to the United States with his consciousness of man’s inhumanity to man permanently raised. Determined to expose the way his family past was implicated in the problematic history of racial relations in America, Tomlinson began by probing an alleged connection to former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The author learned that both he and LaDainian had descended from families that had lived on a plantation called Tomlinson Hill. Scouring family papers, archival documents, area history books and the Internet, Tomlinson pieced together the stories of the two families. Starting in the years preceding the Civil War, his ancestors established Tomlinson Hill and began keeping slaves who would eventually take the family name. Later mythologies about the South would transform all slave owners, including the Tomlinsons, into symbols of graciousness and gentility. At the same time, they erased one essential truth: that violence and injustice toward blacks was a fact of life on all plantations. This attitude persisted into the 20th century, becoming embedded in the ideology of the Ku Klux Klan, which claimed to celebrate the “heroic” values of the Old South and managed to draw members of Tomlinson’s own family into the Klan’s ranks during the 1920s. Even after the civil rights movement, the supposedly enlightened teachers in the Dallas county schools Tomlinson attended “walked a careful line in teaching about race, holding no one responsible for the sins of the past.” The author offers not only a detailed history of two families brought together by circumstances greater than themselves; he also opens an honest conversation necessary to begin healing the centuries-old racial rifts that have marred American history.
Cleareyed and courageously revealing.