Author speaks on panel discussing slavery narratives

Regina Mason spreads awareness on the empowerment of these stories.

Author+Regina+Mason+poses+with+her+book%2C+The+life+of+William+Grimes.

Aliyah Ramirez

Author Regina Mason poses with her book, “The life of William Grimes.”

Aliyah Ramirez, Staff Writer

Understanding multiple perspectives comes from more than just a textbook. With this goal in mind, history professors Courtney Goen and Patrick McCarter collaborated with several Los Medanos College programs to produce an event to share stories from the marginalized voices which shaped America. 

From what started off as a pipe dream, Goen collaborated with McCarter and the history department to put together a panel discussion on Oct. 6 to increase recognition and understanding of enslavement narratives. In collaboration with the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Honors program and the Umoja scholars, they brought guest speaker Regina Mason to share her story, followed by a panel discussion and book signing of the autobiography, “The Life of William Grimes.”

Written as a fugitive slave, Grimes’ autobiography was first published in 1825 capturing his raw experience from a slave to a free man and the injustice acts of slavery. 

The original book detailed his journey from being owned by 10 masters to later escaping through the Underground Railroad from Georgia, to New York and finally to New Haven, Connecticut. He lost all his property when his master forced him to buy his freedom or risk being returned to slavery. Despite his small success, he had to give up the life he was building. 

From discovering her great, great, great grandfather’s narrative, which was buried and out of print, Mason was able to revive Grimes’ story through genealogy and republish his work in 2008 with a new introduction, afterword, and notes

Grimes’ story has inspired her other work as well, including the making of a documentary film, “Gina’s Journey,” about discovering parts of her past. 

“Regina Mason is a very impactful person,” said Goen. “I think that it’s not that her story makes a bad story positive, meaning the sort of treachery that people like William Grimes endured in their lifetime. But I think it does show our connections and why this is important today in 2022.”

Preparations for this event were put together in a matter of three to four weeks and the event was inspired by the narratives present in both Goen’s and McCarter’s curriculum. Those other autobigraphical narratives, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs and “Narratives of the Life of Douglass, an American Slave,” by Frederick Douglass also bring into the classroom the authors’ personal experiences enduring the harsh realities of slavery to shape history. 

“African Americans played a key role in the American story. I just want to reaffirm its importance,” said McCarter, adding in the class they, “Basically talk about what these people went through, these were people. They’re not just stories.” 

Regina Mason started her journey of discovering her family’s history during childhood when she questioned her identity and heritage. For a class assignment in fifth grade at a predominantly white school, Mason had to do a report on her origin and ancestry. When she asked her mother, she found she descended from enslaved people. 

When having to identify her country of origin, 10-year-old Mason felt uncomfortable sharing with others that she descended from slavery due to the exaggerated stereotypes of Africa heavily prevalent. However, Mason said she was determined to understand more about where her family came from to teach her two children their family origin, and after 15 years of research, she discovered her family roots stretched across many parts of America. 

Some of the information from generations ago, “was brutally painful,” she said. “But I don’t dwell in that pain because if I did, I would lose sight of what the accomplishments were.” Instead she focuses on the accomplishments to keep herself going. 

“That is empowerment, because I realized that I extend from great people,” she said. “I extend from people that in spite of their circumstances strove to reach higher, even though they had so many setbacks, but they kept going and I realized that that resilience is in me.”

The event occurred Oct. 6, 2022 in the student union where students, staff, and community members could attend this free event. While the majority of participants from Goen’s and McCarter’s history classes, a few others attended and all were eager to hear about the enslaved narratives and meet one of the authors from the book. 

Madison Fanucchi had read all three narratives addressed at the event and said, “it humanized not only Grimes, but also Jacobs. It humanizes Douglass. We hear about them all the time in history and it didn’t feel real until you see someone related to them.” 

As Mason shares Grimes’ story as well as her own, she is hoping to share inspiration from these biographies to help others understand history from multiple perspectives. 

“If it were not for the stripes on my back which were made while I was a slave, I would in my will leave my skin a legacy to the government, desiring that it might be taken off and made into parchment, and then bind the constitution of glorious happy and free America,” wrote Grimes. “Let the skin of an American slave bind the charter of American Liberty.”