Sankofa "A Look Ahead for the Future"
Bomani Gray | February 2, 2024
an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana
“it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind”
FA (look, seek and take)
I'd like to share the story of my Black ancestry, a narrative that fuels my commitment to community advocacy, particularly for fathers in my community. Often, I find myself reflecting on why I engage in this work. Whether it's sharing my personal journey or recounting the impactful experiences of clients I've helped along the way, the driving force behind my dedication is rooted in the stories of three men with whom I share DNA.
These men, part of my ancestral lineage, inspire my "why" for doing the work that I do. Their stories move me to champion social justice for Black men and strive for equality within predominantly white institutions. Their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of countless others, make me fight for the next generation. Someone gave their life for me; I advocate for the well-being of those who will follow.
I encourage everyone to explore their own historical narratives, understanding our past can help us shape a better future together.
The end of the Civil War brought many challenges for Southern Black people. The Reconstruction Era had just begun, and it was at this time that the newly ex-confederate Southern states were being reintroduced into the Union. Progressive legislation was being enacted to guarantee rights for former slaves, and one can imagine that there must have been chaos and danger around every corner. Black people were long-suffering members of the South under confederate rule, and although the confederates were no longer the governing body of the South, Black people continued to suffer unjust actions and violence from their white oppressors. Black people continued to fight for their rights, but some chose to fight in a different way. Alfred Gray, was a black legislator in Perry County, Alabama who fought for the rights of Black people in Reconstruction. Alfred understood the plight of Black people in the South, and represented the fight with fervor and conviction.
Simultaneously, as the South was changing, Black people began leaving in mass. For fifty-five years (1915 through 1970), Black people left the South and traveled North in search of a better life. This northern move of Black people from the South would become known as the Great Migration. Of course, not all Blacks would or could leave, and some years after Alfred’s time as a legislator, he would unknowingly pass the torch of the civil rights fight to his grandson, Ralph Gray.
Ralph was born in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, and spent some of his life outside in a town called Camphill, Alabama. Ralph married and worked as a sharecropper. In those times, many Black people were sharecroppers, but they were not treated equally. Ralph wanted to change that, so when he learned of the Croppers and Farm Workers Union, he joined and would later start a branch in Tallapoosa in 1930.
Tensions were rising in the small segregated town of Camphill, but Ralph wanted to organize his fellow sharecroppers. Ralph had a mission; one economic, one social. Ralph demanded that the sharecropper's wage be increased to $1 a day, and that the school year be extended to nine months for Black children. These were fair demands, but they would incite the fear and hate among the white people in the town.
One fateful night, while gathered to strategize on how to assist with another civil atrocity, Ralph, his brother Tommy Gray, and approximately 80 other union members were disrupted by a large white mob. The mob assaulted many of the union members, and then carried the assault to the home of Tommy Gray. When they arrived, they continued their bloody rampage against Tommy's family. The following night, the union workers would meet again to strategize. Twice as many union members would attend this meeting. Expecting the disruptive, angry white mob return, Ralph formed a picket line about a half mile from the gathering spot. When the angry mob descended upon the gathering spot, they approached Ralph. An argument ensued, then a fight. Both Ralph and the man who approached Ralph were down. Shots rang out, one of the white perpetrators was shot in the stomach, and Ralph’s legs were riddled with bullets. Ralph was immobilized, he could not move and he could no longer fight. Fellow union members assisted Ralph back to his home and went to seek medical care.
Tipped off by the doctor who was called to care for Ralph, the white perpetrators showed up at Ralph’s home. They continued to beat Ralph, and then rendered a fatal shot of injustice to Ralph killing him. Afterward, the white terrorists burned his home and took his brutally beaten, bullet riddled, and burned body to the steps of the Tallapoosa county courthouse, and used it for target practice. This blatant disrespectful and outrageous injustice was a warning to all Black people who thought they would fight like Ralph Gray.
Ralph had been murdered by the mob, silenced in the worst way, fighting for those who would not, or could not fight for themselves. It was July 15, 1931, when Ralph Gray’s life came to a tragic end, and the lives of Black people would forever be changed.
I wanted to share this story of my Great Grandfather Tommy Gray and Great Uncle Ralph Gray. Many times I have asked myself why I do this community advocating work for fathers in my community. Sometimes I share my own personal story or I recall a client that touched me in a profound way as I supported them through their journey. But it’s these three men that I share DNA with that drive my “why” for doing this work. That is why I fight for social justice for Black men and equality within white institutions. Because someone gave their life for me,I should be willing to fight for the next generation as well. I encourage all of us to learn our past stories, so that we are able to change the future together!