The movie ‘Forrest Gump’ followed the fictional Southern boy from Alabama from childhood into adulthood as he traveled through the annuals of American history. Bill Taylor had his own story to tell, so he put it down on paper. He never learned how to write, so he began to draw and paint.
Bill Taylor was born into slavery around 1853 in rural Alabama. Even after the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Great Migration, he remained on the plantation as a share cropper for five decades. When he moved in his 80’s he found himself without work and homeless.
At the age of 86 he began to draw and paint. Self-taught he used whatever he could get his hand on; paper, paperboard, pieces of packing and even candy paper boxes. He lived during the peak lynching period in the South but never really showed it directly in his art work.
He died in 1949 around the age of 96, leaving behind hundreds of art works. It was his way of saying, “I am important, I have a point of view, I matter”.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. held a retrospective of Taylor’s Art work and titled it ‘Bill Taylor: Between Two Worlds (the 19th & the 20th Century) which featured 155 paintings and drawings which he recorded his time and place in history. The Smithsonian went on to say that, “His legacy will be known as the only artist who was enslaved at birth, to make a significant body of drawn and painted work”.
My mother was born in Mississippi in 1919 and she migrated North to escape an abusive relationship. She labored in the field, but I labored on the factory floor in Detroit Michigan. Her mother died when she was only eight years old, and she only knew of her father. She never learned how to drive but took public transportation to work into her mid-eighties. She made it to 90 years after giving birth to fourteen children.
I escaped the assembly line by joining the military. It was through divine intervention, that I missed the Vietnam War, but I was part of the Cold War in Europe. My mothers legacy passes through me. She never traveled that far but I travel half way around the world; seven countries on three separate continents in two branches of the military (US Air Force & US Army). She barley made it out of school, but I graduated from college. Now that I have written my book, I get to tell her story. Who is going to pass on your family history?