The town of Nicodemus was formed by African-American slaves from Kentucky who came together in Graham County after the Civil War.

 

Angela Bates, a Nicodemus descendant and historian, will present "Children of the Promised Land" beginning at 10:35 a.m. March 15 at the Krehbiel Auditorium in the Lukyen Fine Arts Center of Bethel College.

 

"People who were in the West came from the East or from the South," Bates said. "Nicodemus becomes this place which is like a little African village."

 

Relatives lived close to each other, starting businesses and creating a culture that was influenced by the years they had experienced in slavery.

 

"There's all kinds of little nuances in the African-American culture that are carried over from slavery," Bates said. "We are a product of our minds, of what has happened generations before."

 

Emancipation gave the former slaves the freedom to make choices about their lives and families. Motherhood, in particular, was very different, as women no longer had to fear that their children would be taken from them.

 

"I will be talking about the dynamics between the mother and the child before and after emancipation," Bates said.

 

African-American mothers could choose their children's names and, in some instances, changed their names so that they were no longer associated with a former master.

 

One former slave woman had children, all with the same father — her former master. The last child, born after emancipation, was given a different last name.

 

"After emancipation, she named her child — not after her master, even though he was the father — by using her first slave name," Bates said. "Here's an example of a woman taking her freedom to name her child what she wanted."

 

Having no control over their children's lives, some mothers would kill their children rather than see them raised in slavery to be physically and psychologically mistreated, sold or willed away as the master saw fit.

 

"Can you imagine what it was like for a woman to raise a child and, when they are 7 years old or less, there's an opportunity for them to be sold away," Bates said. "This is a part of our history as it relates to the slave experience that our country has not dealt with."

 

Using pictures and stories of people who lived in Nicodemus, "Children of the Promised Land" will bring to light the history of the African-American settlers.

 

"I love to create this dialogue in this setting with people, because I'm telling stories that many people haven't even heard, even African-Americans," Bates said.

 

It is her hope that by relating the experiences of slaves, people will be better able to understand how the modern African-American culture was shaped.

 

"We have a totally different culture that whites don't understand and don't address," Bates said. "I will be sharing aspects of that culture."

 

From mistrust of law enforcement to social taboos about interracial relationships, Bates will speak about modern issues that have their roots in the history of slaves in America.

 

"We have to pay tribute to them; we have to understand what they experienced so we can know ourselves better," Bates said. "You need to pay homage to those people who endured that so you know where you came from."