A graduate of Howard University and former Executive Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), Brenda Welburn spent thirty-five years in the field of education, specializing in governance and state education policy. Traveling throughout the nation and around the globe, she is a noted speaker on equity, access, and high standards for all students.
Welburn considers it her good fortune to be from a close-knit family where her ancestors were revered and their memories cherished. Inspired by that experience, she chose to tell her family story through a tale of three young people forced to confront the struggles of the past with the triumphs of the present through unexpected time travel. Drawing on rich family history, she writes of a compelling journey.
The Time Travels of Annie Sesstry series is brimming with factual accounts of the periods of slavery and reconstruction in "Sly as a Fox" and Jim Crow and the African American experience in "Missouri's Memories." It chronicles a family’s determination to discover their roots, celebrate their history, and unveil the mystery of traveling through time.
Annie Sesstry uncovered a secret. A select few in her family, known as travelers, have journeyed to the past. The travelers use the gift of time travel to learn about their predecessors and to gather clues to the identity of an unknown ancestor transported to America during the Atlantic slave trade. On an excursion to 1867 with her sister Emma and cousin Joshua, Annie discovered they are members of the elite group.
The young time travelers are preparing for the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s grand opening when the winds of history call them to the past once again. The tale advances Annie, Emma, and Joshua’s exploration beyond Reconstruction into the twentieth century.
Encountering ancestor Missouri McElmurry Calhoun on her 50th wedding anniversary, reminiscing about her life, surprise and adventure await her descendants as they continue their search for the Unknown Ancestor.
My death was insignificant. It merely marked the passing of an old and now useless slave. The tyrants bred my replacement the same way they raised livestock. Their system insured my proxy. Such was the story of my predecessors. Without fail, it would be the fate of future generations. Each one supplanted by another until blood is shed in the name of freedom.
In their shallowness, the enslavers failed to recognize or acknowledge my incalculable worth. Their arrogant hearts demurred from the stark truth conspicuous before their eyes. They enslaved my body, but I was never a slave. They never owned me. By no means did they hold sway over my spirit. Every individual captive forcefully brought to this territory under duress was unique. Crafted by the hands of the Creator, we possessed sharp minds, strong bodies, and immortal souls.
The captors ignored an elemental reality; seizing me and others such as me, ripping multitudes from our native land was an abomination. Accordingly, their actions will not be without consequences. There will be a hefty price to pay for their moral depravity. They persist in ignorance of the mighty and righteous power released by their actions. It is a power born from the pain of a stolen people in a stolen land. It is a smoldering ember that cannot be extinguished by an indifferent and heartless captor. They planted a seed of bitterness and nurtured it in the soil of violence and degradation. It will chafe for generations, though, new life and new hope will sprout. Greed cursed a nation with division and disaffection. But it set into motion a determination for survival in these people that cannot be deterred.
My body expired and turned to dust. But my soul lingered in Sasha, the limbo between life and death. The journey to Zamani cannot be completed until the natural order is restored and what was taken from me, and my countrymen and women is redeemed. I am at rest, but not at peace. My spirit lives on in my descendants. It lives to guide them. It lives to demand justice and recognition. And like the spirits of all Unknowns, my essence resides at every intersection of this nation. It is fierce. The former enslavers sense it, and strive, though fail, to repress it. Despite their best efforts, they cannot blindly divert their attention away from the hardened faces that remind them of past and present sins. They cannot evade the curled angry fists of the weathered hands that built a nation. Fists that will one day stretch toward an unblemished sky in protest.
The Unknown Ancestors weep silent tears. We are witnesses to the human wreckage spawned by the enslavers when captivity ends. Slavers no longer hold the people in bondage by law, but bleak circumstances fuel exploitation. Oppression continues. The evil ones have not altered their ways. They are determined to rule this Black and mulatto race forever. Landowners control the feigned freedom of Black people who remain tethered to the fields, laboring to stretch out a meager existence. They work as sharecroppers, housekeepers, craftsmen, and traders. Emulating earlier times, the workers are indebted to the landowners who hold their subsistence in their hands. The proprietors control how these freed men feed their families. They regulate their survival, and thus render them impotent from day to day.
But my bloodline, my descendants shall not be cowed. They are survivors. They have strength. Having learned a potent lesson from the slavers, they comprehend a significant truth. In property, there is power, in the land there is freedom. It is not enough to work the land or live off the land of others. They discern they must have their own property to prosper. It will begin with a few acres and increase to hundreds more; not by an unfulfilled promise of forty acres and a mule gifted by an indifferent government. It will be acreage earned through hard work and sacrifice.
They will hold the land until the great migration, when the younger generations will depart in search of a different life, a perceived better life. Their property will slowly slip away. But perseverance and determination will continue to drive them, and they will find freedom and success in alternative ways. Yet, even in that success, they will be scorned and tormented by lesser men.
The migration will have its price. It will cost the people, not just the land, but also their ancestral history. Their knowledge of the past will fade as they struggle for survival. Bygone times will be a vague memory. Some will forget the past. Others will never grasp its true meaning. Some who are familiar with the history will deliberately bury the stock-piled memories passed on to them by the elders. They will find such memories too painful to speak of and carry forward. They will leave stories untold; stories of exploited people, victimized by a painful past they struggle to forget, bearing a shame not of their own making. But with heartbreaking tales, stories of triumph and survival will also be lost. And the brothers and sisters will be witnesses to others rewriting who and what they are.
Nevertheless, the resolve of the Unknown Ancestors will not allow the false narrative to prevail. We will recast our story in truth. We will restore our people’s knowledge. We will give truth to power, for as the African proverb states, “at the bottom of patience one finds heaven.”
The children will be our messengers. In their innocence, they will accept the impossible. They will travel across generations and tell their family stories. My descendants will tell the story of the land and the legend of the man and woman who construct the memoirs of the McElmurry/Calhoun clan.
The Time Travels of Annie:
Sly as a Fox
Annie Sesstry's family roots trace back to Laverne Fox MacElmurry, a man born in slavery in 1829 and freed after the Civil War. Annie, his twenty-first descendant, is a smart and sassy thirteen-year-old from an upper-middle-class family, anxious to spread her wings.
Annie's mother, a writer, and her father, a history professor and curator at the Smithsonian Institution, spend weekends with their children exploring historical and cultural points of interest. Though Annie hates everything about bygone times, her parents insist that understanding history is essential to the children understanding who they are and from where they came. One summer day, Annie, her sister Emma, and her cousin Joshua slip through a portal and travel back in time to post-Civil War Georgia.
Landing in 1867, they meet Fox MacElmurry and discover a secret about family time travelers through the generations. Their adventures teach them that history isn't so dull after all.
I am lost forever. I shall never again see the fertile lands of home. I will not behold the sun as it rises over the huts of my village and illuminates the plains of my homeland at the start of each new day. Gone forever is the warmth of its rays on my face as I lie in the grass. The vision of the azure blue skies kissing the tops of trees and the swift flight of the gazelle and lion sprinting across the open fields are gone from me forevermore.
I do not rest beneath the glimmering sun or starry sky of the motherland. I lay shackled in the bowels of a slave ship, immersed in my own waste and that of those around me. Decay assaults my senses. The stench is an amalgamation of vomit, rotting flesh, and human misery. If there is a hell, then this is the core of its origin.
How did I come to be in this heinous place, victimized by men who bow to a god of greed? I was stolen in the dark of night like a treasure; then tossed to the dogs in the morning like a worthless bone. Warring tribes, hostile neighbors, loathsome men - Black and white - guilty of unforgivable sins. Bought and sold with no contemplation of my true worth; for what price is there to be placed on an immortal soul.
To my captors, I was an adversary. To the slave traders, I am a commodity. Despair dwells deep, for I know when this ship arrives at its destination, I will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. I will be abused and made to face indignities no man or woman should suffer. I will be dishonored and used until I no longer serve their purposes. When they are done, I will be discarded like feckless refuse, buried in an unmarked grave.
But I won’t succumb and become the animal they perceive me to be. My spirit will rise and rebel. I will not permit them to declare me unworthy of humanity because of the color of my skin. I shall not allow them to judge me as insignificant. I am more than human substance. I have a spirit they cannot touch. I have worth. I matter to the people of my village, to my family, to the one I was to marry. I have value to the Creator even if it seems He or She has abandoned me. And I will matter to my descendants, those who will one day search for my name; and give witness to my existence.
Those around me beg to die; I beg to live. I beg to pass on my essence I plead to the Almighty power to let my spirit rise above and move through earthly dimensions to see beyond these shameful times to a better day. I will not lose myself in this nether world. I will not surrender my soul. I will endure.
"I will not permit them to declare me unworthy of humanity because of the color of my skin. I shall not allow them to judge me as insignificant."
Available for speaking engagements and book signings.
Family: A Journey Through History
The Development of the Annie Sesstry Series
The Importance of DEI in Schools: What the CRT Debate Gets Wrong
For information on appearances and book signings, please fill out the attached form or contact Brendaw@Brendawelburn.com