EP 5: Meet the Pughs

What Happened in Alabama Podcast

EP 5: Meet the Pughs

When Lee got the results back from his DNA test, he was stunned to discover that he had pages and pages of white cousins. All his life he’d been under the impression that 95% of his DNA traced to West Africa. This discovery opened up a new historical pathway, one that traces all the way back to 17th century Wales. In this episode, Lee takes us on the journey to discover his white ancestry. Later, Lee sits down with two newly-found white cousins to understand how differently history shaped the Black and White sides of one family. 


Lee Hawkins (host): We wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes talk of abuse and acts of violence. You can find resources on our website whathappenedinalabama.org. Listener discretion is advised.

My name is Lee Hawkins, and this is What Happened In Alabama.

[intro music starts]

Back in 2015, I took a DNA test and found out some pretty shocking information. I always thought that I was 95% West African but it turned out that nearly 20% of my DNA was European. This revelation raised so many questions for me and led to years of research that would change my understanding of my own upbringing forever. Today I’ll share that with you. We’re going to go all the way back to 17th century Wales to uncover the path my ancestors took from Europe to the American South and how that, through slavery, led to me.

I'll talk with experts and newly discovered white cousins to explore the history that connects the two sides. I want to find out how my family’s experiences on the opposite ends of slavery and Jim Crow shaped our beliefs and our understanding of American history.

But you’ll get a whole lot more out of it if you go back and listen to the prologue first – that’ll give you some context for putting the whole series in perspective. Do that, and then join us back here. Thanks so much.

In many ways, the seeds for this project were planted in 1991, during the first trip I remember taking to Alabama.

[cassette tape turning over, music starts]

Tiffany: He would play an album on repeat.

That’s my sister, Tiffany. I call her Tiff. It’s 1991, she’s sitting in the backseat of our family’s car, driving from Minnesota to Alabama.

Tiffany: Dad used to like still stay up to date on, you know, pop culture, current music. There were certain songs that he would be like, “Oh, I like that,” you know, like Tony! Toni! Toné! It Feels Good. And things like that.

My dad hated flying. He’d seen too much in his life, and he related flying to so many of the musicians he loved: Otis Redding, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Holly. They were all his contemporaries, and they all died in air crashes. So instead, we drove.

I was 19 years old, and I was attending college at the University of Wisconsin Madison. At that time, I had just really gotten into the school newspaper. I was thinking about becoming a journalist or maybe a lawyer, but at that point, writing was more intriguing to me. I was excited about this family trip to Alabama, and I had no idea what was coming.

Tiffany: Yeah, so Alabama, it's been kinda a, a mystery for me throughout my life because I wasn't able to ask questions that anyone would ask when you're wanting to know things about your parent.

One of the big reasons my dad wanted to go to Alabama was to interview my great-Uncle Ike. He was the eldest patriarch of the family in Alabama, and he owned a farm near Greenville, dad’s boyhood town. But most importantly, because he was in his 90s, he knew a lot about family history. And Dad had a lot of questions.

I remember getting to Uncle Ike's and sitting in the living room, and across from me sat a caramel-skinned, white-haired man. For me, his reflection was like looking into a mirror and adding 70 years.

Uncle Ike was in his early 90s, but those high cheekbones and blemish-free skin made it harder for me to believe that he was a day past 75. It was also hard to believe we were actually in Alabama, with Dad finally standing before his legendary, long-lost uncle, with a tape recorder in his hand. It was a trip we’d been talking about for months. Dad wanted to learn as much as possible about the Alabama family he left behind.

Lee Sr.: Well, it's definitely, it’s been a blessing to get to see you.

As interested as I was in journalism, I was far from having the experience and interview skills to feel confident taking the lead. Plus, I knew that Dad needed this, so I deferred to him. The fact that he grew up there meant his questions would be far better than anything I could just randomly think of. But hearing his questions and how basic they were showed me just how far he'd strayed from his Alabama roots.

Lee Sr.: Let me see, um, you were telling me about my father Lum. Now, how many brothers and sisters did he have?

Most of the conversation was going over family tree details. Simple things like, how many siblings did my father have? And what were their names? We sat in that living room and asked Uncle Ike questions for just over an hour.

Uncle Ike: I understand that all of them were named [unclear].

Lee Sr.: Oh, we had a aunt, uh –

Uncle Ike: Colby…

When Uncle Ike answered, I struggled to catch every word of his southern accent. It was so thick, I thought it might even be a regional dialect, one that was unique to what my dad always humorously called, “LA,” Lower Alabama. I marveled at how quickly Uncle Ike started reciting family members. Even at his age, his recall, it was as swift as a rooster’s crow at dawn!

Lee Sr.: Oh yeah, Aunt Jem. I remember her…

As we talked, my eyes began to drift to the fireplace, which was decorated with family photos. There, I saw a framed, weathered photo of a white man looking like he'd been plucked from a vintage Field and Stream ad. He appeared part outlaw, part GQ model. He was in hunting attire. There were hounds at his heels, and it looked like he was gripping a musket. Why, I thought, would Uncle Ike have a picture of some random white man hanging over his fireplace?

Lee Sr.: Now this, what's this guy's name? Is this George Pugh up here on this picture?

Uncle Ike: No, that's Isaac Pugh.

Lee Sr.: That's your father?

Uncle Ike: Yeah. They called him Ike, but his real name was Isaac.

That made him my great-grandfather, Isaac Pugh Senior. I looked closer at the photo, into his eyes. His gaze was a determined one, as if he was daring me to look into the records and find out more. Who was this white man?

[music starts]

That day was more than 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve learned so much more about our family history. Seeing that picture of Isaac Pugh Senior on the mantel opened up an entirely new branch of my family tree – a white branch – that I had no idea existed. Digging through the records and existing research, I was able to trace that line all the way back to 17th century Wales.

I recognized that I couldn’t fully understand my family’s experiences in America without uncovering the history of our white blood relatives on the other side of enslavement and Jim Crow.

I had so many questions. Why did they come to America? What did they do when they got here? And most importantly, how were they connected to me?

[sounds of a boat on water, sea gulls]

In 1695, a man named Lewis Pugh boarded a boat near his hometown in Northwest Wales to sail for what was then called, “The New World.” The journey was long and grueling. Many people didn’t survive. But the ones that did held on by a combination of luck and faith. Faith that the land that they were headed towards would help them prosper.

He landed in Virginia, likely as an indentured servant. Several years later, he met and married a woman named Anne. The couple purchased land in Richmond County. They built a home, had seven kids, and many more grandchildren. Two of their great-grandchildren, the brothers Jesse and Lewis Pugh, decided to move south to Alabama at the start of the 19th century. The first thing they had to do was to get land. And to achieve that, they had to overcome one major obstacle.

Chris: Well, it's important to remember that whites wanted Indian land from the moment they first stepped into the Americas. And so Indians have been removed since 1492, of course.

This is Chris Haveman.

Chris: Let me just talk briefly about terminology and the use of the word “Indian.” I’ve interviewed dozens and dozens of Native people throughout my career, and prior to talking to them, I always asked how they would prefer to be identified, and almost universally they say “Indian” or “American Indian.” Now, these folks tended to be a bit older, and as the younger generations come of age, the term seems to be falling out of favor, and when it does, historians including myself will adapt and adjust accordingly.

He’s an author of two books on the removal of Indigenous peoples from Alabama and Georgia to present-day Oklahoma, and a professor at the University of West Alabama.

I’ve come to Professor Haveman to help me get a lay of the land in 19th century Alabama, when Jesse and Lewis Pugh arrived in the state around 1810.

When the brothers got to Alabama, they were in Muscogee territory. The Muscogee were a loose union of multiple Indigenous groups, and they had millions of acres. Tribal leaders also use the name “Muscogee Nation.”

Chris: Really, the story begins after the War of 1812, when whites decided that they really wanted that, that nice, nutrient rich soil in central Alabama. Over the years, throughout the 17 and early 1800s, this land was whittled away through treaties.

The federal government started sending commissioners down to remove the Muscogee – and to do this, they had to coerce them into signing treaties first. This was done all over the American South and the rest of the country – and by the time the removal really got going, the Muscogee nation had already lost a large part of their land. But they were resisting.

Chris: Commissioners were sent out, and Indians did not want to give up their land. And so a lot of times they resorted to threats, they resorted to some other shady tactics. And you had whites streaming into the Creek Land and they would, you know, just establish their farmstead illegally in the Creek Nation. Sometimes it would just overrun a Creek homestead and kick the family out and commandeer their crops for their, as their own. A lot of times they would get Creeks hooked on alcohol and uh, sell them merchandise on credit, get them indebted to them, and then they’d force them to give up their property as collateral. And things get really, really bad.

Lee: What was the philosophy that was used to justify that?

Chris: Conquest. The whites wanted it, and they were gonna take it regardless. There was no real justification, moral justification for it other than whites had the racist premise that they were civilized and the Indians were “savages” and that the whites could make better use of the land than Indians.

Jesse and Lewis Pugh became landowners, both running plantations. They founded a church in Troy, Alabama, called Beulah Primitive Baptist Church. It still stands today. In my research, I found an article honoring the church. The paper hailed the brothers as “those daring ones, who braving the perils of the wilderness, came here and reclaimed this fair land from the planted savage.” The “planted savage,” I now know, refers to the Indigenous people who lived on the lands across the American South and beyond.

Professor Haveman told me that on top of forced removal, there was a great deal of Muscogee land ceded by the tribe, but the conditions of these transactions make it hard to say how voluntary these handovers actually were.

Chris: In 1832, the federal government gives a proposition to the Creek Indians, and they say, ‘Look, if you cede the rest of your land to us, we will allow each head of family to take 320-acre plots of land.’ And this is where everything really goes downhill for the Creek Indians, because they gave up their sovereignty, uh, in exchange for a title or a deed. But what it does is basically, and I think you have to ask, it was so one-sided in favor of the federal government. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why would the Creek Indians agree to this?’ And I think that they agreed to this because whites had illegally trespassed on their land so much between 1827 and 1832 that they realized that you know, whites usually liked a deed or a, you know, a title to their land, a piece of paper, something you could say, “This is my land.” And I think the Creeks tried to adopt that in order to stave off this encroachment that whites were giving on their land.

So they, they had this deed and this title, and they thought that that would prevent whites from streaming onto their land, but it didn't. It actually, it just opened up massive amounts of fraud for them.

And so you had 5 million acres of land in the Creek Nation in 1832. When this was ceded, all 5 million acres of land went to the federal government, and then parcels of 320 acres were then given to each Creek family. If you add up the over 6,000 families times 320 acres, it only comes out to like 2.1 million acres. And so almost 3 million acres of land will now be opened up for white settlement. And so the thing that they were trying to prevent – whites from encroaching on their land – is now gonna become legal.


On a January evening in 1837, Lewis Pugh was in his plantation fields in Alabama with his overseer. By this point, he owned land and enslaved people. That night, a man quietly snuck onto the roof of a house that overlooked the Pugh family cemetery on the plantation. The man fired a rifle from the top of the house, killing the overseer. Immediately afterwards, a swarm of 60 Muscogee swooped down on the plantation field. They killed Lewis, one of his sons, and an enslaved baby, who was in his mother’s arms. Four enslaved men tried to defend themselves, the women, and the plantation. The Muscogee killed them too. The story captured the country.

Lee: It was in every major newspaper across the country, uh, that Lewis Pugh, a prominent white settler, had been killed, um, and murdered by the Creek Indians. Why do you think it was so important that it be framed in that way?

Chris: It made national news because the thing whites feared the most was an Indian uprising. And it's one of the reasons that whites who, um, had no means to become large-scale cotton planters still wanted the Indians gone because they were constantly terrified that Indians would rise up and attack them. Uh, and they had, you know, somewhat of a legitimate reason to be scared because whites treated the Indians so terribly and stole their land and, you know, created all these problems for them.

It’s clear that the Muscogee didn’t just fold and concede their land. They retaliated, determined to defend it. And I can’t help but think about it from the perspective of those enslaved people who died, fighting alongside their enslaver, to protect his life and his land – that’s how closely their lives were intertwined. I’m still very curious about them, because they, too, might’ve been my relatives.

Not long after I took that DNA test and first found out about the Pughs, I found a last will and testament belonging to Jesse Pugh, the brother of Lewis Pugh, the man who was murdered by the Muscogee in Alabama.

In the will, it stated that Jesse enslaved a young girl named Charity, who was kept in bondage by the family into her adult years. Not long before Emancipation, she gave birth to a biracial son who she named Isaac Pugh. That was the white-looking man whose photo I saw on the mantel at great-Uncle Ike’s house. Isaac Pugh, my great-grandfather.

Doing my DNA test couldn’t have been any simpler. I went online and ordered the $100 test, and the next day, I got a small box in the mail. Inside, I found a vial, and returned my saliva sample the following day. In just a few weeks, I got an email with my DNA results. It shows you who your cousins are, from first, all the way to distant. I had pages and pages of cousins, including many who were very, very white. I’m talking blond with blue eyes.

There were a lot of Pughs in there. I was stunned by the sheer volume. One genealogist told me he had never seen anybody with so many pages of cousins who had also taken DNA tests. At that point, I had more than 216 fourth cousins or closer. One of the descendants was a man in his late 80s named Lloyd Pugh. We both descend from Ann and Lewis Pugh, but our relation wasn’t close enough to show up on my DNA chart.

Lloyd lives in Petersburg, Virginia, and last year I went to his house to meet him with my producer, Kyana. You’ll sometimes hear her in the background throughout the interview.

Lee: It's a nice, quaint neighborhood with a lot of brick homes in a colonial-style design typical of Virginia, I think.

I met Lloyd through a man named Jim Pugh, another newly discovered cousin, but coincidentally, I’ve known Jim for 30 years through my early work as a journalist, back in Wisconsin. He was a PR guy for the state chamber of commerce. Every month, I called him for a comment on the employment rates. I wouldn’t say we were friends back then, but we definitely liked each other. And then, through an odd twist of fate, I found out that we were related.

Jim: When you reached out to me and say, “I think we’re cousins,” I was like, “What?!” Let's do a call.

I’d always noted that he had the same last name as my Grandma Opie, but it was only through an exchange on Facebook after I’d taken the DNA test, that Jim and I compared notes and figured out that we were both tied to the Pughs of Wales. Once Jim and I reconnected, he told me he had an elder cousin who was a family historian of sorts. That person was Lloyd Pugh.

Lee: Oh, he has, okay, an American flag on his house and one on his car. [laughs] And here we are. [seat belts unbuckling] Let's go get started.

Lloyd has worked on this long before genealogy exploded in the mainstream. His research is in the archives of the Library of Virginia. He has binders full of information he’s gathered over the years on the Pughs.

Lloyd: That book right there is one that's on the early, early Pughs.

Lloyd is 88 years old. He’s a tall, lean, active guy, full of warmth and southern charm. He was born and raised in Petersburg, a city known for being the site of a nine-month siege back beginning in 1864 that ended up costing the Confederacy the Civil War. Lloyd is absolutely fascinated with the Civil War, especially the Confederate side. He has tons of relics in his home, everything from swords and rifles to cannons, decommissioned bomb heads, and bullets. He also has a huge painting of General Robert E. Lee, hanging right above his couch.

Lee: Why do you have a picture of General Lee in your front room?

Lloyd: Because it's a part of my heritage. It has nothing to do with being anti-Black or slavery. It's just part of my heritage in that I had three grandfathers that served under Lee.

[music starts]

Lloyd and I couldn’t be more polar opposite in our views about the Confederacy. But I didn’t go to Virginia to condemn or to convert him. I went to his house to talk to him about history, our shared history. And he was interested in talking about it too. So he and his daughters invited Jim and I over, and we had a conversation that helped me understand how the white Pughs would come to shape the Black side of my family for generations.


Lee: Well, thank you everybody. Um, the man of the hour is Lloyd. Because Lloyd has done a tremendous amount of work around the Pugh family history. And really, I want to thank you, Lloyd, for opening up your home and showing us this museum of incredible Civil War history that you have, and also helping me gain a better understanding of my own history.

Um, it's, uh, it's bittersweet to understand how we're connected, but it's also, the power of it is that I wouldn't know this history if we hadn't worked together to understand it and to identify it, and part of my goal in doing this work is to inspire other people across racial lines to do this work. Um, and it is hard, but we both love it, right?

Lloyd: Right.

Lee: Okay, so, uh, you've done a tremendous amount of work on the Civil War, and we'll get into that, but you've also done a lot around the Pugh family, and I think it's important to talk first about how the Pugh family got to America.

Lloyd: There were actually three migrations. One migration of Pughs went to Norfolk, and from Norfolk, they went down through North Carolina, South Carolina, on into Alabama, and in that direction.

Lee: That's my line.

Lloyd: That's his line. Our line of Pughs landed at, uh, Richmond County, which is the upper neck over on the, uh, near the, on the east, west side of the Chesapeake Bay, and they migrated on down through, uh, came this way, Chesterfield, on to Amelia County, and eventually they end up on the, uh, east side of the Appalachian Mountains.

And the third group came in, in New York, and they migrated down the west side of the Appalachian Mountains into Tennessee and Kentucky on down in that direction. So there are three distinct lines of Pughs, and I was happened to be the one that migrated down through the Chesapeake Bay into Richmond County.

Lee: What did the Pughs do here initially?

Lloyd: Farmers. Tobacco was king in Virginia. They raised other crops. They had to raise, uh, food crops, but the money crop was tobacco.

Tobacco was critical to the expansion of the slavery economy in America, so it doesn’t surprise me that the White Pughs were involved in the tobacco trade. But through talking to Lloyd, I learned more about their interactions with Black people, specifically through a man named John Boyd Pugh. He’s Lloyd’s great-grandfather, and he fought on the Confederate side of the war. In fact, he was so committed to the Confederacy and the slavery it represented, he refused for months – after being captured and imprisoned near the end of the war – to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. It blew me away to learn how deeply committed people I share heritage with were to white supremacy – John Boyd Pugh and others believed devoutly in it. They practiced it, and were willing to die for it. And after the war, he became an overseer for a prominent family named the Baylors.

Lloyd: And the Baylor family, signers of the Declaration of Independence, founders of Baylor University, some kind of way found out about my grandfather, John Boyd Pugh, and they offered him the oversee of New Market Plantation, which is in Milford, Virginia.

His salary was one fourth of all the crops, plus $50 a month salary. And so he took the job, and he moved from Albemarle County with his family up to Milford to New Market Plantation. And he was the overseer of that plantation, right there at Bowling Green, Virginia.

When I heard that, my mind went back to all the books I’ve read in my research, including The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward Baptist, which clearly outlined the role of overseers as the drivers of productivity on plantations, many using whipping and other torture techniques to get the most out of enslaved Black people. Baptist explained that on many plantations, overseers held the enslaved to strict quotas. They’d weigh the crops and assess the work at the end of the day, and if the quota wasn’t met, the person would be whipped in front of all the other enslaved people, to make an example out of them.

Hearing that I not only share heritage with enslavers, but also overseers, I was absolutely stunned. I began to see how far back the whip could be traced in my family.

Lloyd stipulated that because John Boyd Pugh did his overseer work after Emancipation, he believes he probably wasn’t involved in whipping.

Lloyd: When John Boyd went to Newmarket, this was after the Civil War. So they had to have hired labor. And I think, I doubt that there were the whippings and the lashing and so forth when you have hired workers because they could say, “I'm leaving,” and just walk off the farm, so, yeah.

To be fair, it’s possible that Lloyd is right – maybe John Boyd Pugh was one of the few exceptions; an overseer who never resorted to violence. But I doubt it, and here’s why: in my research, I found the archive to be packed with proof that whipping continued to be a foundational aspect of overseer duties for decades after Emancipation into Jim Crow.

Lee: This is the hard part, you know, for me, because, you know, I think when I first talked with you, Jim, you were telling me that your great – great-great- grandfather was an overseer. And I didn't know – or you didn't know – what an overseer was, and when I looked at, you know, a lot of these movies that you see, the overseers are the guys that drove the production of the, of the plantation. Um, and that, for me, is just, that's inextricably tied with the capitalistic, sort of, reality of building America and how so much of the productivity was driven at the plantation level. How did you feel when I explained, especially the part that whipping was a big part of overseer work? How did you feel about that?

Jim: Well, you know, you don't really know what you don't know until you find out. And that's when you learn about it, you know, ’cause you don't, you think of, um, overseeing, uh, like a agricultural operation today, you wouldn't have that ’cause you have machines, you know? So, um, but yeah, that was pretty, pretty shocking to find out about that, but it's also the reality of what, the way the world was at that time, you know.

[music starts]

My mind went back to that interview with my Uncle Ike in 1991, when he told us about Grandma Charity. He told us that when he was a kid working on his father, Isaac Pugh Senior’s farm, she would beat the kids if she felt they weren’t being productive enough. This, from a woman who was enslaved by Jesse Pugh, a cousin of John Boyd Pugh. It’s almost as if, once she became emancipated and the family got its own farm, she became the overseer, and her grandchildren, the free labor.

Lee: I've been always fascinated by the way, when we built our country, just how deeply rooted it was, not just in slavery, but also in the establishment of the land, how people got their land, you know, um, particularly from, from the Indigenous people.

And I think that the problem, just in my opinion, is that everything is so controversial that people have decided they don't even want to even begin to study this work. And there, of course, are many, many academics who write powerfully beautiful detailed accounts of all of this history. Um, Doug Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name, um, Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told.

And in a lot of this stuff, they give really detailed accounts of the economy of slavery and also the Civil War, and the way all of the different range of realities that were at stake as our country was starting to form itself into what we now know today. Um, when you study the Civil War and the Confederate side of it, what, how do you relate to that history in terms of your un– do you know anything about John Boyd Pugh or was the, the oral history lost?

Lloyd: I knew absolutely nothing. No one in the family shared anything, ever shared anything with me. And what was learned, learned through my research.

Clearly, family secrets are preserved on the white sides of the family, too. Dark secrets like the violent role of overseers, the fact that land was stolen, and the identity of white men who fathered Black children, were not often openly discussed. And those lies of omission make it harder for future generations of whites to acknowledge the causes of generational disparities and trauma – through ignorance or cognitive dissonance. But this work – especially the DNA testing – exposes the lies, and people doing it have to prepare themselves for unsettling discoveries.

This work isn’t about agreeing on everything. It’s about opening up the family bibles and records to access information that neither side would have without the other. So it requires a rare form of tolerance, and a spirit of unity as opposed to division on the issue of genealogy.

The truth is that I feel like I was blessed. I was fortunate to stumble on a white guy who I’d known for 30 years, and we discovered we were cousins. We already had trust between us, and he opened up the door for me to meet Lloyd. And the timing was perfect.

Lee: I think for me, and especially the fact that, that you're basically a Republican dude [laughs] who, uh, you know, really like, and deeply rooted in the Republican party, um, and, and that you're a Republican dude who took me through to make this introduction so I could meet Lloyd so that we could study this together, to me, defies all of the conventional wisdom, which is that we're all divided and we're all, um, to be, you know, enemies on the other side of the issue.

Jim: Well, Lee messaged me. I had posted about the, the trip where we did, we followed Lee's retreat back to Battle of White Oak Road. I think that was our last stop, and then we came home. And Lee, he said, ‘I, I see your, I think we're related.’ And I said, I messaged him back and, and I'm thinking, ‘I don't want to put a bunch of this stuff in writing,’ right? ’Cause I'm being like, it's not, this is sensitive stuff. I mean, we're dealing with race, and this is a war –

Lee: You knew the political, the political –

Jim: Yeah, I’m working in operatives, and he was working for the Wall Street Journal! And I’m thinking, ‘This is gonna be, this is not, this is gonna end bad,’ right? So I, I said, “Lee…” He's like, “I think we're related.” He goes, ‘I've been doing family research. There's Willoughby and Spotsworth –.’ And I said, ‘Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. That sounds about right.’ He said, ‘Can we do a call?’ ’Cause I'm thinking, I want to, I want to turn off the typewriter. There's nothing good that’s gonna come [Lee laughs] from this if it's typed forever and ever.

And we did a call, and he's like, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, how do you know?’ He said, ‘I did 23andMe. And my DNA goes back to Wales,’ and I said, ‘Well, you know, welcome to the family.’


Lee: And then I said, ‘I want my reparation.’

Jim: Yeah.


And as the conversation continued, we drilled down deeper into the undeniable proof of our ancestors being enslavers, and Lloyd plainly stated the facts:

Lloyd: Okay, let me, let me confirm that. I'm looking at the will of John Pugh in December 1827. His will, one negro hired by the name of Harry, worth $300. One woman, Judy, worth $200. One young man named Abram, $400. This is actually in the will, so that goes directly in our line, so there's, I mean, that's the proof of our line owning slaves.

Lee: Do you feel guilty about it?

Lloyd: No.

Lee: Tell me what you think about it.

Lloyd: It was a, it was a time. It's just like the Confederate statues in Richmond. It was history in a time, and you can't destroy it. Even though they've taken them down, they're still there in the minds of people, and they are people who are gonna keep them alive.

Jim: But we're not white supremacists.

Lloyd: No.

Jim: We're not white supremacists, and that's the thing people need to understand. It's so easy to just shortcut from, ‘You're a conservative Republican or you're a libertarian or whatever’ to, ‘You’re a white supremacist,’ and that's just not the case.

I don’t hold white people of today responsible for slavery and the actions of their ancestors. We’re not responsible for the sins of our forefathers. But we should take responsibility for the present and the future by being transparent and honest about history.

I know I joked with Jim about reparations, but that discussion isn't just between the white and Black families tied to slavery; it's between Black American descendants of slavery and the U.S. government, which includes states that enforced racist laws. Contrary to what many assume or imply, reparations wouldn’t be about individual white citizens personally compensating Black people; it would be government obligation, funded by taxpayers like any other public expense – infrastructure, education, or foreign aid. Taxpayers don't get to opt out of funding highways they don't use, just as those from families who didn’t own slaves can't opt out either. Slavery fueled America’s economic rise – on the backs of Black people, largely on stolen land – a legacy from which today’s Americans still benefit, no matter when they came here.

[music starts]

All in all, I spent two days with Lloyd, his daughters, and Jim. We had dinner and we talked a lot. He told me more about his life, like how he spent most of his career as an educator and superintendent, even helping oversee the desegregation of schools. I realized our families share many common values despite all our differences.

Lee: When you hold all these documents and all the binders you've made, thinking of all the Pugh history, what do you feel?

Lloyd: First of all, I feel thankful that I'm the result of all of that, that I'm able to carry on the family line. I just look at the Pugh family across the years as just good, sound, solid business people who did what they were supposed to do, and stayed out of jail, and paid their taxes, and didn't beat their families, and just good old southern Christian families is the way I look at it.

The information I received from Lloyd deepened my understanding of why so many slavery-era customs appeared in my childhood. It helped me with my quest to begin to trace the whip back to the very plantation where it started.

For me, that’s part of where the healing comes from – not from any kind of validation I’d seek from Lloyd and Jim, but from the information that’s allowed me to draw my own conclusions and undertake my own healing work.

The Pugh family history is intertwined with America's story, from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War and into the Jim Crow era. Lloyd and I come from the same family, but our experiences reflect opposite sides of the American history it's rooted in. Meeting Lloyd helped me piece together our family history.

It also triggered a need in me to uncover the story of how the white Pughs in America treated the most disenfranchised and exploited person in this saga, my great-great-grandmother, Charity, the matriarch of my family.

That’s on the next What Happened In Alabama.

[outro music]


What Happened In Alabama is a production of American Public Media. It’s written, produced and hosted by me, Lee Hawkins.

Our executive producer is Erica Kraus.

Our senior producer is Kyana Moghadam.

Our story editor is Martina Abrahams Ilunga.

Our lead writer is Jessica Kariisa.

Our producers are Marcel Malekebu and Jessica Kariisa.

This episode was sound designed and mixed by Marcel Malekebu. Our technical director is Derek Ramirez. Our soundtrack was composed by Ronen Lando.

Our fact checker is Erika Janik.

And Nick Ryan is our director of operations.

Special thanks to the O’Brien Fellowship for Public Service Journalism at Marquette University; Dave Umhoefer, John Leuzzi, Andrew Amouzou and Ziyang Fu. And also thanks to our producer in Alabama, Cody Short.

The executives in charge at APM are Joanne Griffith and Chandra Kavati.

You can follow us on our website, whathappenedinalabama.org or on Instagram at APM Studios.

Thank you for listening.