The Morgan West Wheatland Cemetery was cold on Saturday. It was in the 30’s, with a few flakes of snow in the air – the first of the season. The welcome, however, was warm. The descendants of the Old Settlers had a table set up with hot coffee, cider and donuts in the middle of this wind-swept field—the site where their ancestors are buried.
The Old Settlers of Isabella County have a fascinating history. Some of us heard about this history during a talk on Friday night by Prof. Jay Martin of Central Michigan University. As a historian, he has delved into the history of this local community, and has befriended them in the course of doing his research. After the Civil War, many African Americans settled in Western Isabella county by Remus. Many had small farms and were among the first non-native people to live there.
A clear point that came through from Prof. Martin is that the community known as the Old Settlers was multi-racial. This was a surprise to me and perhaps my biggest take-away from the lecture. I had gone in thinking that this was a story of African American history. My lesson, once again, is that race is complicated. I’ve been taught that there are clear categories and distinctions—literally black and white—but the truth has always been more complicated. We are multi-racial, multi-ethnic people—and this community of Old Settlers especially so. African American, Native American, and white people mixed in this community, and in their families.
Prof. Martin also emphasized some of the famous members of the old settlers community, including the first black graduate of Central Michigan University, Emma Norman Todd. This ancestor and many others were featured in our walking tour.
The gathering at the cemetery on Saturday included Jay Martin, five members of the UU Fellowship of Central Michigan, one other guest, and our hosts who provided the refreshments and guided our tour of the cemetery: Tera Green, Diana Todd-Green, Tomarrah Green, and Carol Norman along with other members of their families. As they introduced themselves, it emerged that there were four generations of a single family present. As we toured the cemetery for an hour, it became clear that it was a family affair in another way: our hosts showed us the graves of their own grandparents; one of our hosts showed us her own gravestone, already engraved with her name and the date of her birth, where she will be buried when her time comes.
It was an honor to be welcomed by the descendants of the Old Settlers last Saturday, to learn of their history Friday night, and to walk on the land where their ancestors are buried.
May God bless the community of Old Settlers, the extended family that gathers in their yearly reunions, and multi-racial inclusive spirit that they embody.
May all of us honor our ancestors and strengthen our communities by connection to one another as we are living, and to those who have passed on before us.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
Rev. Andrew Frantz
Drew's office hours are suspended until further notice. However, he is reachable at any time via email, phone, or text.
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