By Russell Short, on January 30, 2015, for The NY Times—
“Mandred Henry was a health care sales rep from Hartford whom people often stopped on the street, saying he was a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman. Throughout his life he identified strongly with his African-American background. He was president of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. He remembered his mother keeping her grandmother’s slavery manumission papers in her top drawer.
But his awareness of his origins went back further than that. As a child he heard stories from his father of a distant ancestor who grew up among a cattle-herding tribe in West Africa in the 1700s. This ancestor was captured by enemy tribesman as a boy, sold into slavery and eventually wound up in New England, where he bought his freedom, then that of his sons and his wife. That ancestor, Venture Smith, was a colossus of a man, physically and otherwise, who defied slavery at its very height, becoming a landowner and businessman in the early days of the American republic.
Venture Smith’s renown was great enough that his sons passed on the story of their father to their children, and they to theirs. Mandred Henry in his turn told his children of their ancestor. He dreamed of traveling to Africa himself and completing the circle of the African-American experience.”
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