Dallas Art Exhibit Reveals Hidden Family History – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
Rodney Hawkins set out to uncover pieces of hidden history, starting with his own family.
“We need to be able to give flowers to our ancestors in some form. But we can’t do that if we don’t know where they are,” Hawkins said.
A conversation with her great-grandmother changed the course of the next two years.
“And that was the spark of going down that rabbit hole to figure out our history and then realizing that we had a cemetery that was a mess and needed to be restored,” he said.
It took Hawkins and his family deep into the backwoods of Nacogdoches.
“I appealed to the family members to say, ‘Hey, we’ll do it’ and they came from all over the country to help restore the cemetery,” he said.
Hawkins, a reporter, realized he was not alone. People who died of slavery across the United States have ancestors whose burial sites have been neglected, forgotten, and often paved over.
“I am very lucky that our cemetery is not in a place where we could not bring it back,” he said. “But there are cemeteries, for example, that have a gas station above them that you would pass by without even knowing it.”
A series of stories and a chance encounter with art gallery owner Daisha Board brought Hawkins to this moment. He is now producer and creative director of an exhibition at the Daisha Board Gallery in Dallas.
It’s called “The Mount: A Photo Collection of Restoring America’s Buried Past.” Images from his journey, captured by photographer Kwesi Yanful, expose Hawkins’ quest for truth.
“To have an exhibit like this that is so powerful in lineage, in history, in ancestry, we had to show it,” Board said.
Board is nationally known for providing platforms for artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.
“For me, having a space that doesn’t censor them, that gives them the freedom to express themselves in any way possible, is vital,” she said.
Board said that over the June 19 holiday, people filled the gallery for what turned out to be a looping moment. A picture depicting one of Hawkins’ ancestors buying assets as a free man 148 years ago on June 19 hangs on the gallery wall.
“He was buying cattle, properties, some of which we own to this day,” Hawkins said.
“For some people, it’s emotional,” Board said. “Some people resonate with the people in the pictures.”
Hawkins hopes her journey will uncover a hidden, yet meaningful story that will inspire others to do the same.
“We should cherish these moments, no matter how ugly, painful or shameful they are. I’m proud of that,” he said. “I’m proud of where we come from.”
The cemetery discovered by Hawkins and his family is now recognized by the State of Texas as a historic landmark under the direction of the Texas Historic Commission.
Hawkins’ family line was also a springboard for the “Lone Star Slavery Project”, led by historian and researcher Kyle Ainsworth of Stephen F. Austin State University.
The Mount: A Photo Collection on Restoring America’s Buried Past can be viewed at Daisha Board Gallery through Saturday, July 9. For more information visit https://daishaboardgallery.com/