The road that leads home is never very long for me. Yes, we are all far-flung, but it’s our traditions and commitment to unity that keeps us close and makes physical location almost irrelevant. I’m proud of the legacy my ancestors built and like to think that my words and actions keep that legacy alive. My family has bequeathed to me a strong sense a family, a passion for learning and the belief that community service is a civic responsibility.

All my life I’ve grown up knowing that the Nance family was from the Coppinville section of Enterprise, Ala. This is where my dad was born, his dad was born and where his dad lived, worked and gave back. (My great-grandfather, J.E. Nance, owned a store and also donated the land for Coffee County Training School after it burned down in the early 1930s.) I also knew that this land was ours. We owned it, and had owned for some time.

Details were always hazy about exactly how that land came to be in the family. One of my favorite cousins, Nehata Gavin (1924-2010), told me that the land came from my great-grandmother’s side, and that it was homesteaded. She was right:

This is the land patent that my great-great-grandfather, Frank Gilley, signed in 1888 for more than 160 acres. My relatives have lived on this land ever since.

So here you have a former slave making another pronounced step into freedom. The first was abandoning the Tindall surname. (I don’t know where “Gilley” came from, whether that is another slave owner or just the person my great-great-grandfather decided he wanted to be). And in 1888, he became Frank Gilley, landowner.

As I scanned more Census data, I noticed that the Tindalls had accumulated quite a bit of wealth and were very well off compared to their neighbors. Later on, at least two of the Tindalls used their financial status to support education: according to my Aunt Madie (one of my grandfather’s younger sisters), Elijah Tindall and Lula Tindall were both Tuskegee Institute donors. (Elijah and Lula were the children of Seaborn Tindall Jr., who was Frank Gilley’s brother. Elijah and Lula were first cousins to my great-grandmother, Mamie Gilley Nance).

How’s that for a rich bloodline?