In the farming community of Dirt Town Valley, family friends grapple with a difficult truth: One ancestor was enslaved by another.
Friends and neighbors Stacie Marshall and Melvin and Betty Mosley chat over coffee in Marshall’s farmhouse kitchen in Dirt Town Valley, Georgia. Windows frame cattle pastures in every direction as they catch up on family weddings and local farming news. A mass of cheerful daffodils rests on the table between them.
On the surface, this encounter seems like any other between close friends. But a striking history sets their relationship apart—Betty Mosley’s great-great-grandmother was enslaved by Marshall’s great-great-great-grandparents in this community 150 years ago.
Marshall, 43, a mother of three and former campus minister, has been friends with the Mosleys for decades in this largely segregated corner of Northwest Georgia. Her father grew up as best friends with Melvin Mosley, and Melvin was her assistant high school principal.
Stacie Marshall and the Mosleys did not know their shared painful past until it was uncovered in 2021 through a Berry College documentary called Her Name Was Hester. The filming began in 2015 and followed Marshall’s discovery of her family’s history and her attempts to reconcile with the descendants of those they enslaved as she learns to run her family’s 300-acre cattle farm.
In 2017, Marshall was clearing out the family farmhouse when she discovered an 1860 county slave schedule in a boot box. The document, which listed enslaved people as part of the federal census, confirmed what her grandfather had told her years before—that her great-great-great-grandfather had purchased seven people, including a wet nurse named Hester.
“My grandparents are dead, and now all of this belongs to me,” Marshall remembers thinking. She described the strange …
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