Grace Jordan, arts & living editor
When driving through rural Georgia, one will see dozens of farms sprawling across tens of hundreds of acres. Some of these farms are new and recently tilled, but some come with a long history. A history that isn’t always good.
Stacie Marshall, a woman in her early 40s who, at one time, lived on Berry’s Mountain Campus as house mother to Friendship, recently inherited her family’s farm. Marshall grew up on the farm, but moved out during college, and has now moved back to live on the farm with her family of five.
“We’re just trying to breathe some life back into this place,” Marshall said. “It’s very special for me, I have a lot of memories growing up here. Since moving back, it’s been crazy because my kids are around it all the time and I was around it all the time growing up. It’s been cool to see even in the past year how this family farm legacy is coming back.”
The farm has been in Marshall’s family over 200 years and she has spent the last year and a half at the farm rediscovering and uncovering her family’s history. Some of that history includes a slave woman by the name of Hester.
“About 13 years ago, I had my first daughter and I was nursing her and having a hard time producing milk,” Marshall said. “I lived in Rome and I was visiting the farm and my grandfather started telling me this story of the women in our family having a difficult time producing milk. He said that is why my great, great, great grandfather bought this slave woman. He told me her name was Hester.”
Since learning more about the farm’s history, Marshall has felt a need to reconcile with the past and allow others a window into her family history.
“When I moved back, I was cleaning out the house and I found documents,” Marshall said. “Then it just changed my purpose. I had this moment of thinking, ‘here are these documents that my family has that we have, for generations, not talked about outside the family because you don’t want to offend anyone.’ I was looking at this piece of paper and it felt so inhumane, to see seven numbers and no names. What if we are holding someone else’s family history without knowing?”
Marshall’s journey through acquiring the farm, moving in and revitalizing it was not a solo one. Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Anthropology, Brian Campbell, has produced a total of five movies and is now helping Marshall document her experience.
“I thought that it would be intriguing to do just a little short film about her moving back to the family farm and what it would be like going up to Chattooga County where its backwoods, patriarchal,” Campbell said. “She’d be kind of confronting the patriarchy by being a woman farmer.”
However, according to Campbell, as time went on, he realized the film was going in an entirely new direction. Marshall had begun to explore her family’s history and wanted to make amends in whatever ways she could. Campbell accompanied her on interviews with her neighbors and together they began piecing together a larger narrative.
“I started accompanying Stacie to go and interview a lot of her Black neighbors,” Campbell said. “To talk candidly with her family friends about how she was feeling and how she could help make it right. She was genuinely feeling that because her family had owned slaves she needed to do something to reconcile that fact as she was moving back to become neighbors again and part of that community.”
Along the journey, Marshall met and befriended numerous people. One of those friends is Haley Smith, director of Student Diversity Initiatives and a woman of Black and white heritage. Smith is the lead singer in the band Kindred Fire and Marshall was originally interested in Smith’s music for the film, however, as time went on Smith began to play a larger role.
“It became an emotional journey with [Marshall],” Smith said. “I didn’t really have a relationship with my dad growing up and I have been reconciling the Black part of me. Understanding her heritage and history has helped me reconcile with mine. That has been part of the process and some of that is featured in the documentary.”
According to Marshall, this is a story that needs to be told. It would be easy to keep her history in the family, but that is not what she believes is the right thing to do. To Marshall, action needs to be taken, on a personal level and even institutionally.
“Reframing how the story is told is important,” Marshall said. “I think that’s what institutions need to do, and what our culture needs to do. I think it’s important to tell the whole story. There’s been a lot of historical markers in this area from the Civil War era that’s been lost. Like slave cemeteries and segregated schools. Funds, historically, have not been reserved for those spaces in history.”
After a three-year-long journey, Marshall and Campbell have concluded filming and the documentary is in the final stages of production. The expected release date for the film is next spring and will feature Marshall and her journey towards racial reconciliation.