In Alabama during the early to mid 1800’s, by the grace of God, my family was fortunate enough to not have to share crop. Unlike most blacks in that region recently coming out of slavery, the Turners were entrepreneurs and quite wealthy. They were blessed to have a lovely home and a beautiful horse drawn carriage with lanterns on the side. This, was quite rare at the time, especially for black folks, and would be the equivalent to riding around in a modern day Cadillac with Chrome rims!
The Turners were highly respected by other blacks and some whites within the community. On the other hand, there societal positioning did not sit well with most, and they felt the brunt of their hatred in many ways.
The young ones would walk to school daily, and would be tormented by two older white boys riding on horses. Hearing of this, Robert Turner, an elder teenage family member, began walking the young ones to school. One day, as the white boys came riding by, starting their reign of terror on the smaller children, our hero pulled one of the white boys off of his horse and beat him close to death. Robert and the smaller children ran home. Soon after, the Klu Klux Klan and other white townspeople gathered at the property, insisting that our hero come out or they would set the house on fire and the entire family would be killed. By this time, Robert snuck out of the house from a back entryway and ran, hiding himself within the high weeds in the field.
The unruly crowd was more than the local lawmakers could handle. The Military Militia was called to protect the family.
Running as far and fast as he could, Robert was finally able to find solace within the Chickasaw Tribe, who took him in and comforted him. He explained what was going on with the family and why he was forced to flee. Impressed by his character, strength and bravery, the Chickasaw people who are warriors by nature, sent their own men out to help save the family.
What a sight to behold!! The Klu Klux Klan, the Military Militia and the Chickasaw Tribe all gathered in one place!!! I’m sure the town was buzzing about that!!!
Between the three superpowers, they were able to negotiate. My entire family was allowed, (actually forced) to leave the property alive, IMMEDIATELY, with only the clothes on their backs, and whatever they could grab in their hands, as long as they never returned.
The Chickasaw Nation took my family in and over time our young hero married one of their beautiful daughters, thus merging the two families. The young couple was given the name of Lilly and our entire family adopted it as well, legally changing their surname from “Turner” to “Lilly” to make it difficult for any trouble makers to find them at a later date. The Lilly’s made their roots and the family lived happily within the Chickasaw Nation for many years.
Robert Lilly begat a son Will, who married and begat a daughter Louise, who married and begat a son name Levi who married and begat…ME!!!
After hearing this story told over and over from my Grandmother, Father, and Aunt, only recently have I been able to appreciate it for its historic richness.
I am a direct descendant of the Chickasaw Nation and Southern African American peoples…and I am proud to share our story with you.
About The Author: Sanetta Y. Gipson is an actress & songstress who resides in Los Angeles, CA. A former Runner -Up for Miss Black Illinois, Sanetta began her theatre career with leading roles in Little Shop Of Horrors, Dream Girls and Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Her television and film credits include Strong Medicine, Family Matters, The Wedding Singer, and numerous national commercials. Musically, she has worked with such talents as Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Adam Sandler, Ice Cube, and Marilyn Manson.
“Our Family Secret” is Sanetta’s poignant memoir of her family’s decades long struggle with mental illness, marking her debut as a professional writer.