As the great, great grandson of Texas slaveholders, Chris Tomlinson wanted to find out what crimes his ancestors had committed to maintain their power and privilege. In his new book Tomlinson Hill, he writes about the slave-owning part of his family tree. He also writes about slaves who kept the Tomlinson name after they were freed, and traces their lineage.
Chris Tomlinson says that he intended the book to examine America’s history of race and bigotry through the paternal lines of these two families. Tomlinson is a journalist who spent 11 years with the associated press, reporting on wars and conflicts, mostly in Africa, including the end of apartheid and the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. All the conflicts he covered included an element of bigotry:
"It was inspiring to me to be in South Africa after the election [of Nelson Mandela] and to see that reckoning. Bishop Desmond Tutu established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and at the time his argument was that before there can be reconciliation, you have to have a sharing of the truth and it has to be a common truth. One community can’t have one idea of what happened and the other community … a different idea. If you want them to reconcile, they have to agree about what happened. And that requires — for lack of a better word — confession and contrition.
…I don’t think that’s something that’s happened in the United States. And it certainly didn’t happen in my life. And so writing this book was my opportunity to go through that process — if, for no one else, [than] for the African-American Tomlinsons and my side of the family, that we have that truth and reconciliation.”
Photo of Tomlinson Hill plantation sign, via Chris Tomlinson/ Lisa Kaselak, Fosforo Films