When Allison Thomas ’78 introduces herself, she does so like this: “My name is Allison and I descend from enslavers dating back to Colonial Virginia.” This usually shocks people, but she doesn’t care. Thomas wants to normalize revealing these stories, both through small interactions and big projects, including one she started working on in 2015 when she found proof of her family’s true history in an ancestor’s diary.
She and writer Maria Sharp Montgomery, along with Our Black Ancestry, a nonprofit, launched the Gwynn’s Island Project, which has unraveled the history of a Virginia island located on the western shore of the lower Chesapeake Bay. They’re connected because Montgomery is a descendent of those whom Thomas’ family enslaved. Together, the duo has been telling this story and proving the existence of the island’s once thriving Black community.
“We’re not responsible for that history, but I am responsible for sharing it,” Thomas says.