We now turned our focus to Mollie's roots.
Her father, Angela's great-grandfather, was a man named Isom Spencer.
We found Isom, along with two of his brothers, listed as collateral on a loan document filed in 1854 by a slave owner named William Paulling.
Paulling owned a plantation in Marengo County, Alabama, and in this document, he gives a detailed account of the human beings who worked it, making the reality of slavery palpable to Angela, in a way she'd never expected.
- I assume that my ancestors lived on plantations as slaves, but of course, I didn't know who they were, and I didn't know who the slave owners were.
And I just feel so sad that these are my people who had to live under those conditions.
So, you know, it makes me realize what a miracle it is that we are here now.
- Oh my God.
And this is yesterday.
In terms of a historical timeline, our blood ancestors were owned by other human beings according to the law, yesterday.
- In terms of the passage of time.
- Angela's great-grandfather, Isom, not only marks her family's transition from slavery to freedom, he's also at the center of a fascinating story.
In 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War, Isom's former owner, William Paulling, was keeping four of Isom's orphaned nephews as unpaid apprentices on his plantation.
Essentially, he was continuing to hold them in slavery, using his power and privilege to circumvent the law.
But Isom and his brothers weren't intimidated by Paulling.
To the contrary, they went to court, and filed a complaint against him.
- That's great.
- Runs in the family.
- Oh my God.
This I am so happy to see.
- Isn't that cool?
- Yes, yes, so- - I mean these are people who had been kept in bondage, and in 1866 they were saying, - Right.
- we are gonna use the mechanism of the law- - Absolutely.
- against this racist who's got these kids.
- And they figured out how to do it.
- They figured out- - And they brought- - how to do it.
- an actual complaint.
- It's amazing.
- Unfortunately, Angela's ancestor faced steep odds.
At the time, former slave owners, all over the South, were trying to keep black children on their plantations as free labor.
The practice was so common, that the judge who heard the family's complaint, saw nothing wrong with it.
- "I thought it was a capital arrangement for such children, and the best thing that could be done for them.
I do not think that any good will result from the angry and frivolous complaints of the uncles and aunts of such children.
They can do nothing for them, and they do not know what is best for them or for the children."
- The judge presiding over your relative's case sided with the planter.
- That doesn't surprise me.
- He endorsed Paulling's desire to have your relatives stay on as his quote unquote "apprentices" stating that Isom and his brothers did not, quote unquote, "know what is best for them or for the children."
What do you imagine your great-grandfather and his brothers felt at that moment?
- Well, you know, I'm sure that they were extremely angry.
They were the uncles of these children - Blood kin.
- who were being exploited, who were being turned into slaves.
And so, is this the way it ends?
- Happily, this is not where the story ends.
Less than a year later, the Freedmen's Bureau, a federal agency set up, in part, to help African Americans, intervened on Isom's behalf, and ordered that his nephews be released from their apprenticeships.
- Finally, finally.
- Some, yeah, um... - So your great-grandfather, a man born and raised in slavery, pulled off a victory- - Wow.
- less than two years - Wow.
- after he became free.
- So do you see a little bit of him and his determination trickling down that family tree of yours?
I'm happy to find that there's a motif of resistance there.
- There is definitely.
- Because that is what I feel like I've been trying to do since I was a teenager.
- Well, you came by it naturally, my daddy would say.
(chuckling) - Yeah.
That I never would've expected.