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My name is George McWilliams, and I was born in 1861 as an enslaved person. I don’t remember much about emancipation, but I do remember hearing the bells ringing, the church bells. And I do remember someone coming in our yard wearing a white vest and telling us that we were free. And I do remember hearing one of my half-sisters say that when the master asked her to come and work in the fields, she said, “Tell Old Bartholomew he should go work his own farm now.”

I grew up very poor. I had a lot of sisters and brothers, but I had this ambition ...

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