NJ Author Finds Stories of Her Enslaved Female Ancestors—And Unexpected Healing

Researching and writing her new memoir brought Dionne Ford, who is a survivor of sexual assault, "a lot of comfort and courage."

An image of Dionne Ford and her book "Go Back and Get It"
Author and NJM contributor Dionne Ford says that writing about her experience with sexual assault has helped to alleviate feelings of guilt and shame. Headshot courtesy of Dionne Ford

Growing up, Dionne Ford knew from a young age that her family was descended from slaves. But when she discovered the identity of her great-great-grandmother, Tempy, who was enslaved, she realized that she was finally able to begin to heal from the trauma that she’d experienced as a child and young adult.

Ford wrote her new book, Go Back and Get It: A Memoir of Race, Inheritance and Intergenerational Healing (Bold Type Books), after exploring a wide range of therapies and lifestyle changes to tackle her history of sexual abuse. 

“Finding info about my great-great-grandmother, Tempy, was so restorative to me,” says Ford, 53, who lives in Montclair. “In the process of focusing my attention on her life, I realized there were parallels repeated in my own story.” 

Tempy had six children with the man who had received her as a wedding gift, a Louisiana cotton broker. His wife was unable to have children of her own.  

[RELATEDDiscovering My NJ Hometown’s Ties to Slavery—And Freedom]

“I always wanted to find out more about Tempy. Her story was like a guiding light to me. I think it brought me a lot of comfort and courage,” says Ford.

Ford, who is a contributor to New Jersey Monthly, documents her search for her ancestors and how difficult it is to find out about relatives who were enslaved. 

Ford says people don’t want to talk about how much sexual violence is rampant in our culture, especially with Black women. But she says that writing about her own sexual assaults helped to alleviate her own shame and guilt about what had happened. “There was a feeling that my abuse was my fault, and I had to shield everyone around me from the pain and discomfort that I experienced.” 

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