My great grandfather, James Kirkwood, was a police constable in St. Ann, Jamaica. But who were his parents?
The awakening of more of the United States to its ingrained caste system has aroused passions as people examine the country’s history and their own. The American racial issue often is familial, which makes it emotional, often explosive.
The videotaped killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, has led me to search, once again, for the origin of my surname. I do this every 10 or 20 years in much the way an adopted person researches his, her or their birth family, not because they are unhappy with their adoptive family but because they experience the urge to know their blood relatives.
My heritage is a varied one: Mayan, Indian, African, Honduranian, Portuguese. Jamaican and Bajan.
Simply put, I am Creole.
My parents were from Belize in Central America. Creoles comprise 26 percent of the population of Belize, according to the 2010 Belize Population and Housing Census. Most Belizeans are of multiracial descent. Therefore, my background is not unusual. The characters of Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez reflect the mixed heritage of the Caribbean. In Garcia Marquez’s Afro-Caribbean Literary Identity, author Madison Cash quotes him from a 1978 interview:
“I’m a mestizo. . . . Recognizing this fact made me see into myself. At the same time, (it) made me start observing more clearly the historical conditions of countries.”
The socio-economic sphere of the Caribbean was linked, one country to another, which was linked to West Africa, which was linked to Europe. Blame it on the trade winds.
I am fortunate in that I know the stories of many of my foremothers and forefathers. However, I do not know how the name Kirkwood came into my family.
Kirkwood is the name that I was given at birth. It is the name that I kept on marriage and after divorce. It is the name that I sign to this piece and have penned to every article, novel, poem, play, and memoir that I have written in my 66 years.
When I was younger, I clung to the love, respect and accomplishments that my father, his father and his father’s father had amassed to the family name. I was proud to carry on the name. Indeed, I have given it to my son as a middle name. It was enough for me to know three generations of Kirkwoods. Now that I am old, I feel that my knowledge is too recent and, therefore, inadequate.
At this stage, I can better understand the rejection of slave names. The Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad wrote in Message to the Blackman in America:
“You are still called by your slave-masters’ names. By rights, by international rights, you belong to the white man of America. He knows that. You have never gotten out of the shackles of slavery. You are still in them.”
I used to slough off the name’s origins: “It’s Scottish. Probably the name of a sugar producer and/or slave owner.”
Basically, I was not dealing with it.
James Kirkwood, my great grandfather, was a police constable in St. Ann, Jamaica. He immigrated to Belize, where my grandfather, Joseph Horatio, was born in 1884. Who were my great grandfather’s parents? And theirs?
Is Kirkwood the name of someone who owned one of my ancestors in Jamaica?
Is Kirkwood blood to me?