Lacretia Johnson Flash's Ancestral Journey Is a Call to Stay Connected to History

Featured on Reuters and NBC's Nightly News, the Berklee senior vice president reckons with how her ancestors were enslaved by a family whose descendants include a current U.S. congressman.

October 6, 2023

“Keep in touch.”

It’s a common phrase, something often rattled off at the end of a phone call or a quick coffee with an old friend.  

Lacretia Johnson Flash inside at a table looking through old family photos

Flash looks through photos that trace her ancestry from Linden, Tennessee. 
Image by Sasha Pedro

For Lacretia Johnson Flash, senior vice president for DEI, community, and campus culture and climate at Berklee, the implications of that phrase have a deep personal significance and, as a recent series by Reuters shows, a significance that’s woven into the fabric of U.S. history. In the four-part series, Reuters takes a long, hard look at the ancestry of enslaved Black people and those of their enslavers with a political lens, finding that “a fifth of U.S. congressmen, living presidents, Supreme Court justices and governors have direct ancestors who enslaved Black people,” the report says.

Part four of the series opens with a focus on Flash’s experience reconnecting 20 years ago with her heritage in Perry County, Tennessee, and how she recently learned that the descendants of her enslaved ancestors' owners include U.S. congressman Representative Brett Guthrie of Kentucky. "It has been illuminating to learn about how my family's story intersects with one of this nation's leaders," Flash said. 

NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt also reported on the Reuters story and included a feature interview segment between Flash and NBC correspondent Blayne Alexander.

This story gives the world a vivid example of the intergenerational consequences of systemic racism carried out through routine policies and practices.

— Lacretia Johnson Flash

The coverage follows generations of inequity, going beyond the stats to give names and faces to the untold stories of formerly enslaved Black people struggling to establish themselves with land, commerce, an education, and a sense of safety in an area where lynchings, unjust land seizures, and other such practices were common. Reflecting on the experience, Flash said that "This story gives the world a vivid example of the intergenerational consequences of systemic racism carried out through routine policies and practices."

Flash’s journey to reconnect with her lineage began in 2001 when her mother, Alma Craig Johnson, who had been diagnosed with cancer, wrote this note before her death, saying “Keep in touch with family.” Flash’s story from that moment is a sobering, moving reminder of how keeping in touch is as much about family as it is about survival in the face of great adversity.  

Watch the NBC Nightly News interview segment featuring Lacretia Johnson Flash:

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