WICHITA, Kansas – A basic conversation about family names, unmasked a deep hidden secret between two social studies professors at Hesston College and their ancestors, revealing a kinship that had been concealed for over 250 years until now.
In 2004, Sharon Cranford and Dwight Roth were enjoying a dinner with co-workers when Roth over heard Cranford discussing the name Mast which was her family’s name. It was then the two began to learn that they were distant cousins with an Amish- Mennonite background.
But you might notice some differences that are “literally” black and white. So how can this be?
“The only thing my grandmother told me years ago when I was growing up is that we came from peculiar people and that it was not something that we could talk about,” said Cranford.
After all these years, the two are talking. They have broken down walls to expose ties to the small Amish community they never knew existed.
The distant cousins began studying records they found inside the school library at Hesston. Their story dates all the way back to the year 1750.
According to Roth, two Amish brothers named Jacob and John Mast decided to leave Switzerland and move to Philadelphia.
“They moved because there was persecution of the Amish and their lifestyle,” said Roth.
An unaccepted lifestyle, that would later evolve into another, dividing their families as they settled into very different lives.
“Our world history relates to one brother being a more religious type and the other one moving into slavery,” said Cranford.
Jacob went on to become an Amish Bishop, while John left the Amish Church and moved to North Carolina. John’s grandson would go on to father a child with a slave girl, and that child was Cranford’s Great, Great Grandfather named Charley Mast.
“Amish were so opposed to worldly things especially slavery, they just do not believe Amish people would’ve gotten involved with that, said Cranford.”[But] my existence itself lets you know that the Thomas Jefferson, Sally Heming’s’ story is not as unique as Americans would like to believe that it is.”
For Cranford and Roth, the sometimes misunderstood culture of both Amish and African-American communities would lead to two to become closer as friends and even more as family.
“This helps me realize that ancestors are very powerful and kinship is very important,” said Roth.
The two have even written a book entitled “ Kinship Concealed.” They are currently touring their book around country in hopes of showing people of different races that their lives aren’t as different as they think they are.
“Maybe they can see Dwight and Me and see themselves because as we look at how people get along its easy if you just reach out and try,” said Cranford.
Visit the “Kinship Concealed: Amish Mennonite African-American Family Connections” Facebook page to learn more about Cranford and Roth’s story.