‘Didn’t Come From Nothing’: African American Mom And Daughter Travel To Ghana And Their Family’s Past

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
African American Ghana
Cape Coast, Ghana, is known and visited by African Americans for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. Dec. 28, 2011. Photo: David Bacon/Flickr

Inspired by stories from a beloved grandmother, an African American woman and her daughter took a journey to Ghana to discover their family heritage that transcended slavery, the Civil War and the early 20th century.

Tani Sanchez and her daughter Tani Sylvester are among hundreds of African Americans who are flying across the Atlantic Ocean — the journey their ancestors were subjected to in the opposite direction — to explore their ancestral roots in Ghana in what has been called the “Year of Return”.

Attracting African American visitors

Ghana is tapping into its rich history spanning 400 years linked to slavery. The country plans to grow its annual tourism numbers from 1 million to 8 million per year by 2027 by attracting the African diaspora market, according to a strategy document.

Sanchez, an associate professor of Africana Studies at the University of Arizona, gathered as much information as she could from oral histories, court transcripts, land deeds and census documents that resulted in 300-page book about the life of a few generations on her mother’s side of the family.

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The book is titled “‘Didn’t Come From Nothing’ – An African American Story of Life.” Putting it together was not easy.

She had to surmount dead ends as most slavery records were erased. But a DNA test linked her to the Ashanti ethnic group in Ghana through her great grandfather Charles Wright, according to a Reuters report.

“We’re the first people in our family who’ve ever gone back home to Africa. The last people that came from Africa, they came in chains. They were slaves, and we’re going back as free people,” Sylvester told Reuters.

While in Accra, the mother-daughter pair joined other African-American returnees in a tour of the dungeons that held their ancestors and experienced the drums and dances of the people of Kumasi.