When a Black man purchased the big house he had passed every day on his way to school as a child, he had no idea it was a former Virginia plantation that held the keys to his family’s history.
The “scary house” his sister begged him to buy in Pittsylvania County, southern Virginia, ended up being part of a former 2,000-acre tobacco plantation where his ancestors had been enslaved.
Fredrick “Fred” Miller, 56, said he never thought “in a million years” the previous owners would sell the estate to a Black man. Not only did the Air Force veteran win the bid for the 10.5-acre property, but he also got a priceless piece of his family’s legacy unbeknownst to him.
“I didn’t want to buy it,” Fred Miller admitted during an interview with 60 Minutes on CBS News. He said his younger sister, Karen Dixon-Rexroth, kept “twisting” his arm about it so he made an offer of $225,000, just $5,000 above the asking price for the property.
“I thought that because I was Black that they would never – surely, they would never sell this house to someone that’s Black. So for us to be able to own this thing, I thought it would never happen. Yeah. In a million years,” Fred Miller said.
Fred Miller lives in California where he works as a civil engineer for the Air Force, but he visits home to see family often. He initially purchased the property in 2020 so his large family could have a place to gather.
“The first time I drove up to the place– all I could do is stop by the edge of the road there and just look up in– in amazement. Like, wow, this is– this is mine,” he said.
Through a combined effort of genealogical research by his sister and cousins, he eventually learned the name of the property was Sharswood, and they were descended from people who were once enslaved there.
The family located a census record from 1870 that proved their great-great-grandmother Sarah Miller was born to David and Violet Miller.
After enlisting the help of a local genealogist, Karice Luck-Brimmer, the family was able to find documentation proving the couple was enslaved at the Sharswood plantation owned by Charles Edwin Miller and Nathaniel Crenshaw Miller.
Fred Miller’s cousin, Sonya Womack-Miranda, told The Washington Post that the census “hands-down places them on the plantation,” adding, “It can never be disputed.”
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The discovery was mind-blowing, considering some members of the Miller family have been trying for years to piece together their origins. They said many of the elders didn’t talk about slavery because it was too painful and they ran into a brick wall finding links before their great-great-grandmother Sarah Miller.
That changed when Fred Miller purchased the house. And providence would have it, the year their great-great-grandmother Sarah was listed on the census (1870) was the very first time Black people were listed by name.
Though Fred Miller didn’t initially believe the news, once he realized its truth, his entire perspective changed.
“Once I realized that it was actually my blood that was here, it took on a whole new meaning for me, Miller said. “It really saddens me sometimes when I– you know? And I’m up– a lotta times, I’m up wee hours of the night now, just thinking about what happened here.”
But he said he is also grateful and gives his ancestors credit for leading him home. He said he hopes the fact that they now own the Virginia plantation where their ancestors were in bondage is making them smile down from heaven with joy.
“Yeah, I’m hoping– I’m hoping they would be proud of us, and I think they would be,” Miller said. “They endured a lot. I mean, I can’t even imagine what they went through. Looking down on us now, they must be smiling at us.”