CoastLine: "It broke my hip." Kieran Haile, Alex Manly's great-great-grandson, on the "dark and terrible" intergenerational trauma of slavery
It wasn’t until Kieran Haile broke his hip at age 29 that he began to learn about how traumas from America’s early years are more than a dissociated story from the past. His brittle bone disease, he learned, is a consequence of slavery in the American south, when white slaveowners would rape Black women – eventually, perhaps, raping their own daughters.
Kieran Haile, the great-great-grandson of Alexander Manly, and his wife, Priscilla Haile, visited Wilmington for the first time in September of 2021.
Kieran Haile is a musician, recording engineer, and multimedia engineer. He’s also developing an indie video game. He and his wife, Priscilla, both grew up in Southern California. As millennials, they remember the L.A. riots of their childhood. It was 1992 when public outrage over the acquittal of four police officers for the beating of Rodney King turned into six days of violence, looting, and arson.
While they both identify as Black, Kieran and Priscilla Haile experience their Blackness differently. Kieran can easily pass for white; Priscilla has darker skin and her mother, who came to the U.S. from Belize, insisted Priscilla’s natural Afro be chemically straightened before she could go out in public.
As a teen, Kieran heard stories about the 1898 coup d'état in Wilmington, North Carolina that killed an unknown number of citizens, exiled Black property owners from their homes and businesses, and forced duly elected Black officials out of office at gunpoint. But Wilmington was on the other side of the country; it might as well have been the other side of the world. He remembers thinking of North Carolina as almost unreal, a fairy-tale land, perhaps.
Kieran Haile knew his great-great-grandfather, Alexander Manly, was somehow a victim of this coup. He knew a white supremacist mob burned down the building that housed Manly’s newspaper, The Daily Record. But Kieran didn’t realize how unique that paper was: the only Black-owned daily in North Carolina, possibly in the country, in 1898. He also didn’t know about the events leading up to it, and while he knew Manly survived by passing for white that night, the significance of that fact escaped him until much later.
It wasn’t until Kieran broke his hip at age 29 that he began to learn about how traumas from America’s early years are more than a dissociated story from the past. He started to learn how history directly affects him in the 21st century. His brittle bone disease, he learned, is a consequence of slavery in the American south, when white slaveowners would rape Black women – eventually, perhaps, raping their own daughters.
Kieran and Priscilla Haile visited Wilmington for the first time in September of 2021.
KIERAN HAILE: Essentially I went back to school to study music and then during my degree program, my hip broke, which was kind of an ordeal in and of itself -- kind of its own thing. I had to take time off of school, maybe two terms, three terms. Because the hip break happened as I was just turning 30, it was just before 30, and the doctors were like, well, you know, hip replacements, they only last five to 10 years and we've never had to do one on someone so young, so they didn't actually replace it at first.
They patched it up and gave me, like, some screws and stuff. And then I just kinda walked on it for a year and a half. Then I did have the hip replacement surgery. That was supposed to be a smooth thing, but it wasn't. And I had to take more time off of school. Complications in the second surgery -- I have nerve damage, so I can't lift on my left foot. I've been dealing with that.
But the doctors were just kinda like, you're so young, it's kind of weird. So I had bone density scans and blood tests and all types of things to kind of pinpoint what the issue was.
A year and a half later, like after all of it, it came out that I have brittle bone disease. And so that just became a whole thing in and of itself. Like it's hereditary.
I started looking into it…
I basically tracked it down to a particular ancestor line of mine of essentially my dad's mother, my grandmother, who I did not meet. She actually passed away before I was born. She was Alex Manley's granddaughter.
Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Right. Kieran Haile is the great-great-grandson of Alexander Manly. And he had known that. He remembers hearing those stories growing up about the coup d’etat of 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina. But…
KH: It was so distant and vague, it was like a fairy tale. Right. And so to me, this was real, like my hip broke. This is real stuff that I had to deal with.
RLH: His earlier studies in college, years earlier, had laid the groundwork for what he was about to learn.
KH: I did a year studying Black history and Black psychology. I did philosophy, I did art history and studied Asian history…
RLH: Black psychology. How is that different from just mainstream psychology? What kinds of things do you learn when you're studying Black psychology?
KH: Right. Well, there's a huge amount of internalized control and internalized gatekeeping. Like just the idea of Black women's hair, just in a conventional American office setting. Is it okay for a Black woman to come in with a natural or full Afro? Like a lot of people would say, no. Right.
RLH: Is that still true? A lot of people would still say no?
KH: I think so.
PRISCILLA HAILE: I think it's shifting a bit though, because I'm sitting here with natural hair and I've had it for about five or six years.
RLH: Priscilla Haile is Kieran’s wife. She’s first-generation American. Her family came to the U.S. from Belize.
PH: When I started school at four years old, you know, all my mom's family told her, oh, you got to relax the girl's hair, you got to chemically straighten it because you can't send them out in the world looking like that.
And so, from my mom, you know, she always made sure that our hair was straightened because it was seen as unkempt. And so, because you seem unkempt then a lot of assumptions would be made about your person, regardless of whether it's true or not.
RLH: So it was a form of protection.
PH: Absolutely. And with Black psychology, it's definitely a form of protection. There's, you know, a lot of generational trauma that's been passed down. Both of us have gotten variations of the police talk. Kieran's watched his dad be harassed before, watching my mom and having to be like, you know, deferential to authority figures, because she's so frightened of what they can do to her as an immigrant, as a woman of color, as -- you know. And so, yeah, there's a lot that goes on there.
I think that there's a propensity to believe that Black people are more inclined to violence or unruliness. And the truth of the matter is that Black children have to parent themselves a lot because their parents are often just trying to make ends meet and survive…and children internalize the anti-Black sentiment that they're surrounded by.
KH: There's almost a bipolarity to being Black because you have the mainstream perspective, you have the news and TV and fashion or whatever, and that's clearly skewed to a white perspective. Then you have code switching where there is a private culture, a private conversation, and being Black often is being aware of both at the same time. It's observing the white mainstream, but also communicating and existing in private spaces. But trying to make sure both, you know what I mean, that you can navigate both.
PH: And even within that there's complexity in so far as code switching professionally, code switching when you're amongst your peers, you know, definitely making sure that you're able to navigate these situations so that you survive -- like survival is ultimately, you know, the driving force for everybody, but specifically with Black Americans, Black people in America, you, you have to adapt and it's a really steep curve to do so.
RLH: So the study of Black psychology then is how the culture kind of interacts with the psyche of a human who has to live in a different reality from the white majority.
KH & PH: Yeah. Yeah.
RLH: I ask permission to talk about Kieran’s physical appearance.
RLH: You do look a lot like Alex Manly.
KH: Thank you.
RLH: … who could have passed for white and, well, why don't you articulate what you've learned about why he chose not to?
KH: Yeah, actually that was, well, that was a big inspiration for me, I think. I had heard the stories and everything, but when I actually started writing about it, reading about, and kind of internalizing it, I realized kind of my whole life -- in my household it's almost as if terms like Black or white were a bad word. Like we weren't allowed to say it. Not that we weren't allowed to say, but it was, it was considered like you would be punished like you said a bad word if you implied in any way that you were different from dad or mom.
RLH: So it was charged.
KH: Yeah. Well, yeah, it was like, don't say that. You're being bad. If I were to call my dad Black. Right. Like we just didn't use terms like that. So I realized as a young adult, I was kind of nebulous and I had existed in that sort of vague, nebulous space for so long. But reading Alex Manly and understanding his perspective, I did choose to identify as Black specifically. I think that was kind of following Alex's model…but until then I didn't really have a particular label that I landed on. I knew that I did not identify as white. I knew that when people took me as white, I did not appreciate it or try to correct it somehow.
RLH: Tell me why. What did that mean when someone just assumed you were a white guy?
KH: Well, so for one thing, our biggest thing, the first sort of traumatic thing for me growing up was the LA riots. And that happened when I was six years old, seven years old. And so it was, I think it was in the first grade. I was a young child, but I remember the smell of gasoline burning actually. Just to understand what had happened and to understand the anger that was, that was playing out thereafter, even as a young child and as an adolescent kind of figuring themselves out, I knew I did not belong to whatever that white mainstream -- like the problems I had, even as a young kid, white people didn't have them, white people did not experience what I was going through.
When I started dating, when I started seeing girls or talking on the phone or whatever, white girls just didn't get me, didn't understand me. We didn't have the same issues. And I was just like, I can't talk to white girls.
RLH: So it was complicated for you as a kid, and maybe you didn't fully understand why at the time, but you just knew there was a gap.
RLH: And so when someone identified you as white, they were skipping over big parts of you.
KH: Yeah. I felt like it was making an assumption or assuming things about my life that wouldn't have been true.
RLH: So let me ask you that question directly, then: why do you identify as Black today?
KH: It turns out that my brittle bone disease is sort of an intergenerational consequence of slavery. It's from treatment of slaves in my background. And so that specifically, like white people, aren't going to deal with -- aren't going to have something like that happen in their lives. But yeah, even before that, even with studying Alex Manly, I understood that yeah, Manly looked like me, and he could have lived his life completely if he chose to, as white.
It's difficult to explain and it's nuanced, but people like me can be Black, can identify as Black, and experience their Blackness, regardless of -- it's a different kind of Black, obviously. I obviously have much more privilege than someone who appears darker or was more visibly Black, obviously. So I can't say that I've had the same day-to-day experience as someone like my wife, Priscilla, or even my dad. But I do experience Blackness. I do experience that sort of disassociation from the mainstream white perspective.
RLH: Priscilla, tell us how you and Kieran came to meet.
PH: So Kieran and I met when we were 15 in high school, and it was actually someone that I was dating that we met through. But that didn't work out because Kieran and I kind of clicked instantly, you know, and we grew up in a lot of the same areas. We ran a lot of the same circles. So we had some mutual friends, but Kieran grew up in Inglewood and parts of South Central LA. I grew up in South Central LA and a city called Hawthorne, which is adjacent to Inglewood.
When I met Kieran, his Blackness wasn't in question to me. His friend that we met through is Black. And Kieran grew up in a church that is Black. And so I think that for his life, when I met him, it was just, he was Black. There was no kind of, like, ambiguity about it, you know? But I've watched him be othered, you know, I've watched people literally ask him, where are you from? Who are you? Um, what are you? Oh, yeah, yeah.
RLH: What are you?
PH: Yeah. He's been spoken to in Hebrew, and Spanish, Italian. Someone thought he was Black Italian once.
KH: When I was a senior in high school, I knew how to say, sorry, but English please,in like six different languages, because people will just walk up to me and speak whatever they speak and assume that I speak it.
PH: But as our relationship developed and we were out in public and I was meeting his family and everything like that, it became apparent to me they're very proud Black people, you know. But the trauma that they experienced meant that they kind of were quiet about it because they -- there are a lot of like real savants in his family. And so, you know, there's an expectation in academia that you assimilate and, you know, ascribed to certain values and behaviors. And as a result of the family being, you know, his grandfather was an instructor and a Dean for a short time at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. You know, his grandmother, who he didn't meet, was a high school guidance counselor. And so, you know, they really -- Kieran’s aunts and uncles and dad just -- they're real diplomatic, you know? And so they kind of have to wear their Blackness quietly. Also, they recognize the privilege of having lighter skin. Their dad was dark. And so they witnessed a lot of racism traveling with their family through Jim Crow south, because Alan Haile was a career military man in the Air Force.
RLH: Alan Haile. An Air Force Pilot. But where does he fit in the lineage? Okay – quick review: Kieran Haile, who is with me and his wife, Priscilla, in the studio, is the great-great-grandson of Alexander Manly, Editor and Publisher of The Daily Record. That was the only African-American daily newspaper in North Carolina -- possibly the only one in the United States -- in the late 19th century.
It was Alex Manly’s editorial firing back at white stereotyping of Black men as rapists that set off the white supremacist power structure during an already tumultuous political climate. Manly suggested white women might engage in consensual relationships with Black men, and he reminded readers of the victimization of Black women by white men.
Powerful whites organized a massacre and coup in November of 1898 – culminating in the destruction of The Daily Record, the exile of Black citizens from Wilmington, and an unknown number of casualties. Alex Manly and his brother Frank managed to escape by passing as white on their way out of town.
In Washington, D.C., Alex Manly met and married Caroline “Carrie” Sadgwar. The couple had two sons – Lewin and Milo. Milo married Lucille and they had a daughter named Patricia.
Kieran’s grandmother, Patricia Manly, then married Alan Haile.
PH: And so … they became kind of this power couple moving around, because they were able to kind of maintain their grace in the face of, you know, racism and hate.
RLH: Which is, it sounds to me like part of the gatekeeping that has to constantly go on if you're living in Black skin in America.
That power couple, Alan Haile and Patricia Manly Haile, had children.
KH: Alex Manly, Milo Manly, Patricia Manly Haile, Bryce Haile, Kieran Haile.
RLH: So aside from the academic, what does this lineage mean to Kieran?
KH: In my research of my brittle bone disease, basically the cause of it is inbreeding. And the only story like that in my family that I could remember was my dad told me a story that both Milo, his grandfather, and his mother Patricia had told him. And that was basically, you know, during slave times everyone talks about, oh, the, the master is going to have his way, goes into the slave quarters and has his way with one of the slaves from time to time. And that was true. But the other end of that, where people don't talk about is when that's the status quo for decades and decades and decades, then eventually these masters would rape their own daughters.
KH: And that's, that's kind of an ugly part of it that people just don't really think about or talk about. But that specifically, my dad told me that and I was like, oh, okay. And I was like, did this happen in our line? And he's like, yes.
PH: So it's it's Trim and his wife were related.
RLH: That’s Alex Manly’s mother and father.
KH: Yeah. So looking at it, I believe Alex's parents were either half or quarter related.
RLH: One of the other elements that we talked about initially was, as you were discovering this, the impact that it was having on you emotionally, psychologically. Can you talk about that journey and bring us into where you are now and how you're feeling and thinking about it?
KH: Sure. Um, well, certainly at the time when it was first happening, I first got the diagnosis and I first started reaching out. It was really, it was almost a panic. It was like, uh, uh, uh, uh, like, oh my God, what's happening? And it was, uh, stress. I don't, I don't know how to put it. It was like, like, it just lit my brain on fire. I was just like, ah, God, I have to solve this.
Since then it's, it's, it's on my mind a lot. It's something I'm sort of constantly working on and getting help with and writing about. But I don't know. I guess, I don't know if acceptance is the right word, but I've settled into the idea of it. Like, it is a part of me. It's a part of my past.
And so it's really just been a matter of okay, well, you know, for so many people it's theoretical or it's academic, or, oh, you know, so-and-so used to do this to their slaves or it's this institutional idea, but for me, it's, it broke my hip. Like I need to figure this out. So, I've accepted it and I'm working with it. It's still dark and terrible.
RLH: You're talking about the trauma, the generational trauma that you have, and you have this physical manifestation of it, but you also carry perhaps generational psychology?
KH: Oh yeah.
PH: I mean, you know, his grandmother, she passed from cancer when she was about 47, Patricia did, but talking to Kieran’s dad and his uncles, and aunt -- like they remember her having pretty bad arthritis, almost all her life, you know? And then from there, everybody else is really small and fine-boned, you know? Alan Haile had pretty good stature, but Patricia just hit five feet, very fine-boned, her children take after her, like that basically in almost all ways. And then down to Kieran, he's had a lot of, like, growing pains within his family. Like his brother had a lot of bone and joint pain. And so it's realizing that everyone's kind of suffered in this way.
KH: Yeah. My dad described some injuries he had in college that are kind of unusual. I'm just like, you know what, I think he might've been undiagnosed for brittle bone disease and just had it and just didn't, didn't really act on it and looking back, you know, talking about Patricia, my grandmother, she likely was undiagnosed, but had brittle bone disease.
PH: Unfortunately the pandemic's interrupted, like, you know, doing all these things that are not medically necessary, but we want to do, hopefully we can really get it on paper soon.
KH: Yeah, well, there's that, but there's also, part of me just wonders were Black folks' needs just not met in that way? Back then were Black folks just not seen to? Why didn't they catch brittle bone disease in four generations?
PH: So a lot of that is Black people pushing through pain. You know, we all still know, understand systemic racism, especially within the medical field, you know, so there's a lot that went unnoticed. And like my family of Black people, we're a part of that too, where, you know, my godmother just had a really bad stroke and she had just pushed through it, you know, and it wasn't until she was like, okay, maybe I should go in. And I feel a little funny. And they were like, no, you had a full on stroke. Like, you know, we can see it in your face. And she just was like, oh, like, I gotta go finish taxes, it's tax season. And so, yeah. There's a lot of just kind of powering through the pain because you have to be twice as good as everybody else and only still get half the credit.
RLH: Kieran, just thinking about how you're processing this, there's generational trauma, there's actual physical pain and trauma that you have to deal with today. When you started to learn more about the details of Alex Manly's life, how he lived, who he was, what he did -- a lot of people look at this guy, this historical figure, and think of him as a renegade and a hero. And, you know, one of America's really bright lights. Does that figure into your self-identity at all -- the positive side of it?
KH: Uh, certainly, uh, partially. Yeah. Uh, definitely. Yeah.
RLH: But he doesn’t really answer this and Priscilla jumps in.
PH: I don't think that they really celebrated Alex Manly as much as they wanted to. You know, one of Kieran’s uncles talks about spending summers with Milo, Alex's son and how, you know, he just kind of, he came back to North Carolina a few times but avoided Wilmington because of how much pain and suffering… And Kieran's the first one to come and visit of Patricia's children and everything I believe. And so they were real quiet about their relationship to Alex Manly. I think part of that is because you get afraid that someone out there is going to get the idea in their head that, oh, we didn't finish the job there in Wilmington. Let's go get him. And so I think there was a lot of that that kept the family quiet and because of survival and safety. Yeah.
RLH: One of the things you said to me in our first phone conversation was you feel like there are still anti-Black forces in North Carolina.
RLH: I think a lot of people would agree with that, but can you talk about how, where you see that, how that manifests?
KH: Just in general prepping to come here and do everything, there was a fear, there was honestly like, and it's, it's irrational…
RLH: Is it, though? Irrational?
KH: To a degree… I, I, part of me was afraid that, you know, there's just going to be someone with a shotgun at the airport ready for me. Right. When I came into town, like the town is still on a high alert for, for that damn Manly, you know?
PH: That is the mode that Patricia lived in, you know, it was, uh, you know, stay ready, so you don't have to get ready. And what was the one about the world?
KH: The world is coming.
PH: The world is coming for you, is what she taught her children. And, you know, because she inherited that from her father through Milo, you know, like Kieran’s dad was just telling us a story about how, when Milo was working at an office of some sort in Pennsylvania, in Philly, he was someone who did a lot of training, and then one day they found out that he was a Negro and they threw him out of a 10 story window.
Yeah. And so for him, after that, Milo started organizing labor unions because Black people and other people of color couldn't join the white unions. And so he had an active role in developing unions.
KH: Milo – he was a mechanical engineer, and Alex was still with him at this point and he just sort of, because of who he was and because of all of the connections that sort of became of his being there and his working, Milo and Alex just fell into a career of social work. And they were essentially, founded with a few other partners; they were the co-founders of the Armstrong Association, which eventually became the Urban League. He essentially was a negotiator and would work with Black labor unions, white politicians. He did a great deal of work during World War Two. There's just a great deal of -- just because of who he was and the place he was in and the moment in history -- he just kind of had a career of Black social work. Yeah.
PH: But he didn't, Milo expressed some reticence to the family coming back to North Carolina and, you know, making any sort of insistence on justice, you know, because they were just grateful to get out alive. You know, Alex was just so grateful. And so I think that it was kind of a, let sleeping dogs lie situation.
KH: We're all, I mean, crazy is a harsh word, but we're all kooky, right? We're all disturbed and kind of not at our best mental health wise. My grandmother, Patricia, her M.0. around the house, like if you were coming around the corner, just in the house and she like would, was going to bump into you. She would actually gut check you -- try to like punch you in the stomach because the world is coming for you -- gotta stay ready.
RLH: So that was a lesson. It wasn't like a reaction.
PH: She had three boys, you know, she had three black boys, boys in Jim Crow, south, you know, traveling America. So, yeah.
RLH: So you had that kind of visceral, what you call irrational, but maybe not, reaction when you came to Wilmington. And so far, what's your impression?
KH: Uh, so far I've actually been pretty comfortable, pretty happy. So far, yeah, I've had a mostly positive experience, but I also acknowledge that I've had a very controlled experience.
RLH: You had a behind-the-scenes tour in the Cape Fear Museum. What did you see? What was that like?
KH: That was pretty great.
PH: They had an excellent exhibit. Yeah.
KH: And the whole exhibit that we walked through and checked out some of the stuff, I took a little picture next to [Alex Manly’s photo].
PH: I saw like, Kieran’s ears, you know, Patricia had like, she was really fine boned, but like, there are some ears that just kind of -- ears they stick out. And I was like, I, that was not your daddy's ears. They're not your grandpa's anywhere. Those ears -- Alex's ears on Kieran. Yeah. The grandparents’ effect and genetics right there.
KH: It was pretty cool. Yeah. And we had a private look at a collection of photos and letters that Milo had donated in the eighties. And so it's just kind of a private collection and we took photos. We're going to get scans all that later. But yeah, it was really interesting. And we actually found some stuff that we've, I've basically been trying to track down more and more because my dad asked me to actually. Not only was there The Daily Record, there was the Manly house that Alex and his father-in-law had built together and also Manley and his brothers and some of the Sadgwars that were sort of co-families. They married together, had built a livery and a number of stables. And so still today, we're still trying to find information on the livery aspect of it.
PH: Yeah. At some point, Alex did come back to New Hanover County to try and, you know, at least be compensated for what he left behind.
And there were zero records to be found, apparently.
PH: But the Wilmington Livery Stable Company was actually, besides the Manlys and a Sadgwar, there are few other prominent Black families from Wilmington who were incorporated with these stables. And apparently, we found a clipping from a paper in Raleigh. And so apparently the secretary of state approved that incorporation. So we're hoping to kind of keep digging through that.
RLH: Okay, you're following the trail of the property, which is interesting. Have either of you read the Zucchino book that won the Pulitzer Prize for…
KPH: I don't think so.
RLH: Wilmington's Lie.
KH: My dad has that. I haven't read it yet.
RLH: One of the points of contention, I guess that has been a point of contention for a long time around 1898 is: okay, so we had this thriving professional class of people who were basically exiled from the city, killed, and exiled. Descendants left slowly. I mean, as I learned from John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel, it was a process. But Zucchino concluded in his book, and I think this was based on a graduate student’s [thesis] years ago…that it's a myth that a whole bunch of wealth was lost, that that just didn't happen… And Priscilla, I'm looking at your face right now and you look -- just -- stunned.
PH: Yeah. Considering the number of empty lots and what used to stand on them. I don't understand how you can argue that there was no loss of prosperity. You know, they had just incorporated the livery company in, I believe it was like, September of 1897. So the year before. And so, someone even, I forget where I read it, but someone concluded, like we don't know, oh -- Strength Through Struggle, how prosperous they could have been given that they only had a year and then they were run out of town. And then there's also the argument, well, they were run out of town for political and economic reasons, you know? So it's like, clearly they found the Black community's prosperity a threat. And that equated to not just socially and politically, but economically as well.
RLH: If you're able to follow this thread of records, and if you're able to prove that there was some loss in the Manly family, will you seek redress of some sort?
KH: I would love to, to be honest. I'm 100% with that. The only thing is I don't know if it's a realistic goal. I don't know if this community, or if this state is even willing to acknowledge that sort of -- like -- this is honestly my first time, you know, anywhere over here. It’s my first time in North Carolina, in the south at all. And so, yeah, I don't know if that's a realistic expectation, but I would love it and I'm 100% with it.
But that's kind of part of why we're here is to assess if that's even something we could realistically…
PH: And Kieran’s not the only one, you know, in Tulsa, we have the survivors and their descendants who have filed with the county to kind of address this issue.
Priscilla Haile points to other examples, including a beach in California she says was taken from Black property owners using Eminent Domain.
PH: My perspective comes from being a first-generation American.
RLH: Where did your parents come from?
PH: My parents came from Belize, so that's a small country, just south of Mexico under the Yucatan peninsula. So a lot of this history and the behaviors and ways that people move within each other in American culture just didn't make any real sense to me because of, you know, I don't have that context. I don't have this family history.
RLH: There's a divergence for you between like, the way your family came up and your generational history versus just the American culture.
PH: And so it's like Belize was colonized, you know, there was no question about that, you know, and oppression of Black and Indigenous people exist there. It's just somehow more genteel. And I don't know if it's just because it's the Caribbean way of life to be laid back. But it's definitely not talked about out loud.
And so I think what's empowering to people in my generation and younger is seeing this conversation happen in America, seeing us talk about systemic racism and seeing more and more people stand up for it, to end, you know, oppression via institutionalized racism is really empowering, you know? And especially since like for Belize, especially the Black diaspora of Belize, a lot of them immigrated to America. And so a lot of us have that experience where we're like, okay, you know, this dynamic is kind of weird. We know that we're looked down on, but it's like, why exactly are we looked down on? You know?
But now there are conversations where, you know, we're like, hey, this is not okay. And even I challenge my mom on some of her preconceived notions and the stereotypes she grew up with and was conditioned with and watching her try to navigate that and learn it. It's a beautiful thing, but it is uncomfortable and it is awkward but these conversations are happening out loud. And I think that it means that we can see change in this lifetime, you know, things pivot so quickly.
We've been so welcomed here. And like Kieran said, we've had a very guided experience, but like we weren't guided in the record shop, you know? Like Matt was just a good human and he saw us as good humans too.
RLH: That’s Matt of Gravity Records in downtown Wilmington.
PH: I was hesitant to come, you know, I had the discussion with Kieran like, should I straighten my hair or not? And yeah, I thought about straightening my hair to come because I did not want to disrupt anything, you know. We're here to observe and to take it in and blend as much as possible in that sense.
And so, even in Los Angeles, natural hair is still not something that a lot of Black people wear out, you know? It's becoming more and more accepted, but yeah, I really had to consider, do I straighten my hair or not so that, you know, I don't stand out or I don't draw extra attention or unwanted attention, you know?
So that's always a consideration.
RLH: You really came into this with what kind of armor do we need? Like, how do we navigate this and make sure we don't set anybody off, or…
KH: Yeah. I mean, this is, I've been working on this just on my end for the past almost five years, like four years and change. And yeah, it's been a constant conversation of will we be safe there?
PH: Yeah, his dad was very anxious. He took us to the airport. It was the tightest hug I think I've ever received from his dad, even after our wedding. It was such a tight hug, you know?
KH: It's been, especially just with my family, kind of, this is like a fairy tale land to me. It's almost hard to believe that this is a real place. Like I've heard stories of this place as if it were, uh, you know, Narnia or something. So to actually be here and to meet and interface with people on the other side, it was really important to us. But certainly something we were nervous about -- something we had to prepare for a lot.
The two are working with the New Hanover County Community Remembrance Project, which is memorializing victims of the 1898 massacre. Part of that effort is a Soil Collection Project with a Memorial Ceremony planned for November 6th, 2021 at the 1898 Memorial Park in downtown Wilmington.
Kieran says he also wants to visit Manly, North Carolina. It’s a town, he says, that grew out of the descendants of Charles Manly’s slaves. That was Alex Manly’s grandfather, a white man, and the governor of North Carolina from 1849 to 1851.
KH: Just Googling and finding Manly, North Carolina, discovering that that was a real place. It freaked me out. It was like finding out that magic is real or like the force is real. Like I had a predetermined destiny as something that came hundreds of years before me was affecting me now. And I had a role to play in it. And it was kind of terrifying, freaking me out. But, yeah, that's essentially what we're here to do is to confront the fairy tale of it and discover the reality.
PH: Through the Manlys, Kieran definitely has a family history of activism and, you know, uplifting the community. He's got a cousin Rue in Portland who does amazing work with LGBT Queer youth and uplifting and supporting them in the community.
His Uncle Mark is someone who was prolific in the eighties in the literary community. Mark actually came out in his high school paper …because he was so inspired by Alex's courage and you know, his publishing that he wanted to follow in those footsteps.
And it's hard enough for anybody to come out right now in any shape or form, but to do so very publicly in the seventies...
Yeah. Took a tremendous amount of courage.
Even Kieran’s dad: so Kieran’s dad just retired from the post office after I think, like 30 years or something like that. Yeah. You're 36. Yeah. He's been doing that basically, he did it your whole life and even they have these like family day events at the facility and I was able to join them once and just seeing the way that people looked up to Bryce and the way the respect that he garnered.
And so Kieran definitely has a family history of, you know, being a leader, whether or not you want to, or are you meant to, they just naturally step forward to do the right thing.
KH: There's just a number of personalities in my family that are just exploding with purpose and brilliance and just have to do something fantastic. And it's just kind of a running theme. Like I'm kind of used to it, but…
PH: They're not self-important people at all, you know, and I see the way that people talk about Alex, you know, and then Milo later, it's very much, this is what we have to do, so we're going to do it, you know, and I think that's kind of one of the reasons why Kieran and I worked so well together because that is also been my life. You know, like my mom was a single mother.
She'd had five children and…
KH: I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Priscilla was the victim of violent crime when she was 12 in Los Angeles. So honestly, I mean, you're always kind of -- stranger danger. You're always kind of in a defensive mode. She has a lot of trauma still she's working through. And that was definitely a part of our preparing for this.
PH: Yeah. Cause it was a home invasion that, in December one morning, as I was about to get up for school, he came as I was getting up. He was at the vanity behind me and he jumped on me and he stabbed me three times.
And so my mom now was navigating having her safety broken, you know, her children's lives threatened. And so, I definitely understand needing to step up and protect, I really, I relate strongly to that in Kieran's family.
KH: It's become, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's become just your defensive psychology. It's almost completely rewritten your perspective on life.
PH: Yeah, it definitely, I mean, I was 12, so you know that's transitional for any person, but having that happen. And then about a year, not even a year later, my mom had my brother and he was born at twenty-four or twenty-six weeks, one pound, twelve ounces. So she had a premature baby. And, again, because of stress, she had to work throughout her pregnancy and she was in her mid-thirties and that just took a toll on her.
But having the home invasion happening and me being hurt and then having Sammy and having to navigate having a disabled child, you know, and then having a Black disabled child and reckoning with all of that has been hard. I would step up and help my mom with my sisters and my brother and I attended doctor's meetings with her and stuff like that because you just have to, I mean, do the best that you can, you know, and I understand that that's something that's relatable to everybody, you know?
And I think that's something that I've been trying to keep in mind here.
Like I see that this is a town where people are really trying to uplift, you know, against the history against the systems in place right now and it's inspiring to see that and it makes me want to step forward and contribute as well.
RLH: And so this may be premature, but maybe we could end on this idea as you see your advocate or upliftment role grow, how does it look down the road? What do the two of you see yourselves becoming?
KH: That’s a fascinating question. I don't know. I mean, I definitely would like to contribute to the conversation in any way I can. I mean, I acknowledge my privilege and my closeness to whiteness. But at the same time, I've kind of, I've suffered for my Blackness. I've suffered in various ways. But I don't know. I'd like to -- whatever measures are taken to protect the Black people of this community, of this place, I'd like to be a part of it. Yeah.
PH: I think for my part, you know, I work in early childhood education and so for me, if we don't teach tolerance, love and respect from birth, it's going to be really hard to crack some of these foundations and completely rebuild.
And so for my part, I definitely am learning how to incorporate the kind of critical thinking that we need to question whether or not our fears and our hate are rational. If they're grounded in reality or not. And children are so resilient and I wish people were able to hold onto more of their childhood resilience as they get older. You know, life is exhausting. I get it. But for me, I always try to keep in mind that all of our behaviors, the way that our personalities manifest are conditioned by the environments that we're in. You know, it's not just nature. It's not just nurture, it's both hand-in-hand. And so for me, I definitely am really mindful about the conversations that I have with children, the respect that I treat them with and expect to be treated with and the respect that they have for each other, you know, and, and try to make it relatable to them. So that going forward when they are our age and they're the ones who are in charge, they have that empathy and compassion built into them. And it's second nature, you know?
RLH: Priscilla Haile, Kieran Haile. Thank you both so much for sharing yourselves with us today.
Special thanks to Professor Kim Cook, Director of the Restorative Justice Collaborative at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, for making this interview possible.
Resources and notes:
Event: Soil Collection Memorial Ceremony -- 1898 Memorial Park
Saturday, November 6, 2021; 2-4 PM
New Hanover County Community Remembrance Project:
Restorative Justice Collaborative, University of North Carolina Wilmington
Third Person Project: