NGS 2023 Speaker Spotlight—Bernice Alexander Bennett

January 31st, 2023 by Teresa Kelley

Bernice Alexander Bennett is an award-winning author, genealogist, nationally recognized guest speaker, storyteller, and producer-host of the popular Research at the National Archives and Beyond BlogTalkRadio program. Bennett is a former member of the Board of Directors for the National Genealogical Society, co-founder and faculty member of the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute, and a Volunteer with the Homestead National Historical Park Service.

Bennett, a New Orleans native and descendant of Homesteader Peter Clark of Livingston Parish, is committed to encouraging other descendants to write and share their family stories.

Bernice is the author of Black Homesteaders of the South which tells stories of resilience and celebrates individuals, some of whom were formerly enslaved but were able, after their emancipation, to obtain up to 160 acres of public land under the Homestead Act of 1862 signed by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. The passage of the 14th Amendment enabled African Americans to apply for this public land.

Session: S302  TRACK: James Dent Walker Memorial Lecture Series  TITLE: Black Homesteaders: Steps Toward Self-Reliance

This presentation emphasizes community genealogy and the impact of the 1862 Homestead Act on African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Bernice, a descendant of a Black Homesteader discusses how the homestead application (land entry case files) provides examples of community involvement and self-reliance. The steps toward self-reliance become evident through the exploration of oral history, newspaper articles, voter registration status, education, and religious freedom. The desire to achieve the American dream following emancipation shows the Homesteader’s willingness to donate some of their lands to build schools, churches, and cemeteries in the community.


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