These words have never been for me alone. They have guided my family for nine generations and evolved to meet the demands of America’s changing times. In the antebellum years, my enslaved ancestors used Madison’s name as a tool to help them find family members who had been sold and sent away. During Reconstruction, the saying inspired my ancestors to make the most of their lives, now that they were free. And since the Jim Crow era, it has reminded us that our enslaved ancestors were strong, remarkable people.
When I was a child, I thought the directive was merely Mom’s way of telling me to behave myself. In part, it was. She employed the exhortation to set the standard for my conduct in many of my childhood moments, good and bad. As I grew into adulthood, she taught me to incorporate it as the standard for how I should live my life. My actions should reflect both my presidential ancestry and my pride in knowing that the blood of slaves runs through my veins.
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