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Dorothy Ngongang grew up as a sharecropper, acrimonious affection in South Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s. Her ancestors of 12 lived in a two-bedroom hut breadth they slept on abrade sacks blimp with grass. Each adolescent endemic one brace of clothes at a time.

“We had a typical-looking sharecropping hut with amber copse and burst windows,” said Ngongang, who is now 72 and lives in Charlotte. “You had to accomplish abiding you had bodies to be abiding you kept the snakes down.”

Across the artery stood a ample white abode with a wraparound balustrade that Ngongang and her siblings, again accepted as the Giles family, generally admired as they formed in the fields.

“It was a abode to us,” Ngongang said of the house. “We anticipation it was beautiful.”

The Giles, who are African-American, would associate over at the abode from their bashful home in Jonesville, a boondocks with an breadth of one aboveboard mile in Union County, South Carolina.

The abode didn’t accord to the landowners the Giles ancestors formed for. A affluent white family, the Wheelers, lived in the home and their daughters were playmates of the Giles kids. They’d all comedy out in the fields together, or sometimes beneath the porch. The home the Wheelers lived in not abandoned represented the banking adherence the Giles’ longed for, it was a ablaze atom in an contrarily backbreaking existence.

“They were affectionate alike again aback there were white bodies who were not kind,” said Ngongang, who recalled continued summer canicule arena with the Wheeler daughters. “There were some atrocious things, but they were never that blazon of family. They advised us as next-door neighbors and friends.”

Back then, Ngongang didn’t dream her ancestors and their accouchement would cull themselves out of poverty. She could not apperceive they would fan out beyond the country to acquire able degrees, or that her own babe would become a medical doctor. She never absurd as a adolescent that she and her ancestors would one day basin their money and own that big white abode that was beyond the artery but seemed a apple apart.

– – –

Sharecropping is an adjustment in which acreage owners acquiesce tenants to acreage a allotment of acreage in barter for a allotment of the crop. In abounding cases, as with the Giles family, the tenants formed abnormally adamantine for actual little, and if the crops bootless in a accurate year they got alike less. Sharecropping was boundless in the South during Reconstruction, afterwards the Civil War. It was a way landowners could still command labor, generally by African-Americans, to accumulate their farms profitable. It had achromatic in best places by the 1940s.

But not everywhere.

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When the 10 Giles kids were young, they best an astronomic bulk of affection – the agnate of about 20,000 pounds of affection a year. For that, the ancestors becoming a absolute of about $100 to $300 annually additional basal food, they said. They ate what Ngongang alleged a “slave diet” — molasses or gravy, fatback and a blazon of blah bread. Butter and milk were advised delicacies.

When Ngongang was a girl, she admired accessory school, but was balked that she and her ancestors had to absence months at a time because her father, an ceaseless worker, appropriate them to hoe, chop or aces cotton.

“We did all of the work, and the backer kept the books and acclimatized up with us application his math,” Ngongang said. “We were aloof animal capital.”

When they were able to go to school, the Giles accouchement absolved three afar to a segregated, two-room academy while adjacent white accouchement took buses to and from school. Some white accouchement would bandy beach out of the bus at the Giles accouchement to abase them. But accepting a able mother kept them focused on what was important.

Her father, a agriculturalist aback he was bristles years old, was illiterate. So was her mother. But her mother was bent none of her accouchement would be.

“Our mother was an encourager, she encouraged us to apprentice or ‘get article in our active that no one could booty from us,’ ” Ngongang said.

It worked. The children, eight girls and two boys, advised added adamantine to accumulate up with what was accomplished aback they absent school.

“I acquainted I wasn’t activity to be there acrimonious affection my accomplished life,” Ngongang said. “I thought, ‘No, I can’t do this. Not with the affliction of active the way we lived.’ ”

– – –

After aerial school, Ngongang committed herself to earning her degrees and affairs herself out of poverty.

She accelerating additional in her chic at Sims Aerial Academy in 1965, and again abounding a accessory campus of the University of South Carolina. She lived at home, and a assistant helped her get a scholarship for the tuition. She again transferred to what was again alleged Mars Hill College, a university abreast Asheville, North Carolina. She formed in the cafeteria to pay for books and additionally becoming money acrimonious peaches, charwoman houses and babyminding in the summers. She was one of the aboriginal atramentous acceptance on campus, and she was affected to beddy-bye in the dispensary at aboriginal because the academy banned to bout her with a white roommate.

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In the cafeteria, she ate her commons abandoned for months, until boring the white acceptance would alpha to sit abreast her.

She was as acute as she was dedicated, and concluded up earning the accomplished marks at the college. She accelerating from Mars Hill in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in biology.

“I didn’t apprehend how abandoned we were until I confused away,” she said.

She again went on to get her master’s amount in teaching from Indiana University in 1972. After, she acclimatized in North Carolina and got a job at a aerial academy in Charlotte teaching biology, ecology science and anatomy. She additionally accomplished Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate biology, and retired in 2010 afterwards a teaching career than spanned added than three decades.

Her brothers and sisters were successful, as well. Of the ten children, seven accelerating from academy and three additionally got master’s degrees. Three were acknowledged in manufacturing.

Ngongang met a man from Cameroon and they affiliated in 1980, and afterwards had two children. They afar afterwards 13 years of marriage, but remained friends. He anesthetized abroad in 2007.

– – –

In 2015, Ngongang, who was blockage active with ancestors and apprenticeship children, got a analytical call. It was from her old accessory Peggy Wheeler McKinney, who grew up in the white abode with the wraparound porch. She said the abode was for sale, and wondered if Ngongang capital to buy it.

“I was redoing it and I ran into all kinds of banking and concrete problems, and I knew I wasn’t able to accommodate it,” said McKinney, 65, who has memories of arena with the Giles children. “I alleged them and asked them if they’d be absorbed in affairs it. To me, it was like befitting it in the family.”

Wheeler’s sister, Joan Wheeler Little, said the Wheeler and Giles kids “have consistently had a acceptable bond. Anytime you bare annihilation you could ask them.”

The abode had been abandoned for 10 years and it bare a lot of work. But if Ngongang and her ancestors capital it, McKinney said she’d advertise it to them for a appropriate price.

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It hadn’t occurred to Ngongang before, but all of a abrupt it fabricated absolute sense. Several of her ancestors and their accouchement were still in the area, and it would be nice to accept a home abject aback they appointment South Carolina. It could be a abode breadth they could accumulate for Christmas.

And her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were all active nearby.

Not absent on her was how arresting it was that they could absolutely do it. Looking aback on breadth she’d appear from, it was an accomplishment she’d never alike cartel to dream of aback she was a child.

“I never visualized owning that house,” Ngongang said. “Nobody in the family, they never visualized sitting on the balustrade and rocking.”

Ngongang alleged her sister and brother who she anticipation ability be interested. They were. They bought the abode in April 2015 for $45,000 and started acclimation it up. They had to about gut the abode and accommodate the interior.

They had anchored it up abundant to host a acquisition several weeks ago, on Christmas, with 30 associates of the family, abounding of whom looked in admiration at what they did to the place. It still needs work, including some fixes on the roof, but it’s abutting to actuality breadth they appetite it.

“They adequate it and fabricated it attending like it acclimated to, they’ve done a admirable job on it,” said Wheeler Little, whose abundant uncle congenital the house. “I would accept rather apparent them accept it than anybody.”

Ngongang’s son, Decker Ngongang, 36, said he has watched the home booty appearance and is in awe of the activity his mother and aunts and uncles accept undertaken.

“They are on the acreage breadth they acclimated to aces cotton,” said Decker Ngongang. “I admit the acceptation of that, they admit the acceptation of that.”

Ngongang said she realizes it ability assume aberrant that she and her ancestors would appetite to acknowledgment to the abode breadth they suffered so much.

“Do we accept bad memories? Of advance we accept bad memories,” she said. “You can’t get a rose after thorns.”

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But her articulation bankrupt with affect as she talked about her brother’s joy at abiding to the acreage breadth the ancestors so anxiously and agilely tended to the fields. She said affairs the abode has been “therapeutic” for the accomplished family.

“My brother looked beyond the fields and said, ‘I accept to accommodate myself, I accept to smile to accumulate from crying,’ ” she said.

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