A House of Refuge Marred by Violence

Jenna Vonhofe/Lincoln Journal Star via AP

In 2016, three young Sudanese immigrants were shot inside the old three-story Victorian where many immigrants lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1957, a Southern man shot his wife and himself in that same house. Sixty years after her grandparents’ death, the couple’s granddaughter, Tanisha C. Ford, returns to her old family home for Elle to examine the parallel ambitions and roadblocks America presents for both of these communities. For the young Sudanese men, the house was the place they started their new lives in America, away from the routine bombings and incessant violence back home. For Ford’s family, it was the place they and many people of color lived after leaving the Jim Crow South for industrial jobs further north. For both groups, it became a symbol of all the roadblocks to freedom and respect that people of color still face.

Every time I saw another mention of the murders, my heart mourned for the families of Taha, Adam, and Muhannad. I thought of their devastating loss, and of the trauma I can still see in my father and his siblings. Growing up, I didn’t hear many stories about my grandparents; living with that type of tragedy numbs you, atrophying your emotions, and it was too painful for my family to talk about. My father was only 4 when he lost his parents. He can’t recall his mother’s face.

But despite our family’s attempts to keep our history at bay, those memories percolated just under the surface. And after details of the three murders filtered out, my dad and his siblings started to discuss the night my grandparents died. The motives weren’t directly connected: One was a grisly murder of three African immigrants, and the other a grim story of domestic violence. Still, my family noticed parallels. My grandparents’ generation fled the dusty plantations of Jim Crow Alabama for industrial jobs up north. Taha’s family survived daily bombings in Darfur, sometimes sleeping in ditches, to escape the genocide; they’d sold everything they had to come to the United States. For both families, Fort Wayne was supposed to be a place of refuge and new possibilities. Neither family knew that the price of freedom would be death.

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