Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Instructor Releases Book about Family History and Slavery

Vol State adjunct faculty member Ben Jobe has been looking into his family history. It’s an activity many of us consider. It’s what Ben found, and the other Ben Jobe, that make this story interesting. After several years of writing, Ben is ready to share that story with the world. He has just published a book titled “Common Threads: My Family’s Journey from Slave Owner to Abolitionist.” It’s a family history with a twist.

“I’m dedicating the book to my parents, but it’s a tribute to all of my family. The friendship with Coach Jobe made the story a lot more interesting.

As we relayed in an Insider story several years ago, the story begins with recent history: a series of mistaken phone calls.

“They said is this the Coach Ben Jobe?” said teacher Ben Jobe.

The calls continued for many years and slowly Jobe began to realize that they were referring to a famous African-American basketball coach. Coach Jobe started his college career as a standout player with Fisk University. He is most famous for leading the Southern University Jaguars to four NCAA tournament appearances, five Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and 11 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships. He is currently a scout for the New York Knicks and lives in Montgomery, Alabama.

“A friend of mine gave me an article about him called Trials of Jobe. I thought this is pretty interesting. I wonder why we have the same name?”

Finally, in 2008 the two talked for the first time.

“When Ben told me his name I almost hung up. I had been getting so many prank calls,” said Coach Jobe. “Now I’ve told him how upset I was that he didn’t contact me earlier.”

Over the years, and with the help of a cousin who researched the family history, the two men discovered that the common name told much more about the past then they had realized.

“The Coach was born and raised in Smyrna. My great, great grandfather was from Smyrna. He owned two black men who were brothers. He was a furniture maker and they were skilled craftsman.”

Frank Jobe and Scott Jobe were slaves who worked in the shop. Scott Jobe was the great grandfather of Coach Ben Jobe. Taking the name of their owner was not an uncommon practice. The two Ben Jobes were connected by slavery.

“One day the Coach asked me, why do you think we kept the name Jobe? He believes there was a genuine bond of affection there.”

“I never believed I would meet anyone that had a connection like this to my family,” said Coach Jobe.

It’s a side of Southern history that may not be discussed much. Ben Jobe, the Vol State instructor, says he thinks the closeness was due to the spirit of craftsmanship. Now, 150 years later the two families are again connected and under greatly different circumstances.

“We have a lot in common. He and I are on the same page,” said Vol State Ben Jobe. “We have a lot of common points of view. Because of growing up in the Jim Crow era I don’t have a lot of black friends. It’s taken me most of my life to figure out how all of this baggage has affected me.”

Coach Jobe has seen parts of the book and the two men still talk often. Ben is looking forward to sending him an autographed copy of the book.

For Ben, this examination of slavery is connected to a current passion- the move to end human trafficking. Trafficking is the slavery of modern times. People are used for forced labor and prostitution, often moving from one country to another and finding themselves without rights or the ability to flee. He volunteers with End Slavery Tennessee, an action and awareness nonprofit dedicated to ending human trafficking in Tennessee. The founder of the group, Derri Smith, was the first one to point out the connection between the slavery in the Jobe history and Ben’s work to end human trafficking.

“I’m glad to be part of the modern abolitionist movement, Jobe said.

Ben spent many months getting the book design and marketing just right. A service called Create Space helped him to design the cover and format the text. It is being distributed by Amazon in paperback. He plans to have it in bookstores later this fall.

The Vol State Bookstore is having a book signing event from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 13th.  You can buy a copy there, as well.

Here’s a link to End Slavery Tennessee.

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