Convocation: Cousins through Slavery

Women’s History Month features Betty Kilby Baldwin and Phoebe Kilby, co-authors of Cousins: Connected through Slavery.

What happens when a White woman, Phoebe, contacts a Black woman, Betty, saying she suspects they are connected through slavery? First surprise? Betty responds, “Hello, Cousin.”

Betty had fought for an education and won. She broke through the concrete ceiling in the workplace and succeeded. A documentary of her life was about to debut. Without thinking, she invites Phoebe to a family dinner and the premiere of the documentary. Second surprise? She forgot to tell her family who was coming to dinner.

Betty finds an activist partner in Phoebe. Cousins indeed, they commit to a path of reconciliation.

In alternating chapters, each tells her dramatic story—from Betty’s experience as one of the first Black children to attend her desegregated school, to Phoebe’s eventual question to Betty: “How do I begin to repair the harms?”

Piercingly honest. Includes a working reparations project which the two women conceived together.

Dr. Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin grew up in rural Culpeper and Warren counties, Virginia.  She was a pioneer in school desegregation.  Thanks to her father’s determination, she entered and graduated from Warren County High School after suing the school board, based on the landmark Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954.  Betty started her employment as a factory worker and climbed the corporate ladder to achieve executive management employment.  Betty holds a BA in Business Management from Shenandoah University, an MBA from Nova University, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Shenandoah University.  After she retired, she wrote and published her autobiography, Wit, Will & Walls.  Betty speaks frequently with Phoebe about making connections across the racial divide to create a more just and peaceful world.

Phoebe Kilby grew up in Baltimore, and graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1970.  After obtaining a BS in Botany and a Master’s Degree in Environmental Management from Duke University, she had a long career as an urban and environmental planner.  With concerns about the morality and wisdom of war, Phoebe went back to school in 2003 to obtain a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Transformation from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Eastern Mennonite University. At EMU, she discovered the restorative justice movement and a new group forming called Coming to the Table.  She and Betty are going to tell you about how discovery of Coming to the Table and their connected personal family histories led them to meet.