Being Gullah or Geechee, Once Looked Down On, Now a Treasured Heritage

Being Gullah or Geechee, Once Looked Down On, Now a Treasured Heritage.

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor links historic African-American communities in four southern coastal states.

Emory Campbell remembers growing up Gullah on Hilton Head Island, before the golf courses and the resorts. He remembers hunting in the forests and roaming free in the marshes. He remembers an island where white people were a rarity and his family was part of a close-knit community of African-American farmers and fishers, of teachers and preachers. He remembers the curse and blessing found in the island’s isolation, of having to take a ferry to get to the outside world.

And he remembers the year it all changed: 1956, when the first bridge opened and the developers poured in. Campbell was 15. Today, the cemetery where his ancestors are buried is corralled by vacation homes set back from a fairway at the Harbour Town Golf Links. To visit, he needs to get waved through at a guardhouse.

“This part of the South used to be too hot for anybody to care about before mosquito control, before bridges and air conditioning,” said Campbell. “We were the ones that endured, and ironically, it is us who is now suffering.”

The Gullahs or Geechees are descendants of slaves who lived and still live on the coastal islands and lowcountry along the coast of the southeastern United States, from the St. John’s River in Florida to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. (Gullah tends to be the preferred name in North and South Carolina, Geechee in Georgia and Florida.) Their communities dot the 400-mile strip, and they are slowly disappearing, casualties of progress and our love affair with coastal living.

In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Gullah/Geechee Coast on its list of most threatened places. “Unless something is done to halt the destruction,” the trust said, “Gullah/Geechee culture will be relegated to museums and history books, and our nation’s unique cultural mosaic will lose one of its richest and most colorful pieces.” (Read “Lowcountry Legacy” in the November issue of National Geographic magazine.)

Drayton Plantation Slaves (Former?) c.1865

What Martin Luther King Actually Accomplished

“The negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect”

March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the United States Supreme Court This article talks a bit about the horrors of the Jim Crow era in America.

Mary Turner 1918 Eight Months Pregnant Mobs lynched Mary Turner on May 17, 1918 in Lowndes County. Georgia because she vowed to have those responsible for killing her husband arrested. Her husband was arrested in connection with the shooting and killing Hampton Smith, a white farmer for whom the couple had worked, and wounding his wife. Sidney Johnson. a Black, apparently killed Smith because he was tired of the farmer’s abuse. Unable to find Johnson. the killers lynched eight other Blacks Including Hayes Turner and his wife Mary. The mob hanged Mary by her feet, poured gasoline and oil on her and set fire to her body. One white man sliced her open and Mrs. Turner’s baby tumbled to the ground with a “little cry” and the mob stomped the baby to death and sprayed bullets into Mary Turner.  

So…One of the things MLK did was to finally put the skids, if not the end to this sort of “domestic terrorism”, against black folks. Now, our black conservative Uncle Toms would like you believe that liberals are using the past as an excuse for everything. But do you see the Jewish people forgetting the Holocaust? Black conservatives, and white conservative racists they support are big on black on black violence. But the thing hy won’t tell you, and you will never find in their pseudo-scientific statistics is that 92% of the men locked up or child sexual abuse …Are white. During Jim Crow white men were free to rape, sodomize and brutalize not only black women…But black children. While lynchings were sometimes reported, these other categories of violence and sexual predation were entirely swept under the rug.

The second thing they lie about is the violence statistics. Sexually abusing a child in the FBI’s version of the violent crime world doesn’t qualify as a “violent crime” – and thus is excludes from the statistics which include murder, and the rape of adult women (or men). We are going to count veggies, but green tomatoes don’t count.

Back to that pre-Civil Rights time – there was little or no hope of actually prosecuting these white criminals in the southern “Justice” system. Laying the groundwork of why black folk will never trust the conservative judges the right is so desperate to appoint.

Gaining the right to walk down the street unmolested may not seem like that big a deal solely from a cynical intellectual viewpoint – but it is pretty freaking important if it is you trying to get down the street.

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did

This will be a very short diary.  It will not contain any links or any scholarly references.  It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective.

The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished.

The reason I’m posting this is because there were dueling diaries over the weekend about Dr. King’s legacy, and there is a diary up now (not on the rec list but on the recent list) entitled, “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream Not Yet Realized.”  I’m sure the diarist means well as did the others.  But what most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans.  And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general.  His main impactwas not to make white people nicer or fairer.  That’s why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind.

I remember that many years ago, when I was a smart ass home from first year of college, I was standing in the kitchen arguing with my father.  My head was full of newly discovered political ideologies and black nationalism, and I had just read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, probably for the second time.

A bit of context.  My father was from a background, which if we were talking about Europe or Latin America, we would call, “peasant” origin, although he had risen solidly into the working-middle class.  He was from rural Virginia and his parents had been tobacco farmers.  I spent two weeks or so every summer on the farm of my grandmother and step grandfather.  They had no running water, no gas, a wood burning stove, no bathtubs or toilets but an outhouse, pot belly stoves for heat in the winter, a giant wood pile, a smoke house where hams and bacon hung, chickens, pigs, semi wild housecats that lived outdoors, no tractor or car, but an old plow horse and plows and other horse drawn implements, and electricity only after I was about 8 years old.  The area did not have high schools for blacks and my father went as far as the seventh grade in a one room schoolhouse.  All four of his grandparents, whom he had known as a child, had been born slaves.  It was mainly because of World War II and urbanization that my father left that life.

They lived in a valley or hollow or “holler” in which all the landowners and tenants were black.  In the morning if you wanted to talk to cousin Taft, you would walk down to behind the outhouse and yell across the valley, “Heeeyyyy Taaaaft,” and you could see him far, far in the distance, come out of his cabin and yell back.

On the one hand, this was a pleasant situation because they lived in isolation from white people.  On the other hand, they did have to leave the valley to go to town where all the rigid rules of Jim Crow applied.  By the time I was little, my people had been in this country for six generations (going back, according to oral rendering of our genealogy, to Africa Jones and Mama Suki), much more under slavery than under freedom, and all of it under some form of racial terrorism, which had inculcated many humiliating behavior patterns.

Anyway that’s background.  I think we were kind of typical as African Americans in the pre Civil Rights era went.

So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X’s message.  My father got really angry at me.  It wasn’t that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn’t accomplished anything as Dr. King had.

I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his “I have a dream speech.”

Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress.  Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished.  He gave this great speech.  Or some people say, “he marched.”  I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.

At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.

My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this.  If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished.  Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about.  But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea.  Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them.  You all know about lynching.  But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running.  It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty.  With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father’s memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people.  The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.

This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.

I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparent’s vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank.  They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness.  My strong, valiant, self educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men.  Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict.  Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.

This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

If you didn’t get taught such things, let alone experience them, I caution you against invoking the memory of Dr. King as though he belongs exclusively to you and not primarily to African Americans.

The question is, how did Dr. King do this — and of course, he didn’t do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of non-violent resistance, and taught the practices of non violent resistance.)

So what did they do?

They told us: — whatever you are most afraid of doing vis a vis white people, go do it.  Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter.  Sue the local school board.  All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be OK.

They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad.  They taught black people how to take a beating — from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses.  They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating.  They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.

And you know what?  The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.

Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicked on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?

These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.

That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south.  Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep throated freedom song.  The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another.  This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.

Please let this sink in.  It wasn’t marches or speeches.  It was taking a severe beating, surviving and realizing that our fears were mostly illusory and that we were free.

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on.  But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears.  So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today.  If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did — not march, not give good speeches.  He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us.  It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid.  So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one.  Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.

PS.  I really shouldn’t have to add this but please — don’t ever confuse someone criticizing you or telling you bad things over the internet with what happened to people during the civil rights movement.  Don’t.  Just don’t do it.  Don’t go there.

PSS  Weird, but it kind of sounds like what V did to Evie.

UPDATE:  There is a major, major hole in this essay as pointed out by FrankAletha downthread — While I was focusing on the effect on black men, she points out that similarly randomized sexual violence against black women was as severe and common and probably more so, because while violence against black men was ritualistic, violence against black women was routine.

UPDATE 2: Rec list — I’m honored!!!

Dead Confederates and Street Names

In the city of Richmond, Va is a street named Monument Avenue. On it, every few blocks are statues of the various personages of the Confederacy from Virginia who participated in the Civil War. The street was later modified to contain statues of famous people from Richmond, Va to include tennis great Arthur Ashe and famous oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury.  8 US Presidents hailed from Virginia, yet in our State capital there is a major street dedicated to dead confederate generals. Welcome to the South.

Now to say that Civil Rights upset some folks in Virginia is an understatement. One County, Prince Edward, shut their entire Public School System down for 5 years to prevent desegregation. So racism is no stranger to the state.

The City of Alexandria, Virginia was also the home and residence of confederate General Robert E. Lee. The Lee-Custis Plantation sat on the very grounds of what became the Arlington Cemetery. Several of Lee’s descendants still live in the City. The reason Arlington Cemetery sits where it is is that through the front door of his mansion, Arlington House,  Lee would have to confront some of the hundreds of thousands of those he was responsible for killing as part of the war…Each and every day. In case you are wondering where the Custis name came from, Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, was indeed the great granddaughter of Martha Custis, George Washington’s wife.

Arlington House, Formerly confederate General robert E. Lee’s home

Law requiring Confederate street names questioned

Alexandria, a Northern Virginia city steeped in Civil War history, is considering repeal of an old law requiring certain new streets to be named for Confederate generals.

City Councilman Justin Wilson introduced legislation for Tuesday night’s council meeting to do away with a 1963 law requiring that any new “streets running in a generally north-south direction shall, insofar as possible, bear the names of confederate military leaders.”

Wilson’s bill also would eliminate a requirement that new east-west streets be named for persons or places prominent in American history.

Wilson said he wants to remove a series of anachronistic laws, and his proposal also would repeal a ban on “lewd cohabitation” and laws regulating a bygone fad of “rebound tumbling,” a form of trampolining.

As a practical matter, there is little likelihood that the city will be naming new streets any time soon. The city, inside Washington’s Capital Beltway and separated from the nation’s capital by the Potomac River, is essentially built out. In fact, the street grid of the city’s Old Town section dates to Colonial times.

Wilson said that symbolically, he believes it’s a good thing to strip from the code a provision that in some ways glorifies the Confederacy. But he made clear he is not proposing that the city change existing street names, some of which honor Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, whose Dred Scott decision denied citizenship and constitutional protections to blacks before the Civil War.

“I think we struggle in the city with our history,” Wilson said.

Alexandria was occupied by Union troops for most of the Civil War and, like the rest of Virginia, has a history of slavery and segregation. It is now a liberal bastion in Virginia – Barack Obama won 71 percent of the vote in 2012.

On historic Duke Street in Old Town, the building that was once home to the nation’s largest domestic slave trading company is now home to the Northern Virginia Urban League, which operates the Freedom House Museum there to tell the story of the slave trade.

Cynthia Dinkins, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League, said she personally supports any legislation that keeps the city from unduly honoring the Confederacy. Still, while she is wary of glorifying the Confederacy, she said care must be taken remember unpleasant parts of American history.

“Some of my challenge in dealing with Freedom House is that people don’t want to remember” that part of our history, she said.

Wilson said he has not heard of any opposition to his bill so far.

Officers with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has occasionally protested when it sees efforts to scrub recognition of Confederate leaders from the public square, did not return emails and phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

A public hearing on Wilson’s legislation is scheduled for Jan. 25.

Civil Rights Leaders Remember JFK

The Belafonte TV Ad

Andrew Young Remembers JFK and MLK’s sorrow at hearing Kennedy had been assasinated -

John Lewis’ remembrance -

 

75 Years Late…Scottsboro Boys Pardoned

This was one of the major (Mis)Trials of the last century. 9 black Boys accused of raping two white women in the segregated, Jim Crow, Alabama of 1931.Amazingly enough, despite high tensions – they didn’t get lynched. All but one of the boys was convicted and given the death penalty. None of the Boys was executed, but spent long terms in jail.

The Scottsboro Boys, with attorney Samuel Leibowitz, under guard by the state militia, 1932

   Alabama grants posthumous pardons to Scottsboro Boys

Alabama’s parole board voted Thursday to grant posthumous pardons to men known as the Scottsboro Boys from a 1931 rape case.

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted full and unconditional pardons to three of the nine black boys who were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in northeast Alabama in 1931.

The board unanimously approved the pardons for Haywood Patterson, Charlie Weems and Andy Wright after a short hearing in Montgomery. The three men were the last of the accused to have convictions from the case on their records.

“This decision will give them a final peace in their graves, wherever they are,” said Sheila Washington, director of the Scottsboro Museum and Cultural Center in Scottsboro, who helped initiate the petition.

Patterson, Weems and Wright, along with defendant Clarence Norris, were convicted on rape charges in 1937, after a six-year ordeal that included three trials, the recantation of one of the accusers and two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on legal representation and the racial make-up of jury pools.

The men were all convicted by all-white juries, and all but the youngest defendant was sentenced to death.

Alabama ultimately dropped rape charges against five of the accused. Norris received a pardon before his death from Alabama Gov. George Wallace in 1976.

Last spring, the Alabama Legislature unanimously passed a law to allow the parole board to issue posthumous pardons for convictions at least 75 years old. The law was specifically designed to allow the pardon of the Scottsboro Boys to go forward.

In October, a group of scholars petitioned the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant pardons to the men. The petition was endorsed by the judges and district attorneys of the counties where the initial trials took place.

“This is a different state than it was 80 years ago, and thank God for that,” said state Sen. Arthur Orr, a Republican from Decatur where the second and third round of trials took place. “It’s an important step for our state to take.”

Under Alabama law, pardons can only be granted to those who have felony convictions on their record. The petitioners had initially hoped the board would review the status of each of the defendants.

The Board’s decision led to a round of applause Thursday morning, but many of those who worked on the pardon called the news bittersweet. Patterson died of cancer in 1952, and many of the other defendants, including Weems and Wright, felt compelled to move out of Alabama and keep a low profile after their release from prison.

University of Alabama professor John Miller, who helped prepare the petition, said at the time of his pardon, Norris was living in New York under his brother’s name.

“With some of them, we really don’t know if they died with their right name, or a different name,” Washington said. “They no longer wanted to be known.”

Weems is known to have moved to the Atlanta area after his release, but his date of death is unknown. Washington said Wright, along with his brother Roy, another one of the Scottsboro Boys, is buried in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“It’s tragic in that those young men’s live were destroyed, all by a very biased and unfair judicial process,” Orr said. “The place where you seek justice did not dispense justice for these young men. It ruined their lives, some more than others, and it affected them to their graves.”

Oldest Living Veteran Credits Whiskey and Cigars…

Richard Overton of Austin, Texas is currently the oldest living WWII Veteran at 107 years of age.

H credits his longevity to whiskey and cigars!

Would that be Jim Beam, or George Dickel, sir?

 

Oldest Living Veteran Cites Whiskey, Cigars, ‘Staying Out Of Trouble’ As Key To Longevity

Richard Overton, who at 107-years-old is America’s oldest living veteran on record, was honored last week at a Veterans Day ceremony in Austin, Texas. In addition to a standing ovation, Overton received a box of cigars — a vice that he cites as a key ingredient in his recipe for longevity.

Overton takes no medicine, except for aspirin. Instead, he smokes cigars — up to 12 a day, he told Fox News this spring — and drinks whiskey with his morning coffee. The secret to living long, he told the Houston Chronicle, is “staying out of trouble.”

“I also stay busy around the yards, I trim trees, help with the horses,” he told Fox. “The driveways get dirty, so I clean them. I do something to keep myself moving. I don’t watch television.”

Overton served in the Army during World War II in Hawaii, Guam, Palau and Iwo Jima. He now lives in Austin.

On Sunday, Overton was set to be honored in Washington, D.C. by President Barack Obama as part of the White House’s Veterans Day festivities. According to KEYE TV, Overton was scheduled to have breakfast with the president and Vice President Joe Biden, and then attend a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Ceremony.

“The president wants me to come with him,” Overton said. “I’m su

rprised he called me.”

Grambling University Football Players Strike Cancels Game

Not sure of the details here – but this is an expensive one for Grambling and Jackson State. They fired Doug WIlliams? Geez!

The team is 0-7 this year, after a 48-0 loss to Alcorn State last week. The team had a 1-11 record in 2012.

Former Coach Doug Williams and Team Mates.

Grambling Football Players Refuse To Travel To Jackson State After Practice Boycott

A Jackson State spokesman has announced that Saturday’s game against Grambling has been canceled.

JSU spokesman Wesley Peterson told The Associated Press Friday that Grambling officials contacted Jackson State to inform the university of the decision.

Disgruntled Grambling players had refused to travel to Mississippi for the game. Grambling spokesman Will Sutton had said earlier in a text to the AP that there would be “no forfeit” and that Grambling officials were trying to determine the next step to take.

Apparently, nothing could be worked out so that the game could be played.

Southwestern Athletic Conference Commissioner Duer Sharp had said before the decision was made not to play that if Grambling does not show for Saturday’s game, it will be forced to forfeit and the school will be fined.

“It’s very disappointing,” Sharp said. “But without knowing all the facts it’s hard for me to make a judgment.”

Friday’s apparent player boycott was the latest in three days of upheaval for Grambling’s proud program. Several media outlets have reported that players did not attend practice on Wednesday and Thursday because of issues with program and school leadership.

Grambling (0-7) has changed coaches twice in about two months. Doug Williams was fired two games into the season and replaced by George Ragsdale, who was reassigned Thursday and replaced by Dennis “Dirt” Winston.

The game is Jackson State’s homecoming and could hurt the school financially. The Grambling-Jackson State matchup usually draws very well — an announced crowd of more than 21,000 attended the game in Jackson in 2011.

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