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

African Diaspora…Pallbearers of Peru

Racism in South America is a lot different than in the US… The US is just catching up to it.

Black Pallbearers In Lima Reveal Ingrained Racism In Peruvian Society

 Elegant in tuxedos and white gloves, the six black pallbearers silently and gracefully remove the mahogany coffin bearing a Lima tire magnate from his mansion. They slide it into the Cadillac hearse that will parade Jorge Reyna’s body through the Chorrillos district where he was once mayor.

The pallbearers are in the job precisely because of the color of their skin, a phenomenon unique to this South American capital that was the regional seat of Spain’s colonial empire for more than three centuries. In fact, prominent citizens such as Reyna, a widely respected, charitable man of indigenous origin who died at age 82, request black pallbearers for their funerals.

“He planned his funeral and wanted it to be elegant,” said Reyna’s widow, Clarisa Velarde.

Blacks routinely bear the caskets of ex-presidents, mining magnates and bankers to their tombs in Lima. The peculiar tradition exists neither in provincial Peruvian cities nor in other Latin American countries with significant black populations such as Brazil, Panama and Colombia.

It is not a profession chosen by Lima’s blacks but is rather thrust upon them by a lack of opportunity, say Afro-Peruvian scholars. And racism remains so deeply ingrained in Peru that many don’t consider the practice discriminatory.

“Beyond the question of racism or prejudice, I think it is simply a question of employment,” said Jose Campos, a leading Peruvian black studies scholar and vice rector of the National Education University.

For 61-year-old Armando Arguedas, who like his fellow pallbearers never finished elementary school, it’s simply a job.

“Some people are friendly,” he said of those who employ him. “Some don’t even say thank you.”

Black pallbearers were even used for the recent funeral of the wife of former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. Continue reading

New Database of Slave Cemeterys

Haven’t posted anything on the Blog in a while. A Heart Attack, lawsuit over $1 million the USTDA defaulted on paying my little company for post-earthquake  work done in Haiti (all the crooks in Haiti aren’t Haitian), and my Mother passing ate up much of my time in 2012. I am all back and better now – and hope to get a few Blog Posts in the rest of this year.

Met a guy a few years ago down in Accomack County Virginia who was wandering through the woods on a farm adjoining my property carrying a digital camera and some pretty fancy”sniffer”  detection gear. He was on a mission to discover abandoned graveyards in the region, many of which were slave graveyards. I see now Fordham University has taken up the call.

Fordham has launched a first-of-its kind national database designed to catalog places in the US where slaves are buried. The Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans is the brainchild of Fordham’s Sandra Arnold, whose ancestors were slaves, reports the New York Times. The site relies on visitors to submit information about the locations of cemeteries along with those buried there.

“Much of the material culturally associated with slave history has been lost for many reasons; therefore the study of slave cemeteries will provide tangible clues of African cultures and funeral practices. The most important aspect is digging for the slave’s humanity. The preservation of these sacred spaces is to remember the past so that our future contemporaries will have a better understanding of American policies that supported this system of cruelty, but most importantly to remember the resilience of the human spirit.” 

- National Trust for Historic Preservation

“The fact that they lie in these unmarked abandoned sites, it’s almost like that they are kind of vanishing from the American consciousness,” says Arnold. The intent is to build a “historical network of sorts,” says the Root, which interviews Arnold and others involved with the project. Had something like this been in place last year, it might havesaved Walmart some construction headaches in Alabama.

 

Musical history of the blues found in juke joints – CBS News

A few of the old Juke Joints still survive. Wynton Marsalis takes on a trip down History Lane finding several Juke Joints still operating.

Musical history of the blues found in juke joints

In a downhome neighborhood on the outskirts of Birmingham, Ala., Rita James bought an abandoned building and built a happy home for the blues. Her tiny, unmarked Red Wolf club invites the entire community.

Just four years old, The Red Wolf is a real juke joint. It’s roots go all the way back to Emancipation. In the old South, poverty made life more extreme. So folks found barns, shacks, anywhere – to play, sing and dance their sorrows away. Over time, these places became known as juke joints. Within their walls the blues were born.

Every Wednesday night, Wilson takes the microphone and gets the people on their feet. But it’s the music that brings them together.

“I just make them feel good,” Wilson said. “That’s just me period. Anywhere. I make the crippled feel good – make them think they can walk again.”

First-timer BJ Miller drove 500 miles from St. Louis for a chance to blow her trombone in a place where spirits are served, and freed.

“It’s not that they just serve alcohol,” Miller said. “It’s that they are serving musicians the opportunity to express themselves – and that’s not everywhere.”

“The blues has good and sad, so it’s for good too,” Wilson said. “And you know I like the blues. I like music period, I like all music, so music cheer me on and make me feel good.”

The blues are good for the soul. Their rhythms are inseparable from the American identity, and they’re not naive. The blues tell us bad things happen all the time, and they do, and we can engage with them. The blues are like a vaccine. If you want to get rid of something, give yourself a little bit of it, and when the real thing comes – you’re ready for it.

If Rita has any say in the matter, they’ll be an integral and constant part of the future. Wilson said her club will stay open, “until I drop.”

Priceless Tubman Artifact Donation to Museum of African American History

This one is simply stunning. Who would believe such priceless artifacts still existed – much less were in private hands?

Black history museum gets special opening gift

Black History Month was marked in a very special way Wednesday. The president and the first lady attended the ground breaking for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall, where Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech still echoes.
CBS News correspondent Chip Reid got a first look at some of the priceless artifacts the museum will hold.

Charles Blockson, 78, has been collecting African and African-American artifacts for more than 50 years. The high point came just last year when he inherited 39 items that belonged to Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery, she escaped, but returned to the South nearly 20 times leading hundreds of others to freedom on what came to be known as the Underground Railroad.

Some of Charles Blockson’s ancestors were rescued by Tubman.

“When I first received (her artifacts), I was surprised, shocked. Nearly every item I picked up I started to cry, the tears just, my emotional armor erupted,” Blockson said.

The items include a silk shawl that was given to Tubman by Queen Victoria, and Tubman’s book of gospel hymns. Blockson, though, says it felt wrong to keep them, calling it “an awesome burden.”

So he donated the Tubman artifacts, most of them too fragile to be handled, to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture…

National Parks Proposed to Honor Harriet Tubman

Children ride their bikes down the drive passing the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, N.Y., July, 29, 2004. (David Duprey, AP)

Efforts are underway in Congress to recognize Harriet Tubman with the designation of her home in Auburn, New York, and an area on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where she was born a slave, and helped numerous slaves escape bondage on the Underground Railroad.

Don’t think there is much chance of this getting through a Republican majority Congress, not only because of the usual hostility – but because of the extreme focus this term on cost cutting.

Two National Parks Eyed to Honor Legacy of Harriet Tubman

Steal Away

Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who led others to freedom on the Underground Railroad, could be honored with two national parks promoting her life.

Senators from Maryland and New York introduced legislation on Tuesday — the start of Black History Month — to create parks in both states that would protect sites connected to her life as an abolitionist and later as an advocate for women’s suffrage.

Tubman — known as “the black Moses” for leading hundreds of slaves out of bondage in the South to freedom in the North — lived much of her adult life in Auburn, N.Y. in the state’s Finger Lakes region. If the bill becomes law, her home, the cemetery where she was buried in 1913 and the Home for the Aged, an early nursing home for African-Americans she created, would become part of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park.

In the Eastern Shore of Maryland where Tubman was born in 1822, the bill would make a sweeping Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Historical Park, covering her presumed birthplace and the site of former plantations where she was enslaved until she ran away in 1849. Tubman returned to the area for 10 years as a famed conductor on the Underground Railroad, and the park would include the location of a former safe house along the route to the North.

“Harriet Tubman [was] a true American patriot for whom liberty and freedom were principles in which she believed and risked her life to achieve,” said U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., in a statement. “Her life was defined by determination, perseverance and hardship as she helped others on the road to freedom. These two parks will make it possible for Marylanders, New Yorkers and all Americans to trace her life’s work and remember her tremendous contribution to our nation’s history.” Continue reading

Oldest Black School in America Found?

Professor finds oldest black school -- in Virginia

The Dudley Digges House, c. 1928 (Image courtesy of Williamsburg Postcards)

Professor finds oldest black school — in Virginia

A College of William and Mary professor thinks he may have found the nation’s oldest surviving schoolhouse for African-American children.

English professor Terry Meyers believes the college – at Benjamin Franklin’s urging – was instrumental inopening the Williamsburg Bray School in 1760 to educate both free and enslaved blacks.

The find would be remarkable not only for its historical significance, but for its location in the political and ideological epicenter of slavery. The college itself was funded by taxes on tobacco harvested by slaves. The college, its faculty and even some students owned slaves, and slave labor built core campus buildings, maintained the grounds and fed the residents.

It also runs counter to later sentiments in Virginia and other Southern states, which explicitly forbade teaching slaves to read or write. An 1819 Virginia law made doing so punishable by 20 lashes. Continue reading

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