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Ava Duvernay…The 13th

Director Ava DuVernay has a new documentary out called The 13th. The documentary is named after the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which ended slavery…

Except in one specific instance.

This interview with Ms Duvernay goes into more detail.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2016 in Black History, BlackLivesMatter, The New Jim Crow

 

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United Nations – The US Owes Reparations

The UN is on a roll this week… The “Racial Terrorism” part is ongoing.

How about some legislation which covers the ground in terms of the Justice System mentioned by Hillary Clinton in the debate last night…

As well as some anti-discrimination laws with teeth.

Image result for racial discrimination

United Nations: US owes blacks reparations over slavery and ‘racial terrorism’

The United States should give African Americans reparations for slavery, UN experts said Tuesday, warning that the country had not yet confronted its legacy of “racial terrorism.”

Amid a presidential election campaign in which racial rhetoric has played a central role, the UN working group on people of African descent warned that blacks in the US were facing a “human rights crisis.”

This has largely been fuelled by impunity for police officers who have killed a series of black men — many of them unarmed — across the country in recent months, the working group’s report said.

Those killings “and the trauma they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynchings,” said the report, which was presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday.

Addressing the deeper causes of America’s racial tensions, the experts voiced concern over the unresolved “legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality.”

“There has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent,” the report said.

Working group chairman Ricardo A. Sunga told reporters that the panel believed several models of reparations could work in the US context, including “elements of apology” and a form of “debt relief” to the descendants of enslaved people.

Asked about the campaign and accusations that Republican nominee Donald Trump has made racially inflammatory remarks, Sunga voiced alarm over “hate speech…xenophobia (and) Afrophobia.”

“We are very troubled that these are on the rise,” he added, without naming Trump specifically but calling on officials and “even candidates” to watch their words.

Trump and his camp have denied all racism charges.

In the campaign’s first debate on Monday, Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton accused Trump of launching his campaign on the “racist lie” that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

The UN working group visited the several US states in January before producing their final report.

 

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The Star Spangled Banner…Made by Slave Owners

As usual, there were black hands behind the creation of the US Flag which flew over Ft  McHenry and inspired the Star Spangled Banner.

The Slave Owner Who Stitched the Original Star-Spangled Banner

Mary Young Pickersgill’s deeds made herself an American icon. The name of the slave who aided in her most famous labor has been lost to history.

Image result for Ft MchenryThe 30-foot by 42-foot star spangled banner that inspired the national anthem was made in the summer of 1812 by a 37-year-old Baltimore widow named Mary Young Pickersgill.

She completed the task in six weeks, working late into the night with the assistance of her 13-year-old daughter Caroline Pickersgill, 13-year-old niece Eliza Young, and 15-year-old niece Margaret Young. They were joined by a 13-year-old indentured servant, Grace Wisher, who was African-American, but not a slave and likely working under the same arrangement as she would have been had she been white. 

By some accounts, they were also aided by an African-American who was a slave and who is listed by the census as living in the rented premises that served as Pickersgill’s residence as well as place of business.  The slave’s name is lost to history.

The flag was commissioned at the start of the War of 1812 by U.S. Army Major General George Armistead, the commander at Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor. Armistead wrote in his instructions: “It is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.”

That meant Pickersgill needed a bigger space than the flag-making shop she had opened after the death of her husband to support herself and the only one of her four children to survive past infancy. Her daughter would write in a letter to Armistead’s daughter:

The flag being so very large, mother was obliged to obtain permission from the proprietors of Claggetts brewery which was in our neighborhood, to spread it out in their malt house; and I remember seeing my mother down on the floor, placing the stars.”

The task would later be termed Herculean, but Hercules was a guy and therefore not likely to have been able to demonstrate such precision along with considerable endurance. Call it Pickersgill-ean. She added a final touch, without which Francis Scott Key might never had been inspired to write the poem that became the lyrics for “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“After the completion of the flag, she superintended the topping of it, having it fastened in the most secure manner to prevent its being torn away by (cannon) balls,” the daughter reported in the letter. “The wisdom of her precaution was shown during the engagement: many shots piercing it, but it still remained firm to the staff.”

Following the battle, Armistead must have understood that this was not just any flag and that Pickersgill was not just any flag maker. Pickersgill’s daughter would write to Armistead’s daughter:

“Your father (Armistead) declared that no one but the maker of the flag should mend it, and requested that the rents should merely be bound around.”

With her renown as the maker of the original star spangled banner, Pickersgill prospered enough to purchase the building where she lived and worked. She was also able to found America’s first organization dedicated to assisting women who had fallen on hard times. Her Impartial Female Humane Society arranged for employment and housing for its beneficiaries, as well as school vouchers for their children. She subsequently established a home for aged women and then one for men.

Pickersgill was a pioneering feminist ideal of all-American entrepreneurship and civic responsibility and she would have seemed the perfect person to have made the Star Spangled Banner were it not for a document dated April 14, 1857. 

As cited in the book Mary Young Pickersgill Flag Maker of the Star-Spangled Banner,” the document passed title of Pickersgill’s building to her daughter at the time of her death six months later. It added:

“Also the following described or mentioned Negro slaves for life to wit: Emily aged thirty years, Jane aged twenty four, and Julia aged twenty four years and Maurice boy three years and also all the furniture goods and chattels and effects belonging to me and now in the dwelling house.”

Pickersgill apparently no longer had the unnamed female slave, who would have been older than those who are listed. The new slaves – for whom no last names are listed — were all born subsequent to the making of the Star Spangled Banner. …More Here

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2016 in American Greed, Black History, Women

 

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The Southern Myth – How Slavery Became Pleasant

I remember this from my segregated primary school 3rd Grade textbook, which is the one mentioned in the article below. When I first attended an integrated school in 7th Grade, the textbook in the previously all white school quoted almost verbatim the Southern Myth about slavery. My refusal to be tested and graded on anything which was gross historical lie, or to sit in class while it was being taught caused a bit of an uproar. I actually remember one white girl saying in class how well the slaves were treated, and how happy they were…That lasted up until I mentioned Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner (We didn’t know about Gabriel Prosser yet as much of what would become Black History had been erased from the textbooks and had to be rediscovered). and The teacher challenged me to provide material which contravened the information in the “official” Virginia History Book. My Dad, a historian had just completed a book on black history, replete with all the research and documentation from places like the Library of Congress…

I provided said information.

The Daughters of the Confederacy weren’t the last to attempt to rewrite History…Right wingers in Texas have even tried to erase figures like Cesar Chavez and the existence of black contributions to America. So the battle is ongoing.

Welcome to America. I now own your ass.

How Dixie’s History Got Whitewashed

The United Daughters of the Confederacy were once a powerful force in public education across the South, right down to rewriting history: slaves were happy, y’all.

Earlier this week Vanderbilt University announced that it would remove the word “Confederate” from the stone pediment at the entrance to a campus dormitory known as Memorial Hall. The decision brings to a close a long-standing dispute between the university and the Tennessee division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which provided the funds for the construction of the building and claimed naming rights in 1933. As part of the agreement, the school will pay the UDC $1.2 million or the present value of their initial $50,000 donation. This decision is the latest in a string of high-profile moves to remove Confederate iconography from public and private places as well as a reflection of the UDC’s long decline.

The women who founded the UDC in 1894 were committed to preserving and defending the memory of  Confederate soldiers and their cause. By World War I, membership in the UDC had reached roughly 100,000. While chapters were eventually established throughout the country, they remained most influential in the South, where they organized Decoration Day ceremonies, monument dedications, and raised money to support veterans in their old age. Their most important function, however, was the overseeing of how history was taught to the next generation on the high school and college levels. Students were expected to assume the responsibility of defending their ancestors once the generation that lived through the war had died. They did this primarily by authorizing textbooks for classroom use and rejecting those they deemed to be a threat to the memory of the Confederate soldier.

The UDC promoted histories that celebrated the Confederate cause by praising leaders like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and ignoring or re-interpreting the central cause of the war, namely slavery. Consider Susan Pendleton Lee’s 1895 textbook, A School History of the United States, in which she declared that although abolitionists had declared slavery to be a “moral wrong,” most Southerners believed that “the evils connected with it were less than those of any other system of labor.” “Hundreds of thousands of African savages,” according to the author, “had been Christianized under its influence—the kindest relations existed between the slaves and their owners.” It should come as no surprise that in her account of Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan was necessary “for protection against . . . outrages committed by misguided negroes.”

By the first decade of the 20th century and with the encouragement of the UDC, most Southern states established textbook commissions to oversee and recommend books for all public schools that provided a “fair and impartial” interpretation. These committees worked diligently to challenge publishers who stood to threaten the South’s preferred story of the war: “Southern schools and Southern teachers have prepared books which Southern children may read without insult or traduction of their fathers. Printing presses all over the Southland—and all over the Northland—are sending forth by thousands ones which tell the true character of the heroic struggle. The influence . . . of the South forbid[s] longer the perversion of truth and falsification of history.”…

…The effort made by the UDC to control history textbooks paid off immeasurably and continued to shape how Americans remembered the Civil War well into the 20th century. As late as the ’70s, the state of Virginia still used the popular textbook Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis B. Simkins, Spotswood H. Jones, and Sidman P. Poole, first published in 1957. Its chapter on slavery—“How the Negroes Lived under Slavery”—featured a well-dressed African-American family on board a ship shaking hands with a white man, who is presumed to be the family’s new owner. Here is how it describes slavery:

A feeling of strong affection existed between masters and slaves in a majority of Virginia homes . . . The house servants became almost as much a part of the planter’s family circle as its white members . . . The Negroes were always present at family weddings. They were allowed to look on at dances and other entertainments . . . A strong tie existed between slave and master because each was dependent on the other …  The slave system demanded that the master care for the slave in childhood, in sickness, and in old age. The regard that master and slaves had for each other made plantation life happy and prosperous.  Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked . . . But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to these arguments.

My Dad always argued that black folks were the first non-Asian people to reach the Americas from Africa. He had visited Mexico and seen the statues of the Olmecs who ruled parts of what is now Mexico and Central America in 1700 BC. It is only about 1,000 miles by sea at the closest point between Africa and South America aided by the “Westerlies”. He believed that the great trading period starting about 7th Century was actually the second or third rise of trade and exploration in West Africa. Indeed it is now known as a result of that second/third trade period that the first known African migrated to live in England in the 13th Century, and there may have been trade between North Africa and Europe as early as the Vikings.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2016 in Black History, The New Jim Crow

 

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Those Forgotten Lyrics in the Star Spangled Banner

Few people know that there are other verses to the National Anthem. One of those verses is quite racist and belies the idea of Freedom for All Men.

In the War of 1812, the British, as they had done in the Revolutionary War, recruited black soldiers with the promise of freedom. Many of these soldiers were slaves, who escaped from the Plantation to fight for their freedom. IN the War of 1812, one of those groups specifically were the Royal Marines, who kicked regnant colonial ass across Maryland to sack the Capital, Washington, DC. Among the recipients of said butt kicking was a Lieutenant in the Colonial forces at The Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland…One Francis Scott Key.

An American depiction of the Battle of Bladensburg, all the black faces in Redcoat are erased.

Star-Spangled Bigotry: The Hidden Racist History of the National Anthem

Most people don’t know there’s more than one verse to the national anthem, and it’s the third that’s a doozy.

Aericans generally get a failing grade when it comes to knowing our “patriotic songs.” I know more people who can recite “America, F–k Yeah” from Team America than “America the Beautiful.” “Yankee Doodle”? No one older than a fifth-grader in chorus class remembers the full song. “God Bless America”? More people know the Rev. Jeremiah Wright remix than the actual full lyrics of the song. Most black folks don’t even know “the black national anthem.” (There’s a great story about Bill Clinton being at an NAACP meeting where he was the only one who knew it past the first line. Bill Clinton: Woke in the ’90s.)

In the case of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” perhaps not knowing the full lyrics is a good thing. It is one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon, and you would be wise to cut it from your Fourth of July playlist.

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” as most Americans know it, is only a couple of lines. In fact, if you look up the song on Google, only the most famous lyrics pop up on Page 1:

Oh say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
At the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
Were so gallantly streaming.

And thy rocket’s red glare,
Thy bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through thee night,
That our flag was still there.

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

The story, as most of us are told, is that Francis Scott Key was a prisoner on a British ship during the War of 1812 and wrote this poem while watching the American troops battle back the invading British in Baltimore. That—as is the case with 99 percent of history that is taught in public schools and regurgitated by the mainstream press—is less than half the story.

To understand the full “Star-Spangled Banner” story, you have to understand the author. Key was an aristocrat and city prosecutor in Washington, D.C. He was, like most enlightened men at the time, not against slavery; he just thought that since blacks were mentally inferior, masters should treat them with more Christian kindness. He supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa and, with a few exceptions, was about as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionist as you could get at the time.

Of particular note was Key’s opposition to the idea of the Colonial Marines. The Marines were a battalion of runaway slaves who joined with the British Royal Army in exchange for their freedom. The Marines were not only a terrifying example of what slaves would do if given the chance, but also a repudiation of the white superiority that men like Key were so invested in.

All of these ideas and concepts came together around Aug. 24, 1815, at the Battle of Bladensburg, where Key, who was serving as a lieutenant at the time, ran into a battalion of Colonial Marines. His troops were taken to the woodshed by the very black folks he disdained, and he fled back to his home in Georgetown to lick his wounds. The British troops, emboldened by their victory in Bladensburg, then marched into Washington, D.C., burning the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building and the White House. You can imagine that Key was very much in his feelings seeing black soldiers trampling on the city he so desperately loved.

A few weeks later, in September of 1815, far from being a captive, Key was on a British boat begging for the release of one of his friends, a doctor named William Beanes. Key was on the boat waiting to see if the British would release his friend when he observed the bloody battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Sept. 13, 1815. America lost the battle but managed to inflict heavy casualties on the British in the process. This inspired Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” right then and there, but no one remembers that he wrote a full third stanza decrying the former slaves who were now working for the British army:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In other words, Key was saying that the blood of all the former slaves and “hirelings” on the battlefield will wash away the pollution of the British invaders. With Key still bitter that some black soldiers got the best of him a few weeks earlier, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is as much a patriotic song as it is a diss track to black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom. Perhaps that’s why it took almost 100 years for the song to become the national anthem.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2016 in Black History

 

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Black History of the Revolutionary War

Only took about 200 years to recognize that Crispus Attucks as one of the first to fall at the brewing revolution to form America. SO why are we surprised it has taken another 50 to recognize the contribution of black folks, both slave and free to the Revolution?

The Secret Black History of the Revolution

As we know all too well, the Revolutionary War was not fought so that all men could be free, but its role in creating the seeds of abolition should not be forgotten.

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was a Continental Army regiment during the American Revolutionary War. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment became known as the “Black Regiment” due to its allowing the recruitment of African Americans in 1778.

A central myth of American history teaching is that the American Revolution was fought for the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” of each person. By each, Jefferson sadly meant mainly white farmers. This patriotic myth—what I call a Founding Amnesia—drove Frederick Douglass, in 1852, to declare that the Fourth of July was not for slaves. 

But perhaps in contrast to its long history of racist exclusion, the Daughters of the American Revolution should first honor black Patriots. As Georg Daniel Flohr, a German private who fought at the decisive battle Yorktown with the French Royal Deux-Ponts for the Patriots, noted while walking around the field of battle the next day: “all over the place and wherever you looked, corpses… lying about that had not been buried; the larger part of these were Mohren [Moors, blacks].”

And as I emphasize in Black Patriots and Loyalists (2012), the acme of freedom in the American Revolution was the gradual emancipation of slaves in Vermont (not yet a state) in 1777, in Pennsylvania in 1780, in Massachusetts in 1782, in Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784, in New York in 1799, and in New Jersey in 1804. If we ask the central question in American history: how did there come to be a free North to oppose bondage in the Civil War, the answer is, surprisingly: gradual emancipation during and just after the American Revolution. Thus, black Patriots and their white abolitionist allies played a central, undiscussed role both in battle and in the deepening of American freedom.

Finally, why did the man believed to be the first martyr of the American Revolution, Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave of black and Native American parentage who became a sailor, fiercely take on the Redcoats in the Boston Massacre? Attucks is part of a complex history that reveals how much the Revolutionary War and the Fourth of July are a day that belongs to African Americans.

1.  The violent fight against Imperial press-gangs

The first part of this story is the emergence of a violent revolutionary movement of self-defense among sailors in the 18th century. The Imperial Navy needed bodies for its expanding empire. But the crown had never relied on volunteers. Instead, it sent armed gangs to kidnap people at sea or in the street. But people did not go willingly. All around the Atlantic—in Antigua, Jamaica, Halifax, and Boston, for example—there were 604 uprisings against these royal gangs in the 18th century. 

Sailors often defended themselves with pikes or muskets. Soldiers and sailors were killed in such raids.

The greatest of these uprisings was a three day battle in Boston against Admiral Knowles’s gangs in 1746. In the Independent Advertiser in 1747, Sam Adams wrote that multiracial, multinational movement against press-gangs was a driving force in making a free regime: “All Men are by nature on a Level: born with an equal Share of Freedom, and endow’d with Capacities nearly alike.”

 Whole communities rebelled against the gangs. Women, left behind, were called “Impressment widows.” Mary Jones, an Irish teenager, and her children starved after her husband was taken during the Falklands war scare of 1770. Mary was arrested for shoplifting a small piece of muslin.  Suckling one of her children even as the noose was put around her neck, she was hung. British “law” meant hanging and it was used depravedly against the poor. And in the colonies, it was worse.

Agrippa Hull was a free African-American patriot who served as an aide to Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish military officer, engineer and nobleman, for five years during the American Revolutionary War.

Merchants and members of the Boston House of Representatives feared revolutionary crowds. They denounced “a tumultuous riotous assembling of armed Seamen, Servants, Negroes, and others… tending to the Destruction of all Government and Order.” The phrase, “Armed Seaman, Servants, Negroes, and others” became almost a formula in such denunciations. They would be echoed by many later historians.

But a vast, Atlantic-wide succession of rebellions against Impressment was the key feature of the run up to the Revolution. These rebellions mobilized sailors against the crown, motivated them to participate vigorously in other demonstrations about taxes, and taught them, their relatives and communities, in Lockean terms, the need for violent self-defense. In America, press-gangs made revolutionaries.

Now black escapees, like Crispus Attucks, often found freedom at sea. Sailors, notably blacks, would lead revolutionary crowds against press-gangs and other abuses.

Colonel Tye was an escaped slave who became one of the most respected leaders of the Loyalist troops during the American Revolutionary War.

In 1760 in Jamaica, Tacky’s Rebellion, the largest uprising against bondage until that time, lasted for 4 months. Between 1760 and 1775, the outbreak of the American Revolution, some 20 slave uprisings took place in Bermuda, Nevis, Surinam, British Honduras, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Vincent, Tobago, St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. Kitts.

Seized without compensation, forced to abandon their families, sailors on British ships often identified with slaves. They took the word to London and Boston. In 1760, J. Philmore talked with mariners on London docks, and wrote the memorable Two Dialogues concerning the Man-Trade. In the broad abolitionist movement in England and America, Philmore’s 1760 pamphlet marks the most thorough transition politically from fighting for the basic “rights of an Englishman” to natural, universal or what we name today human rights. Unlike non-abolitionist authors, Philmore replaces the commonly labeled “slave trade”—a pro-bondage appellation which falsely legitimizes owners, merchants, and hunters—with the shocking but true name: the Man-trade. James Otis wrote a similar pamphlet in Boston. These ideas would be discussed in every poor people’s tavern in the 11 years leading up to the Revolution and shape rank-and-file abolitionism.

Integrated riots against press-gangs marked the pre-Revolutionary period as well as protest against taxes on tea or stamped paper. In Newport in June 1765, 500 “seamen, boys, and Negroes” rioted after five weeks of impressment. In Norfolk in 1767, Captain Jeremiah Morgan retreated, sword in hand, before a mob of armed whites and Negroes. “Good God,” he wrote to the governor, “was your Honour and I to prosecute all the Rioters that attacked us belonging to Norfolk there would not be twenty left unhang’d belonging to the Toun.” According to Thomas Hutchinson, the Liberty Riot in Boston in I768 was as much against impressment as against the seizure of John Hancock’s sloop. To understand this militancy, we might say that a second and deeper emancipatory revolution against bondage surged from the Caribbean via sailors into the U.S. and London, and shaped the revolution for independence from Britain.

In 1776, the crown authorized large numbers of press warrants in London for bodies to fight the American Revolution. But sailors, armed, marched together “having resolved to oppose any violence that might be done to them, and rather die than assist the Royalists in shedding the Blood of their American Brethren.” This was a startling example of democratic solidarity or internationalism from below, anti-patriotic, despising the Royalists’ haughty colonialism.  Read the Rest Here including the level of Black Toryism, and Black Patriots who fought in major battles…

Portrayal of the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. One of my ggg-grand-sires fought in this regiment and gained his freedom

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2016 in Black History

 

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Slavery’s Legacy Remembered

It has been 150 years, but the legacy lives on…

How close we are to slavery: America’s horrible legacy still deeply runs through the nation’s veins

For Lula Williams, America’s worst period isn’t ancient history — her grandmother was a slave

How close we are to slavery: America's horrible legacy still deeply runs through the nation's veinsAs a child growing up in South Carolina, I was keenly aware of how close I was to the history of slavery. It was all around me — in the fact of my ancestors owning slaves and fighting for the Confederacy, in the presence of black people who shared my last name, and in the Confederate battle flag that flew on my state’s capitol.

In many ways, the war for white supremacy was not over. It was simply being fought by other means.

I’ve been trying to understand and account for this history and my own privilege as a white male by writing and teaching about the nexus of race and violence in America. I mostly encounter white people who are embarrassed and angered by the violence of slavery and lynching or white people who don’t think it has any relation to them or to the present.

When Dylann Roof murdered nine black people last June at Emmanuel A.M.E., a church with deep roots in the freedom struggle, the proximity of our present lives to our nation’s slaving past resonated once again especially as photos surfaced of Roof posing before the Confederate flag.

Then Nikki Haley, the governor of my home state, did something I never imagined happening in my lifetime—she signed the order to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s state house grounds.

The backlash from the pro-flag contingent was swift. The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 346 pro-flag rallies in the months after South Carolina furled the flag.

Even in Ohio, where I live now, I noticed a spike in Confederate flags. Giant Confederate battle flags, fluttering in the wake of jacked-up trucks. Just two weeks ago, I saw one on a red GMC the very same day I interviewed a woman named Lula Williams who will turn 95 years old this month.

Lula’s grandmother, Eliza Jane Smiley, was a slave.

In a story that is in step with the terrifying realities of slavery, Eliza Jane’s father was also her master. As she grew up, Eliza Jane became the personal slave of her master/father’s young daughter. In fact, Eliza Jane slept on the floor next to her bed.

I repeated aloud what Lula said just be clear. “So she was a slave to her sister?”

Lula looked at me knowingly and said, “Weird. Sick minds.”

After Emancipation, Eliza Jane remained on the plantation, either because she lacked better opportunities or because she was coerced. Then she met a man named Charles Smiley who had been born a “free black.” Charles worked on a riverboat and the captain was friends with Eliza Jane’s father/master.

Charles took her away from the plantation and the two were married in 1873.  Charles, Lula’s grandfather, founded Hill Street Baptist Church in Louisville in 1895 and pastored there for over forty years. When Eliza Jane died, he came to live with Lula and her mother in Coshocton, Ohio.

Lula has fond memories of her childhood and her “loving close family,” but those memories are framed by stories of violence and barriers erected by both personal and institutional racism. She grew up knowing that the Klan was in her community, that a black man named Henry Howard was lynched on the courthouse square in 1885, and that a local jeweler kept one of Howard’s toes on display in his store.

There weren’t many black people, but the town, situated in the Appalachian foothills, was small enough that “most everybody knew everybody.” And yet some businesses still wouldn’t serve black people. Barbers wouldn’t cut their hair. Restaurants wouldn’t serve them. And some area towns were off limits to black people after sunset.

Lula said that some of her siblings had trouble in school because of their race. “They would call us names, and then we’d fight them,” she said. “But the others who were raised a little better, they ignored us, but at least they didn’t call us names.”

When her grandfather died, Lula traveled with her mother to Louisville for his burial. Once there her mother’s white aunt—Eliza Jane’s sister — contacted her and asked to see her. She was living in the Brown Hotel in Louisville.  Lula accompanied her mother to this meeting, but when she got there was told that she would have to sit in the hallway. Lula never did meet her.

“Is there any part of you that’s ever wanted to meet those people?” I asked.

“Not really. I was always kind of bitter about it. I can’t say that I hated them, but to me they just didn’t exist.”

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2016 in Black History

 

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