Friday, December 31, 2010

The tradition of the New Year's Eve Watch-Night Service

Since my move to South Carolina, I have had occasion to participate in Watch-Night Services where I have come to appreciate this tradition which some say began just before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

New Year's Eve services were celebrated in the 1700's when John Wesley started them.  Some claim that they were first celebrated by slaves in 1862 as they waited for the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day in 1863.

There is no doubt Watch-Night Services took on a greater significance after January 1, 1863.  I am still coming to appreciate the importance placed on this evening.  As the evening draws near, of all the things that I could reflect upon, my thoughts turn once again to freedom and what it must have been like for my ancestors on the last eve of 1862 to realize that the next day they would in reality begin to move beyond the concept of freedom. They would have to wait a few years more to actually experience freedom.

I am sure they must have grown more anxious each year until 1865.  I wonder if they ever doubted it would happen. Did they fear Lincoln would change his mind?  What did they feel?  Joy?  Did they have any concerns?

I discovered an account of a traditional Watch Meeting.  This account is the most detailed that I have yet seen. Some of the rituals are similar to the services I have attended in recent years.  While I had heard of these types of services in the North, no one ever explained how they originated.  So, I am unable to compare anything to the ones I have attended in the South.

Watch-Services are a significant part of our heritage, and my experiences have definitely helped me to put myself in the place of my ancestors and what it must have been like for them to celebrate in anticipation of the coming year.  We wonder as the old year goes out and the new one comes as well, however, our objectives pale in comparison to theirs.  I know I am not even able to comprehend how it must have felt to wonder if they would be able to exercise at year's end the freedoms I take for granted.

 You can read the complete account of a Watch Meeting below on pages 151-154 of  "The Southern workman and Hampton school record, Volume 28 By Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (Va.)"  Prayers and hymns are included.







Be among the first to qualify for the 2011 About Our Freedom Badge

About Our Freedom Badge
You can get be among the first to qualify for the 2011 About Our Freedom Badge.  The badge features just one section of the African American Monument located in Columbia, South Carolina on the grounds of The State House.

To qualify, you will need to document an ancestor that lived during the Civil War or Reconstruction Era, and feature him or her in a blog post.  The post should include how you discovered the ancestor along with any details or oral history you may have.

This may be quite a challenge if your ancestor is African American, so you may need to spend time in 2011 following Find Your Ancestor where I will be sharing all the resources that I used to document my ancestors prior to 1868 and beyond.


Please feel free to send a direct message to ask for help.  If you have already been successful documenting an ancestor between 1861 and 1876, have you identified the entire family group?  Have you traced that family group forward and searched census records and death records?  You may have a pleasant surprise waiting if you have not tried that.  I recently suggested a client do the very same thing, and she was able to identify a slave owner's will that listed the slave ancestor as well as her children. Now she can trace those children forward to see if parents are listed on death records.  They would have only had to live past 1915 in South Carolina for the possibility of birth place or parents to be listed.

Needless to say, we are excited.  I will be sharing many resources and techniques in 2011.  I will share this badge with anyone who finds success and shares it with us.  You will be able to display it proudly, and hopefully, you will inspire someone else who may have lost hope.  What a way to commemorate 150 years of freedom!

Just send a tweet to me announcing your post: @SavingStories. Please specify 350px or 250px wide.


Happy Hunting!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pre-Civil War Sesquicentennial Reflections

April 2011 will mark 150 years since the surrender of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War.  We will undoubtedly hear much about Civil War battles, secession, party conflicts, and the like over the next four years.  There is a great debate about why this war was fought and why soldiers fought and when President Lincoln began to eye the end of slavery as his objective.


Ultimately, the events which led up to the war and the war itself brought about a result many had not anticipated.  While everyone scrambles to share personal perspectives which intrigue the masses, About Our Freedom will focus on the prize which enslaved ancestors yearned to achieve, freedom.

Emancipation statue at Lincoln Park, by dbking, August 27, 2004.



To us, it is all About Our Freedom.  Our perspectives will also be an integrated part of the dialog over the next four years.   We will take a fresh look at original resources and oral history which has survived so that we can identify the principles and characteristics which embodied African Americans who came forth from the chains of bondage.


We will measure the extent of our freedom against the aspirations of our forebears to determine where we stand today.


Having read through many of the speeches, sermons, and dissertations, I am excited and confident that we will be successful in this attempt.


As we venture forth, we will come to better understand history and it's many interpretations, find our voice in history, and connect with ancestors or their contemporaries.  Probably the most common running theme in many slave and former slave narratives is the fact that African Americans related to the stories of Biblical captives such as the Israelites.  I believe many found the secret to feeling peace in the midst of great trial.

Hopefully everyone will be able to take something from our reflections and observations here, and hopefully you will be able to use the resources to connect to an ancestor who lived during this time period.  Find Your Ancestor will be the place where I will walk through the process of linking to my Civil War and Reconstruction Era ancestors.  I hope the things I share there over the next four years will help you find success.

Sections of this site will continue to be developed.  Emancipation, Interactive Timeline, and Reading Room are the furthest along.

While few looked up upon slaves as anything more than brutes, they came forth from slavery equipped with the gifts that were bestowed upon them having endured great trials.  Even though our ancestors began freedom having been reduced to meting out a meager existence, we will learn that even in chains, they understood true prosperity.

Genesis 39 (KJV)

 1And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.
 2And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
 3And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas among the slaves...do traditions survive?

How did slaves spend the holidays? Are there any traditions which began back then still around today? When I moved South and attended some of the services held in the same places where my ancestors worshiped, I learned about homecomings, midnight watch services, and Christmas Eve celebrations.

Witnessing these special occasions has helped me envision my ancestors and feel of the spirit they had on these holidays. In my mind's eye, I have come to understand the importance they placed on being able to steal away to meet together to worship and fellowship.

This version of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy,"  by Charles Haugarbrooks is beautiful. It is very similar to African-American spirituals.


I have no reason to be anything but grateful for my ancestors and for the gift of the Savior who eased their burdens and brought them solace and peace. As you go about your festivities this season, look past the tinsel and the glitter, and remember the same Christ in whom our slave ancestors looked forward to for an escape from daily cares that pressed in upon them is yet there and understands our plight as well.

There exists still an essence of the faith, courage, and hope that they had as I observe and pay close attention to the lyrics and melodies and messages.  You have to actually experience it to capture what I am trying to express. It is beautiful to be able to learn about the hymns and scriptures that helped them to withstand their hardships. Below are a couple of resources to help you understand ways slaves celebrated the holidays. I will be sharing others until Jan 1, 2011.




Christmas Among the Slaves

"Christmas Eve was celebrated by the colored people at General Drayton's plantation. About half past eleven o'clock a bell was rung, and precisely at twelve a pine fire was kindled in front of the cabin where the meeting was to be held. They called the festival a serenade to Jesus. One of the leaders, of which there were three, was dressed in a red coat with brass buttons, wearing white gloves. The females wore turbans made of cotton handkerchiefs. All ages were represented, from the child of one year to the old man of ninety.
"The first exercises consisted in singing hymns and spiritual songs, among which were those beginning, ' Salvation! O, the joyful sound,  'The voice of free grace;' 'Come, humble sinner, in whose breast; 'O, poor sinner, can't stand de fire, can't stand de fire in dat great day,' and a Christmas song  containing a medley of everything the fruitful mind of the leader could suggest, with the refrain,' We'll wait till Jesus comes.' One of the leaders lined the hymns, and though none of them could read, it was remarkable with what correctness they gave the words. Their Scripture quotations were also correct and appropriate, not only having the exact words, but naming the chapter and verse where they could be found.

"After singing for some time, a prayer-meeting was held. The prayers were fervent and powerful, and when an allusion would be made to the soldiers who had come from their distant homes, in the North country, to 'help and save de poor slave, and, like Jesus, bring dem good tidings of great joy,' a shout went up that sent its notes on the still night air to the distant pickets in the surrounding pines.  When asked, as they could not read, how they could quote the Scriptures, they replied: 'We have ears, massa, and when de preacher give out his texts, den we remembers and says dem over and over till we never forgets dem ; That's de way, massa, we poor people learns do Word of God.'
"The next exercise consisted of speaking and singing, at intervals. While one was speaking, another would take a blazing pine torch from the fire, and hold it up, so that all might see the speaker. At two o'clock, a recess was had, and til were invited to partake of coffee, which luxury they can now purchase without any difficulty, as they have plenty of money, obtained of the soldiers for vegetables and poultry.
"After this came what they called the shouting exercise. It was introduced by the beating of time by three or four, with the feet. Soon the whole company formed into a circle, and commenced jumping and singing to the time and tune of
'Say, brothers, will you meet me,
Say, brothers, will you meet me,
Say, brothers, will you meet me,
On Canaan's happy shore t'
This was continued until the most fertile imagination was exhausted, embracing an invitation to sisters, soldiers, preachers, &c, to meat them on Canaan's happy shore.
"Never did these poor slaves celebrate a Christmas Eve under such circumstances before. Whatever may be their future, they are now, to all intents, purposes, and constructions whatever, free; That they may 'choose it rather' is beyond question more certain.

___________________________________________________
Moore, Frank. "Full Text of "The Civil War in Song and Story, 1860-1865"" Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. Web. 24 Dec. 2010. <http://www.archive.org/stream/civilwarinsonga01moorgoog/civilwarinsonga01moorgoog_djvu.txt>.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On December 22, 1864...

On December 22, 1864, General Sherman presented a gift to President Lincoln.  Click here to read the actual telegraph:


Thanks, @LCAfricana!

Let the record show the 1860 Secession was because of slavery



The following is a legal document which clearly explains the reasons South Carolina left the Union.  It was written by Christopher Memminger who also served on the committee that created the Confederate Constitution. See Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal UnionThis document dispels any theory that supports any reason for secession other than the right to own slaves:


Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.


The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D. 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue. 


And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act. In the year 1765, that portion of the British Empire embracing Great Britain, undertook to make laws for the government of that portion composed of the thirteen American Colonies. 


A struggle for the right of self-government ensued, which resulted, on the 4th of July, 1776, in a Declaration, by the Colonies, "that they are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do." They further solemnly declared that whenever any "form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government." Deeming the Government of Great Britain to have become destructive of these ends, they declared that the Colonies "are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." 


In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments - Legislative, Executive and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels; and, in 1778, they entered into a League known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the first Article "that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled."


Under this Confederation the war of the Revolution was carried on, and on the 3rd of September, 1783, the contest ended, and a definite Treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies in the following terms: "ARTICLE 1 - His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof." 


Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles, was the fact, that each Colony became and was recognized by the mother Country a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE. In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States. 


The parties to whom this Constitution was submitted, were the several sovereign States; they were to agree or disagree, and when nine of them agreed the compact was to take effect among those concurring; and the General Government, as the common agent, was then invested with their authority. If only nine of the thirteen States had concurred, the other four would have remained as they then were - separate, sovereign States, independent of any of the provisions of the Constitution. In fact, two of the States did not accede to the Constitution until long after it had gone into operation among the other eleven; and during that interval, they each exercised the functions of an independent nation. 


By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. 


On the 23d May, 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered
her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken. Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights. We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. 


We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences. In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. 


We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof. The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." 


This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River. The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States. 


The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. 


The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. 


The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. 


Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation. The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. 


The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor. We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. 


They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection. For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. 


A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of
President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety. 


On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States. The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy. 


Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief. We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.
Adopted December 24, 1860
________________________________________________________
Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.  Adopted December 24, 1860. Constitutional Convention (1860-1862).  S 131055.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.


To learn more, visit:  Teaching American History in South Carolina

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Who is striving to promote the elevation of the rising generation?" Amos Gerry Beman (1812-1874)

It has been presumed by many that few abolitionists were African American.  There is, however, a database, the University of Detroit Mercy Black Abolitionist Archive, which includes the speeches of at least 800 speeches.


The following are the words of Amos Gerry Beman from a speech given in Hartford, Connecticut and published in the Emancipator, an abolitionist newspaper on 1839-11-07.  He was a minister from New Haven.  You may listen to the audio file created to enhance the user experience here: Amos G. Beman.


“Who then is elevated? Upon what is the claim
founded? Upon wealth? Have we been as industrious
and prudent as we might? Will we be from
this time? Shall this be the commencement of a
new era in our lives?
“Is our elevation founded upon our intelligence?
Have we been diligent, and studious in the cultivation
of our mental powers? Have we improved the
golden moments as they have passed away?
“Are we morally elevated? Have we all submitted
to the claims of the gospel? Is there a power
in our faith which works by love, and purifies the
heart? Who is striving to become elevated? Who
is seeking the elevation of the people? Who are
the true friends of society? Who is striving to promote
the elevation of the rising generation? Can
they not be elevated? Can they not be “trained
up in the way they should go?” Are there
no motives to urge us to seek our elevation,
because we are deprived of some of our political
rights? Because we cannot rush to the stormy
conflict of the political arena, shall we basely [set]
still and do nothing? Can we offer no sacrifice, unless
we burn it with the “strange fire” of ambition?
“No motives to be industrious and prudent, that
we may have the means of personal comfort − that
we may be able to educate our children − that we
may be prepared for the day of adversity and distress
− that we may have a shelter from the rude
and cheerless storms which howl around and sweep
the desolate winter of life? If we desire personal
comfort and respectability, if we have in our bosoms
love for our families and children, there is a
strong motive to urge us to pursue the path of industry
and economy. No motive for intellectual
elevation! What scources of pleasure and happiness
are open to an intelligent mind amid the
works of creation and the sublime wonders of revelation!
No reasons for the cultivation of the mental
powers? Sentiment unworthy an immortal mind!
“Ascend then, another step, and view yourself as
a moral being. The soul seated upon the throne
of eternity, can say with a voice which encircles
endless ages: “I live for ever a spark of the Deity.”
Noble thought! solemn truth! Motives press upon
you as moral beings, broad as the universe, wide
as creation, high as heaven, deep as hell! What
motives surround you! See your children going
on with you to the retributions of eternity! See
the claims of society, the interests of the church!
“Go stand upon the Alleghany mountains and
throw your eyes over the cotton plantations and
rice fields of the South.
“Hear the groan of the father in bondage, how his
manly frame trembles, how his heart beats, the
large tear-drop stands in his dim eye, not because
he has toiled away his youth and manhood with no
reward but the cruel lash of the relentless task
master, not because he has no hope but in the silent
grave; but his humble cottage has been plundered,
robbed, not of silver and gold, but of his wife, the
humble friend of his heart, the companion of his labor.
His son has been seized and driven away
where he shall never gladden the eye of his father
more. His daughter − but no. I will not inquire
concerning her fate. Let imagination do her office,
but fail of the sad reality. While our destiny is
linked with theirs, have we no motives to urge us
forward in the path of wisdom and usefulness?
Can we do nothing in hastening forward the day
when the trump of Jubilee will be sounded in this
land? Will not the day soon come, when the
songs of the bond man redeemed will not be confined
to the West India Islands?” University of Detroit Mercy Black Abolitionist Archive.
 "There are four scrapbooks of pastor Amos G. Beman in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection. Beman (1812-1874) was a prominent abolitionist, minister, and missionary, and a leader of the black temperance movement."  See Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal.


_________________________________________________
  • "Beman, Amos Gerry, 1812-1874 - The Black Abolitionist Archive :: University of Detroit Mercy Libraries/IDS." Re:Search :: UDM Libraries / Instructional Design Studio. University of Detroit Mercy Black Abolitionist Archive. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <http://research.udmercy.edu/find/special_collections/digital/baa/item.php?record_id=1865&collectionCode=baa>.

  • Amos Gerry Beman-1812-1874, a Memoir on a Forgotten Leader
  • Robert A. Warner
  • The Journal of Negro History
    Vol. 22, No. 2 (Apr., 1937), pp. 200-221
    (article consists of 22 pages)
  • Published by: Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc.
  • Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2714429

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912), Teacher, 1st African American Civil War Nurse

As I reflected this morning upon all the recent exposure I have had to the work of Civil War historians, I understood how important it is that I search for and share the stories of African Americans during this time period. Then @SmithsonianCW  tweeted this article about African Americans who served as doctors and nurses in the Civil War:  Civil War exhibit in Md. features black doctors.  Thanks @SmithsonianCW!

Our experiences are varied, and it is so unfortunate that they are virtually missing from the American Civil War memory. Most every historian is in agreement that the battle fought by the Federal government and in the hearts of Union soldiers was not initiated to bring an end to slavery but rather to preserve the Union.

Preservation of the Union was a worthy cause in itself, however, the question of slavery could not be kept at bay. In the same respect, neither can the experiences of people like Susie King Taylor, who was born a slave in 1848 in Liberty County, Georgia.

As she relates in her book, Reminiscences of my life in camp with the 33d United States colored troops, she and her family looked forward in faith and knew they would be freed by the Yankees. She was taught by African American teachers and by white children as a child which was illegal. Her life is full of examples where she overcame the limitations that could have kept her from success.

See her Find A Grave Bio: Susie King Taylor It is wonderful that she published her story in 1902:

"There are many people who do not know what some of the colored women did during the war. There were hundreds of them who assisted the Union soldiers by hiding them and helping them to escape. Many were punished for taking food to the prison stockades for the prisoners. When I went into Savannah, in 1865,1 was told of one of these stockades which was in the suburbs of the city, and they said it was an awful place. The Union soldiers were in it, worse than pigs, without any shelter from sun or storm, and the colored women would take food there at night and pass it to them, through the holes in the fence. The soldiers were starving, and these women did all they could towards relieving those men, although they knew the penalty, should they be caught giving them aid. Others assisted in various ways the Union army. These things should be kept in history before the people. There has never been a greater war in the United States than the one of 1861, where so many lives were lost, — not men alone but noble women as well," pg. 67 Reminiscences of my life in camp with the 33d United States colored troops 
 Please read her book here:


___________________________________________________
Taylor, Susie King. Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S. C. Volunteers,. Boston, 1902. Print.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Civil War through the eyes and hears of children


100,000 children under the age of 15 enlisted to fight in the Civil War.  George S Lamkin of Mississipi joined the Confederate army at the age of 11 and was wounded by 12 years old at the Battle of Shiloh.  

More than 2,000,000 Federal soldiers were twenty-one or under (of a total of some 2,700,000)-

More than 1,000,000 were eighteen or under.
About 800,000 were seventeen or under.
About 200,000 were sixteen or under.
About 100,000 were fifteen or under.
Three hundred were thirteen or under-most of these fifers or drummers, but regularly enrolled, and sometimes fighters. 
Twenty-five were ten or under.   

I shudder when I think of the impact this experience would have on these youth.  Drummer boys traveled with the army and were as young as 7 and 8.  See Civil War Drummer Boy. They were more than Drummer Boys:
"While watching these battle lines so grand to look upon, but so terrible to think of when you remember the frightful waste of human lives they caused, the call came; "Bring the stretchers, a man hurt." Myself and Demas took the stretchers to look for the man, he was pointed out to us and proved to be Bradford (our older brother) who had been struck by a shell in the left shoulder while lying on the ground in line waiting for the first assault just opening.  By his side lay James W. Conger, whose clothing was stained by his blood. We were little more than children and the shock to us can be better imagined than described. Demas and myself lifted him to the stretcher just as Col. Kirby Smith and Adjutant Heyl were shot from their horses a few steps away We carried him to the shallow ditch by the railroad a few rods to the rear, where the temporary field hospital was located, as it offered a slight protection to the wounded from the deadly hail of bullets that fell about them coming from all directions except the rear We then placed him in an ambulance still alive and conscious. We bid him goodbye and never saw him again. He only lived a short time and occupies an unknown grave,"  told by David Auld, drummer for the 43rd Ohio Volunteers. See Civil War drummer boys did more than just play the drums.  See also  The History of Fuller's Ohio Brigade, 1861-1865; Its Great March, with Roster, Portraits, Battle Maps and Biographies, pg 431.  
This book has been added to the About Our Freedom Reading Room:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can you imagine not knowing your birthday or father's name?

I tried to imagine what it must have been like for slaves to not know who their father's were or when they were born.  This is an unfortunate road block for those who are trying to trace their ancestry.  One's parentage can have a great impact on one's identity.

Most slaves would have no knowledge of their lineage because 200 years of slavery erased the memory of all that.  I do have several lines where I may never be able to know the names of my forefathers in this life. That is a very difficult pill for me to swallow.

It's like having permanent amnesia.  That is very painful and frustrating for me. Once again I compare myself to Frederick Douglass.  He did not know his birthday his whole life, and he only could speculate about who his father was.  Yet, he freed himself, and remade himself into an accomplished publisher and orator.  I salute him because he was able to be successful at doing this during an era when few even could recognize the abilities of an African American let alone a former slave.

I feel so very fortunate to have examples of African Americans who faced and overcame great obstacles.

Here's a short video biography on Frederick Douglass:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Secessions from the church long before South Carolina's 1860 Secession

Many believed that this nation was brought into existence by God.  People of the North and South believed God favored their view of slavery.  Abraham Lincoln did not speak out publicly about religion or abolishing slavery before his election.  He was not an abolitionist.

Abolitionists believed that slavery was a sin and would put America out of God's good graces.  They believed that if a Christian could feel the power of conversion and change overnight, so could a nation.

In 1844, Christians from the North and South began to site opposing views.  There was secession and the establishment of Northern and Southern churches long before South Carolina's 1860 secession from the Union.

How did American Christian slaves endure the obvious contradictions of the principles of hope, love, and charity?

Northern Christians taught the principles of freedom while Southern Christians claimed slavery was divinely inspired,  and Africans had no soul.  Was the Civil War a political or religious war?  This will perhaps be answered as we take this journey back to the words of those who had this decision placed in front of them during that day.

I am satisfied to open my mind to the possibility that the blood so sorely sacrificed to bring my freedom opens me to a type of freedom broader than political freedom.  My mind must therefore embrace the principles a greater freedom brings. Please enjoy the PBS video below that has helped me in doing just that (God in America: Episode 3, A Nation Reborn).  You can watch an excerpt by clicking below.  Then you will be taken to the PBS site where you may watch the full episode and each of the other episodes. I would love to hear your opinions.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

History of the Republican Party

Did you know that that it was the newly formed Republican Party which elected its first president, Abraham Lincoln, after only existing for only two election years?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Bondage and My Freedom

My Bondage and My Freedom is an autobiographical slave narrative written by Frederick Douglass and published in 1855. It is the second of three autobiographies written by Douglass, and is mainly an expansion of his first (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), discussing in greater detail his transition from bondage to liberty. Douglass, a former slave, following his liberation went on to become a prominent abolitionist, speaker, author, and publisher.  See Wikipedia article.  Learn about other abolitionists.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My love affair with Frederick Douglass

         






Frederick Douglass papers and biographies

As we begin this journey on "About Our Freedom,"  we will introduce a great African American abolitionist, author, orator, intellect, publisher, and much more!


I have been acquainted with his story and writings since the third grade.  I attended St Cyril's Catholic School in Joliet, Illinois.  My mom taught in the public school system.    


I was not allowed to attend kindergarten because they knew I could already read.  My mother taught me to read at the age of two.  I do not remember ever needing help with homework or being told to do my homework.   


My parents never discussed race before I was high school age.  I never really paid attention to the fact that I was the only African-American in class when I was called the "N" word one day in the third grade.  It did not upset me.  I never heard the word before.


I can still see the hate and the face of the boy who used the word.  I figured he had to be referring to my color.  I remembered thinking, "I am light-skinned."  If you are this upset, you should see my dad.  I had always been one of the smartest students in my class. I knew this boy was upset because he knew that as well.  I did not say anything to him or my teacher.  I felt I did not know enough about the subject to fully respond.


I did not want to discuss it with my parents.  I did not want a protective answer.  I wanted to find out what where all the anger was coming from.  I figured it had something to do with slavery.  


I had the habit of always spending Saturday mornings in the library.  I would find books to read during the week when I had finished my homework.  I realized there were no faces that looked like mine in my school books.  I started with the book, Up From Slavery, an autobiography by Booker T. Washington.  I kept that book with me every school day until I finished it. 


When I finished it, I began to read the autobiographies of former slaves.  I feel in love with Frederick Douglass and his story.  I was attracted to his writings because his words caused me to have to consult my Webster's dictionary. I loved the challenge.  He started from nothing.  He eventually freed himself and worked to ensure the freedom of others.  His love for writing and education resonated with me.  


When I had a child of my own, I homeschooled her from preschool through sophomore year.  We purchased his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom from Barnes and Nobles and read it together.  I am still learning from Frederick Douglass.


I believe we will learn a lot if we go back and capture the energy and principles which he taught during  Pre-Civil War and Post-Civil War through Emancipation.  These principles which he applied, helped him to develop by stages over time.  I think the process from going from  Frederick the slave to Frederick the publisher, abolitionist, and freeman, to Frederick the Reconstructionist can help in understanding life during those periods.  We can identify how far we have come, what things we need to expunge from our slave memory, and what principles to instill for future generations.  I hope you enjoy the journey with me.




Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is easy to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness and to defeat the very end of their being. They can neither honor themselves nor their Creator. Than this, no greater wrong can be inflicted; and, on the other hand, no greater benefit can be bestowed upon a long benighted people, than giving to them, as we are here earnestly this day endeavoring to do, the means of an education. It is aimed to make them skilled work-men, useful mechanics, workers in wood, leather, tin and iron.
It is sometimes said that we have done enough for the Negro; that we have given him his liberty and we should now let him do for himself. This sounds well but that is all. I do not undervalue freedom from chattel slavery. It was a great and glorious triumph of justice and humanity; it was the fruit of long years of labor, agitation and sacrifice. But let us look at his emancipation and see where it left the Negro, and we shall see how far it falls short of the plainest demands of justice and of what we owe the Negro.
To find an adequate measure of compensation for any wrong, we must first ascertain the nature and extent of the wrong itself. The mere act of enslaving the Negro was not the only wrong done him, nor were the labors and stripes imposed upon him, though heavy and, grievous to bear, the sum of his wrongs. These were indeed terrible enough; but deeper down, and more terrible still, were the mental and moral wrongs which enter into his claim for a slight measure of compensation. For two hundred and forty years the light of letters was denied him, and the gates of knowledge were closed against him.
He was driven from time to eternity in the darkest ignorance, herded with the beasts of the field; without marriage, without family, without school, and without any moral training, other than that which came by the slave drivers lash. People who live now, and talk of doing too much for the Negro, think nothing of these things, and those who know them, seem to desire to forget them, especially when they are made the basis of a claim for a larger measure of justice to the Negro. They forget that for these terrible wrongs there is, in truth, no redress and no adequate compensation. The enslaved and battered millions have come, suffered, died and gone with all their moral and physical wounds into Eternity. To them no recompense can be made. If the American people could put a school house in every valley; a church on every hill top in the South and supply them with a teacher and preacher respectively and welcome the descendants of the former slaves to all the moral and intellectual benefits of the one and the other, without money and without price, such a sacrifice would not compensate their children for the terrible wrong done to their fathers and mothers, by their enslavement and enforced degradation," Blessings of Liberty and Education


The true legacy of Election 1860, Secession, and Civil War

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