Saturday, July 30, 2011

That Was Home For Me

This article was contributed by Sheba, Mississippi Queen of Blues in response to "Influence of The Slave Dwelling Project leads to Sotterley Plantation and Beyond," by Joseph McGill, Jr.

I am so glad to see what you are doing. I am a person that came up in 1950, and this type place is what I called home. I was born in Sunflower, Mississippi and this type of house was home for a lot of us.

 I remember seen rows of them along the Mississippi River. They had one room and some did not have a floor. For heat, some people would make a fire in the middle of the floor.

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We lived in one house that was a little bigger, but we only lived in half of it because the other half was torn down. This house was billed off the ground and had a big hole in the floor where you could see the snake underneath.

Later, I remember we moved in a house that they called a shotgun house which means that you could
take a shot gun and shot straight through it. These house had two rooms, and a family of nine or ten and
sometimes more lived in them. After leaving Mississippi and moving to South Florida, they had the same type of houses for the migrant worker consisting of one room for couples and two rooms for families.

Just last week, I took a photograph (on right) of houses currently inhabited by residents of Homestead, Florida.  This is an old migrant worker community.  See Looking Back.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Influence of the Slave Dwelling Project Spreads to Sotterley Plantation and Beyond!

Wow! We are so appreciative for what you are doing, Joe!  Thank you so much for recording the video from the slave dwelling at Sotterley Plantation below so that we could get a glimpse of your stay and hear your reflections. My daughter watched over my shoulder as I embedded the code to the video while it was still playing.  She said, "I want to help him.  Give it to me so I can put it on my Facebook page."  Your influence is spreading to the next generation!  We are on the right road!  Onward! Onward!
Patuxent River WatershedImage via Wikipedia

Robin Foster
About Our Freedom

By Joseph McGill, Jr. |
Program Officer, Southern Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation |
William Aiken House, 456 King Street, 3rd Floor, Charleston, SC 29403 | Phone: 843.722.8552 |
Fax: 843.722.8652 | Email: |

Saturday, July 9, 2011 found me at Sotterley Plantation in Hollywood, Maryland. Southwest Airlines deserves credit for allowing this stay and lecture to fit perfectly into a weekend. Prior to my arrival at Sotterley, I knew that I would be dealing with several firsts: the first stay in Maryland and the first stay at a former tobacco plantation. Sotterley was one of the stays that came about as a result of the popularity of the Slave Dwelling Project. I can recall getting a call from Eileen Miller, Marketing Manager for Sotterley, and scheduling the stay.

Sotterley Plantation is located on the banks of the Patuxent River and is the only remaining Tidewater Plantation in Maryland open to the public. It is designated a National Historic Landmark and the site includes the early 18th century mansion, a rare slave cabin, and a full array of outbuildings on nearly 100 acres of rolling fields, gardens, and riverfront. The authentic 18th and 19th century architecture reveals Chesapeake Bay plantation life in the form of a customs warehouse, smokehouse, corn crib, brick privy, and plantation schoolhouse. Visitors can also walk along Sotterley's shoreline, woodland trails, meadows, an antebellum orchard, and colonial revival gardens.

When I arrived at the entrance to Sotterley, I had to stop and marvel at the trees that lined both sides of the road because this was reminiscent of several plantations I had encountered in the past. Even more impressive were all the historic buildings still on the site. The first face to face meeting with Executive Director, Nancy Easterling, was intense. Her passion for the site was obvious and her questions came in rapid succession. 

Our tour of the site verified that all of the buildings were indeed authentic. The highlight for me of course was the tour of the slave dwelling. It was then, I discovered another first; the first dwelling with a dirt floor. That revelation factored into my decision to sleep in the loft of the dwelling, another first. While in the cabin, I was interviewed by two people who represented two different local newspapers.

At dinner that evening, I was informed by Meredith Taylor, a Trustee of Sotterley and a professor at St. Mary’s College, that a student would like to come and film the experience. I informed her that filming would be fine but also issued an invitation for the student to spend the night in the dwelling with me. The student, Ryan Gugerty, accepted the invitation. 

 When I got back to the dwelling and inspected the loft more thoroughly with a flash light, I discovered an active wasp nest. I knew then where not to go. When Ryan made it to the site around 10:00 pm, he gave me a call on my cell phone and I went out to meet him in the parking lot. The questions by both of us indicated that I was as curious about him as he was about me. I do recall warning him that I snored like a champ. A tidbit that if revealed prior to his arrival may have yielded a different outcome. 

I do not know if it was my snoring or the call of nature that caused Ryan to get up and leave the cabin at least twice during the night. I also recall it being very hot before the temperature moderated to a level comfortable enough to sleep. The next morning the questions from Ryan continued. Only this time everything was being recorded and filmed. We could not resist the temptation to walk to the river. 

Along the way, we came upon a demonstration garden. Planted there was tobacco. I not only thought about the slave labor necessary to harvest the crop, but I also thought about my own personal experience growing up in Kingstree, SC and working in tobacco fields during the summer. When we reached the river, it was not hard to imagine the historic landscape without trees and how the plantation house sat prominently on a hill that could be seen from the river.

After one more news paper interview in the cabin, Nancy delivered me to the home of Jan Briscoe and Sam Baldwin. Jan is the current President of the Board of Trustees for Sotterley. Sam had a beautiful breakfast prepared. Jan is a descendant of the last owner of Sotterley to own slaves. Initially, it was hard to keep my attention because I was admiring ospreys that were nesting right near their dock. Jan and Sam had instructions to deliver me to Sotterley in time for the scheduled Slave Dwelling Project lecture that I was scheduled to give. They carried out their assignment well but not before we bonded with great conversation about Sotterley Plantation and about the Slave Dwelling Project.

I am always a little nervous when I start thinking about how many people might show up at these lectures. I’ve given the lecture to as little as two and many as one hundred plus and all points in between. I was impressed and encouraged by the number of people that showed. A fellow Civil War reenactor, Lou Carter, from Company B, 54th Massachusetts Reenactment Regiment out of Washington, DC attended as he promised. I was even more impressed that my friend Beth Lingg showed. I met Beth in 2005 on a cruise down the Mississippi River on the riverboat Delta Queen from Memphis, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana. Beth is the only person from that cruise with whom I have kept in contact. When I informed her that I was coming to Sotterley she immediately put it on her calendar.

The lecture was a success. I put Ryan on notice that I would call on him to talk about his experience in sleeping in the cabin. He verified that it was my snoring that kept him up during the night. After the lecture, the question and answer period could have gone longer but I had to let the audience know that I had a plane to catch. When the session concluded, another first happened. Eileen Miller, Marketing Manager and Artist, presented me with an oil painting of the cabin that I slept in. This along with all of the other activities at Sotterley puts it on the short list of best places stayed to date. More importantly, Sotterley must be commended for the work and resources that it has put forth to ensure the slave dwelling on its property was restored and is being properly interpreted.   

See:  That Was Home For Me

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Slavery in Philadelphia, PA against the backdrop of liberty

As the slaves of Cliveden heard  the whisperings about liberty which had to be present all around, I wonder how they felt and what they said amongst themselves about their own situation.  Of all the study that I have done of the history of liberty and the symbols of freedom in Philadelpia, I never once found mention of the existence of slavery there.  Thank you, Joe for bringing this history forward! 
Robin Foster
About Our Freedom

Slavery in Philadelphia, PA against the backdrop of liberty

By Joseph McGill, Jr. | Program Officer, Southern Office

Thursday, June 23, 2011 found me at Cliveden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This stay came about as a direct result of a lecture that I gave about the Slave Dwelling Project at the National Preservation Conference that was held in Austin, Texas in October 2010. Immediately after the lecture, I was approached by Rick Fink, the Education Director at Cliveden, he extended the invitation to me at that time. The very next day, I unknowingly sat beside David Young, Executive Director of Cliveden, on the bus ride he confirmed the invitation.

Battle of GermantownImage via Wikipedia Cliveden is an historic site owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and located in the Germantown neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia. Built as a country house by attorney Benjamin Chew, Cliveden was completed in 1767 and was home to seven generations of Chew family members. Long famous as the site of the Battle of Germantown in 1777, as well as for its elegant architecture and furnishings, new research is revealing a troubled past marked by slavery and another kind of struggle for freedom.

In addition for an opportunity for me to expand the Slave Dwelling Project to the north, the staff at Cliveden saw this as an opportunity to expand a program called “Cliveden Conversations”. "Cliveden Conversations," sprouted from a recent discovery of documents detailing slave ownership by the affluent family of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew. The Chew Family Papers have opened the door to new discussions about how slavery has affected modern race relations and community in Germantown.
As followers of the Slave Dwelling Project became aware that Cliveden was one of the places that I would stay, some would always be surprised for various reasons. Cliveden did not fit the mold of any of the previous stays. It did not have a cabin; it was not a plantation; most of all, it was not in a southern state.
Cliveden, provided by Cliveden staff.
My arrival into Philadelphia was uneventful and I was picked up from the airport and transported to Cliveden by David Young. I often use the term “house on the hill” to describe the architecture that we as Americans are most interested in preserving. Cliveden is the epitome of that phrase. It is not hard to visualize that when Cliveden was completed in 1767 it stood prominently on a hill in isolation. Any one approaching would have been awed by its significance. The two story slave dwelling, the two story carriage house and any other out building would have accented the wealth of the Chew family. 
Cliveden, provided by Cliveden staff.
I got a tour of the slave dwelling and the Cliveden Mansion from Rick Fink. It is amazing how the architecture of the big house allowed slaves to labor within it walls and gave the home owner the ability to isolate that labor from visitors when necessary. I only needed to see the first floor of the slave dwelling to know that was where I would sleep. This room had less amenities than others in the house although an electrical light, electrical outlets and a radiator made it immediately evident that the building evolved and was a residence far beyond the abolition of slavery in the state of PennsylvaniaThe rest of the evening included two media interviews, a Germantown Coalition reception and dinner at McMenamin’s Tavern.
Cliveden, provided by Cliveden staff.
The sleep in the dwelling was peaceful. I expected to hear sirens and other noises that a city would have to offer, but I heard none of those things. The next morning, through the window that I left open, I heard the sound of soothing rain falling on the trees. When I attempted to go to the bathroom, I set off the house alarm. I immediately called David Young for instructions which did not work. David assured me that he would call the alarm company and that he was on his way to the site. As thoughts of Rodney King ran through my mind, I parked myself in one spot and waited for staff or the police to arrive. Luckily, staff showed up and the police did not.
After all of that drama, I then mustered the courage to explore the upstairs of the dwelling. The upstairs rooms contained further evidence that the dwelling had evolved over time. A bathroom with indoor plumbing and closets were all indications that the dwelling was lived in far beyond the ending of slavery in Philadelphia. Not having a flashlight, I was incapable of exploring the attic.
That day, I got several bonuses. I got to visit Walter Gallus, Director of the Philadelphia Field Office for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and I had lunch with him. His office is located directly across the street from Cliveden. A few days prior to coming to Philadelphia, I made contact with a first cousin who I had not seen in decades. Once we worked out the details of the matter, he and two of my aunts who I had also not seen in decades showed up at Cliveden. Hanging out with them in the slave dwelling was a great time for us to reminisce about family members who are no longer with us on this earth.
My participation in “Cliveden Conversations” was interesting. I altered my presentation to include those former slave dwellings I stayed whose owners still interact with the descendants of the people who were enslaved at the site. The presentation proved appropriate for Cliveden’s goal of telling more of the story of the people who were once enslaved there. I was told by Cliveden staff that the crowd was the largest ever for “Clivden Conversations.” The question and answer period would have gone longer had we let it. After the group dispersed, a few of the participants joined me in the slave dwelling for a bonus question and answer period.
The Liberty Bell hangs in the Liberty Bell Cen...Image via WikipediaIndependence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the City of Brotherly Love, these are all things we associate with the city of Philadelphia. I find it ironic that the purpose of my last stay in Philadelphia was to highlight that peculiar institution that was the opposite of all of those things. I commend Cliveden’s staff for taking the high road in this matter by engaging the public and seeking their input in how they should move forward in telling the stories of all the people who were involved. The Cliveden experience has given me a better understanding of how slavery existed in northern states.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Colored State Fair Association in Columbia, SC

South Caroliniana Library on the campus of USC, by Robin Foster
A whole new world was opened to me last Saturday at the South Caroliniana Library.  I have been looking of some way to document my  grandfather's participation in the State Fair in Columbia, South Carolina between the years of 1940 and 1949.  I learned from my mother that his cows won every year, and she entered her 4H projects too.

I searched the South Caroliniana Library catalog and discovered the following:

Fourth Annual State Fair of the Colored State Fair Association, Dec. 12th to 17th, 1892

The card was among the papers of Rev. E. A. Adams.  See Adams, E. A. (Eugene Avery), 1886-1958.

Now I know that my grandfather Emory probably participated in the Colored State Fair.  I did not even think of the fact that they would have not been allowed to participate in the main one. No one ever mentioned it to me.  I was able to see and handle the actual card announcing the 4th Annual Colored State Fair while at the library.

It reads:

"This is a special appeal of the President, Rev. J. H. Williams, to the good people of the state. We earnestly request every person in the state;and prepare exhibits therefor. The people of Columbia have promised not to support the Hampton Fair but will on Dec. 12th to 17th stand with open arms to receive all visitors." 
"The First and Second Regiments, National Guards, of Charleston, S.C., will attend and will participate in the first sham battle ever fought by negro soldiers. This is one reason why you should attend. There will also be a grand trades display, calithumpian parade and fireworks. There will be cheap rates on all railroads. Special advantages will be granted all who present this card and it will pay all ministers to sign across the back of the card." [Card held by the Library was not signed]. 
"There will be mass meetings in this city on Wednesday and Thursday of the white Fairweek and at other stated times until Dec. 12th. Trusting this to meet your approval, I am, sincerely yours, Rev. J. H. Williams, President."

Now I am so excited to look for resources that may exist where I can learn more about the Colored State Fair.  I decided to begin my search with Google. I have so far found an advertisement about the South Carolina Colored Stated Fair on October 23th, 1948.  My grandfather and my mother would have been in attendance.  I need to check, but I think I remember something about my grandmother Otis entering things too:

I learned that the first Colored Fair ever held in the state opened in Columbia in 1890:

Harper's book of facts: a classified history of the world;
embracing science ...

edited by Charlton Thomas Lewis, Joseph H. Willsey

Next, I ran upon a document containing information about the Colored State Fair Grounds:
Resources Associated with Segregation in Columbia, South Carolina, 1880-1960  In searching for the section that provides information on the Colored State Fair Grounds, I noticed it contained information about the Klu Klux Klan, Jim Crow, and the victimization of African Americans.  It seems we will not be able to avoid trudging through it, even while we are researching an event that would have brought entertainment and joy to our families.  That is sad isn't it?  

I am at least glad my family had an alternative and were able to have a fair for their community.  For now, I will stop and prepare myself for the mixed emotions that will arise as I try to find documentation of my family at the Colored State Fair in South Carolina.  I will keep you posted.

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