African American News and Genealogy

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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Black families celebrate heritage, history

By KAREN WILKINSON ROSLYN -- More than 100 years after relocating to Roslyn, black families continue to celebrate their heritage and freedom. Kanashibushan, a 72-year-old black Roslyn resident, descends from the Craven family, which relocated from Richmond, Va., to the coal mining community in 1888.At the time the Eastern European and white miners' labor union, Knights of Labor, was striking for safer working conditions, better hours and higher pay. Blacks were brought in by train, unbeknownst to them, as strike breakers in August 1888 by the Northern Pacific Coal Co. For two years they were forced to live in the nearby town of Ronald.A year later black families in the area celebrated the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation signing, which freed slaves in rebellious states during the Civil War, by having a picnic to mark the event. It was called the Emancipation Proclamation Celebration Picnic at the time. Today it's known as the Roslyn Black Pioneer Picnic.More than 200 people from across the country are anticipated to attend the annual celebration on Aug. 6 at Roslyn City Park. The picnic is open to the public and starts at noon.Kanashibushan said the highest attendance the picnic has seen was 400 and the lowest was 200. She has family traveling from Georgia for the event. Kanashibushan said there was a time when a diverse crowd enjoyed the picnic, but it's become less multicultural over time."There are very few whites that come to the picnic," she said, noting that in the 1930s more made an effort to attend.Activities for the day include barbecuing and enjoying the potluck, running matches for children, sharing stories and family heritage and playing games."It's very important to our family I feel," Kanashibushan said.The picnic itself won't mend relations between whites and blacks, Kanashibushan said. But it's a good place to start dialogue.Kanashibushan, who was born in 1933, said racism has become more subtle over the years."It's still the same way and it's sliding backward with the economy," she said. "When the economy goes down racism goes up."Growing up and living in a predominantly white town has been challenging, she said."What's sad is I have to raise my children and grandchildren the same way my grandmother trained me -- you've got to do better and you've got to work harder,"

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Blacks Pin Hope on DNA to Fill Slavery's Gaps in Family Trees

By AMY HARMON Published: July 25, 2005 All her life, Rachel Fair has been teased by other black Americans about her light skin. "High yellow," they call her, a needling reference to the legacy of a slave owner who, she says, "went down to that cabin and had what he wanted." So it was especially satisfying for Ms. Fair, 64, when a recent DNA test suggested that her mother's African ancestry traced nearly to the root of the human family tree, which originated there 150,000 years ago. "More white is showing in the color, but underneath, I'm deepest Africa," said Ms. Fair, a retired parks supervisor in Cincinnati. "I tell my friends they're kind of Johnny-come-latelies on the DNA scale, so back up, back up." Ms. Fair is one of thousands of African-Americans who have scraped cells from their inner cheeks and paid a growing group of laboratories to learn more about a family history once thought permanently obscured by slavery. They are seeking answers to questions about their family lineages in the antebellum South - whether black, white or Native American - and about distant forebears in Africa. The DNA tests are fueling the biggest surge in African-American genealogy since Alex Haley's 1976 novel, "Roots," inspired a generation to try to trace their ancestors back to Africa. For those who have spent decades poring over plantation records that did not list slaves by surname and ship manifests that did not list where they came from, the idea that the key lies in their own bodies is a powerful one. But the joy that often accompanies the answers from the tests is frequently tempered by the unexpected questions they raise. African-Americans say the tests can make the ugliness of slavery more palpable and leave the hunger for heritage unsatisfied. Some are unsure what to make of the new information about far-away kin, or how to account for genes that undermine a racial identity they have long internalized. The interest in using genetics to construct a family tree comes despite warnings from scientists that the necessary tools to tell African-Americans what many want to know the most - precisely where in Africa their ancestors lived and what tribal group they belonged to - are still unreliable. The most that blacks who use DNA tests can hope to learn now is that their genetic signature matches that of contemporary Africans from a given tribe or region from a DNA database that is far from complete. To assign an ancestral identity based on that match is highly suspect, scientists say; a group whose DNA has not been sampled may be a more precise match, or the person might match with several groups because of migration or tribal mixing. Each test can also trace only one line of a person's many thousands of ancestors, making the results far more murky than the promise held out by some testing companies. Still, the popularity of the DNA tests seems a testament to the unremitting craving for a story of origin. However flawed or scientifically questionable, the results provide the only clue many African-Americans have to the history and traditions that members of other American ethnic groups whose immigration was voluntary tend to take for granted. "There's just something about knowing something after years of thinking it was impossible to know anything," said Melvin Collier, 32, a black student at Clark Atlanta University who recently learned that his DNA matches that of the Fulani people of Cameroon. "It's still pretty overwhelming." Some African-Americans, more interested in searching out recent relatives who in many cases can be dependably identified with a DNA match, are asking whites whom they have long suspected are cousins to take a DNA test. And in a genetic bingo game that is delivering increasing returns as people of all ethnicities engage in DNA genealogy, some are typing their results into public databases on the Internet and finding a match that no paper trail would have revealed. "I've been sitting here for years with nothing left to try and then, boom, this brand new thing," said B. J. Smothers, a retired urban planner in Stone Mountain, Ga., who says the results of a DNA test have brought her closer than she had ever been to discovering the identity of her father's grandfather. "DNA is our last hope." Ms. Smothers's father, 88, knew that his father was born a slave in Wilcox County, Ala., but the DNA test showed that he has a European paternal ancestry, a result shared by nearly a third of African-Americans who take the test. The news was not exactly a surprise. But as eager as she is to discover the identity of her great-grandfather, Ms. Smothers is also bracing for a wave of new anger. "I am kind of preparing myself for what I am going to feel when I find the family, when it's real," she said. She regularly looks for matches to her father's DNA in the online databases where amateur genealogists publish their genetic identities along with more prosaic contact information. Some day, she is certain, she will find a match that will lead to her white relatives. Family reunions via DNA are not always warm affairs. When Trevis Hawkins, 37, a black oncology nurse from Montgomery, Ala., e-mailed a white man with the same surname whose DNA matched his this year, the man seemed excited. But after Mr. Hawkins gave him the address to his family Web site, which includes pictures, he never heard from him again. One African-American, upon confirming a match with a white man whose ancestors had owned his, told him he owed reparations and could start by paying for the test, said Bennett Greenspan, chief executive of Family Tree DNA, which offers tests for $129 and up. But Charles Larkins, whose great-grandmother was a slave, says proving or disproving his suspicion that her owner was his great-grandfather would be cathartic. Mr. Larkins recently e-mailed Hayes Larkins, the slave owner's white great-grandson, to ask whether he would take the DNA test. Because the Y chromosome, which determines maleness, is passed virtually unchanged from father to son, scientists can use it to determine whether two men share a common ancestor. "I'm not going to be like the Jefferson descendants, denying anything happened," Hayes Larkins said, referring to a 1998 DNA test that indicated that Thomas Jefferson had fathered at least one child with his slave Sally Hemings, which his white family had denied. The two Mr. Larkins are waiting for the results to arrive. For Nickesha Sanders, who already knew her great-great-grandfather was a white slave owner in Tennessee, the appeal of the DNA test was the promise of a link to Africa. "I wanted to be able to connect to my history before slavery," said Ms. Sanders, 26, a student at Texas Southern University. "I wanted it to be more than, the boat stopped at the shores, then slavery, emancipation, civil rights, all that struggle." To find out about her maternal ancestors, Ms. Sanders paid $349 for a test that analyzes mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on largely intact from mothers to their children and serves a similar purpose as the Y chromosome for scientists tracing ancestry. The results, from a Washington company, African Ancestry, indicated that Ms. Sanders shared a genetic profile with members of the Kru people of Liberia, who, she was pleased to learn, were known for inciting slave rebellions. But the news did not mean as much to her grandmother, who had hoped to find proof of the American Indian blood she had always been told ran in the family, a frequent quest for African-Americans taking the tests. The results have propelled some test-takers to plan visits to their newly adopted homelands and to find others here who have been told they share the same ancestry. In online discussion forums, African-Americans with the same DNA test results call each other "cousin." After a lifetime of knowing only that their family came from Africa, some liken the new association to adopted children finding their birth mother. "Africa is not a country; it's a continent," said LaVerne Nichols Hunter, a retired mathematics teacher in Pittsburgh, whose DNA test results placed her ancestors in Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Liberia. But if DNA test-takers are making too much family history out of too little genetic information, social scientists say, it is not a phenomenon unique to the new technology. "Identity is a process," said Alondra Nelson, a sociologist at Yale who studies the intersection of race and genetics. "Narratives and stories about family and kinship are always to some extent people making meaning out of their experiences with whatever tools they have." When a radio host in Chicago revealed at a Kwanzaa festival last year that he was of Mende descent, several attendees who had received the same DNA result gathered to trade notes, a moment some said they found especially meaningful because slave owners made a point of separating Africans from the same tribes to prevent them from communicating. But Kwame Bandele has learned enough about the civil war in Liberia, which the tribe his paternal DNA test identified is involved in, to feel deeply troubled by the kinship. A manager at General Electric, Mr. Bandele has tried to persuade the company to provide ultrasound machines for pregnant women in refugee camps. He sends out e-mail with news about the war to friends, but feels he should be doing more. "There was a massacre with machetes the other night," he said. "My people are in bad shape." Ray Winbush, a psychology professor at Morgan State University, said being told that his ancestors hailed from the Takar people of Cameroon served to underscore his disconnectedness, both from an ancestral tribe he knows little about and from an American society that can still be a hostile place for African-Americans. "It's like being lost and found at the same time," Mr. Winbush said.

Monday, July 25, 2005

PBS greenlights 'African American Lives'

LOS ANGELES July 20, 2005 12:11:36 AM IST PBS, the U.S. public television network, has announced the production of a four-hour documentary called African-American Lives. The project's co-producers are Channel Thirteen/WNET New York and Kunhardt Productions. Executive producer, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., will host, Variety reports. The series to be aired during Black History Month in February will profile accomplished African-Americans, using genealogy and DNA to trace their roots from Africa to America, Variety said. Gates will narrate the subjects' day-to-day lives and scientists will delve into their family histories.(UPI)

Southern heritage tourism luring a growing market of black Americans

By Dionne Walker, Associated Press FARMVILLE, Va. — For years, students crammed shoulder to shoulder into Robert R. Moton High School, holding overflow classes in tarpaper shanties and even school buses — all in the name of segregated education. Finally on April 23, 1951, the black students organized a walkout. They would later join a handful of schools included in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing school segregation. That bit of civil rights history draws about 1,000 visitors a year to a modest museum at the school. Travel industry experts say it's an example of the kind of historical sites Southern states are promoting as they ride a wave of black tourism. It's called heritage tourism, the trend of transforming the annual family vacation into a cultural history lesson. "It's the second-fastest-growing market segment of tourism," said Rich Harrill, director of the University of South Carolina's Institute for Tourism Research. He listed nature-based tourism as No. 1. It's particularly popular among increasingly middle-class black Americans. Roughly 1.3 million black-headed households earned at least $50,000 a year in 1989, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number increased to more than 3 million by 1999, the most recent numbers compiled. The result is about $30.5 billion in black tourist spending annually, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. It estimates black travel volume increased about 4% from 2000 to 2002, compared to 2% for overall travel. Consciousness, not just cash, plays a role, said Angela da Silva, owner of the National Black Tourism Network in St. Louis. "For so long, our heritage was stripped from us," she said. "There's so many more different angles of the truth coming to light." Da Silva said black tourists are willing to wade through the pain of visiting some of the centers of bigotry to reconnect with their ancestry. "We go there because this was the seat of our history," da Silva said. "It's the same reason why Jews go to Holocaust sites — it's to get in touch." Travel industry officials say Southern states need to pay attention to preserving important black landmarks and cultural areas such as the parts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida that were settled by slave descendants. They'll also have to redefine themselves for a savvy class of tourists, repackaging their offerings and going beyond the same old slave tales. Tennessee has focused on upping its black appeal and proving it's more than just the capital of country music. The state vacation guide mentions everything from galleries at historically black Fisk University in Nashville to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Tourism officials are also a year into an advertising campaign with two spokespeople: country music icon Dolly Parton and soul singer Isaac Hayes. "By having him as part of that campaign, we think that makes a bold statement for inclusiveness for the entire state," said Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, assistant commissioner of marketing with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. Other attractions are getting creative as they vie for black tourist attention. A mainstay in Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg recently added a new tool in its attempts to freshen history. Great Hopes Plantation replicates an 18th century, middle-income plantation complete with black field slaves and a tiny slave dwelling. It's touted as a more hands-on approach than older slavery representations at Williamsburg. And black tourists are intrigued, said Jason Gordon, a black interpreter at Williamsburg. "They want to know the realities," he said, as he watched site supervisor Robert Watson Jr. direct a tourist group planting gourd seeds in a mock slave garden. "They don't want it sugar-coated." Virginia officials, meanwhile, are revamping their black heritage guide to places such as the Richmond home of pioneering businesswoman Maggie L. Walker and the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County. Since May 2004, the Virginia Tourism Corporation has spent more than $300,000 trying to reach the black market, according to public relations manager Anedra Bourne. For some states, da Silva said, winning over black travelers will also mean changing the negative image that keeps some would-be tourists away. With the most stinging visions of the segregationist South centered in its cities, Alabama knows that challenge well. Lee Sentell, director of the state Bureau of Tourism and Travel, said officials in that state were the first to distribute a black heritage guide in 1983. This summer, they will roll out a 24-page booklet titled "The Alabama Civil Rights Museum Trail." Almost a museum a year is opening in Montgomery, Sentell said, pointing to the year-old Dexter Parsonage Museum, and the Civil Rights Memorial Center, due to open in October. "People are drawn to sites where history was made," he said. "It becomes much more real." Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hadley may have been first public park for blacks

93-year-old facility is steeped in history What is the history of Hadley Park? — Michelle Matthews, Nashville. Nashville Mayor Hilary Howse opened the park on July 4, 1912. It was a day of "threatening clouds" but a jubilant one for the city's African-Americans gathered for the event. Howse was standing on the porch of the mansion of a former slave plantation. On the same spot 39 years earlier, freed Nashville slaves had listened to Frederick Douglass, the noted abolitionist lecturer and writer. Douglass (1818-1895) was invited to make the 1873 visit by the Nashville plantation's owner, John L. Hadley. Although a former slaveholder, Hadley was intent on helping his freed slaves adapt to their new status as productive citizens. The white-haired Douglass even sat for a photo portrait by Nashville's German-American photographer Carl C. Giers. Mayor Howse (1866-1938), a Democrat and social reformer dedicated to uniting Nashville's ethnic communities, was in his element at the 1912 dedication. He promised the Hadley Park crowd of a few hundred a "fair and square deal" for all races by his administration. While Howse described it as the first public park anywhere for blacks, modern-day Nashville parks historian Leland R. Johnson wrote that the statement was true at least for Tennessee and probably even for the South. Earlier, Nashville's African-Americans had enjoyed the privately developed Greenwood Park adjacent to Greenwood Cemetery. Preston Taylor, a Nashville businessman and former slave, established that park in 1905. Hadley Park's name may have come from ex-slaveholder John L. Hadley, part of whose plantation was later transformed into the current Tennessee State University. But the source of the naming is unclear. Johnson considered John Hadley likely but left open the possibility that the name came from Dr. W.A. Hadley, a black Nashville physician. Dr. Hadley had helped with the 1897 Tennessee Centennial alongside the event's "director general," Maj. E.C. Lewis. Lewis conceived the idea for Nashville's Parthenon and named Hadley Park in his later role heading Nashville's parks board. Stone columns at the main entrance of the 34-acre park list Davidson County's black soldiers who died in World War I. They were installed as a part of a Depression-era Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s. During World War II, black soldiers here for practice maneuvers were furnished with shower facilities at the park. Later, it also had a swimming pool that was widely popular. In January 1949, then-Mayor Thomas L. Cummings dedicated a new park community building. During more recent times, Hadley Park, at 28th Avenue North and Jefferson Street, was noted for an ambitious series of about 13 concerts held annually each summer from 1959 throughout the 1960s. They ranged from jazz to gospel to opera arias by Verdi. Many featured young "discovery" performers rated by the audience. Don Q. Pullen, the master of ceremonies and a frequent performer himself, was the host and organizer. Events over the years also included such well-known musicians as Grand Ole Opry legend DeFord Bailey in 1970 and W.O. Smith in 1968. In July 1978, Hadley Park hosted the first newly permitted political rally in a city park — for ultimately unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Jake Butcher.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Historical donation

DADE CITY - A 102-year-old worship hall owned by the local Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church congregation soon will join other historic buildings at Pioneer Florida Museum and Village, giving the museum its first showcase piece of regional black history. "I think it's a wonderful idea," said the Rev. Cora E. Hill, who has been a member of the congregation for 70 of her 76 years. "Most of our history is lost. It will be one piece of history that younger people can go back and visit." Scott Black, a museum trustee and Dade City commissioner, is equally excited: "I think it's going to be an ideal addition to the museum collection of buildings. We have needed, for some time, to reflect the black community." The church congregation has wanted for at least a couple of years to donate its fellowship hall, a wood-frame building next to its white brick sanctuary at 14440 N. Seventh St. The stumbling block was finding the cash to relocate the building to museum grounds, just north of the city on U.S. 301. The museum recently learned it qualified for a $21,500 historic preservation grant from the state to help with the costs of moving and restoring the hall. The actual move probably will start in the fall, said the Rev. Cedric E. Cuthbert, who became the congregation's pastor in May. A previous pastor, the Rev. Nathan Mugala, first suggested the idea of donating the old fellowship hall. The congregation worships in the larger, also historically significant, white brick sanctuary on Seventh Street, and needs the room for a modern fellowship hall. Still, "it didn't make sense to destroy" the fellowship hall, Cuthbert said. It simply breathes history. The hall was constructed in 1903 by congregation members, local records indicate. At the time, the church had 29 congregants. In 1884, the local congregation began receiving visits from itinerant ministers assigned to a circuit encompassing Dade City. The preacher would visit church members in a community known as Freedtown, which sat about four miles south of Dade City and was settled in 1869 by newly freed slaves, according to local research conducted by Black. A citrus freeze in 1894-95 created economic havoc, and residents abandoned Freedtown, moving north to Dade City. Nothing remains of the settlement. It's not clear when former Freedtown residents started their own congregation of the Mount Zion AME Church in Dade City, but records show the congregation was active by at least 1901. The congregation expanded as Dade City's fortunes improved after World War I, and a new sanctuary was needed. The church building, a white masonry structure noted for its stained-glass windows, was dedicated in 1920. The original fellowship hall then was used for meetings. From her childhood, Hill remembers overnight prayer sessions held in that hall. "We would go there for pray-ins and stay around the night, either when there were hard times or you were wanting more of the spirit available to you," she recalled. "You would go there to rekindle yourself." Later, the building became a parsonage and office with electricity. Wood paneling and linoleum were installed over the pine board walls and floors. Those coverings will be stripped away, and the hall will be restored to its original state after the move. Over time, the museum hopes to gather historical items from the area and display them in the hall. Black hopes it can be a center for genealogical research as well. Others interested in history agree the donation of the fellowship hall could signal a turning point. "The reality has been, until very recently, there has been no public support for black history in Florida, until the most recent generations," said Canter Brown Jr., a history professor at Florida A&M University and co-author of two books on the development of the AME Church in Florida. "In order to perpetuate the social system in place, the state actively repressed the most valuable parts of black history," he said. "That doesn't mean there isn't exciting stuff to be found," he said. "There is." Reporter Jo-Ann Johnston can be reached at (352) 521-3062. ABOUT AME CHURCH FOUNDED: 1787 in Philadelphia when discrimination prompted some black congregants to withdraw from a Methodist Episcopal church and create an independent denomination REFORMIST PROFILE: Known for its work in the antislavery movement; later, promoting civil rights and social action to help the poor and homeless. Women first began taking leadership roles in the 1890s. DADE CITY'S CONGREGATION: About 180 members, average church service attendance about 70. E-mail address is Source: Tampa Tribune research

Friday, July 15, 2005

Reparations suit dismissed again

By Rudolph BushTribune staff reporterPublished July 6, 2005, 8:55 PM CDT A federal judge dismissed a wide-ranging reparations lawsuit brought by descendants of slaves, concluding Wednesday that the courts are not the place to correct centuries-old wrongs inflicted on millions of people.U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle's ruling all but closed the door on the reparations movement's most aggressive and wide-ranging effort to date to win compensation through the courts, narrowing future legal options and pushing the debate toward the political arena.But supporters of the reparations cause said it only increased their determination."In the scope of how these things go, it's something you deal with," said Roger Wareham, a Brooklyn attorney and reparations activist who represented two plaintiffs in the case. "We see this as the groundwork."The lawsuit was a combination of several separate cases brought by descendants of slaves seeking monetary damages from modern-day corporations with historical ties to businesses the plaintiffs said had profited from slavery. Eventually the suit named 17 major corporations as defendants, with 19 plaintiffs.Norgle first dismissed the suit in 2004 but permitted the plaintiffs to file an amended version.Wednesday's dismissal is final, however, and can only be appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the plaintiffs will have much narrower avenues to revive their case. That appeal will come soon, plaintiffs' attorneys said.Although the defendants amended parts of their original complaint, Norgle concluded the new version wasn't materially different, and his ruling largely tracked with his earlier decision.He noted again that the defendants had no standing to bring claims for damages that occurred as a result of slavery, that several statutes of limitations had run out, and that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a specific connection between themselves and the defendants.The plaintiffs, who come from across the country, included not only descendants of slaves, but also living individuals who claimed to be actual slaves as late as the mid-20th Century.Among them was a 104-year-old Louisiana man who the suit contended lived with his family in a slave hut as late as the 1960s.Such an inclusion was important, as the court insisted the plaintiffs show they incurred direct injuries as a result of slavery.The Louisiana man's presence in the suit did not alter the outcome, however, as Norgle ruled plaintiffs "fail to allege they were enslaved by any of the named defendants."The plaintiffs alleged that the companies--including such well-known brands as Aetna Insurance, Brown and Williamson Tobacco, CSX and Lehman Brothers--once profited unjustly from the slave trade.Those corporations requested the case be dismissed on several grounds, among them that the plaintiffs couldn't cite specific personal damages connected to the companies.Norgle's 104-page ruling agreed largely with the corporations' arguments, said Andrew McGaan, who represents Brown and Williamson and was the lead defense attorney in the case.The exhaustive ruling tracked the history of the American slave trade, the nation's descent into the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the enduring pain of slavery's legacy and the ongoing reparations movement."It is beyond doubt that slavery has caused tremendous suffering and ineliminable scars throughout our nation's history," Norgle wrote. "No reasonable person can fail to recognize the malignant impact, in body and spirit, on the millions of human beings held as slaves in the United States."But the claims of the plaintiffs "are beyond the constitutional authority of this court," he wrote.The issue of reparations "has been historically and constitutionally committed to the legislative and executive branches of our government," he wrote. Neither side in the dispute was surprised by the ruling. Evanston attorney Lionel Jean-Baptiste, who represented two Illinois descendants of slaves, said that Norgle was always expected to "maintain the status quo."While the reparations movement has earned considerable publicity in recent years, some question whether such legal battles are a wise or effective course.Jeremy Levitt, a law professor at Florida International University who has written about reparations, said the courts are not equipped to deal with the question of slave reparations."There are just too many legal barriers for a successful claim to be mounted," he said. "The most viable venue would have to be the U.S. legislative branch."Wareham said that legal and political battles must go hand in hand, however."They work together; they can't be seen as separate," he said. "We see that the cases we have filed have helped push the movement, and the movement has helped advance the cases."

Alex Haley's immaculate roots

Posted: July 1, 20051:00 a.m. EasternEditor's note: The following commentary is excerpted from Jack Cashill's eye-opening new book, "Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture," where he shows how, over the last century, "progressive" writers and producers have been using falsehood and fraud as their primary weapons in their attack on America. © 2005 Alex Haley's "Roots: The Saga of an American Family," first published in 1976, generated extraordinary reviews and spectacular sales, here and abroad. The mini-series based on the book captured more viewers than any series before it. And Haley won a special Pulitzer Prize for telling the true story of a black family from its origins in Africa through seven generations to the present day in America. The only problem is that the book was a fraud from beginning to end, Working backward through the book, Haley decides to trace his family's heritage to its African roots. All that he has to guide him are the tales his grandmother and great aunts have told him about "the farthest-back person" they could recall, "the African." According to his relatives, the African's master had called him "Toby" after he first arrived by ship in "Naplis." Proud and defiant, Toby continued to call himself "Kin-tay." In time, Toby had a little girl named "Kizzy." Kizzy remembered that her father used to call a guitar a "Ko" and a nearby river the "Kamby Bolongo." Working from little more than this and the names of Kizzy's descendants, Haley finds his way back to the Gambia River, or "Kamby Bolongo." Here he learns firsthand from an old-time "griot," the true story of his own ancestor, Kunta Kinte. For full story click on the title

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Fugitive preferred death over slavery

By Owen Findsen The Cincinnati Enquirer The following is a story from the Enquirer archives. Margaret Garner sat in the courtroom with her head downcast. "During the trial she would look up occasionally, for an instant, with a timid, apprehensive glance at the strange faces around her, but her eyes were generally cast down," Cincinnatian Levi Coffin recalled. Mr. Coffin was the so-called president of the Underground Railroad. The young fugitive had cut the throat of her 3-year-old daughter rather than see her returned to slavery. A coroner's jury in Cincinnati charged her with murder. Her husband, Simon, and his parents, Simon and Mary, were charged with accessories to murder. This was not a murder trial. The Garner family, including Margaret's two sons, 4 and 6 years old, and her 9-month-old baby, were brought before U.S. Commissioner John L. Pendery to determine if they should be returned to slavery under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. The claimants were Kentucky slave owners Archibald Gaines, owner of Margaret and her children, and James Marshall, owner of her husband and his parents. Margaret wore a dark calico dress with a white handkerchief at the neck and a yellow handkerchief wrapped around her head like a turban. She held her baby in her arms. "The babe continually fondled her face with its little hands but she barely noticed it, and her general expression was one of sadness. The little boys, 4 and 6 years old...sat on the floor near their mother, playing together in happy innocence," Mr. Coffin wrote in Reminiscences of Levi Coffin (Robert Clark Co.; 1876). Every day, crowds lined the streets as the Garners were brought by omnibus from the jail to the court. Free African-Americans waved handkerchiefs, cheered, sang songs of freedom and taunted the marshals, who were pro-slavery Kentuckians deputized to prevent rescue efforts. John J. Jolliffe, Cincinnati's most active anti-slavery attorney, represented the fugitives with his partner James Gitchell. They called for a writ of habeas corpus for the Hamilton County sheriff to take the prisoners away from the federal marshal, to be tried by the state of Ohio for murder. Although that meant that Margaret Garner would probably hang, it would strike a blow against the Fugitive Slave Law. "My father sent me to look after these slaves," said 19-year-old William Marshall, son of slave owner James Marshall. William said he had grown up with Margaret's husband and considered him "more of a companion than a slave. If money can save him from the effect of any rash act he has committed, I am willing to give it in any amount." "These people would go singing to the gallows rather than go back into slavery," Mr. Jolliffe said. "The mother of these children, rather than permit them to be returned into bondage, would murder them with her own hands. Yes, she would imbue her hands in the blood of her children and go to the gallows joyfully, rather than permit them to be taken back to Kentucky." "I would rather go there myself than go into slavery," replied Col. Francis Chambers, representing the slaveholders. "But I would rather take a chance of a slide on the Underground Railway than consent, just at this particular time, to go singing or any other way to the gallows." Mary Garner testified that she was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Cincinnati and had been permitted to cross the river to attend church services. The men also cited instances when they had been sent or taken to Cincinnati. Mr. Jolliffe said that by allowing their slaves to come freely to Ohio, where slavery was illegal, the owners had effectively given them their freedom. Children of freed slaves were likewise free. The claimants replied that the slaves had escaped on the night that Margaret had killed her child. As each witness was called, Mr. Jolliffe questioned them about the killing of the 3-year-old, but the claimants' attorneys objected that "the fact of the death of any of these persons could not be material to the decision of this case." It also was immaterial whether the fugitives were in Ohio or Kentucky, said John W. Finnell, an attorney for the slave owners. "We are now above the soil of Ohio and surrounded by the aegis of the United States Union. We are as much on the soil of Kentucky at present as we are on the soil of Ohio, and the laws of the Union override those of Ohio as well as those of Kentucky. If these persons are entitled to their freedom, I for one say let them have it; but if they are slaves, I say let them be returned to their owners without delay." The trial lasted from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14, 1856, and was reported in newspapers across the nation. When the attorneys presented their closing arguments, all America was listening.The information in this story came from the Enquirer, editions of Jan. 29 and 30, 1856.

Senate Lynching Apology: The Hypocrisy and the Horror

Revolution #008, July 17, 2005, posted at Recently the U.S. Senate passed a “resolution” apologizing “to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation.” Of course, there was a hitch: Bill Frist, the leader of the Senate, refused to put who did—and did not—vote for it in the written record. And some eight Republican senators still refused to support the apology! On one hand this “apology,” and the way it was carried forward by the Senate represents a self- exposure of this system and the way it operates. After all this time these suckers still can’t get together around any real apology for the whole history of lynching of mainly Black people in the U.S. Let alone change the actual oppressive conditions of the people. On the other hand this “apology,” coming now, reveals some deeper lessons about forms of oppression and subjugation in U.S. history. The resolution for the apology was originally sponsored by two Senators after viewing the book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, which shows pictures and even postcards that were made of lynchings. The book grew out of an exhibit of those postcards and pictures, and not too long after hearing about this so- called apology I went to check out this exhibit with a friend. **** On the postcard picture a small white x showed the spot where William James, a Black man, had been lynched. He was hung from a steel arch in Cairo, Illinois on November 9, 1909. Bright light illuminated the steel arch so that everyone in the town could see his body. After William James died his corpse was pulled down and dragged around while a racist white mob cheered. Then members of the crowd severed his head and put it on a wood pole. They removed his organs so they could use them as souvenirs. And finally the remains of his body were set on fire. This was one of the first stories I encountered at this exhibit, but it was far from the most gruesome. In many of the pictures and postcards there are crowds of white people cheering and grinning. Some have little children smiling up at the burnt corpse, standing with their family and dressed up in their Sunday best. These pictures and postcards were sold as souvenirs. What made this all the more disgusting and appalling were the notes written on the postcard pictures of lynched people. One postcard showed a crowd standing around a burnt Black man, hanging from a tree, and read, “This is the barbeque we had last night, my picture is to the left with the cross over it. Your son Joe.” According to the book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, “Between 1882 and 1968, an estimated 4,742 blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs. As many if not more blacks were victims of legal lynchings (speedy trials and executions), private white violence, and ’nigger hunts,’ murdered by a variety of means in isolated rural sections and dumped into rivers and creeks.” These lynchings were officially and unofficially sanctioned by and often led by sheriffs, politicians, and clergy. In response to this, an anti-lynching movement developed in the North and to a degree in the South. Ida B. Wells, an ex-slave, journalist, and anti-lynching crusader, exposed the horrendous nature of lynchings. She, together with W.E.B. Dubois and others, mounted a mass campaign which put anti-lynching legislation as their top priority. And some 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress. None passed. Why this is so is never explained in the Senate’s apology. “But Why Didn’t They Send In the Army?” The exhibit included a book where people could write their comments after viewing the photos and reading the horrific stories. One page contained the following, in the handwriting of a child: “Why didn’t they just send in the army to stop this?” Damn good question. After the Civil War, from 1865 to 1877, the Union Army did remain in the South. This was the period of Reconstruction. Freed Blacks and poor whites seized lands and began farming. Former southern plantation owners, defeated in the war, were largely held at bay by the Union Army. Changes and reforms also happened in the political superstructure. Blacks were not only able to vote but also ran for and were elected to political office. But, as Chairman Avakian points out in his essay How This System Has Betrayed Black People: Crucial Turning Points, “In 1877, all this was reversed and betrayed. The bourgeoisie had gotten what it needed out of this situation: it had consolidated its hold over the country as a whole; it had consolidated its dominant position economically and politically within the South as well as the North and West.” The old plantation owners used their control of the plantations to force millions of Black people into sharecropping and serf-like conditions. And in 1877 the Union Army was withdrawn from the South. The answer to the question, then, is this: They—the bourgeoisie, or ruling class of capitalists—“didn’t send in the army” because they had consciously decided to pull it out years before! Once the army was gone, a whole structure of Jim Crow laws codified the subjugated position of the Black masses. In the spread-out conditions of the rural South, the plantation owners relied on the massive terror of racist lynch mobs and the Ku Klux Klan to enforce those laws and that oppression. And that’s why they not only didn’t “send in the army,” but didn’t even pass a law to make lynching a federal crime: lynching was too important, too central, to the whole system of the oppression of Black people in the South, and to holding together the whole class structure of the United States, north as well as south. “I Wonder: Has Anything Really Changed?” Another comment written in the book at the end of the exhibit was from a young Black man. He said, “I’m a 24-year-old Black man. I found this exhibit very powerful and it made me remember stories I’ve heard from relatives who live down south. But then I wonder, has anything really changed? I still live with the harassment of the police and discrimination.” Think about the fact that this “apology” is coming long after lynching as such is no longer a significant form in which the oppression of Black people is carried out and enforced. The forms of exploitation and impoverishment have changed with the economic changes in this country, as the southern plantations were mechanized and many Black people moved from the rural south into the urban ghettos, north and south, to be exploited in the factories and other jobs, or kept unemployed. The corresponding forms of oppression have changed too. From lynching and Jim Crow, we’ve gone to pervasive police brutality, police murder, and massive imprisonment. Under capitalism, control over the poor and continued oppression of Black people takes the from of direct state terror by urban police forces. This is backed up by the army in times of massive rebellion against this oppression. There continues to be segregation and discrimination, massive impoverishment, exploitation and super- exploitation, and terror to back all this up. Some of the forms have changed, but the essential nature of the system has not. Nor will it until it is overthrown and something different is brought into being. **** All of this makes me wonder, when is the U.S. Senate going to apologize for the present-day terror? For Abner Louima, for Tyisha Miller, for Rodney King, for Amadou Diallo, for all the Black people and especially the youth who live with the constant fear of the present-day terror? And even lynching isn’t totally off the map. Just look at what happened in Howard Beach where three white racists recently attacked some Black men, for the second time in 20 years. Or who can forget James Byrd, lynched in Texas in the late 1990s? And what does it say about what kind of country this is, and what kind of system we live under, when this historical period in which most of these lynchings took place is not the whole story, but merely a chapter in an ongoing real-life book of horrors? From the horrors of the middle passage on the slave ships, to the selling of children and other atrocities during slavery time, through lynching and down to the present-day mass incarceration of Black youth—what does it say? Sorry, the lame fucking apology won’t cut it. And we don’t intend to, nor need to, wait another 50 years for a half-hearted apology for all the hell you put people through now. (Which won’t be delivered anyway.) We have a whole other kind of future in mind. This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolution Onlinehttp://revcom.usWrite: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497

Friday, July 08, 2005

WWII pilot to revisit site of Kentucky crash

Over Van Lear, Tuskegee pilot bailed out in '48By Lee MuellerEASTERN KENTUCKY BUREAU VAN LEAR - The last time Harry T. Stewart Jr. dropped in on Eastern-Kentucky, 9-year-old Callie Daniels looked up into a cold March sky in 1948 and mistook his billowing parachute for a white eagle. She yelled for her daddy, who came out just in time to see Stewart disappear over a hilltop behind his house. At about the same time, 5 air miles away, Loretta Lynn's little brother, Herman Webb -- riding in the bed of his father's pickup truck -- felt an explosion unlike any in the history of this Johnson County coal camp. Stewart's empty P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane sailed across Webb's family cemetery and crashed into a hilltop overlooking his now-famous homeplace on Butcher Hollow, leaving a crater 10 or 15 feet deep. Stewart, a decorated-member of the Tuskegee-Airmen, a famous all-black World War II fighter plane squadron, is coming back to Eastern Kentucky in August. This time, he will be riding in a car as the grand marshal in Van Lear's 20th annual Town Celebration on Aug. 6. "There's a couple of things left undone," said Stewart, 80, who now lives in Bloomfield, Mich. "One thing, I'd like to let the Lynn family know I didn't desecrate the family plot," he said wryly. "And two, I'd sure like to give special thanks to Callie for pointing out the white eagle." 'A mighty big bird' Callie Daniels Johnson, 67, of Hagerhill, a retired elementary school cook, says her memories of Stewart's plunge into her life are vague -- but she is certain of two things: It was the first time she ever saw a parachute or, for that matter, a black person. "I had no idea what it was," she said. "If it was a bird, I thought, it was a mighty big bird." It was her late father, Lafe Daniels, she said, who went searching for Stewart on horseback and found him beneath a rock cliff, with a broken leg. Daniels, then 38, put Stewart on his horse and took him to his wife, Mary, who cleaned and bandaged his wounds. Daniels eased Stewart's pain with a clear, all-purpose mountain remedy that Stewart had mistaken for water. The true story of the events of March 20, 1948, had been lost in local lore here until this year, when Danny Keith Blevins, a Johnson County teacher and president of the Van Lear Historical Society,-decided to track down the truth. He found Stewart, fresh from his first solo fight in a power glider across southern Michigan. "I'm very much alive," he e-mailed Blevins. Stewart laughed when Blevins told him that according to stories he heard growing up in Van Lear, the plane crash on Butcher Hollow occurred when the Air Force shot down a B-52 bomber that had been stolen by a black man. "They didn't even make B-52s in 1948," Stewart said. The real story, he said, is much more interesting. Prepare for take-off Stewart, who was born in Newport News, Va., on July 4, 1924, grew up in Queens in New York City and became-interested in aviation at an early age. African-Americans were barred from becoming fighter pilots until 1940, when-President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the Army Air Corps to form an all-black flying unit. After World War II began, Stewart, at 18, volunteered and applied for the Aviation Cadet Corps. He went through flight training at Tuskegee Army Field at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, quickly earned his wings and became a 19-year-old second lieutenant. Later, Stewart became a member of the 332nd Fighter Group in the 15th Air Force: the Tuskegee Airmen. The-pilots painted the tails of their planes red and emerged from the war as the only U.S. fighter group that never lost a bomber while escorting it to and from its target. Stewart flew 43 combat-missions over Europe, mostly escorting B-17 and B-24 bombers, and was credited with shooting down three-German fighters. He was awarded the Distinguished-Flying Cross and the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters. After the war, Stewart-became one of the first Top Gun instructors and in 1947 married Queens native Dephine Stewart at Lockbourne Air Force Base near Columbus, Ohio, after a 11/2-year courtship. (The couple had one daughter, Lori, who works as a technician on CBS' Survivor.) Cabin pressure The family was still living at Lockbourne in March 1948 when Stewart and four other Tuskegee Airmen began flying to Columbus from Shaw Air Force Base in Greenville, S.C., during simulated armed-reconnaissance. "We were flying in formation over Eastern Kentucky, passing through a thunderstorm, when I had engine failure at 20,000 feet," he said. "I rode the plane down to 10,000 feet, but I was still in the clouds, and I knew there were mountains in the area." Rather than risk plowing-into a hillside, Stewart said he decided to bail out of his-sputtering plane, something he'd never had to do before and hasn't done since. The P-47 did not have an ejection seat, Stewart said, so he slid the canopy back and took off his seat belt. "I trimmed the nose forward so that when I let go of the stick, the nose would dip and eject me forward," he said. "Unfortunately, the slipstream hit me and I flew back, hitting my left leg on the tail of the plane, breaking it in two places between the calf and ankle." Stewart was still in the clouds when his chute opened, he said. When he could see the ground, it was covered with a mountainous forest. Pilots hate bailing out over mountains, he said, because you never know what's waiting below. "Luckily, I landed in the top of a dead pine," he said. "My parachute bloused over the top of the tree while my body fell through the dead branches, which broke my fall." The parachute, draped over the tree, left him dangling 2 feet above the ground, Stewart said. "I'd lost my shoe on the leg I broke, which was bleeding profusely," he said. "I must have been in shock, because I remember wondering why I had got up that morning and put on one red sock and one brown one." The notion shook Stewart awake. He took off his white silk flying scarf and improvised a tourniquet for his bleeding leg. Then he began to wonder, seriously, how he was going to save himself. "Just then, I heard a voice from afar, yelling out, 'Hello, hello!'" Stewart said. "Of course, I replied with a frantic 'Hello!' of my own. I didn't want to take a chance on them not hearing me." Man 'n' the moonshine Years have blurred some-details, Stewart said. He remembers one man coming to his rescue; Callie Johnson says an older brother and maybe others accompanied her father. Stewart said Daniels got him on the horse and they rode down the hillside to Daniels' house, which was located near Odds -- then a post office at the head of Daniels Creek in-remote Johnson County, now a new subdivision across a four-lane highway (Ky. 3) from a federal prison. At some point, Daniels, who gave Stewart moonshine to numb the pain, put him back on the horse and rode him out of the hollow to the late Kennel Collins' store on the main road, which was mud and gravel. He was placed in a pickup truck and driven to the Paintsville Clinic. "The next thing I knew, they had washed me and put me in bed," Stewart said. The doctors gave him-morphine for his pain, Stewart said, and "the combination of moonshine and morphine put me in another world." "I remember people lined up outside the door to see this apparition, this phenomenon," Stewart said. The mayor came in and introduced himself, he said, and then the police chief, county sheriff and a reporter from The Paintsville Herald. Blevins said a story in the local paper about the crash on March 25, 1948, did not mention that the pilot was black. "I guess I caused a little bit of a commotion there," he said. "All in all, the townspeople seemed to be receptive to this apparition, so I still feel a debt of gratitude to the entire-community." About 1 a.m., someone from the Air Force base in Columbus arrived in Paintsville and-transported Stewart back to Ohio without any formal-goodbyes, he said. Dephine Stewart said she was not told her husband's plane had crashed until he arrived home. Scraps to souvenirs Stewart left active duty in 1950 but remained in the Air Force reserves and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He then earned an engineering degree from New York University, worked for Bechtel, the defense contractor, and later retired from American Natural-Resources Corp. "I had no idea what-happened to the plane until Danny told me this year,"-Stewart said. "He said it was scavenged." Wreckage was strewn all over the mountainside, Webb said, but by the time Air Force officials showed up to-investigate the crash site,-nearly every scrap of the-fighter plane was gone. At the time, Van Lear was still a busy coal camp of 5,000 people, built in 1912 by-Consolidation Coal Co. and named for Van Lear Black, an associate of Paintsville coal agent John C.C. Mayo. The road up Butcher Hollow, about a mile from town, was still mostly in the creek bed, Webb said, but area hillsides had been clear cut for mining-timbers, making it fairly easy to reach the crash site. "The whole town went up," said Jim Kelly of Prestonsburg, who was 7 at the time. One resident got there-almost too quickly. "I had eight .50-caliber-machine guns on that plane, and I understand some of the ammo exploded on impact," Stewart said. Not exactly on impact.-Farris Castle, a World War II veteran, had almost reached the site when the burning-bullets started exploding, Webb said. "He hid behind a rock-until the shooting stopped." Kelly remembers Doolittle Lynn -- Loretta Webb's-husband -- driving past him with the plane's propeller lashed to the side of his Jeep. The machine guns were-destroyed in the crash.-Neighborhood boys later picked up a sack full of unexploded shells, said Webb, who had a three-foot section of a steel-ammo belt hanging on his front porch for several years.-Military officials told his friends to get rid of their-machine-gun shells, Webb said, so they dropped them off the Van Lear bridge into the river. Finally, some residents hitched three little bank mules to the wreckage and hauled the entire plane off the hill, Webb said. Four men loaded it onto Kelly Butcher's big cattle truck and drove it to Ashland, where they sold it as scrap metal for $60 or $70, he said. Webb said he does not-remember what his sister Loretta was doing during the crash, but he said an uncle-later made rings out of the stainless steel nuts that came off the plane. One of Kennel Collins' daughters found Stewart's bloody silk flying scarf, washed it in a stream and still has it, Blevins said. Someone else claimed to have found the flyer's cap, which he had stowed in the plane. Another man said Stewart's missing shoe landed on his house, Webb said. "I look forward to meeting this guy," said Webb, who lives near the crash site. "I went up there the other day with a-metal detector and found-another shell." Reach Lee Mueller at (606) 789-4800, or e-mail

'What I Learned from Jackie Robinson'

July 5, 2005 -- As the nation prepares for the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game next week, interviews Carl Erskine, a teammate of Jackie Robinson's whose new book recounts stories of prejudice, bigotry — and hope. By Tom Owens for More than 50 years after he shared the field with other Brooklyn Dodgers, Carl Erskine still is going to bat for a teammate. Erskine's latest words were prompted by pitcher John Rocker, who complains he's still catching heat for a 1999 Sports Illustrated interview in which he said the Big Apple was blighted by gays, foreigners and AIDS. "I know that Hank (Aaron) and Jackie (Robinson) took a good deal of crap, but I guarantee it wasn't for six years," the now-minor leaguer protested. "How much am I supposed to take?" To that, Erskine responded, "You can't imagine it today." Rocker's outspoken antics hold no candle to Robinson's 1947 barrier-breaking integration of major league baseball. To help today's fans imagine that turbulent time, Erskine has written What I Learned from Jackie Robinson: a Teammate's Reflections On and Off the Field (McGraw-Hill, $19.95). The book was released this spring but hasn't garnered the attention many believe it deserves. First meeting In 1948, Erskine went to spring training uncertain of his future with Brooklyn. The minor league hurler auditioned once against the Dodgers starting lineup. He pitched admirably for more than three innings. Only one major leaguer spoke to Erskine afterward. "Hey, young man, I just wanted you to know that I faced you twice today and you won't be long for [minor] league," Robinson told Erskine. "You're going to be with us real soon!" "He didn't have to do it," Erskine remembered. "No one would have known if he hadn't spoken to me. He was just in his second year himself. He would never know what a boost he was, how much that encouragement meant to me." Robinson's prediction came true. Erskine became a Brooklyn teammate in 1948. The white pitcher and African American infielder formed an enduring friendship. Despite their closeness, Erskine admitted that the white Dodgers didn't comprehend the full challenge desegregation presented for Robinson. "We didn't see all the sides of it," he said. "We were all conscious. But we had a lot of focus on our own performances. The minor league system was huge (26 teams and nearly 800 players). If we didn't produce right away, we'd be replaced." The KKK vs. No. 42 White teammates faced the message of integration's importance quickly. Before a 1949 preseason exhibition game scheduled in Atlanta, the team faced Ku Klux Klan picketing and death threats. Robinson vowed to play. Erskine wrote that white teammate Gene Hermanski cut the tension. "Why don't we all wear 42 (Robinson's number)?" Hermanski quipped. "Then the nut won't know who to shoot at!" Early in the 1950 season, Erskine had a wake-up call about what Robinson went through every day. The day prior, pitcher Erskine left Brooklyn's Ebbets Field after a game. Seeing Jackie's wife Rachel and son waiting for him, Erskine stopped to chat. Robinson was grateful that a white player had publicly befriended his family outside the ballpark. He stunned Erskine by thanking him for the act. "It was chilling to hear a man thank me for just having a normal conversation," Erskine wrote. "It really made me reflect on what he was going through in his life." At the time, Erskine told Robinson not to thank him for what came naturally. Erskine said his racial tolerance began in childhood. "I grew up in Indiana with my good friend Johnny Wilson. He was black. We both knew we couldn't go together to the YMCA or public swimming pool. We didn't like it, but we accepted it," he remembered. "It's a no-brainer today. But America in the 1940s and '50s was so different. I wasn't a crusader. It's hard to imagine." A son's story In his book, Erskine eloquently compares the intolerance Robinson endured to the prejudice his own son experienced. Jimmy Erskine was born in 1959 with Down syndrome. Erskine chose to give up a post-baseball job as a New York City clothing company executive, in order to return to his Indiana hometown. Jimmy's struggles mirrored Jackie's, Erskine learned. "In both cases, society was not sensitive, equipped or ready to bring them into the mainstream," he said. "The hardest thing for anyone to know is that you aren't accepted, you aren't welcomed." Erskine knew the Robinsons had trouble getting a house in Connecticut where they wanted to live. Years later, there was resistance for a group home for special needs residents in Anderson, Ind. "No one wanted a group home close to where they lived," Erskine said. "Some resistance came from people I knew. Some people thought residents would be insane sex maniacs. It was painful to sit through so many meetings. I thought, 'Now I know how Jackie felt.'" Today, Erskine noted that his hometown hosts nine group homes. "Jackie and Jimmy represent those who have changed our lives for the better," Erskine wrote. "We have enriched ourselves by not rejecting but rather including those who are seemingly different, only to find out we are all in need of being treated with dignity." Tom Owens, a children's book author living in Central Iowa, is a frequent contributor to Contact us for permission to reprint this article. Please include the name of the article in your request. >> DO SOMETHING Read a sidebar by Tom Owens, offering more baseball tales from Carl Erskine. :: Read Carl Erskine's new book, What I Learned from Jackie Robinson. :: Learn about and support Special Olympics, the sports program that has welcomed Jimmy Erskine and more than 1.7 million competitors worldwide. >> DIG DEEPER The Jackie Robinson Foundation awards college scholarships to minority students. Learn more about the Robinson family's commitment to education.

Climbingthe family tree Organization helps with info hunt

July 7, 2005 It should have been simple. Paula Royster just needed a copy of her ill grandmother's birth certificate to get her transferred from a health-care facility in Texas to one in California. The search had her digging through attics, family Bibles and historical records in Texas, Virginia and Ohio, where she found family land once crossed by Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad. Eleven years later, she still hasn't found that birth certificate. But she did find a new passion for black genealogy. The search was tough, but Royster didn't want other researchers as passionate as she was to face the same brick walls. So she founded the Center for African American Genealogical Research Inc. This nonprofit organization, based in the Fredericksburg area, provides a free resource for black genealogical research. Royster, who also works as an administrator in Fairfax, has held genealogy workshops at her home in Spotsylvania and at the local library. Finding a permanent location for the center has been a challenge. The few facts Royster learned about her family background were fascinating. But finding them was mentally and financially exhausting. Copies of vital records and database fees weren't cheap. And after paying for access, she learned that few records existed for blacks before the end of the Civil War and slavery in 1865. In her grandmother's case, she figured that since she was born with a midwife, an official birth certificate either didn't exist or her grandmother wasn't born in Texas. She wasn't sure. She hit one stumbling block after another, but she had too many questions to stop. So she went further by talking to older relatives and walking through cemeteries, where rotting tombstones were the only proof of family members who official records say didn't exist. "For most African-Americans, a lot of our history is lost because it wasn't written down," she said. "Most of our history is oral, so we need to record what we know so that it can be available." It took a while, but Royster was able to trace her roots all the way back to Thornton James Alexander, her great-great-great-grandfather who was born a slave in Culpeper County in 1745. Her research showed he was freed in 1826, and bought nearly 800 acres of land in Ohio. Part of that land, Royster said, was used by Harriet Tubman to build the Underground Railroad, a secret route that slaves traveled on their way to freedom in Canada. Helping history hunters CAAGRI aims to provide a location for researchers to conduct in-depth black genealogical research, get computer training and participate in mentoring programs for at-risk youth. It hopes to also use genealogy to organize special projects that include preserving slave cemeteries and pairing young people with senior citizens to document their families' histories. The center is not only for black people, but the services do have an emphasis on black history. All information gathered from research will be recorded in a database and made available to locals and genealogists across the country interested in black history--for free. "The way we work is purely volunteer-based," Royster said. "The only way we will help someone with their search is if they help someone else. That's how we keep it free. In return, they have access to information that would otherwise cost more than $200 a year." Those charges come from fee-based Web sites that have Census records and official documents that date back as far as the 17th century. But the high costs may yield low results for black genealogists due to a number of challenges, Royster said. Prior to the Civil War, slaves were considered property. Their personal information--such as birthplaces, parents' names, and dates of marriages and deaths--were not always recorded. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves, but that freedom was not recorded until the next census came out in 1870. Freed slaves often chose a new name, which makes it harder to track down records, Royster said. And since most slaves were not allowed to read or write, few could spell their own names, allowing census takers to write whatever spelling they thought fit. Also, more than 400,000 blacks were free before the Civil War and may or may not have been accounted for in official records. The organization helps amateur researchers keep those things in mind, Royster said. Other area residents involved with CAAGRI include James Spady, a history and American Studies adjunct at the University of Mary Washington; Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, author of a book on black history in the Fredericksburg area; and John Hennessey, chief historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.Location, location, location? Royster has done research with clients from her home and held workshops at the local library because CAAGRI can't find office space in the area. They have the equipment and the servers, but do not have a physical address--which is needed to get government funding and to set up computer stations. "We're in a Catch-22 in that we don't have funding to get the program started because we don't have a facility," Royster said. "We are looking for someone to donate space to us until we get funding to move to larger space." CAAGRI held its first workshop two weeks ago at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in downtown Fredericksburg, where a few locals came to learn how to find family and community history. City Councilman Matt Kelly attended the workshop. He has been the liaison between Royster and area developers to help find the group a suitable location in Fredericksburg. Kelly, a Civil War re-enactor and history buff, said that although space in the city is at a premium, CAAGRI would be a good fit for the area due to its history and the coming of the U.S. National Slavery Museum. "When you take history in a personalized way, it has more meaning," he said. "It helps you to understand what has gone on, where you are now and where you are going. To lose [CAAGRI] would be a loss to the community." If something doesn't happen soon, CAAGRI will have to move to another region, Royster said. But Royster said the area is ideal because of its significant links to black history. Many people don't realize the role local blacks played during the Civil War, Royster said, or that Spotsylvania County was the home of Kunta Kinte, a slave made famous by Alex Haley's book "Roots."Moving forward The lack of a location hasn't stopped CAAGRI's progress. Another local genealogy workshop is scheduled for August. CAAGRI was invited to participate in the National Black Family Reunion in Washington this September, and a genealogy conference is being planned for 2006. The biggest step, Royster said, is making the public aware of CAAGRI and its services. Eugenia Blackshear of Stafford County attended the latest workshop and learned about her paternal grandfather who lived in New York. She noticed that he and all of his brothers were barbers and that the profession continued down the family line. "It's fascinating," she said. "It takes a lot of patience and determination to do the research, but I think it's something that is needed and something that everyone should know." ON THE NET: To reach PORTSIA SMITH: 540/374-5419

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy Fifth of July, New York!

By LOUISE MIRRER, JAMES OLIVER HORTON and RICHARD RABINOWITZ Published: July 3, 2005 STANDING before a gathering of the Ladies' Antislavery Society in Rochester, Frederick Douglass, newspaper editor and internationally known voice of abolition, moved his audience with the force of his argument. It was July 5, 1852, the day after the national celebration of American independence. This former slave confronted a hushed crowd and a nation with the stunning question: "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?" Douglass followed his question, an indictment of America's commitment to the value of human freedom in the decades before the Civil War, with an equally challenging reply: "A day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." In the wake of the new federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which allowed bounty hunters to seize runaway slaves who had fled to states where slavery was illegal, Douglass spoke bitterly of the betrayal of American ideals. The law gave those accused of being fugitive slaves no right to a trial or even to speak in self-defense. It thus endangered the already precarious liberty of free black people everywhere in the country, including those in New York State, where slavery had officially ended a quarter century before in 1827. Although most people today imagine slavery as a Southern institution, it existed in all of the original 13 British colonies. In New York, it was an important labor system for 200 years, beginning with the arrival of the first African slaves in New Amsterdam in 1627. Recent excavations in Lower Manhattan that uncovered the African Burial Ground have brought the city's connection to slavery to public attention. Still, most New Yorkers and Americans today have little sense of the city's and state's long involvement with slavery. Public schools teach little of the history of slavery that, as the historian Ira Berlin has recently remarked, "insinuated itself into every nook and cranny of life in New York City." Slavery was central to New York's development from its formative years as a Dutch and British colony to the early days of the United States. During British rule, 40 percent of New York City households owned slaves, who accounted for 20 percent of the city's population. There were more slaves in New York City than in any other city in the British colonies except Charleston, S.C. New Yorkers owned and traded in slaves, rented out their slaves as day laborers and produced ships and trading merchandise for slaving voyages. Landmarks in Manhattan that were built by slaves include the wall on Wall Street, Fort Amsterdam in what is now Battery Park, the road that became Broadway, the first and second Trinity Church buildings and the first city hall (the Dutch Stadt Huys on Pearl Street). The story of New York's black population during slavery includes heroes like the poet Jupiter Hammon and the actor James Hewlett who resisted injustice even as they produced a rich cultural legacy in the face of adversity. And New Yorkers - both black and white - fought to erase slavery from the state. Several prominent New Yorkers, including Aaron Burr, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, encouraged by Long Island's Quaker population, formed the New York Manumission Society, the state's first antislavery club, in 1785, and two years later established the African Free School in New York City to educate freed slaves. New York antislavery forces pressured newspapers not to run slave-sale advertisements and auction houses not to hold slave sales. They also provided free legal council to slaves seeking to sue their masters for freedom. These efforts bore fruit when the State Legislature enacted a gradual emancipation law that took effect on July 4, 1799. The law freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799, but only after at least two decades of forced indenture. Males became free at age 28, and females at age 25. Until then, they were tied to the service of the mother's master. Unrestricted freedom did not come to New York's slaves until a new emancipation law took effect 28 years later, on July 4, 1827. Douglass followed his question, an indictment of America's commitment to the value of human freedom in the decades before the Civil War, with an equally challenging reply: "A day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim." In the wake of the new federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which allowed bounty hunters to seize runaway slaves who had fled to states where slavery was illegal, Douglass spoke bitterly of the betrayal of American ideals. The law gave those accused of being fugitive slaves no right to a trial or even to speak in self-defense. It thus endangered the already precarious liberty of free black people everywhere in the country, including those in New York State, where slavery had officially ended a quarter century before in 1827. Although most people today imagine slavery as a Southern institution, it existed in all of the original 13 British colonies. In New York, it was an important labor system for 200 years, beginning with the arrival of the first African slaves in New Amsterdam in 1627. Recent excavations in Lower Manhattan that uncovered the African Burial Ground have brought the city's connection to slavery to public attention. Still, most New Yorkers and Americans today have little sense of the city's and state's long involvement with slavery. Public schools teach little of the history of slavery that, as the historian Ira Berlin has recently remarked, "insinuated itself into every nook and cranny of life in New York City." Slavery was central to New York's development from its formative years as a Dutch and British colony to the early days of the United States. During British rule, 40 percent of New York City households owned slaves, who accounted for 20 percent of the city's population. There were more slaves in New York City than in any other city in the British colonies except Charleston, S.C. New Yorkers owned and traded in slaves, rented out their slaves as day laborers and produced ships and trading merchandise for slaving voyages. Landmarks in Manhattan that were built by slaves include the wall on Wall Street, Fort Amsterdam in what is now Battery Park, the road that became Broadway, the first and second Trinity Church buildings and the first city hall (the Dutch Stadt Huys on Pearl Street). The story of New York's black population during slavery includes heroes like the poet Jupiter Hammon and the actor James Hewlett who resisted injustice even as they produced a rich cultural legacy in the face of adversity. And New Yorkers - both black and white - fought to erase slavery from the state. Several prominent New Yorkers, including Aaron Burr, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, encouraged by Long Island's Quaker population, formed the New York Manumission Society, the state's first antislavery club, in 1785, and two years later established the African Free School in New York City to educate freed slaves. New York antislavery forces pressured newspapers not to run slave-sale advertisements and auction houses not to hold slave sales. They also provided free legal council to slaves seeking to sue their masters for freedom. These efforts bore fruit when the State Legislature enacted a gradual emancipation law that took effect on July 4, 1799. The law freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799, but only after at least two decades of forced indenture. Males became free at age 28, and females at age 25. Until then, they were tied to the service of the mother's master. Unrestricted freedom did not come to New York's slaves until a new emancipation law took effect 28 years later, on July 4, 1827. As that date approached, there was considerable debate among New York's black residents over how to celebrate abolition of slavery. In March 1827, two New Yorkers, the Rev. Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm, established Freedom's Journal, the nation's first black-owned newspaper, and its early issues resound with this debate. Black New Yorkers worried, among other things, that a parade on Broadway on the Fourth of July to celebrate abolition would be disrupted; white revelers often attacked blacks on public holidays. In the end, the day after was chosen for the commemoration. And on July 5, 1827, 4,000 blacks marched along Broadway, preceded by an honor guard on horseback and a grand marshal carrying a drawn sword. The parade wound through the downtown streets to the African Zion Church, where the abolitionist leader William Hamilton declared, "This day we stand redeemed from a bitter thralldom." Celebrations were held around the state. Even blacks in Boston and Philadelphia celebrated the news from New York. Thus, both Douglass's speech about the significance of Independence Day to American slaves and the celebration of slavery's end in New York on July 4, 1827, took place on the fifth. There are no public celebrations of the fifth today, but as the history of New York's long involvement in slavery becomes better known to New Yorkers through lectures, debates, exhibitions and in discussions about the proper way to memorialize the African Burial Ground, it is fitting to reclaim the powerful significance of July 4 and 5, 1827, as a holiday of freedom for all New Yorkers. By restoring this historical meaning, we acknowledge the role our city and state played in the institution of slavery. We also honor the African-Americans who overcame its hardships and injustices to make important contributions to New York City's cultural life, as did other immigrants who came here more willingly. We are the heirs of July 4, treasuring - as Douglass did - the vision of independence set forth in Philadelphia in 1776. But we are also the heirs of July 5, which recognizes the evolution of human freedom in our state.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Date: Sunday, June 26, 2005 By: Keith Reed, A new bill just introduced in Congress is aimed at helping blacks fill in the blanks in their families’ pasts. The measure, dubbed the Servitude and Emancipation Archival Research Clearinghouse, or Search Act, would establish a national archive of records that could help black families whose histories were shattered by slavery and racist laws piece together the trails of their lineage in the United States. It may face a tough time getting passed, though. The funding request comes at a time when the country’s lawmakers are faced with tough budgetary priorities and a record deficit. The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, want Congress to allocate $5 million to create the archive and another $5 million to help universities and other institutions gather and preserve historical documents that might contain information about black family trees. The funding request comes at a time when the country’s lawmakers are faced with tough budgetary priorities and a record deficit. In addition, the measure was introduced in the last Congress, passing the full Senate but dying before it got a vote in the House. Landrieu said last week that she was confident the bill had enough support to pass this time around. “This year, we’re thinking and hoping that it won’t get lost on the calendar,” she said, noting that the measure had garnered several House and Senate co-sponsors since its initial introduction. Cummings said he was inspired to propose the measure several years ago when he tried to trace his ancestry. A former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cummings told he was dismayed when searches for public records on any of his antecedents beyond his grandfather turned up nothing. Efforts to turn up property, voting and even birth or death records for his great grandfather were unfruitful, he said, until he came across a cemetery at a South Carolina church. “It’s interesting that one of the ways we were able to get some of the information we needed was gravesites,” he said. “The first words I saw written about my great-grandfather were on his grave marker.” Even now, he said, he feels stigmatized by the fact that he does not have the same connection to his ancestry that many of his colleagues do. “I feel a sense of envy when I’m going with my friends who are white, and they have all these pictures and articles of their great grandparents. In many African-American households, that’s just not there,” Cummings said. One expert on black genealogy said that it is a common myth that records on the lives of black slaves and their descendants in the United States don’t exist. Slave owners kept tons of records on their black “property” according to Valencia Nelson, founder of, a web site dedicated to helping African-Americans research their family histories. “Slaves were property, property was taxed, and there are records of all of that,” she said. Government records on blacks’ lives were kept in the antebellum years as well, Nelson told The problem, she said, is that many of those documents have not been properly cared for over the years, and no one has taken the time to make the information accessible in the digital age. “It would help to have records stored in a systematic way that we could search,” said Nelson, “What it would do would provide access to records that are already available in the national archive.”

Tracking down ancestors can be addictive


MUNCIE - Tracing your family history might seem like a daunting task, especially if you're black, but it can be done. In fact, those who start tracking down ancestors say it's addictive. Arthur Thompson, Springfield, Ohio, estimates he spends at least three to four hours a day searching for members of his family. Thompson, a member of the African-American Genealogy Group, was an exhibitor at GenFest 2005 at Carnegie Library and the Local History and Genealogy Center. The group attended GenFest to inspire other blacks who want to learn more about their genealogy. "Our collection is an example of, 'Yes, it can be done,' because it's here," said Thompson, who has traced his roots all the way back to 1735. John Logan, co-founder and past president of the African-American Genealogy Group, lives in Philadelphia, Pa., and is a former Muncie resident. Many of Logan's family members still live locally, he said. In his research Logan unearthed an interesting fact: a great-grandfather was a member of the Sixth U.S. Colored Calvary during the Civil War. He became interested in genealogy research after his son was born in 1979. "I wanted to be able to have family history for my family," Logan said. "(We) wanted to show people how they can bring their families alive." During GenFest 2005, coordinator Shirley Pearson wanted to reach out to local blacks who might not know where or how to begin the search for their past, she said. Muncie Public Library had extra staff on hand to help amateur and seasoned genealogists, and the volunteer group Ancestor Hunters was also available. Pearson also wanted to showcase the different historical societies and agencies in the area. These agencies are always searching for new artifacts as well as new members, she said. Becky Monroe and her daughter Heidi represented the newly formed Yorktown/Mount Pleasant Township Historical Alliance at GenFest 2005. Monroe became interested in Yorktown's history after listening to the stories her grandmother told her. "She just liked to tell stories, and I listened," Monroe said. Yorktown actually began as a resort community, Heidi said. Monroe's grandfather came to the town to work in the glass factory, and there was a strawboard factory that made egg crates in Yorktown as well. Strawboard, Monroe said, was an early version of cardboard. With local history available through Ball State University's Archives and Special Collections Research Center, Minnetrista Cultural Center and the Local History and Genealogy Center, Muncie has a lot of places for people to get started, Pearson said. "There's a lot here that people don't know about unless someone's here to tell them," she said. 'Muncie has a lot of resources."

Contact news reporter Oseye T. Boyd at 213-5830.