African American News and Genealogy

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

EMU Students To Dig Into Past

Class To Study Black History In Area By Melvin Mason Students in a history class at Eastern Mennonite University this semester will unearth some of the area’s past. Mark Meltzer Sawin, an American history teacher at the university, will guide students in his "methods of history" course to learn and record information about black people who live in Harrisonburg and the Shenandoah Valley. The students, he says, likely will find themselves sifting through papers and talking with families to uncover more about black history. Overwhelming Quest Awaits The students will have different areas of focus, Sawin said. It will involve looking for documents and artifacts about neighborhoods and talking with descendants of black communities. One group will research Zenda, a community north of Harrisonburg where former slaves settled after the Civil War. Sawin says students will try to talk to descendants of former Zenda residents to find out more about the life and times of that community. The class traveled to Long’s Chapel Brethren Church, an old wooden church building considered the center of the Zenda community. Al Jenkins, who lives in South Carolina, bought Long’s Chapel last year and plans to restore the building and turn it into a historical center for black history. Sawin says his students will also look into an urban development project in the 1960s that removed several black-owned homes. Students also will examine the life of Lucy Simms, a former slave born in 1855 who taught in Harrisonburg and the surrounding area from 1877 to 1934. Sawin expects his students may find out more about blacks in Harrisonburg and the Valley, so the topics will not be limited. The teacher sees a lot more interest in local history and hopes the project will spur others into uncovering more about black life in the Valley. "We don’t want the information to sit in an office," he said. Students Looking For Answers For Sawin, the project to find information about the people living in Zenda and elsewhere is "overwhelming to all of us." "The students are excited," said Sawin, a teacher at EMU for five years. "It’s taking what they’ve learned abstractly in the books, and it makes it real. It’s making history more complex." Jonathan Alley, 20, a junior in Sawin’s class, looks forward to gathering more information so it can be used for study of black history. He already has gathered information from the gravestones in the Long’s Chapel cemetery, he says. Alley says he has plenty of questions, including what the freed blacks did after emancipation and how many Zenda residents were slaves. The project "drew me in right away," said Alley, who lives outside of Harrisonburg. "There’s mystery behind it, the thought that these people were all here and played an important role" in shaping the Valley. Melanie Pritchard, a 20-year-old junior studying communications, wants to know more about why Zenda was all but evacuated in the 1920s. "From what I understand, it’s going to be a lot of research," Pritchard said. "I like it and love getting into local history. I can’t wait to find out what’s happened here and finding out about local history." Contact Melvin Mason at 574-6273 or

Thursday, September 22, 2005

New Mexico shares in tragedy of slavery with rest of the country

La Historical del Rio Abajo is the monthly column written by the Valencia County Historical Society.)The Rio Abajo — and all of New Mexico — has a dark secret that few people know about today. New Mexicans have practiced various forms of unfair, often brutal human bondage, from chattel slavery to debt peonage, for much of their history.The Spanish enslaved Indians and Blacks from their earliest days as conquerors of the New World. Spanish settlers forced slaves to work long hours in dangerous mines and hot plantation fields. Millions died under extremely harsh working conditions. Spanish conquerors used similar forms of labor in New Mexico. Although few Blacks were available on this remote northern frontier, Indians captured in combat were subject to years of slavery, according to colonial Spanish law.With frequent Indian raids on Spanish communities, it was easy for Spanish settlers to claim that a state of war existed with most nomadic tribes. After all, Apache and Navajo raiders often kidnapped Spanish children. From the Spanish perspective, it was fair and just that the Spanish capture Indian youths in retaliation.Spanish raiders were also driven by strong economic motives. Given the Spanish demand for cheap labor, a thriving slave market had developed by the 18th century.The men of one Spanish town in particular were known for their skill in capturing and supplying Indian slaves. Cibolleta, near the pueblo of Laguna in what was once Valencia County, became the center of raiding activities against the Navajo to the west and northwest.Navajo children captured by Spanish raiders from Cibolleta sold for about $500 each (in U.S. currency). Wealthy Spanish families often gave a captive child as a wedding gift, with the understanding that the child would serve the newlywed couple as a loyal household slave through much, if not all, of their marriage.Spanish slavery was similar to the English slavery practiced in the British Empire on the East Coast of North America. With rare exceptions, Spanish and English slave owners abused their laborers, both at work and in their private lives. Attractive female slaves were particularly vulnerable to abuse by sadistic male masters.But Spanish slavery was different from English in at least one important way. While Black slaves were considered the permanent property of their English masters, Indian slaves in the Spanish Empire could only be held in captivity for a certain period of time, usually 20 years. If they survived their years of captivity, Indians were able to leave their Spanish masters and enjoy freedom for the balance of their lives.But where could freed Navajo or Apache slaves go? After 20 years among the Spanish, they knew more about Spanish culture, from the Spanish language to the Catholic religion, than their own native culture, especially if they had been taken from their families at an early age. They could hardly feel comfortable among their own people, if they were fortunate enough to find their nomadic tribes after so many years.These displaced, freed Indians, commonly known as genizaros, were literally caught between two cultural worlds. Many solved their cultural dilemma by simply remaining with the families they had formerly served in bondage. Often treated as faithful old servants, they lived out their lives in the only culture they had ever really known.Other genizaros were given the opportunity to settle on community land grants with other genizaro families. Tomé was founded in 1759 by one such group that could enjoy their freedom from bondage and at least live among others like themselves, rather than as servants in a near-slave-like existence.There was, of course, a trade-off for genizaros living on community land grants. Located on the outer edge of Spanish settlements in the Rio Grande valley, genizaro communities were usually the first to be raided by nomadic Indians entering the valley. In exchange for their land grants and lives out from under Spanish influence, genizaros served the unenviable role of lightning rods for nomadic Indian attacks.As Oswald and Mary Ann Baca have proven in their detailed studies of death records in Tomé, the people of this community were often raided by nomadic tribes with fatal results (although many more died of diseases, especially smallpox). In the worst tragedy of this kind, as many as 23 local residents were killed by Comanches on a single day in 1776.Comanche raiders kidnaped other residents of Tomé, continuing the terrible cycle of violence and kidnappings well into the 19th century.This cycle of violence escalated in the mid-1860s when Kit Carson and the U.S. Army were assigned the task of defeating the Navajo people and forcing over 8,300 destitute men, women, and children to a distant reservation in the Pecos River Valley known as Bosque Redondo.As the Navajo were captured and endured the horrendous 300-mile Long Walk (in which hundreds perished), many were kidnapped and enslaved by Hispanic and Anglo soldiers of the invading U.S. Army. Ironically, thousands of other Union soldiers were at this very moment dying on Eastern battlefields to help end all forms of slavery in the United States as a whole.New Mexico's territorial governor, Henry Connelly of Peralta, was so outraged by the taking of Indian slaves during the Navajo campaign that he issued a proclamation forbidding the trafficking of Indian slaves and ordering the arrest of those who persisted in the practice.Despite Governor Connelly's proclamation and the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ending slavery as of 1865, an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 Indian slaves remained in bondage in New Mexico in 1867. This abominable practice was only purged from New Mexico in the last years of the 19th century, or when the last generation of Indian slaves were individually freed or died of natural causes.Although limited compared to the South, Black slavery also existed in New Mexico prior to the Civil War. Many New Mexican leaders were sympathetic to Southern interests based on the territory's strong economic and political ties to the slave states of Missouri, at the east end of the Santa Fe Trail, and Texas, directly to New Mexico's south and east.Most of these pro-slavery leaders were transplanted sons of the South. Governor Abraham Rencher (1857-61), Territorial Secretary Alexander M. Jackson, military commander Col. William W. Loring, and a majority of Army officers assigned to New Mexico in the 1850s all hailed from Southern states. The territory's two leading newspapers, the Santa Fe Gazette and the Mesilla Times, both argued the South's position in the national debate over slavery.Some native New Mexicans also favored the South in the years proceeding the Civil War. Born in Valencia County, Miguel Antonio Otero Sr. served as the territory's Congressional delegate in Washington, D.C., in the last four years prior to the Civil War. After marrying into a Southern slave-owning family from South Carolina, Otero strongly favored Black slavery and Southern interests overall.Otero went so far as to propose a slave code for New Mexico. Passed in 1859, Otero's slave code was as rigid and as severe as any such code enacted in the Southern states.According to one harsh provision of New Mexico's code, any Black slave who was insolent in his behavior towards whites could receive a whipping of as many as 39 stripes across his or her bare back. Slaves could not testify against whites, and inter-racial marriages were strictly forbidden. Slaves found guilty of rape faced the death penalty.The code also included harsh provisions for those who might attempt to help slaves escape. Any person found to have aided in such an escape could be imprisoned for between four and ten years. The capture of runaway slaves was encouraged with a reward of at least $20, plus 10 cents a mile for expenses incurred in the pursuit.But New Mexico's draconian slave code was seldom enforced, if only because the territory had so few black slaves. On the eve of the Civil War, there were no more than 30 black slaves and about 85 freed blacks in the entire territory. There was little need for black slavery as long as Indian slavery persisted on a large scale in the region.But slavery was not the only form of forced labor in New Mexico history. A harsh form of debt peonage was practiced in the Southwest until long after the last slave was freed or died in captivity. Some observers went so far as to claim that debt peonage was so harsh and unfair that even black slavery in the South seemed humane in comparison.Debt peonage in New Mexico was similar to sharecropping in the post-Civil War South. As with sharecroppers, individuals in New Mexico signed contracts making them responsible for the production of a product, with the lion's share of the product — and profit — owed to the owner of the land. In the case of New Mexico, the product was often sheep.With these agreements, known as partido contracts, in hand large sheep ranchers or patrones like Solomon Luna of Los Lunas could assign most of the work, but few of the profits, to the pobres (poor residents) of their communities.Caring for sheep under a partido contract was a risky business. Herding sheep in isolated parts of the Manzano Mountains and elsewhere was a lonely existence that often caused families to be separated for months at a time. Bad weather, wild animals, thieves, and disease could mean the loss, rather the gain, of sheep, meaning that a pobre might well owe his employer sheep — or money — by the end of the contract period. Rather than turning even a small profit for himself, the pobre might well go into debt to his employer.Signing a new contract to help pay off his first debt usually led to larger and larger debts. Not even death could release a pobre from this obligation. It was simply passed on to his sons, who would often work for the patron for the rest of their lives, becoming more and more indebted themselves. Debt peonage persisted from one generation to the next for decades at a time.To make matters worse, pobres under contract were usually required to buy all their goods from their employers' stores. Store prices were usually inflated, making the pobres' already-large debt even larger.Anglo observers witnessed these circumstances and expressed their outrage in writing. Lt. Witt Emory, arriving in 1846 with the U.S. Army during the U.S.-Mexican War, concluded that black slavery would be unprofitable in New Mexico because those held in debt peonage could do the same work as a slave at a much cheaper rate since the employer was not responsible for his pobres' care in either infancy or old age. A Southern master, in contrast, was responsible for his slaves' well-being from cradle to grave.Another pre-Civil War visitor to New Mexico believed that the only practical difference between black slavery and debt peonage was that "the peons are not bought and sold in the markets as chattels." In all other respects, this observer declared that "peonism (in New Mexico) is a more charming name for a species of slavery as abject and oppressive as any found on the American continent."Debt peonage continued in New Mexico long after the end of slavery. It was not until 1911, 46 years after the official end of slavery, that a series of U.S. court decisions found all forms of peonage to be unconstitutional. Despite this federal ruling, the last partido contract that historians have located in New Mexico dates from as late as the 1930s.New Mexico has thus had the unenviable reputation of probably having had the greatest variety of human bondage and the highest percentage of people in bondage over the longest period of time of any state or territory in U.S. history.How then did human bondage finally end in New Mexico? There are several reasons, including the passage of national laws that not only ended slavery, but were also, with time, were seriously enforced.Powerful patrons, many of whom controlled debt peonage in Valencia County and elsewhere in New Mexico, gradually lost their political and economic strength. Modern industrial corporations, like the Santa Fe Railroad, offered cash wages to their workers rather than expensive credit on indefinite future earnings.Federal jobs and entitlement programs also weakened the patrons' stranglehold. Thanks to the efforts of a new generation of leaders, including Dennis Chavez in the U.S. Senate from 1935 to 1962, government jobs, military bases, and schools gradually improved opportunities for at least some New Mexicans of the working class.Men like Dennis Chavez on the national level and Tibo J. Chavez on the state level also fought for minority civil rights. Hispanic New Mexicans could now count on their legal system, rather than on a dominant patron, to protect their personal interests and civil rights.And although weak compared to most states in the U.S., labor unions have fought to defend workers' rights so that at least some workers no longer stood alone in negotiating their interests or defending their rights with powerful employers.New Mexico has a dark secret regarding its labor past. But the past has passed. Labor problems persist and there is still much to be done, but justice and understanding have improved and New Mexico workers are free from the restraints that held their ancestors in misery and bondage for decades, and sometimes generations, at a time.

Portrait honors first black congressman

A portrait of the first African-American member of the House of Representatives will be unveiled today in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. The painting of Rep. Joseph H. Rainey, a Republican from Georgetown, S.C., who served from 1870 to 1879, will be the first portrait of an African-American congressman to be displayed in the Capitol. Rainey was a leader in the fight to obtain civil rights for newly freed slaves. The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m.; Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) and House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio) plan to attend. Jackie Kucinich

Thursday, September 08, 2005

By Jeff Turrentine Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, September 8, 2005; Page H01 Whatever sort of new New Orleans emerges from the aftermath of last week's catastrophic flooding, it seems likely that the architectural core of old New Orleans -- the part of the city familiar to most visitors -- will remain intact. But as for whole neighborhoods of houses that don't show up in guidebooks, but that do retain the affection of locals and historians who see them as inextricable components of New Orleans culture, it's anyone's guess. It now appears that the French Quarter and the Garden District were spared the kind of wholesale devastation visited upon other areas. Both are fortunate to sit relatively high on the lip of this basin city that rests below sea level. Nevertheless, they almost certainly will be among the first to receive the ministrations of architectural preservationists. As the city's two most famous and visited neighborhoods, theirs are the icons we automatically summon whenever we imagine the charms of the Big Easy. At some point, tour buses will resume their slow creep past novelist Anne Rice's Greek Revival mansion in the Garden District. Tipsy conventioneers will once more stare up admiringly, if dizzily, at the French Quarter's famed wrought-iron balconies. And gaggles of elementary school students will again file into the Old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street; dating from the mid-18th century, it's the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley. But what's to become of the modest Creole cottages of Faubourg Marigny, downriver from the French Quarter? Or the "shotguns" and "camelbacks" scattered throughout neighborhoods such as Faubourg Tremé, Bucktown and Bywater? The city's vernacular architecture, says William R. Mitchell Jr., is richly varied and widely distributed, and of vital significance to its overall architectural legacy. Mitchell, chairman and president of the Atlanta-based Southern Architecture Foundation and author of "Classic New Orleans," a 1993 book that explored the city's identity through its buildings, knows New Orleans as a collection of precincts, each with a distinct flavor and filled with unique architectural delights. "By no means is New Orleans just two neighborhoods, the Garden District and the French Quarter," says Mitchell. He recalls examples of important architecture throughout the city -- houses off the tourist track that now will have to be carefully and expensively restored, assuming that they haven't been utterly annihilated by treacherous winds and flooding. "In the Esplanade Ridge district, for example, there's the Mayor James Pitot house -- a fabulous French Colonial-style plantation house. I remember an unusual five-sided Creole cottage in Faubourg Marigny, built that way to conform to the wedge-shaped lot. Classic New Orleans consists of many historic neighborhoods: Marigny, Bywater, Esplanade Ridge, Carrollton -- I could go on and on. And at this point we just don't know how much has been threatened." Of the different vernacular house styles, the most well-known is probably the shotgun: a long one-story house, often with a covered porch, which is entered at the gable end and is typically only as wide as its widest room. The camelback is simply a shotgun to which a second story has been added over the rear. The Creole cottage, another characteristic style, was borrowed from Caribbean architecture. From the time they first started appearing in the 19th century, all three were popular among the city's working classes, including freed slaves and their descendants. "The flavor and physical setting of the city's culture is locked up in the vernacular wooden houses of the 19th century," says S. Frederick Starr, a historian and international affairs specialist at Johns Hopkins University who has written four books about New Orleans culture and architecture. "And I fear for them now. These are fragile buildings." With special regret, he notes that the West End, an area of town just below Lake Pontchartrain's western curve, was among the hardest hit. "At the turn of the 20th century, it was a great entertainment district: a center of dancing, socializing and jazz. Now the West End is gone. And it was something that was very colorful." Jonathan Fricker, director of the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, expresses hope that many of New Orleans's older houses, built on piers so that they rest several feet above the grade, may turn out to have stood up better than expected, once the final damage tallies are in. "Also, many of these old wooden houses are cut from virgin timber, which is fairly resistant to rot and insect damage," Fricker adds. "That type of wood is what they were building with a hundred, 200 years ago. It's of a much better quality than what you can get today in the lumber yard." But Starr, whose own 1826 West Indian-style plantation house in the Bywater neighborhood was completely underwater at one point after the flood, is less optimistic. "The fact that they're built on props is fine -- unless they start floating off their props," he says. "Remember, there was a hurricane before there was a flood. And these houses took a lot of hits in the wind." Although he agrees with Fricker that houses of wood, especially super-resilient cypress wood, might survive, he's less sanguine about houses built from pine, which is more vulnerable to rot and insects. And he is especially doubtful about the prospects for houses built from the local "batture" brick. "They dug into the bank of the lake for the clay. It's beautiful, but it crumbles and dissolves. And worst of all, if it's sitting in a foot of water, batture brick will transmit that water right up to the top of the wall through capillary action." What worries Starr most, he says, is that momentum within the city government over the past several years has been toward new development, not preservation. "Given that [city officials] have done nothing for the preservation cause, and indeed have done a lot of damage to it, [are they] going to seize on this as an opportunity for mass demolition, in order to build something akin to Houston?" Starr says that his greatest fear is that the city's political powers will "clean-sweep whole neighborhoods, in the name of 'health' and 'safety' and 'a great future' and all that, and end up doing what Ceausescu did to Bucharest. And then it will be gone." From a preservation standpoint, he says, "the fate of the city's mass of wooden vernacular architecture is the key policy challenge for the next period. Do you put in place programs to salvage and renovate it? Or do you start demolishing it in the name of creating some faceless, suburban type of city?"

Project reveals details of slave life

GREENSBORO -- The information she has could help someone find that missing branch in their family tree.That's what Marguerite Ross Howell thought each time she came across new data taken from centuries old court petitions."Genealogists may know their family history and that they were enslaved by so and so, and their ancestors lived on this plantation, but they may not know that one of their relatives was a cook or a carpenter or suffered a disease. These documents tell a lot of personal detail," Howell said. "They fill in the gaps a little bit and give a face to the individuals."Howell, a former student of UNCG history professor Loren Schweninger, has helped him compile 14 years worth of data taken from court petitions submitted by Southern slave owners, slaves and free blacks. Schweninger's Race and Slavery Petitions Project 1776-1867 is a compilation of 17,487 legislative and court documents from 200 county courthouses in the 15 former slaveholding states and the District of Columbia.The information is available on microfilm and a letterpress collection of select petitions titled "The Southern Debate over Slavery." Work on a second volume is under way.This year Schweninger received a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create a digital library on American slavery. It will include data on 120,000 slaves, including cross-references to the slaves' owners, genealogy, occupation and their appraised value. Some history of free people of color also will be available. The library, expected to be complete by 2008, will be available to scholars, genealogists and others.Schweninger, a Colorado native, studied European history and briefly taught high school students. He completed his doctoral work at the University of Chicago, where his interest in African American history was sparked by the dynamic college professor John Hope Franklin. Franklin so inspired Schweninger that his eldest son is named after the distinguished scholar and author. They now work on projects as colleagues.The petitions project stemmed from Schweninger's research for his doctoral dissertation on James Rapier, a black Alabama congressman. Schweninger went to Rapier's hometown to peruse court documents for information on his family. It was there that he came across his first court petition.The petitions project has been tedious but rewarding, Schweninger said. He spent summers in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia poring over faded court documents that were, at times, hard to read."There wasn't a day that went by that there wasn't exciting information," he said.Many students assisted Schweninger on the project, as well as Howell and Nicole Marcon Mazgaj, whose husband also is a history professor. Howell began work on the project in 1998 and Mazgaj joined them three years ago. Both women, who helped edit the project, spoke of the challenges in reading the documents. The handwriting was often hard to discern, ink blots blocked words and the language of that time period was different.But learning the details of the personal lives of slaves has been rewarding, Howell said. Some documents reveal a slave's occupation or the amount of money paid toward their purchase.More than 3,000 petitions deal with emancipation. These documents identify slaveholders who wanted to free their slaves and freed slaves who wanted to buy their wife or child, then free them.Howell's favorite petition is one from Alabama in 1852. It spans 20 pages in which the heirs talk about the slaves within the estate and how they've lost money because the slaves were mistreated and unable to work. They gave detailed description of plantation life and an abusive overseer."While you could say, 'How nice that they were concerned,' but they bring it back to money," Howell said. "In my opinion it brings it back to the crux the institution of slavery is all about -- property." Contact Tina Firesheets at 373-3498 or

Residents of Raleigh area founded by slaves tell their story

RALEIGH, N.C. - Except for the piano lessons she has taught for 56 years, Frances Olivette Massenburg McGill spends most days at home, relaxing. She has earned it. McGill, 75, has held more than 30 different jobs, sometimes two or three at one time. She raised six children, "five good-looking boys and one beautiful girl." She is a college graduate, a semi-retired neighborhood den mother, a former crossing guard and a local television personality. McGill, born to an Anguillan mother and adopted by a prominent African-American barber and his wife, has done things most people don't associate with a black woman born in 1930. She worked. She married and divorced, married, divorced and did it again. She managed her own finances and bought her own home. "In this life, I tried to do things that would challenge my mind," McGill said. "I did everything I could that was decent." McGill's story is just one of 20 that St. Augustine's College sociology students collected this summer when they interviewed some of the College Park Idlewild community's oldest residents. The interviews are part of a broader effort to gather the stories, pictures and records that tell the story of a once-stable but now troubled East Raleigh community founded by freed slaves. In 1867, St. Augustine's College, an institution for black teachers, was built. Around it, the communities known at times as Lincoln Park, College Park and Idlewild grew. By the early part of the 20th century, the neighborhood was home to black teachers, carpenters, doctors, maids, gardeners, shopkeepers, morticians and porters. These communities had their own bakery, several full-fledged grocery stores and garden and social clubs. They were among the places for working and upper-class blacks to live inside the city. Today, community meetings are usually punctuated with talk about problems with prostitution and drugs. "This area, it has a rich, rich history," said Octavia Rainey, a community gadfly and chairwoman of the North East Citizens' Advisory Council. "Really, people think I'm crazy when they hear me say I have a gold mine. We do have our problems. But this neighborhood has a gold mine. We have our story." An effort to have the community declared an historic area went nowhere. When the community's unofficial historian, Ella Clarke, died, Rainey inherited her effort to collect College Park Idlewild's story. Then, Rainey got a call from Derek Greenfield. Greenfield is a sociology professor at St. Aug's. He thought gathering oral histories would give students an opportunity to explore the "symbiotic relationship" between the college and the community. And he wanted his students to learn something about themselves. "I want them to see that learning is not just something that happens within four walls," Greenfield said. "I want (students) to realize that they can be producers and contributors to knowledge." So Greenfield sent his students out into the neighborhood to talk with women such as McGill and Sadie Harris, 81. Harris' long-closed Lincoln Cafe served beer, barbecue and chitterling sandwiches. When she opened the shop in 1960, police warned her the streets right behind it were so dangerous they were known as Vietnam. "I told them, 'I'll take my chances,' " Harris said. Harris said she maintained order by calling every man who came in the door "Mister." For 25 years, she ran the business by day and got assistance from her husband at night. She had worked for years in Cameron Village restaurants before running her own. "Everyone is a repository of history," said Michael Taft, head of the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center. Taft said history books tend to include dates, facts, figures and information about the effects of past events. Oral histories offer perspective, what it was like for one woman or man to experience change, Taft said. The Folklife Center is a repository for more than 3 million items, including about 100,000 recordings dating to 1890. For Charmaine Brown, 22, the oral history interviews sent the St. Aug's senior into the community for the first time in her four years on campus. She was leery about venturing into a place that looks nothing like the suburban neighborhood where she grew up in Kings Mountain. Brown interviewed McGill and learned that independent women are not a 21st-century innovation. "Really, Mrs. McGill is something," Brown said. "She's smart, she's strong, she did a lot on her own. I think that's the way I want to be." Information from: The News & Observer,

Judge rules black cemetery may not be developed

CHARLESTON, S.C. - A county judge has ruled that a seemingly abandoned, overgrown black cemetery in Mount Pleasant may not be developed for a home. The Scanlonville Cemetery, dating back about 130 years, was never formally abandoned, Charleston County Master-In-Equity Mikell Scarborough said. In a 16-page order resulting from a trial in June, Scarborough wrote that nothing in the record showed the community or the families of the dead severed their ties to the land. "There can be no clearer acceptance than the public use of the property to bury their loved ones," Scarborough wrote. Scarborough noted sometimes haphazard black burial traditions, including those of the people who settled the hamlet of Scanlonville in 1870 as a village for freed slaves. "Typical of other African-American rural burial grounds in the area, the deceased were generally buried in family groupings, not in organized plots," he wrote. Charleston lawyer D. Peters Wilborn, who represented descendants of those buried there, said the case was strong because so many relatives testified about their ties to the land. "You can't have title to publicly dedicated land," Wilborn said. There had been burials at the property as recently as 1989. "I can sleep good at night knowing that my father can rest in peace," Mildred Clark Wise said after the ruling. Tom and Victoria Rogers paid $1 million in 1999 for the 3-acre cemetery property they hoped to incorporate into their 8-acre property. The couple said the land appeared to be abandoned because it was overgrown and poorly kept. The couple's lawyer, Louis Lang of Columbia, declined to comment. It's unknown exactly how many graves are at the site, but there could be several hundred by some estimates. While there haven't been any recent burials because of the lawsuit, some grave markers date to 1867. However, many of the graves do not have headstones. Information from: The Post and Courier,

Films help church stir education discussions

By LESSIE SCURRYFor the Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 09/08/05 A church rich in history is using modern film to solve an old problem. Friendship Baptist Church, at 437 Mitchell St., is sponsoring free film forums to creatively open discussion among students, parents and teachers about the problems with education.The church's Film Forum Ministry is using films such as "Lean on Me," "Antwone Fisher," "The Life of Ozell Sutton: An Eyewitness to History" and "John Q" to start discussions that may boost the educational process. "We show pieces of the films, and the panelists respond to what they've seen or have comments or questions about," said forum member Ernestine Glass. "Then we open it up to the public to respond. We chose these films because they contained topics that would interest the community and that needed to be addressed." Glass said the films' themes of education and leadership, self-discovery and success, cultural history and civic responsibility, and family and health crises all affect the educational process in some way. "They're all connected," she said. "They all influence the level of education a child receives." The forum series is sponsored by the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment of the Humanities. "We wanted to do something different to get a target audience of teachers, administrators, parents and students who have an interest in education and an involvement in education," Glass said. "The idea is, 'What can we do to make the learning environment a place where learning can take place effectively?' " Film Forum Chairman Willie Allen said the gatherings are a way to bring the diverse community together. In addition, "I hope to awaken the whole community to the necessity of young black men and women getting serious about their lives and education," Allen said. Glass, a former literature teacher, said film can be an effective tool in a high-tech world. "We're dealing with students who are visual, impressed with visual things because of technology and computers," she said. "Film is more impressive to them." The Saturday morning forums for 2005-2006 begin at 10 a.m. Sept. 17 in the Pastor's Auditorium on the second floor of the church. Another forum is scheduled Nov. 19. The 126-year-old church has been at the forefront of education for more than a century, having educated newly freed slaves almost immediately and housing several schools, including Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta) and Morehouse and Spelman colleges. "This Film Forum is a continuation of efforts to look particularly into the challenges in education for black youth," said the Rev. William Guy. "This is very important for our community, for the total community. We're looking forward to an enjoyable and enlightening time." For information, call 404-688-0206.