African American News and Genealogy

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bluegrass had its own Rosa Parks

By Merlene DavisHERALD-LEADER COLUMNIST Today, Rosa Parks, the small woman who stood tall against oppression by keeping her seat, will be the first woman and second black American to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. It was that simple act of defiance, her refusal to allow segregation to continue unchallenged, that led to the continued shattering of long-held demeaning beliefs. And although her refusal to give up her seat is the most well-known act of defiance, it definitely was not the first. Bill Stephens, a volunteer for the Hopewell Museum in Paris and a Kentucky history buff, called to invite me over for a history lesson. Sure enough, more than 70 years before Parks, we in Kentucky had our own rebel of sorts who set off quite a firestorm as well. On June 8, 1883, the Rev. Elisha W. Green, a former slave who had founded Baptist churches in small communities throughout the Bluegrass, declined to give up his seat on a train to Paris from Millersburg, and was roughed up by a couple of white men, including The Rev. George T. Gould. Gould was the president of the Millersburg Female College, and he had boarded the train with several young women from the school. Gould claimed his sense of chivalry was challenged when Green refused to give his seat to one of the young women in Gould's party. Fortunately for those of us who came along much later, much of the ensuing exchanges played out in area newspapers and were later quoted in Green's memoir, Life of the Rev. Elisha Green. See, Green was no ordinary black man. Born in Bourbon County in 1816, Green was one of the first African-American ministers in Kentucky. Around 1848, he founded the First African Baptist Church in Maysville, which is now Bethel Baptist Church, and in 1855, he founded First African Baptist Church in Paris, which is now First Baptist Church. "As far as I know, he commuted between the two churches," said Sam Scott, a deacon at First Baptist Church. "I think he was the pastor of both churches." In 1860, Green, with help from his church in Maysville, paid $850 for his wife and four children, who were still in slavery. But by then they had lost track of one son, who had been sold to an owner in Memphis and maybe later sent to Cuba. Green, like Rosa Parks, was no one to mess with. In a deposition to the courts, Gould said he didn't know Green before the train ride, but he had to defend the honor of a woman forced to stand while Green sat. "Having never been accustomed to see such an indignity as that put upon a lady, that she must stand through a ride of eight miles while a negro man lolls at his ease, I could not bring myself tamely to submit to it. "I do not believe that there is a gentleman in Kentucky who would stand idly by and see his wife and daughters thus insulted. ... If any man has fallen so low as to think white women should stand while negro men keep their seats then him I have insulted, and really I do not care if I have." In his book, Green said all that was hogwash. "I take the liberty to say that there is not an ounce of truth in the thing," Green wrote. Green filed assault and battery charges against Gould, an unheard-of move in those days. One witness wrote, "The Reverend President, G.T. Gould, of Millersburg, who struck the old black preacher, Elisha Green, has in the public estimation so proclaimed himself a bad citizen that any college or church that carries him will have to do it as Sinbad did the old man of the sea. "That institution cannot flourish until that man and the other two associated with him are dismissed from its employ." And even the Lexington paper, The Lexington Transcript, on June 19, 1883, said, "Rev. Elisha Green is sixty-five years of age and has been a minister of the gospel for thirty-nine years, all of that time pastor of the Maysville Colored Baptist Church, and since 1855 has also had charge of the church at Paris. He is a quiet and unobtrusive man and is esteemed and respected not only by his own race, but also by the white population of Maysville. He was injured several years ago in a railroad accident and has since been a cripple." The matter went to court in March 1884 in Paris. Green wrote that the cost of the suit was "$300 and the court allowed me $24 damages." He had won, at least in principle. Gould later was found guilty of immoral conduct and was forced out of his church and church conference. Green died at his home in Maysville in 1892. A copy of his memoir can be found on the Internet at greenew/greenew.html. While everything came together when Rosa Parks sat unmoving on Dec. 1, 1955, history lists others who did the same well before her. It's good to know one of those brave souls lived right here in the Bluegrass and lived to talk about it. Reach Merlene Davis at (859) 231-3218 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3218, or

Exhibit reveals lost history of slavery in New York

Museum shows slavery wasn't just a Southern institution. By David Ho NEW YORK CITY BUREAU Sunday, October 30, 2005 NEW YORK -- In a city known for fighting to abolish slavery, there is another story: the tale of the slaves who built the road that became Broadway and the wall that named Wall Street. "When most Americans think about slavery they think about 'Gone with the Wind' and cotton plantations in the South," said Richard Rabinowitz, curator of the "Slavery in New York" exhibit that opened this month at the New-York Historical Society. "This exhibit breaks new ground because it focuses on slavery in the North," he said. "Most people really don't know that story." The exhibition, set to run through March 5, is the largest for the 201-year-old historical society and one of the biggest ever devoted to slavery. The 9,000-square-foot project includes about 400 historical objects, documents and re-creations, along with multimedia and interactive displays. Across nine galleries, the exhibit spans the period from the early European settlements of the 1600s to 1827, when New York abolished slavery. In between are British colonial times when one in five New Yorkers was an enslaved African and the city's slave population was second only to Charleston, S.C. The society's 18-month slavery project also includes lectures, tours and programs for children. A second exhibit set to open by early 2007 will explore New York's central role in both fighting and funding slavery in the decades leading up to the Civil War. "The investment in slave labor and slave trading built many of the fortunes of the city," said James Horton, the exhibition's chief historian. A surge of scholarly interest in New York slavery began in 1991 after construction workers in Lower Manhattan unearthed an African burial ground dating from the 1700s. About 400 sets of remains were removed for study and were re-interred in 2003. A memorial is planned for the burial ground, now designated a historic landmark. The historical society began work on its exhibit a year ago, using its large collection, which includes paintings, abolitionist documents, ads seeking runaway slaves and coroner reports stemming from a 1712 slave revolt. The exhibit also includes wire sculptures of slaves that the society describes as evoking "the toil of the faceless, voiceless peoples whose histories were (nearly) erased." Among the first displays are materials from when New York was still the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. One document describes the colonial governor granting "half-freedom" to 11 slaves, who later created the first free black community in North America in the areas of Manhattan now called Greenwich Village and SoHo. Under British control, the slave population grew, and ultimately about 41 percent of New York households owned slaves. Typically, one or two slaves lived in a home, staying in basements, attics or backyard kitchens. The small groupings often broke up families, separating mothers from children. While the treatment of New York slaves varied, overall living conditions were terrible and the labor extreme, Rabinowitz said. He said slave food, including sour milk, bread and lard, was likely worse than on Southern plantations and often led to malnutrition. Among the objects displayed is a "commode" chair, an 18th-century toilet with a removable seat and space for a chamber pot. The exhibit contrasts the elegantly carved furniture with a video description of the slaves who carried such pots daily to New York rivers to dispose of their owners' human waste. "The finest, most beautiful objects always have another story underneath them," Rabinowitz said. One gallery focuses on the American Revolution and the years after the British captured New York in August 1776. When the British left, more than 3,000 slaves went with them, including Deborah Squash, who in British documents is listed as a former slave of George Washington. New York began a gradual emancipation with restrictions in 1799, but the shift to abolition was much slower than in other northern states with smaller slave populations. Legal and cultural racism also worsened as the free black population grew. The exhibit shows the role of black New Yorkers in the abolitionist movement and how freed slaves became entwined in public life, building homes and forming churches and schools. It also shows how black culture -- theater, art, music and literature -- became part of the city despite the adversity of slavery. "Slavery was not a side show in American history. It was the main event," Horton said. "That's the story we want to tell."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

ROSA LOUISE PARKS | 1913-2005: Good-bye, Mrs. Parks

BY CASSANDRA SPRATLING FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER October 25, 2005 When Rosa Parks refused to get up, an entire race of people began to stand up for their rights as human beings. Her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man was a simple act that took extraordinary courage in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. It was a place where black people had no rights that white people had to respect. It was a time when racial discrimination was so common, many blacks never questioned it. At least not out loud. But then came Rosa Louise Parks. Jim Crow had met his match. Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement, died about 7:20 p.m. Monday at her home in the Riverfront Apartments in Detroit. "She went away peacefully," said her longtime friend and spokesperson, Elaine Eason Steele. Steele and Parks' physician, Dr. Sharon Oliver, were with Parks when she died, Steele said. Steele said she, federal Appeals Court Damon Keith and former Detroit Judge Adam Shakoor would make the funeral arrangements with the family. She said they would release a joint statement today. The Swanson Funeral Home in Detroit is handling the arrangements Parks' arrest for refusing to relinquish her seat infused 50,000 black people in Montgomery with the will to walk rather than risk daily humiliation on the city's buses. At that time, Jim Crow laws required separation of the races in restaurants, on buses and in other public places. The gentle giant, whose quietness belied her toughness, became the catalyst for a movement that broke the back of legalized segregation in the United States, gave rise to the astounding leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and inspired fighters for freedom and justice throughout the world. Keith called Parks' death "a tremendous, tremendous loss for the world. "We knew she was in poor health. We wanted to be optimistic, but we knew the day was not far." Her spirit lives in hundreds of thousands of people inspired by her unwavering commitment to work for a better world -- a commitment that continued even after age and failing health slowed her in the 1990s. Former South African President Nelson Mandela said he was inspired by her courage during the years he was imprisoned before he took office. "We rejoice in her legacy, which will never die," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a statement Monday night. "In many ways, history is marked as before, and after, Rosa Parks. She sat down in order that we all might stand up, and the walls of segregation came down. Paradoxically, her imprisonment opened the doors to our long journey to freedom ... She wove glory with grace." Parks' health had been declining since the late 1990s. She had stopped giving interviews and rarely appeared in public. When she did, she only smiled or spoke short, barely audible responses. Carolyn Green, a cousin who helped care for Parks, said the family was devastated. "Auntie Rosie meant the world to us," said Green, who spent much of the day Monday with Parks. "I'm happy she went peacefully." In one of her last lengthy interviews, with the Detroit Free Press in 1995, she spoke of what she would like people to say about her after she passed away. "I'd like people to say I'm a person who always wanted to be free and wanted it not only for myself; freedom is for all human beings," she said during an interview from the pastor's study of St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church, a small congregation she joined upon moving to Detroit in 1957. Parks has said one of her biggest regrets is that numerous news stories reported that she refused to give up her seat because she was tired after a day of work. She was not. She was tired of the mistreatment of black people. "I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day," she said in her autobiography. "I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old the. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." While it's known worldwide that her refusal to give up her bus seat sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, it's less well known that Parks had a long history of trying to make life better for black people. It was a desire embedded in her from childhood by her grandfather -- her mother's father with whom she lived when she was growing up. He taught his children and grandchildren not to put up with mistreatment. "It was passed down almost in our genes," Parks wrote in her 1992 autobiography, "My Story." Of her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards, she wrote: "I remember that sometimes he would call white men by their first names, or their whole names, and not say, 'Mister.' How he survived doing all those kinds of things, and being so outspoken, talking that big talk, I don't know, unless it was because he was so white and so close to being one of them." Her grandfather's father was a white plantation owner; his mother a slave housekeeper and seamstress. In recent years, Parks has relied heavily on a wheelchair and, according to court documents, suffered from dementia. The dementia was revealed as a result of two lawsuits filed on her behalf against the record company for the hip-hop duo Outkast. The 1999 lawsuit claims the record label BMG Entertainment violated her publicity and trademark rights for the 1998 song "Rosa Parks," by using her name without her permission for commercial purposes. But some of her family members claim Parks was incapable of filing such a suit of her own accord. They say it was an attempt by one of her attorneys, Gregory Reed and her longtime friend, Elaine Steele, to get money. Meanwhile, in October of this year a federal judge appointed former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer as her guardian ad litem--a temporary, court-appointed attorney to assure her interests in the lawsuits are fairly represented. Steele has had durable power of attorney over Parks and serves as her patient advocate, meaning she will make medical decisions upon incapacitating illness since 1998, according to documents obtained by the Free Press. Moved in with grandparents Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley in Tuskegee, Ala., to James and Leona McCauley. As a toddler, she moved with her mother to her grandparents' home in Pine Level, Ala., a rural community outside of Montgomery, where she was raised. Her mother was a teacher at a church school in a rural town nearby. Her father was a carpenter who left the family in search of work. She was raised among a large extended family in Pine Level. Rosa McCauley attended the school where her mother taught for a few years. She moved to Montgomery at age 11 because there were no schools for blacks beyond sixth grade in the rural towns surrounding Pine Level. She attended the Montgomery Industrial School. Called simply Miss White's School, for the cofounder and principal Alice White, it was a highly regarded school started and staffed by white women from the North who were dedicated to educating black girls. The school emphasized domestic sciences such as cooking, sewing, care of the sick, the occupations most open to black women at the time. Still, the school emphasized the lessons of self-respect and dignity she'd been taught at home. "We were taught to be ambitious and to believe that we could do what we wanted in life," she said. It was there also that she perfected the sewing skills that would become a source of pride and income for many years. Johnnie Carr, who stills lives in Montgomery, was a longtime friend who met Parks at Miss White's School. The nonagenarian said her friend's decision on the Montgomery bus was meant to be: "It was ordained by God." For many years, Carr was a leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association, a group formed to end segregation on the buses. In 1932, Rosa McCauley married Raymond Parks, a barber, who had at least two traits in common with her grandfather. He was so light he could pass for white -- which initially made him unattractive to her. But, like her grandfather, he was a fearless and proud black man. In her autobiography, she said he was the first real activist she had ever met. He was a longtime member of the NAACP at a time when simply being a member of a group working for the advancement of colored people was dangerous. He also worked secretly for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young black men pulled off a train, falsely accused and found guilty of raping two white women in 1931. "He was the first, aside from my grandfather and" another acquaintance "Mr. Gus Vaughn who was never actually afraid of white people," Parks wrote in her autobiography. "So many African Americans felt that you just had to be under Mr. Charlie's heel -- that's what we called the white man, Mr. Charlie -- and couldn't do anything to cross him. In other words, Parks. believed in being a man and expected to be treated as a man." Rosa Parks joined her husband in working for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys. Attempt to register to vote In 1943, she became one of the first women to join Montgomery's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She served as its secretary and as youth director for several years. The same year -- 1943 -- she made her first attempt to register to vote. Twice her attempts failed. She was told she didn't pass the literacy test -- a test blacks had to pass in order to register. She was so sure she'd passed, that on her third attempt in 1945, she made a copy of her answers, planning to take some kind of action if she was denied again. But she was informed she passed. As youth adviser to the NAACP, she helped young people organize protests at the city's main public library. There were separate libraries for black and white people. The one for blacks had far fewer books. She organized black youths to go to the main library to ask for service. By Jim Crow rules, blacks could order and pick up books from the library, but they couldn't browse the stacks or study there. Despite several attempts, they were unsuccessful in changing the policy. In the summer of 1955, Parks attended a 10-day workshop on implementing integration at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. A white friend and activist, the late Virginia Durr, recommended her to the program. The integrated school focused on labor relations and race relations. "One of my greatest pleasures there was enjoying the smell of bacon frying and coffee brewing and knowing that white folks were doing the preparing instead of me," she wrote in her autobiography. "I was 42 years old, and it was one of the few times in my life up to that point when I did not feel any hostility from white people." Her attendance at the school and her activism with the NAACP is what led some people to believe she was planted on that bus that cloudy day on Dec. 1, 1955. But there is evidence to the contrary. She did not sit in the white section in the front of the bus. She sat in the first row of what was then called the colored section. But the rule was when the white section filled up, blacks had to move back. Montgomery's civil rights activists, led by the late E.D. Nixon who was a good friend of Parks, were actively seeking a case to pursue in the courts. Two previous arrests of other women had been considered. The activists didn't think those women could live up to public scrutiny. Parks' reputation was sterling. To pursue a case, the leaders needed someone about whom nothing negative could be said so that nothing could detract from their cause. Parks denied boarding that bus with that mission in mind. She said that had she been paying closer attention she never would have boarded that particular bus. The driver had put her off the bus 12 years earlier and she always tried to avoid riding his bus. Her offense then: She failed to follow the custom of paying at the front of the bus, getting off and boarding at the rear. She had deposited her money at the front and boarded the bus at the front. Parks wrote that that time she didn't go to the back door because the steps there were crowded. Her arrest led to an unprecedented display of black unity in the United States that has not been witnessed since. Black people stayed off Montgomery's city buses for a year, until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the segregated busing policy was illegal. They were inspired to stay off the buses at weekly and sometimes twice-weekly church services where their aching souls were soothed by freedom songs, and their aching feet swayed by stirring sermons. It helped, too, that news coverage attracted worldwide attention, including enough money to finance a separate transportation system made up of a fleet of station wagons assigned to various churches and augmented by black cab drivers, black car owners and whites who either supported their cause or simply needed to get their black help to and from work. The yearlong boycott stands as the nation's premier model of nonviolent social resistance. But the end of the boycott didn't end the harassment. Parks and her husband lost their jobs, although an official at the department store where she worked said she was terminated because business was down, not because her action sparked the boycott. Embraced by Detroit In 1957, the couple moved to Detroit because Rosa Parks' only sibling, the late Sylvester McCauley, who was named for her beloved grandfather, had settled in the city after serving in World War II. Parks continued her civil rights work, and worked for several years as a seamstress at the Stockton Sewing Co., a small factory in downtown Detroit where she sewed aprons and skirts for 75 cents apiece. It was during those years that she first met Elaine Eason Steele, who became a friend and confidante. Steele eventually became the director of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development, which Parks founded in 1987. Raymond Parks had died 10 years earlier at age 74 following a 5-year bout with cancer. From 1965 until she retired in 1988, Rosa Parks worked as a receptionist and assistant in the Detroit office of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. In August 1994, an incident involving Parks attracted worldwide attention again. This time the incident shamed black America, in particular, and the United States, in general. Parks, then 81 and living alone, was assaulted by a man who broke into her home. Civic and religious leaders, led by her longtime friend federal judge Keith, arranged for Parks to move into the considerably more secure Riverfront Apartments in downtown Detroit. She lived there until her death, although she frequently spent the cold months living with friends and family in California. Numerous universities, organizations and individuals honored Parks, including the NAACP, which bestowed her with its highest award, the Springarn Medal, in 1979. She was also awarded an international peace prize for efforts toward world peace in 1994 -- given during her first trip to Europe -- and the Medal of Freedom, the highest award the U.S. government can bestow on a civilian, awarded in 1999, by former President Bill Clinton. Despite her notoriety, Parks remained the humble, modest person she had been since childhood. Even her choice of a church after moving to Detroit -- St. Matthew AME Church -- reflected that. She could have chosen to join one of Detroit's large, prestigious congregations, any of which count a long list of the city's who's-who among its membership, said the Rev. Eddie Robinson, before his death. A close friend of Parks, he was a longtime pastor at St. Matthew. Her current pastor there, Rev. Gloria Clark, called Mrs. Parks a role model for Christian women everywhere, especially those in the African Methodist Episcopal church. "Mother Parks was an outstanding woman of our church," said Rev. Clark, who became pastor there three years ago. "She taught us to have dignity and pride no matter what we have or don't have." Humble to the end Parks was active in the African Methodist Episcopal denomination since childhood. A chapel at her former church, St. Paul AME in Montgomery, is named for her, as are many streets and schools throughout the United States. At Detroit's St. Matthew AME, she was active as a missionary, stewardess and deaconess, the highest position a laywoman can attain in the AME church. In 2000, the AME denomination made her name an official part of its worldwide rituals. Women are consecrated as deaconess in the name of Parks and other holy women. The honors continued Recognition for Parks never ceased: During one of her last public appearances on Feb. 14, 2003, the Three Mo Tenors and a packed auditorium at the Detroit Opera House sang "Happy Birthday" to her. Parks, who was wheelchair-bound, did not stay for the duration of the tenors' concert that doubled as a 90th birthday celebration for her. Earlier that evening, at a private reception, she was inducted as an honorary member of the Links Inc., an international service group of black women. Parks' relatives held a family reunion that coincided with her 90th birthday celebration. She appeared briefly at a banquet at the downtown Marriott to be photographed with family members on . 16. Prior to that, her last public appearance was at an 89th birthday celebration and premiere of a CBS made-for-TV movie called "The Rosa Parks Story." A bevy of celebrity well-wishers and others attended the world premiere of the movie, including Stevie Wonder who sang a jazzed-up rendition of "Happy Birthday" to her, a version similar to the one he wrote in support of making King's birthday a national holiday. Those in attendance at the Detroit Institute of Arts included Angela Bassett, who played Parks in the movie, and Cicely Tyson, who portrayed her mother. Bassett said she was honored to play Parks, who she said was an incredibly courageous woman, especially given the climate in Alabama at the time of her 1955 action. She also said Parks proves a single person can make a big difference and one doesn't have to be a person with a big voice to have a big impact. "If you have a big voice, so be it. But if you do things quietly, so be it. It can be done," Bassett said. "I think it was a destiny for her life." Just months before the movie premiere, metro Detroit celebrated the 46th anniversary of the boycott at a gala reception at the Henry Ford, which now houses the bus on which Parks was arrested. In 2000, Parks joined dignitaries from around the nation in celebrating the anniversary of the bus boycott with the opening of a grand library and museum named for her and built on the very site where police arrested her 45 years earlier. The museum features an interactive display about the boycott. Walking through it is like experiencing the boycott from beginning to end. The upper floor of the facility serves as a resource center for Troy University at Montgomery, which built and owns it. In 1999, Judge Keith helped organize a benefit concert at Orchestra Hall to honor Parks and raise money for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute. Aretha Franklin sang at the concert and then-Vice President Al Gore presented her with her gold medal. Keith has called Parks a gentle warrior for justice. "Mother Parks is special to me personally and to the world," he said. "She symbolizes what freedom is about and what a difference one person can make." When South African freedom icon Nelson Mandela came to Detroit in 1990, the person he was most honored to meet was Parks. When he got off the plane, a line of dignitaries waited to greet him. Mandela simply stood in awe when he saw Parks. "He chanted, 'Rosa, Rosa, Rosa Parks!' " recalled Keith, who had escorted her to the airport to meet Mandela. "He recognized her before he recognized anyone" else, Keith said. Mandela later told Keith that Parks was his inspiration while he was jailed and her example inspired South African freedom fighters. Mandela called Parks "the David who challenged Goliath" in a 1993 speech at the NAACP convention in Indianapolis. The best-selling poet and writer Maya Angelou said of her, "Mrs. Parks is for me probably what the Statute of Liberty was for immigrants. She stood for the future, and the better future." Angelou recalled the pleasure of having Parks as a guest at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., several years ago. "She was as tender as a rose and she was as strong as steel." U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., said Parks was her role model all her adult life. Kilpatrick recalled first meeting her in the early 1980s as a state legislator. "I remember thinking how dare I not do all I can after seeing this little, strong woman who took a stand to make life better for me, for all of us, how dare any of us to shirk from any injustice." Fred Gray, Sr., her attorney during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, praised Parks' manner and determination. "Her quiet, dignified, but firm way gave courage to thousands of African Americans and others to be determined to stay off the buses until we could return in a dignified way," says Gray who at 74 still has law offices in Tuskegee where Parks was born. He first became acquainted with Parks when he was a law student and she was youth director and secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP. "She's always been a person concerned about the youth," Gray said. During the 1995 Free Press interview, Parks spoke of the bus boycott's enduring legacy. "I hope it will remind people how we struggled and what we had to go through, and that they'll be willing to continue to work for our freedom because we still have quite a long way to go," she said. Contact CASSANDRA SPRATLING at 313-223-4580 or

Monday, October 24, 2005

KATRINA'S AFTERMATH: Flooded 9th Ward to evolve or vanish

Oct. 24, 2005, 1:35AM By THOMAS KOROSECCopyright 2005 Houston Chronicle NEW ORLEANS - Harry Williams kicked in the front door of his hulking white clapboard house on St. Maurice Avenue, then shielded his nose from the stench. "It's bad, man," said Williams, surveying the upside-down furniture that had blocked the entry, the moldy walls and his big-screen TV, which was still holding water. "There's nothing to save in here" The 34-year-old grocery manager returned to the Lower 9th Ward last week to "look and leave," as the authorities call it. The predominantly black, working class and poor neighborhood suffered some of the worst damage when Hurricane Katrina swamped the city and Rita doused it again. Houses were knocked off foundations. Cars floated onto rooftops. A layer of gray mud settled on the abandoned beauty shops, the collapsed storefront churches, the dead shrubbery and lawns. Eight weeks after the deluge, the neighborhood is all but deserted and parts remain off limits as the search for bodies goes on. Four decades ago, after the waters of Hurricane Betsy poured in and killed 81 people, residents rebuilt the ward's shotgun houses and "doubles," with their distinctive front porches painted pink, purple or tropical blue. This time, federal officials, academics and others question the wisdom of trying to rebuild once more. They say the ward and other low-lying areas should be returned to their original state as marshland, to act as hurricane buffers protecting a smaller city occupying only the higher ground. Rich in history The debate, which touches nerves of race and class, rankles those who see the ward as an integral part of the city's history and soul. "You can't have the city as we know it without the 9th Ward," said state Rep. Charmaine Marchand, who has no doubt the area will begin to rebuild once power is restored in three to six months. "People all over the city come from there. It's in the style of cooking and the way people talk" The region's heaviest accent, a second cousin to Brooklynese, sprang from the working-class Italians, Irish, Germans and freed slaves who began inhabiting the former cypress swamp in the 1870s, historians say. In the 1960s and with the advent of school desegregation, whites fled "the Lower Nine" The neighborhood, a low bowl of land on the city's eastern end, is bordered by the Mississippi River, the parish line, a set of railroad tracks and the Industrial Canal, which separates it from the rest of the 9th Ward. It is home to rhythm and blues legend Antoine "Fats" Domino, jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, 100 churches and 20,000 people, about a third living below the poverty line. On Wednesday, Mayor C. Ray Nagin declared his support for rebuilding the hard-hit ward, but he expressed doubt whether the levee along the Industrial Canal is safe enough to allow people to move back. Last month, Alphonso Jackson, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told the Houston Chronicle that he counseled Nagin that it would be "a mistake" to rebuild the area. "I said I'm not sure what we do with it," Jackson said. A 17-member commission appointed by the mayor is expected to address the question in a broad rebuilding plan scheduled to be completed by year's end. State officials also will have their say. Flood zone proposed Craig Colten, a geography professor at Louisiana State University who has written extensively about the city's struggle with its watery location, is a proponent of letting the Lower 9th Ward — as well as the adjacent, predominantly white St. Bernard Parish located downstream — become part of a natural flood zone. "Regardless of class or the value of the property, the lowest areas should be devoted to safer, saner practices of flood control," he said. "These would be green spaces and flood-retention bases, so waters can collect in those areas" Rather than place residents of the Lower 9th back in harm's way, he said, officials should think about moving them, as a community, to higher and less vulnerable ground. "The Cajuns uprooted from Canada and moved as a group to Louisiana. Vietnamese communities have reassembled after moving much farther. There is precedent for doing this," Colten said. Pam Dashiell, president of Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, said she is not surprised some people want to erase the ward from the street map. "The Lower 9th has always seemed to be a stepchild of New Orleans. It didn't get the same services. It's isolated because it's on the other side of the drawbridges," she said. "It's easier to write us off than some middle-class community with more resources and more voice" In a city rife with crime, much of it drug- and gang-related, the ward was perceived as the most dangerous neighborhood of all, she said. In the month before Katrina, five men were shot to death in the ward in separate incidents, according to newspaper accounts. "We had a lot of people in the community working on the problems," said Dashiell, who wants to see the levees around the ward strengthened to withstand the most severe hurricanes. There was crime, she said, but there also was one of the highest rates of homeownership in the city: 59 percent, according to the 2000 federal census. "These are some of the greatest people, families who will want and need to return, and frankly, the city needs us" John Scully, a real estate agent and landlord with 15 houses in the area, said he expects people will face steep financial hurdles as they contemplate moving back. He carried no flood insurance on several shotgun houses he owns in the ward and he suspects most of his neighbors were also uninsured. "If you were financing, the bank insisted you have flood insurance," he said. "If the house was in your family for years and you didn't have a note, nobody forced you buy it and you probably didn't have the money to afford it" As he took his first quick tour of a house on Burgundy Street that fetched $600 a month for each of its two units, he concluded, "This is a total loss. It'll have to be torn down" About half of his tenants worked in hotels, restaurants or other low-wage jobs. The rest were on Social Security or received public assistance. "Nobody has called me yet asking about coming back," he said. Jeff Roesel, principal planner of the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, said local officials he has talked to seem loath to "tear up their maps" and radically reshape the city. "A lot will depend on who is willing to return," he said. "Neighborhoods will be rebuilt by the people who come back" The Lower 9th Ward had a high percentage of residents who have lived there most of their lives. It had cohesive families living in their homes. "I think they're coming back," Roesel said. "And I think it would be great for the city" Williams, the St. Maurice Avenue homeowner, said he wants to return, although he doesn't see an easy path. "This is my home, and if the city gets up and running again, I will come back," he said. His extended family, numbering more than 150 with the names Williams, Davis, Baptiste and Pierre, all lived in the Lower 9th or in neighborhoods just across the canal. Scattered family Several died when their house on Jourdan Avenue, just blocks from the levee break, was inundated, he said. The rest escaped to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Las Vegas and New Mexico. The supermarket chain for which Williams worked asked him to stay in New Orleans, but, with nowhere to live, he found another grocery job in Alexandria, La., and signed a six-month apartment lease. "I'll be there for a while," he said. Detrell Williams, his brother, moved to Alexandria two years ago. "There's a lot of bad, a lot of bad that goes on around here," Detrell Williams, said as he helped move dry furniture and a prized basketball card collection from the second floor of the family home. His son, 12-year-old Detrell Wright, rode out the hurricane with his mother in a New Orleans hotel, then spent two days on the Claiborne Avenue Bridge waiting to be rescued. "I don't want to come back. It's dangerous," said the younger Detrell, a seventh-grader. "I saw 10 people dead. They were shot, drowned" Williams' aunt, 63-year-old Mary Davis, left town before the storm with only three days of clothing because she remembered they returned in five after Betsy blew through in 1965. This time, with her house on North Galvez in ruins, she said she is too tired to rebuild. "That's for when you're young," she said.

Kentucky Historical Society putting its collection online

By Joe BieskAssociated Press FRANKFORT, Ky. -- As a teenager working at a Louisville five-and-dime, former state Sen. Georgia Powers quit her job rather than tell black customers they couldn't eat their hot dogs at the counter. "I thought, 'I'm not going to tell anybody they can't stand there because if they paid for it, they can eat anywhere they want to,' " Powers said. "Well, I knew I was not going to last very long on that job." Powers' interview, in which she talks about similar issues, is preserved as part of Kentucky's oral history at the Kentucky Historical Society. But until recently, accessing the agency's collection -- from historical tackle boxes to precious maps and photos -- usually required a special trip. Now, some of it can be studied from any computer with Internet access on the society's Web site, "Everything on this site is something in the KHS collections," said Mary Winter, director of collections and reference services at the agency. "And that's what this is, new access to our collections." About 1 percent of the society's collection went online for the first time this month, Winter said. Still, that represents thousands of artifacts -- from original notices of some of Kentucky's earliest public sales to random photographs. The online collection also includes historic maps, recorded and transcribed oral histories, documents and biographies of Kentucky's governors. Some of the oral histories available include other interviews related to the civil-rights movement and the Bataan Death March. There also are transcribed interviews with Holocaust survivors. And more are on the way every day, Winter said. Eventually, the entire collection should be available electronically, she said. "We started out trying to give people a little taste of everything," Winter said. Electronic archivists are working to scan additional items into the system and catalog them so they can be cross-referenced with other pieces. What might be one of the agency's oldest items belongs to the society's William Calk exhibit, which Winter described as a "showcase collection." Among the Calk artifacts is a receipt from 1744 in which the pioneer traded 100 pounds of tobacco for the release of his father's debt "from the beginning of the world to this day." Calk, who came to Boonesborough shortly after Daniel Boone, also wrote a journal of his travels starting in 1775. It's part of the collection. In his journal, Calk talks about his group's encounters with American Indians and describes what they cooked along the way, Winter said. With the new technology, researchers now can view the items on their computers and perform electronic searches more rapidly. They also can study the original handwriting. There also are various maps, including one from 1839 that shows the routes and schedules of Kentucky's earliest stagecoaches and steamboats, Winter said. With 120 counties in Kentucky, organizers thought it was necessary to show items that represent "geographic diversity," Winter said. "The sort of thing that people are looking for mostly is Kentucky history and local history," she said. "So those are the things that we're going to push forth first." Users may browse and bookmark specific items. Or they can search for specific items or categories. Previously, viewing some of the artifacts in the collection was labor-intensive because researchers would have to do custom searches for every request. Having the materials online allows people to do their own searching. It also protects some of the pieces from excessive wear. The less certain items are handled, the better they will fare in the end, she said. "Nobody is more excited that these things are up than we are," Winter said. "And we're in an era now where people expect to find things online -- we can finally do that for them."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Pioneering Church marches on

In Boston, Peoples Baptist marks 200 years as a force in shaping black community life. By Jane Lampman Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

As the morning light streams gently through stained glass windows, the congregation lifts its hands and hearts in praise to God, singing "bless the Rock of my salvation." Moments later, attendees move around the pews, greeting each other with hugs and handshakes. In this first of two Sunday services, members of the Peoples Baptist Church in Boston celebrate their faith and commitment to community. The Rev. Wesley Roberts is preaching on "Why We Need Each Other," as the church begins a new campaign of spiritual fellowship and community service. This month also marks another celebration: the church's 200th anniversary. In 1805, free blacks on Boston's Beacon Hill started First African Baptist Church, the first independent black Baptist church in the North, and the first free black church of any denomination in New England. It has since had an uninterrupted history (through several name changes), symbolizing both the black church's strong cultural influence and African-Americans' exceptional devotion to spiritual matters.In almost any survey of religious attitudes or behavior in the US today, African-Americans stand out as the most religiously involved, the most prayerful, the most spiritually focused among America's faithful. Beatrice Busby, a native Bostonian, was baptized at Peoples Baptist back in May 1925, and her spiritual journey covers almost half the church's history. "One thing I remember very clearly from my childhood is [the pastor] always saying, 'Talk to that man upstairs. No matter what happens, talk to Him and trust Him,' " the lively octogenarian says in an interview. "There are times when your back is against the wall and you wonder if God cares. But then the door opens, and it opens wide. I could write a book about what He has done for me." Children singing in the youth choir this Sunday sound as though they could tell stories of their own. "We face peer pressures and obstacles, but with God we're able to conquer them and move on," says one young boy, as he introduces their next song: "We Are More Than Conquerors." Faith has served as a vibrant force sustaining, liberating, and shaping the black community since the days of slavery. Slaves were brought to Boston only eight years after its founding in 1630. One of the first colonies to permit slavery, Massachusetts Bay was also one of the first to abolish it - in 1780. Many free blacks first attended predominantly white churches. But after being made to sit separately in galleries and prohibited from voting in church elections or holding committee posts, many began worshipping together in homes. The Rev. Thomas Paul, a black pastor, founded First African Baptist Church with about 20 members in 1805. Immediately raising funds, the community built the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill by December 1806. On that site - now the oldest standing black church building in the US - a long tradition began of the church serving as the central social institution within the African-American community. A school was set up there to educate black children (until the government began doing so in 1855). The Meeting House became a political and social forum, a center of the abolitionist movement, and a stop on the underground railroad. William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society there in 1832. (Today it houses the Museum of Afro-American History.) "The church has been the center of community life, a multidimensional institution dealing with all areas touching the lives of black people," says Dr. Roberts, a former church historian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. This month also marks his 25 years as pastor at Peoples Baptist. When Boston's black population began moving in the late 19th century to the South End and Roxbury, the church followed, buying its present building in 1898 and taking its current name in 1915. Since then, it has played a prominent community role. In the early 1970s, Roberts' predecessor, the Rev. Richard Owen, spurred construction of a 135-unit housing development in the neighborhood. For a decade, Roberts headed the city's Black Ministerial Alliance, which spiritually nurtures clergy and provides programs for the community. Under his leadership, the BMA began supporting after-school programs for children and reform in the Boston schools. Recently, it became a clearinghouse for building the capacity of local churches to participate in President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative. As Peoples Baptist enters its third century, it is rededicating itself to strengthening its own spiritual community and to reaching beyond church walls. "Spiritual growth - that's what I've found at Peoples Baptist Church," Mrs. Busby emphasizes. Now, with a congregation of close to 700, the church is initiating small groups to foster relationships that help people mature together spiritually beyond regular religious services. Still, many prize the Sunday teaching (rather than traditional preaching) which they say characterizes their pastor's style. Karla Tolbert, a mother of three, just joined the church last spring. Her kids attended first, she says, and came home to tell her "the service was great - the pastor teaches!" She has found, she adds, that this pastor and church also really care. Among the largely middle-class congregation, many members now travel from homes in the suburbs into the inner-city sanctuary, holding onto their community heritage. Peoples Baptist recently decided to adopt two Boston schools, joining with a white suburban congregation to help supply classrooms and meet student needs. "One school has no playground or landscaping; one needs shelves and more books in the library and enough books so children can take them home," Roberts says. In his quiet assurance, the pastor resembles another Jamaican-born leader, Colin Powell. He is excited about his church's latest venture, spurred by the results of an earlier experiment with small groups in the "purpose- driven church" program pioneered by megachurch pastor Rick Warren. For 40 days, the congregation got on "the same page together in the most successful spiritual campaign we've ever done," he says. And as people began sharing the results - "marriages being strengthened, finances being put back together, all kinds of miracles - it energized the congregation."

Dr. Rosalie Reddick Miller, 1925-2005: Worked to improve patient care, civil rights

By CHRISTINE FREYSEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER Rosalie Reddick Miller, who experienced firsthand the effects of racism, was an advocate for patients, especially those who were discriminated against. At a time when dentists refused to care for people who had AIDS, for instance, she pushed for their fair treatment, recalled her daughter Miriam Miller. "She had great concern for the patients, that they be treated humanely," Miriam said. "She was ahead of her times." Miller, the first African American woman dentist to practice in Seattle, died Monday at the age of 79 after a battle with cancer. During her long career, she worked to improve patient care, mentored students at the University of Washington and advocated for civil rights. The daughter of a Georgia dentist, Miller enrolled in Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., to study dentistry. She was a freshman when she met the medical student she would later marry, Dr. Earl V. Miller. The couple had five children. She later returned to Georgia and took over her father's practice. While in the South, the Millers worked to advance civil rights; in one instance, they protested an all-white golf course in Georgia that was paid for with public funds, Miriam recalled. The family moved to Seattle in the late 1950s. "(We) understood that Seattle had open housing, integrated schools and he (Earl) would have no problem finding office space," Rosalie said in a January interview when her husband died. "And it turns out none of those things were true, but we stuck it out." Earl Miller was Seattle's first African American urologist. Rosalie Miller practiced at Group Health Dental Cooperative and served as the director of dental programs for the Community Health Board of Model Cities. Miller, who received a master's in public health from the University of Washington, was an assistant professor of dentistry there for 15 years until she retired in 1991. There she served as a mentor to many students, who often sought her counsel. Carl Gross, a friend and former UW dentistry student, said she was vivacious and fearless. "You could always tell when Rosalie was in the room," he said. She lived at Seward Park with her husband for 40 years before they sold their house and moved into a First Hill apartment. Her children described her as a strong and generous woman who loved her family. Pollene Speed McIntyre, a friend and former UW student, credited Miller with helping her complete the university's dentistry program. Miller also influenced many of the values that she holds today, McIntyre said, showing her the importance of setting high standards and helping other people. "We can still see the effects, the impact of what she's done through other people," she said. In addition to her children, Miller is survived by four grandchildren. At her request, there will be no service. The family asks that donations be sent to Meharry Medical College in lieu of flowers. P-I reporter Christine Frey can be reached at 206-448-8176 or

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thompson Book Explores Local Civil Rights Efforts

Oct 07, 2005 -- In the Watchfires, just published by the Black History Committee of the Friends of Thomas Balch Library, is a vivid account of a Loudoun tradition of celebrating Emancipation. In 1890, black families in western Loudoun formed an association tasked with organizing yearly celebrations on Sept. 22 to mark the beginning of the end of slavery. On that day in 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation warning the rebellious states that all slaves should be set free by New Year’s Day. That was the Emancipation Proclamation. In marking the anniversary last month, the Thomas Balch library hosted a meeting and reception for Watchfires author Elaine E. Thompson. The event was attended by 112 people, of whom more than a third were direct descendants of founders, officers and directors of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association. They came from all around the country to share in the occasion and to hear Thompson discuss her book. In large part, the element of Loudoun history, which has until now been preserved in the oral tradition of black families, was not known to the broader community. The Emancipation Association was active for 81 years, until it was dissolved in 1971. The word “Watchfires” in the title is taken from a line in The Battle Hymn of the Republic, “I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps…” These were fires lit for soldiers who guarded Union encampments during the Civil War. For Thompson, the title of her book symbolizes the role of the Emancipation Association as a protector of the black community. She described the courage of the original families that established communities in Loudoun, building homes, schools and churches only to see their hard-won rights erode as Jim Crow swept the country after the end of the Reconstruction Period. “How they used racial pride to counter segregation in that period, how they coped with the challenges of Jim Crow, expressed our national ideals of freedom and liberty, is a real and important part of the history of Loudoun County,” she said. School children are taught that President Woodrow Wilson claimed that World War I would “make the world safe for democracy,” even though he was responsible for segregating government facilities in Washington, DC. Nevertheless the Emancipation Association contributed to the war effort. This shows their patriotism despite the wrongs they suffered, she said. She described Emancipation Day as a combination of the Fourth of July and Christmas, an all-day event featuring parades, cavalry soldiers on their horses, speeches by notables from all over the country, food, fun and games. Typically, the Emancipation Day festivities would begin with a march through town streets, an action which was a quiet assertion of the rights of the black community. The parade was led by four men who were dressed to represent Uncle Sam, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas and abolitionist John Brown. In the book, Thompson said that two of the founders are known to have served in the Union army. In 1910, the Emancipation Association incorporated and purchased 10.5 acres in Purcellville, on which it built a tabernacle with a 1,200-person seating capacity. This became the place where Emancipation Day celebrations were held but it was also a place for social activities and sporting events for the black community all year long. As the civil rights movement gained force following World War II, the Emancipation Association became less of a focal point for the Loudoun black community. Ironically, it was the achievement of its goal of desegregation and the improvement of opportunities for black Americans that led to its dissolution in 1971, Thompson said. Although the grounds are now used for other purposes and the tabernacle is long gone, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources installed a historic highway marker at the site in 2000. During the discussion period, many of those gathered at the library thanked Thompson for writing the book. Several people remarked on how the Purcellville property still seems like hallowed ground. Lemoine Pierce described the meeting as a “holy occasion.” She had found out about the meeting by researching the family geology on the Internet, she said. At the gathering, Thompson recited a roll call of the families that had served on the Emancipation Association in various capacities and asked descendants to stand. Thirty-eight did so. Also present were Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd and Councilwoman Kelly Burk. The age of the audience ranged from children to Thompson’s 98-year-old uncle, Charles Presley Clark, who had been a director and vice-president of the Emancipation Association and was the son of founders Howard and Eppie Clark. Traditionally, Emancipation Day celebrations were gatherings of families that either moved away or had been been sold to distant parts during the days of slavery, Thompson said. This occasion was no different. Billy Pierce, a famous choreographer and impresario, was an early shareholder in the Emancipation Association. He is reported to have invented the Charleston by Lemoine Pierce, the widow of his son, and was an associate of famous dancers such as Fred Astaire. Lemoine Pierce came to the meeting from Atlanta and was accompanied by her son William and her grandson William who are now living in New York City. It was their first time in Loudoun, she said. Charles Clark was born in Hamilton, but for the past 71 years he has been living in a Purcellville home which he had rented and then purchased from Billy Pierce. It was a great thrill for the Pierce family to meet Charles Clark at their former home when they visited the area. Thompson grew up in Hamilton where she now lives. She is a direct descendant of Howard Clark, who at the age of 14 was the first secretary of the Emancipation Association. In 2001, when Balch reopened following renovation, the great hall where his portrait now hangs was named the Howard Clark room to honor him. “When I was a child, I could not go to Balch Library. They have made tremendous strides by preserving and collecting Afro American history. Now the rest of the country needs to catch up,” she said. The 18 members of the Black History Committee, of which Thompson is a leading member, have diverse backgrounds. Phyllis Cook-Taylor, is chairman. She was born in Middleburg in 1955, and she remembers the impacts of segregation in Loudoun. She was only able to attend an integrated school in fifth grade. Too young to participate directly in the civil rights struggle, she did experience it through the activity of her parents who were especially involved in the struggle in Loudoun County for integrated education and for voting rights. She believes that black history should be taught in the schools, and she hopes that In the Watchfires will become an important source book for school children. “All our youth, not just blacks, need to understand this history. The struggle for justice by black people is a model for all of us young and old, whatever the injustice,” she said. Lou Etta Watkins grew up in Fauquier County, but she moved to Purcellville as a young woman after her marriage. She was active in NAACP legal activities to desegregate the Purcellville schools during the 1960s. She said that one of the things she most liked about Thompson’s book was its positive emphasis on the strength and accomplishments of the black families that established themselves in the county despite discrimination and the other problems which they faced. She remarked that the Thomas Balch library was built in 1922 as a private library devoted to historic preservation. It was only opened to a broader, white population—in fact all Loudoun libraries were closed to blacks until the 1960s. Sherry Sanabria, another member of the committee, is a well known local artist. She said that being a member of the panel was an inspiration for a series of her paintings now on exhibit at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD, on “Slave Quarters and Other African American Sites.” In the Watchfires can be purchased for $20 at Thomas Balch library, and at 17 local stores. For more information call Janet Manthos at 703-777-2682. Publication of the book was supported by a grant from the Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy and the National Foundation for the Humanities, the Clarence I. Robey Charitable Trust, and the Loudoun Library Foundation. Further costs were paid by the Black History Committee, which meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Thomas Balch library.

225 Years After Yorktown and We're Still Not Honoring the Virginia Black Soldiers Who Fought There?

By Anita L. Wills Ms. Wills is a writer, researcher, and genealogist, and author of the book, Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color: Colonial Virginia, 1650-1850. October 16, 2005, will mark the kickoff of the 225th anniversary of the Siege of Yorktown, one of the deciding battles of the Revolutionary War. The Yorktown Battle was fought after a defeat at the Battle of Camden South Carolina, by the British General Cornwallis. Fresh from his victory, he headed for Yorktown, where he was soundly defeated. In our family Camden and Yorktown are not just historical events. We commemorate them because our ancestors fought in both battles. Charles and Ambrose Lewis fought at Camden and Rawley Pinn, John Redcross, and Benjamin Evans fought at Yorktown. They were not just soldiers, they were Natives and Free Blacks, who distinguished themselves on the battlefield. Rawley Pinn marched with his unit from Amherst County under the command of General William Cabell. Rawley was with Colonial Daniel Gaines's unit, as were John Redcross and Benjamin Evans. They were in the Second Virginia Calvary, and they left Amherst County on June 21, 1781. Half way to Yorktown, they joined up with the unit of the Marquis De Lafayette. Together the units marched into history, by way of the Siege of Yorktown. The men received little public recognition. Their names were listed in the Lynchburg News & Advance in 1884 (Amherst County, Virginia) and in a booklet published by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The article in the Lynchburg News, which ran on Thursday, May 22, 1884, listed the names of soldiers who served out of Amherst County. Appended to the list was this statement: In every war there are and always has been, thousands of privates who suffered or bled or died after patriotic sacrifice and great individual deeds, whose names as soldiers are unknown outside of the humble family. Often these men had nothing to fight for, yet they periled life and limb and often lost, for their cause, their flag..., Soon those so near us will be forgotten as the Revolutionary-great., unrecognized, have been. The old County of Amherst, then comprising Amherst and Nelson, furnished many men to face disease and death in the Revolutionary War, and they came willingly, were patriots-refused pay by British gold and place and pay, and any one who gathers the names of such patriots in any war, does a high, patriotic deed. The article does not indicate what happened to the men. It is almost certain that they did not receive veterans' benefits or land bounties. It is a safe bet that all of the men were deceased by the time this article ran in 1884. The roster containing the soldiers names was buried in the records of Colonial William Cabell at the College of William & Mary's Swem Library. That is where they were when I found them in 1999, and submitted them to a historian at Colonial Williamsburg. After proving that I was a descendant of Rawley Pinn, an event was scheduled for September 30, 2000. The event was to commemorate Native and Black soldiers (and all in between), who fought at Yorktown. I submitted a copy of the official roster to Colonial Yorktown, and believed the names would be added to the official database. Yet, this is not what happened. The database to this day does not include the names of those brave men. The celebration that is scheduled to kick off at Colonial Yorktown, on October 16th, may include America's first all-black unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, but it will not include the Natives and Blacks who lived in Virginia. It is a sad footnote to American History that we are still struggling in 2005 to honor those people of color, who fought in a battle that is almost 225 years old. In July of 2004, Colonial Yorktown allowed the Nazi Party to march on the Battlefield at Yorktown. Yet, there is hesitation when it is time to recognize those who risked their lives during the Revolution. If we cannot get that history right, what are we going to say about the war in Vietnam, The Gulf War, or the war in Iraq? We worry because our children are not being properly educated, and most cannot tell the difference between a continent and a country. Yet, here is the National Park Services, a branch of the U.S. government missing the chance to set the record straight. America is a diverse society, and has been from its' inception. It should not take an Act of Congress to honor our heroes. What happened to the inclusive government that honored the contributions of all of its citizens? Has it gone the way of the dinosaur? Until every person who participated in the Siege of Yorktown is honored there is no cause for celebration. As Americans we should be hanging our heads in shame.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Batteau Day brings back canal's history

PETERSBURG - Once upon a time, there were people called batteau men. Rugged and adventurous by today's standards, they braved the waterways of Virginia to transport goods and agriculture from one city to another.

Their history may seem something of a legend. In modern times, it's hard to envision two men poling an 8,000-pound "batteau," or the French equivalent of a boat, from Petersburg to Farmville. Load that batteau up with a cargo of tobacco or hogsheads and you have a mighty fun 120 miles to cover.Celebrating the legacy of the long-forgotten batteau men is what yesterday's 16th annual Batteau Day festival at Appomattox River Park was all about."Some people re-enact the Civil War. We like pretending to be boat men," said William Trout. "It's a little more civilized."And quieter. Dressed in period garb from the 1800s, batteau enthusiasts spent the day floating passengers up and down the peaceful, man-made canal of the Appomattox. Until the railroad came along in the late 19th century, the same canal bustled with batteaux from Petersburg. Their deliveries fueled the area's economy."[Batteau Day] is a way to bring history back to this part of the country," said David Haney, a batteau enthusiast. "So much of history is forgotten. It's also to bring people back to the community to let them know they do have a canal here."Trout, a member of the Virginia Canals and Navigations Society, is a local expert on Virginia waterways. He's studied the Appomattox canal in depth and even published an atlas on his findings."This is one of the few canals in Virginia that you can actually take a boat on," he said. "[Batteaux] bypassed the dangerous part of the river so there could be commerce."The batteau way of life is unique in American history. Many batteau men were slaves who were permitted to travel hundreds of miles from their homestead. Some were freed blacks. Special laws allowed them to cross state lines several times in one trip.The batteau itself is a long, narrow, flat-bottomed water craft that is poled through the water. The largest batteaux could carry up to 12,000 pounds of cargo. Because of the batteau and the canal system, new cities came about and Virginia became linked to the global economy. But at Batteau Day, the main focus is the pioneering spirit of the batteau era. The festival featured a museum of Appomattox history and photos provided by Larry Holt, a Colonial Heights resident whose ancestors were batteau people in Matoaca."Batteau people could do anything," Trout said. "Even the modern batteau people can do almost anything."

* Julie Buchanan may be reached at 722-5155. ©The Progress-Index 2005

Old North: Recalling the Real Slaves of New York

By Michael Powell, Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, October 9, 2005; Page D01

NEW YORK -- One fine morning in 1720, George Clarke sent his agent off to the market in downtown Manhattan. At the top of his shopping list was a good field slave. Alas, the market offered spare pickings. There was a house slave, too soft for fieldwork. Another, a strapping fellow, was overpriced. But the day was not lost. As Clarke's agent wrote in fine olde script, "I was able to find some garlic." One fine morning in 1720, George Clarke sent his agent off to the market in downtown Manhattan. At the top of his shopping list was a good field slave.

It's the workaday language of the unspeakable, and for almost two centuries it was the daily argot of New York, arguably the slave capital of the New World. This wealthiest and most mercantile of American cities was constructed on the backs of African slaves. The elegant old New-York Historical Society -- itself founded by a slave owner -- has lifted a curtain and mounted the first expansive exploration of slavery in New York City, running through March 5. The distinct impression is of an Up-South city. When the Civil War loomed, New York's mayor suggested that business common sense dictated seceding and joining the Confederacy. "New York's whole economy was built on the cotton industry," said Richard Rabinowitz, who curated the 9,000-square foot exhibition. "New York was in every sense a slave city." Slaves built the walls of Wall Street, the first city hall and Trinity Church. Slaves accounted for 20 percent of the population of Colonial New York, compared with 6 percent in Philadelphia and 2 percent in Boston. Forty percent of New York households owned slaves. Slaves dredged ponds, cleared Harlem woods and constructed Fraunces Tavern, which was owned by "Black Sam" Fraunces, a West Indian. George Washington, a slaveholder, bade farewell to his lieutenants at that tavern.

There were peculiarities to the slave experience in New York. The great cost of tiny real estate plots meant the typical white New York family owned but a single slave. Black women who bore children were not desired and were often sold to farms. "More New Yorkers owned slaves than whites in the antebellum South," says Leslie Harris, a professor of history at Emory University, who edited a book on the exhibit. "We need to acknowledge that our history is much more complicated than a benighted racist South and a free North." Nor was urbanized slavery necessarily more benign. Blacks in New York worked from dawn to well after dark. They could not own property and could not meet in groups of more than three. Any hint of defiance was met with unyielding violence. One reads of rebellious blacks burned, stretched on racks and run through. This is a tale movingly told in an exhibition that shies from the didactic through innovative use of sound and subdued lighting, graphics, copious documents and splendid new maps and artwork. If few blacks left a written or visual record -- it's not until the 1790s that paintings begin to depict blacks -- the designers respond with what feels like judicious imaginative leaps. There are yellowing ledger books of slave ships recording the "38 negroes lost in passage" and classified newspaper advertisements for "whole bodied negroe men" and an African runaway whose "hair or Wool is curled in locks in a very remarkable manner." Round a corner into a room and the ear catches the rounded vowels of Akan, a language spoken along the west "Gold Coast" of Africa. Wander a few more feet and you come to a re-created well where slaves gathered to tote water for their owners' tea. These communal wells downtown became a crossroads. In this exhibit, you peer into the well and see the shimmering reflection of black slave women. You hear them asking after family sold up the Hudson River Valley, gossiping about boyfriends, laughing and whispering. * * * Two decades into the life of New Amsterdam, in the 1630s, when it was a tiny collection of wharves, forts, homes and businesses at the toe of Manhattan Island, it had 800 slaves. These Africans arrived from Guinea and Angola and Madagascar, a transoceanic commerce that would send 80 Africans per day to the New World for 400 years. The first slaves were akin to indentured servants. The city was a typical Dutch mosaic -- burghers, Jews, Flemish, Indonesians and blacks living at close quarters. Slaves could earn limited freedom, although if they wanted to buy a house they had to move "uptown" to lands not protected from Indians. Intermarriage was legal, if rare. "The racial stereotypes were not fixed yet; it was a frontier town, and it was possible for blacks to negotiate a half-freedom," Harris says. "Then the British took over and the vise tightens." When British governors took charge in 1664, they realized that New York, with its harbor and bred-in-the-bone entrepreneurial fever, could dominate the Colonial economy. Blacks became the town's sinew. Some slaves lived well enough, becoming stevedores and metalsmiths. But there's no mistaking bondage as less than bitter. The slave John Jea lived on a diet of boiled corn doused in sour buttermilk with a slice of dark bread and rancid lard. On a rare day, an owner might toss in salt beef and potatoes.

In 1991, contractors unearthed an African burial site in Lower Manhattan. The story pathologists found in those bones is related here. The early slaves had spinal fractures and severe deformations from hauling stones and other heavy loads over many years. Revolt was common. In some cases, blacks conspired to slay their owners, sprinkling themselves with sacred powder in hopes of making themselves invisible. Some committed suicide rather than face recapture. Many blacks saw little promise in the American Revolution. The British, no doubt cynically, offered blacks freedom in exchange for fighting on their side. The revolutionaries offered no deal at all. They gave 500 acres to any New York slaveholder who enrolled his slaves in George Washington's army. Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery, in 1777. Massachusetts did so in 1783. New York did not follow until 1827. Even after that, teams of white men -- known as black birders -- roamed the night streets, grabbing freed blacks and secretly shipping them south to again become enslaved. The mystery is that so little of this grim story is known. "As slavery ends, it's as though blacks and whites stop talking about it. . . . There was a lot of shame involved," says Harris, who is African American. "We underestimate the good power that comes when people see their history fully represented for the first time."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Aaron Burr fans find unlikely ally in black descendant

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

By Greg Ip, The Wall Street Journal

PHILADELPHIA -- For years, Stuart Fisk Johnson, a white criminal-defense attorney, has doggedly researched the life of his distant ancestor Aaron Burr in hopes of restoring Burr's good name. Recently, Mr. Johnson found an unlikely ally here: an 86-year-old retired black nurse who says she is Burr's great-great-great-granddaughter, the descendant of Burr's illegitimate, mixed-race son. The nation's third vice president, Burr hasn't been treated kindly by history. He is chiefly remembered for killing his rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Thomas Jefferson suspected Burr of trying to take the presidency from him in the disputed election of 1800. Years later, Jefferson had him arrested for treason for allegedly trying to start a war with Spain and separate the western territories from the United States. Though Burr was acquitted, his reputation was ruined. It has more or less stayed that way, in part because of the great esteem in which Hamilton and Jefferson are still held. Lately some historians have painted a more benign picture. They note that Burr, unlike Jefferson, actively opposed slavery (though he may have owned a few slaves himself). He introduced a bill in the New York Legislature to abolish slavery. He courted the political support of New York's black leaders. And his purported illegitimate son, Philadelphia barber John Pierre Burr, was a prominent abolitionist. At its annual meeting in King of Prussia, near Philadelphia, this week, the Aaron Burr Association, a small group of Burr devotees headed by Mr. Johnson, plans to share a trove of family documents, pictures and oral history owned by Louella Burr Mitchell Allen, the nurse who traces her lineage to John Pierre Burr. Mrs. Allen, who lives in a Philadelphia retirement home, will speak at the meeting about Burr's family of color. The documents and oral history aren't conclusive; there is no birth, death or marriage certificate linking Aaron Burr to John Pierre Burr. And DNA testing hasn't been done. Still, Mr. Johnson and his association are embracing Mrs. Allen and her relatives as long lost kin. "Even though it hasn't been proven yet, we're very conscious (Mrs. Allen) is getting up in years and we want to learn about her and this family before it's too late," says Mr. Johnson, 62 years old, who runs the association from his home in Upper Marlboro, Md. His sister, Phyllis Morales, says there's no question that Mrs. Allen "is my relative," adding that she "looks just like us -- her mannerisms, her voice." Mr. Johnson and Ms. Morales trace their family tree back to a cousin of Burr's. The Burr group's embrace of Mrs. Allen contrasts with the cool reception many of Thomas Jefferson's white descendants have given descendants of Jefferson slave Sally Hemings. In 1998, DNA testing demonstrated that Jefferson was probably the father of one of her sons. Nonetheless, the Monticello Association, which controls burial rights at the Jefferson family cemetery near Charlottesville, Va., says the DNA evidence is not conclusive. So far the association has declined to permit Hemings descendants to be buried at the cemetery, which is restricted to Jefferson's direct descendants. Many of the details of Burr's life are well-known. In 1782, he married a woman 10 years his senior, Theodosia Prevost, the widow of a British army officer. They had at least two children, but only one survived to adulthood, a girl also named Theodosia. Burr was rumored to have fathered illegitimate white children, but Mr. Johnson says he knows of no living descendants of them and no descendants of Burr's daughter. Much of what the Aaron Burr Association now knows of Mr. Burr's mixed-race family was collected and written down by Mabel Burr Cornish, the great granddaughter of John Pierre Burr. After Mrs. Cornish died in 1955, her notes were given to Mrs. Allen, her niece. Mrs. Allen displays a thick scrapbook of documents and handwritten remembrances in her retirement suite. "We are proud of the fact (Burr) was an upstanding citizen and not a dirty politician," she said. She opened the book to a picture of John Pierre Burr that, she says, hung in his Philadelphia barber shop. It shows a handsome, grave man with a distinctive narrow nose that resembles Aaron Burr's and Mrs. Allen's. The history collected by Mrs. Cornish and Mrs. Allen suggests that Aaron Burr had two children with Mary Emmons, who was a servant but not a slave in Burr's household in Philadelphia while he was married to Theodosia. Mary Emmons was born in Calcutta and lived in Haiti before coming to the U.S. The couple had a daughter, Louisa Charlotte, in 1788. They had a son, John Pierre, in 1792. Allen Ballard, a distant cousin of Mrs. Allen who counts himself as a Burr descendant, says that some of his own, older relatives felt ambivalent about being descended from Burr. "This traitor thing still hung on him," he says. "There hadn't been all this revisionist history" of recent years that portrays Burr as victimized by the malice of Hamilton and Jefferson. Mr. Ballard, who teaches history and African-American studies at the State University of New York at Albany, says his mother's aunt had a marriage certificate showing that Burr and Emmons were married after Theodosia's death but that the aunt tore it up out of frustration with the family's lack of interest. Though his mother may have been East Indian, John Pierre Burr considered himself an African American. A free man, he turned his barber shop into a station in the underground railroad. He hid slaves in the backyard and attic, according to Mrs. Cornish's writings. Mrs. Allen thinks Aaron Burr may have quietly supported John Pierre Burr in his abolitionist activities although there's no proof of that. After serving as an officer in George Washington's army, Burr became prominent in New York state politics. In 1800, Jefferson chose him as his vice-presidential running mate. The two tied in the Electoral College, which in those days did not cast separate ballots for president and vice president, so the decision was thrown to the House of Representatives. Whether Burr actively tried to become president is unclear but Jefferson, who eventually prevailed, suspected that he had, and hated him for it. Burr later ran for governor of New York, incurring the wrath of Alexander Hamilton, who tried to undermine Burr's candidacy. Hamilton's alleged slanders -- precisely what he said is unclear -- led to the fatal duel, fought on the New Jersey cliffs overlooking Manhattan. Burr then traveled west to explore turning Spanish territory, and possibly some of the newly acquired U.S. western territory, into a separate country. Jefferson learned of the plan and had him tried for treason in 1807. He was acquitted thanks to the interventions of Chief Justice John Marshall, a Jefferson antagonist, who presided over the trial. Burr, his reputation ruined nonetheless, left for Europe. He returned in 1812. He married a wealthy widow in 1833; they were divorced the day Burr died in 1836. The new evidence of Burr's family of color gets mixed reactions from historians. Thomas Fleming, author of "Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America," is skeptical, arguing that Burr's enemies would almost certainly have learned of such a family's existence and "played it up very big." But Roger Kennedy, author of "Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson: a Study in Character," calls the story "plausible." He notes Burr, in a letter to his daughter Theodosia, briefly mentioned a woman in Philadelphia about whom he seemed to feel both affection and guilt. Mr. Kennedy speculates it may have been a woman of color. The Aaron Burr Association has explored DNA testing to verify the link. But the test is generally on the male Y chromosome, which changes little between generations, and the association has not found a suitable male descendant of John Pierre Burr from whom to take a sample. Mrs. Allen has no doubts. "Since the beginning of time, the races all meshed," she says. "And you know what? You get quality from this combination."

Another remarkable voice for civil rights passes

By Merlene DavisHERALD-LEADER COLUMNIST With the death last week of Constance Baker Motley, most of the warriors of the Civil Rights Era have been laid to rest. Her death means there is one fewer fighter willing to sacrifice life and limb to force America to end years of unequal treatment of its citizens. Motley, 84, who began her career in law as a clerk for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1945, was the first black woman named to the federal bench, as well as the first black woman in the New York State Senate, and the first woman to be Manhattan borough president. She joined the Defense Fund in 1945, while still a student at Columbia Law School and worked under Thurgood Marshall, who later became a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. When she earned her law degree, Motley fought to tear down Southern segregation through the court system until 1963. In 1950, she prepared the draft argument for what would become Brown vs. Board of Education. Later, she helped argue that desegregation case. In 1957, she argued the case in Little Rock, Ark., that led President Eisenhower to call in federal troops to protect nine black students at Central High School there. And she represented James Meredith in his successful bid to be the first black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962. Marshall placed the latter case on Motley's desk because he believed Southern racists wouldn't harm a black woman, she said in a 2003 interview with the American Bar Association's "Litigation Online." "Thurgood's theory was, in the South they don't bother black women because they all have mammies," Motley said. She won the case but was afraid Meredith would flunk out his first semester. "U.S. marshals had to sleep in the room with him," Motley said. "How are you going to study with marshals with guns?" But he did finish, and he had marshals with him the entire time. That was one of nine cases she won before the U.S. Supreme Court. She lost only one before that august body. And yet, she was before her time, facing discrimination oftentimes because of her sex rather than her race, even at the NAACP. "Women just didn't have the status that we now have in the field," she said. Born in New Haven, Conn., to parents who emigrated from the British West Indies, she was one of 12 children. Her father worked in food services at Yale University, so there wasn't enough money to send the children to college. A white businessman, Clarence Blakeslee, whose family had ties to abolitionists, paid her way to college and through law school. She said he did that for several students, black and white. "He was at my graduation from Columbia Law School," she said. "So he was somebody who took an interest -- he didn't write a check to get a tax exemption. I sometimes wonder if we still have people like that. I guess we do." President Lyndon Johnson named her to the federal bench in 1966. She was still working as a senior judge when she died. Motley didn't hold out much hope for change in this country, however. She believed the battles are the same. She said when she attended a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Brown in Alabama, the young man assigned with picking her up and taking her back to the airport did not know anything about the "Brown case." "Then I knew it was all over," she said in the ABA interview. "We are going to fight the same battles in this century that we fought in the last. "The reason is, if you don't know your own history, you are bound to repeat it," she said. "He is 18 years old," she continued. "He didn't know. He was in Alabama, and he never heard of Brown vs. Board of Education. So that's where we are, I am sad to say." Mercy. I just had to be sure we did not ignore her passing.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New Orleans's Black Colleges Hit Hard

Schools Worry About Losing Faculty to Host Institutions While They Rebuild By Lois RomanoWashington Post Staff WriterSaturday, October 1, 2005; Page A01 Concern is growing among black educators about the future of New Orleans's three historic African American universities, which were hit much harder by Katrina -- and have fewer resources with which to recover -- than the city's other major colleges. Dillard University, Xavier University of Louisiana and Southern University at New Orleans got smacked with at least $1 billion in flood and fire destruction -- by far the worst damage of all the city's institutions of higher education. The schools' limited endowments, coupled with a generally less-moneyed alumni base, have posed particular challenges to saving these venerable institutions, say school officials and education advocates. Sources say there have been some preliminary discussions about whether the schools can continue to pay faculty salaries and benefits while rebuilding. "The task is just daunting," Dillard University President Marvalene Hughes said after she viewed the damage firsthand on Friday. "Seeing it was my reality." In the hours after the storm, Dillard -- a stately, leafy 135-year-old campus -- was floating in upwards of 10 feet of water and lost three dorms to fire. Xavier, the nation's only historically black Catholic college, is today drenched in sludge and mold and has a flooded library, among other damage. Southern, part of the only black college system in the nation, was flooded in all its 11 buildings. Chancellor Edward Jackson believes the entire campus needs to be razed and rebuilt, at a cost of $500 million. Last week, school administrators pleaded with government officials for special and expedited financial help that would include generous incentives to lure back faculty and 8,000 students to the colleges -- long considered a vital part of the culture and fabric of the city's large black community -- who dispersed to other schools when New Orleans was evacuated. "These students have to go back to their home institutions for the schools to survive," said Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. There is a very real concern that hosting institutions will see value in trying to retain good minority teachers and faculty from quality schools with stellar reputations. Xavier, established in 1925 to educate blacks, today turns out a quarter of the nation's black pharmacists and sends the largest number of African American students on to medical schools. Its enrollment for 2005 was about 4,000. Dillard, a traditional liberal arts school with 1,500 students and 19 buildings, was before the storm a glorious campus with white turn-of-the-19th-century buildings sitting on 50 acres. The school is known to instill in its students a strong sense of culture and heritage, emanating from its 1869 founding mission to offer otherwise unattainable education to blacks in the South. The United Negro College Fund has raised more than $2 million for Dillard and Xavier and their students, many of whom need money for books and other expenses at hosting schools. Radio personality Tom Joyner, who has raised $30 million since 1998 for black colleges, diverted $1 million from his foundation to help New Orleans students and is soliciting donations on air. The schools are asking foundations and corporations for funding. At Southern University, a state commuter school, administrators are also dealing with the fact that the vast majority of students probably also lost their homes. "We just can't afford to lose these schools. . . . They need special attention, and they need it urgently," said Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund and a former president of Dillard. "They are a major part of the national strategy to close the education gap and have long been engines to the black middle class -- producing doctors, teachers, lawyers." While Xavier and Dillard have some insurance, administrators maintain it will not go far given the extent of the damage. "Clearly, insurance will not be sufficient," said Hughes. "And we could not operate for more than a year if we had to draw down our endowment -- which I will not do. We'd be out of business." Congressional sources say that while legislators are acutely aware of the issues facing the schools, it is impossible for them to assess the damage and needs at this time. Most school administrators have not even laid eyes on the damage since Katrina. They have not been able to get to their financial records, and insurance adjusters are just beginning to assess. "SUNO serves a particular clientele that no other college does -- a low-income adult population that desires a four-year degree. They work to get through school, and most of them lost everything," said Jackson, the chancellor. "But it's not just about fixing the school. It's about the city, about having a rebuilt infrastructure so it's a place people want to come back to." Tulane University and Loyola University, which are scrambling to rebuild their own campuses, have offered the two private schools temporary space so that they may open in January. The offer would also help Tulane and Loyola, which need to bring activity and resources to their campuses as soon as possible. Meanwhile, educators and community leaders are confident that a high percentage of the city's 75,000 college students have found temporary homes at other institutions around the country -- many of which are allowing the students to attend at no cost right now. According to a spokesman for the American Council on Education, all the Ivy League schools, the Big Ten and at least five schools in the California system agreed to take a specified number of students. While the New Orleans schools are worrying about other schools raiding faculty, there is less concern that hosting schools will try to hold on to the visiting students. Students who want to stay at a host school would have to apply and be subjected to the school's rigorous admissions standards. Troubling for administrators, however, is that the schools do not know where their students landed, and have to rely on being contacted by them or trying to reach them through their parents' addresses. The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers would like to tap into a nonprofit national data bank that collects student information, but federal privacy laws prevent the transfer of information on students. A spokesman for the Education Department said agency lawyers are reviewing whether an exception can be made.

Racist backlash after Katrina reflects ugly historical trend

President Bush marked the end of the Hurricane Katrina disaster -- and the beginning of the flood as metaphor -- when he addressed the nation from New Orleans' Jackson Square on Sept. 15. The president's purpose was to sell the public a dream of a brighter future. Having already flooded the region with hugs, ex-presidents and bottled water, Bush promised a torrent of tax-free enterprise zones and ATM cards. The flood had made possible a new New Orleans, reborn in the image of America's democratic ideals. The biblical metaphor of rebirth after the flood must not make the public forget about the issues of race and poverty. While the media focused on "black-on-black violence" in the Superdome and convention center, anybody with a historical memory might have anticipated that the mass flight of black evacuees would incite a backlash among whites. Three days after Katrina hit, hundreds of desperate African-Americans attempted to cross the Mississippi River Bridge and reach for a friendly hand on the other side in Gretna, La., a largely white suburb. Armed police met them and turned them back into the chaos of flooding New Orleans. The Gretna City Council then passed a resolution supporting this hostile action. If Bush had been less concerned with painting pictures of the future, he could have denounced Gretna's actions. Like the breached levee, the backlash was predictable. American history has proven time and again that racism makes natural disasters more dangerous for blacks than for whites. In 1793 in Philadelphia, then the U.S. capital, a plague of yellow fever killed about 4,000 people and caused about 20,000 others to flee the city. Unsure of the cause, citizens tried to protect themselves from the invisible killer by purifying the air. They soaked their clothes in vinegar, wore garlic necklaces, smoked cigars and exploded gunpowder inside their boarded-up homes. As disease swept through the city, congressmen, religious ministers, city officials and others with money and transportation escaped to the country. African-Americans, trapped in menial labor positions and disproportionately poor, were left to die. During the chaos, a remarkable union occurred. Whites who stayed behind turned for aid to two African-American leaders, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen. Jones and Allen distributed food and medical supplies to the poor and the sick, enlisted black volunteers to remove decaying corpses and bury the dead, and sent black nurses to care for sick and dying whites. The efforts of Philadelphia's black population helped to save the city, a fact that didn't stop whites from attacking them. Hostility increased until an emergency law was passed to prevent racist attacks against African-Americans, since it hindered the relief effort. During the epidemic and long afterward, whites accused African-Americans of looting abandoned homes, spreading the fever and extorting money from the sick and dying. When it comes to racial issues in America, history has a way repeating itself. Novelist Ralph Ellison called this the "boomerang effect." The horrors of yellow fever exacerbated Philadelphia's racial tensions. As yellow fever outbreaks increased throughout the 1790s, many outlying towns and villages barred African-Americans from entering and finding refuge. More than 200 years later, in Gretna, La., the same spirit was displayed. Race has everything to do with why Bush converted the flood into a metaphor of a new beginning. The metaphor deflects attention from the horrible images of African-Americans abandoned on rooftops and from multiplying charges of the administration's racism. In a stunning reversal, Bush referred in his speech to poverty's "roots in a history of racial discrimination." It was a brilliant bait-and-switch. Many commentators applauded the president's belated awakening to issues of race and poverty. But the comment was nothing more than political opportunism. According to the Bush administration's logic, poverty and race are no longer related. Racial discrimination is history, while class is the real issue that persists into the 21st century. With the "bold action" of billions of dollars, President Bush promised to eliminate it once and for all. While images of looting and violence dominated the media's coverage of the tragedy, we might keep an eye out for the boomerang tossed in Gretna. If history is any teacher, the story of rebuilding will disappear, washed away in a flood of indifference. Andy Doolen is a professor of American studies at the University of Kentucky. E-mail him at

Civil War Trails Signs In Dayton, Cross Keys Interpret History

Roadside Markers Expected To Help Attract Tourists By Jeff Mellott DAYTON - Betty Jo Meyerhoeffer has lived in her home on the southern edge of town for more than 50 years and is well acquainted with the story of Davy Getz. Tradition holds that Getz is buried on her property in a former orchard, said historian John Heatwole. Federals in October 1864 killed Getz after the Woodstock resident dug his own grave. The Getz story prompted one of three new interpretive signs that have been erected as the result of a collaborative effort between Civil War Trails and the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. Bloody Prediction Fulfilled Federals took the 39-year-old Getz into custody. He wore civilian clothes but he also carried a squirrel rifle in an area where bushwhackers and Confederate raiders had harried federal troops. Woodstock town elders pled for Getz’s release and told federals that the man had the mind of a 6-year-old. On the southside of present Dayton, Gen. George Custer ordered Getz shot. A Woodstock merchant warned Custer that he would die in a bloody grave because of Getz’s death. The prediction, Meyerhoeffer said, came true when Indian warriors killed Custer and most of his command in Montana nearly 12 years later. "His reputation followed him on to the Little Big Horn," she said. Destroying Bowman Mill Custer was part of Gen. Philip Sheridan’s command in 1864. Sheridan ordered the systematic burning of the Shenandoah Valley. Custer’s torch, said Cheryl Lyon, burned down the David Bowman Mill. Bowman favored the Union, said Lyon, who owns Silver Lake Mill, which rests on the foundation of the Bowman Mill. "He’s a very central figure to me and the history of the mill," she said. According to family history, Lyon said, Bowman bought slaves and then freed them. Some of them, she said, worked at the mill as freed blacks. The war ruined the Valley’s economy. After the fighting ended, Bowman sold land and used the proceeds to help others get started, Lyon said of family histories. They seem to be borne out, she said, by the large number of land transactions he was involved with in the post-war period. Family efforts to recoup their losses for the burned mill from the federal government were unsuccessful, she said. According to family history, Bowman had a signed letter from Sheridan protecting the mill because it ground corn for the Union. But Custer ignored the letter, the family history goes, and burned the mill, Lyon said. Mill Creek Brethren The two signs in Dayton are up in time for Dayton Days, a special celebration that attracts thousands of tourists to the town. The Civil War Trails signs are designed not only to interpret historic locations but also to guide tourists to their location with the use of specially designed maps. Along with the signs in Dayton, the Mill Creek Church of the Brethren has allowed a Civil War Trails sign on its property on Port Republic Road. The sign describes Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson’s encounter with Campbell Brown, who served on Gen. Richard Ewell’s staff at the battle of Cross Keys, and the role of the pacifist Church of the Brethren during the Civil War. Memorial Sought Meyerhoeffer is excited about the sign near her home in Dayton that tells Davy Getz’s story. She hopes it stirs enough interest in his story to help pay for a fitting memorial for Getz. A plain white stone marks the presumed location of Getz’s grave. Meyerhoeffer, who enjoys history, wants to do more. "I am trying to get a little memorial for him," she said.