Desperate


“…but I did not want to go and I jumped out the window…”
Source: “A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, in the United States,” by Jesse Torrey, 1817 (Page 43)

When most people think of the “horrors” of slavery, the first thing that comes to mind is physical abuse, and perhaps second, the sexual exploitation of slave women by their male masters. But for the slaves, nothing was more devastating than the loss of family.

Slaves had no marriage or family rights. Slave owners could, and did, split up families as necessary to meet their needs or interests. It didn’t happen “all the time”; but if it happened once in a slave’s lifetime – that would be horrible enough, and something a slave would not forget or forgive.

So devastating was the loss of family that some slaves… just lost it. Or at least, that is the story told by New Yorker Jesse Torrey, Jr (or Jesse Torrey “Jun” in some places) in his book “A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, in the United States,” which was published in 1817. {The full title of the book is “A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery, in the United States: with reflections on the practicability of restoring the moral rights of the Slave, without impairing the legal privileges of the possessor; and a Project of a Colonial Asylum for Free Persons of Colour: including Memoirs of Facts on the interior Traffic in Slaves, and on Kidnapping. Illustrated with Engravings.” Folks in the 19th century were sometimes given to long-winded oratory and long-winded book or pamphlet titles.}

As noted here (page xv),

Torrey did not seek or anticipate immediate abolition of slavery. For the present he desired humane treatment of the bondmen, and urged their owners to be “guardians, patrons, benefactors and neighbours” to them; in the future he advocated gradual redemption by governmental purchase. He was especially moved by the wrongs suffered by slaves who had been freed and afterwards kidnapped into slavery again, brought legal suits himself to secure the restitution of their liberty and aided in raising subscriptions to defray the legal expenses of the trials. In recognition of his efforts, the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Free Negroes unlawfully held in bondage, voted him a formal letter of thanks in August, 1816.

In his book, Torrey recounts the story of a slave woman who, so distraught over losing her husband when she and her children were sold, throws herself out a window, shattering her back in the process. Torrey captures the event in the engraving at the top of this blog entry. In that image, the slave woman seems to float in the air, almost frozen in time; the viewer is struck by the surreal sight of this black woman in white, surrounded by dark and suspended over the street below. In Torrey’s book, the caption beneath the picture foretells the woman’s fate, once time unfreezes: “…but I did not want to go and I jumped out the window…”
Continue reading

Three Children with Nanny


Children on Lawn at Brook Hill [Nanny hiding behind the children] (circa 1905); for detailed information, go here.
Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries Digital Collections » Through the Lens of Time Collection
Copyright is held by the Valentine Richmond History Center.

This is from a digital collection of photographs titled Through the Lens of Time: Images of African Americans from the Cook Collection. The online collection has over 250 images of African Americans dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, selected from the George and Huestis Cook Photograph Collection at the Valentine Richmond History Center. The digitally scanned images on this site are of prints from glass plate negatives or film negatives taken by George S. Cook (1819-1902) and his son Huestis P. Cook (1868-1951), primarily in the Richmond and Central Virginia area. The physical Collection consists of over 10,000 negatives taken from the 1860s to the 1930s in Virginia and the Carolinas.

Although George and Huestis Cook were white, much of the photo content in the collection includes images of African Americans. Huestis Cook is credited as being one of the earliest Southern photographers to picture African Americans in realistic settings.

This image from the collection has a probably unintended symbolism that is inescapable today.

Black Zoaves in Barbados


Black Soldiers of the West India Regiment, 1850s
Source: Print by R. Sinkin, held by the Barbados Museum; for more details, go here.
From the website The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Image Reference NW0268

Some folks can’t get enough of the Zoave look. None of the black troops who fought in the Civil War wore Zoave-type uniforms, but we can get a vicarious feel for that by reference to the West Indian Zoaves.

This image is from the website The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. As noted there

[This] colored print [shows] troops in their dress uniforms with white turbans, red coats, blue serge trousers, etc.; and white officers. These “Zoave” uniforms were adopted for the West India Regiments on the suggestion of Queen Victoria; they were based on the uniform worn by light infantry recruited for the French army in Algeria. In an early period, many of the black soldiers in the West India Regiments (first formed in the mid-1790s) were purchased or captured slaves, many African-born; later they included free people of color.

Black troops initially stationed in Barbados in the 1790s were purchased or captured slaves who primarily came from the French Caribbean territories; later, the British Army recruited these people in Barbados and by the early 1820s, free people of color in Barbados were also recruited to the 1st West India regiment.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the Big Stage

We commonly think of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a literary phenomenon. But it was on the big stage that this story had some of its greatest impact.


Uncle Tom at the whipping post
Scene from the stage production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”
All photos in this post are by Joseph Byron, N.Y., c1901
Source: Library of Congress (click on the link for identification and other information)

In 1860, at the eve of the Civil War, there were 18 free states, where slavery was prohibited. Those states had roughly 18.5 million whites, and 225,000 free blacks. So, only 1% of the free state population was African American. 168,000 of those free blacks lived in just four states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. Millions of northern whites saw ‘real live’ black people only a handful of times in their entire lives, if at all. And as unlikely as it was for them to see a black person, it was even less likely that they would ever see a slave.

There was, of course, no radio, television, telephones or Internet. The kind of immediate, in your face journalism that’s enabled by today’s technology did not exist. Slavery was certainly not an uncommon subject for the press, or other forms of paper communication. But for many northerners, the horrors of slavery were out of sight, and would have been out of mind – if not for people like Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The isolation of northern whites from slavery helps to explain the interest in Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life Among the Lowly. The book was published in 1852, following a serialized version in an antislavery newspaper. It opened a window to a world, hidden by distance, that many northern whites never saw or knew.

The book’s negative portrayal of slavery was filled with melodrama and overt religious symbolism and appeals. It was not just a story about the grace and love of little Eva; the abuse of the devout Uncle Tom; the salvation by love of the slave girl Topsy; and the preservation of Eliza’s family. It was, as historian David Goldfield put, “a book about family, God, and redemption-surefire topics to attract a broad audience in mid-nineteenth century America.”


The Auction Scene
Source: Library of Congress (click on the link for identification and other information)

For several years, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a huge best-seller, second in popularity only to the Bible. It would become an international best-seller as well. Historian James McPherson noted that “within a decade [of its 1852 release] it sold more than two million copies in the United States, making it the best seller of all time in relation to population.”

But Uncle Tom’s Cabin was more than just a literary phenomenon. As mentioned in Wiki,

“Given the lax copyright laws of the time, stage plays based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin—”Tom shows”—began to appear while the story itself was still being serialized… Even though Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, far more Americans of that time saw the story as a stage play or musical than read the book. Eric Lott, in his book Uncle Tomitudes: Racial Melodrama and Modes of Production, estimates that at least three million people saw these plays, ten times the book’s first-year sales… The many stage variants of Uncle Tom’s Cabin “dominated northern popular culture… for several years” during the 19th century and the plays were still being performed in the early 20th century.”

These stage productions allowed the book to be visualized and dramatized, and touched theater patrons in a way that the written word could not. Now the horrors of slavery had a human face that northern people could see. The resulting ire led Abraham Lincoln to tell Stowe in 1863 – apocryphally, it turns out – “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”


Little Eva’s death scene
Source: Library of Congress (click on the link for identification and other information)

Continue reading

United Colors of the Union Army


Soldier Group, circa Civil War
Source: Library of Congress

I wish there was more to tell about this diverse group of Union “men.” The picture, from a Library of Congress collection, is simply titled “Soldier group.” Details on the photo, such as its Library of Congress reporduction number, are here.

If any one can share any information or insights on the photo, I’d be much obliged.

The African American Soldier Memorial in Vicksburg, MS; and an Old(?) ‘Grey Curtain’/NPS Controversy


African American Monument in Vicksburg National Military Park
The inscription reads, “Commemorating the Service of the 1st and 3d Mississippi Infantry, African Descent and All Mississippians of African Descent Who Participated in the Vicksburg Campaign.”
Source: from Flickr

There are many dozen, perhaps several hundred, Confederate memorials and monuments throughout the South and the country. A partial list of them is here on Wiki; that list is certainly not complete, failing to include, for example, the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving, or the Confederate Memorial at Courthouse Square in Oxford, Mississippi.

By contrast, there may not even be a dozen memorials or monuments to United States Colored Troopers in the South or in the nation. {UPDATE: A list of monuments to USCT is here.} I have found a couple of monuments to faithful slaves, such as this one and this one. I’ve also found that there are almost half a dozen memorials to Buffalo Soldiers throughout the country.

One of the small number of memorials to US Colored Troops is the African American Monument in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1999, former Vicksburg Mayor Robert M. Walker, who is black, proposed placement of a monument in Vicksburg National Military Park recognizing the contributions of African American soldiers during the Vicksburg campaign. With funding that included $25,000 from the city of Vicksburg, which is 60% black, groundbreaking for the monument was held on September 20, 2003, with dedication of the memorial on February 14, 2004.

(Mississippi provided 17,869 men to the United States Colored Troops. Only Louisiana (24,502), Kentucky (23,703), and Tennessee (20,133) had more men of African descent in the USCT. All told, just under 179,000 black men enlisted in the USCT, according to Wiki.)

A National Park Service (NPS) brochure for the monument notes that “of the more than 1,300 monuments in the park, this memorial is the first to honor black troops, and the first tribute of its type honoring African American soldiers placed on any of the Civil War battlefields administered by the National Park Service.” The brochure describes the monument:

The nine-foot tall sculpture depicts three figures – two Union soldiers representing the 1st and 3d Mississippi Infantry, African Descent, that participated in the Vicksburg campaign, and the third a civilian laborer. The soldier on the left looks toward the future that he helped secure through force of arms. The civilian looks to the past and the institution of slavery that he has left behind. Between them they support a wounded comrade, representing the sacrifice in blood made by African American soldiers on the field of battle.

The placement of the monument in Vicksburg National Military Park was not without controversy, and helps explain why African Americans have not shown the kind of interest in creating these types of monuments as one might think; the obstacles that get in the way can be very discouraging. These are excerpts from a 2004 article titled “Battle of Vicksburg being fought again over recognition of black Civil War troops” by Earnest McBride in the Jackson Advocate newspaper, from around the time the monument was being completed and dedicated:

Ironically, The First Mississippi USCT unit headed by Sgt. Major Norman Fisher of Jackson, the only group of black Civil War re-enactors connected to the Vicksburg campaign, is left out of nearly all [monument dedication] events staged by the National Park Service or other local sponsors. “Nobody’s notified me about going there and saying anything,” Fisher said in exasperation Monday evening.

Having met with Park officials in mid-August about Saturday’s groundbreaking, Fisher said he felt that park superintendent Bill Nichols and park historian Terry Winschel deliberately misled him regarding park responsibility for recognizing the black contribution to the Civil War. “They told me that the State of Mississippi was responsible for placing any monuments in the battlefield,” Fisher said. “I don’t like the idea of a state telling the federal government what to do in our national parks. I also suggested that instead of placing the proposed monument along the obscure location on Grant’s Avenue they should put it near the 7000 gravesites of the black troops buried in the cemetery. They said it would not be possible to place any statuary there. They also turned down my idea to rename the boulevard for the USCT soldiers.”

Continue reading

An Irish American View of the Colored Soldier


    Union enlistment posters for Irish Americans in New York and coloreds in Pennsylvania

    During the antebellum and Civil War eras, free negroes and Irish immigrants often had a strained relationship. Both were subject to racial or ethnic bias by the white Protestant majority (anti-immigrant bigots were called “Nativists”), and were considered the “bottom rungs” of American society. (Blacks were on the very bottom.) Given their lowly status, blacks and Irish often competed for low-wage jobs, and the stress of that competition led to outright hostility… or worse.

    Tensions between the two groups were further inflamed by heated and hateful rhetoric from the Copperhead faction of the Democratic Party, to which most Irish Americans were aligned. These Democrats argued that the emancipationist policies of President Lincoln and the Republican Party would cause a “stampede” of freed blacks to the North that would undercut and devalue white labor.

    The Democrats also argued that it was unacceptable for whites to fight and die to free black slaves. That argument was echoed even by the Irish religious leader New York Archbishop John Hughes. As noted by historian James McPherson in his book Battle Cry of Freedom, Hughes stated that “we Catholics, and a vast majority of our brave troops in the field, have not the slightest idea of carrying on a war that costs so much blood and treasure just to gratify a clique of Abolitionists.”

    The economic, political and social stresses between blacks and Irish erupted in violence as the War continued. Again from McPherson:

    With this kind of [racist] rhetoric from their leaders, it was little wonder that some white workingmen took their prejudices into the streets. In a half-dozen or more cities, anti-black riots broke out during the summer of 1862. Some of the worst violence occurred in Cincinnati, where the replacement of striking Irish dockworkers by Negroes set off a wave of attacks on black neighborhoods. In Brooklyn a mob of Irish-Americans tried to burn down a tobacco factory where two dozen black women and children were working.

    The nightmare vision of blacks invading the North seemed to be coming true in southern Illinois, where the War Department transported several cars of contrabands to help with the harvest. Despite the desperate need to gather crops, riots forced the government to return most of the blacks to contraband camps south of the Ohio River.

    And then things got worse. In March 1863, new conscription (draft) laws were implemented. More men would be eligible for the draft, but service could be avoided by paying a $300 fee or hiring a substitute. Most Irish men could not afford the fee or a substitute. Meanwhile, African Americans, who were not citizens, were exempt from the draft.

    That set the stage for the New York City Draft Riots of July 1863.

    The draft lottery in New York began on Saturday, July 11, 1863. On Monday, July 13, the Draft Riots began. It was an extended period of mob violence, mostly Irish mobs, against mostly African American victims. The riots lasted five days, and resulted in perhaps 500 deaths, including rioters who were killed, and several thousand injuries; some estimates place the death and injury toll as even higher. Property damage was in a range of $1-5 million, including the destruction of a black orphanage. (The casualty and property damage estimates are from Barry Schecter’s book The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America.)

    Even the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who spoke of friendships with Irish Americans, and lived in Ireland for half a year in the 1840s, came to wonder how “a people who so nobly loved and cherished the thought of liberty at home in Ireland [have] become, willingly, the oppressors of another race here.”
    Continue reading

Discovery of USCT (55th Massachusetts) Burial Site near Charleston, SC

This is a video about the discovery and excavation of a burial site for soldiers from the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The site was found near Charleston, SC. The 55th Massachusetts was the sister regiment to the 54th Massachusetts that was portrayed in the movie “Glory.”

It’s fascinating to see the excavation process, although it might be a little grisly to some.


 
I encourage you to visit the Youtube page for the video and leave any comments you might have.

Bulldozing Reconstruction and Southern Voters


“Bull-Dozing” circa 1877.
Source: Library of Congress.

This is one of the more… stunning images that I’ve seen from the Reconstruction/Redemption era. It speaks to the practice of “bull-dozing” in the South. Bulldozing was the name given to the sometimes violent, always coercive methods that were used to suppress the southern black vote in the mid to late 1870s.

The Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War saw a profound growth in the political power of African Americans in the South. This included, for example, the election of over a dozen black men to the United States Congress. All of the these men were members of the Republican Party, AKA the party of Lincoln. The period also saw a disturbing amount of political corruption, not just in the South, but in parts of the North and the federal government as well.

This led to a white backlash, and black voters and the Republican Party in the South were the main victims. In 1875, the “Mississippi Plan” was implemented to limit black voting power in a state whose population was over 50% African American. As noted by Wikipedia, “The Mississippi Plan of 1875 was devised by the Democratic Party to overthrow the Republican Party in the state by means of organized threats of violence and suppression or purchase of the black vote, in order to regain political control of the legislature and governor’s office. The Mississippi Plan was successful in those aims… violence [against black voters] went unchecked… during Mississippi’s 1875 election, five counties with large black majorities polled 12, 7, 4, 2, and 0 votes, respectively. The Republican victory by 30,000 votes in 1874 was reversed to a Democratic majority of 30,000 in 1875.”

Whites in Louisiana and South Carolina, whose states were also at least 50% African American, followed suit. As noted in Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, by Murrin, Johnson, McPherson, Fahs, and Gerstle:

Democrats entered the [1876 presidential] campaign as favorites for the first time in two decades. It seemed likely that they would be able to put together an electoral majority from a “solid South” plus New York and two or three other northern states. To ensure a solid South, they looked to the lessons of the Mississippi Plan. In 1876 a new word came into use to describe Democartic intimidation techniques: “bulldozing.” To bulldoze voters meant to trample them down or keep them away from the polls. In South Carolina and Louisiana, the Red Shirts and the White League mobilized for an all-out bulldozing effort.

The most notorious incident, the “Hamburg Massacre,” occurred in the village of Hamburg, South Carolina, where a battle between a black militia unit and 200 Red Shirts resulted in the capture of several militia men, five of whom were shot “while attempting to escape.” This time president Grant did send in federal troops. He pronounced the Hamburg Massacre “cruel, blood-thirsty, wanton, unprovoked… a repetition of the course that has been pursued in other Southern States.”

The federal government also put several thousand deputy marshals and election supervisors on duty throughout the South. Though they kept an uneasy peace at the polls, they could do little to prevent assaults, threats and economic coercion in backcountry districts, which reduced the potential Republican tally in the former Confederate states by at least 250,000 votes.

The 1876 election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes resulted in disputed electoral vote totals, and neither man was immediately declared the election winner. After a series of political maneuvers and compromises, Hayes was determined to be the winner. But part of the deal was that Hayes had to remove all Federal troops from Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida (by then, troops had been removed from the rest of the former Confederate states).

Lacking the protection of federal troops, large portions of the southern electorate were disenfranchised, leading the way to the Redemption era and the creation of the Jim Crow South.

The image is from the Library of Congress’ William A. Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs. It was made by James Landy, a Cincinnati photographer.

Hari Jones on Celebrating vs. Commemorating the Civil War

Hat tip to the Interpreting the Civil War blog for this.

Hari Jones is the curator of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington, DC. He is a great resource on the subject of the US Colored Troops, and gives powerful lectures on the subject. In the following video, he has some thoughtful comments on the subject of celebrating versus commemorating the Civil War:


 

Secession in South Carolina: Celebrate or Commemorate?

“One group held a gala ball to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Another contingent rallied in opposition to that ball. South Carolina is a state that is divided on how we should remember this undeniably historic event.”

So begins a discussion on South Carolina’s public affairs program Connections about whether to celebrate or commemorate South Carolina’s secession from the United States in 1860. Program host P. A. Bennett talks it over with Michael A. Allen, a public historian and member of the National Park Service; Jannie Harriot, co-chair of the African American Historical Alliance of South Carolina, executive director of the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation; and Dr. Lonnie Randolf, president of the SC State Conference of the NAACP.

It’s nice to see a discussion that includes somebody from the National Park Service, given the NPS’ role in developing the interpretation and presentation of the War on government owned and managed sites.

Click here or on the graphic below to see the video for the program.

Scenes from the US Colored Troops Symposium at Kinston, NC


USCT Reenactors Joseph Becton and Mel Reid. This was taken at the CSS Neuse / Gov. Richard Caswell Memorial Museum State Historic Site in Kinston, NC.

I just got back from the Seventh Annual US Colored Troops Symposium in Kinston, NC. It was held in conjunction with Kinston’s Blue-Gray Civil War Living History Weekend in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The event included several lectures, storytelling, a dedication to Kinston/Lenoir County US Colored Troopers, and a (very loud) live weapons demonstration.

I brought a camera, but due to a battery problem, I couldn’t get it to work. I was able to use my iPhone to take a few photos, which I’ve posted here. It’s a previous generation iPhone that doesn’t take the best of pictures, but I think these came out well.

The most interesting part of the event for me was the spirited exchange that followed a presentation given by Earl Ijames, the curator of African American and Community History at the North Carolina Museum of History, on “The Myth of Black Confederates.” Ijames’ spoke about the role of NC slaves and freemen during the Civil War, including some who acted like soldiers – although Ijames noted that he didn’t use the term “black Confederate soldier” in his talk. Ijames was immediately followed by Asa Gordon, the Secretary General of the Sons and Daughters of United States Colored Troops, who challenged the notion of the widespread existence of willing and loyal black Confederates. This is clearly a very controversial subject, and I expect we’ll see more discussions like this as the War’s sesquicentennial observance continues.

Although there wasn’t a huge turnout, I was heartened to see this much participation in a Civil War related event from what was largely a black audience. I am not yet sure that African Americans are taking an interest – great or small – in the War or its 150th anniversary, notwithstanding academics, professional historians and archivists, and War hobbyists who will always follow this subject. This was a good way to garner more attention and enthusiasm for what is an essential part of American history in general, and African American history in particular. The symposium was produced by Kinston’s Cultural Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to the commemoration of the role of blacks in the military, especially colored troops (and white Union soldiers) during the Civil War; and to other aspects of African American history.


Cannon at the Kinston-Lenoir County Visitors and Information Center


Colored Soldier Figurines. The figure at the rear is the ever-elusive Black Confederate Soldier.


The Littlest Trooper
Continue reading

Training School for Wives and Mothers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1888

This photograph is from the book “In Christ’s Stead”: Autobiographical Sketches, which is the memoir of Joanna P. Moore, a white missionary who dedicated her life to improving the condition of African Americans in the South. A summary of the book is here.

This is from the book, which tells of how Moore’s training school in Baton Rouge was shut down:

After the close of the school at Point Coupee, I moved with all my belongings to Baton Rouge, where I opened under promising auspices a school which I hoped might be permanent, but which continued but two years and a half.

I was very enthusiastic, as were also all the teachers associated with me. The Women’s Baptist Home Mission Society paid my salary and that of Miss Button while she was with me. Besides this expenses were provided for by God who thus set the seal of His approval on the work.

While in Baton Rouge I received one hundred dollars from the Happy Thought League, under the care of Mrs. P. G. McCollin, who is now in heaven. That money came in a time of great need. I would weary my reader if I told of the many answers to prayer in so many ways during my short pilgrimage. The money came pouring in, so that I had $2,000 in my hands with which to purchase the home in which my school was held, but the bargain was not closed when all my hopes were shattered and my school destroyed. This is the sad part of my story. God help me to tell it wisely, kindly, and truthfully.

I find among my records a conversation I had with one of my pupils about two months after this calamity:

“Sister Moore, is our school for colored women really closed?” “Yes, my scholars all went home, and so far I find it impossible to have them return.”

“Why did any one disturb your school?” “I cannot tell; I thought everything was peace and safety. I did not think any of the white people had very serious objections to my school.”

“What was in the notice put on your gate?” “There were the emblems of death–a skull and cross-bones and the notice stated that I was ordered by the ‘White League’ to close my school and leave the place.”

“Why did they do such a cruel thing when we were having such a blessed, quiet school and not molesting any one?” “The reason given in the notice is exactly in these words, ‘You are trying to educate the niggers to consider themselves the equals of the white people.’”

“Oh, I am so sorry! What do the white people mean? If we steal or fight they punish us, and then when some one comes to tell us in a kind loving way how to be good and do right, then they want to drive her away.”

“I don’t understand it myself, all that seems to be now in my power, is to ask the Lord to open some other door by which my dear women may get an education, and be taught the Bible and the duties of home life.”

“What did you do when you found the notice at your gate?” “I got my bonnet and went down town and showed it to three or four of the best white people in town.”

“What did they say?” “They were indignant, and said it was an outrage, and promised they would do what they could do to protect me. I also showed it to the mayor and other officials, and they promised the same.”

“Have they made any effort to find the guilty persons?” “I don’t know that they have.”

“Oh, Miss Moore, what will become of the colored people?” “God will take care of them, my dear child, if not on earth, there is a safe place up in heaven. Persecutions are a part of the bargain God makes with His children. Let us be patient. God knows it all, and Rom. 8:28 is true. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” This trouble will in some way work together for good. We must trust God’s promises.”

The above is a sample of many conversations with my women.

The photo is from an online version of the book at the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South website. It is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which had made it available to be freely used by individuals for research, teaching and personal use.

What’s My Name?

Since they were first brought to the shores of America, people of African descent have struggled with issues of identity.

Africans who came to America were de-cultured of their language, religion, family practices, and other customs and behaviors of their homelands. Their role as slaves led to them being seen as genetically inferior, Biblically shamed, docile, childlike, dishonorable, and otherwise degraded. Even free blacks were seen as inferiors who were denied citizen rights and subjected to discrimination. For almost all of their time in America, the identity of African descendants was established and controlled by European Americans, in a way that seemed to always work to the disadvantage of African peoples, and eventually, the growing number of people of mixed African and European descent.

One consequence of this history has been an ongoing controversy within the African descent “community” over an appropriate collective name for themselves. Should they “accept” titles that had been chosen for them by whites, or should they choose a name that represents their own views and concept of themselves? And what is their own concept of themselves, anyway?

These questions and issues are reflected in the following comments from African descent persons that go back to the antebellum era, and come forward to today. They end with a salient note from W.E.B. DuBois, a leader of the “New Negro” movement, who tells a high school student “it is not the name — it’s the Thing that counts. Come on, Kid, let’s go get the Thing!”


Well, not only “colored”…
 

“A Subscriber” has suggested the appropriateness of the term “Afric-American.” The suggestion is as absurd as the sound of the name is inharmonious. It is true that we should have a distinct appellation we being the only people in America who feel all the accumulated injury which pride and prejudice can suggest. But sir, since we have been so long distinguished by the title “men of color,” why make this change, so uncouth and jargon-like? A change we do want and a change we will have. When it comes, we shall be called citizens of the United States and Americans.

- The Liberator, 1 Sept. 1831
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865

****

The term “colored” is not a good one. Whenever used, it recalls to mind the offensive distinctions of color. The name “African” is more objectionable yet, and is no more correct than “Englishman” would be to a native-born citizen of the United States.

The colored citizen is an American of African descent. Cannot a name be found that will explain these two facts? I suggest one, and I beg your readers to reflect on it before you reject it as unsuitable. It is “Afric-American” or, written in one word, “Africamerican.” It asserts that most important truth, that the colored citizen is as truly a citizen of the United States as the white.

- The Liberator, 24 Sept. 1831
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865

****

That we are colored is a fact, an undeniable fact. That we are descendants of Africans is true. We affirm there is nothing in it that we need to be ashamed of, yea, rather much that we may be proud of.

For ourselves we are quite well satisfied. And we intend, in all our public efforts, to go to the power-holding body and tell them, “Colored as we are, black though we may be, yet we demand our rights, the same rights other citizens have.”

- The Colored American, 6 or 13 March 1841
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865

1862
****

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”
–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

More concretely, within the context of the racial looking glass, the question is whether one can make the word “Negro” mean so many different things or whether one should abandon it and use the words “black” or “Afro-American.”

This question is at the root of a bitter national controversy over the proper designation for identifiable Americans of African descent. (More than 40 million “white” Americans, according to some scholars, have African ancestors.) A large and vocal group is pressing an aggressive campaign for the use of the word “Afro-American” as the only historically accurate and humanly significant designation of this large and pivotal portion of the American population. This group charges that the word “Negro” is an inaccurate epithet which perpetuates the master-slave mentality in the minds of both black and white Americans.

An equally large, but not so vocal, group says the word “Negro” is as accurate and as euphonious as the words “black” and “Afro-American.” This group is scornful of the premises of the advocates of change. A Negro by any other name, they say, would be as black and as beautiful–and as segregated. The times, they add, are too crucial for Negroes to dissipate their energy in fratricidal strife over names.

But the pro-black contingent contends, with Humpty Dumpty, that names are of the essence of the game of power and control. And they maintain that a change in name will short-circuit the stereotyped thinking patterns that undergird the system of racism in America. To make things even more complicated, a third group, composed primarily of Black Power advocates, has adopted a new vocabulary in which the word “black” is reserved for “black brothers and sisters who are emancipating themselves,” and the word “Negro” is used contemptuously for Negroes “who are still in Whitey’s bag and who still think of themselves and speak of themselves as Negroes.”

This controversy, which rages with religious intensity from the street corners of Harlem to the campuses of Southern colleges, has alienated old friends, split national organizations and disrupted national conventions…

But it was obvious that the controversy touched deep emotions in the black community where many segments, particularly the young, are engaged in an agonizing search for self-identity and self-determination…

- Lerone Bennett, Jr., What’s In a Name? Negro vs. Afro-American vs. Black, Ebony Magazine, November 1967
****

We’ve gone through the names-Negro, African American, African, Black. For me that’s an indication of a people still trying to find their identity. Who determines what is black?

- Director Spike Lee
****

Dear Sir:

I am only a high school student in my Sophomore year, and have not the understanding of you college educated men. It seems to me that since THE CRISIS is the Official Organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which stand for equality for all Americans, why would it designate and segregate us as “Negroes,” and not as “Americans.”… The word “Negro,” or “nigger,” is a white man’s word to make us feel inferior. I hope to be a worker for my race, that is why I wrote this letter. I hope that by the time I become a man, that this word, “Negro,” will be abolished.

Roland A. Barton

My dear Roland: Continue reading

Please Choose One…


US Census Results, 1790; Source: US Census Bureau
The “All other free persons” column provides a count of free African Americans

Mixed Race Studies.org, a blog/website for “scholarly perspectives on the mixed race experience,” has a listing of the racial categories that have been used on the US Census. The names of the racial categories for people of African descent have changed much over the years; refer to the italicized items in the list.

US Census Race Categories, 1790-2010 (US Census Race Categories as Listed on Survey Forms, 1790-2010)

1790-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons; Slaves
1800-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons, except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1810-Free White Males; Free White Females; All Other Free Persons; except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1820-Free White Males; Free White Females; Free Colored Persons, All other persons, except Indians Not Taxed; Slaves
1830-Free White Persons; Free Colored Persons; Slaves
1840-Free White Persons; Free Colored Persons; Slaves
1850-Black; Mulatto [a]
1860-Black; Mulatto; (Indian) [b],
1870-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Indian
1880-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Indian
1890-White; Black; Mulatto; Quadroon; Octoroon; Chinese; Japanese; Indian
1900-White; Black; Chinese; Japanese; Indian
1910-White; Black; Mulatto; Chinese; Japanese; Indian; Other
1920-White; Black; Mulatto; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; Other
1930-White; Negro; Mexican; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; (Other races, spell out in full)
1940-White; Negro; Indian; Chinese; Japanese; Filipino; Hindu; Korean; (Other races, spell out in full)
1950-White; Negro; Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; (Other race-spell out)
1960-White; Negro; American Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Part-Hawaiian; Aleut Eskimo, etc.
1970-White; Negro or Black; American Indian; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Korean; Other (print race)
1980-White; Negro or Black; Japanese; Chinese; Filipino; Korean; Vietnamese; American Indian; Asian Indian; Hawaiian; Guamanian; Samoan; Eskimo; Aleut; Other (specify)
1990-White; Black or Negro; American Indian; Eskimo; Aleut; Chinese; Filipino; Hawaiian; Korean; Vietnamese; Japanese; Asian Indian; Samoan; Guamanian; Other API (Asian or Pacific Islander); Other race
2000-White; Black, African American, or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Asian (Print Race); Other Pacific Islander (Print Race); Some other race (Print Race)
2010-White; Black, African American, or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Asian (Print Race); Other Pacific Islander (Print Race); Some other race (Print Race) [c]
Note. Categories are presented in the order in which they appeared on schedules.

[a] ln 1850 and 1860, free persons were enumerated on schedules for “free inhabitants”; slaves were enumerated on schedules designated for “slave inhabitants.” On the free- inhabitants schedule, instructions to enumerators read, in part: “In all cases where the person is white leave the space blank in the column marked ‘Color.’ ”

[b] Although “Indian” was not listed on the Census schedule, the instructions read: “ ‘Indians’-lndians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under State or Territorial laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated. In all such cases write ‘Ind.’ opposite their names, in column 6, under heading ‘Color.’ ”

Sources:
• M. Nobles. History counts: a comparative analysis of racial/color categorization in US and Brazilian Censuses. Amercan Journal of Public Health. 2000;90:1738-45.
• University of Virginia. United States Historical Census Data Browser.

[c] 2010Census.gov