Florida Portraits

Nellie Franklin, holding a parasol; Tallahassee, Florida circa 1885-1911
Source: The State Library & Archives of Florida, Image Number HA00227 (click here for more details)

The two photos in this post are part of a wonderful collection of pictures taken by Alvan S. Harper which can be seen at Florida Memory.com, the online site for the State Library & Archives of Florida.

Alvan S. Harper was a professional photographer from Pennsylvania who moved to Florida in 1884. He operated a photography studio in Tallahassee until he passed away in 1911. His clientele included the black middle class. Perhaps it was his northern origins, or maybe, his skill as a photographer. Whatever-his portraits of African Americans are always dignified, and often gorgeous. His subjects display a sense of pride and assurance that is almost tangible, and belies the coming of an era (Jim Crow) that would challenge the confidence of all black Americans. (The collection also includes pictures of whites and their black servants.)

A link to the photo collection is here. Enjoy.

Man in a satin-faced coat, holding a cane; Tallahassee, Florida circa 1885-1911
Source: The State Library & Archives of Florida, Image Number: HA00969 (click here for more details)


How many US Colored Troops monuments?; How many in the US Colored Troops?

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was searching through the Internet to determine the number and location of monuments to US Colored Troops. I’ve now found at least nine, in CT, DC, FL, KY, KS, MD, MS, PA, and TN, and there might be one or two more than that. When I feel I’ve gotten a good list, I will share it in a blog entry.

One thing that has disappointed me is that it seems there are no USCT memorials in Louisiana. That state provided the most black soldiers to the Union (24,052 men) of any state, and its role of providing one of the first groups of blacks to serve in the federal army has been well documented. (James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.’s book The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War is a great read for those who are interested in this history. I refer to the Native Guards in this blog entry.)

If any readers are aware of USCT monuments or memorials in Louisiana, please make a reply with the information. Thanks!

FYI, this is the count of US Colored Troopers by state:

Union Free States & Territories Number
Pennsylvania 8,612
Ohio 5,092
New York 4,125
Massachusetts 3,966
District of Columbia 3,269
Kansas 2,080
Rhode Island 1,837
Illinois 1,811
Connecticut 1,764
Indiana 1,537
Michigan 1,387
New Jersey 1,185
Iowa 440
Wisconsin 165
New Hampshire 125
Vermont 120
Maine 104
Minnesota 104
Colorado Territory 95
TOTAL 37,818
Union Slave States Number
Kentucky 23,703
Maryland 8,718
Missouri 8,344
Delaware 954
West Virginia 196
TOTAL 41,915
Confederate (Slave) States Number
Louisiana 24,052
Tennessee 20,133
Mississippi 17,869
Virginia 5,723
Arkansas 5,526
South Carolina 5,462
North Carolina 5,035
Alabama 4,969
Georgia 3,486
Florida 1,044
Texas 47
TOTAL 93,346
Other Number
State or Territory Unknown 5,896

Source: Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Volume 1, The Black Military Experience: Series II, p 12

In the main, these numbers indicate the state where the soldier enlisted. In the free states especially, it was not uncommon for a (Negro) person to leave his home state to enlist in another. So, for example, many black soldiers from other parts of the North enlisted in Massachusetts, which embraced blacks as soldiers more than, or sooner than, states like New York or Ohio. Some soldiers who enlisted in Kansas are thought to be slaves from Arkansas and Missouri. It is known that at least 5,052 men in the count of soldiers from the free Union states were recruited from Confederate states.

Why do Confederate states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee have such large numbers of colored troops compared to others? It reflects the fact that, due to early Union military successes in the western parts of the Confederacy (which led to Union occupation and control in the states mentioned), the slaves in those states were free and able to enlist in the Union army sooner than those in the southeast.

Wow!: Memorial to the Denmark Vesey ‘Slave Revolt’ Conspiracy To Be Built in South Carolina

I was very surprised when I read this story at the Charleston Post and Courier.com, dated February 2010, about a monument that is planned for Charleston, SC:

In an event sure to rekindle the racially polarized debate over Denmark Vesey’s place in history, a site in Hampton Park was dedicated Monday for a monument to the man hanged for plotting a slave rebellion in Charleston. (Note: The article includes a model of the memorial.)

To the local politicians, religious leaders and historians at the event, Vesey was a civil rights leader acting on a universal desire for justice that unites all people. Monument designer Ed Dwight favorably compared Vesey to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But this is Charleston, where the hanging of a portrait of Vesey in the municipal auditorium in 1976 — more than 150 years after Vesey was himself publicly hanged — prompted much criticism, and the theft of the painting. “It was very controversial,” College of Charleston history professor Bernard Powers Jr. said. “People were writing to The (Charleston, SC) News and Courier expressing outrage that the portrait of a criminal could be hung in a public place.”

[Charleston mayor Joseph] Riley described Vesey as an important civil rights figure, part of the “substantially untold story of African-American history and life in this community and this country, and their role in building America… We tell these untold stories so the truth will set us free.”

There is no doubt that the story of Denmark Vesey is compelling. Wikipedia provides a summary:

In 1781, Vesey was purchased by Captain Joseph Vesey from the then-Danish Caribbean island of St. Thomas. He labored briefly in French Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), and then was settled in Charleston, South Carolina as a youth, where Joseph Vesey kept him as a domestic slave. On November 9, 1799, Denmark Vesey won $1500 in a city lottery. He bought his own freedom and began working as a carpenter. Although briefly a Presbyterian, Vesey co-founded a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. The church was temporarily shut down by white authorities in 1818 and again in 1820.

Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of slaves during the 1791 Haitian Revolution, and furious at the closing of the African Church, Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion. His insurrection, which was to take place on Bastille Day, July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of blacks throughout Charleston and along the Carolina coast. The plot called for Vesey and his group of slaves and free blacks to slay their owners and temporarily seize the city of Charleston. Vesey and his followers planned to sail to Haiti to escape retaliation.

Two slaves opposed to Vesey’s scheme leaked the plot. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with conspiracy. In total, 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.

It’s important to note that no actual slave revolt took place. Vesey and his people were basically tried on conspiracy charges.

I admit to being surprised that something as contentious as this – a memorial to a person who was accused of planning a slave revolt – is being built in South Carolina, of all places. The state has been embroiled in controversies over the presentation of history, such as the display of the Confederate flag on the state capital grounds, and the Secession Ball held last December in Charleston to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the date that South Carolina seceded from the Union. (Let me take this opportunity to make the obligatory disclaimer that the Vesey memorial is about commemoration, not celebration.)

But perhaps I’m overreacting. It could just be that things have progressed to the point that it’s now possible to place unpleasant events like the Vesey Conspiracy into the public memory, even in South Carolina. That is something to celebrate.

EDIT: Upon reflection, it strikes me that the fact that the Vesey incident was a conspiracy, and not an actual revolt, made it more palatable as a public memorial. If this had been a revolt where people had been killed, it might have been too controversial for a public space.

US Colored Troops Memorial in Nashville, TN

This video talks about the monument to United States Colored Troops in the Nashville National Cemetery. It’s a very positive story, which I’m happy to share.

This article, from Civil War News.com, discusses how the monument came to be built:

The nine-foot cast bronze statue, created by Middle Tennessee artist Roy Butler, is one of a very few “freestanding monuments to African American soldiers in the country and the only one in a national facility,” according to Norm Hill, chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

The project was coordinated by the African American Cultural Alliance of Nashville. The funds for the $80,000 project came from a variety of area contributors, while the Tennessee Historical Commission contributed $15,000.

“This was a grassroots effort which included church contributions, individual citizens, businesses and other Civil War groups including the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV),” said Hill. “This isn’t about North or South. That was then. Today this is about honoring our fallen soldiers.”

The idea for the memorial came up a few years ago during Black History Month at a Nashville university. Kwame Leo Lillard of the African American Cultural Alliance had longed for such recognition for years.

“I wanted us to never forget those men, most who fled slavery to fight and die for freedom,” he told the crowd. The contribution of the USCTs to the war deserves greater visibility, especially the role of the Tennesseans in the conflict, he pointed out.

Of note is a comment in the video that “there are less than ten monuments dedicated to the USCT across the nation.”

United States Colored Troops National Monument, Nashville National Cemetery
The inscription reads, “In Memory of the 20,133 who served as United States Colored Troops in the Union Army Dedicated 2003”
Source: US Department of Veteran Affairs

It’s especially appropriate that a USCT monument be built in Tennessee. Among the states, Tennessee had the third largest contingent of black Union soldiers, at 20,133 men. Louisiana had the most black soldiers (24,502), and Kentucky was second (23,703).

The video is from the US Department of Veteran Affairs.

PS, in the above, Norm Hill of the Tennessee Historical Commission says that the Nashville African American soldiers monument in the only “freestanding monument… in a national facility.” But there is one other such monument. As noted in this comment from the US Department of Veteran Affairs, “Nashville National Cemetery is one of two in our (National Cemetery) system featuring monuments to U.S. Colored Troops (as black soldiers were then referred to.) The other is Fort Scott, Kan. The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry was assigned to the fort in 1863 and took part in five engagements.”

Negro boy holding hand of small white girl during White House Easter egg roll, 1898

White House – Negro boy holding hand of small white girl during Easter egg roll, 1898
Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, (Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-46453)
For more information about the photo: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007678673/

This photograph was taken at the 1898 White House Easter egg roll. William McKinley was the president.

Clarence Lusane describes the image in his book The Black History of the White House:

At the end of the nineteenth century, when Jim Crow segregation and “separate but equal” black codes were aggressively enforced throughout the South, few African Americans were permitted to even visit the White House. As the [above] photo indicates, however, black children were allowed to attend the White House’s annual Easter egg-rolling ceremony. Permitting black children to integrate with white children on the White House premises one day a year was acceptable, even though such mingling was illegal in many public spaces throughout the South at the time, including libraries and schools.

The “house negro” and the “field negro”; and the case of the Harrison Berry, the Property of S. W. Price / Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Pages from the pamphlet Slavery and Abolitionism, as Viewed by a Georgia Slave. By Harrison Berry, the Property of S. W. Price, Covington, Georgia; 1861
Source: Documenting the American South (DocSouth) online collection at the University Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. See details at the end of this blog entry.

These are the words of a Georgia slave, in 1861:

We see the Apostles teaching peace all through the New Testament. We see, in the Epistles, they exhort Servants to be obedient to their masters; and not only in words do we find this, but in all their practice. For, on one occasion, when a Slave had run away from his master, and went to Paul, he does not hesitate a moment, but sends him back to his lawful owner. This shows that Christ and the Apostles had quite a different view of Slavery to that of our modern factionists of the United States…

We will now examine some of the leading principles of the Abolition party. It is not that I am opposed to freedom, that actuates me to address them in the manner which I do, for I believe it to be one of the greatest blessings earthly, when not contaminated with fanatical dispositions.

But rather would I die, were I a citizen of the United States, than to disturb the peace, or act in any way that would be detrimental to the onward progress and prosperity of my country. For, of all the Governments that now exist, or have ever existed, this perhaps is the least contaminated with injustice–the Constitution granting to every native born, or adopted citizen, the freedom of speech, and the power, at the ballot-box, of making their own laws to be governed by. What a lesson it ought to be to the American citizen, to view four-fifths of Europe and Asia having no more power to make the laws by which they are governed than the Slaves of this country who are not citizens!

Now, as the master waits all night for the return of the Slave that has run away from him, seeing, in the morning, he is absent, he goes over to his neighbor’s house, and asks him to look out for him. Says he, “I went to town yesterday after my paper, and when I had gotten it, I saw a statement of the organization of an Abolition Convention, resolving that Slavery was a sin, and a reproach upon any free people, and that they would never desist from its agitation, until they had eradicated the last string that bound it to the country.

“I, of course, became somewhat grum when I saw it; and, on going to the field, after getting home, in that grum state, I, perhaps, might have been too much vexed to have judged correctly the amount of work that should have been done. I, at any rate, thought they had not done enough, and scolded Tom for not having done more; he commenced muttering, which only added fuel to the fire already kindled within me; so I was in a bad fix to take his insolence, and made at him, when he ran away. I would like to get hold of him, for if any of those Abolitionists should happen to get hold of him, they would carry him off.”

Now, let us hear the consolation of his neighbor. He says: “Yes; and let me tell you what happened at my house last Sunday. As I was going to the lot, I saw my Bob have a newspaper, reading very attentively; and, on going to him, and asking him to let me see it, I found that he was reading the paper that had the very same proceedings of that Convention of the Abolitionists you were speaking of. So I lurked around my negroes’ houses that night, to see if I could hear Bob say anything about the Convention to the other negroes; and, sure enough I did, for I heard him tell them that they would not be Slaves much longer, for the Abolition party intended to set them all free, at the risk of their lives. He was going on at a terrible rate; and, on peeping through a crack, I saw two of Mr. Jones’ boys there too. So I slipped back to the house, and thought I would watch their manoeuvres the next morning; and when morning came, I found them to be dull, careless, and very slothful.

“So I took them up, and whipped every one of them, and gave Bob two hundred lashes; then I got on my horse and rode over to Mr. Jones’, and told him what I had heard Bob say in the presence of his two boys, and what I had done to mine. He called up his two boys and whipped them too. So you see how the thing is shaping. We must have our property protected against this diabolical set of Abolitionists, and our Legislatures must give us more power over our Slaves. And any man that will not agree to make the laws more binding on Slaves, can’t get my vote, nor any one else that I can in the least influence.”

– Harrison Berry, the Property of S. W. Price, Covington, Georgia, in his 1861 pamphlet Slavery and Abolitionism, as Viewed by a Georgia Slave.

Message to slaves, from one slave to another: listening to abolitionists will get your butt whipped. In case you didn’t know.

Sigh. As an African American living in the 21st century, it’s too easy to take derisive potshots at a 19th century slave who:

– tells his “brethren in bondage” that slavery is sanctioned by the Bible;

– says that if he was a citizen, he’d rather die than “disturb the peace” (as abolitionists were doing) because he lives in a place which offers its citizens all kinds of freedoms and rights; even as he acknowledges that he, as a slave and non-citizen, didn’t enjoy those freedoms and rights himself;

– warns that slaves who listen to abolitionists will get their butts whipped… as if they didn’t know.

But Harrison Berry – a slave and author of Slavery and Abolitionism, as Viewed by a Georgia Slave. By Harrison Berry, the Property of S. W. Price, Covington, Georgia, which was published in 1861 – lived in much different times. Slavery was nothing to joke about, and he clearly took his positions – a passioned defense of slavery and slave masters, and a biting critique of abolitionists and the Republican Party – very, very seriously.

More of his pamphlet is in part one of this two part blog entry; the entire document is here.

The pamphlet raises all kinds of questions: Just who was Harrison Berry? Did he actually write the pamphlet? If so, how was it that he was so literate and knowledgeable, in a state where teaching slaves to read was a minor offense punishable by a fine and/or whipping? Who was the intended audience? And what did he get out of it – financially or otherwise?
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The “house negro” and the “field negro”; and the case of the Harrison Berry, the Property of S. W. Price / Part 1

Malcolm X had a way with words. Née Malcolm Little, and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz after his pilgrimage to Mecca, he gained both fame and infamy as the spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Later in his short life, he left the Nation, renounced its racist views, and sought to form his own organizations that would uplift African Americans. An assassin’s bullet ended his life in 1965 at the age of 39.

Malcolm’s charisma, brutal honesty, humor, heart-felt sense of righteousness, directness, and fearlessness – many blacks understood it was dangerous to talk the way he did – made for many memorable speeches during the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of those was an address to a group of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) workers in Selma, Alabama in February 1865. The above video clip is an excerpt from the speech, which focuses on the tension and conflict between the “house negro” and the “field negro” during the slave era. His scathing comments pretty much speak for themselves.

Malcolm’s speech immediately came to mind when I recently learned of an 1861 pamphlet with the title Slavery and Abolitionism, as Viewed by a Georgia Slave. By Harrison Berry, the Property of S. W. Price, Covington, Georgia. This document is said to be written by a slave, Harrison Berry, who dutifully identifies himself as the property of his owner.

And what exactly was Berry’s view? It seems he had a way with words too, and here are some of them:

…You must recollect, fanatical sirs (Republicans and abolitionists), that the Slave children and their young masters and mistresses, are all raised up together. They suck together, play together, go a hunting together, go a fishing together, go in washing together, and, in a great many instances, eat together in the cotton-patch, sing, jump, wrestle, box, fight boy fights, and dance together; and every other kind of amusement that is calculated to bolt their hearts together when grown up.

You had better mind how you come here and jump aboard of our masters; for I tell you, though we sometimes fight among ourselves, if another man jumps on either, we both pitch into him. You must recollect that we are not oppressed here like your nominally free there. We can go into our masters’ houses and get plenty of good things to eat; and we can shake hands with the big-bugs of the country, and walk side-by-side with Congress members on the side-walks, and stand and converse with gentlemen of the highest rank, for hours at a time. So, in short, we can do anything, with the exceptions of those privileges wrested from us in consequence of your diabolical, infernal, Black Republican, Abolition, fanatical agitation…

TO MASTERS AND THEIR SLAVES.–Masters, I most beseechingly wish you to read the following to your Slaves, and tell them it is the request of one that is their brother in bondage. For I believe, if the Slaves were undeceived respecting their chance of enjoying freedom, any where within the incorporate limits of the United States, or, in fact, any where on the continent of North America, they would not change places with the poor white man North. But while they are deceived in believing that they are worse off, and worse treated, than any one else, it is natural that they should be dissatisfied. But if you remove this gloom from over their eyes, and enable them to see, not only their true position, but, also, that of the millions of the poor and oppressed, not only in Europe, Asia and Africa, but in the Northern States of America; and if hundreds of them, on plantations, even knew how hard run some are in the Southern cities to live comfortable, they could see, clearly, that their enslavement, under all circumstances by which it is surrounded, is not such a curse as they thought it was.

After they become convinced that their position is better than four-fifths of mankind, they will cast aside all foolish hopes of bettering their condition, and be enabled to view the four-fifths of the laboring population of the country as being in a far worse condition than they are themselves. This would create within them a satisfaction with their lots sufficient to make them trustworthy in the most difficult times.

TO MY BROTHER SLAVES.–Brethren, let us reason together. I expect to prove to you, in a very few words, that Slavery existed thousands of years ago, and that it was a lawful institution long before the enslavement of the Israelites. We read in the 14th chapter and 14th verse of Genesis, that Abraham numbered 318 servants, born in his own house. And we read again, in the same book, 50th chapter, 19th and 20th verses, where Joseph was speaking of his being sold into Egypt, that it was done to save much people alive. And, coming down to the Christian era, we find, all over the New Testament, admonitions to servants commanding them to obey their masters.

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The Colored Soldiers, by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar stamp, US Postal Service

The Colored Soldiers, by Paul Laurence Dunbar

If the muse were mine to tempt it
And my feeble voice were strong,
If my tongue were trained to measures,
I would sing a stirring song.
I would sing a song heroic
Of those noble sons of Ham,
Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam!

In the early days you scorned them,
And with many a flip and flout
Said “These battles are the white man’s,
And the whites will fight them out.”
Up the hills you fought and faltered,
In the vales you strove and bled,
While your ears still heard the thunder
Of the foes’ advancing tread.

Then distress fell on the nation,
And the flag was drooping low;
Should the dust pollute your banner?
No! the nation shouted, No!
So when War, in savage triumph,
Spread abroad his funeral pall–
Then you called the colored soldiers,
And they answered to your call.

And like hounds unleashed and eager
For the life blood of the prey,
Sprung they forth and bore them bravely
In the thickest of the fray.
And where’er the fight was hottest,
Where the bullets fastest fell,
There they pressed unblanched and fearless
At the very mouth of hell.

Ah, they rallied to the standard
To uphold it by their might;
None were stronger in the labors,
None were braver in the fight.
From the blazing breach of Wagner
To the plains of Olustee,
They were foremost in the fight
Of the battles of the free.

And at Pillow! God have mercy
On the deeds committed there,
And the souls of those poor victims
Sent to Thee without a prayer.
Let the fulness of Thy pity
O’er the hot wrought spirits sway
Of the gallant colored soldiers
Who fell fighting on that day!

Yes, the Blacks enjoy their freedom,
And they won it dearly, too;
For the life blood of their thousands
Did the southern fields bedew.
In the darkness of their bondage,
In the depths of slavery’s night,
Their muskets flashed the dawning,
And they fought their way to light.

They were comrades then and brothers,
Are they more or less to-day?
They were good to stop a bullet
And to front the fearful fray.
They were citizens and soldiers,
When rebellion raised its head;
And the traits that made them worthy,–
Ah! those virtues are not dead.

They have shared your nightly vigils,
They have shared your daily toil;
And their blood with yours commingling
Has enriched the Southern soil.

They have slept and marched and suffered
‘Neath the same dark skies as you,
They have met as fierce a foeman,
And have been as brave and true.

And their deeds shall find a record
In the registry of Fame;
For their blood has cleansed completely
Every blot of Slavery’s shame.
So all honor and all glory
To those noble sons of Ham–
The gallant colored soldiers
Who fought for Uncle Sam!

Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the first African-American poets to gain national critical acclaim. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872. His parents were ex-slaves from Kentucky. His father was an escaped slave who served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War.

Dunbar was the lone black student in his high school in Dayton. That did not prevent him from excelling in school, where he was a member of the debating society, editor of the school paper and president of the school’s literary society. Two of his high school classmates were Wilbur and Orville Wright, who invested in his newspaper the Dayton Tattler, which was aimed at the city’s black community.

Dunbar died young, at the age of 33, due to tuberculosis. Even so, he created a huge body of work, including poetry, short stories and novels. He was also a lyricist for the musical comedy In Dahomey which was the first full-length musical written and performed by blacks to be booked into a Broadway theater. The play included the talents of fellow lyricist James Weldon Johnson and the vaudeville stars Bert Williams and George Walker. Although Dunbar predated the Harlem Renaissance/New Negro era of the 1920s and 1930s, his work certainly inspired the people of those times.