Friday, August 14, 2009
The Pool Is Cool: WWII, swimming and driving

Walking/driving to and from the municipal swimming pool I belong to is a guilty pleasure. Like everybody who comes to the facility, I under-dress my swim suit. So I'm always in disguise when I enter -- have put on the costume of another player. In this uniform I'm a woman who is lithe and strong -- who will take into herself all of the oxygen that's available and put it to good, deep, efficient use. This phenom is one that I discuss with other mature women who swim and do aqua aerobics. There is a bone deep feeling of well-being and accomplishment that - I believe - is unavailable to the older body except with something like running - which is so much more tough on the aging carcass. Swimming is the balm/bomb for us riper fruits.

Accomplishment -- we mention this a lot when we are dressing and toweling off and going back to ourselves -- feeling like we've accomplished our workout -- put something in the bank for later on.

Driving an automobile is like this in some measure -- a skilled accomplishment. It is a complex set of skills that is improved with practice and attention. My beloved, late father taught me to drive. He was a gentle, patient man who had driven always -- especially in the U.S. army where he honed his skills. I am, like he was, a great driver. I am serious about driving as a skill to respect and cultivate. The most important component of the skill of driving is alertness and attention. He always emphasized that in teaching me. Even in his older age when he depended on me to drive him to his medical appointments, he would critique my driving -- especially proper parking technique. Wheels should be cut into the curb on a backwards hill. My Popsi was a parking stickler. He was convinced that some out of control car would careen around the corner, strike his car and push it away from the curb and backwards down our hilly street. In the 50 plus years he lived and parked there, I do not remember it ever happening. Why? Because he cut his wheels into the curb. I hardly ever did. It never happened to me either. He instilled in me a respect for techniques in driving and automobile maintenance. Don't idle your engine for long moments -- for any reason. It is injurious and unnecessary. His honorable discharge from the Army says that his campaigns were Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland. He told us about driving truckloads of fellow soldiers on a long road away from the beaches at Normandy. He said that the other boys were scared, hungry -- more scared than hungry. He said that he was told to put the truck in gear and not stop until. . . I have never clearly understood how this story ends. My father came back from WWII and lived another sixty years or so. My father taught most of the people in my family how to drive. He gave up driving his own car at the age of ninety-five.

I like to drive a bit after I have swum. All of my back muscles are so relaxed and articulate that I feel my arms and legs flawlessly coordinated and exerting gentle, effective control over the machine.

Posted at 07:40 am by Tourmaline
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Friday, July 31, 2009
the water forgives

The water forgives me. I thought it wouldn't. I am so insecure that I think I have betrayed my relationship with my swimming if I stay away from the pool. So, I go back and I feel as though there has been no break off. I have a delight in coming back though I am fearful that I no longer know how to swim. I have a multitude of reasons to stay away from the aerobics class and/or the pool. But on a day that I swim I have the experience of feeling strong, graceful, capable and deeply relaxed. And when I get out of the water, I feel virtuous and hungry. What experience could be better?

Posted at 04:59 pm by Tourmaline
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Sunday, July 05, 2009

As the descendent of enslaved African Americans it is difficult to be celebratory on the holiday that has come to be called Independence Day - July 4th. I am grateful that Frederick Douglas has given us so eloquent a speech as that he delivered on July 5, 1852 to consider.  if you are inclined to quiet prayer, then intone these words. If you are inclined to angry outbursts then rather exhort this. If you are inclined to study, then learn these words.

Frederick Douglas

Independence Day Speech at Rochester, NY - 1852

"Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that the dumb might eloquently speak and the "lame man leap as an hart."

  But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn that it is dangerous to copy the example of nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorry this day, "may my right hand cleave to the roof of my mouth"! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine. I do not hesitate to declare with all my soul that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! "I will not equivocate, I will not excuse"; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, shall not confess to be right and just....

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not as astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, and secretaries, having among us lawyers doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators, and teachers; and that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives, and children, and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian's God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply....

 What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.

 Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms- of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival."

This is a part of Douglas’ great speech. Read the entire speech at:

Posted at 05:58 am by Tourmaline
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Monday, June 22, 2009
Facing Father’s Day without my father

Without Popsi

My earliest painful memory was an episode of panic, loss and naked fear. I dropped my father’s hand purposely and let him walk off down the street without me. It was the thing that all small children do. They test themselves and their resolve to see if they can separate from their parent and if the parent will let them. I remember making the decision to stand back and let him walk away from me. My father didn’t get half a block before I ran after him and grabbed back his hand. It truly is the child who is well-loved and feels cherished who has the hardest time separating.

My father was tall. I thought he was the tallest man in the entire world. He was the tallest man I saw for a very long time. I’ve always thought he was like a tree. He had all the arboreal attributes; the height, the warm bark color, the gentle ruggedness that oaks and others have, the protective aspect, the rootedness, the steady, solid, immovable, ethical, handsomeness and constancy of trees.
James Sheridan Clarke, my father, died on January 18, 2009. He was ninety-six years old. He basically wore out. In cleaning out his things I discovered so many, many pairs of socks. There were dozens of them in balls in the basement -- mated, matched and twisted together in clean, orderly balls. These were the many obligatory Xmas, birthday and Father’s day presents my sisters and I had given him over the years. He never asked for any particular present and we always truly wanted to get something for him. Sometimes it was a real chore trying to think of something fresh. We mostly fell back on socks.
My son died in 1989. I recall thinking when he was a small baby that he would be there when my beloved father died. We would mourn him together and go on in his line honoring him. Things happened differently. It turns out my father helped me through the crisis of my son’s death, a grandson that he idolized. How did we make it past that crushing sorrow?
When you nurse a dying parent you discover so many things. Lifting, turning, carrying a grown person who is ill is the hardest thing imaginable. You figure that because he has now become thinner and frailer that he will be easy to move. But my father seemed as heavy as lead. You fantasize that your big, strapping son will lift this man up over his head and put him down in bed gently and smooth the sheets beneath him. Truth is that’s a great big fantasy picture. The way to move a bedridden person is by making a draw sheet and roll and pull and have transfer chairs and benches and portable toilets and bedpans and plastic pads and large disposable diapers and a washer and dryer in the basement, And then beg and cajole and laugh and tease to get their flaccid, weak abdominal muscles to help out your aching back.
It is easy to turn to ancestor worship when your parents have died. No joy is joy enough without them. You invoke them often and it is to them that you appeal for the bus, the lost keys and to look after the house, the car, the friends and you.
The last time I saw my father at the residence facility where he spent his last days he waved my sister and me off. We had gotten up to go and we kept saying more and coming back to the bed touching his head, his face, his hand. He lay there - knowing we were to drive to New Jersey -- and he waved his hand to say, “Go, on. Go, on now.” He was pushing us away from him in that loving way that we send the well-loved child to kindergarten. “Go, on and on and on,” he seemed to say with the graceful gesture of his hand.

Posted at 04:45 pm by Tourmaline
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Monday, June 15, 2009
Escape On The Pearl

Local history delight

I went on the Escape On The Pearl bus tour hosted by Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Our tour guide was author, Mary Kay Ricks who wrote ESCAPE ON THE PEARL, THE HEROIC BID for FREEDOM on the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. This is the sobering and exciting story of the largest, organized escape on the underground railroad -- aboard the sailing vessel, The Pearl. This is also the personal story of Mary and Emily Edmonson and their family. The Edmonsons were some of the escapees aboard The Pearl. Mary Kay has done extensive research and has uncovered links to important individuals involved in the escape and several of the oldest African American congregations in Washington and Georgetown. Carter Bowman, archivist of Mt. Zion Church was on the bus as were many other local history experts and buffs. Here are some pictures of the day:

We visited Asbury Methodist Church. Several participants in the Pearl escape were members/founders of this congregation.

at its peak, Franklin and Armfield, a.k.a. the Alexandria Slave Pen, was transporting 1,800 slaves a year to the cotton plantations of Louisiana and Mississippi. for more info on this:

The Northern Virginia Urban League moved into this house in 1996 and has dedicated the site to Rev. Lewis Henry Bailey, a former slave who was sold through the pen to a family in Texas.

our mentor, Carter Bowman, archivist of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in a quiet moment in the Mt. Zion/Female Union Band Cemetary

Janet Ricks, head of the history committee at Mt. Zion leads us through the Mt. Zion/Female Union Band Cemetary.

Beth Taylor, my bus seat partner, is the Director of Education at James Madison's Montpelier. She's researching Paul Jennings, who was enslaved to President and Mrs. Madison.

Mary Kay Ricks talks about Alfred Pope, one of the escapees on The Pearl and a trustee of Mt. Zion Church. After his adventures on The Pearl, Pope built significant wealth through his rag-picking/waste disposal business. He contributed real estate and finance for the building of Mt. Zion Church. Alfred Pope later married Hannah, one of the slaves of Martha and Thomas Peter, who built Tudor House in Georgetown. See previous post regarding my visit to Tudor House.

Posted at 11:19 am by Tourmaline
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Monday, May 25, 2009
Memorial Day

A Day to Honor

A Veteran of World War II

March 8, 1918 - January 14, 2007

Luise Higgins Jeter, a.k.a. Pvt. Luise Jeter poses with her niece, Breena Clarke at the Women In Service To America Memorial near Arlington Cemetary

Her war anecdotes were about the facility she was assigned to that housed German POWs stateside. She said they were treated with an excess of respect -- officers allowed to keep their uniforms. She related a story of riding in a deep south town in uniform on a bus. She said the other "colored" riders were nervous for her. She said she sat up front until she got off at the military base. She was a courageous young woman. There were a couple of funny tales about drilling and falling into a ditch and how she and her fellow Black women had dealt with petty racism.

Gladys Henderson

Auntie remembered this woman and got a little tearful looking at her filled up with feeling that, at last, there was some recognition of the role she and others had played.

a hopeful, courageous face in all of its hues

Pvt. Luise Jeter was given veteran's honors at her memorial service in 2007. After her military service, she worked for the Veteran's Administration in Washington, D.C. and in Detroit, Michigan.

Auntie was proud of her service and proud of Col. Oveta Culp Hobby. She spoke of how proud the women were to wear the cap that was designed by Col. Hobby and named for her. She was very happy the day we visited the memorial
Cheryl, Barbara, Auntie and Breena visited the National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Auntie was excited about it. There are so many beautiful intangibles about this portrait. She inscribed it: To Harry - my darling Husband -- Luise

Happy Memorial Day, Private Luise H. Jeter!

Posted at 07:54 am by Tourmaline
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Tuesday, May 05, 2009
At Ringwood Manor and Forge

I visited an historic house and saw a demonstration of blacksmithing in the 18th and 19th century in New Jersey. The young man demonstrating the steps of the blacksmith’s job was focused on making a wrought iron door knocker -- -- hand forging iron. He operated the bellows from an overhead lever and the resultant infusion of oxygen caused a glow in his furnace -- an open stove with two wells with beds of heated coals. The demonstrator was business like in his “smithing.” He was knowledgeable, steady and competent. He said that with his tools arranged efficiently he could hand forge numerous nails in short order. He would cut them from rods and flatten them. He showed me the thin, circular rods that were stored above across overhead beams. He said that the rods were made at the other part of the forge and parts/lengths would be cut by the blacksmith and shaped and forged. He demonstrated that he could cut the length of the nail, hammer the head flat with one hit and move to the next.

I imagine that the made nails would be swept into a bucket for cooling with one swipe and that there would necessarily come a deep rhythm and that if the smith were set - had set himself a particular, meaningful task that he would develop a deep, angry, throbbing rhythm. There would be little waste of effort.

Posted at 06:34 am by Tourmaline
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Hand forged

For every nail or spike he forged for Master he forged one for the ninety-one that went away when the girl was married. They look like eye teeth. Each one is slight bit different from the next, but are all of a kind.
He did it -- the forging -- secretly though they must have known he was doing it. It was only that they were loath to lose his value if he sickened and died or cut himself down in grief. They hoped the work would steady him. A man good for making a good -- nay excellent nail- is a valued slave man. He did twice the work though his output was the same. He put the seconds aside -- except that these were more uniform than his firsts and would not be called seconds by anyone with eyesight to judge. His face was volatile -- explosive -- like a bag of fiery gasses that is closed , but may burst at any moment. They said nothing -- only let him be. He forged the nails so as not to forget a single one of them. He remembered that Clovis took her youngest three with her, but had to leave behind her first girl. A nail for each. A mark for each.
His hammer rings were heard at all hours. The overseer thought about forcing him to halt and put away his hammers. He thought better of the plan. He saw the face. He smelled the sulfurous rage.

(hand-forged nails circa 1690 - 1800 discovered at the William Robinson plantation in Clark, New Jersey)

One Hundred Questions about 91 Individuals:

what were their names -- each name,
what were their ages,
how many adult women,
how many adult men,
how many male children?
how many female children,
how many males over 50,
how many females over 50,
what is the age of each,
what is the name for each?
where was each one born,
when did each one die,
where is each one buried,
how many were legally married?
how many were formally committed couples,
how many were members of informally committed families,
how many were parents,
what work did each do,
how many did agricultural/field work?
how many worked within the household,
how many worked at Tudor House,
what are the names of the household people,
what are the names of the plantation workers,
what is the height of each person?
what is the weight of each person,
Are any physically disabled,
Is there anyone who is blind,
Is there anyone who is deaf,
Is there anyone who is missing a limb?
If yes, how many blind,
If yes, how many deaf,
If yes, how many without a limb,
how many limbs,
If yes, how many?
If yes, who,
did any one use a stick or cane to assist with walking,
did any woman pierce her ear,
did any man have a mustache,
did any one or two make the candles?
did any one or two or three shoe the horses,
was there a gang that made the lye soap,
if yes, who were these women,
who were the men,
who cut the hay?
who baled the hay,
who sold it but did not keep the money,
what is the average number of good teeth of the group,
what are the family groups,
how are family groups identified?
were family groups separated at MarthaŐs marriage,
what became of slaves sold at MarthaŐs marriage,
were separated family members ever reunited,
are there parents who have lost children to sale,
who has lost a child this way?
who are the children who were sold in this circumstance,
what is known of their lives after sale,
what is known of their parentsŐ lives after the sale,
Are there any who are perceived as mixed race,
Are there any who are biologically related to Thomas and Martha Peter?
were any who were sold biologically related to the Peters,
were any sold for the reason of their relationship to the Peters,
what number can read,
what number can write,
who can read?
who can write,
what clothes did household enslaved women wear at Tudor House,
what clothes did household enslaved men wear at Tudor House,
did male field workers wear shoes,
did female field workers wear shoes?
what is the average number of pairs of shoes worn by enslaved people at Tudor House,
did the clothes of enslaved children in service at Tudor House differ from adults,
how was hair of enslaved women dressed among those in service at Tudor House,
how was hair of enslaved men dressed among those in service at Tudor House?
did enslaved at Tudor House wear uniforms typical of their positions,
did enslaved people leave Tudor House by day to shop at the market,
what clothes did male field workers in service on Peter family lands wear,
what clothes did female field workers in service on Peter family lands wear,
did the enslaved who worked at Tudor House carry slave tags/identifying tags or papers?
how many/who carried slave tags,
did any one(s) attend church services,
did any attend church services with the Peter family,
what church(s) were attended by the enslaved,
was any one above the average in height for the time?
was any one more corpulent than the average of the day,
was any one perceived as leader of the entire group,
was any one recognized as a leader of a subset of the group,
was any one seriously injured by an employee of the Peter family,
was any one known to have committed suicide?
was any one known to have been murdered,
what facts are known of any of the enslaved people prior to the marriage of Thomas and Martha Peter,
did any individual attempt to escape from slavery,
did any individual succeed in escaping slavery,
was any escapee recaptured and returned to slavery?
what punishment was suffered for escape,
from what sources can answers be found?

A nail consists of a metal rod or shank, pointed at one end and usually having a formed head at the other, that can be hammered into pieces of wood or other materials to fasten them together. A nail is usually made of steel, although it can be made of aluminum, brass, or many other metals. The surface can be coated or plated to improve its corrosion resistance, gripping strength, or decorative appearance. The head, shank, and point may have several shapes based on the intended function of the nail. Of the nearly 300 types of nails made in the United States today, most are used in residential housing construction. The average wood frame house uses between 20,000 and 30,000 nails of various types and sizes.
Nails are divided into three broad categories based on their length. In general nails under 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length are called tacks or brads. Nails 1-4 inches (2.5-10.2 cm) in length are called nails, while those over 4 inches (10.2 cm) are some-times called spikes. These categories are roughly defined, and there is considerable crossover between them.
The length of a nail is measured in a unit called the penny. This term comes from the use of nails in England in the late 1700s when it referred to the price of one hundred nails of that size. For example, a "ten penny nail" would have cost ten pennies per hundred. The symbol for penny is "d," as in 10d. This designation is believed to go back to the time of the Roman Empire when a similar form of measurement for hand-forged nails involved a common Roman coin known as the denarius. Today the term penny only defines the length of a nail and has nothing to do with the price. The shortest nail is 2d which is 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. A 10d nail is 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, and a 16d nail is 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) long. Between 2d and 10d the nail length increases 0.25 inch (0.64 cm) for each penny designation. Beyond 10d there is no logical progression to the lengths and designations.
Nails may have been used in Mesopotamia as early as 3500 B.C. and were probably made of copper or bronze. Later, iron was used to make nails. Early nails were shaped, or forged, with hammers. They were usually made one at a time, and were consequently scarce and expensive. By the 1500s a machine was developed which produced long, flattened strips of iron, called nail rods. These strips could then be cut into lengths, pointed, and headed. Nails were so valuable in the early American settlements that in 1646 the Virginia legislature had to pass a measure to prevent colonists from burning down their old houses to reclaim the nails when they moved. Two early nail-making machines were patented by Ezekial Reed of the United States in 1786 and Thomas Clifford of England in 1790. These machines cut tapered pieces from flat iron sheet, then flattened the head. In rural areas, black-smiths continued to make nails from wrought iron right into the 20th century. The first machine to make nails from metal wire was introduced in the United States in about 1850, and this technique is now used to make most of the nails today.

Posted at 07:49 am by Tourmaline
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Monday, April 06, 2009
What becomes of the broken-hearted?

Number of enslaved Africans listed in the October 1759 estate inventory of Daniel Parke Custis (Martha Washington's first husband). Custis dies in 1757 without a will, so the widow is granted a dower share — the lifetime use of 1/3 of the estate's assets. Her dower share, along with the rest of her late husband's estate (including the enslaved Africans), is held in trust for their son Jacky (born 1754).
At least 85
Number of enslaved Africans assigned to the widow Martha Custis as part of the dower share of her late husband's estate. Because she does not own, but has the lifetime use of these enslaved Africans and of their increase (future children and grandchildren), they are called dower slaves. [NOTE: The exact number is unclear because the inventory does not list all children individually.] The 200 or so additional Custis estate slaves (and their increase) continue to farm the Custis plantations but George and Martha Washington receive no economic benefit from their work; rather it all accrues to the benefit of Martha's son Jacky.
Year in which the widow Martha Custis marries Colonel George Washington, on January 9.
Estimated number of enslaved Africans owned by George Washington at the time of his marriage. Using his new wife's wealth, he buys land, more than doubling the size of Mount Vernon. Most of this land is farmed by his wife's dower slaves, but Washington also buys more enslaved Africans himself. In 1760 he pays taxes on 49 enslaved Africans; in 1770 on 87 enslaved Africans; and in 1774 on 135 enslaved Africans. [NOTE: These numbers do not include the dower slaves.] Washington's last recorded purchase of enslaved Africans is in 1772, but he later receives a few others in repayment of debts.
Year in which Jacky Custis turns 21, inheriting two-thirds of his father's estate (his mother's dower share is held in trust for him until her death). Jacky dies in 1781, leaving a widow and four children. His estate, plus the 1/3 of his father's estate controlled by his mother (the dower share), is held in trust for his children.
Number of dower slaves listed in the 1786 Mount Vernon slave census. The increase is due to the dower mothers having children. All children of dower mothers are themselves dower slaves.
Number of "Washington" slaves listed in the 1786 Mount Vernon slave census.
1790 Census
Total population of the United States in 1790 according to the U.S. Census.
694,280 / 59,150
Population of enslaved Africans / free blacks in the United States in 1790.
President Washington in New York City (1789-90)
Total population of New York (State) in 1790 according to the U.S. Census.
21,324 / 4,682
Population of enslaved Africans / free blacks in New York (State) in 1790.
Number of enslaved Africans that Washington brings to New York City in 1789 to work in the presidential household: Will Lee, Moll, Austin, Oney Judge, Giles, Paris and Christopher Sheels.
President Washington in Philadelphia (1790-97)
Total population of Pennsylvania in 1790 according to the U.S. Census.
3,737 / 6,537
Population of enslaved Africans / free blacks in Pennsylvania in 1790.
Number of enslaved Africans that Washington brings to Philadelphia in November 1790 to work in the President's House: Moll, Austin, Oney Judge, Giles, Paris, Christopher Sheels, Hercules and Richmond.
Number of enslaved Africans that Washington subsequently brings to Philadelphia. "Postilion Joe" first appears in the President's House documentary record in 1795.
Number of President's House enslaved Africans who successfully escape to freedom from Philadelphia: Oney Judge and Hercules.
Year in which an amendment is proposed (and fails) in the Pennsylvania Assembly to exempt all slave-holding officers of the federal government (including Washington, his Cabinet, and the Supreme Court) from the Gradual Abolition Act. This was an attempt to make the state more hospitable to slave-holders in hopes of having Philadelphia become the permanent capital of the United States. The proposal is withdrawn before debate after heated opposition from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
Year in which the U.S. Congress passes and Washington signs the Fugitive Slave Act. The U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 2) guaranteed the right of a slave-holder to recover a runaway slave. The Fugitive Slave Act establishes the legal mechanism for accomplishing this, makes it a federal crime to assist an escaping slave or interfere with his recapture, and sets severe fines for doing so. The Fugitive Slave Act allows slave-catchers into every U.S. state and territory.
47 to 8
Margin by which the U.S. House of Representatives passes the Fugitive Slave Act. The U.S. Senate also passes the Act, but the vote count is not recorded. Washington makes no known comment on the Act, and signs it into law on February 12, 1793 (probably in his private office in the President's House).
Fraction of the American population that is of African descent, all of whom are affected by the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. There is no safe haven for an escaped slave anywhere in the U.S. because of this law, and even free blacks are in danger of being kidnapped and sold into slavery by unscrupulous slave-catchers.
President Washington in Retirement (1797-99)
Number of President's House enslaved Africans who return to Mount Vernon with Washington at the end of his presidency: Moll and "Postilion Joe." Christopher Sheels, Richmond, Giles and Paris were returned to Mount Vernon in 1791. Austin died in 1794 enroute from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon. Oney Judge escaped to freedom in May or June 1796 from the President's House, and Hercules escaped in March 1797, reportedly on the night before Washington leaves Philadelphia. [What became of the 9 enslaved Africans? click to see chart]
At least 2
Number of former President's House enslaved Africans who attempt to escape to freedom from Mount Vernon, but are unsuccessful. There are presumed escape attempts by Richmond in November 1796, and by Christopher Sheels in September 1799.
Year in which Washington's nephew, Burnwell Bassett Jr., travels to New Hampshire in an attempt to recapture Oney Judge. Oney is now married to a freeman, Jack Staines, but legally she and their infant daughter are dower slaves (because Oney is enslaved, her marriage is not legally recognized and Jack Staines has no legal relationship to his own child). Oney goes into hiding, foiling Bassett's plan to abduct her. She later has another daughter and a son with Staines, but he and all three children predecease her.
Number of dower slaves listed in the 1799 Mount Vernon slave census.
Number of "Washington" slaves listed in the 1799 Mount Vernon slave census.
Year in which Washington dies, on December 14. In his will, Washington designates that his enslaved Africans be freed upon his wife's death.
Year in which Washington's enslaved Africans are freed, on January 1. Martha Washington decides not to wait until her death to free her late husband's slaves.
At least 12
Number of marriages between dower and "Washington" slaves. Legal status is traced through the female, so the children of a "Washington" father and a dower mother (such as Hercules and his late wife Alice) are themselves dower slaves, cannot be freed by Washington's will, and remain enslaved for life. Children of a dower father and a "Washington" mother (such as "Postilion Joe" and his wife Sall) are freed by Washington's will. Joe remains enslaved, but Sall and their children are freed, and take the last name Richardson.
Year in which Martha Washington dies, on May 22. In her will, she bequeaths to her grandson George Washington Parke Custis the one enslaved African she owns outright: Elisha. The dower slaves (who had numbered 153 people in 1799) are divided among her four grandchildren (the children of Jacky Custis). Jacky Custis's own enslaved Africans (who had numbered 272 people soon after his 1781 death) are distributed as each of his heirs reaches majority.
Year in which Oney Judge dies, on February 25, in Greenland, New Hampshire. Because of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by Washington at the President's House, Oney Judge spends the last 52 years of her life as a fugitive.

Information courtesy of

Posted at 10:41 am by Tourmaline
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Monday, March 23, 2009
O, 'be not weary in well doing

"I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy" (slavery and the slavetrade), "which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils; but if God be for you who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O, 'be not weary in well doing.' Go on in the name of God and the power of his might till even American slavery, the vilest that ever saw the sun, shall vanish away before it."
John Wesley to Wilberforce

The House of Bondage, Or Charlotte Brooks and Other Slaves. Contributors: Octavia V. Rogers Albert - author. Publisher: Oxford US. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1988. Page Number: liii.

On March 21, 2009 I was asked to give a talk at the Oracle Set Book Club's 42nd Annual Book And Author Luncheon at the Washington Navy Yard Conference Center. Organized in 1966, The Oracle Set Book Club is a group of African American women who discuss books and support literacy and accomplishment in Washington, D.C.

We are gathered this afternoon to honor literacy -- and to discuss literature. First I would like to honor Claudette Franklin Ford, in whose name the Oracle Set Book Club has established its scholarship. IŐd also like to dedicate my talk to my late parents, James Sheridan Clarke and Edna Payne Clarke. They were life-long Washingtonians and were committed to literacy. My first novel, "River, Cross My Heart" is directly inspired by their recollections of growing up in Georgetown.

One of the great conundrums of our lives is that we can't escape examining our past for clues -- mining our memories and those of our community for some sort of building materials for our future. All the while we are hurtling toward this future. This is the part of writing historical fiction that I enjoy the most.

Today I'd also like to invoke the spirit of an outstanding Washington educator who has inspired me, Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, 1858 - 1964. Anna Julia Cooper received a doctorate in history from the Sorbonne in 1924. She was principal of the nationally notable "M" Street school in the District of Columbia. This school later became Dunbar high school. Dr. Cooper was part of a cadre of outstanding individuals and imminent scholars - educators who lived and worked in the District of Columbia. This group includes the distinguished women, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Mary Macleod Bethune, as well as, Carter G. Woodson and Kelly Miller. There are a great many others I could name. They are the people for whom many of our libraries and schools are named. For this reason, when I am asked why I have set my novels in Washington, D.C. I answer that the District of Columbia is an exciting place to consider the lives of African Americans. Exceptional African Americans and ordinary individuals have made this city their home -- have seen this town as "the city on the hill" -- the place to get to -- for freedom and for opportunity.

We are, of course, very familiar with Dr. Cooper's quote, "Only the Black Woman can say 'when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.'" (A Voice From The South)

I'm not certain what we understand these words to mean. Though we have eschewed special patronage because we are women -- knowing full well this will be denied us because we are Black women, we have resorted to suing - litigating -- protesting to gain entrance to the mainstream of American culture. As a novelist I am not uncomfortable with ambiguity in the quote. I respond to Dr. Cooper's insistence (despite her characterizing it as "quiet", "dignified") her insistence on a presence, a point of view and a voice.

I don't need to tell you that I felt and continue to feel an unmatched and unmitigated excitement that First Lady, Michelle Obama has entered certain precincts in public - in our political life -- not quietly, Dr. Cooper -- but with undisputed dignity. And she and her husband have brought their daughters -- our young standard bearers -- into the limelight. Allow me to imagine that the women whose names I've previously mentioned and others who would have joined them -- Victoria Earle Matthews, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett -- were lining the parade route on this past Inauguration Day, waving their hands and feeling vindication. I'm being fanciful. Fiction writers are allowed to be.

There is another quote of Dr. Anna Julia Cooper's that is also well known. -- that is a great inspiration for me.

"All through the darkest period of the colored woman's oppression in this country her yet unwritten history is full of heroic struggle, a struggle against fearful and overwhelming odds, that often ended in a horrible death, to maintain and protect that which woman holds dearer that life. The painful, patient, and silent toil of mothers to gain a fee simple title to the bodies of their daughters, the despairing fight, as of an entrapped tigress, to keep hallowed their own persons, would furnish material for epics."

---- Anna Julia Cooper, "The Intellectual Progress of the Colored Women of the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation"

If I were to inscribe some quote above my desk, it would be this one. These are my marching orders. The words are inspirational to me because of the way they point to what our circumstances were -- the ownership of our bodies -- the title/and the entitlement. I also have the image of her -- Anna Julia Cooper -- straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- her accomplishments, her scholarship, her triumph and her scathing honesty in saying these things out plainly in an era of veiled speech by women in public.

And Dr. Cooper, in using the language of the law and the language of real property, asserts her own intellect and her complete embrace of the aims of literacy and the pursuit of education for all of her people.
In the mid-19th century -- the period in which my novel, STAND THE STORM is set the restrictions upon literacy were severe. Punishment was codified.

"If any free negro or mulatto person, living in this town, shall be a subscriber to or receive through the Post Office or any other medium, or shall have in his possession, or circulate any newspaper or other publication, or any written or printed paper or book, of a character calculated to excite insurrection or insubordination among the slaves or colored people, every such free negro or mulatto person shall be deemed and adjudged to be a disorderly person and a dangerous and unsafe citizen, and upon conviction thereof before the mayor or justice of the peace, shall for each and every offense, be fined a sum of money not exceeding twenty dollars, or be committed to the work-house for a period not exceeding thirty days, and the sureties of the offending party or parties, given under the third section of this ordinance shall be immediately required by the mayor to pay the amount of their bond or bonds, and on their failure or refusal to do so, he shall place the same in the hands of the Recorder for suit; and if any black or mulatto person living in the town, being a slave, shall be found offending against the provisions of the fifth section of this ordinance, he, she, or they, upon conviction of before the mayor or a justice of the peace, shall be sentenced or be punished by whipping, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes."
from The Black Codes of the District of Columbia
The responsibilities and the risks of learning to read and obtaining an education were placed entirely on the individual or a parent or mentor who was acting on their behalf. Learning came with obligations to the community. There was the tradition that someone who had acquired reading and writing skills would teach others. African American religious congregations such as Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, provided these early opportunities to learn reading and writing. And organizations formed to teach and promote literacy. I think it is interesting and worth noting that as literacy approaches universal it seems to have become an individual/a solitary pursuit. But book clubs like Oracle Set and others are reversing the trend by offering opportunities to share books and reading.
We -- African Americans and Washingtonians -- have longed for literacy. It has been our one best hope for freedom, inclusion and success. And we have been brutally and systematically excluded from and punished for aspiring to literacy. I'll end with reading a scene from STAND THE STORM that is set late in the novel during the Civil War. I won't identify the characters in much detail -- I'll just read a bit. I'd like you to see them gathered together reading -- before our time of nearly universal literacy -- when reading was a social activity -- when the need to know and understand was worth the risks to acquire it.

Posted at 05:55 am by Tourmaline
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New Jersey

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Onward only! I can't turn back and I won't turn around.

Celebrating eleven years of swimming!

stroking onward and upward
swimming for the wall 2010

“Centuries later historians would ridicule as a numbers game attempts to count the millions forced to suffer the trauma of the transatlantic passage. Yet for those who witnessed the murderous raids by Arabs, Europeans, or hostile black Africans upon their communities, for those who were discarded on their march to the African coast, for those who were banned to the hold of the ships, for those whose bodies were cast overboard, for those who made it to the unknown on the other side of the ocean, every single one mattered. For every single woman, every single man represented the difference between life and death, between the "I am" and chattel, between history and the void, between the voice and silence. For every single one defined the whole.”

from Black Imagination and the Middle Passage by Maria Diedrich, Henry Louis Gates, Carl Pedersen

“As you were speaking this morning of little children, I was looking around and thinking it was most beautiful. But I have had children and yet never owned one, no one ever owned one; and of such there's millions -- who goes to teach them? You have teachers for your children but who will teach the poor slave children?
I want to know what has become of the love I ought to have for my children? I did have love for them, but what has become of it? I cannot tell you. I have had two husbands but I never possessed one of my own. I have had five children and never could take one of them up and say, 'My child' or 'My children,' unless it was when no one could see me.
I believe in Jesus, and I was forty years a slave but I did not know how dear to me was my posterity. I was so beclouded and crushed. But how good and wise is God, for if the slaves knowed what their true condition was, it would be more than the mind could bear. While the race is sold of all their rights -- what is there on God's footstool to bring them up? Has not God given to all his creatures the same rights? How could I travel and live and speak? When I had not got something to bear me up, when I've been robbed of all my affections for husband and children.
My mother said when we were sold, we must ask God to make our masters good, and I asked who He was. She told me, He sit up in the sky. When I was sold, I had a severe, hard master, and I was tied up in the barn and whipped. Oh! Till the blood run down the floor and I asked God, why don't you come and relieve me -- if I was you and you'se tied up so, I'd do it for you.”

Sojourner Truth, 1856

This text of her address was recorded by the acting secretary of the Friends of Human Progress Association of Michigan, Thomas Chandler, and published in the Anti-Slavery Bugle

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