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!

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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.

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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 MarthaÕs marriage,
what became of slaves sold at MarthaÕs 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 parentsÕ 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.

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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

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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. IÕd 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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Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Unreliable perceptions and yardsticks

I went back this time with a sense of obligation to take steps toward restoring my exercise routine -- going again. I have been sloughing off going to the pool for a good ten days. I've given myself every excuse, but I have simply felt "out of it." I have been feeling that I am losing momentum and that I have a long road back. Right away when I hit the water, I knew I had once again overestimated my fall off. My body felt more willing -- more capable of performing than I had thought. I was selling myself short. Again it was that I was relying on the idea about appearance -- looking in the mirror and gauging myself by the truly unreliable yardstick: my perception of what other people see.

much better to go with the viscera -- to go with what is known in the gut. I can still swim because the muscles have learned the lesson and because they are not compromised with illness, they have not forgotten the beautiful slice through the water.

Posted at 06:52 am by Tourmaline
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Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Why I Feel Black and Blue

"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 than 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

"White families had the unparalleled capacity to control the flow of written information during slavery with their near monopoly on literacy and record keeping. They were committed to and adept at , hiding information about race mixing within their ranks and about their family relationships with black people. As a result, we lack ready prompts to help us visualize what people linked as Hemings and Jefferson were said to one another in times like these. Of course, that is what white slave owners intended -- to make these matters literally unthinkable to posterity, to try to erase the identity of their black relatives in order to protect the reputations of their white families. In this way they hoped to maintain ownership over black people's identities in perpetuity, in the manner of holding a fee, simple absolute in real property -- a thing that could be given up only at the owner's choice."
--pg 164 from THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO by Annette Godon-Reed

On Saturday, February 28, 2009 - a talk at Tudor House, home of Thomas Peter and Martha Custis Peter

Thomas Peter is son of the first mayor of Georgetown

Martha Custis Peter, is grand daughter of Martha Washington

Their home is high on a prospect on 31st St. in Georgetown, Washington, DC

The term slave is a word that defines a group of individual humans with no choice. On a tour of Tudor House I was shocked to hear that Martha Custis Peter inherited title to ninety slaves at her marriage to Thomas Peter. Her husband quickly sold thirty of these "dower" slaves. Sixty slaves joined the household at the time of the nuptials and the other thirty came to the estate on the death of Martha's grandmother, Martha Washington, the wife of our first president. I try to imagine these people -- standing in rows -- ten deep in nine rows. It is said the number is approximately 90, so maybe there is a small boy or girl more or less so that the final number is 91 or 89 or 95 when all is said and counted. A lot of people get shifted around when powerful slave-owning families unite. Maybe you lose the one person you love or need on that day. I dedicate my talk to the better understanding of the lives of these individuals -- as individuals.

My disdain for the slaveholder is unequivocal, but I’m not motivated to demonize Thomas and Martha Peter. Rather I’d like to focus on what we may discover about the lives of the enslaved persons who worked in their home.

You will see when you walk through the estate that it is clear what were the duties of the enslaved persons who served Thomas and Martha Peter at Tudor House. These duties certainly included a wide variety of strenuous, dangerous, monotonous, unpleasant, repetitive, time-consuming and personally unrewarding tasks. These would be the tasks that a wealthy property owner and businessman would assign to those who had no choice but to accede to his or her wishes. It can also be admitted that certain duties would confer a sense of pride and status in accomplishment. The association with a very socially prominent and wealthy family would likely have been some protection against the worse violence to which a slave might fall victim. Slaves who worked within the slave master’s household are generally perceived of as having an easier work life. There are obvious advantages: better shelter, better access to more and better food, access to more and better clothing. Certain disadvantages would be: no relief from duties/lack of privacy within the house, strained relations with other bondpersons/including family members, vulnerability to sexual harassment and subject to the close scrutiny of the master.

What is important is a look at what things an enslaved person could not do in Georgetown in the nineteenth century. In considering the lives of the enslaved and the specifics of their torture, I referred to the District of Columbia’s Black Codes -- ordinances in place to circumscribe and punish the behavior of enslaved Blacks, as well as, free people of color.

excerpt from: The Black Codes of the District of Columbia
(based on laws of the State of Maryland)

Who Shall Be Slaves

All negroes and other slaves, already imported or hereafter to be imported into this province, and all children now born or hereafter to be born of such negroes and slaves, shall be slaves during their natural lives.
--Laws of Maryland, 1715

Where any slave shall be guilty of rambling, riding or going abroad in the night, or riding horses in the day time without leave, or running away, it shall be lawful for the justices of the County Court and they are obliged, upon the application of complaint of the master or owner of such, or to the order of such master or owner or on the application or compliant of any other person who shall be any ways damnified or injured by such slave, immediately such slave to punish by whipping, cropping or branding in the cheek with the letter R or otherwise, not extending to life or to render such slave unfit for labor.
--Laws of Maryland, 1751

Punishment of colored persons for receiving or circulating insurrectionary publications

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 or her 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, 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 an 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 before the mayor or a justice of the peace, shall be sentenced or be punished by whipping not exceeding thirty nine lashes.

Prohibition of Assemblages of Colored Persons

From this time forth, all assemblages, by day or night of black or colored persons, within the limits of this town, except meetings for religious instruction, conducted by and under the superintendence and control of white men, appointed by either or any of the established churches of the town, and terminated and dispersed at or before the hour of half past nine o'clock p.m. and except such other meetings as shall be specially allowed by the mayor, be and the same are hereby prohibited, and every black or colored person, being a slave or servant for a term o years, that shall hereafter offend against this provision, shall be liable to be punished with any number of stripes not exceeding thirty-nine, or if free, to be committed to the work-house for any number of days, not exceeding thirty, or be fined in a sum not exceeding thirty dollars.
---ordinances of the Corporation of Georgetown, 1845

The account of facts in the life of Barbara, a daughter of one of the “dower” slaves of Martha Peter is of interest in considering the personal life of the enslaved and STAND THE STORM. Barbara is said to have been banished to the Peter family farm in Maryland for slipping off the property to attend dances. Its a nice story. It is scant though. It sounds like a story given to a child, a chaste explanation for something a lot more complex. Clearly there are no good choices for Barbara in this circumstance. She can only go where she is sent to work for the Peter family or she can self-emancipate. Yes, the lessons are clear. If the behavior of enslaved persons does not conform to the exact commands and expectations of their owners, they can be disciplined through separation from family members and familiar/preferred domestic arrangements. Also, a woman’s circumstance may change dramatically if she becomes vulnerable to the attentions of a powerful male. Perhaps Barbara did nothing overt to be shipped out to the farm. Perhaps she merely acceded to her master’s wishes.
Barbara’s daughter, Hannah, becomes the wife of Alfred Pope, a slave. She is sold by the Peters to her husband’s owner. Information in Black Georgetown Remembered by Kathleen Lesko, Valerie Babb, and Carroll R. Gibbs, (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1991), 23-26 - suggests that Hannah was sold to South Carolina Congressman, John Carter prior to marrying Alfred Pope, who was owned by Carter. Alfred had a few adventures and it would seem that he derived some advantage through his and his wife’s bondage to prominent whites. Freed upon Carter’s death in 1850, the Popes remained in Georgetown -- were successful -- purchased real estate and in 1875, sold to Mt. Zion United Methodist Church the lot upon which their church was built at 1334 29th St. This junction is where my fictional landscape in STAND THE STORM intersects with the world of Tudor House. I’ve chosen Mt. Zion and its congregation as a setting for my fiction because the people and the history support my understanding of the African American community of Georgetown. And Mt. Zion very definitely has documented evidence of involvement in the Underground Railroad, a organization that was antithetical to slave trading and ownership. (see my previous post on the history of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church)
Though they benefitted from association with elites, the Popes were instrumental in the founding of an institution that was subversive of the status quo -- an institution that was very actively subversive of slavery.
The regulations found in the District of Columbia’s black Codes illustrate in some way what the Pope’s faced in choosing to remain living and working in Georgetown after 1850. It’s extremely important to note that the Fugitive Slave Law is passed in 1850. This law changed the lives of self-emancipators and all of those who helped them. It required individuals who had no interest in pursuing slaves to assist a slave owner in pursuit of his or her property.

Posted at 05:47 am by Tourmaline
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Friday, February 20, 2009
Back To Bliss

Coming back to the pool after an absence is always exciting -- biissful. I am surprised to feel that I have accomplished more -- that some bits of technique are smoother, more flexible than I remembered. I think my legs were much more active -- stronger and they kicked more and harder. I believe that the Qi Gong exercises have kept the lower back, groin and leg muscles engaged and I am seeing the benefit in my kicking in the pool. I want to continue to build upon it. The difference in sensations is, for me, outstanding. I've never before felt the complete engagement of these muscles and so some movements that I thought were not possible for me to do are possible. I feel a marked increase in stamina and an awareness of what it means to push the muscles -- to pour on the steam. Swimming is so much a head job -- a thinker's sport. My mind is alive and lively when I am stroking a lap. Perhaps I think too much -- not just stroking and letting myself swim. Rather sometimes I am making myself swim -- trying to push myself -- force myself to swim well. Yet swimming is best when I'm able to swim unconsciously. Though thinking while swimming is blissful.

My birthday
to celebrate the day -- or to honor it -- with my buds at the pool. Is this any way to celebrate a birthday? I asked Gerri to make a video of me in the water swimming. I saw my biggest swimming flaws immediately. My legs are still not productive. They are doing the kick wrong. They are opening and closing -- scissoring. I don't look as svelte as I feel. If the camera adds thickness then the mind cuts some away. The body that glides feels smooth and easily slimmer. I feel vastly different in the abdominal section, but I need to work on my kick. My muscles are working much harder and there is more vigor in my legs. But . . . I think my legs look like logs. I gained insight by watching the video. I instantly knew what was wrong and I immediately thought of an approach to correcting it. As disappointed as I was with the pictures of my swimming, I was pleased with my own determination to improve. And the improvement will be measurable. I'll be able to see how far I've come.

Posted at 04:28 pm by Tourmaline
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Sunday, January 18, 2009
African American History 2009

Here is A History of MT. ZION UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, the oldest African American church in Washington, D.C.

By Pauline A. Gaskins Mitchell, a local historian

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, presently located at 1334 29th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., has been for the past 180 years an integral and viable part of Georgetown and has served the religious, educational and social needs of a significant portion of the Washington community.

The roots of the church can be traced back further than the first group of organized black Methodists in Georgetown in 1816. For over a decade before, those who eventually composed the Mt. Zion congregation had been a part of the Montgomery Street Church founded in 1772 and known today as the Dumbarton Avenue United Methodist Church, located on Dumbarton Avenue near Wisconsin Avenue, N.W. in Georgetown.

In the early 1800's Georgetown was a major port for the slave and tobacco trade in the area and a center for mills and markets for the newly created city of Washington. Its population was one-third black - half freedmen and half slaves. Some of them attended the Montgomery Street Church. Between 1801 and 1810 their numbers fluctuated between 37 and 97. At times nearly 50% of the membership consisted of their "coloured brethren." After 1810 the number increased rapidly.

Dissatisfied because they were segregated within the white church, about 123 blacks attending the Montgomery Street Church met on June 3, 1814, to consider forming a separate congregation under the supervision of the parent church. Among the leaders were Lucy Neal, Polly Hill, William Crusor, William Trumwell, Shadrack Nugent, Thomas Mason and Tamar Green.

On October 1, 1816, the dissidents purchased a lot on Mill Street (now 27th) near West Street (now P Street) from Henry Foxall, a white foundry owner and officer of the Montgomery Street Church. There they built a church known as "The Meeting House and "The Little Ark." White ministers from the Montgomery Street Church served as its pastors for many years.

The following 64 years brought several major changes to the black congregation. On the suggestion of the Reverend Stephen G. Roszei, an outspoken anti-slavery leader and a pastor of the mother church, the name of the new church was changed in 1844 to Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church. At that time there were 54 members. Dissension over the need for black leadership resulted in a split in the congregation in 1849 and the formation of three African Methodist Churches: Ebenezer, Union Wesley and John Wesley. Fifteen years later, Mt. Zion welcomed its black minister, the Reverend John H. Brice. Tragedy struck on July 13, 1880, when the church burned to the ground after which the congregation met temporarily in the Good Samaritan Hall, located in what is now the 1500 block of 26th Street, N.W.

Prior to the fire, the congregation had purchased for $2,581.00 on July 13, 1875, a lot from Alfred Pope, a black businessman of Georgetown and a trustee of the church. Construction of the new edifice was begun on the present site. Much of the workmanship was done by black artisans, including one of the pastors, the Reverend Alexander Dennis and his associate, the Reverend Edgar Murphy.

The cornerstone was laid July 13, 1876, and re-laid May 10, 1880. On October 31, 1880, the first service was held in the partially completed lecture room. The church was dedicated on July 8, 1884.

Some of the descendants of the building committee - John Grey, Henry Bowles, Barton Fisher, James Ferguson, Daniel Brown and Peter Vessels are the members of the church today.

Since no public funds were expended for the education of black people in the city of Washington until 1862, Mt. Zion became an educational center for the black population. Its first Sabbath School, organized in 1823, had a large enrollment, and its effect in promoting educational progress of the black citizens of Georgetown was considered invaluable. Adult members, as well as children, came to learn how to read. From 1840 through the Reconstruction Era, several schools sponsored by black men and the Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association were housed in the church.

The records indicate that until slavery was abolished Mt. Zion served as one of the stations in the Underground Railroad, and the vault in the nearby Old Methodist Burying Ground was used as a hideout for runaway slaves until their passage North could be arranged.

Extension and improvement of the physical plant included the construction of a new parsonage at 2902 0 Street, N.W. (completed in 1897), the purchase in 1920 of the property next door used for many years as a community house, and several renovations of the church and parsonage.

Mt. Zion realized that it needed a burying ground for its members. "For a sum of one dollar in hand." the church leased for 99 years the unoccupied east end of the Dumbarton Church Cemetery located on Mill Road (behind the 2600 block of Q Street, N. W.) in 1879. On this site were buried a Part of Dumbarton's congregation, slaves of other Washington areas. The west end was purchased by the Female Union Band Society, organized in 1842, for the burial of free blacks. Through the years, the two cemeteries have been considered jointly as the Mt. Zion Cemetery. In 1950, interments ceased.

An exhaustive historical study of the Mt. Zion section of the cemetery and the burials there was done by the Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation. In 1975, the cemetery became an Historical Landmark of the National Capital and on August 6, 1975, was placed on the national Register of Historical Places.

The restoration of the cemetery as a fitting memorial to black presence in Georgetown is underway. Dumbarton Church as the owner and Mt. Zion as the primary user have been joined in support by the Society for the Preservation of Historic Georgetown. Community churches, also, are cooperating in this effort.

The Mount Zion United Community House, erected 1811 and believed to be the only remaining English style cottage in the District of Columbia, was restored and returned to community use in 1985 to help recapture the history and presence of the Black community in the Historic District of Georgetown.

The Community House was restored with private funds, grants from the United Methodist Church, and a historic preservation matching grant from the District of Columbia. Bryant and Bryant AIA, Architects and Planners, conducted the architectural studies, and Georgetown Building Company was the general contractor. Because it has contributed significantly to the visual beauty and cultural heritage of the District of Columbia, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church was designated in June 1974, in Category II of the Inventory of Historical! Landmarks of the District of Columbia. It was also placed on the National Register of Historical Places on July 21, 1975.

Mt. Zion is a church of families, many of which date back to its inception. Only a few still reside in Georgetown; most scattered throughout the city and suburbs. They are proud of and grateful to their ancestors for founding and sustaining the church, and they have a strong desire to maintain the continuity of the black Methodist Church in the District of Columbia and the oldest congregation in this city.

by Pauline A. Gaskins Mitchell,

more info on Mt. Zion at:

for information on Mt. Zion/Female Union Band Cemetery:

Posted at 05:09 pm by Tourmaline
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Saturday, January 03, 2009
Home Delivery of the Washington Post

It broke my heart to call up and tell them to stop sending the paper. I remember answering the door and paying the paper boy -- who became an adult -- who became someone we never saw anymore. The young woman asked me why we were discontinuing and I told her more than she had asked to know. She was very polite. I told her my parents had paid for and received and occasionally called up to say it had not come and, in fact, had been proud and had enjoyed home delivery of the Washington Post for over fifty years. This was truly a regrettable change. I wouldn't have done it if not for security. The paper on the porch is like the water being on, the lights being available at a flick, the stove working and the plumbing alive. My parents never dropped the ball in all the years I can remember. Times must sometimes have been tough for them. But they paid the bills, drove the car, had home delivery of the newspaper. It is part of the smooth running of the home - of their lives -- the morning paper. Sorry -- changed circumstance. So now the paper has to be discontinued because my father has moved and we do not want the world to know the house is without him. This is a bow to the feeling that this neighborhood is more predatory than it used to be. When we grew up there was home delivery of three newspapers, then two then just the Post. My parents proudly subscribed to all of them and read them. My mother was keenly interested in crossword puzzles -- had done them from childhood. My mother wrote letters to the editor and had one published once. She would have been pleased with her obit in the Post. The home delivery of the papers was a part of our middle class status. You were stable, you were solid, you had a phone number and home delivered newspapers. You wanted the best for your children so you got the newspapers so that the world at large was always at hand. Very seldom did papers have to be taken in from the porch by neighbors because my parents rarely went away from home. But the neighbors gladly performed this lookout function because my folks were so steady, reliable, neighborly. It is now too much to ask. Discontinuing home delivery of the Washington Post at my father's home address was a sad decision. It might seem a small thing to be upset about after the big, at times gut-wrenching, decisions and adjustments that have been made in the last eight weeks as my 96 year old father's health changed. His world has altered dramatically and he is no longer living at the old home my sisters and I grew up in. My father held it together remarkably in that familiar neighborhood and, with the help of neighbors of fifty plus years, he maintained an independent, family -centered lifestyle. The Washington Post -- notably the sports section -- was part of it. In fact, the newspaper delivery was a mainstay and a tell. If the paper sat on his porch until mid-morning, then alerts went up and his next door neighbor went to knock on his door and see what was happening. One morning he had uncharacteristically forgotten to go get it -- had gone to the basement to do laundry -- and she went over to knock.

Posted at 08:13 am by Tourmaline
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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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