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Friday, May 4, 2018

Let's talk about the whispered facts

The old South had many secrets, and racism is sure one of them, which wasn't talked about in "good company," but was included by innuendos and facial understanding.
Picking cotton

I've been talking about 2 races that I know I descended from, the Native Americans and the English (and other western European) colonials for the last week or so.
No longer slaves, but blacks picking cotton

It's impossible to talk about my ancestors without running smack into the fact that slavery existed in their lives.  There was a big gulf between the "whites" and the "colored" or "Negroes," or "blacks."  I don't even know what slang might have been used in referring to "red" peoples.  But I'm sure they weren't as accepted by the majority group as they were by their own - and I'm even more sure that the mixed blood people, of which my ancestors were part, were also not accepted readily into white culture.
Coton plantation house, not belonging to any of my ancestors that I  know of

I get a kick out of my post about the most racist man I know, Plecker, who kept all the records and honored the "Racial Integrity law" in Virginia, a law passed after the Civil War was over by 60 years...known as a Jim Crow law.
"On March 20, 1924, Virginia passed the "Act to Preserve Racial Integrity," which defined as "colored" all persons having any discoverable nonwhite ancestry and therefore subjecting all persons of mixed-race ancestry to the racial segregation laws and laws against interracial marriage."
But Virginia had a Pocohontas clause, when many of the Virginia "old families" were related to Pocohontas, so there was an exception for those mixed-blood people, namely by denying the Native blood at all, if it was less than 1/16th.  In thinking about that, a grandparent would give you 1/4 blood, a great grandparent had 1/8, so it would mean 5 generations removed to get to 1/16.

Anyway, there were many economic reasons that kept racism alive for decades, and slavery also, but the racism that was rampant following the Civil War is shameful, and much of it is still alive though hidden today.  Just think "good old boys" or "those people." We're still a tribal culture.

Rev. Elias George who immigrated from Alabama to Louisiana

My families were among those that profited from the work of slaves.  There's no question about that.  And many of them were very religious too, going to church often, praying, reading and quoting scripture.  It didn't make any difference to their belief that slaves were there to work and give all the products of their labor to the white families which owned them, in return for bed and board.

When I quoted my cousin Lou George Tompkins last week, she had talked about having a Mammy.  A black nurse cared for her and her siblings, and helped mid-wife their births as well.  There was a close and intimate relationship between them.  But they were held apart by the misguided belief that one should be working unpaid for the other.

They were held apart by white privilege and racism.
Steamboat Times by Currier and Ives

It is ugly.  I have much DNA guilt for all those misdeeds perpetrated in the name of racism.  Slavery was and is the worst practice imaginable for one person or race to inflict upon another (except maybe blatant torture itself.)  But the psychological abuse of slavery is unimaginable.

And of course I'm almost positive there's black blood in my veins too.  There are as many Bass families which were listed as black as there are who stated in the census that they were white after the Civil War.

Not just in Virginia after 1943 when Plecker said "there were no more Indians in Virginia," and they all got listed as black.

This happened in Louisiana and Texas and all across the south too.  There were many families named Bass.  Only if you lived there would you have known who was truly white or black or mixed races.  But since one was the "superior" race, you can imagine that as many as could, would list themselves as white, would "pass."  But their survival depended upon the secret.  The secret depended upon racism.

Integrated schools and workplaces have happened in my lifetime.  More and more black history and literature is being taught.  And mixed-marriages have become more accepted in our larger society, though I don't miss that many heads still turn when a mixed race couple walks by. I still live below the Mason-Dixon line.

There's a "police vs. black men" thing happening now, which I hope can be solved in the next generation, but I think, unfortunately many more will suffer before it cools down.  This doesn't seem limited to the south.

Whites may be tolerant, or accepting, but they still walk in shoes that provide white privilege. This is the insidious and invisible thing that matter how hard I try, I don't have the same feelings as someone walking this earth in a black skin.

But most important to me today is letting go of the generational guilt of my ancestors.  They did what they did, and they were responsible for their acts.  I hope they treated their slaves with kindness, and when they freed them following 1864's emancipation, I hope they were able to adapt their very changed lives in a positive manner, both for the white families as well as the black ones.

Reconstruction has been an interesting thing to imagine, but there were many southerners who didn't cope very well during that time.

And that's on top of losing a war, with many of the white men having died, or returned home wounded and unable to carry on their own lives.

It boggles my mind to consider the changes that the families all endured in the late 1860s and 70s and even 80s. In order to feed your family, you had to have a crop of some kind, and in order to grow it you needed to pay laborers. A black family would have the same needs, and suddenly didn't have any owners providing their food and clothes, and maybe even a place to live.  Then there were the laws which skewed rights of blacks away from them with silly excuses, the Jim Crow Laws.


The Last Slave

In 1931, Zora Neale Hurston sought to publish the story of Cudjo Lewis, the final slave-ship survivor. Instead it languished in a vault. Until now.

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