Black History Fun Fact Friday – To Shoot Hard Labour by Joanne C. Hillhouse

This article is part of Antiguan and Barbudan author Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Blogger on Books book review series on her blog http://jhohadli.wordpress.com. 

Today, she provides insight into the book, To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman 1877-1982.


A Long Preamble

The full title of To Shoot Hard Labour, which I was first introduced to as a secondary school student and have referenced in the years since, is To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan Workingman 1877-1982 (first printing 1986).

You may immediately pick up that the title structure is reminiscent of the true-to-life literary genre known as the slave narrative. Famous examples of which include Twelve Years a SlaveNarrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New York, kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana (published 1859). Additionally, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by himself (published 1845 by the anti-slavery office in Boston); and The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, related by Herself (published in England in 1831).

The subject and author of the last of these spent some of her time in enslavement in Antigua, where I live, the locale of the post-slavery narrative told by Samuel Smith to his grandchildren, co-authors Keithlyn and Fernando Smith.

The slave narrative emerged in the colonial era as a genre and a tool of the anti-slavery movement concerned with dismantling chattel slavery in the Americas – other references will say North America, but I am being very specific.

It shouldn’t need to be said in 2020 with all the material (e.g., slave narratives) at our disposal, but chattel slavery – the brutal multi-generational-generational-generational form of human trafficking and enslavement of Africans fed by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the need (read: greed) for labour for the mass production of sugar and cotton that built the European and North American (meaning the USA) economies – happened across the hemisphere known as the Americas. The Americas includes North and South America and the Caribbean. Historically, this is the so-called ‘New World’ over which European powers fought and which they colonized over hundreds of years – beginning with Columbus’ wrong turn at Hispaniola, modern-day Haiti (French), and the Dominican Republic (Spanish) in 1492.

The first enslaved Africans arrived in the New World in the 1500s. To Shoot Hard Labour, in its sweeping introduction, spoke of Las Casas, the Catholic priest known as the protector of the ‘Indians’, the Kalinago (called Caribs by the Europeans who in the history books I read as a child were described as ‘fierce’ and ‘warlike’) and other indigenous groups being exterminated for European profit, who proposed that the colonizers look instead to Africa for labour. In this introduction, it said the first enslaved Africans landed in the New (to the colonizers) World in 1502.

The Old World powers of England, Spain, France, Portugal, the Netherlands (Dutch) divvied up and dominated Africa (which they mined of her natural and human resources) and the colonies they claimed in the New World, often through violence. England emerged as a superpower – an empire upon which the sun never set, into the 20th century, until its former colony, America, which had greatly expanded its fortunes and influence since declaring its Independence in 1776, rose to take that spot. Forgive me for being hand wave-y on the details of globalization; I intend this as a discussion of the book To Shoot Hard Labour, not a New World history.

However, I am writing this in the summer of 2020, a summer in which the newly announced Vice Presidential hopeful on the US Democratic party ticket, Kamala Harris, is US (i.e., North American) born to a father from Jamaica and a mother from India. The fact that these are both former colonies of England and that Jamaica was, like the entire Caribbean, a chattel slavery colony is not the point, but it is not irrelevant. Harris’ Blackness, and her connection to the struggles of Black people who have fought their way from slavery to freedom and beyond, have been called in to question with sentiments like “She’s not Black. She’s Jamaican.”

If you know the New World history, you know that Blackness and Jamaica are not mutually exclusive. The English speaking Caribbean, including Jamaica, and other non-English speaking former colonies, are majority Black and have been for centuries at the forefront of anti-slavery, labour rights, and independence movements, and for decades at the forefront of the reparations movement specific to the injustices of chattel slavery.

It is a movement that has been centered in American discourse this election cycle – and we love to see it – because it’s all about reparative justice. This is something that should unite, not separate us. We are diasporically – through our ties to a common motherland, Africa, and the inheritance of a common brutal experience here in the New World – family. But here we are, and it needs to be said – some of the most brutal forms of chattel slavery existed in the Caribbean, and the post-slavery narrative To Shoot Hard Labour is one man’s testimony.

The genre known as the slavery narrative grew out of the lived experience of enslaved (and formerly enslaved) people, some 6000 of them across North America and the Caribbean through the 18th and 19th centuries. They were autobiographical and, given their use as an anti-abolitionist tool, emphasized the struggle, with religion and progress being recurring motifs. As with many slave narratives, To Shoot Hard Labour is an ‘as told to’ and Papa Sammy ends by telling his grandsons, “I hope that you will write down exactly what I am telling you. If you do, the people will see how far down in the mud arwe come from.” (p. 162)

To Shoot Hard Labour veers from your traditional slave narrative in that it begins in 1834 – the year slavery legally ended in the English speaking Caribbean, with the four year apprenticeship – Antigua, which opted for full emancipation in 1834, was an exception. I, therefore, describe it as a post-slavery narrative. Its central theme, beginning with Papa Sammy’s ancestor Rachael’s long walk across Antigua to re-connect with the daughter (Minty) sold off years before, is the quest for freedom, life, humanity in a world determined to keep Black people underfoot. “Only when they find Minty they really believe that slavery was all over for sure.” (p. 32) But not without scars, “Minty had a brand on she hand.” (p. 32)

The book is a stark reminder that the legal end of slavery did not mean its end in practice. In some ways, even in a country, politically independent since 1981, with Black leaders and a majority Black population, the struggle for true self-actualization continues. The ways in which the struggle continues and in which they have been brought in to sharp focus in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the globally resonant Black Lives Matter uprising sparked in North America/the US, and the economic and social quakes sparked by both, is more heavy lifting than this piece can do.

But let’s talk about this book though.

I covered a lot of ground in the 13th installment of my CREATIVE SPACE column of 2020 (SAY THEIR NAME: IN MEMORIAM) in which I wrote about To Shoot Hard Labour by telling the stories of some of the people beaten, raped, and killed, casualties of anti-Blackness post-slavery in Antigua, as well as some of the unsung freedom fighters (labour rights activists). There is likely to be some overlap, but I’ll try to tread ground not covered there, here. I urge you to read that article as a companion to this one.

As the nation was reminded during a month-long on-air book club discussion of it in which I participated, this book covers a lot in its 100 plus years, and even if you’ve read it before, you’re likely to learn something. And even if you’re not from Antigua, what you learn will be educational and impactful as you consider the arc of human history in general and Black people’s experiences in the New World specifically. The particularity of it makes it more potent, not less.

“Just a little away from the market on Church Street in an open space under a big mahogany tree was the old slave market where the bakkra use to sell our generations. That mahogany tree had hoods and spikes in it. After slavery end, Delos Martin, a Scotchman built a business place just west of it, and that would block the view of the courthouse at the corner of Scotch Row and Church Street…the little hill at the head of the city – the one in a straight line with High and St. Mary’s Streets – was called Gibbet’s Hill. It was the place where the open gallow was built – close to what is now called the Botanical Gardens – but the slaves use to call it Dribbet House.

The open gallows were like the frame of a house. Them gallows would have three or four planks overhead. The slaves used to be tied with rope at the neck or shoulders, around the waist, or any part of the body for that matter. They were then pulled up and tie to the overhead planks, and they would be left there to swing. A portion of food would be left in front of them, but that food was to let the slaves see it and not reach it. They were made to swing there till they dead. Nowadays, when you want to show how harsh you want to deal with somebody, you say ‘Me go kill you’. Back then we use to say ‘Me go gibbet you.’” (p. 95)

A long quote, yes, but hopefully you see what I mean, that you don’t have to know those places to see and hear, in Papa Sammy’s own voice, with the vivid descriptiveness of lived and/or handed down memory, the history being revealed.

For me, the reading comes with a sense of loss and reclaiming, as, though I grew up here and knew the named streets, these places, as described, weren’t known to me. There are stories of numerous places for us to re-discover–from the baobob (or as Papa Sammy called it bear bob) tree (the one on the Freemansville main road), which has the distinction of being near a former market where enslaved people were sold, Stony Hill Gully where enslaved people plotted freedom, in 1736 (enduring public torture and death as a consequence), to the lawlessness and licentiousness of bakkra spaces like Guiana Island and Willoughby Bay.

It’s worth noting that though the book, in the spirit of narratives, is autobiographic and, as a result, largely anecdotal, it is not so easily dismissed as a history. For one, it fills the gaps left by the original history of dates and more official sources, i.e., the colonizer’s perspective. For another, it makes a valiant effort to fact check itself.

Derelict Gunthorpes Sugar Factory Antigua High Resolution Stock Photography and Images – Alamy

When Papa Sammy gives 1904 as the year the Gunthropes sugar factory became operational, there’s a footnote that references “Sir Francis Watts, who played a leading role in the establishment of the first central sugar factory” (p. 115) as saying that it was planned in 1903 and reaped its first crop in 1905. The centralization of at least some part of the sugar production process, by the way, began opening up the world of people who had known only plantation life – a very narrow world indeed.

Sugar was king during much of slavery, plantation days, in the Caribbean, and this changed only ever so slowly post-slavery. Massa (also called bakkra – literally “back raw” according to one source* much like “cracker” a pejorative for white in the US* is, according to some sources I’ve seen, a reference to the sound of the whip hitting Black flesh) was still Lord, Master, and the magistrate. The formerly enslaved was still, for all intents and purposes, enslaved. As Papa Sammy said, “in those days, nega if them right, them still wrong” (p. 118)


Sunset from Jolly Beach (scotbon, Feb 2008) Antigua and Barbuda

While the story doesn’t scrimp on the sorrow, it doesn’t wallow in victimhood. It speaks concurrently of the rise of free villages like Freemansville, the harnessing of skills and resources (female-centered work in medicine – a fair amount of folk remedies included), the lingering effects of enslavement (children still carrying the so-called Massa’s name and harsh corporal punishment of children and adults continuing the pattern from the plantation), and the rise of the workers’ rights movements with sometimes fatal consequences (as during the 1918 ‘riots’).

Additionally, the governorship and business and ownership or lack thereof and the transformation of the country, the push for voting rights and ways the community worked together (“the swap, throwing the box and working the lift was the main things that prevent us from eating each other” – p. 116). And there was a beauty. I can verify that as Papa Sammy said, there is no better vantage point for sunset viewing than Clark’s Hill, which is a rising in the middle of the island.

Chattel slavery was not indentured servitude, no matter what some meme said, and the fact that we seem to be forgetting that makes books like To Shoot Hard Labour even more valuable. Consider that post-slavery movement was restricted – you couldn’t just switch employers, and you would be punished physically or locked up for not going to work. You still effectively lived in slave quarters (called the ‘nega-house’ where there was no privacy); you did not police yourself in any way – in fact, “whenever there was a fight or quarrel among nega-house people, it would be massa that would decide who was to get punish and how the punishment would be” (p.38) and who in fact still had and exercised the power of life and death with impunity over the people he once owned.

Consider that post-slavery, you did not own the land you worked nor what it produced unless bakkra said so, that prison labour (literally a jail cart which moved where the work was) was effectively another form of slave labour. Consider all this and more through the lens of current conversations re Blackness, reparations, etc. Consider all this and more, over the 100 years Papa Sammy lived, dying the year after Antigua arrived at political Independence.

Who else to tell this story even if in the telling he disrupts some established narratives–e.g., bringing nuance to the story of modern Antigua, dinging the mythology, speaking to the jealousies and infighting, and the missed opportunities and broken promises even with Black leadership?

You can hear the heartbreak in his words as he reflects on the mahogany tree that once marked the slave market in town. “It was our government and black people that pluck up that tree.” (p. 161). It is we, now in charge, he insists who have forgotten and that’s the heartbreak of this book, but that’s also the hope. These stories are hard to read but they need to be told because – there is much that was done that we can learn from, there is much that was done to us that we must never forget.

Click Here to Purchase Your Copy of To Shoot Hard Labour

Why read this book, beyond it being riveting history? To quote Papa Sammy, “I want the young generations to remember” (p. 161), and this is important because, to quote him further, “I hope that the day will never come again when our people have to suffer indignity like my generation and others have to.” (p. 162) Indignity, when you read this book, and books like it, you will see that that’s putting it mildly.

RIP to the co-author of To Shoot Hard Labour, Antiguan and Barbudan historian, and trade unionist Sir Keithlyn Smith who died July 31st, 2020, and buried in an official funeral on September 15th, 2020.


RELATED LINKS

CREATIVE SPACE: IN MEMORIAM https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/creative-space/creative-space-2020/creative-space-13-of-2020-say-their-name-in-memoriam

BLOGGER ON BOOKS (2020) – To Shoot Hard Labour by Keithlyn and Fernando Smith https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/joannes-extra-ness/blogger-on-books-vlll-2020/blogger-on-books-2020-to-shoot-hard-labour-by-keithlyn-and-fernando-smith

Joanne C. Hillhouse – Author bio https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/about/bio and professional services https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/writing-editing-coaching-services

*Bakkra (Massa): slave master, oppressor

Etymology: “back raw,” “oppressor” (which he bestowed with a whip.)

The bakra or bakra master  refers to a slave master and or slave driver. It is often used in reference to performing unpleasant / involuntary tasks for a demanding person (often in jest).

Fi mi supervisa comin’ like a real bakra masa

*Cracker: “Cracker” was used to refer to poor whites, particularly those inhabiting Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia’s frontier regions. It is suspected that it was a shortened version of “whip-cracker” since the manual labor they did involved driving livestock with a whip. Over time this came to include slave-drivers who used Blacks as livestock during chattel slavery, often literally “cracking the whip” to make them walk faster when human bodies replaced cattle or as a warning to enslaved people who were not “working” hard enough. ‘Ev’ry time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold. I remember on the slave ship, how they brutalised our very souls.’ – Bob Marley, Slave Driver, from Catch a Fire | Source: “Remembering the Crack of the Whip: African-Caribbean Artists in the UK Visualise Slavery.”


Joanne C. Hillhouse is the author of two books of children’s fiction, Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure and With Grace, two books for the teen/young adult market The Boy from Willow Bend and Musical Youth, and two adult contemporary books Oh Gad! and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. Her writing has appeared in several international magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, including, respectively, Essence, The Columbia Review, and New Daughters of Africa.

Follow and Subscribe to Hillhouse’s thought provoking blog at http://jhohadli.wordpress.com.

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Be sure to check out more Black History Fun Facts Here.

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Black History Fun Fact Friday – “Drapetomania”

Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright was a prominent physician and medical writer in New Orleans. He specialized in “mental alienation,” an expression that meant a break with reality or a schism in mind. Cartwright is most known and remembered for his theories of drapetomania—the belief that a disease caused slaves to run away. Also known as “Free Negro Insanity,” Cartwright defined “Drapetomania” as the madness of black slaves running away from their white captors.

He derived this term from the Greek words drapeto, meaning “runaway slave” and mania, meaning “mad” or “crazy.” Cartwright believed that blacks who rebelled did so because of mental instability. He thought with the proper medical advice and treatment, they could prevent the practice of slaves running away. By 1851, Cartwright became “Professor of Diseases of the Negro” at the University of Louisiana and was deemed an expert on black behavior.

Cartwright’s theories were readily accepted because the law had already begun to link radicalized slaves who were “disobedient” to mental illness. “Cartwright compared runaway slaves to run away cats who fled only in fits of enthusiasm from their owners, and then returned.” (Eberly, 2014) To put it into perspective the extent to which enslaved men and women were considered commodities, consider redhibition, “a civil law claim against the seller and/or manufacturer of a product in which the buyer demands a full refund or a reduction of the purchase price due to a hidden defect that prevents the product from performing the task for which it was purchased.” (US Legal) If a buyer could prove a slave was mentally ill and that the previous owner knew of this illness (his/her capacity to run away, rebel, e.g.), the buyer could get his money back.

Another disease from Cartwright was “Dysaesthesia Aethiopica,” which in short was a disease Cartwright and other “prominent,” physicians claimed caused laziness in slaves.

“From the careless movements of the individuals affected with the complaint, they are apt to do much mischief, which appears as if intentional, but is mostly owing to the stupidness of mind and insensibility of the nerves induced by the disease. Thus, they break, waste and destroy everything they handle,–abuse horses and cattle,–tear, burn or rend their own clothing, and, paying no attention to the rights of property, steal others, to replace what they have destroyed. They wander about at night, and keep in a half nodding sleep during the day. They slight their work,–cut up corn, cane, cotton or tobacco when hoeing it, as if for pure mischief. They raise disturbances with their overseers and fellow-servants without cause or motive, and seem to be insensible to pain when subjected to punishment.”

– “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race.”

From James Marion Sims, who experimented on black women’s bodies and without anesthesia (Washington, 2006, pp. 61) to Ota Benga and Saartjie Baartman, whose bodies were displayed like animals, the medical and scientific field has an extensive history of racism against African Americans. Consider that blacks were often wrongfully admitted to mental institutions. Studies conducted in 1973 in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that African American patients were more likely to be diagnosed as schizophrenic than white patients. Consider too The Negro Project, led by Margaret Sanger of The American Birth Control Federation. It included the forced sterilization of impoverished African Americans.

Consider also the HeLa cell.

Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksand Oprah’s film adoption brought attention to the widespread illegal use of the HeLa cell lineThe two scientists, Dr. Russell W. Brown and James H.M. Henderson made their mark by leading a team of researchers and staff at Tuskegee University in the mass production of the HeLa cells for the development of the polio vaccine. It was believed that blacks were immune to the virus which led to the disregard for the suffering of African Americans with the disease.

Speaking of Tuskegee, we cannot forget the Tuskegee Experiment or, more accurately, “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Initiated by the United States, Public Health Service in connection with the Tuskegee Institute and the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital, six hundred men were given the Syphilis disease, without consent, and were left untreated. This “experiment” lasted as late as 1972. Long-term effects of untreated syphilis included issues with mental functions, memory loss, loss of vision, balance, and other symptoms.

Understanding mental illness and its role in the enslavement and oppression of blacks is essential because it offers a window into how slave-owners justified slavery to keep it going. Consider the story of the white overseer who used mental illness to explain away why he had killed an enslaved man named Samuel. (Willoughby, 2018). The overseer got word that Samuel had become unmanageable, that he was destroying cotton, and that even after being ordered to be whipped, Samuel said he would not be whipped. Both of Samuel’s acts—his destruction of the cotton crop, and his unwillingness to submit to whipping— represented symptoms for what Cartwright deemed “Dysaesthesia Aethiopica,” and thus the murder was justified.


Be sure to check out more Black History Fun Facts Here.

References

Ariela Gross, Double Character: Slavery & Mastery in the Antebellum Southern Courtroom (Princeton, 2000), 87

Willoughby, Christopher D. E. “Running Away from Drapetomania: Samuel A. Cartwright, Medicine, and Race in the Antebellum South.” Journal of Southern History, vol. 84 no. 3, 2018, p. 579-614. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/soh.2018.0164.

Disability and the African American Experience https://www.museumofdisability.org/disability-and-the-african-american-experience/

Redhibition. (n.d.) In US Legal, Redhibition Law and Legal Definition

https://definitions.uslegal.com/r/redhibition/

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Development of the Polio Vaccine: A Historical Perspective of Tuskegee University’s Role in Mass Production and Distribution of HeLa Cells. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458465/

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Slave Patrols: A Brief History of American Policing

This post was originally published under another blog series Unfamiliar Faces: Lost to History. Due the current climate I have revised this post and re-categorized it under Black History Fun Facts.


Originally Published: July 14, 2015

Revised May 29, 2020

slave-patrols-police-origins

The tragic murder of George Floyd, who sadly joins the ranks of several unarmed black men killed by the police, has sparked outrage, protests, and unrest. Images and footage of the officer, Derek Chauvin (who had 18 prior complaints against him according to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Internal Affairs), kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he repeated the too familiar phrase, “I can’t breathe!” is both horrifying and heartbreaking.

In response to the looting taking place by protesters of Floyd’s death, American President Donald Trump went on to call the looters “Thugs,” commenting that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The phrase comes from a 1967 quote used by Miami’s police chief, Walter Headley, in 1967, when he addressed his department’s “crackdown on … slum hoodlums,” according to a United Press International article from the time.

From the killing of Emmett Till in 1955 that sparked the Civil Rights Movement, to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church killing those four little girls in Birmingham Alabama in 1963 (Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14, and Carol Denise McNair, 11). From the 1965 Watts Riots that broke out over Marquette Frye, to the police officers who beat Rodney King in 1991 and the riots that broke out over their acquittal. From the killing of Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and many others, Black people are frustrated and crying out for redemption.

Today, we look at the racists’ roots in American policing.

Slave Patrols had three functions: to chase, apprehend, and return the enslaved who had run away to their “owners,” to organize terror to deter slave-revolts and to maintain discipline for slave-workers who were subject to violence if they broke plantation rules. These organizations evolved into southern police departments whose job was to control the freed slaves who were now working as laborers and to enforce the Jim Crow segregation laws that denied freed people certain human rights.

“Early American police departments shared two primary characteristics: they were notoriously corrupt and flagrantly brutal. This should come as no surprise in that police were under the control of local politicians. The local political party ward leader in most cities appointed the police executive in charge of the ward leader’s neighborhood. The ward leader, also, most often was the neighborhood tavern owner, sometimes the neighborhood purveyor of gambling and prostitution, and usually the controlling influence over neighborhood youth gangs who were used to get out the vote and intimidate opposition party voters. In this system of vice, organized violence and political corruption it is inconceivable that the police could be anything but corrupt (Walker 1996).” –  Dr. Gary Potter

Slave Patrollers were white men who rode around on horseback carrying guns, rope, and whips, ready to capture the enslaved. Their job was also to enforce the pass system, a pass, or ticket, signed by the slave master that authorized the enslaved to travel. Without this pass, an enslaved person could be beaten, and beatings sometimes happened even when the person had a pass, eerily similar to black men and women who are beaten, choked, gunned down, and stepped on even when they have done nothing wrong.

In her book, Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, Sally Hadden writes, “mounted man presents an awesome figure, and the power and majesty of a group of men on horseback, at night, could terrify slaves into submission.” Many members of the black community still refer to large police vehicles as “patty-wagons,” a play on the former “paddyrollers,” which was also a nickname for Slave Patrols.

Run, nigger, run; the pateroller catch you,
Run, nigger, run, almost dawn.
Run, nigger, run; the pateroller catch you,
Run, nigger, run, almost dawn.

Source: Wolf Folklore Song – RUN NIGGER RUN, THE PATEROLLER CATCH YOU (RUN, NIGGER, RUN)  sung by Joe Pat| Also found in Randolph, Vol. II, #264; Brown, Vol. III, #457| Source: http://web.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/songs/patrun1287.html

As K. B. Turner  David Giacopassi  &  Margaret Vandiver remark in Ignoring the Past: Coverage of Slavery and Slave Patrols in Criminal Justice Texts, “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”


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Black History Fun Fact Friday – Madison Washington by Joseph Ward

Today’s Black History Fun Fact Friday is from Joseph Ward.

Ward has prepared for us the inspiring story of Madison Washington, a formerly enslaved man who had escaped successfully and fled to Canada. Washington returned to Virginia to free his wife but was recaptured and put on a slave ship in Richmond, Virginia. Guys, Washington is the real-life Django Unchained! Not only does he free his wife, but many others.


Madison Washington was a man born into slavery in Virginia who escaped but risked his freedom to help free his beloved Susan. Washington is described as having extraordinary African features, superb leadership qualities, and a fierce spirit. They considered him a fugitive for escaping slavery and heading north to Canada, eventually finding work with a farmer named Mr. Dickenson. Even as a small child Madison would rebel against the inhumane treatment of him his slave masters, but rebellion eventually earned Washington his place in history.

Around the age of twenty Washington would meet the love of his life, the beautiful Susan, who he would make his wife. He planned to escape from slavery to free himself and his wife, but his plans didn’t work out. To prevent himself from being sold away from his wife, Madison escaped from the farm and hid in the surrounding woods for months. While in hiding he could keep an eye on his wife, he also began planning to lead a rebellion. His plans once again failed, and he eventually traveled north to Canada to live in free lands.

While in Canada Washington’s plan was to get a job and save enough money to buy the freedom of his wife Susan. He was becoming discouraged in carrying out his plans because he realized it would take five years to raise the money needed to free his wife. Washington made his mind up that he would return into the grasp of slavery to free his Susan. Mr. Dickenson the farmer tried his best to persuade Washington to take another course of action. He eventually left Canada with his wages and his freedom papers, heading south to Virginia. He could reach an area close to the farm where his wife was held but had to conceal his identity to prevent him from being captured.

Washington was still considered a fugitive, and anyone who recognized him would have blown his cover. Being a man of tact and organization, Washington carried miniature files and saws within the lining of his coat; these would help him break out of any chains used to restrain him. “Liberty is worth nothing to me while my wife is a slave,” said Washington as he held conversations with fellow travelers who tried to convince him to abandon his plans.

As Washington traveled closer to the farm that held his wife, he was forced to travel at night for fear of being recognized by someone. He found temporary shelter in the woods near the farm and tried to get information about her but was unsuccessful. One night while in hiding, he heard singing off in the distant woods; the singing was coming closer and closer to where he was hiding. As he investigated the singing, he became a part of the singing, there he learned that he stumbled upon a “corn shucking.”

A “corn shucking” was a mass gathering of slaves who pealed loads of corn, and after pealing the corn they were able to have a huge dinner with whiskey and dancing, which was provided by the owner of the plantation where the corn shucking took place. Washington refused to eat the food for fear of being discovered. He also was very careful to ask only a few questions and remain in the shadows. At the corn shucking, he learned that his wife had not been sold and was still on the old farm.

Being too eager to see his wife, Washington entered the parameter of the farm but was spotted by an overseer. The overseer then alerted the other white overseers on the farm. The first three men to approach Washington was struck in the face and knocked to the ground unconscious.  Eventually, Washington was subdued, shipped to Richmond, Virginia, and sold to the slave owners Johnson and Eperson. New Orleans was the destination for The Creole, a slave ship controlled by Captain Enson and owned by Johnson and Eperson.

Washington and one-hundred and forty-four other slaves were loaded upon The Creole along with other cargo the men were shipping to New Orleans. As they loaded the slaves upon The Creole, the men were placed in one cabin and the women were placed in another. For fear of rebellion, the men were heavily chained, and Washington particularly was chained to the floor of the cabin. The women were not chained and were able to roam their cabin freely.

As Washington lay chained to the floor, his attitude was rather jovial than the expected gloom the other slaves displayed. The overseers didn’t know that while Washington was displaying a docile and cooperative attitude; he was secretly picking the men he would use to overthrow The Creole. They also didn’t know that Washington still carried his mini saws and files within the lining of his coat to use when the time was right.

In 1841, on the ninth day of the voyage, The Creole encountered rough seas which made several slaves very sick. Because some slaves were sick, the overseers did not watch them properly, this created the perfect opportunity for Washington and his men to attack. Washington used his mini saw and file to free himself and at least eighteen other men. Once free, the slaves found weapons and made their way to the deck where the ship’s crew was stationed. When the slaves attacked the ship’s crew it was unexpected, and it startled the crew, the men barley moved to make them easy targets for the slaves.

Hewell, the Black slave driver, and others from the crew drew their guns and shot some slaves. Washington spotted Hewell shooting his gun, approached him from behind, and struck him in the head, wounding him severely. Washington led his men into battle with iconic flair, fueling his men to earn their victory; the slaves then dominated the crew and gained control of The Creole. Washington’s men wanted to kill the remaining crew members who were still alive, but Washington allowed no more killing. He was not interested in killing the men, only gaining the freedom of his people and his wife.

The next morning, Madison Washington was named “Captain Washington,” commander of The Creole, by his men. That same morning, Washington requested that the cook prepare a wonderful meal for the men and women who were once captives on the ship. This meal would be the first time the men and women would see each other. Little did Washington know his beautiful wife Susan was one of the women held in the cabin on The Creole. As they served the meal, enslaved men and women mingled for the first time as free human beings. Washington and Susan spotted each other and shared a passionate, tearful reunion. After years of being separated because of slavery, Madison and Susan Washington were once again husband and wife.

Madison Washington and his men defeated the crew of the Creole, and Washington ordered that the men not be killed and their wounds treated. Once the wounds of the white men healed they tried to regain control of the ship but were defeated once more. Because of the bravery and brilliance of Washington, one-hundred, and forty-four, people could gain their freedom upon The Creole. The Creole didn’t make it to New Orleans, instead, Washington and his men landed in Nassau, Bahamas because they learned it was a free island. Washington was determined to free his wife, and his determination and love for his wife led to him freeing others he did not know.

The Story of Madison Washington and The Creole is a story many of us have never heard before; a man of African lineage who embraced freedom could not only change history but change the lives of others. This story is important because it shows that once organized black people can gain their freedom. It also exemplifies the commitment of a black man to his black wife, which is counter to the normal narrative which usually degrades the black family. If we unite and trust each other we can make the impossible, possible.

Copyright © 2020 | Joseph Ward

Mr. Madison Washington, we proudly stand on your shoulders.

– JA Ward

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madison_Washington

https://newsone.com/2762407/the-creole-slave-revolt-1841/

https://loa-shared.s3.amazonaws.com/static/pdf/Brown_Madison_Washington.pdf


Copyright©JA Ward

Website: www.ontheshoulders1.com

IG & Twitter: @Joseph Ward

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxJI7ykLdNA

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Joseph A. Ward is a graduate of Florida A&M University (FAMU) and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Ward is a graduate of the “New Hope Program” with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Leon County and has served as a co-facilitator of the program for over seven years, teaching life and professional skills to underprivileged persons. In addition to co-facilitating this program, he also helped establish the FAMU chapter of Men of Strength (MOST) and currently serves as its co-facilitator.

Over the past 14 years, Mr. Ward has dedicated himself to studying the history and the culture of the African diaspora. He is the founder of On the Shoulders of Giants, Inc., author of On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 1 North America, and On the Shoulders of Giants Vol: 2 Central America. He is also the host of The Freedom Train Podcast Series and The Fix Sports Podcast.

Mr. Ward’s commitment to his community has proven him to be a reputable teacher, coach, trainer, and motivator. He is dedicated to uplifting and educating individuals around the world while helping to create mindsets and environments which foster greatness.

Click here to learn more about the On the Shoulders of Giants book series!!


Check out more Black History Fun Fact articles here. Want to be featured on this blog? Write and submit your own Black History Article! Click here for submission guidelines.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Anna M. Mangin

Born in October of 1854 in Louisiana, Anna invented a kitchen tool she called a pastry fork.

The system of patents for inventions was not easy for African Americans at the time. Enslaved people were not considered people, they were not US citizens, and the rights of the US constitution did not apply to them. Consider the Dred Scott Decision where enslaved Scott unsuccessfully sued for him and his family’s freedom (they were eventually freed on May 26, 1857). This made it difficult for even free blacks to secure patents on their inventions, making it easy for their work to be stolen or attributed to someone else.

Of all the inventions by African Americans, we can just about imagine how much more this contribution would be if full credit had been given to those who were not considered worthy to receive it. Consider the following inventions:

  • The Clock (Benjamin Banneker)
  • The Traffic Signal (Garret Morgan
  • The Ironing Board (Sarah Boone)
  • The Mailbox (Phillip Downing)
  • The Sanitary Belt/Maxi Pad Precursor (Beatrice Davidson Kenner)
  • The Artificial Heart Pacemaker Control Unit (Otis Boykin )
  • The Closed Circuit Television Security (leading to the home security system) Marie Van Brittan Brown
  • The Modern Home-Video Gaming Console (Gerald A. Lawson)

We can go on and on.

Anna’s story is special because she was one of few blacks to receive a patent for her invention of the pastry fork.*

The Pastry Fork was an older version of the wisp and other electronic mixers today as it automatically mixed without manual effort. This tool had many uses, including beating eggs, thickening foods, making butter, mashing potatoes, making salad dressings, and most pastry dough, which was difficult on the hands and wrists.

Anna filed an application for a patent of her Pastry Fork in July of 1891 and was awarded the patent on March 1, 1892.

*Martha Jones was the first black woman to obtain a US Patent.


Learn more black history by reading more articles on the Black History Fun Fact Friday page here. Have a black history fun fact of your own? Submit your article for a blog feature by emailing it in a Word Doc attachment to yecheilyah@yecheilyahysrayl.com. Read the submission guidelines here.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – The Short Family

This is a real-life case of living beyond the colored line. It starts when a black man named O’Day Short and his family moved to a racist area of Fontana, California, in 1945. Here’s a bit of history behind Fontana:

  • The Ku Klux Klan established its headquarters in Fontana.
  • KKK Grand Wizard George Pepper and White Aryan Resistance (WAR) leader Tom Metzger claimed Fontana and the Inland Empire as their California Eastern Territory for White Supremacy.
  • Hells Angels Biker Gang originated in Fontana
  • Hells Angels and Nazi Low Riders (NLR), flourished in the city of Fontana, with no consequences from the Fontana P.D.
  • Many incidents of discrimination and hate crimes were unsolved and poorly investigated

Fontana has a long history of racism and discriminatory policies, so it is no surprise that blacks were not allowed south of the area. The saying went: “Base Line is the Race Line.” Southern Fontana can be best described as a “Sun-down town,” towns blacks were not allowed after dark. When the sun went down, any black person found in a “Sundown Town,” risked lynching. Read more about Sundown Towns in an older post here.

Carol Ann and Barry Short, along with their parents Helen and O’Day Short, died in a suspicious fire on Dec. 16, 1945, after crossing the color line in Fontana. | Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

When O’Day Short, his wife, and two children moved onto land in an all-white area, neighbors threatened them to leave that neighborhood and occupy one of the ghetto neighborhoods where the town allowed blacks to live.

One interesting thing about the Short family is that they were fair-skinned and many believe this is how they got to purchase the property in the first place. O’Day moved his family into the half-finished home. It is said the man who sold him the land where the house was being built did not know he was black.

When people complained, O’Day got a visit from the sheriff to leave the property. The Sheriff offered to buy the house back, but O’Day refused. The sheriff warned that the “vigilante committee,” will not be pleased. They recorded the visit by the Sheriff in the Sheriff’s office in San Bernardino. According to the report, Short described the threats to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I). On December 6, 1945, Short also reported the threats to the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American Newspaper.

On, December 16, 1945, not even a full month after the Short’s moved in and ten days after the reports, the Short home exploded in fire, the family inside.

Helen Short, 35, and her daughters Barry, 9, and Carol Ann, 7 died.

O’Day, 40, lived long enough to be taken to the hospital. A month later, on January 22, 1946, he also died.

They have linked the cause of the fire to an oil lamp O’Day was lighting when the tragedy occurred. The interesting thing about these reports is they didn’t mention that the Shorts were black, not in 1946 or later when the story resurfaced.

The NAACP hired an arson investigator later to investigate the story. The investigator reported that the kerosene lamp was found and almost intact, determining the fire was set, from the exterior.

I decided the Short Family would be the subject of this week’s fun fact because of the limited information that can be found on them. It was many years later before the NAACP launched their investigation and people even knew their story.


Read more Black History Fun Facts here.

Read  Stella: Beyond the Colored Line, my historical fiction account of what life was like for blacks beyond the colored line here.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Beyond Selma: The Civil Rights Movement in Jacksonville, Florida by KE Garland

When you think of the civil rights movement, what cities come to mind? Mobile? Birmingham? Atlanta? some place, Mississippi? How about Jacksonville, Florida? Probably not, but this southern city and its leaders were just as influential as Selma.

I found this out four years ago, when I posted this photo to my blog.

A fellow blogger noticed the background and sent it to her friend, Rodney L. Hurst Sr. Mr. Hurst contacted me about purchasing a copy and explained the meaning of the sign behind the gentlemen’s heads.

That sign is actually a historic site marker commemorating an important civil rights event in Jacksonville called, Ax Handle Saturday.

I was excited to hear about this little-known Black history fact and asked Mr. Hurst to a breakfast interview to understand more.

KG: Can you describe a little bit about what Ax Handle Saturday was and what happened? 

RH: I was president of the Youth Council NAACP and I led the sit-ins at the ripe old age of sixteen. My mentor was a guy named Rutledge Pearson.

KG: A school is named after him?

RH: Yes. One school is named after him. In fact, he and Earl Johnson were inducted into the Civil Rights Hall of Fame earlier this month (2016) in Tallahassee. He taught me eighth-grade American history. When I went to his class, he told me about the textbook and had other class members to talk about the textbook and then he said leave it home.

Mr. Pearson would not teach American history from the slanted and racist viewpoint of white textbook authors and historians. Our study of American history did not revolve around a book that only had the names of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. We studied John Hope Franklin, Althea Gibson, and Thurgood Marshall.

The first book report I did was on a guy named Toussaint Louverture, who fast became one of my favorites. He led the only successful slave revolt in this hemisphere, eventually became the Father of Haiti, and because of what he was able to do in Central America in fighting Napoleon, and controlling the shipping routes, Napoleon had to sell Louisiana territory to this country. You will never read his name in an American history book and he is inextricably bound to the history of this country.

In Mr. Pearson’s history class, it was Black history every day in his class. He also said, freedom is not free; if you’re not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. He encouraged us to join the Youth Council of NAACP. American history teacher in an eighth-grade class encouraging his students to join the Youth Council NAACP?

KG: You would get fired today doing that. 

RH: Sure. And I joined when I was age 11, became president when I was 15, and led the sit-ins when I was 16. The sit-ins in Jacksonville were led by high-school students, which is one of the reasons we did it during the summer, as opposed to college students who were able to do it year-round.

We sat in Woolworth’s, where the federal courthouse is now. We sat in at the lunch counters: Kress, Woolworths, Grants, and McCory’s, which were downtown stores. And every downtown department store had a white lunch counter. Some had colored lunch counters, like Woolworths, which was at the back of the store. Others didn’t have colored lunch counters, but you would go to the end of the white lunch counter to order.

KG: But you couldn’t sit down?

RH: You couldn’t sit down. If the waitresses would come and take your order, then okay. So, we said, “No!” During my senior year we sat in. We sat in for two weeks. Woolworths closed the lunch counter. There were whites who stood behind us yelling, jungle bunny, nigger, go back to Africa ‘cause they couldn’t get their fresh lunches.

Two weeks later on August 27th, we were sitting in at Grants, which was on the corner of Adams and Main Street. And there were other incidents leading up to that. We had a white student, Parker, who joined us from Florida State (University) and the whites who were behind us thought he was the leader. Some white construction workers were standing behind him with big construction tools and these guys picked him up and formed a circle around him and walked him out to safety. All this time there were no police in downtown Jacksonville.

One guy had whittled off the end of his walking cane and would walk behind each of us and stuck all of us in the back with his walking cane. Again, no police. When we were attacked, we were attacked by 200 white men with ax handles and baseball bats. Black downtown was attacked. If you were white and tried to protect those Blacks downtown, you were attacked, too. When the word finally got out, then police came from everywhere.

Mr. Hurst described what happened to Parker, the white FSU student who supported the sit-ins and also Leander Shaw, Florida Supreme Court judge’s role in enacting justice. The details are outlined in his historical memoir It Was Never about a Hot Dog and a Coke! 

But I want to stop here and emphasize a few points about meeting and talking with Mr. Hurst.

Understanding Black history in your city is important. I’m not from Jacksonville, but I’ve lived here for approximately 20 years. Prior to our happenstance meeting, I’d never heard of Rodney L. Hurst Sr. Subsequently, before our conversation, I was ignorant to the role Jacksonville played in the Movement. I’d heard of Rutledge Pearson Elementary School, but I didn’t know the significance of the person for whom it was named. I wonder if the 95% Black student population knows the rich history to which they’re connected?

Living history is important. Ax Handle Saturday occurred August 27, 1960. That’s 60 years ago. Mr. Hurst is old enough to be my father, not my grandfather or great-grandfather, my father. Sometimes, grainy documentaries make racial oppression seem as if it was eons ago. My conversation with Mr. Hurst reminded me that it was not. Luckily for the K-12 and college students he speaks to, he’s able to authenticate a perspective of a time period that is linked to our country’s history.

Teacher autonomy is important. As a former high-school English teacher, I have to highlight the autonomy teachers had in the 60s. Mr. Hurst’s history teacher was able to make an informed decision about his students and what resources they needed in order to be successful, in not only understanding history in America, but also in transforming their communities. Mr. Hurst was directly influenced by Rutledge’s off-script lessons and push to join an organization specifically with their best interests at heart. Hurst possibly would have never been a part of Ax Handle Saturday had Rutledge stuck to a scripted curriculum.

The takeaways from our interview are endless. But if nothing else, I hope these words inspire you to learn more about the influential Black people in your area because, after all, Black history is American history.


Dr. KE Garland
Katherin is a First Place Royal Palms Literary Award winning writer for Creative Nonfiction. Her work has been featured in the South Florida TimesTalking Soup and For Harriet. She typically writes in order to inspire social change. Other examples of her work can be found on her personal blog.
 
Website: kegarland.com
Instagram: kegarland
Twitter: @kegarland