Black History Fun Fact Friday: 8 Black Communities That Prospered

Originally Published: 9/28/2016

Updated: 1/22/2021


I love entrepreneurship. I talk about it. I live it. I stand behind it. I encourage all people, especially black people, to go on and do it if it is within their means to do so. If you’ve ever had a desire to own your own business, I say to go for it.

Here are some black-owned communities that prospered to get your blood pumping.

Free Blacks of Israel Hill

This community was the inspiration for the backstory of Renaissance: The Nora White StoryNora is a descendent of the free blacks of Israel Hill. It is how her father Gideon inherited five acres of land and why, although Nora’s not very impressed, they’re doing well financially compared to those around them. It was during my trip to New Mexico in 2016 while reading Melvin Patrick Ely’s book Israel on The Appomattox, winner of THE BANCROFT PRIZE, A New York Times Book Review, and Atlantic Monthly Editors’ Choice that the first inklings of the back story emerged.

The community was settled in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1810-1811 by ninety formerly enslaved persons. These slaves (now freedmen) received freedom and 350 acres from Judith Randolph under the will of her husband, Richard Randolph. These Israelites and other free Blacks worked as farmers, craftspeople, and Appomattox River boatmen. Some labored alongside whites for equal wages, and the family of early settler Hercules White bought and sold real estate in Farmville. Israel Hill remained a vibrant black community into the twentieth century.

Rosewood

The Rosewood community came back into people’s consciousness when John Singleton made a movie for it starring Ving Rhames in 1997. The quiet town prospered in 1870 when a railway depot was set up to transport the abundant red cedar, from which the town got its name, from Rosewood to a pencil factory in cedar key. By 1900 it was predominantly Black with a school, turpentine mill, baseball team, general store, and sugarcane mill. The community had two dozen plank two-story homes, some other small houses, and several small unoccupied plank structures.

Blackdom

There was much revelation during my New Mexico trip. During that time, I learned of Blackdom, another little-known Black community about 18 miles southwest of Roswell, New Mexico, and was founded by Frank and Ella Boyer. Walking 2,000 miles on foot from Georgia to New Mexico, Boyer left his wife and children behind to cultivate land in the West’s free territory before sending his family some three years later. At this time in history, Blacks had begun migrating from the south in significant numbers in a movement called “The Great Exodus” following the Homestead Act of 1862, particularly in Kansas. Henry was a wagoner in the American-Mexican war when he first set eyes on the New Mexico land. The Artesian Water sprang in abundance as more and more blacks were invited and nourished on the land. Blackdom had its own school and post office.

Mound Bayou, MS

The first all-black town in Mississippi, Mound Bayou was founded by two former slaves, Isaiah Montgomery and his cousin, Benjamin Green. In December of 1886, according to a Cleveland Mississippi article of July 1887, Montgomery and Green bought 840 acres of land from the Louisville-New Orleans & Texas Railroad for $7 an acre. That acreage would serve as the site of Mound Bayou.

The men were successful, reaching a population of 4,000 people (99.6 percent black) by 1907. The community had a train depot, a bank, a post office, numerous thriving industries, various stores and eateries, a newspaper, a telephone exchange, and, eventually, a hospital. Mound Bayou was a flourishing community.

Nicodemus Township in Graham County, Kansas

This town was founded in 1877 by seven members, six of whom were Black along the south fork of the Solomon River. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave and Underground Railroad conductor, helped produce the “Kansas Fever” of the late 1870s. Tens of thousands of African Americans left their homes headed for Singleton’s Cherokee County colony or Nicodemus, in Graham County, Kansas.

Promoted as the “Promised Land” throughout the south, founders hosted visits by potential settlers. By 1879 the town’s population stood at about 700.

The All-Black Community of Boley, Oklahoma

The all-black community of Boley, OK, was founded in 1904. With Railroad access and land that helped, Boley became one of at least 20 Black towns in Oklahoma to thrive. By 1907, it had at least 1,000 residents, and twice that many farmers settled outside of town. There were several businesses and an industrial school.

Fort, Mose, Florida

Located just north of St. Augustine, Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States. King Charles II of Spain issued what would become one of the first proclamations that any male slave on an English Plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom if he joined the Militia and converted to catholicism. We see this a lot throughout history. Whether we are talking Catholicism, Islam, or Christianity, none of these religions had anything to do with the black man, woman, and child’s natural Israelite way of life (Muhammad converted blacks to Islam a thousand years before the Europeans came with Christianity.)

In any event, by 1738, there were hundreds of blacks, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. They were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. They created a colony of freed people with accompanying women and children that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.

Black Wall-Street

There were over twenty black communities in Oklahoma.

Greenwood, a neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the most successful and wealthiest black communities in the United States during the early 20th Century. It was popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” due to its financial success that mirrored Wall Street. During the oil boom of the 1910s, which gained the town such titles as “Oil Capital of the World”, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood. Home to several prominent Black business people, the community held many multimillionaires.

Greenwood had grocery stores, clothing stores, barbershops, banks, hotels, cafes, movie theaters, two newspapers, and many contemporary homes. The dollar circulated thirty-six to one-hundred times, which means that sometimes it took up to a year before the dollar left the community. To put this in perspective: today, the black dollar leave the black community in fifteen minutes.


Check out more Black History Fun Fact Friday Articles Here

The Writer Talks with Asha G. Kumar Part One

Thank you to Asha G. Kumar, host of The Writer Talks, for having me on!

Check out Part One of this two-part interview with yours truly. In this first part, we talk about the inspiration behind my first forthcoming Urban Fantasy/SciFi/Speculative Fiction novel, The Women with Blue Eyesmy belief in aliens lol, and my latest poetry collection, My Soul is a Witness. In part two, we dig deeper into my journey as a writer, my advice to other writers, Black History, and you know I had to recite some poetry!

Part 1 is available now on YouTube.

Link below!

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No One is You And That is Your Power

Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks at Hall Branch Library, Chicago, IL, 1949. Credit: George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives, photo 146, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection.

I still go to libraries.

I got my first library card at the Hall Branch Library on 48th in Michigan on Chicago’s south side. I was thirteen years old and still needed my mother’s signature. I wasn’t into Black History back then. I chose this library because I wanted to check out books, and it was down the street from my grandmother’s house.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Dr. George Cleveland Hall

Yesterday, I discovered Hall Branch was named for the renowned African American surgeon, social activist, and civic leader Dr. George Cleveland Hall (1864-1930). It was the first Chicago Public Library location with a Black branch manager, Vivian G. Harsh, who served as its first manager. We will get deeper into Hall’s background on this Friday’s Black History Fun Fact, the last one of the year.

In 1949, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks visited the Hall Branch to celebrate the publication of The Poetry of the Negro Anthology.

On July 7, 2000, the Friends of Libraries USA (now United for Libraries) and Illinois Center for the Books designated Hall Branch as a literary landmark. This was in recognition of its promotion of African American literary culture by serving as a meeting place for such writers as Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Richard Wright. (Learn more about the Chicago Renaissance of the Black Belt Here).

I thought I had picked this library at random and for no particular reason. I had no idea it was so rich with Black History or that it was this hub for Black writers.

This helped me to see how unique each of our journeys are. No one has walked in your shoes or experienced what you’ve experienced. No one is you, and that is your power.

Everything is a stepping stone to get us to the place Yah has destined for us, every path like a thread weaving and connecting everything together.

It would be years before I learned who Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks were, and many more years before I would publish a collection of poetry of my own.

Little did I know I was building on the same foundation as those who came before me.

Talk about the power of purpose!

Also, I still got that library card!


Have you read My Soul is a Witness? I am striving for 20 book reviews at minimum before the year is out. If you read this book, I would appreciate so much if you reviewed it! Go to the page here. Scroll down to Write Customer Review, click that, rate and review. Boom. Done.

Thanks!!

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Cane River Creole National Park – Oakland Plantation

On this day in 2016, I posted about a former slave plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana I visited that weekend. I shared my experience on this blog, but I never made it a Black History Fun Fact. As the memory popped up in my Facebook archives, I decided to add it to the collection. Below is the original post for those of you who were not following me in 2016 and never saw this.


Originally Published on 11/28/2016

I took a week off to unplug and to spend time with my family. In addition to camping, we visited the Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

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Reading and watching movies about slavery is one thing, but touring a former slave plantation is an entirely different experience. I didn’t get very emotional, but I will say for now that gratitude is my best way of describing it—appreciation for all the comforts I enjoy in my life that my ancestors paid for with their blood. As the sun lowered and we prepared to leave, I thought about what they would be doing at this time of the day. I thought about how they’d just be coming in from the fields to prepare for their nightly routines or, perhaps, still working.

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Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton.

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The Prud’hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.

The Overseer’s House

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Overseers were the middlemen of the Antebellum South’s plantation hierarchy. Sometimes they were white men working for the slave owner, and other times they were enslaved men hired to rule over their brothers. The “masters” expected overseers to maintain a workforce of slaves to produce a crop. The enslaved were the overseer’s responsibility. He was to keep them working by any means necessary. In return, he got to occupy his own cabin or possibly get a bit more food. The perception was that because his job was “better,” he himself was better off, but he was still an enslaved person.

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Close Up: Check Out this Old School Stove!

I also noticed the mud and straw still preserved from the original building of the house.

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Slave Quarters turned Home of Sharecroppers

After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land up until the 1970s. They worked twelve hours a day, six days a week.

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Wash House

Martha Ann, an enslaved Laundress, worked in this wash house in the 1850s. In the 1940s, her descendant, Martha Helaire, earned $4 an hour working here as a Laundress. All we have to do is walk a few steps to the washer and dryer.

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Bemuda Store

Opened after The Civil War, sharecroppers and tenant farmers continued buying their supplies from family and farming from this store until 1983.

1983?!

The Prud’homme family owned and operated the store. They also ran the Post Office located inside.

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Carpenter Shop

Slaves built and repaired plantation structures from this workplace.

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Mule Barn

Smokehouse turned mule barn. Built by the enslaved, the plantation reused the smokehouse to accommodate the mules when the original mule barn burned down.

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Cane Syrup Pot

Used to make cane syrup.

On some plantations, they used these pots to punish the enslaved and to boil them alive (as depicted in the movie “Mandingo.” CLICK HERE to see the clip.)

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The Big House

This is the porch and perimeter of “The Big House.” We could tour everywhere except for this house. We were not allowed inside, and they did not give us a reason why.

It was overwhelming to look at the trees whose thick branches bowed low. Shading the big house, cooling it from the Louisiana sun, and sheltering it from the River breeze, these trees lined the walkway to the entrance of the gate and were planted in 1825.

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Strangers Room

I don’t know what a stranger’s room is (guest room?), but it’s a room in the big house. I tried to take pics of the inside from the window. It looks like the original furniture is still preserved.

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Carriage House

The carriage house dates to 1820. In its earlier years, the east bay was used as a horse stall. The overseer had the horse saddled each day and tied to the chain so that it was available for riding and checking the fields.

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Square Corn Crib and Cistern

The Corn Crib was built around 1821 of hand-hewn cypress logs and was used to store grain for the plantation. Rainwater was channeled from the crib roof into the cistern, which was 16 ft deep and held 4804 Gallons of water used for watering stock.

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Pigeoneer

There are several Pigeonnier’s on the land. The Prud’ Hommes harvested young pigeons for a delicacy called “Squab.”

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Chicken Coop

Husband checking out the Chicken Coop.

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Fattening Pen

Chickens were bred, hatched and fattened in this area. Turkeys were also raised on the land.

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Randoms

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What I carried home with me was an even deeper appreciation for those little things we take for granted every day. I was headed back to the campsite to sleep in a tent, but I knew that eventually, I’d be going home to a hot shower, a full meal, and a warm bed. As we packed up to leave the plantation, I considered what it would be like to be forced to stay. What is it like not to have a home to go back to and nothing more to look forward to tomorrow than the same back-breaking work?

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My revelations were not just in relation to dark history (I am aware black history is not just about slavery). As I looked around the land, I saw how the enslaved built almost everything on the property. It reminded me of how skillful and resourceful we are as a people. From shelters to clothing, food, and shoes, I thought how empowering it would be to get back to building our own.

Often deemed ignorant and illiterate, the truth is that Israelites, so-called Blacks, were not as naive as we are taught. It occurred to me that many blacks were only lost when it came to adapting and assimilating into American culture. Otherwise, we were expert farmers, inventors, midwives, carpenters, and chefs. Thus, I left not just in appreciation for the tangible things in my life, but for everything my people have endured and the knowledge they’ve passed down to me through the generations.


Being that I drafted this post when we got home so it can be ready for you today, I’m going to crawl into this bed and get ready to catch up. I’ll be scrolling your blogs to see what I missed. The grind continues.

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Click here to read more Black History Fun Fact Friday Articles!

Yecheilyah’s Book Reviews – Daisy by Pat Backley

Title: Daisy
Author: Pat Backley
Print Length: 190 Pages
Publisher: Pat Backley
Publication Date: October 8, 2020


I have not read a book I could not wait to get back to in a while. Daisy is one of those books.

Daisy is a Historical Fiction story from 1887 to 1974. The prologue is short but expertly ties the entire story together. A white hand is on top of a little black hand in a field of flowers. The woman and the little girl are making daisy chains.

“Mum, why am I called Daisy?”

Set in Alabama, Harlem, and London, the author takes us through time, starting in 1887 and ending in 1974 in that field of Daisy’s with the same question from the little black girl. Only now, we understand why her name is Daisy and why the hand on top of hers is white.

The author’s strength here is her character development. Although there were many sudden tragedies, the author did such an excellent job with their backgrounds and personalities that the reader is genuinely interested in them and grieve their loss.

This is a family story, and I loved most how the author tied everyone together with the historical backdrop. There are descendants of the enslaved whose lives weave with descendants of slaveowners and poor white Londoners the author interweaves with poor black Americans’ lives. The exciting part about books (and movies) like this is all the tension built up between the families and wondering when everyone will meet up with one another!

As the author detailed their lives, I knew they would intersect at some point, and I was eager to see how it would all play out. It was like reading about a generation of people all connected in a six-degrees of separation kind of way – that all people on average are six or fewer, social connections away from each other.

An example of this in the book is when Samuel, Winifred, and Jeremey Davis, the black family from Harlem, moved to London in 1952. Leading up to this, we have already met the white family in London (because the author starts in 1887 and moves time forward). Thus, the anticipation is already there as to which of Polly’s descendants will meet one of the Davis’s. Little Jeremy was five years old in 1952, but by the time he is an adult, he meets one of the great-great-great granddaughters of the London family, and they marry, giving birth to the little girl from the prologue.

It’s juicy ya’ll!

The author does a good job of recounting the family’s past throughout, so it continually reminds the reader of how it all started and how everyone is connected. The overall message of the book seems to be that it does not matter if you are rich or poor, slave or free, black or white; we are all part of the human family, a family that would flourish much more smoothly if biases like racism, sexism, and classism did not exist.

“Being born poor was a scar that never faded.”

“She had never experienced racial hatred first hand, so had no real idea of how it could erode a person’s whole life.”

Plot Movement / Strength: 5/5

Entertainment Factor: 4/5

Characterization: 5/5

Authenticity / Believable: 5/5

Thought Provoking: 5/5

Daisy is Available Now on Amazon


My book review registry is CLOSED. Be sure to visit the Blog Book Review Policy page here to learn how to RSVP your book for 2021.

Yecheilyah’s Book Reviews – Loyal Son by Wayne Diehl

Title: Loyal Son

Author: Wayne Diehl

Print Length: 439 pages

Publisher: Wayne Diehl

Publication Date: April 13, 2020

 

About.

In 1846, on the eve of the Mexican American War, hundreds of Irish-Catholic immigrants under the command of abusive, Protestant officers fled the American Army and joined the other side. They were formed into a special unit under their inspirational leader, John Riley. Known as the St. Patrick’s Battalion, they became the fiercest and most feared artillery unit in the Mexican Army. Loyal Son is the fictional story of one of those San Patricios, eighteen-year-old Patrick Ryan from County Cork, Ireland. On the brink of losing their farm, his father entrusts him with their life savings and sends him to America to purchase land and establish roots. He and his sister arrive at their uncle’s house in Philadelphia a week before anti-Catholic Bible Riots erupt. When rabid Nativists invade their neighborhood, Patrick joins his cousins to resist them. During the three days of violence, the family’s house is burnt to the ground and with it all of Patrick’s money. Desperate to make it right and fulfill his duty, Patrick joins the army for the enlistment bonus of one hundred and sixty acres of land. His only goal is to get a farm and see his father, mother and brothers join him and his sister in the Promised Land of America. Nothing worked out the way any of them hoped.

When Thomas Ryan realizes he won’t be able to save the family’s land in Newtownshandrum, County Cork Ireland, he decides to send his youngest son Patrick and his sister Ellen to America to find property for the family. The voyage to America is not an easy one. I enjoyed being able to experience what that was like for many of the immigrants through the characters, such as having to drink water contaminated from being stored in old, rotten containers, to rash and fever. After arriving in New York City, Patrick and his sister encounter trouble and are bullied by boys who force them to stay the night with a widow from Dublin named Mrs. Fitzsimmons. The next day, they meet their Uncle John and Aunt Mary, who they will live with as Patrick tries to find work to make money to buy land, and so starts the journey.

From the bible wars of the Catholic vs. Protestants, the Texas Annexation Treaty, the Election of James Polk, and the National Debate on Slavery, there is a lot of good history in the backdrop of Patrick’s journey. Through the eyes of a young Irish boy and his cousins, we see the racism and discrimination against the Irish people who are stereotyped as “alcohol-soaked animals, corrupt papists, and sexual deviants.” The author does an exemplary job of foreshadowing Patrick’s eventual enlistment in the army. When religious riots explode, it forces the family to defend their position, ultimately leading to the burning down of Uncle John and Aunt Mary’s home along with the savings Patrick was going to use to buy land.

Even though the story is from a young Irish boy’s perspective, I liked how historically accurate it is also for African Americans at the time. Slavery was such an ingrained part of American society that it was a common part of everyday life. The author shows this in his descriptions of the enslaved blacks and their interactions with the people around them.

“At daybreak, James walked down the porch to the barefoot, teenaged slave holding his horse.”

“A stout, unsmiling negress in a faded calico dress and a white kerchief wrapped around her head met them on the steps of the expansive portico. James handed her his hat, riding gloves, and overnight bag.”

“Jackson noticed his protégé approach and rose slowly from his chair. The small black boy attending him tried to help but the General snarled at him and he backed away.”

This book is action-packed all the way through, historically accurate, and because Patrick and his cousins are young men, it maintains the right balance by being just as fun as it is about war and racism. The boys are young, like girls, and get into some pretty severe fights and trouble with the law.

Loyal Son is not a short book, but if you enjoy history and have some time on your hands, you will love it.

Plot Movement / Strength: 4/5

Entertainment Factor: 4/5

Characterization: 4/5

Authenticity / Believable: 5/5

Thought Provoking: 5/5

Overall: 4/5

Loyal Son is available now on Amazon!

*Free with KU!*


My book review registry is OPEN. To learn more about my registry be sure to visit the Blog Book Review Policy page here.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

When I started this blog and chose “truth is stranger than fiction,” as the tagline, it was puzzling to people. Someone even reached out to correct, me, saying, “don’t you mean the truth is stronger than fiction?”

No. Stranger is the word I meant.

What it seeks to communicate is that nothing we can create can be as unusual as what we find in actual life, and speaks metaphorically of the unsettling realness of truth—the “strangeness” of reality. You think something is weird until you find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes. You think my blog name and the tagline is strange until you understand what it means.

Everything that is happening right now, I could quickly put in a novel. Except, there is no story I can conjure up that would be equivalent to the real-life terror that blacks face and have faced every day in this country.

As someone who writes Black Historical Fiction, there is a strangeness about what’s going on because what happened in the 60s is still happening. And as I place my fictional characters amid events that actually happened, I realize that I am a character in the present world, a world that mirrors the one passed. Our children and their children will read about what happened this year, and they will ask the question, “what was it like living in a world with civil unrest because of the mistreatment of blacks during a pandemic?”

The first five months of 2020 have been brutal on every level, and we are living in what will one day be part of America’s history, and it must not be lost to us that we are part of that history.

If America were a house, racism would be the foundation on which this house sits. People don’t want to hear that many of the founding fathers were slave-owners. They don’t want to hear about the Slave Patrols turned southern police departments. People don’t want to hear that dismantling systemic racism means to dismantle that system. And people certainly do not want to hear about the spiritual connections between the afflictions blacks have endured, their real identity and heritage, and their place in America.

But there is no one way of looking at everything that’s going on, but this is also what makes writing a powerful tool for shedding light on these truths, exposing prejudices, and breaking down barriers, and eventually whole systems.

Everyone can’t be on the ground. I won’t say “on the front lines,” because I don’t believe there is one way to be on the front lines. The term comes from the military line or part of an army that is closest to the enemy. To be on the “front line” means to be closeted to the enemy, which is usually depicted as physically facing him. But there are other ways to face the enemy, and one way is to write with accuracy.

Write the truth. Write it as raw and as bloody as it is in real life. Pass down stories to the next generation that will teach them the truth about who they are. Take Toni Morrison, for example, who in the 60s and 70s chose to publish the books of black writers telling the truth and exposing lies. Books play a significant role in educating a people, and miseducation has a lot to do with what is and is not, written in books.

Writers are, therefore, also on the front lines and in a powerful way. In the words of Nina Simone, “you can’t help it. As far as I’m concerned, an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” 

As devastating as things are right now, what black writers write today, be it a poem or blog post or scholarly article, can make a difference in the next world.

In this 99th year of the destruction of Black Wall Street, I am thinking about ways to improve my fiction, poetry, and other writings to provide a better historical context and learning experience for the next generation.

I hope I can adequately contextualize it in a way that clearly communicates what today’s world was like for those who lived it.


Be Sure to Pick Up Your Copy of my Black Historical Fiction Series, The Stella Trilogy and to leave a review on Amazon. Click Here.