Black History Fun Fact Friday: The Brown Paper Bag Test

An Instagram video inspired today’s post, where a group of young black people engaged in a debate about whether light skin blacks are treated better than dark skin blacks. This debate spun out of control and eventually led to a full-blown argument that made it difficult for the viewer to comprehend what each party said. In the young people’s voice was a lot of hurt and pain. The caption on the video read: “Does Light-Skin Privilege Exist in America?”

Not to bestow to Willie Lynch any gift of prophecy, but when he said to “pitch the light-skin slave against the dark-skin slave and the dark-skin slave against the light skin-slave,” it was as if he c-sectioned the calendar and saw color bias in black people’s future.

Even if one does not wholly believe The Willie Lynch Letter is entirely accurate, one cannot ignore the Black community’s divisions based on skin color in a way that is strangely accurate to William’s letter. To add to this, Willie Lynch did not say these divisions will help for a few days, weeks, and months. In 1712, William Lynch said that if implemented “properly,” slave owners could expect these divisions to keep the blacks mentally enslaved and divided for generations.

It is 2021, but skin-tone is still an important physical characteristic among some black people that sometimes cause divisions in the black community. Historically, people immediately noticed a black person’s skin-tone and recognized it as a critical component in joining churches, fraternities and sororities, and other social interactions. Throughout history, variations in skin tone have reflected social status and hierarchies. The most notable social experiment was the paper bag test, used widely among African Americans to determine inclusion in certain activities and groups.

The Brown Paper Bag Test

The Brown Paper Bag Test, known widely as “The Paper bag Test,” was a form of racial discrimination practiced within the African-American community in the 20th century by comparing an individual’s skin tone to a brown color paper bag.

If a person’s skin tone matched or was lighter than the brown bag, they would be more likely to be accepted than a person whose skin tone was darker than the paper bag.

Many famous black clubs and social organizations used this test to determine membership, including churches and employers.

The Lighter the Skin, the Better the Chances

In Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze, two groups of black sorority women are at odds over which group’s hair and skin color are best. In the film, the Gamma Rays had to be “paper bag light.”

The Alpha Kappa Alpha Brown Paper Bag Test

A letter from 1928, written by sophomore Edward H. Taylor, at Howard University discusses the Alpha Kappa Alpha brown paper bag test and colorism. Watch the Yard details the statements made in the student newspaper “The Hilltop.” Watch the Yard said the article:

“accused fraternities of “splitting the various classes into groups of different shades — yellow, brown, and black.” According to Taylor, “The light-skinned students are sought after by the fraternities and sororities, particularly the latter, as members and the dark ones passed by. The darker brown students then form their own cliques while the blacks are left in the cold.”

Jack and Jill Brown Paper Bag Test

Jack and Jill of America was established in 1938 with a mission of “nurturing future African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving, and civic duty.”

But an article from the Pittsburg Courier says Jack and Jill has seen its share of negative press from the Black community over the last 81 years. Similar to African-American sororities and fraternities, in the early years, Jack and Jill had a reputation of only being for elite “light-skinned Blacks”. The article says:

“some Blacks saw it as open only to those who had ‘good hair’ and were able to pass ‘the paper-bag test.’”

Resumes Used to Emphasize “Light Colored”

Nadra Kareen Little from ThoughtCo. discussed colorism in her article about skin tone discrimination. The article said:

“Colorism didn’t disappear after the institution of slavery ended in the U.S. In black America, those with light skin received employment opportunities off-limits to darker-skinned blacks. This is why upper-class families in black society were largely light-skinned.”

Her article mentions a writer Brent Staples who discovered this while searching newspaper archives near the Pennsylvania town where he grew up. She said:

“In the 1940s, he noticed, Black job seekers often identified themselves as light-skinned. Cooks, chauffeurs, and waitresses sometimes listed ‘light colored’ as the primary qualification—ahead of experience, references, and the other important data. They did it to improve their chances and to reassure white employers who…found dark skin unpleasant or believed that their customers would.”

Article from the NY Times that gave an example of a job ad from the 1950s that specifically requested applicants with light-colored skin.

“The owner of Chock full o’ Nuts, a white man named William Black, advertised in the tabloids for ‘light colored counter help.’

Advertising jobs for people with lighter skin or “Eurocentric” features is no longer legal or acceptable when doing business, but research shows that these preferences still play a role in our society. The same NY Times article reported that:

“Researchers tell us that it affects how people vote; who appears in Hollywood movies and television news shows; who gets hired and promoted in corporate America; and even who gets executed for murder.”

https://blog.ongig.com/diversity-and-inclusion/brown-paper-bag-test/

Passing

“Passing is a deception that enables a person to adopt certain roles or identities from which prevailing social standards would bar him in the absence of his misleading conduct. The classic racial passer in the United States has been the “white Negro:” the individual whose physical appearance allows him to present himself as “white” but whose “black” lineage makes him a Negro according to dominant racial rules.”

– Randall Kennedy, Racial Passing

 

Racial passing was a common practice among lighter-skinned African Americans and is the focal point of book two of The Stella Trilogy, where Stella changes her name to Sidney McNair, marries a white man, and has biracial children whom she raises as white. This narrative is taken directly from historical accounts of light-skin blacks (mixed or not) passing and living their lives as Europeans.

As a child of a white mother and a light-skinned black man, Gregory Howard Williams was a person who assumed that he was white because his parents pretended to be white. Not until he was ten years old, when his parents divorced, did Williams and his brother learn that they were black.

Dr. Albert Johnston passed in order to practice medicine. After living as leading citizens in Keene, N.H., the Johnstons revealed their true racial identity, and became national news.

Many lighter-skinned blacks pretended or classified themselves as white in the US, which gave them access to the rights and opportunities that other blacks could not enjoy. In the image we see here, Dr. Albert Johnston passed to practice medicine. After living as leading citizens in Keene, N.H., the Johnstons revealed their true racial identity and became national news.

For Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs, a similar situation occurred where she discovered a cousin she had never met. This cousin lived in California as a white woman from her mother’s instruction, who sent her away from Chicago many years ago. The mother thought her daughter would have the best chance of success living as a white woman.

“She was black, but she looked white,” Hobbs said. “And her mother decided it was in her best interest to move far away from Chicago, to Los Angeles, and to assume the life of a white woman.”

This came around and bit the mother when her husband died and her daughter, now fully immersed in her life, said that she would not attend the funeral, saying, “I can’t. I’m a white woman now.”

The most famous instance is probably art imitating life in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life,” starring Fredi Washington playing a black woman who passes as white. They made this movie at a time where passing was a widespread practice for fair-skinned blacks. They remade this film in 1959.

Colorism

Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group, where lighter-skin is treated more favorably than darker skin. The brown paper bag test was used to determine who was acceptable and not based on colorism or color bias. When darker-skinned blacks bleach their skins or attempt to look lighter for the special treatment given to lighter skin (such as to join an organization), it is like passing.

While this is fading as dark skin is becoming more and more appreciated, that video of those young people arguing is proof there is still some work to do.

Mixed-Ish

MIXED-ISH – ABC’s “mixed-ish” stars Mykal-Michelle Harris as Santamonica Johnson, Arica Himmel as Bow Johnson, and Ethan Childress as Johan Johnson. (ABC/Mitch Haaseth)

In the latest Mixed-Ish episode, Johan (pronounced Yohan) allowed his peers to think he was Mexican, thus passing for Mexican. Alicia’s sister Denise’s remark that Rainbow’s parents had indirectly caused this by living in a community where race, specifically blackness, was not discussed or considered has some truth to it. People think that by saying, “I don’t see race,” this is a compliment, but it is not. The one who does not see race also does not see racism.

“You all taught that poor boy of being ashamed of being black. You took him to that commune where…nobody talked about race, and that taught him not to be proud of his blackness.”

Why is there truth to this? Because one cannot be proud of what one does not know exists. If Johan does not know what it means to be black and all his people’s rich experiences, how can he see the shame in not telling his peers who he really is? Johan allowed his peers to think he was Mexican because he does not fully understand who he is as a black boy.

[Side Note: Can someone explain to me why they chose The Color Purple as the movie to help a black boy understand blackness? I can think of tons of movies from the 80s that are better suited to teach blackness to black children. The Color Purple ain’t one of them. They could have put on Cornbread, Earl, and Me.]

It turned out the kid who called Johan the racist Mexican slur was also black. This is another example of color bias within the African American community. Now, whether the child understood Johan to be black reflects the school system and the lack of representation of black people and black history. Contrary to the popular myth, not all light-skinned black people are mixed. Blacks produce a variety of skin-tones within the race, but that is a topic for a different day.

All Black is Beautiful

Today, “Blackness” (black skin) is promoted in pop culture. I hate to say it this way, but “dark-skin is in.”

With actresses like Daniel Kaluuya and Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, people once looked down on for being “ugly” for their dark skin tone (“too dark”) are now looked upon as being sexy, beautiful, and exotic. Dark skin is now socially acceptable, highly praised, and elevated, among many now seeing the beauty of brown skin.

While this is not a bad thing, the hope is that it has not become some fad in which dark-skin is fetishized. We would not want a reversal of the paper bag test in which light-skinned blacks are looked down on in the way dark-skinned blacks have always been. Blackness is not a trend that goes in and out of style and should not be treated as such.

The message here should be that all black is beautiful, no matter the shade.


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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.


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Black History Fun Fact Friday – Dr. George Cleveland Hall

This week, I spoke briefly on Dr. George Cleveland Hall, for whom the Hall Public Library in Chicago is named. I talked about the Hall Branch as the place I got my first library card and all the historical things I didn’t know that happened there. To read this post, click here.

Today, we are digging a little deeper into this man’s background, Dr. George Cleveland Hall.

As I dug into his story, I found Hall was a pretty big deal, and I am surprised there isn’t more information on him because this man was phenomenal and a significant influence on Chicago.

Dr. George Cleveland Hall was born on February 22, 1864. Not only was Cleveland a doctor, but he was also head of the Urban League and “one of the five founding members and the first president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), currently known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).” (William Smither)

In 1886, Hall graduated from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University and studied medicine at Bennett Medical College and in 1896 graduated from Harvey Medical College.

Cleveland was a surgeon at Provident Hospital, the first private hospital in the state of Illinois to provide internship opportunities for black physicians, the first to establish a school of nursing to train black women, one of the first black hospitals to offer postgraduate courses and residences for black physicians, and the first black hospital approved by the American College of Surgeons for full graduate training in surgery.

Okay, Chicago!

George Cleveland Hall
Public domain image

In 1911 Cleveland founded the Cook County Physicians’ Association of Chicago, the organization of black doctors in the city.

But Dr. Hall’s significant influence on Chicago was not just about his expertise in the medical field. He is actually most known for his civic duty and grassroots work. In 1915, he joined Carter G. Woodson and others in the founding of the ASALH at the Wabash YMCA in historical Bronzeville.

Just wow.

I cannot believe I have not heard of Dr. Hall before. His contribution to black history and medicine is groundbreaking. He is right up there with Carter G. Woodson and then some. Hall also had a close relationship with Booker T. Washington.

Cleveland received two honorary degrees, one from Lincoln University for Doctors of Laws and another from Howard for Doctor of Science. He became the first black Chicagoan appointed to the board of directors for the Chicago Public Library.

Dr. George Cleveland Hall died at sixty-six in 1930.

On January 18, 1932, Chicago city officials dedicated the George Cleveland Hall Library to Dr. Hall, the first full-service library on the city’s Southside.

This is the same library where I received my first library card.

Yass.

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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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You READ – but do you leave REVIEWS? – by Chris Graham (aka The Story Reading Ape)

Just a friendly reminder to remember to review 🙂

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

PLEASE

A stack of books and words Read - Review - RepeatIf not, why not?

I don’t have time

The author probably spent a heck of a lot more time writing the story than you took to read it, no matter how slow you think you are, so why not take a few minutes to record your feelings about it.

I can’t write long fancy reviews like those I see on book review blogs

You don’t have to, Amazon, for example, only ask you to use a minimum of 25 non repeating words.

I can’t express myself very well

No-one is asking you to produce a literary masterpiece, start off with things you liked, didn’t like or a mix of both about the book, e.g.,

I liked this book because –

it reminded me of –

it made me think about –

it made me so scared I couldn’t sleep for –

it made me feel homesick for –

it…

View original post 468 more words

FREE Ways to Support Your Favorite Indie Authors

Buying books written by Independent Authors is a terrific way to show support, and word of mouth is still a powerful way to make sure other people know of an author’s work without spending money. There are tons of ways to do this online.

Review the book on Amazon – Amazon is still a powerhouse and trusted source of content for readers. It’s easy to send a review via email, DM, or to post about the book on Social Media. While I am confident, the writer will appreciate any form of support, reviewing a book on Amazon will undoubtedly give the author more exposure. Amazon is the third-largest search engine with Google first and YouTube second. But then, “if we exclude YouTube as part of Google, Amazon is technically the second largest search engine in the world.” (E-Commerce SEO). Suffice it to say Amazon reviews are a great way to support your favorite author, boost their exposure, and act as a great social proof form. In short, an honest, legitimate Amazon review will help an Indie Author go far. In the words of Michael LeBoeuf, “a satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”

Just because someone bought a book doesn’t mean they read it. Leaving reviews is a great way to show the author that you read the book, whether you enjoyed it or not.

Click here to review My Soul is a Witness on Amazon

Rate/Review Book on Goodreads – While many people are no longer fans of Goodreads (and I’ve fallen off a bit there myself), do remember that it’s a platform full of people who love to read and talk about books! Granted, some people reviewing here are rude, but that’s certainly not everyone. Goodreads is still an excellent platform to use as an online word of mouth to discuss books read. It also allows for the sharing of reviews for books not posted to Amazon for whatever reason. If you don’t have the book, you can utilize the Want to Read button to add it to your bookshelf. Adding a book will show up on your page, exposing the book to your followers/friends. If an author is hosting a giveaway entering the contest will also mark their book Want to Read and add it to your shelf.

Note to authors: I have heard stories about people taking advantage of authors hosting giveaways on Goodreads when it involves paperback books. Please research this on your own as I have no first-hand experience with it, but I’ve heard complaints.

Click here to add My Soul is a Witness on Goodreads

Follow the Author on Social Media – Through social media, you get to learn more about the author outside of books. Many authors post pictures of their family, friends, and pets. Authors share their daily routines, hold contests, and take readers behind the scenes. Readers can interact directly with their favorite authors by sharing a post, saving a post, commenting on a post, and liking a post. All of this helps contribute to helping spread the author’s message without spending a dime.

Follow me on Instagram Here

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Like/Follow me on Facebook Here

Subscribe to the Author’s Blog – Following the author’s blog (if they have one) is an extension of following them on social media. Writers have the space to share so much more about themselves and their life’s work and inspirations through blogging. It is a great way to network and become privy to new material as writers tend to publish sneak peeks and short stories to their blogs before they publish them. Writers also post their publishing process in detail on their blogs. You may be inspired to write your own book and learn a thing or two.

Click that lovely subscribe button to follow this blog

Join the Author’s Mailing List or Author Group – Joining the author’s mailing list or author group opens up an opportunity to get to know the author on a much more personal level. You are interacting with them behind the scenes, sort of speak. An author may go live so you can see their face, hear their voice, and interact with them in real-time. Authors explain the deeper meanings behind their stories, answer questions, host private, exclusive contests, and much more. Joining the author behind the scenes in this way shows you trust them with your email address and are ready to commit on a deeper level.

Click here to Join my Author Mailing List

Post Image of Book on Instagram / Facebook – Posting images of the author’s book – or pictures of you and the author at an event – to IG and Facebook (tag the author) is an excellent public display of support. It helps leverage the author’s exposure through cross-promotion. One of your followers interested in that book will potentially follow the author, purchase a copy of the book, review the book, and become a new fan. They may post the book image to their page, and the process repeats itself as one of their followers may find themselves interested in the book. It is a beautiful and selfless display of support and strengthening of the author’s network and the Indie Author community in general.

There are so many ways to support the Indie Author community. I have mentioned these previously, but one crucial component sets this list apart as making a real difference for your favorite authors:

Participation.

Following someone on social media, subscribing to their blog, or joining their email list or author group means nothing without an active commitment to engage.


My Soul is a Witness is Out. Be sure to grab your copy today and remember to leave a review when you have finished reading! 🙂

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/