Black History Fun Fact Friday – William Still

Welcome back to Black History Fun Fact Friday. Today, as promised, we are looking at the life of William Still.

Since it’s been a busy week, I did not actually get to write an article. I usually stay up late to draft these but I couldn’t do three articles last night. So, I am posting a brief biography of Still’s life from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center which you can find at the source below.

Source: http://freedomcenter.org/content/william-still

“William Still was born in Burlington County, New Jersey. His father, Levin Steel, had been enslaved, purchased his own freedom, and changed his name to Still to protect his wife, Sidney. Mrs. Still had tried to escape once before she succeeded, but could only bring two of her children with her. William Still had little formal education but studied whenever he could. In 1844, William moved to Philadelphia.

In 1847, he found a job as a clerk and janitor for the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He soon began aiding fugitive slaves, often sheltering them until they could find their way farther north. One fugitive was his older brother, Peter, who had been left behind when his mother escaped forty years earlier. These experiences led William to save careful records about the people he helped. Meanwhile, Still purchased real estate, opened a store selling stoves, and later founded a successful coal business.

Before the Civil War Still had destroyed many of his records about aiding fugitives, because he feared they would be used to prosecute people. After the war, his children persuaded him to write the story of his exploits and the people he helped. Still’s book, The Underground Railroad (1872), is one of the most important historical records we have. Although Still recognized the many contributions of white abolitionists, he portrayed the fugitives as courageous individuals who struggled for their own freedom. Still proudly exhibited his book at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.”

Source: http://freedomcenter.org/content/william-still

Lost to History – Unfamiliar Faces: Francis E.W. Harper

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Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston are among many peoples list of powerful writer influences. Throw in Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, and Langston Hughes and you have a dream team of the world’s most quoted, most copied, and most talked about black writer contributors of all time. A name you won’t hear is Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, poet, author, and abolitionist.

“My home is where eternal snow Round threat’ning craters sleep, Where streamlets murmur soft and low And playful cascades leap. Tis where glad scenes shall meet My weary, longing eye; Where rocks and Alpine forests greet The bright cerulean sky.” – Forest Leaves, Yearnings for Home by Frances E.W. Harper

Frances was a writer and poet born free to free parents in Baltimore and attended a school for blacks that was ran by her Uncle. Frances wrote poems and went on to publish her first collection in 1845, Forest Leaves. Years later, Frances taught domestic duties at Union Seminary in Ohio which was run by John Brown, the devout abolitionist who held strong opposing views of slavery. Brown, a white man, was a conductor of The Underground Railroad and The League of Gileadites, an organization established to help runaway slaves escape to Canada. As a result, naturally Frances got involved in the abolitionist movement and The Underground Railroad becoming a lecturer who went on tours with such men as Frederick Douglas.

In 1854, Frances published Poems of Miscellaneous Subjects, which featured one of her most famous works, “Bury Me in a Free Land”, and in 1859 made literary history with “Two Offers” which made her the first African-American female writer to publish a short story.

Harper died of heart failure on February 22, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Why I Go #UNDERGROUND

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If you could go back to Harriet Tubman’s days and with what you know now, help her to free more slaves based on your knowledge of the future, would you be able to help her? With what you know about history today, would you be able to assist her in carrying more people to freedom? With all of the technology and historical knowledge and books and slave narratives and everything you’ve stored away to this point, could you honestly say that you could help her? Many of us don’t even know what direction the sun rises and sets in, let alone navigate without GPS. This is why I watch shows such as #Underground.

What amazes me is that when a Tyler Perry movie comes out, we don’t hear nothing about how we’re tired of seeing black men in dresses. I don’t hear anything about how we’re tired of seeing black men and women run around joking all the time about nothing. We make excuses for that. We don’t hear nothing about Fifty Shades of Black, Get Hard, or throwbacks like Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. When Noah and Gods of Egypt came out, I didn’t hear nothing about all the biblical inaccuracies that can be proven just by reading the first few chapters of Genesis. But when it comes to a show comprised of information we need to know, now we’re tired of slave movies even though many of our brothers and sisters don’t even know what the half of slavery was really about and the psychological trauma it still holds today.

I’m still hearing people say that the light skin slaves were house slaves but this is not historically correct. The Mulatto was the first to be sold because the mistress did not want to look at the proof of her husbands infidelity with the “niggers” every time she looked at those children. Not that mulattoes were not in the house, but the point is they were “field niggas” too. There was a ranking system based on skill and worth and it didn’t matter what color you were a slave was a slave. Whether in house or in the field none of it was esteemed over the other you was still a slave. Some of us still think Rosa Parks was the first to refuse to give up her seat on a bus. She was not, but that’s the point. There’s still lots of people who don’t know. We don’t know what Reconstruction was about. We don’t know what Jim Crow was about. We don’t know what The Harlem Renaissance was about, or for a more earlier term, The New Negro Movement. We don’t know what The Civil Rights Movement was about. We don’t even know who The Black Panthers truly were aside from the hateful militia group people tell us they were. Prince just died and they say he had no will. Prince was a man who sued people all the time in regard to the legalities of his career. He’s not the kind of man who would not have a will but this is what they tell us. The point is that we don’t know half of the black history that we think we know and even what we think we know, we don’t really know. What Harriet Tubman and the many others had to endure, I had to endure too. For we are all connected, the human family. We are the bloodline and the experiences of our ancestors  still runs through our veins. They say that if you don’t know your history, that you are bound to repeat it.  This is why I go #Underground.

I Freed a Thousand Slaves

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Don’t get it twisted, Harriet is not to be honored by a $20 bill. A bill she probably never seen in her life. The same paper they put her on they would deny her descendants their 40acres and a mule. On the physical it is mockery put in place to fuel a racial fire that’s already burning. However, what is used for evil can also be used for good. Tubman was a hero because she saved lives. Who is more beautiful than someone who put her life on the line for others? This is deeper than we know. She’s on the $20 bill. Two. Double. Done again. What has been done before will be done again.  And so, let the Tubman’s rise and the second age of The Underground begin.

Underground

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The season premiere of Underground aired this pasted Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The TV series stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge and is about a group of slaves planning to escape a large plantation and will be helped by an abolitionist couple along the way. Underground is short for the Underground railroad, a system of secret routes and safe houses used to help slaves to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Below is a synopsis of the show:

“Early in the premiere of WGN America’s slave-revolt drama Underground, a captured runaway named Noah (Aldis Hodge) is shoved into a decrepit shed on a plantation in rural Georgia. The year is 1857; the Civil War is still four long years away. The camera whips around 360 degrees from Noah’s point of view, catching glimpses of sick, malnourished black men and women, all of them shivering in makeshift bunks and slumped against unforgiving walls. And though he does not say a word, the sequence immediately establishes Noah as the show’s determined protagonist. At the risk of sounding crass given the historical atrocity the show unflinchingly deals with, it feels like the moment when this slave resolves to be something of a superhero.”

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I started looking into this show about a month before its premiere, watching interviews of the actors and the making of the show itself. I also follow Smollett on Twitter and she’s been very excited about it. My opinion of the show? So far so good. The premiere has a nice set up or rather introduction into how the show will play itself out. We can already see who the people are who will help the slaves to escape, those who will possibly create safe houses for them for instance, and those, both black and white, who will be their stumbling block. I love the determination of Noah to recruit others in their attempt to escape the plantation, that he has a plan and that, as he says it, escaping is not just about running but will require the slaves to work together in a strategic way. In short, I am so far enjoying the coming together of the crew and I look forward to the rest of the series.