A Wake-Up Call from Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“Find Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS

I’ve enjoyed the various television series Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has done on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System in the United States.) With my interest in genealogy, I’ve especially enjoyed his “Finding Your Roots” series where he (and his assistants) do a thorough genealogical search for well-known Americans. Many times, the findings are surprising.

In my blog post last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/03/4-or-5-books-i-read-in-may-2019/ , I wrote about the books I read in May. I mentioned reading the first two chapters of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s new book, Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow.

Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The events and facts Dr. Gates included in his book were not in the history textbooks of my youth. This period in our nation’s history was omitted from our textbooks, as were the dark decades which followed in which “Jim Crow” laws were enacted and strictly enforced. All this was swept under the rug and not talked about. The precious little I was taught about the Reconstruction Era could be summed up as, “After the Civil War the ‘carpetbaggers’ from “up North” came down here to tell us what to do.” This always had negative connotations. I grew up in North Carolina.

As a lover of history, even at a young age, I lamented the fact that every year in school we’d study the years up to the end of the American Civil War, the school year would end, and the same thing would happen the next year. It always came across as a lack of time to study anything that happened after that war but, with the perspective I’ve gained in the last several years, I now wonder if this was part of a grand design by the State of North Carolina. Perhaps it was by intention that we never studied the Reconstruction Era.

A snapshot of my school years

So you’ll know the background from which I speak, here are the highlights of my school years as far as race goes: I attended an all-white public school through the sixth grade; racial desegregation was optional in 1965 when I was in the seventh grade (meaning there were three children from a black family who desegregated our school of grades 1-12 with around 1,000 students); the historic black public schools in our county were closed at the end of my seventh grade year, so the schools were completely racially-integrated thereafter.

Can you imagine being one of just three students of color in a school of 1,000 white students? I cannot imagine how Carolyn Morris and her two siblings felt. I also cannot imagine how all the black students in our county felt the following year when their schools were closed and they had no choice but to attend the schools that had preciously been all-white. It was a blessing that five of the six county high schools were consolidated in 1967 into two new high schools, so Central Cabarrus High School and Northwest Cabarrus High School were never racially-segregated.

Back to Dr. Gates’ book

From Dr. Gates’ book I learned in greater detail than I had before that great strides were made for racial integration during Reconstruction; however, “Jim Crow” laws started popping up all over the country (yes, even in The North) to squelch that progress. One fact that epitomizes the century after the American Civil War is that the University of South Carolina was racially-integrated after the War, but then laws were instituted to prohibit black students. The university wasn’t desegregated again until 1963.

The most important thing I learned as a writer

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The most important thing I learned as a writer from reading Dr. Gates’ book is about the use of “Plantation Dialect” in fiction. It is something I have wrestled with in the years I’ve written and re-written my manuscript for The Spanish Coin/The Doubloon. With every revision I’ve deleted words of dialect. I had it down to just a couple of words (nawsuh for No, sir; Yessum for Yes, ma’am) by the time I read Dr. Gates’ book. Now I realize how that use of dialect, no doubt, comes across to an African-American reader.

As a white Southerner, I don’t like it when someone mocks my accent. I’m proud of my accent, but to see it overdone in spoken or written word is demeaning.

I’m fascinated by the regional accents in the United States. It’s a subject I’d like to study. I think these regional accents are a beautiful warp and weft in the fabric of our nation. If we all spoke just alike, life would be boring.

In next Monday’s blog post, I plan to delve more deeply into this subject as Dr. Gates’ book prompted me to do additional research about the use of dialect and accents in fiction. Learning to write fiction is a journey.

Since my last blog post

For a variety of reasons, I’ve made only scant progress on my manuscript for The Doubloon; however, what I’ve learned about the use of accent and dialect in fiction is far more important than my novel’s word count.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What is your experience in writing or reading fiction in which dialect and accent were overdone? Have you noticed an evolution in how dialect and accent are handled in novels?

Janet

Two for Tuesday: Two Books that Remind Me of Someone

Have you ever read a book and thought one of the characters was a dead ringer for someone you knew?

Today’s #TwoForTuesday writing prompt “two books that remind you of someone,” turned out to be more difficult for me than I had anticipated, but I chose A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman and The Importance of Pot Liquor, by Jackie Seals Torrence. One is a well-known book and the other one not so much.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

The main character in this book, Ove, reminds me of a relative of mine who I will not identify for obvious reasons.

Ove is a 59-year-old man at odds with the world. From the opening scene of computer-illiterate Ove attempting to buy a computer from a much younger computer geek store assistant to the scenes in which Ove pays his respects to foreign cars, much of his personality and outlook on life resonated with me and brought to mind my relative. That’s what made much of A Man Called Ove so funny to me.

The Importance of Pot Liquor, by Jackie Seals Torrence

The Importance of Pot Liquor, by Jackie Torrence

Chances are, you’ve never heard of this book. Chances are, you have no idea what pot liquor is unless you’re of a certain age and a native of North Carolina or another state in the American South. I’ll start by giving an explanation of “pot liquor.” It has nothing to do with the alcoholic kind of liquor. It is sometimes spelled “pot likker.”

What in the world is pot liquor?

Pot liquor is the liquid left in the pot after beans or other vegetables have been cooked and removed from the pot. I learned the term from my mother who was born more than 100 years ago on a farm and was one of 10 children. In other words, she grew up in a household where no food was wasted.

Therefore, I also grew up in a household where no food was wasted. We would never (and still wouldn’t dream of) pouring pot liquor down the drain. (Well, actually, I don’t drink or save broccoli pot liquor. I have to draw the line somewhere.)

When a pot of beans or other vegetables had been eaten and only the juice remained, my mother would usually offer the “pot liquor” to me. I rarely turned it down. What my mother knew that I didn’t know is that pot liquor is nutritious. It contains the vitamins and minerals that the cooking water leached out of the vegetables. I just thought it tasted good. My favorite has always been black eyed peas.

To this day, I like pot liquor, but now I usually freeze it. I keep a quart container in the freezer in which I add pot liquor from the cooking of various vegetables. This combination of various pot liquors is eventually used when I make homemade vegetable soup or have a recipe that calls for vegetable broth.

A note about the author

The author of The Importance of Pot Liquor, Jackie Torrence, lived in Salisbury, North Carolina, not far from where her slave ancestors lived on Second Creek. Though born with a speech impediment, Ms. Torrence became a master storyteller and traveled the United States performing her stories and teaching others the craft of storytelling. She died in 2004, confined to a wheelchair due to arthritis.

Back to the book title…

With my explanation of pot liquor (which probably made some of you gag) out of the way, let’s get back to the book that reminds me of someone. I read the book in 2011, so I don’t remember the details of the book. That’s all right, because it is the title itself of Jackie Seals Torrence’s 1994 book, The Importance of Pot Liquor, which reminds me of my mother and also of an elderly family friend and distant relative, Miss Eugenia Lore.

Miss Eugenia and “The Wah”

Miss Eugenia was quite a character and very much a product of her generation and family history. She was born in 1888 in Concord, North Carolina. Her father served in the Army of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. She showed us the canteen he carried in the War which, in her Southern accent, she always referred to it as “The Wah.”

The portrait of Robert E. Lee that hung on her parlor wall had been purchased by her father as part of a fundraiser to secure the money needed to erect a statue of Lee in Richmond, Virginia. If anyone in her presence dared to call it the “Civil War,” she was quick to correct them with the words, “There was nothin’ civil about it!”

Unlike my mother, Miss Eugenia was raised in town. Her mother had “help” as in The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. One time Miss Eugenia made a disparaging remark about pot liquor because no one of her social status would have drunk it, and my mother responded with something like, “Oh, I love pot liquor. You don’t know what you’re missing.” Miss Eugenia was visibly appalled. In her mind, only an African-American household servant would “have” to drink pot liquor.

I agree with my mother. Miss Eugenia didn’t know what she was missing!

Until my next blog post

Thank you, Rae, of “Rae’s Reads and Reviews Blog” for this month’s #TwoForTuesday blog post prompts. I learned about it in her January 8, 2019 blog post:  https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646.

Let’s continue the conversation

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog today.

Is there an “Ove” in your family?

Had you ever heard of pot liquor before reading my blog post? Do you like pot liquor or do you find it disgusting?

What is a book that reminds you of someone?

Janet

“Had a family once.” (Revisited)

In my blog post on June 18, 2018 “Had a family once.”, I wrote about the opening line of the prologue to Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner:  “Had a family once.”

Central American Refugees – “Had a family once.”

I can’t get that line out of my head. “Had a family once,” must be how the refugees at the US-Mexico border feel. Children have been separated from parents and there was, obviously, no plan in place for the uniting of those families. What a logistical nightmare now, and all the result of an ill-conceived change in US Government policy. “Had a family once.”

Young soccer team and coach in Thailand

As I write this, the world is watching and holding its collective breath as valiant attempts are being made to rescue a dozen young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. Those boys, their parents, and their coach must have spent many hours in the past two weeks thinking, “Had a family once,” and praying they’ll still have their families intact when this ordeal and rescue is over.

African Slaves in America – “Had a family once.”

My interest in genealogy and local history recently led me on a fascinating trek into the lives of some people of African descent who were slaves in Cabarrus County, North Carolina in the 1800s. That sounds like a long time ago, but it really isn’t when you think in terms of a person’s lifespan and generations within families.

“Had a family once.”

Caroline had a family once.

In the records of Rocky River Presbyterian Church, Caroline, infant daughter of slaves Nat and Marie owned by R. Biggers, was baptized on August 16, 1835. Caroline, a slave of George Leroy Morrison, joined the church April 29, 1859. Was this the same Caroline?

Yes, she was! There is a bill of sale dated October 30, 1856 in which a 22-year-old woman named Caroline and her two children (Robert, aged about four years and an unnamed infant about three months old were sold by Rebecca Biggers to George Leroy Morrison.

The idea of slavery is repulsive, but seeing an actual bill of sale makes me physically ill. Having this information, I owed Caroline a few hours of my time to try to determine if she survived to be free after the American Civil War. What I was able to piece together was surprising and thrilling.

1863 Cabarrus Tax Assessment

In 2004, I compiled a list of the records of the more than 900 slaves who were baptized at and/or joined Rocky River Presbyterian Church between around 1820 and the end of the Civil War in 1865. The 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment List gave details about some of those slaves such as age, physical condition, and monetary value.

George Leroy Morrison died May 6, 1860. The 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment states that his brother, Q.C. Morrison was guardian of four slaves:  Abram, aged 45 and valued at $1,100; Caroline, aged 26 and valued at $1,400; Robert, aged 9 and valued at $900; and Matt [name was probably Nat] aged 1 and valued at $100. Q.C. Morrison died in the Civil War on August 7, 1863.

According to the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment, Rebecca Biggers had a 55-year-old slave named Nathaniel. He was valued at $100 with the notation, “cripple.) Rebecca did not have a slave named Marie at that time, but we know from church records that Nat and Marie were Caroline’s parents.

Armed with that information, I wanted to know more. I wanted Caroline to survive the War, gain her freedom, and have a life. She’d “had a family once.” Did she have that same family after the War?

Yes, she did!

The 1870 US Census of Cabarrus County, Township One finds Caroline, wife of Albert Morrison, along with children Robert, Nathaniel, Edward, and Albert.

According to the agriculture schedule of the 1870 Census, Albert and Caroline Morrison owned 40 acres of improved land valued at $200 along with farm machinery valued at $15. They owned livestock valued at $100 and reported how many bushels of wheat, Indian corn, and corn they had raised in 1869.

And, by the way, Albert Morrison was one of the five elders elected at the founding and organizational meeting of the African-American church that was formed by former slaves who had been members of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Originally called Rocky River Colored Presbyterian Church, it soon became Bellefonte Presbyterian Church and is still going strong in Harrisburg, NC.

The next record of Caroline

The next time we find a record of Caroline Morrison is in the Cabarrus County, NC Wills and Estate Papers. “The widow Caroline Morrison & family” of seven children received a one year’s dower on March 30, 1876.

1880 US Census

Caroline Morrison is the head of a household in Township One in Cabarrus County, NC when the 1880 federal census is taken. Sons Edward, Albert, Eugene Mc., and John are in the household along with Caroline’s granddaughter, Harriet.

Summary of my research

I won’t go into all the details of the rest of my research into the life of Caroline Morrison. Suffice it to say that I found marriage licenses for her sons, Nathaniel A. and Albert. Albert (Jr.) and his wife and children are in the 1900 US Census. I even found a 1925 death certificate for Albert (Sr.) and Caroline’s son, Robert. He was employed at the Southern Railway Railroad Shop in Forsyth County, NC.

Did Caroline have a family? Yes, she most certainly did!

Until my next blog post

There’s no telling what interesting history tidbits I’ll uncover. I love this stuff!

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Educated:  A Memoir, by Tara Westover and several other small nonfiction books.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I didn’t work on my novel last week, but I had a rewarding time researching Caroline Morrison and writing about my findings.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it!

Janet

They’re All Uncertain Times

Events of the last week prompted me to write about uncertain times for today’s blog post. It soon occurred to me that all times are uncertain because we cannot see into the future.

We tend to think the time we’re living in is more unpredictable than any other time, but if you’ll stop and think about it, you might see that life is and always has been full of doubts, worries, and stress. The unknown can do that to you.

I think about the uncertain times my known ancestors lived through:

English-speaking Lowland Scots being taken into the Gaelic-speaking Kintyre Peninsula in the southwest of Scotland to be tenant farmers in the 1600s and being required to attend a church where only Gaelic was spoken;

Scottish immigrants crossing the Atlantic and settling in the Carolina backcountry/wilderness in the 1760s; and

Those Scottish immigrants facing the American Revolution and not knowing what the outcome would be.

On December 23, 1776, in “The Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote the following:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

My ancestors lived through those times. The deaths of my Morrison great-great-great-great-grandparents during the American Revolutionary War left my great-great-great-grandfather orphaned at the age of nine. He and his siblings were cared for thereafter by his uncles and their wives, but it must have been more than frightening.

Then came the following trying times:

War of 1812;

American Civil War;

Reconstruction Era in The American South;

My maternal great-grandmother’s death in childbirth in 1881;

My paternal great-grandfather’s accidental death while felling a tree for lumber to build a kitchen in 1886;

Spanish-American War;

World War I;

The Great Depression;

My paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather both dying as young adults;

World War II;

Korean War; and

Illnesses and epidemics.

Living in the age of modern medicine and miracle drugs, it’s difficult for most of us to empathize with our ancestors who lived with the possibility of dying or watching their children die of typhoid fever, tetanus, flux, or polio.

When the Salk polio vaccine became available in the late 1950s, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to my parents. For me, as a child, I just remember our family going to the gymnasium lobby at Harrisburg High School on three Sunday afternoon after church to get an oral vaccine on a sugar cube.

The 1960s and years since have brought the following times of uncertainty:

Vietnam War;

Civil Rights Movement in the United States;

Numerous wars in the Middle East;

Rumors of more wars;

Terrorism; and

Incompetency and recklessness in The White House. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for him!)

All of my ancestors down through my grandparents were farmers. I can’t imagine a life full of more uncertainties than one in which one’s livelihood is at the mercy of the weather.

I believe that God created the world with everything we need to not only survive but thrive. Human beings have brought on many uncertainties by not being good stewards of the world that God has entrusted to us – its animals and natural resources. Come to think of it, we have created most of the uncertainties ourselves – war, poor planning, poor agricultural practices, greed, and envy.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, and wildfires happen, but even many floods and wildfires are caused by man’s carelessness.

I attended two funerals in less than 48 hours last week. One was expected after a long battle with cancer, but the other one was quite sudden. Life is full of uncertainties.

Reviewing some of the events and hardships my ancestors faced, and the things I’ve witnessed in my 64 years has helped me put recent events and concerns in perspective.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The world keeps spinning around and revolving around the sun. What an amazing world!

simon-hesthaven-216108 (2)
Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have lots of productive writing time.

Janet

The Daily Prompt – Record

I’m trying something new today. Monday is the day that I get weekly digests of the blogs I follow. I tend not to be very productive on Mondays, so it is a good day for me to read what other bloggers have to say. I follow a variety of bloggers from around the world – USA, Scotland, France, Australia, Egypt, England, Canada, India, Norway, and South Africa. I follow the blogs of other writers, as well as a young man who is a music composer, photographers, historians, pastors, stay-at-home mothers, a father whose daughter died of cancer at the age of 19, and an autistic man in the United Kingdom.

This afternoon I found a blog that was new to me: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/challenge-instructions/. The site offers a writing prompt every day. I’ve never done much with writing prompts, but this might be a way for me to blog more often than my usual Tuesdays and Fridays. It has already prompted me to do a little writing on a Monday, which is an accomplishment in itself. Today’s prompt is the word record.

Right off the bat, I’m faced with the decision of whether to use record as a noun or a verb. I chose to use it both ways.

I immediately thought about the daybooks one of my great-grandfathers kept in which he wrote daily from 1891 until his death in 1914. His daybooks (or journals) are a RECORD of life on his farm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. What a gem for his descendants! I wish he had RECORDED more current events. He had fought in the American Civil War, so on the anniversary dates of the battles in Richmond, Virginia, and New Bern, North Carolina were always noted.

In April, 1896 he wrote the following note in the margin:  “We Built this house in 1886 and moved in it   Earth Quake Aug the 28 the Same year.”

On May 31, 1897, after commenting on the weather, that he didn’t feel well (“I am on the Sick list.”), and what was being done on the farm, he ended the day’s daybook entry with, “a Earth Quake this Eavning 12 m to 2 o clock.”

Lee Dulin kept a daily RECORD of the weather and that day’s activities on the farm. He was a widower raising six children, his wife having died in childbirth in 1881. Trips into Charlotte for supplies were duly noted, as was his trip by train to the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. A man of few words, though, he merely wrote down the day he left for Atlanta and the day he returned. It was probably the first time he saw electric lights, but we’ll never know. He didn’t write about anything he saw at the event, which was very much like a World’s Fair.

Photo of part of a page of ciphering in one of Lee Dulin’s daybooks.

There was one fact Lee Dulin RECORDED in one of his daybooks that proved to be valuable to my sister and me as we worked on our family’s genealogy. If not for this almost overlooked note on a page of ciphering in one of the daybooks, we would not know the name of his father. In case it’s not legible here, he wrote, “James J. Dulin my Papa name.”

In today’s computerized world in which it is said that young adults have no interest in keeping a photograph or a piece of paper, I’m glad I came along in a time when family RECORDS like great-grandpa’s daybooks were valued and saved.

Incidentally, I blogged about Lee Dulin’s daybooks a year ago tomorrow, May 14, 2016, in case you want to read more about it.

Until my next blog post (which will be posted in about 11 hours)

I hope you have a good book (or an ancestor’s daybook) to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

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A Tribute to Edith Wharton

Today’s post is a tribute to Edith Wharton on the 154th anniversary of her birth. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. She won the award in 1921 for The Age of Innocence.

I believe her 1911 novel, Edith Frome, was the first novel I read. It made quite an impression on me.

Ironically, Ms. Wharton’s mother forbade her to read a novel until she was married!

Ms. Wharton was born into the upper-class in New York City during the American Civil War, and her family moved to Europe to avoid the toll the war was taking on the United States. She was more suited to life in Europe and died in France in 1937.