grateful for the choice

I mailed my Census form yesterday.  I must say that after all the hype, I was totally underwhelmed by the experience.  I checked the two boxes.  I can’t say it brought me any great feelings of validation.  I guess I thought they’d be asking some questions that went beyond race.  I also thought that “Negro” would be the only African American classification term offered since there was so much buzz about the word being used in 2010.  At any rate, I enjoyed this article.

More than black or white

By Annette John-Hall

Inquirer Columnist

SOURCE

For Kathrin P. Ivanovic, racial identity means a whole lot more than just black or white.

Her makeup runs the gamut.

“My mother is German and my birth father is African American with Cuban ancestry,” says Ivanovic, 29, director of development at the Nationalities Service Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that services immigrants and refugees.

“Plus, my adopted dad is white, and I’m queer. Unfortunately, they don’t have a box for that.

“. . . I call myself a mixed chick.”

But when her 2010 U.S. Census form arrives in the mail this week (the 10-question form is being touted as the shortest in census history), Ivanovic will be satisfied to check black and white – which is really how she sees herself anyway.

Since the 2000 census, for millions of Americans like Ivanovic, “check one or more” will apply.

There is plenty to choose from, with the number of racial and ethnic categories at 63. In the 1990 census, there were only five designations offered.

It can be dizzying. If you’re, say, Asian, you can check any combination of Asian American, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Guamanian, or Chamorro, Samoan, as well as write-in categories for Other Asian or Other Pacific Islander.

In addition, you can also note if you’re of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. That’s because since 1970, Hispanic was no longer recognized as an overarching classification.

Still with me? (And here I thought having Negro on the same line as the black or African American box was confusing.)

But I’m all for it, especially if it paints a more genuine picture of who we are – all 300 million of us. Doesn’t matter if only 2 percent of Americans were identified as more than one race in 2000. Nowadays, we’ve got more multiracial and multiethnic couples and children than ever before, which means the percentage is sure to increase this year.

Which in turn enables the government to allocate funds more equitably. Census data are used in everything from determining the number of congressmen your region gets to the assessing the amount of funding for your town’s bridge project to supporting health centers.

Race data also have driven the nation’s civil rights laws (how many people were denied the right to vote, how many were discriminated against in housing, for example) and are still used to monitor inequalities in health and education.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Truth is, the U.S. Census was historically more of an oppressor than an advocate, especially when it came to African Americans.

Racial count

From the time census data were first collected in 1790, when enumerators listed categories of free men and slaves, whites used the census to diminish African Americans.

“You can see why they had a slave category,” says MIT professor Melissa Nobles, author of Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics. “Southern slave owners wanted the least amount of information, thinking it would help abolitionists. And abolitionists wanted the most amount of information [to make their case].”

Throughout the 19th century and until 1930, census counters used categories such as quadroon (one-quarter black), octoroon (one-eighth black), and mulatto (half black) to describe any person who had a discernible amount of African American blood.

Like they could tell just from looking.

Even after 1930, Southern laws imposed the “one-drop rule” to its census enumerating, meaning they were to count as mulattos anyone who even looked remotely black – a mandate loosely applied by census counters nationwide.

“They used it for racial social science,” Nobles says. For example, they used census data to prove skewed theories (arguing, for instance, that biracial people – “the tragic mulatto” – were somehow weaker and suffered from higher death rates), which in turn helped legislators make the case against interracial marriage.

But even as the categories have expanded, some today are pushing for a separate, generic multiracial designation.

Ralina L. Joseph, a professor of communications at the University of Washington, worries that even though the data will show us as more diverse and multihued, they could be misinterpreted once again.

“I don’t want people to read the numbers and think that racism is over, that this is a post-racial moment,” says Joseph, who is biracial. “We should hope that people who are disenfranchised through race, class, and poverty levels should be identified as such.”

Some sociologists even insist that racial designations have no place on a census form, if it is indeed as simple as an objective count.

But in a multiracial, multiethnic society where even the president is a self-described “mutt,” Kathrin Ivanovic is grateful for the choice.

“I am mixed. It’s how I view the world, and in some ways it’s how the world views me,” she says. “To not be able to identify that way is dishonest to me personally.”

“The Census Taker” (1870) Harper’s Weekly

making the best of it

Taking into consideration the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960, I think this is a remarkable story…

Area Woolworth’s first black sales clerk calls hiring proud moment

Jean Fisher Curry was hired in 1961 to work a cosmetics counter in the front of the store.

By Tom Stafford

SPRINGFIELD — There were no lunging police dogs with bared fangs, no fire hoses knocking people to the ground, no instigators putting cigarettes out in the hair of protesters at lunch counter sit-ins.

The first apparent outward sign that Springfield’s F.W. Woolworth store would have its first ‘‘Negro’’ employee — to use the word customary at the time — was a note Jean Fisher, 15, received in class during the fall of 1961, her junior year at South High School.

“I was never in trouble,” said Jean Fisher Curry of Springfield. So when she got the note from the counselor’s office, “I thought, what did I do?”

It wasn’t what she did that was notable but rather what she was about to do.

Like other Distributive Education students, she was told she’d have to meet the standards: keep a B average and take special classes in the department.

“I think (Distributive Education) was the forerunner of the vocational school,” Curry explained.

But if she met the standards, she could work at Woolworth’s — the downtown one at High and Limestone streets.

The importance of that was not lost on Curry: “They didn’t have black people working in the store.”

A happy clerk

“I thought I’d be cleaning,” Curry said.

That might have been OK. Her mother had done that for years in what was called “private family work” — working as a domestic at the Tanglewood Drive home of Seymour and Anne Klein.

Jean Curry hugs her mother, Alberta Fisher, whose encouraging words helped her break new ground as the first black sales clerk at Springfield's Woolworth store. Staff photo by Marshall Gorby

Jean Curry hugs her mother, Alberta Fisher, whose encouraging words helped her break new ground as the first black sales clerk at Springfield’s Woolworth store. Photo by Marshall Gorby.

Being a domestic “never bothered her,” Curry said, “because that was honest work.”

And when the Kleins asked Alberta Fisher to run the lunch counter at Victory Lanes, it showed “they trusted her,” Curry said. “And she was happy with that.”

The job at Woolworth’s wasn’t a cleaning job, however — likely because the Distributive Education program didn’t train people for that task.

“They told me it was a sales clerk,” said Curry,” and I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

As it turned out, her post would be at the cosmetics counter in front of the store, where she’d be seen by all who walked in the main entrance.

The sightings began soon after she turned 16 on Sept. 15, 1961, and got her work permit.

Shades of discrimination

Curry discovered a shade of racial reasoning involved in her placement in the store.

“They hired a black girl from North and me from South,” she explained. “Because I was light (-skinned), I worked at the front of the store. Because she was darker she worked in the back of the store with the pets.”

Asked whether that was the real reason for the assignments, Curry was emphatic: “There’s no doubt. I knew it, she knew it, and she resented it.”

Curry said that colored her attitude toward her own work: “What was I going to be mad about? I didn’t feel discrimination like somebody darker.”

The attitude ran in her family.

When the census came, the light-skinned Curries listed their race as mulatto., and in the militant black pride era, they joked about being “high yellow.”

Still, they had to follow rules of the racial road.

Springfield then was a town in which blacks weren’t allowed in the Liberty Theater and in which blacks were suspicious of drinking out of segregated fountains, wondering what white people put in them.

Blacks also tended to “stay within our culture,” Curry said, taking the elevator in the Arcade to the music store that catered to their tastes and frequenting the Center Street YMCA.

Woolworth’s also had its rules: Blacks could order only carry-out from the food counter.

And when Curry started, “we were told when we gave people change to lay it on the counter,” she said, thus avoiding problems with white customers who were uncomfortable having physical contact with blacks.

“But like I told (the girl from North),” Curry added, “we may get some money.”

At first, the pay was 65 cents an hour. The following year, it would go up to 85 cents — this in an era when $1 an hour was considered decent pay, Curry said.

In her youthful enthusiasm, “I didn’t think it was a job. I thought it was a career.”

In the same spirit, Curry, who knew that the actress Betty Hutton’s sister, Barbara, was part owner of the chain, half expected one or the other Hutton sister to show up some day, coming through the front door right into her area.

When she told people she worked at Woolworth’s “I always said ‘F.W.’ like I knew him.”

“I couldn’t even tell you what F.W. stood for.”

Her mother and God

The non-Hutton whites who came into her area in the front of the store fell into a couple of categories, Curry said.

“The older ones, the little white-haired ladies, they liked me,” she said.

“They were used to black people working in their homes and knowing their place. And I knew my place.”

“The other ones, I had to grow on them,” she said.

And she did, using the enthusiasm and bedrock values her mother taught her.

Part of it was common courtesy. “I was always very friendly. You just do that,” Curry said.

Also, “we were very religious,” she said. “We went to church. I think God had a place in that.

Constantly on her mind at that time was the desire “to make my mom and dad proud of me,” Curry said.

Finally, there was the work ethic her mother sought to instill in her children.

Throughout their childhoods, Mrs. Fisher recited a saying to her children to encourage them to do the best they could in everything they did.

“She said it so much to me that I knew it by heart,” Curry said.

All that you do, do with your might.  Things done by half are never done right.  All that you do, do with a zeal.  Those that reach the top, have to climb the hill.

Touching moments

If some of the white people of the time were uncomfortable touching blacks, the black friends and family who came to the store were the opposite.

They’d reach out, touch her and say “It’s so good to see you” when they came in, Curry recalled.

Her mother was especially proud.

“Out of all the girls, they chose her to be there,” said Mrs. Fisher, now 91, who also lives in Springfield.

“I was excited about it, really I was,” she continued. “All my whole family — my sisters, everyone — I was just telling everybody. And I still tell it now.”

Curry said the Woolworth’s experience helped her to feel a part of the larger community.

Already with a sense that Woolworth’s was a cut above the competitors of Kresge and McCrory’s, Curry soon got to know the downtown merchants as they stopped into Woolworth’s — people like William Greene, owner of an exclusive dress shop.

“I could go into stores and they’d let me lay things away. A lot of time black people couldn’t go into those stores,” she said.

Knowing as a customer, the mistress of one of the downtown businessmen also marked her as an insider.

“I felt like I was part of Springfield because I was doing those things,” Curry said.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to be white. I was being accepted for who I was, making the best of it. And I said some day I’ll tell these stories to my grandchildren, and they’ll love it.”

SOURCE

hundreds of illegitimate mulatto babies

Woweee!!  This article contains two phrases that I totally admire for the vagueness contained there-in: “the social pressure of British provincial respectability” and “if the infant evidence was removed.”

“Is There Anywhere? . . .”

more on the racial ‘integrity’ act

Perhaps even more influential than John Powell was Walter Plecker.  Plecker dedicated his life to making sure that people like me could not exist.  And though the notion predated him, I believe that he further ingrained into the consciousness of the nation the myth of the “tragic mulatto.” But even worse than that, he stripped the Native Americans of Virginia of their rights and identity.  In my opinion Powell, Plecker, and the Eugenics movement in general are major pieces of this race in America puzzle. 

John Powell, the renowned Richmond-born composer and pianist, clutches an American flag in this news service photograph from 1920. Wealthy Virginians and powerful newspaper editors supported the white-supremacist sentiments espoused by Powell. Fear of racial mixing was particularly pronounced among genealogy-obsessed Virginians who wanted to maintain a “pure” bloodline.

Disdaining the Ku Klux Klan’s violent white supremacist policies and tactics, elite white Virginians embraced the scientific racism espoused by the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America. Founded in Richmond in September 1922 by internationally renowned pianist John Powell, self-styled ethnologist Earnest Sevier Cox, and Walter Plecker, the ASCOA committed itself to preserving white “racial purity.” Powell provided the movement’s star power and publicity; Cox’s book White America (1923) provided the pseudoscientific, eugenic justifications; and Plecker backed the other two with the state’s police power. The ASCOA demanded legislation prohibiting interracial marriage and defining anyone with any non-white heritage—even one drop—as black.

Passed at the height of the eugenics movement, the Racial Integrity Act proclaimed the existence of only two racial categories in Virginia—”colored” and white.  The law stripped Native Americans, and members of other groups with dark skin, of their land, voting rights, and legal identity.

Walter Ashby Plecker was the first registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, which records births, marriages and deaths. He accepted the job in 1912.  For the next 34 years, he led the effort to purify the white race in Virginia by forcing Indians and other nonwhites to classify themselves as blacks. It amounted to bureaucratic genocide.

He worked with a vengeance.

Plecker was a white supremacist and a zealous advocate of—a now discredited movement to preserve the integrity of white blood by preventing interracial breeding. Unless this can be done,” he once wrote, “we have little to hope for, but may expect in the future decline or complete destruction of our civilization.”

Plecker would recall his early days in a letter to a magazine editor expressing his abhorrence of interracial breeding. He remembered “being largely under the control” of a “faithful” slave named Delia. When the war ended, she stayed on as a servant. The Pleckers were so fond of her that they let her get married in their house. When Plecker’s mother died in 1915, it was Delia “who closed her eyes,” he wrote.

Then Plecker got to his point. “As much as we held in esteem individual negroes this esteem was not of a character that would tolerate marriage with them, though as we know now to our sorrow much illegitimate mixture has occurred.” Plecker added, “If you desire to do the correct thing for the negro race … inspire (them) with the thought that the birth of mulatto children is a standing disgrace.”

Walter Plecker sits at his desk in 1935 at the Bureau of Vital Statistics

Plecker was a devout Presbyterian. He helped establish churches around the state and supported fundamentalist missionaries. Plecker belonged to a conservative Southern branch of the church that believed the Bible was infallible and condoned segregation. Members of Plecker’s branch maintained that God flooded the earth and destroyed Sodom to express his anger at racial interbreeding.

“Let us turn a deaf ear to those who would interpret Christian brotherhood as racial equality,” Plecker wrote in a 1925 essay.

Plecker saw everything in black and white. There were no other races. There was no such thing as a Virginia Indian. The tribes, he said, had become a “mongrel” mixture of black and American Indian blood.

Their existence greatly disturbed Plecker. He was convinced that mulatto offspring would slowly seep into the white race.  “Like rats when you’re not watching,” they “have been sneaking in their birth certificates through their own midwives, giving either Indian or white racial classification,” Plecker wrote.

Photograph of 1943 letter from Walter Plecker.

Many who came into Plecker’s cross hairs were acting with pure intentions. They registered as white or Indian because that’s how their parents identified themselves. Plecker seemed to delight in informing them they were “colored,” citing genealogical records dating back to the early 1800s that he said his office possessed. His tone was cold and final.

In one letter, Plecker informed a Pennsylvania woman that the Virginia man about to become her son-in-law had black blood. “You have to set the thing straight now and we hope your daughter can see the seriousness of the whole matter and dismiss this young man without any more ado,” he wrote.

In another missive, he rejected a Lynchburg woman’s claim that her newborn was white. The father, he told her in a letter, had traces of “negro” blood.

“This is to inform you that this is a mulatto child and you cannot pass it off as white,” he wrote.

“You will have to do something about this matter and see that this child is not allowed to mix with white children. It cannot go to white schools and can never marry a white person in Virginia.

“It is a horrible thing.”

Plecker demanded the removal of bodies from white cemeteries. He tried to evict a set of twins from a Presbyterian orphanage because they were illegitimate and, therefore, the “chances are 10-1 they are of negro blood.”

Plecker maintained that all of his racial designations were based on impeccable records. There was, however, a secret Plecker revealed to only a few trusted allies: A lot of the time he was just guessing.

He acknowledged the sham when a Richmond attorney questioned his authority to change the birth certificate of a woman classified as an Indian before 1924. Plecker quietly admitted he had no such power and rescinded his designation of the woman as “colored.”

Plecker fretted that he would lose his hold on Indians if word of his retreat got out. “In reality I have been doing a good deal of bluffing, knowing all the while that it could never be legally sustained,” he wrote to his cohort, John Powell. “This is the first time that my hand has been absolutely called.”

The setback was temporary, however. The attorney kept quiet.

Plecker’s racial records were largely ignored after 1959, when his handpicked successor retired. Virginia schools were fully integrated in 1963 and, four years later, the state’s ban on interracial marriage was ruled unconstitutional. In 1975, the General Assembly repealed the rest of the Racial Integrity Act.

Virginia has tried to erase Plecker’s legacy. It has established councils on Indian affairs and has conferred official state recognition on eight tribes, a designation that provides no privileges. But Indian leaders say recognition equals respect.

The approach to healing for mixed-race Indians must be holistic, inclusive of their bi-racial and tri-racial and Indian identity.

SOURCE

yellow rose of texas

I’ve heard of this song (the first published edition of which was copyrighted by Firth, Pond and Company of New York on September 2, 1858.), but never actually heard the song itself.  I don’t get the feeling that this is the proudest moment in “mulatto history”, but if these are indeed the facts, it was a moment so…

Picture

Group will shed light on minorities’ role in the settling of the West

BY MITCH MITCHELL

Our ancestors kept secrets.

The secrets they kept, and the secrets their parents kept from them, left holes in our histories.

Minorities helped create Texas and the nation and helped tame the West, but they barely get a mention in most history books.

On Tuesday, a group of people who can shed light on that era will gather at the Palace Arts Theater in Grapevine. Author Liz Lawless, along with amateur historians and living-history storytellers Wendell Prince and Rosieleetta Lee Reed, will attempt to fill some of those historical gaps while dressed in period costumes.

Reed specializes in stories about frontier women, like stagecoach driver Mary Fields… But if you take Reed aside and ask, she may tell you a story about Emily D. West, perhaps a hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, who was made famous by a song that historians say had nothing to do with her:  The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Historians are almost certain that West was a free woman of mixed race who migrated from Connecticut to Texas. Documents place her in Galveston in the employ of Col. James Morgan in 1835, and later at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Beyond that, little is known for sure. Santa Anna’s account is that he was asleep when the Texian army attacked and could not rouse himself to stem the ensuing chaos and his army’s ultimate defeat, said Jeff Dunn, amateur historian and an expert on West. Some say they believe that Santa Anna was involved in a dalliance with West at the time of the attack and that she detained him long enough to ensure a Texas victory.

“Some argued that she was his concubine, and some argued that she was a white woman,” Reed said. “She was black. She was contraband.”

Mexican troops burned Morgan’s property in Galveston and captured West and several of Morgan’s servants days before the epic battle.

“The only reason we know this story exists is because William Bollaert wrote about it to a friend, and then tried to tell him to keep it quiet,” Dunn said. “Off to the left-hand margin he writes ‘private’ and he underlines it three times.”

Bollaert wrote the following, stating that this came from a letter written by Houston to a friend, Dunn said.

“The battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatto girl [Emily] belonging to Col. Morgan who was closeted in the tent with g’l Santana, at the time the cry was made the Enemy! They come! They come! & detained Santana so long, that order could not be restored readily again.”

It was not until the 1950s, when Henderson Shuffler, another amateur historian and later a publicist for Texas A&M University, linked The Yellow Rose of Texas and West forever, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. However, historians believe that the song was written by an African-American man longing for his light-skinned sweetheart and was linked to West erroneously.

Frontier Texas was a very fluid place racially speaking, said Sam Haynes, University of Texas-Arlington history professor and the director of its Center for Southwestern Studies. Marriages between different racial groups are evident in the state’s early history, Haynes said.

SOURCE

gum springs

Gum Springs: A Slave’s Legacy

By Michael K. Bohn

This is an excerpt from a four-part series on the history and future of Gum Springs, a historically African-American community in the Mount Vernon area.

The founder of Gum Springs, a mixed race man named West Ford, began his life as a slave. His path to freedom started when his owner, George Washington’s younger brother, John Augustine, died in 1787.

West Ford, shown here in an 1858 drawing, founded the African-American community of Gum Springs in 1833. Fairfax County Public Library, Virginia Room.

John’s will left a third of his slaves to his wife Hannah, including a couple named Billy and Jenny, their daughter Venus, and her son West. Upon Hannah’s death in 1801, her will stipulated that young West be freed when he reached the age of 21. She also asked her heirs to inoculate West for small pox and bind him to a “good tradesman.”

Hannah’s son Bushrod assumed ownership of West, then 16 or 17. Also, Bushrod inherited Mount Vernon when Martha Washington died in 1802, and he moved there and took West with him. Following Hannah’s will, Bushrod freed West in about 1805. According to oral family history, West adopted the surname Ford upon gaining his freedom.

Ford remained at Mount Vernon, working as a wheelwright and carpenter. He could read and write, and ultimately became foreman of the house servants and a guardian of Washington’s tomb. In 1812, he married Priscilla Bell, a free black woman from Alexandria. Because of her status, their four children — William, Daniel, Jane and Julia — were also free.
Virginia required freed slaves to register, and the 1831 entry for West Ford described him as “a yellow man about forty-seven years of age, five feet eight and a half inches high, pleasant countenance, a wrinkle resembling a scar on the left cheek ….” Ford was a mulatto, a term of the time that was used to describe a person of one African and one European parent.

Bushrod Washington died in 1829. An associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years, Washington left West Ford 119 acres of land on the south side of Little Hunting Creek.

Ford sold his inherited land and used the proceeds in 1833 to purchase Samuel Collard’s Gum Spring Farm, a 214-acre tract on the north side of Little Hunting Creek. Collard sold the property to Ford for $500 and five annual installments of $84.80.

In 1857, Ford deeded his Gum Springs land to his four children, dividing the tract into equal parts of 52 3⁄4 acres. The property lines of those parcels coincide exactly with many of today’s lot lines, as well as the main north-south roads in Gum Springs — Holland, Andrus, and Fordson.


The present limits of Gum Springs correspond with the 214-acre parcel bought by West Ford in 1833.

By 1860, Ford and his daughter Jane’s husband, Porter Smith, were growing cash crops of corn, oats, and potatoes. The total tract was assessed at $1,800 in 1860, making West Ford the second-most wealthy freedman in Fairfax County.

Ford was near death in the summer of 1863 when staff members at Mount Vernon brought the weakened man back to the estate for his final days. He died on July 30 and The Alexandria Gazette marked his passing: “He was, we hear, in the 79th year of his age. He was well known to most of our older citizens.”

WEST FORD’S FATHER

“George Washington is my fifth great-grandfather,” Linda Allen Bryant declared on the CBS News TV show, “Sunday Morning” in February 2004. Her assertion, which she first made in 1996, created a stir on two fronts — historians regard George as childless, and Ms. Bryant is African-American.

Bryant, a descendent of Gum Springs founder West Ford, maintains that General Washington was Ford’s father. A health writer and pharmaceutical representative in Aurora, Colo., Bryant seemed to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings revelations in 1998 to draw attention to her claim.

The issue of southern plantation masters having their way with female slaves has simmered for years, largely among historians. But the controversy boiled over into the larger public consciousness following disclosures of Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings. Mulatto slaves were a common sight on Virginia’s plantations in the 1700s. They were the product of what some men then considered sport, and the slaves viewed as a loathsome manifestation of their plight.

THE FORD FAMILY ARGUMENT

Linda Bryant has written that John Washington sent Venus to comfort his brother George as a “sleep partner” during a visit by George to his brother’s home. The two surviving portraits of Ford show a resemblance to Washington men, and Ford’s freedom and inheritance reflected special status. Bryant expands her version of the family’s allegations in her novel, “I Cannot Tell a Lie.” She called it a “narrative history,” but the dialogue she injects into the subject is all hers.

Knowing that DNA testing resolved the Hemings’s family claims, the Ford descendents have pressed Mount Vernon for hair samples from the General. The Ladies Association has refused the request.

THE LADIES ASSOCIATION’S POSITION

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has adamantly denied that General Washington fathered West Ford. “The Ford family contention is based on a family tradition,” said Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon’s associate director of preservation in 2000. “We respect that, but if this is true, there should be other evidence to support it.” Pogue’s polite approach took a sharper edge in 2004, when he said, “there’s not a shred of evidence” to support the Ford family allegation. In late 2009, Pogue again reiterated Mount Vernon’s position.

Linda Allen Bryant continues to press her case in the court of public opinion, but her views are creating less and less interest.

SOURCE

segregated orphans

A discarded term!?  I guess Bill Kemp has never visited this blog.  I’m grateful for this little piece of our history.

Booker T. Washington Home offered safe haven for black children

By Bill Kemp Archivist/librarian McLean County Museum of History | Posted: Saturday, December 12, 2009

For much of the 20th century, Bloomington-Normal residents thought it necessary to maintain segregated group homes for underprivileged children. One would be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of the embarrassing state of race relations over the decades than the fact that impoverished, neglected and unwanted children were separated by race until the 1960s.

From World War I until JFK and Camelot, African-American children lived at the McLean County Home for Colored Children, later renamed for Booker T. Washington, on Bloomington’s far west side.

This institution dates to 1918 when Alexander Barker and his wife Cedonia, with assistance from Margaret Wyche, took it upon themselves to care for six orphaned black children. Not long after, the Missionary Union, a group of four local churches stepped in to lend much-needed assistance. Though chartered by the state of Illinois in December 1920, the home was a rather primitive operation, with 25 children and 2 adults living in a six-room house with no plumbing or running water.

Improvements in the home, both in its physical plant and operation, soon followed. Located on the 1200 block of West Moulton Street, now MacArthur Avenue, the home’s mission was to “foster self respect, independence and good character.”

Overseen by a 15-member board of progressive-minded women, the home expanded to an adjacent residence. Also acquired in the early years were five nearby lots that were converted to truck gardens so the home could grow much of its own food. The boys generally worked the garden plots and the girls handled the laundry and canning, along with other duties.

The 1920 U.S. Census identified 15 of the 18 children at the home as mulatto, a since-discarded term for someone of mixed-race heritage. Back then, children with one black parent and one white were often outcasts, and into the 1940s, if not later, the home served as a safe haven for mixed-race children abandoned by their parents and local communities.

Money was always tight and the needs of the new arrivals great. “A special effort has been made to give each child his full quota of milk and butter fat, as many of the children were underweight,” read one report from 1921.

“There is absolutely no place of good repute open to such children in Illinois, except this one,” noted The Pantagraph two years later. “The question arises, shall a child be permitted to subsist on the contents of garbage cans … simply because of their race? Paraphrasing the Biblical interrogatory, ‘Who is thy brother’s keeper?’”

sometimes the apple does fall far from the tree

Thank God!  This is such an amazing story.  I’m so fascinated.  Not only by the bravery of a little white girl who crossed KKK, but also the shades of “mulatto” history sprinkled throughout.  Coon-hunting based on the supposed threat that black males posed to white women.  The “black” member of the Klan.  Passing.  Male chauvinism.  Homophobia. This is our sordid past.  And it is still haunting us.

Taking on the Klan

One summer night in 1965, 12-year-old Carolyn Wagner watched as Klansmen bound a young black man to a tree in her father’s field, accused him of violating the “sundown” rules in nearby Booneville, Ark., that forbade blacks from staying in town after dark, and lashed him a few times with a bullwhip as he cried out in pain and fear.

It was no different from beatings at other Klan gatherings her father had attended, but what happened next remains vivid in her memory: the Klansmen decided to tie the man to the railroad tracks below the pasture. When they were done, they ambled back to the field to discuss crops and politics. Wagner, a reluctant witness to her father’s Klan meetings, couldn’t stand it anymore. She stole down to the tracks, used a knife she kept in her boot to slash the rope that bound the man, and told him he could follow the tracks to Fort Smith, the nearest large town.

“That was a turning point,” recalled Wagner, now 56 and living in Tulsa, Okla. “I felt like I had made a difference when I was able to cut that man free. I realized I can make a choice to be a passive observer or I can become involved to diminish the harm that they’re doing. And that’s what I did from that night on, and that’s what I’m still doing.”

After years working for civil rights and children’s organizations, Wagner co-founded Families United Against Hate, a nonprofit group that helps people affected by bias incidents. Her experience growing up with a father in the Klan made her determined and fearless in her fight against hate. “That image of my dad and those men, and even the smells, are still with me, and they’ll always be with me. And it was very important that my children never know the world I knew when I was growing up.”

It was a world where Wagner’s father, Edward Greenwood, and his acquaintances gathered at least once a month at each other’s farms for Klan meetings, often bringing their children and grandkids. Because her father, then in his late 50s, couldn’t see well enough to drive at night, Wagner ferried him to meetings in a 1951 Chevy pickup. (Back then in rural Arkansas, it wasn’t unusual for children as young as 12 to drive on country roads.) The men — including lawyers, judges, cops and pastors — would begin their gatherings with a prayer and eschew alcohol. “They felt like they were doing God’s work,” Wagner said.

Sometimes, the gatherings would feature a beating like the one Wagner witnessed at her family’s farm. The victims were usually young men who’d been picked up on a pretext, such as paying too much attention to a white woman. “We would hear terms like ‘coon’ hunting,” she said. “My father would say, ‘I’m going ‘coon’ hunting.'”

But more often, the men would talk big, complaining about Presidents John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson or even threatening to blow up the Supreme Court building. They’d eat bologna sandwiches that Wagner had prepared. Campfire smoke would mingle with the sweet-sour odor of Brylcreem, sweat and Old Spice. It was the one place where her father seemed happy. “I don’t remember seeing him smile or laugh unless he was with those goons,” she said.

…But her father probably would not have found a home in the Klan if his comrades had known about his heritage. “We knew there was this dirty secret in the family,” Wagner said.

In fact, her father’s great-great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Greenwood, was part Cherokee and part black, a former slave who’d settled in Arkansas when it was still part of France’s Louisiana Territory, according to family lore. Her father had cousins who identified as black, though he would have nothing to do with them. Wagner believes part of his racism stemmed from shame about his origins.

Wagner’s mother didn’t share her husband’s views about race, but she felt powerless to oppose him. Divorce was taboo in her family; resources for victims of domestic abuse were nearly nonexistent. “Mother never asked what he did [at Klan meetings],” Wagner said. “It was like she couldn’t bear to know.”

Wagner did receive support from her maternal grandparents, who passionately disliked her father. After Wagner secretly untied the black man from the railroad tracks, her maternal grandfather taught her how to use a 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun. She cut away the springs in the seat of the pickup to create a compartment where she hid the weapon, loaded and wrapped in a blanket. Though she never used it, she says she would have done so to defend herself or to help a potential Klan victim.

It wasn’t the last time she would defy all that her father represented. In April 1968, Wagner drove him to Memphis to take part in a Klan protest during the sanitation workers strike made famous by the appearance of Martin Luther King Jr. She was there when the civil rights leader was assassinated. In a Memphis newspaper, she read that the Department of Justice was planning a crackdown on the perpetrators of civil-rights era violence. After the assassination of Robert Kennedy two months later, Wagner, then 15, wrote a letter to the FBI accompanied by a list of names and addresses she’d copied from her father’s Klan directory. She wanted to get them all arrested. “I included my dad on that list,” she said.

Wagner, who used her maternal grandparents’ home as the return address, never heard back from the FBI.

She left home the day she finished high school and at 19 eloped with Bill Wagner, now her husband of 37 years. Her father died in 1980 when she was pregnant with her younger child, William. “I am so grateful that my children will have no memory of him or his politics,” she said.

But her own memories of her father came back strongly on William’s 14th birthday, the day he told his parents that he was gay. That day she and her husband’s biggest concern was for their son’s safety. “I had a very clear understanding of who the hatemongers were,” she said. They decided to move from their farm in tiny Booneville, a conservative town where homosexuality was widely condemned, to the more liberal university town of Fayetteville, some 120 miles away.

Still, they couldn’t protect their son from hate. Harassment at school culminated in a brutal assault in 1996. William, then 16, left school with friends to get lunch at a nearby convenience store when six teenagers shouted anti-gay slurs. They knocked him off his feet, then kicked him as he lay bleeding on the ground. “I thought about how easily that could have been my father’s group,” Wagner recalled. “And I wasn’t there.”

Two of the attackers were convicted of assault. After the Wagners filed a complaint on behalf of their son under Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law, Fayetteville became the first public school district in the nation to enter into an agreement with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that required it to protect all students, including gays and lesbians, from harassment. The Wagners continue to advocate for young people who are targeted because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Looking back on her childhood, Wagner remembers reading novels by Pearl S. Buck and biographies about women such as Harriet Tubman and Florence Nightingale. She wanted to learn about people who had survived difficult circumstances to help others, because she was determined to do the same.

“I found ways to survive,” she said. “I found ways to more than survive — to endure, to become stronger and to make our little corner of the world in the South a little better.”

abilene

I came across this article on the birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower, Abilene, KS.  This isn’t much of a news story, but it’s proof that we existed and were acknowledged once.  The Hispanic=White is interesting to me too.

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via The Abilene Reflector-Chronicle

Dave Bergmeier
Editor and Publisher
Tuesday, Jun 30, 2009

Cindy Harris, who has done extensive research on 19th and early 20th century Abilene gave an overview of civic, business, social and cultural life at the turn of the 20th century. She was among the speakers for the latest installment of Ike’s Abilene Saturday at the Eisenhower Visitors Center. Saturday’s edition was entitled “Life in the City, 1900: Political, Business and Social History.” The focus on the series is about Abilene during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s youth and when he grew to a young man who would later become the nation’s 34th president.

…Her studies indicated that Abilene had a diversified community. Census forms indicated only three races were available to check — white, black and mulatto (someone with a black parent and white parent). As a result, Hispanics, who worked in the railroad industry were listed as white.

David and Ida Eisenhower lived in the south part of Abilene, considered south of the tracks, where people of mixed races also lived, Harris said. However, there were other mixed race neighborhoods in other parts of Abilene.

Harris said Dwight Eisenhower was proud of his Abilene roots and what the people and community meant to him.