|Roots and Branches by Ken Sullivan||The Many Faces of Slavery|
War that Never Goes Away
by James M. McPherson
|Your Letters||" . . . such a glory over everything"|
|What's New in the Humanities||Crossing the Ohio to Freedom|
|West Virginia Encyclopedia||Slaves in the Family, a review by Jesse Bannister|
|Choices for the 21st Century||Storer
an excerpt from the WV Encyclopedia
Click here to go back to the front page
Roots and Branches
up in the mountains just after mid-
century, I don’t suppose I saw a black face before I was ten years
old. Jews and Catholics were equally scarce, which is to say
non-existent in our area. And I met my first classmate with an Italian
surname in fourth grade, after leaving the country school where I had
begun my education in one big room filled mostly with cousins.
Before that it was strictly people like us — Caucasian; western European in ancestry, mainly British Isles; and largely fundamentalist. We were about as white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant as anyone ever was — though a long, long way from being WASP’s in the sense that that acronym usually signifies position and privilege. We didn’t have those, and didn’t know we needed them.
The novelist L. P. Hartley said the past is another country, or words to that effect. Maybe that’s so. But as odd as it seems looking back, I don’t think my childhood was all that uncommon for our mountain region. There were pockets of homogeneity throughout West Virginia and central Appalachia a generation ago. There still are, in rural areas outside the coalfields.
Nor do I think it was a bad way to grow up, if you believe that a thorough grounding in one’s own heritage is the best foundation for the appreciation of other cultures. As much as my roots mean to me, I have no trouble understanding the deep value other people place in theirs.
But there is no doubt that those of us who grew up in the isolation of the hills were denied the benefits of multiculturalism. The world opened up like a smorgasbord when I went away to college, and I use the term advisedly: Surely one of the best ways to get to know other people is through the food they eat, and I don’t suppose I’m the first country boy to plunder ethnic restaurants with wholehearted delight. My theory is that the taste buds are ready for a tingle after generations of country cooking.
All of which is to say that I take a lot of satisfaction in the diversity reflected in Humanities Council activities. This People & Mountains, devoted largely to African-American history, slavery and the Civil War, is a good example. And we recently sponsored fellowships on Chinese social reforms and the fiction of India; grants on Anne Frank and American Indian storytelling; and a successful teacher institute on the Holocaust. The issues are sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant. But they are always important, vital to Americans of every background, and at the heart of the humanities experience.
That makes it our business here at the Council. We work at our business every day, and I’m proud to say that our program staff have outdone themselves for fall. The offerings include lectures by Edward Ball, best-selling author of Slaves in the Family, and James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian. Mark those dates — September 14 and October 19, respectively — and look for details elsewhere in this magazine.
And do come see us, at any of our programs and projects statewide. We will try to have something for you, no matter what roots you have branched off from.
Council board member and writer Marc Harshman of Moundsville says that
for his Lenten reading this year he read To Everything A Season: A
Spirituality of Time by Bonnie Thurston, Professor of New Testament at
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He tells us the book provides an
accessible and thoughtful look at the insanity of our scheduled
lives. And despite the distress he felt when made to look at his own
overly busy life, he found that it was, in the end, a very practical and
hopeful volume and much recommends it.
He also notes for those keeping a list of West Virginia authors that Bonnie is one not to be overlooked. The author of several scholarly books of theological study, as well as a poet, Bonnie is a native originally from Beckley, who graduated from Bethany College, and maintains a home in Ohio County.
West Virginia Encyclopedia researcher Paul Rakes has just completed An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression by Jerry Thomas. The book gives an intricate look into the political wranglings of West Virginia leaders trying to make use of Federal New Deal programs. Well-researched and well- written, Thomas’s effort is the first solid telling of West Virginia in the Great Depression and will no doubt be the standard for many years to come, says Paul.
Ken Sullivan finished Ed Abbey’s autobiographical novel, The Fool’s Progress, over the summer. Abbey, whose writing inspired Earth First and other radical environmental groups, lived most of his life in the desert West but clung stubbornly to his Appalachian origins. Though himself from neighboring southwestern Pennsylvania, Abbey makes the protagonist of Fool’s Progress a West Virginian, heading home to the hills one last time. Ken remembers discovering a paperback copy of Abbey’s better-known Monkey Wrench Gang at the Monterey Aquarium twenty years ago. "There wasn’t much left of John Steinbeck’s spirit in Cannery Row or his other old Monterey haunts, all thoroughly yuppified by the time I got there, but I was tickled to find another American original in Ed Abbey," Ken says. "He and Steinbeck would have gotten along just fine."
More recently, Ken has been reading Cynthia Rylant’s Newberry Award novel, Missing May. Rylant, a Raleigh County native now exiled to the West Coast, sets her children’s book in Fayette County. She is best known for When I Was Young in the Mountains, but Ken thinks she has another winner in Missing May. "She will make you proud to be a mountaineer without prettying up a thing," he says.
This is a quick note of congratulations to you and your fine staff on the stunning renovation of the Hubbard House. I want you to know how proud I am of this exciting new chapter for the West Virginia Humanities Council. I am equally grateful for the impressive work you are doing with your West Virginia Encyclopedia. Both of these projects are important building blocks for the humanities projects you will bring to West Virginia in the future. All of us here at the Endowment wish you well, and I want to again congratulate you for the hard work and vision you and your colleagues bring to the humanities.
National Endowment for the Humanities
Dear Humanities Council:
The exciting "Appalachia Goes to the Movies" seminar is history. But what an experience. It was exactly the kind of quality seminar the West Virginia Humanities Council is known for supporting, and I feel sure it will clone itself!
I hope even more teachers and the public can benefit from such seminars. The content is suitable for students, Elderhostels, community presentations, and websites. In the near future I hope the Bridgeport library’s site www.mountainlit.com will post references to the seminar’s content.
Thanks for working to promote such offerings.
Dear Humanities Council:
The institute ["The Holocaust and Holocaust Education"] is over, and what a resounding success it was!
They were a fantastic group. So varied in their backgrounds and knowledge, yet so willing to acquire more knowledge. I am still floating on air. They decided to form a group, stay in touch, and exchange classroom practices and information. In other words, help each other reach the goal of "accurate and meaningful" Holocaust education in their classes.
This is more than even I expected.
Dr. Edith Levy
Dear Humanities Council:
I am writing to you after participating in the 2000 folklore seminar at Fairmont State College. West Virginia folklore is material I felt I needed to add to my mythology class, which has a world scope and covers legends and folklore as well as myths. I have long wanted to add Appalachian material, but I never had the time to research and gather curriculum.
The curriculum is exactly what I needed. The material is set up in a very usable and teacher-friendly manner. In addition to providing information, this curriculum provides models for having students gather lore. Students need reminded that their family members are excellent sources of information.
I wanted you to know I appreciate the Humanities Council assisting with this project. Hopefully the curriculum will be reprinted often so it will be available for as long as possible to all West Virginia teachers.
Dear Humanities Council:
Thelma and I enjoyed the latest edition of People & Mountains. We notice that it gets bigger and better.
Keep up the good work.
Dear Humanities Council:
I am so pleased that Ken Sullivan refers to the historic MacFarland-Hubbard House in the article, "Building for the Centuries" [Summer 2000, P&M]. I have read the latest issue with great interest and must admit calling the house just Hubbard House seems to slight all its previous history. My best wishes to you in your work.
Frances Alderson Swope
New in the Humanities
votes are in!
The Humanities Council’s program committee welcomes
three new members. They will join other members of the program committee
in making decisions on grants and direct programs.
Newly elected members are —
Roy E. Givens, a Brooke County representative in the West Virginia House of Delegates. He currently serves on the Rules, Judiciary, Constitutional Revision, and Political Subdivisions committees and chairs the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. A graduate of West Liberty State College, Roy is past president of the Brooke County Board of Education and a member of the Korean War Veterans Association.
Charlotte Hutchens, assistant superintendent of elementary education for Raleigh County schools. She is also in charge of arranging continuing education for all county employees and works closely with the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, Tamarack, and RESA I. Charlotte serves on the Appalachian Visions Committee for the College of West Virginia.
Warren Snyder, chief of visitor services and cultural resource management at the New River Gorge National River, where he manages environmental education, visitor service, and resource preservation programs. Warren is a 26-year veteran of the National Park Service. When stationed at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, he chaired the Indiana Arts Commission’s folk arts committee and awarded grants for folk life projects and events.
The West Virginia Humanities Council offers a unique opportunity every year to West Virginia teachers, college faculty, and independent scholars who need monetary support for research and writing projects within a humanities discipline. The Council invites proposals for its 2001 fellowship awards of $2,500.
To be eligible, the applicant must —
1. Demonstrate evidence of interest and accomplishment in a field of the humanities;
2. Reside or be employed in West Virginia;
3. Not have received a Humanities Council fellowship within the preceding two years;
4. Not be seeking support for work leading toward a degree or to fund routine preparations for teaching.
Contact Pam LeRose at (304) 346-8500 or email@example.com for applications or answers to questions concerning fellowships and the application process.
Virginia Encyclopedia UPDATE
on the West Virginia Encyclopedia continued over the
summer months with Encyclopedia staff contacting new writers and
writers already at work to complete many of the remaining topics for the
book. Editorial work also continued at a steady pace. That part of the
project alone is a massive undertaking. Much importance is placed on
questions and clarifications for individual entries in the Encyclopedia.
In many cases the original writers do fact checking, revision, and
rewrites, but much of the work ultimately falls back to the staff. Paul
Rakes, a West Virginia University Ph.D. candidate in Appalachian history
and adjunct professor at WVU Institute of Technology in Montgomery, has
worked through the summer as staff researcher, answering questions and
editorial concerns and revising entries.
The Encyclopedia project also gained a new major sponsor in July. West Virginia Celebration 2000 pledged $25,000 to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, bringing the total raised to almost $270,000. Additional funds are being sought for the big book. "We’ve still got a chunk of money we need to raise," said Ken Sullivan, executive director for the council and Encyclopedia editor.
The new West Virginia Encyclopedia is expected to go into production the first of the new year. The 1,000-page one-volume reference is to be published by the West Virginia Humanities Council, in 2001.
College, a product of the Reconstruction era, was established in 1867
in Harpers Ferry by the Freewill Baptist Church to educate freed slaves in
the Shenandoah Valley. The school was supported by the U.S. Bureau of
Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands and endowed by John Storer of
Integrated and coeducational, Storer College encountered early ridicule and resistance from the white community and the state legislature. Frederick Douglass served on the board of trustees and spoke on campus in 1891. Until that year, Storer was the only college open to blacks in West Virginia.
In all, more than 7,000 students from many states and countries attended the private school over the course of its history. Storer’s curriculum advanced with its students. At first, students of all ages learned the rudiments of religion, reading and ciphering. Students later studied industrial training, domestic arts, religion and education. Storer maintained rigorous academic standards. Many graduates were instrumental in expanding educational opportunities for black children in West Virginia. Others went on to higher education in medicine, law, the ministry and pharmacy. Storer was accredited as a baccalaureate institution in 1946.
The Reverend Nathan Brackett served as president of the school until 1899, when he retired to become its treasurer. After a brief period, Henry T. McDonald succeeded Brackett, who died in 1910. Early civil rights activities took place on campus, including the 1906 meeting of the Niagara Movement, which brought W.E.BDuBois to campus. In 1911, the Freewill Baptists folded into the American Baptist Convention. The governance of Storer gravitated to a private board of directors nominally affiliated with the Baptist Church. DuBois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People objected to Confederate veterans’ pressure for the school to cooperate with memorializing free black Heyward Shepherd, a bystander who died in John Brown’s raid, and faithful slaves who did not rebel during the Civil War. McDonald similarly would not allow the NAACP to commemorate John Brown. Under white leadership, Storer did not hold a lasting place in the civil rights struggles of the 20th century. Increasing pressure to install a black administration led to the forced retirement of McDonald in 1944. The African Americans Richard I. McKinney and L.E. Terrell succeeded McDonald.
Storer College survived until 1955, when declining enrollment, financial stress, court ordered desegregation and racial anxieties combined to close the school. Several attempts to reopen Storer failed. Alderson Broaddus College in Philippi acquired the endowment. Storer’s library and records were shared between Shepherd College and Virginia Union University in Richmond. The school’s archives are housed at West Virginia University and with the National Park Service in Harpers Ferry, which owns the buildings.
for the 21st Century
the coming year the West Virginia Humanities
Council will join with libraries in the state in
presenting Choices for the 21st Century: Defining Our Role in a Changing World. Developed by Brown University and funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities, Choices is a reading and discussion program designed to engage general audiences in deliberation on the United States’ changing international role and the implications for domestic policy, and to increase public participation in the democratic process.
The program does not advocate any particular point of view. Rather, it seeks to bring citizens together in a nonpartisan public space to deliberate about the direction in which the nation should head in the next century. By learning together, listening respectfully to one another, weighing alternatives, and making difficult choices about competing values, it is hoped that Americans can work together toward a public voice on this important public issue.
To ensure accurate and balanced material, the Choices program takes care to incorporate the input of a broad group of academics and policymakers with an inclusive range of political and academic perspectives.
The Choices library program is a partnership among the Choices national office, state libarary systems, state humanities councils, and local public libraries. The national office provides a reader for use in discussions, promotional materials for use by state and local coordinators, and training to organize and lead the discussions in local libraries. The statewide partners provide organization, promotion, and local training on a statewide basis and work with the individual libraries that host the discussion series at the local level.
Discussion topics include —
Conflict, The Global Environment, International Trade, China, The Middle East, and Immigration.
The Choices format asks participants to consider these topics in the context of four possible "futures" for our nation in a post-Cold War era. These futures illustrate some fundamentally different paths, each with distinctive pros and cons, risks and trade-offs. There are no easy answers:
Standing Up for Democracy and Human Rights
Charting a Stable Course
Building a More Cooperative World, and
Last year, the program ran in more than 90 libraries in eight states. With continuing NEH support in 2000, Choices will run in 150 libraries in 13 states. In West Virginia, Choices programs will run in libraries across the state.
To learn more about the Choices program go to—
For more information about Choices in West Virginia,
WV Humanities Council
or via e-mail at
The Many Faces of Slavery
scholars of the period know the reasons were more complex than simple
cause and effect, the average American, if asked what precipitated the
Civil War, will likely answer, "Slavery." Likewise he or she
will identify Abraham Lincoln as the president who "freed the
slaves" and West Virginia as a state founded on abolitionist
principles. Historians know that the motivations for America’s "War
Between the States" included reasons less noble and far more
expedient. Yet it is the idea of slavery — the horror of the forced
captivity of an entire people — around which much of our understanding
of the conflict revolves.
Humanities Council programming in 2000 is offering West Virginians a chance to further explore the Civil War in general and the institution of slavery in particular through a number of lectures and events.
Council funds helped to present John Brown 2000, a series of speakers, events, and exhibits in Harpers Ferry in May, commemorating the bicentennial of fiery abolitionist John Brown’s birth.
Financial assistance from the Council also helped bring The Slave Ship Henrietta Marie to the Cultural Center in Charleston from March through July 2000. This nationally recognized exhibit places slavery in historical and human context through display of actual artifacts from the 1699 slave ship, multi-media presentations, and re-creation of the ship’s exterior and certain interior areas, such as the captain’s cabin and below-deck slave hold. The Slave Ship Henrietta Marie exhibit provided more than 10,000 students a close-up view of the slave trade.
Council-sponsored events around slavery and the Civil War continue this fall. On September 14 journalist Edward Ball will kick off a series of programs on slavery and the undergound railroad presented jointly by the Council and the Marshall University Graduate College. Ball will speak about his National Book Award-winning volume, Slaves in the Family. The best-selling book deals with how Ball came to terms with the slave-holding history of his South Carolina family by coming to terms with descendants of Ball family slaves. (See review page 18.) He will address these issues in person at the Cultural Center on September 14.
From September 21 through November 4 the remainder of the series, entitled Moving Toward Freedom: Slavery and Resistance, will be held at Grace Bible Church, 600 Kanawha Boulevard, Charleston unless otherwise indicated. (See schedule right.)
In October, noted Civil War historian James M. McPherson will present the Council’s Betsy K. McCreight Lecture in the Humanities. McPherson, one of the nation’s foremost scholars, is best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning history, Battle Cry of Freedom. He is interviewed by National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Bill Ferris in this issue.
War that Never Goes Away
by James M. McPherson
year the National Endowment for the
Humanities Jefferson Lecture recognizes an
individual who has made significant scholarly contribution to the humanities and who has the ability to communicate the knowledge and wisdom of the humanities in a broadly appealing way. Established in 1972, the Jefferson Lecture is the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual and public achievement in the humanities.
This year’s Jefferson Lecturer, historian James M. McPherson, talked about the historical figures and foot soldiers of the Civil War in a recent conversation with NEH Chairman William R. Ferris. McPherson is the George Henry Davis ‘86 Professor of American History at Princeton University and the author of a number of books, among them the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom. Dr. McPherson will present the Humanities Council’s Betsy K. McCreight Lecture in the Humanities in the auditorium of the University of Charleston at 7:30 p.m. on October 19th.
Ferris: Your best-known book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is Battle Cry of Freedom, a study of the origins of the Civil War and its aftermath. Can you talk about how you came to write that book?
McPherson: Back in the 1950s, Van Woodward and Richard Hofstadter conceived of the Oxford History of the United States, which was to be modeled on the Oxford History of England, a series of volumes each written by a different historian.
In the mid-1970s, Woodward asked me if I would do the post-Civil War volume covering 1865 to 1900. Then the person who was to write the Civil War and antebellum volume fell ill, and I asked to change assignments to the 1848 to 1865 period. I started working on it in the 1980s, and it came out in 1988.
Ferris: To say the origins of the Civil War have been hotly debated would probably be an understatement. How do you explain the origins?
McPherson: I see a three-stage process in the origins of the Civil War. The first stage is a growing diversity between the economic and social systems of the North and the South. When the country was founded, all states had the institution of slavery and all were overwhelmingly rural and agricultural in character. But slavery was relatively marginal in the Northern states, and during and after the Revolution, they abolished it. Their economy began to develop in the direction of a more diversified, free-labor, commercial and industrial as well as agricultural economy, while the cotton boom in the South fastened slavery more firmly than ever on the section and kept the South overwhelmingly rural, overwhelmingly agricultureal, and primarily dependent in its economy on slave-grown agricultural crops. The paths of development increasingly diverged over the first half of the nineteenth century and, in the process, generated increasingly polarized ideologies about what kind of society and what kind of nation the United States ought to be. And that focused on the institution of slavery, which by the 1830s was being increasingly attacked by the Northern abolitionists as contrary to the ideals of liberty that the country had been founded on, and as contrary to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence; while the South grew increasingly defensive and turned aggressive in its defensiveness, defending slavery as a positive good and as the basis for a far superior society to what they increasingly portrayed as a chaotic, disorganized, unjust, exploitative, free-labor society in the North. . . .
When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860 . . . without the vote of a single slave state, Southern leaders saw the handwriting on the wall. They saw that they had lost control of the national government — which they had enjoyed most of the time before the 1860s owing to their leverage in the Democratic Party — and probably would never be able to regain it. And they decided that fate of their society, their institution, their economy, their way of life, to use the phrase that was often used at the time, was in jeopardy under a United States government completely in the hands of people who opposed the expansion of slavery and whose leaders branded slavery a moral wrong that must eventually disappear from American society. So they seceded. These are the first two stages: the increasingly divergent Northern and Southern societies, and the institution of slavery as the focal point of the divergence.
The third and final stage is the nationalism of the Northern people, or a majority of them. They held the conviction that if any one of any group of states could secede from the United States in response to the election of somebody they didn’t like as President of the United States, the United States would in fact cease to exist, that a constitutional republic based on majority rule and on free elections could not survive under a system where a state could secede when it didn’t like the outcome of that constitutional process. Lincoln expressed his determination and was supported by the majority of the Northern people not to recognize the legitimacy of secession.
The trigger point was Fort Sumter, where Confederate leaders claimed they could not tolerate a foreign fort in the harbor of one of their principal ports, Charleston, South Carolina. The Lincoln administration was determined to hang on to Fort Sumter as a symbol of what it considered to be federal sovereignty. When the Confederates decided to attack the fort and seize it before the ships sent to resupply the garrison could get there, that was the spark that set off the war.
Ferris: The title, Battle Cry of Freedom, refers to the fact that both the North and the South believed that they were fighting for freedom. How did their definitions of freedom differ?
McPherson: The South professed to be fighting for self-government. The thirteen colonies had seceded from the British Empire based on a philosophy of the freedom of people to choose their own form of government. The Southern leaders in 1851 said they were fighting for the same rights. That was their definition of liberty.
There was corollary to the definition. An essential component of liberty is the protection of private property. Slaves, of course, were property. To deny Southerners the right to take their slaves into new territories acquired by the United States would be a violation of their rights of property, therefore of their liberty. So they could, with perfect sincerity, claim that they were fighting for liberty even though part of that liberty was their right to hold slaves and to take them into any part of the territories acquired by the United States in the same way they could take personal property or livestock or anything else.
The Northern definition of liberty was the preservation of the Union, the nation, based on that revolution of 1776. They feared that recognizing the right of secession would undermine the whole concept of a government based on majority rule, constitutional procedures, and democratic elections. So they were fighting for their concept of liberty.
A great tragedy, in many ways, is that both sides look back to the same revolution of 1776 as the inspiration for the liberty that they were fighting for from 1861 to 1865. An irony is that both sides, at the beginning of the Civil War, did not include freedom for the slaves. Halfway through the war that became a Northern war aim as well, not only for an ideological reason, but probably even more for the practical reason that slavery was one of the most important insititutions supporting the South and the Confederate war effort. A strike against slavery was a way of undermining the economic strength of the Confederacy and winning the war. . . .
Ferris: Why did the Union ultimately win?
McPherson: I have argued that the North’s overwhelming superiority in industrial resources and manpower and logistical capacity was a necessary condition for Northern victory, but that is not a sufficient explanation. Victory doesn’t always go to the side that is stronger in numbers and resources, as we well know from the Vietnam War, and, indeed, as Americans knew in 1861 when they looked at the history of their conflict with Britain.
While the North could not have won the war without that kind of superiority, I think in the end that was not the total explanation. I think that it had more to do with the gradual development in the North of a coherent strategy for victory and the gradual rise of military commanders under Lincoln’s leadership — leaders like Grant and Sherman and Sheridan and George Thomas, who were willing to put in place the kind of hard-war strategy, a strategy of all-out military conflict to destroy Confederate armies, but also an all-out effort to destroy the economic and social infrastructure that supported the Confederate war effort, to destroy the railroads, the factories, the farms, the economic infrastructure of the Confederacy, including the institution of slavery. It wasn’t until the Northern leadership was willing to grasp the necessity of fighting this kind of a war against a determined and skillful foe that they were able to achieve ultimate victory. . . .
Ferris: How would you describe the Civil War’s legacy?
McPherson: The Civil War resolved two big issues left over from the Revolution and the Constitution. The first issue was whether a republic like the United States could survive in a world where most republics had eventually collapsed from within or had been overthrown from without. Americans were acutely aware of the uncertain fate of republics in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In fact, Americans alive in the 1850s had seen two French republics rise and fall and be replaced by empires or kings. They had seen republican governments in Latin America come and go. The United States was the one outstanding example, but it was vulnerable to the same kind of fate that had overtaken other republics through history, going all the way back to Rome. Americans lived with the uncertainty of whether their nation, as one nation indivisible, based on a constitution and a republican form of government, would survive. The Civil War ensured that it would, and, indeed, since 1865, no state, no region, has seriously threatened to secede from the United States.
The other festering unresolved issue left from the Revolution was the institution of slavery. This was government based on a charter that said that all men are created equal, with an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but a society which by the ninteenth century was the largest slave-holding country in the world. Was that inconsistency, that mockery of the ideals of liberty on which the country had been founded, was that going to endure? Lincoln said the country couldn’t endure permanently half slave and half free in his famous "House Divided" address of 1858.
In some ways, that was the fundamental underlying issue of the Civil War, and the outcome of the Civil War resolved that issue, too. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.
I think there was a third legacy of the war. It is a little bit less obvious, but up until 1860 there had been two competing visions of the "good" society or of the future form of American society: the Southern vision of an agricultureal society based on rural insititutions, rural values, values of noblesse oblige, a caste system ruled by an elite on the one hand, and the Northern vision of a more messy democratic, urbanizing and industrializing society. When we look back, it seems inevitable that the Northern model of a free-labor democratic, competitive, capitalist society would prevail, but up until 1861, it was not clear to Americans which of these two visions of the good society would prevail. Northern victory in the Civil War assured that it would be the Northern vision, the Northern model.
Reprinted with permission from HUMANITIES, March 2000.
" . . . such a glory over everything"
her passage over the state line to freedom Harriet Tubman recounted to
her biographer that, "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked
at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over
everything." That "glory" shines from the eyes of Ilene
Evans as she portrays "General Moses" in her History Alive! performance,
General Moses: Stories from the Life of Harriet Tubman.
Evans begins her performance as if rousing from a deep sleep. What is an effective dramatic device is also based in fact. Tubman spoke of her sudden "sleeping spells," blackouts that plagued her as a result of a head injury sustained as an adolescent while helping another slave escape. Tubman’s fight for freedom for herself and others began early in her life.
Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 to slaves on the Brodas plantation in Dorchester County in the southern tip of Maryland — in the same year as the Missouri Compromise which prohibited slavery only above the north latitude of 36 degrees and 30 minutes. In addition to lumber production, the Brodas plantation raised slaves to rent and sell, and Harriet was hired out as a laborer by the age of five. Though she was known as a hard worker, she was also considered defiant and rebellious.
In 1844, at the age of twenty-four, she married John Tubman, a free black man. Though she remained a slave, Tubman was allowed to sleep in her husband’s cabin at night. Her greatest fear was that she would be "sold South" where slavery was more entrenched and the distance to freedom greater. In 1849 her fears were realized when the owner of the Brodas plantation died, and Harriet was named among the many slaves who were to be sold off the plantation. It was then that Tubman resolved to escape.
As Harriet, Ilene Evans speaks eloquently of Tubman’s yearning for freedom throughout her life and of her deep belief that God had created all people free, that only men created slaves.
"I determined that there were two things I had the right to — liberty or death. And if I could not have one I would have the other," says Evans as Tubman. And General Moses was determined that others of her people should have their freedom, as well.
Evans’ rough whisper as she recounts Tubman’s perilous journey to freedom is in stark contrast to the rich voice in which she sings the traditional African-American spirituals that are interspersed throughout the monologue. Of her fellow slaves’ travails in servitude she says, "I’ve heard their groans and cries, and I’ve seen their tears." That was reason enough for her to risk her life bringing them to freedom. Yet by her accounts she not only safe-guarded her own life but those of her fellow travelers on the Underground Railroad. "I never run my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger."
Groups interested in engaging Ilene Evans for her Harriet Tubman presentation may contact the Council’s History Alive! program, (304) 346-8500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
the Ohio to Freedom
From Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
—an excerpt from Chapter 7, The Mother’s Struggle
is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and
forlorn than Eliza, when she turned her footsteps from Uncle Tom’s
Her husband’s suffering and dangers, and the danger of her child, all blended in her mind, with a confused and stunning sense of the risk she was running, in leaving the only home she had ever known, and cutting loose from the protection of a friend whom she loved and revered. Then there was the parting from every familiar object, — the place where she had grown up, the trees under which she had played, the groves where she had walked many an evening in happier days, by the side of her young husband, — everything, as it lay in the clear, frosty starlight, seemed to speak reproachfully to her, and ask her whither could she go from a home like that?
But stronger than all was maternal love, wrought into a paroxysm of frenzy by the near approach of a fearful danger. Her boy was old enough to have walked by her side, and, in an indifferent case she would only have led him by the hand; but now the bare thought of putting him out of her arms made her shudder, and she strained him to her bosom with a convulsive grasp, as she went rapidly forward. . . .
If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, to-morrow morning,—if you had seen the man,
and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape, — how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours . . .
An hour before sunset, she entered the village of T— , by the Ohio River, weary and foot-sore, but still strong in heart. Her first glance was at the river, which lay, like Jordan, between her and the Canaan of liberty of the other side.
It was now early spring, and the river was swollen and turbulent; great cakes of floating ice were swinging heavily to and fro in the turbid waters. Owing to the peculiar form of the shore on the Kentucky side, the land bending far out into the water, the ice had been lodged and detained in great quantities, and the narrow channel which swept round the bend was full of ice, piled one cake over another, thus forming a temporary barrier to the descending ice, which lodged, and formed a great, undulating raft, filling up the whole river, and extending almost to the Kentucky shore. . . .
In consequence of all the various delays, it was about three-quarters of an hour after Eliza had laid her child to sleep in the village tavern that the party came riding into the same place, Eliza was standing by the window . . .
A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader
caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to any thing but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.
The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she stayed there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped another and still another cake; — stumbling — leaping — slipping — springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone — her stockings cut from her feet — while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.
IN THE FAMILY
by Edward Ball
Review by Jesse Bannister
in the Family traces the
tween a young journalist from New York and the descendants of the slaves that his family owned in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The work is a marvel of contradictory emotion, both from the descendants of the white rice planters of Charleston and those of the African-American slaves who made them among the wealthiest people in America. Ball’s approach is both personal and yet somewhat detached as he weaves the various stories of the slave families and his own past into a tapestry of historical intrigue and drama.
Ball’s background as a journalist shines through in his very business-like style, while his personal connection to the project is evident throughout the book as he describes interviews with family members, the descendants of the slaves, and other parties. There is no fast and hard chronology in this book. We bounce between the early colonial period of South Carolina and the Civil War with little rhyme or reason other than the telling of one story. While this is confusing at times, the total effect is astounding and haunting as we watch the detective work unfold, tracing the genealogies of the slaves. For those who take the tracing of the "family tree" for granted, the confusion and lack of concrete answers as to the lineage of vast numbers of people can be startling.
Slaves in the Family has received some criticism from Southerners for being an "apologist history" or a "revisionist history." Indeed, Ball takes on the notion that has been long taught in the south of the benevolent masters and happy slaves co-existing in some sort of Eden of bondage. He tells some startling tales of slaves, revolts, and punishments. At the same time he also notes the interweaving of the families as master and slave would come together to produce offspring. His frank depiction of both sides of life on the plantation has ruffled feathers on both sides of the question. This should serve to prove that Ball’s approach is, all in all, evenhanded and fair.
Slaves in the Family is a stunning work, full of interesting historical fact as well as heartfelt human drama. Certainly, it is a book that should be on the shelf of everyone who has an interest in the period of Southern history before 1870 or African-American culture.
Reprinted with permission from About.com, Inc.
"My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves.
‘There are five things we don’t talk about in the Ball family,’ he would say. ‘Religion, sex, death, money, and the Negroes.’
‘What does that leave to talk about?’ my mother asked once.
‘That’s another of the family secrets,’ Dad said, smiling."
So begins Edward Ball’s Slaves in the Family. It was this open "secret" that spurred Ball to investigate his family’s connections to the African-Americans whom they had enslaved. He not only found some members of his own family reluctant to discuss their shameful past, but some of the slaves’ descendants who were equally unwilling, as well. His research makes for fascinating reading.
SLAVES IN THE FAMILY
Thursday, September 14
Cultural Center Theater Charleston
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