Juneteenth 2022: readings and a question

[Picture of general orders made by General Granger in Galveston, Texas on 19 June 1865]

Emancipation from slavery in the United States was a process, not an instantaneous transformation. Consider General Order No. 3 made in Galveston, Texas, on 19 June 1865:

Galveston Texas June 19th 1865.

General Orders

No. 3.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

By order of Major General Granger

F.W. Emery

Major A.A. Genl.

This was of course made well after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the formal end of the Civil War. By that point in time, many slaves had been freed and many had freed themselves. All had to grapple with what freedom meant, both abstractly and in very concrete terms: how to keep body and soul together when the harvest waited for no one, the former slave owners largely resisted any fundamental changes to the relations between whites and African Americans, and wartime promises of land came mostly to naught.

In 1873, the New York Times published this piece on successful farming cooperatives organized by former slaves:

Some of the largest plantations in Colleton County, South Carolina, are now owned and successfully conducted by colored people, who have united their resources and combine in their labor. Their manner of operation is thus described by a South Carolina paper: “A number of them, in some cases as many as fifty, form themselves into a society, elect their officers, and adopt by-laws. They have regular meetings, at which the officers report, and a specified amount is paid into the treasury by each member. When sufficient is accumulated in the treasury a suitable plantation is selected and the purchase made; usually the payments are in one, two, or three years, a good portion being paid at the time of the purchase. The land is equally distributed by the officers elected for that purpose among the members of the society, or so much as they may wish to cultivate. Each is free to work as suits him, and each can dispose of his crop as he deems proper. The only thing required is honesty and a prompt payment of all dues, which are usually very light. Any one willfully failing to meet his dues, or convicted of dishonesty, has all amounts previously paid by him for the purchase of the place refunded, and is required to move off the plantation, all his rights and claims having been forfeited.

A sort of rivalry seems to spring up between them, which is productive of economy and thrift. These societies are located in the low country east of the Savannah and Charleston Railroad. We do not presume to say that only the colored people who have formed themselves into these societies show thrift and the accumulation of property, for a number who, six or seven years ago, were not worth a dollar now carry on successfully large rice and cotton plantations, and are becoming heavy tax-payers. But in the particular section in which these societies are formed, more property exists among their members than among those who are now fighting the battle of life and death on their own account, while from the formation of these societies they are enabled to purchase more valuable property and secure greater privileges than they could if each laid his money out in a separate purchase, in which case ten or twenty acres of poor land would be all he would be able to buy, as no planter would consent to cut off and sell small tracts of his best land and retain himself the poorer portion. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons of their success, as on nearly all the plantations in this section a large proportion of the land is almost valueless.

By securing the whole plantation they obtain sufficient good land for their purposes, while he who purchases for himself generally gets such land that it is impossible to make more than a poor subsistence from.

(I first found the news article on the educator resources section of the After Slavery exhibition. A summary of emancipation in Georgia that I ran across can be found here.)

It’s of course easy enough to guess that the co-ops had troubles after the post-Reconstruction imposition of white supremacy in South Carolina in 1876 and beyond, but the specifics are not readily showing up via web searches. The website of the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society happily mentions that many Tuskegee Airmen trained at an airfield in the county but is entirely silent on post-Reconstruction history.

So my question remains: I wonder what happened to those co-op plantations.

Memorial Day 2022

Vietnam Memorial

I

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.

A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

From “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa.

II

Grandfather died in 1919 and it would be a number of years before the graves of World War I veterans appeared. Meanwhile the white cemetery from our back door to Chapel Hill Road and beyond was filled with the Confederate dead. Every Memorial Day or Decoration Day, the cemetery was dotted with crossbarred Confederate flags. As a Union veteran, Grandfather was entitled to a Union flag for his grave, so every May I walked proudly through a field of Confederate flags hugging my gold-pointed replica of Old Glory. I crossed Chapel Hill Road to the Fitzgerald family burial ground and planted it at the head of Grandfather’s grave.”

From Proud Shoes, a memoir by Pauli Murray, civil rights activist and first African American woman to be ordained to the Episcopal priesthood.

III

The ghosts of American soldiers
wander the streets of Balad by night,
unsure of their way home, exhausted,
the desert wind blowing trash
down the narrow alleys as a voice
sounds from the minaret, a soulfull call
reminding them how alone they are,
how lost. And the Iraqi dead,
they watch in silence from rooftops
as date palms line the shore in silhouette,
leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.

“Ashbah” from Here, Bullet by Brian Turner, veteran of Bosnia and Iraq.

Presidents’ Day 2022: Marginalia

Portrait of George WashingtonPortrait of James Monroe

The 1790’s was a complicated period for U.S. diplomacy, with the young republic having to navigate relations with two great powers, Great Britain and France. Washington’s neutrality proclamation of 1793 expressed a desire to stay out of European wars, but neutrality did not mean that there were no choices to be made. The American Revolution was still in living memory, of course, and pro-French feelings were often strong. On the other hand, Great Britain was the biggest trading partner of the U.S. and was perhaps culturally closer to the U.S.

How to treat with France and Great Britain became a fault line in early partisan politics, with the Federalists leaning toward’s Great Britain and the Democratic-Republicans towards France. James Monroe was nominated by Washington to be the U.S.’s chief diplomat to France in 1794. He was a Democratic-Republican.

Things did not go well, at least from Washington’s point of view. After the Jay Treaty with Great Britain was announced, France expressed its displeasure. No particular surprise there. However, Monroe also made his displeasure known, and subsequently was perceived as being a bit too much in France’s court.

Washington had Monroe recalled in 1796. Monroe came back home, nearly got into a duel with Alexander Hamilton, then in 1798 published A View of the Conduct of the Executive of the United States as a defense of his actions. Washington was out of office by then, but arranged to get a copy of Monroe’s book.

I can imagine Washington reading it with an ever-growing fury. Why I can I imagine this? Because he wrote in its margins.

Here’s a taste. The first sentence of the book is “In the month of May, 1794, I was invited by the President of the United States, through the Secretary of State, to accept the office of Minister Plenipotentiary to the French republic.”

Washington’s annotation: “After several attempts had failed to obtain a more eligable [sic] character.

And it goes on like this for many more annotations well worth reading in full. Who knew that Washington had a snarky side?

Here’s your reminder that the Founders were not plaster saints.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Versus the Insurance Companies

Car pooling during the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Photograph by Don Cravens/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

A thorn in the side of Martin Luther King, Jr. in September of 1956 was… several auto insurance companies. From a letter that he wrote to Bayard Rustin that month:

We are still confronting pressure from reaction forces. For instance there is still the attempt to block our transportation system. The policies have been cancelled on more than half of our station wagons, and we have confronted insuperable difficulties trying to get them reinsured. You can see what it means to our transportation system to have about ten station wagons out of operation. We have had these station wagons out of operation for more than a week simply because they are not insured. This seems to be the major problem confronting us at this time.

Say what?

In order for the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama to be effective, African Americans need alternative transportation. A carpool was organized by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was formed shortly after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. The MIA’s president? Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to private cars, local churches provided 22 station wagons for the carpool. Then as now, cars cannot be legally driven without insurance policies, and at one point the local insurance companies had cancelled the policies on 17 of the 22 station wagons. As King noted, the cancellations were done that the behest of the Montgomery White Citizens Council:

Formal objections to the car pool included the charges that the cars were improperly insured and the drivers were “morally unsuitable.” It is true that for a time some cars were without insurance—since the White Citizens Council brought pressure on the insurance companies to cancel the policies on cars being used in the pool. But this was remedied long before the court case, when Lloyds of London insured each car to the amount of $11,000. As evidence of the moral unfitness of the drivers, the city listed the numerous traffic tickets with which it had harassed us from the beginning. Despite this strange justice, we decided to comply with the court order.

Despite the rescue by Lloyds of London on the insurance front, the court order King refers to put the car pool out of commission on 13 November 1956 — the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court first struck down segregation on public transportation. So, they walked until the last appeal by the city was denied and bus service in Montgomery was desegregated on 21 December 1956.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, but that dream was not realized with a snap of the fingers or a single speech. Both segregation and the efforts to lift it involved many quotidian details.  That’s my focus for today: few get the opportunity to stand in front of a microphone in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands, but many, many more of influence in the realm of the small detail and can use that influence wisely… or poorly.

For further reading: the King Paper Publications at the The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford, which has many writings by King available online — and not just the big speeches. Sometimes it’s good to look at the little ones, too.

Thanksgiving 2021

Galen here, once again borrowing Marlene’s blog to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!

This time around, let me tell you about one of the things I’m thankful for: the historian Bret Devereaux’s blog A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry. Devereaux, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializes in ancient Mediterranean history with a focus on how ordinary people were both affected by and influenced the economy and warfare.

His blog marries popular culture and ancient military history and tactics but is grounded in current, rigorous historical thinking that doesn’t lose sight of the common people — but is always entertaining to read. He seems incapable of writing briefly, but the result are pieces that you can really dig into. He generally posts on Fridays, and it’s always a pleasure to see one of them show up in my feed reader. If you read historical fiction, particularly books set in ancient Rome or Greece, or epic fantasy, I highly recommend checking his blog out. Likewise if you’re interested in ancient military history; Devereaux‘s pieces on warfare are quite interesting, but he never forgets that war is a terrible thing.

Some of his hits include:

There’s much more, including pieces on the intersection of video games and history, historiography, and advice if you’re considering becoming a historian yourself.

Looking for something to read while the turkey roasts? Dig in!

Or just look at the upside-down Hecate:

Hecate the tortoiseshell cat lying on the floor, looking at the camera, upside-down

(Not Exactly the) Fourth of July

Today is, well, not exactly the Fourth of July. Obviously. But it is part of a long holiday weekend in celebration of U.S. Independence Day.

Making it feel like a holiday post is in order, especially since the actual holiday was on a Sunday this year, and there’s a meme or two for Sundays. Honestly, if I didn’t do the Sunday Post/Virtual Nightstand I’d be a bit lost for the entire week. Instead, today will be a bit of a lost day as there isn’t anything that particularly HAS to be done today.

Today will be an excellent day to read. But then, aren’t they all?

 

MLK Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the MLK Giveaway Hop hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer &  Mocha Girls Read !

In honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, observed on the third Monday of January each year – that’s today although his actual birthday is tomorrow, January 19 – Caffeinated Reviewer and Mocha Girls Read have created this giveaway hop of books celebrating Black authors. As book reviewers and book bloggers, we are celebrating diverse reading and drawing attention, we hope, to the richness of a more diverse reading experience.

To that end, this week I’ll be reviewing books by Black authors, no matter what their genre. And we’re all giving away books that express that diversity and/or gift cards so that our winners can read what’s available for themselves.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more terrific recommendations and more chances to win, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Xmas 2020

“So this is Christmas”, as the John Lennon song goes, whether one celebrates it or not. If you do, then Merry Christmas to you. If you don’t, then Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings or even just have a nice day off or long weekend if you are lucky enough to get one of those for the holidays. I’m happy for the long weekend, sorry to not be able to visit friends and family, but looking forward to a hopefully better new year.

Take Care, Stay Safe, and Happy Holidays!

Thanksgiving 2020

Galen here, once again sneaking onto Marlene’s blog to do a Thanksgiving reading list post.

George staring at me. Awaiting turkey?

As was the case in 2018, we are thankful for yet another kitty in our lives. George is one of the offspring of a neighborhood cat. He’s turned into quite the social glue of our clowder, demanding and getting affection from Freddie, Lucifer, and Hecate in various ways.

Again, as with 2018, I am hopeful that the results of the election will get our country back towards the path of justice. Of course, this is a difficult time: the pandemic is on fire everywhere in this country, and I fear that all of the travel and gatherings for Thanksgiving will cause so many needless deaths.

Marlene and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving together with the cats, and no one else is invited. Maybe next year will be different, but for as many of us to get to next year as possible, patience is required today. On the one hand, that’s easy enough for me and Marlene to say; we’re introverts. I won’t pretend that staying home hasn’t been hard for us, but I know it is a lot more difficult many others, including folks who have no choice but to go out into the world in order to keep body and soul together. But please: if you can, stay home for the holidays, share your Thanksgiving meal only with your pod (or at least stay outdoors as much as possible), wear your masks, and wash your hands.

Some reading:

Veterans Day 2020

It was not a given that U.S. soldiers in the field would be able to vote or would be supported in exercising the franchise. Many obstacles were whittled away over the years, including a fear of standing armies being allowed to vote in the first place, logistical difficulties delivering the ballots, poll taxes, a multitude of state regulations, and so forth. Even now in the era of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, much work remains to be done to assure that every U.S. citizen-soldier abroad who wants to can vote.

Many of the obstacles that prevented soldiers from voting were the same obstacles that prevented others from voting. It was never just a matter of getting the ballots out to the field and back.

Voting is and was a right that many soldiers took seriously — including POWs, who in some cases held straw votes even in the face of no expectation that their vote could be counted.

In honor of Veterans Day and the ongoing struggle to truly support U.S. military personnel, here is some reading.

General Grant to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, 27 September 1864:

The exercise of the right of suffrage by the officers and soldiers of armies in the field is a novel thing. It has, I believe, generally been considered dangerous to constitutional liberty and subversive of military discipline. But our circumstances are novel and exceptional. A very large proportion of legal voters of the United States are now either under arms in the field, or in hospitals, or otherwise engaged in the military service of the United States. Most of these men are not regular soldiers in the strict sense of that term; still less are they mercenaries who give their services to the Government simply for its pay, having little understanding of political questions or feeling little or no interest in them. On the contrary, they are American citizens, having still their homes and social and political ties binding them to the States and districts from which they come, and to which they expect to return. They have left their homes temporarily to sustain the cause of their country in the hour of its trial. In performing this sacred duty they should not be deprived of a most precious privilege. They have as much right to demand that their votes shall be counted in the choice of their rulers as those citizens who remain at home. Nay, more, for they have sacrificed more for their country. I state these reasons in full, for the unusual thing of allowing armies in the field to vote, that I may urge on the other hand that nothing more than the fullest exercise of this right should be allowed, for anything not absolutely necessary to this exercise cannot but be dangerous to the liberties of the country. The officers and soldiers have every means of understanding the questions before the country. The newspapers are freely circulated, and so, I believe, are the documents prepared by both parties to set forth the merits and claims of their candidates…

Lt. Harold Norris, stationed in Britain, in a letter to Yank Magazine appearing in its 17 March 1944 issue:

Dear Yank:

Yours is a young, lusty publication that doesn’t pull its punches, and I think the soldier vote is an issue that needs some of your punching. The denial by Congress of the right to vote is an outright contradiction of the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, our Constitution or any name our war aims go by. Look, Yank, why don’t you say something on this? Secretary Stimson has said that 48 state laws make soldier voting impossible. So if we don’t have the Federal Government or the Army to administrate the voting, we’ll have vote prohibition this war.

You’re pretty sharp, Yank — can’t you see that this representatives of the poll tax and state’s rights are using that prop wash to deny the soldiers the right to vote in the same way they have denied the vote to others? A lot of us look upon this issue as one test of the sincerity of democratic intentions in the war and in the peace. And we would much rather have our right to vote than the mustering-out pay of $300, which we all may pay for through the nose through inflation anyhow. The soldier-voting issue is a morale one. Our morale is high, but there is no limit. Punch a little bit for us on this issue and our moral will hit an even higher ceiling.

Image of the Federal War Ballot used in 1944
Federal War Ballot used by soldiers to vote in 1944.

Further reading and viewing:

Those who seek to restrict the vote are the enemies of democracy.

By the way, are you a servicemember or U.S. citizen abroad who is eligible to vote in Senate runoff in Georgia on 5 January 2020? Check out the FVAP page for Georgia on how to register and request an absentee ballot.