Monday, November 11, 2013

Conversation about Slavery

Posted: Monday, 11 Nov 13
Updated: Saturday, 16 Nov 13

Two Men Talking
Last night (10 Oct) my friend from South Carolina gave me permission to post our correspondence, as long as I didn't use his name. I will call him "Frederick Davis" (not his real name).

On Saturday, 9 Oct 13, I first wrote to Frederick:
"Last night Birgitta and I saw 12 Years a Slave in Santa Fe. Have you seen it yet? I sent you a text message... It will win many awards... Sorry I didn't see it with you!" 
On Sunday, 10 Oct 13, FD replied:
I’m glad you saw it.  I’ve seen it and I found it very moving because I’ve heard similar stories from some of my family that were not necessarily born into slavery but were the children of the former slaves. Attached is one of my great-grandfather's “Slave Testimony”.  It’s quite insightful and it’s a hard read but it was the life he lived from 1853 until the end of the Civil War.  I’m third generation free and this institution of slavery is still a lot closer than many are willing to admit. I’ve attached a second document of the 1910 census that shows him a free man with his family.  My grandfather, his third child, was 8 months old during this particular census.  You’ll find my great-grandfather Hector starting on line 21.  My grandfather shows up on line 25.  Hector married two different women with the same name and outlived them both. Anyway, enjoy the read.
On Monday AM, 11 Nov 13, I wrote:
Your story is hugely important, FD! Not only for you, but for me, too!!! Will you allow me to post it on my blog if I don't reveal your name? Here is the thread I'm referring to.
I agree [that slavery is still closer than many are willing to admit], which is why I want to post your story. The Mormon institution has a key political, let alone spiritual, role to play here... I think your story can help his happen.
Later on Monday FD replied:
No, I don't mind at all especially if my name is not used.  Thanks for your interest.  I've got other documents about the other side of my family.

My father knew his great grandfather also and he too was born into slavery 10 years before the beginning of the Civil War.  I've got some of his stories about his life as a slave documented.  They were passed along to my Uncle (who's written a book about it) and my father when they both were children.  Thankfully, they've kept the stories going by passing them along to me and my generation.  Most of their stories are oral but, I've found some documentation like death certificates and census records to collaborate the stories.
Anyway, I'll share whatever I can find.
Still later on Monday, I replied again:
Great! Thanks. I'll be more than just interested in your family's story.
On Wednesday, Nov 13, I wrote:
FD, your great-grandfather Hector Smith's former-slave testimony is remarkable! The document you sent was written on July 22, 1937, citing Hector's age as 79, which would have him born in 1858. But, you say he was actually born in 1853 ... which means he was five years older... 
 (click on image to enlarge)
Ex-Slave Hector Smith Testimony
(July 1937)
Page 1 of 10

I was four years old in Phoenix, Arizona, when he gave this testimony, which gives me a new personal perspective. I'll have more to say about this later in our conversation.

A short time later on 13 Nov, FD replied:
It's an eye opener when you talk to some of the older members who were direct descendants of slaves. I was fortunate to be able to have conversations with my grandmother about her great-grandmother and the other slave members of our families who they knew.
My grandmother took care of Hector in his later life because he actually stayed with her and his son until he died.  My mother remembers him fondly as "Uncle Hec" and she always described him as having a long white beard and white hair.  She said she would sit on his lap and he would tell her stories about his life when he was a slave.

On his tombstone, it reports his birth date as being 1853.  The census documents of 1910 put him at 40 and that would indicate he was born in 1870.  That's obviously wrong since he can remember the civil war and when freedom came.

To which I replied later on 13 Nov:
...Obviously the dates and reported ages are questionable, but the important thing was what he remembered. So, your recollections about what his descendants report orally is super valuable, such as those details about your grandmother sitting on his lap and hearing him tell about his slave days. That is a perfect example. I reflect more on our conversation and your family's story, I want you to know my Mormon story and why it is relevant. But, before doing so, I'd like to ask about your wife's story. Is it similar to yours? Would she be willing to join our conversation? 

FD replied still later on 13 Nov:
I'm researching her side as well but I've not been able to validate her family with respect to slavery.  I'm sure as the sun rise[s] that the[re] were always member[s] of her ancestry that were slaves, I'm just not sure of the details.

I've focus[ed] more on my family because [of] the oral history that's been shared with [us] more through the years.  I can always [ask] her if she has the time because she's in the middle of finishing her masters degree.

And I replied:
I'll be as interested in her side, too, for the same reasons, whenever she has time to give it attention.
On Thursday, 14 Nov, I wrote:
Since Hector was still alive in 1937, have you taken a look for him in the census for 1920 and 1930?
A few minutes later Frederick wrote:
Here's the 1930 census.  His family starts around item 28 - 34.  My grandfather in this one was approximately 19 and even though it says daughter for Mathew.  I knew my uncle Roy and my Aunt Arnella well.  I heard stories about Clio - that was actually a female and not a male as it's indicated.  She died from pneumonia after being exposed to a late Fall storm.
Before I got the above (our messages crossed) I wrote again:
Does anyone in your family know the melodies of the four songs in Hector's testimony? Namely,
1. Nobody Business But Mine
2. Way Down in de Lonesome Valley
3. Hold de Deal
4. Bulldogs a barkin

Frederick replied:
My great aunt might know since she was the one who understood the vernacular of the day to help me understand what he was saying.  I'm going home to see her during the Christmas break and I'll ask her to sing them for me and if she's willing, I'll record it.
After reading Frederick's 1930 census attachment, I wrote:
Both interesting and dismaying. With such sloppy census record-keeping/reporting, it's all the more important that families keep their own records. I'm confident you know that the subject of accurate genealogy is something that the Mormon Church is primarily noted for (and has also been censured for by many in the Jewish community). In the old days (prior to June 8, 1978) much genealogy research was done with the intent to make sure of the "purity" of a person's blood line. That preoccupation has now changed. Here is a link that might interest you:  
On Saturday, 16 Nov, FD wrote:
Here’s an interesting video from YouTube:
I replied,
Powerful!!! First time I've heard of it. I've only just begun to view it with my wife and realize it is a first rate docudrama right up there with "12 Years".
And FD continued with:
One of the best online documentaries about the institution of slavery in America that I've seen:

Part 1: 
Part 2: 
Part 3: 
Part 4:  
I’m thankful that you are interested in the subject.  Clearly our interest[s] are for different reasoning but, we seek the truth about this institution that taint[s] the idealism that helped form a government that was intended to be for the people and by the people.  The exception to that honorable notion was it benefited the money makers here and across the pond at the expense of so many

Slavery was an institution that was fueled by greed and untethered capitalism.  The ascension of the tobacco, sugar and cotton economies drove the need for a cheap labor force.  I can go into the global history of slavery but, I think that should be a discussion best had with a couple of glasses of good wine – hopefully in two weeks when I return for good....
To which I added...
In two weeks, then! We will continue our conversation with appropriate libations! 

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