nick of time

I simply could not let the month go by completely without acknowledging Confederate History Month.  So, if you didn’t know… now you know…and you have the next hour and 16 minutes or so to observe it as you see fit.

From Wikipedia (the shame, i know):

-Confederate History Month is a month annually designated by six state governments in the Southern United States for the purpose of recognizing and honoring the history of the Confederate States of America. April has traditionally been chosen, as Confederate Memorial Day falls during that month in many of these states.

Although Confederate Memorial Day is a holiday in most Southern states, the tradition of having a Confederate History Month is not uniform. State governments or chief executives that have regularly declared Confederate History Month are as follows:

  • Alabama
  • Florida (since 2007)
  • Georgia (by proclamation since 1995, by legislative authority since 2009)
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Texas (since 1999)
  • Virginia (1994–2002, 2010)

Four states that were historically part of the Confederacy, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, do not have a tradition of declaring a Confederate History Month.-

Yep, Confederate Memorial Day.  Who knew?

Reading this passionate blog post refuting (with what I hope are actual facts… mea culpa re: no fact checking) the good old “It was about States Rights, not slavery” stance might be a fine way to spend the last few moments of this month of remarkable celebration.


Confederate History Month: Celebrating Racists, Traitors And Slavers

Right now, this very second, we are in the middle of Confederate History Month. Right now, this very second, there are entire states celebrating their failed attempt to secede from the United States while killing hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and civilians.

These people are, by and large, a**holes.

Now, this isn’t like the descendants of World War II vets (and the surviving vets themselves)commemorating a long and bloody war; these people are celebrating the side that lost. You know, the one that attacked the very country Southern conservatives claim to love more than life itself? And let’s be honest, most of the people who fly the Confederate flag are not liberals. These are the people who long for the “good ol’ days” when the South was a decent proper place where a white man could whip a black slave just for fun.

Oh, did I offend? Tough noogies.

This is about the time that some jackass insists that the Civil War was about “state’s rights.” You see, this is a story that Southerners enamored of the Old South tell themselves, and anyone in earshot, to avoid the reality that they are “proud” of a heritage inextricably bound to slavery and treason.

Take a moment to enjoy the sound of right-wing heads exploding.

Now, there are a numbers of ways to debunk this fairy tale that the South was all about state’s rights and “freedom” from an oppressive central government and it’s hilarious watching traitor-worshipping conservatives contort themselves to avoid the truth. So let’s make a list!

1. Declaration of Causes of Seceding States:

Georgia “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

Mississippi “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

mississippi abolishes slavery

South Carolina “Those [non-slaveholding] States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States.”

Texas “They [non-slaveholding states] demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.”

Does it get any clearer than that? Yes, actually, it does.

2. The Cornerstone Address (I wrote about this in brief on my blog so it might seem a bit cribbed):

“The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the ‘storm came and the wind blew, it fell’.”

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

This speech was delivered on March 21, 1861, by the VICE PRESIDENT of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens. But what the hell did he know? He was just the VICE PRESIDENT. Do keep in mind, dear conservatives, that this was over one hundred years before Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin. Vice Presidents generally had to be reasonably intelligent.

3. This is all crap! The Confederacy was all about FREEDOM™ and State’s Rights™ (FREEDOM and State’s Rights are both trademarks of the Angry Ignorant White Man Coalition, also known as the GOP)!!! 

Well, OK, if that were true, then the newly-minted CSA’s constitution would reflect that. Heck, if states wanted to abolish slavery on their own, then FREEDOM™ and State’s Rights™ would demand they be allowed to do so:

Article IV Section 9(3) The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several states; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form states to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government: and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories, shall have the right to take to such territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the states or territories of the Confederate states.

Soooooo, no state could join the Confederacy unless it allowed slavery? What if they didn’t want it or changed their minds later? Well, that was just too bad. You HAD to allow slavery. Why? Because the central government would have forced you to. Just to make this crystal clear, a central government forbidding the enslavement of other human beings is “tyranny,” but a central government forcing states to adopt slavery is “FREEDOM™?” Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

There you have it, in their very own words; the traitors of the Confederacy attacked the United States and caused the bloodiest war in American history for the sole purpose of preserving their “right” to treat other human beings as property. Anyone that flies the Confederate flag, reminisces about “better times” or insists that “The South Will Rise Again!” is celebrating racists, traitors and slavers. If you celebrate a culture based on the most immoral of all crimes against humanity, you are, by definition, a racist asshole. If you try to pretend that slavery wasn’t so bad or that the “War of Southern Scumbaggery” was about FREEDOM™, you are a lying racist asshole. If you actually believe the right-wing whitewashing of the Civil War, you are delusional but not necessarily an a**hole (although the odds against this are not good).

bleaching history

W. T. F!

I mean… I just don’t have words… which is weird for me… a little sick to my stomach over this, actually… talk about a different fourth grade experience…

I’d love to believe that were I subjected to this horror show I would have been able to poke fun at the situation.  That maybe I would have been able to choose one male white friend and taken the ‘performance’ to a whole ‘nother level by crying, “Oh please don’t sell me away, father…” However, being nine or ten and shy, I probably would at best have refused to participate, but, more likely, gone along, swallowing my anger, humiliation, and shame until I got in the car after school and told my mother who would promptly have taken care of it.  I assure you of that.

My mother would have gone to school and ripped the teacher, and anyone else who was walking by, a new a**hole had this happened to me.  She did that when she didn’t like the way they taught about the Mayflower and the Indians in first grade.  We did it together in the fifth grade when Sr. Mary Ann said some offensive b.s. about MLK and used me, the only student of color, as a reference.  She got fired.

As a “black” student who nearly always served as a speck of pepper in a sea of salt, I can tell you that it is uncomfortable enough to go through the history lessons on the Civil War when the class is simply reading straight from the textbook, but to actually be used to physically demonstrate the atrocity….  It feels bad enough when you’re in geography and your friend accidentally reads the “river Niger” aloud as the river nigger and a hush falls over a crowd and everyone is looking at you in your desk at the back of the room even though their eyes are facing forward… but THIS.  I just can’t… Jessica Boyle, imho, you officially suck as a teacher and a human being.  Hopefully this will open your eyes to all that you have had the privilege of being blind to, and you’ll come out of this a better person.  Good f***ing luck!

Norfolk principal apologizes for mock auction of black students

By Steven G. Vegh The Virginian-Pilot © April 9, 2011


The principal of Sewells Point Elementary School has apologized to parents for a teacher’s classroom exercise last week that cast her black and mixed-race fourth-graders as available for sale.

The apology came after the teacher separated the students from their white classmates and auctioned them, division spokeswoman Elizabeth Thiel Mather said. The exercise was part of an April 1 class on the Civil War.

In an April 6 letter sent to parents of students in the class, Principal Mary B. Wrushen wrote: “I recently became aware of a history lesson that was presented to the students in Ms. Jessica Boyle’s fourth grade class. Although her actions were well intended to meet the instructional objectives, the activity presented was inappropriate for the students.


“The lesson could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation,” Wrushen wrote.

Wrushen said the exercise was not supported by the school or division. “I will follow up with the classroom teacher to ensure nothing like this ever occurs again,” the letter said. “In addition, the guidance counselor is available to discuss any concerns your child may still have concerning this classroom lesson.”

Wrushen declined to comment Friday. Boyle, who has been with the division since 2005, did not return a call to the school. She has taught at Sewells Point for three years, and before that was at Dreamkeepers Academy, according to the division website.

Mather said the division was responding to the incident with “appropriate personnel action.” She did not give details.

Wrushen became aware of the auction exercise after receiving complaints from two parents, and spoke to the class about the incident, Mather said.

“This lesson was not part of the approved curriculum,” Mather said.

Chris Lee, whose daughter is in Boyle’s class, was among parents picking up their children Friday at the school on Hampton Boulevard near Norfolk Naval Station. He said he’d heard no details about the exercise, though he received Wrushen’s letter.

“My wife and I were trying to figure out what the letter was about, because we heard nothing about it, we just saw the letter,” he said.

Letter: Principal Mary Wrushen wrote to the parents of students at Sewells Point Elementary to apologise for the controversial history lesson

Told by a reporter about the auction, Lee said, “That sounds inappropriate to me. Wow. That’s interesting – that’s something I have to digest.” He said he would ask his daughter to tell him about the incident.

The school has 590 students.

Contacted Friday by The Virginian-Pilot, School Board Chairman Kirk Houston said he had not known about the auction.

“That’s very disturbing to me, extremely disturbing to me,” he said. “Mock slave auctions involving children are absolutely unacceptable in a classroom. At this point this is a personnel matter, and the School Board will monitor its outcome.”

Peggy Scott, treasurer of the Norfolk Council PTA, also first heard about the incident from The Pilot.

“I’m sitting here with my mouth hanging open,” Scott said. “There are some things you don’t do.”

In a statement Friday, Superintendent Richard Bentley said: “The school district does not condone this type of lesson in any way. It was wrong. It was outside the boundaries of the curriculum and appropriate instructional practices.”

London Illustrated News, February 16, 1861, depicting a slave auction in Virginia. The sign on the podium reads “Negroes for sale at auction this day at 1 o’clock.”

Dealers inspecting a negro at a slave auction in Virginia.

Dealers inspecting a negro at a slave auction in Virginia.  [The Inspection]

Slave Auction, Virginia

by Lefevre James Cranstone Image rights owned by the Virginia Historical Society

Silvia Federici’s Slave auction, United States

again i have to ask, what year is this!?

oh, mississippi… you never cease to amaze me!  sure hope to hear about the rest of the results as soon as they’re in.

Poll: 46 percent of Mississippi Republicans want interracial marriage ban

And more of those who oppose interracial marriage have a favorable view of Sarah Palin, a new poll reports


The Dem-leaning firm Public Policy Polling has a new survey out that’s sure to raise some eyebrows.

When usual Republican primary voters in the state of Mississippi were asked if they think interracial marriage should be legal or illegal, a whopping 46 percent said it should be illegal, compared to 40 percent who think it should be legal. The remaining 14 percent were unsure.

PPP also breaks down how these voters view the GOP presidential field, with some interesting results. Here’s how those respondents would vote:

As PPP’s Tom Jensen notes, there are some interesting differences between the candidates’ favorability ratings when broken down according to respondents’ views of interracial marriage:

Palin’s net favorability with folks who think interracial marriage should be illegal (+55 at 74/19) is 17 points higher than it is with folks who think interracial marriage should be legal (+38 at 64/26.) Meanwhile Romney’s favorability numbers see the opposite trend. He’s at +23 (53/30) with voters who think interracial marriage should be legal but 19 points worse at +4 (44/40) with those who think it should be illegal

Dustin Ingalls, assistant to the director at PPP, tells me that the firm also asked non-Republican voters the interracial marriage question, and he expects those results will be released sometime in the future. He added that PPP also asked whether respondents believe the right side won the Civil War. Those results should also prove interesting.


changing attitudes and understandings about race

I thought I was over the Census, but my interest keeps getting piqued despite my best efforts to ignore the chatter.  What I’m most intrigued by at this moment is the notion that in the next decade or two, if we keep changing our attitudes and understandings for the better, a majority of Americans could come to view themselves as mixed race.  And by that I mean Americans who today consider themselves to be exclusively white or black despite the abstract knowledge that we are all mixed up to some extent.  And if that paradigm shift happens there won’t be much use in classifying ourselves in terms of “race” because we will see ourselves as generally more similar than different regardless of color/phenotype.  Although I respect Obama’s right (and that of every individual) to self-identify any way he chooses, I feel that the checking of just one box is holding us back from reaching that “promised land” where we aren’t so entrenched in these antiquated notions of race and color, but perhaps more interested in heart, spirit, intellect …. Once again I’m a bit speechless because I’m not sure what the world will look like when instinctively and instantly we take people for what the truly are instead of what they truly look like.

Rep. Patrick McHenry claims every census in history has asked for an individual’s race


In an op-ed piece for the conservative Web site Red State on April 1, 2010, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, the ranking Republican on the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, sought to tamp down some of the misinformation being spread about the census by “otherwise well-meaning conservatives” and warned that failing to fully participate in the census could create a competitive advantage for Democrats.

Specifically, McHenry attempted to allay the fear among some Republicans who distrust the government and view the census as overly prying.

…In his posting on Red State, McHenry said “the most private question on this year’s form asks for an individual’s race and that question has been asked by every census since the 1790 census conducted under then-President George Washington.”

We decided to check that claim out, which was similar to one from Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves in a March 15, 2010, press release: “It’s one of the shortest forms in our lifetime with just 10 questions very much like the questions James Madison and Thomas Jefferson helped craft on the very first Census.”

Conveniently, the U.S. Census Bureau keeps historical records online of all the questions asked in every census going back to the first one in 1790.

If you follow the census questions asked through U.S. history, you can see how they reflect changing attitudes and understandings about race.

Yes, the 1790 census and others in the early years of the survey addressed race, but it was hardly a matter of checking a box. Rather, the census asked about the number of free white males and females; the number of “all other free persons” and the number of slaves.

By 1850, the Census asked about people’s “color.” According to the Census archives, this column was to be left blank if a person was white, marked “B” if a person was black, and marked “M” if a person was mulatto. A separate form listed slave inhabitants, the last census to do so. By 1870, the “color” options included “W” for white, “B” for black, “M” for mulatto, “C” for Chinese (a category which included all Asians), or “I” for American Indian. The 1890 census added Japanese and more mixed-race categories — mulatto, quadroon and even octoroon, according to amounts of perceived African blood. By 1920 Filipino and Korean sprang up, along with the improbable racial term “Hindu.” New labels emerged after World War II, with Hawaiian, Eskimo and others joining the parade of terms.  The question morphed into “color or race” in the mid-1900s, and then, finally to just “race” in 1970. In 1980, in addition to race, the Census began asking if a person was of Spanish or Hispanic origin or descent.

It’s fair to say that every census has addressed the issue of race in some fashion. But we think it’s a bit of a stretch when McHenry says “this year’s asks for an individual’s race and that question has been asked by every census since the 1790 census.”

In the 1790 Census (and several after it), a respondent was not simply asked their race. Rather, they were asked to list the number of white people, the number of “other free persons” and the number of slaves. In other words, it didn’t ask for the race of non-whites. One could argue this reflects the common attitude about race at the time. But that’s hardly the same as the 2010 version that simply asks a person’s race.

Prior to the Civil War the census was more concerned with whether someone was enslaved or not, than establishing whether someone was white. This is a very different conception from our modern idea of race. Post Civil War, the terminology changed (from “color” to “race,” for example) and the categories expanded over time. Certainly these are different standards when compared to today’s measures. But again, one could argue that the questions comported with attitudes about race at those times, and the census has always asked discriptive questions that corrolate to race. So we rule McHenry’s claim Mostly True.

blacks were ashamed, whites felt guilty

I would love to take this tour.  So many fascinating (albeit horrifying) pieces of our nation’s history are highlighted.  Underground railroad, black slave owners, paved over cemeteries, middle passage “reception,” color hierarchy.  I’m elated by the notion of forsaking shame and guilt in favor of honest discussion to ensure that this never happens again.  I’d like to think that “it” happening again is an impossibility, and that now our ultimate goal is to get rid of the vestiges of slavery.  Clearly we’re making progress.

Taking a Gullah tour of Charleston


The biggest hint that Charleston is a very different breed of Southern Belle — and that I’m on no ordinary city tour — comes as our air-conditioned mini-bus reaches the mainly African-American east side, a warren of economically deprived streets framing what was once an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

I look up to see a most unusual Star Spangled Banner flying bold African colors of red, black and green from a worn-looking flagpole. It’s an expression of indomitable Gullah pride, explains tour guide Alphonso Brown.

Like many living in the east side, Brown himself is Gullah: a descendant of slaves who endured the brutal “middle passage” from West Africa and the Caribbean during the 18th century, landing at Charleston’s bustling port before being sent to toil on plantations across the South.

Brown’s popular Gullah Tour, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, brims with atypical landmarks like this flag, as it excavates vestiges of an uglier time hidden amid the exquisite cobblestone streets and pastel-painted Georgian home fronts.

A multi-million-dollar waterfront estate, for example, looks impressive — until it is revealed to have been built by a rich slave ship proprietor who added slave quarters and a threatening-looking spiked gate to pen in human chattel. Later, we stop and stretch our legs in a parking lot owned by a Catholic church. It turns out to conceal the paved-over graves of freed slaves, for it was once their cemetery.

And the bus rolls on.

It’s potentially uncomfortable subject matter for his mixed-race audience, but Brown manages to keep the atmosphere light, sprinkling his commentary with anecdotes and jokes, and slipping in and out of the sing-songy Creole of his forefathers. “I-eh hab disshuh dreem,” he recites in Gullah. “We hol’ dees trut’ fuh be sef-ebbuhdent, dat all man duh mek equal.”

Plumped with West-African and Elizabethan English influences, Gullah was initially spoken in secret and spread wherever slaves were taken, along the coast and barrier islands as far as Georgia, and down to around Jacksonville, Fla.


Sullivan’s Island, opposite Charleston, became the macabre version of Ellis: a processing station where newly arrived slaves were kept in preventive isolation before their auction at The Old Slave Mart downtown, which today is a museum.

When the Civil War ended, emancipated blacks stayed on the barrier islands, renting rooms from former masters or squatting on abandoned plantations. In their isolation — bridges were few — they incubated the distinctive Gullah body of traditions for cooking, planting, fishing, praying and burying that are subtly evident throughout Charleston and the Lowcountry today.

Front porches in the city, we learn, often face southeast for shade, as per the African custom. Charlestonians were early, enthusiastic practitioners of root medicine and witchcraft. In literature, the tales of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox derive from West African oral storytelling. And characteristic dishes, from spicy stone ground grits and shrimp to slippery-smooth okra gumbo, are Gullah to the core.

The inside of Brown’s mini-bus is ringed with pictures of inspiring Gullah throughout history and modern times. Among them is Clarence Thomas, second black appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Philip Simmons, lauded by the Smithsonian Institution as a National Folk Treasure for his ornamental iron gates, which dress many of the city’s architectural landmarks.


Politically, we learn, the Gullah have been determined organizers of abolitionist and Civil Rights movements. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often retreated to St. Helena Island’s Penn Center — where one of America’s first schools for freed slaves was established — and may have begun drafting his 1963 I have a dream speech there.

More recently, in the run-up to the last presidential election, the Gullahs’ organized support for Barack Obama helped him clinch the crucial South Carolina primary.

Brown, who grew up in nearby Rantowles — not far from the site of the failed Stono River Rebellion of 1739, in which runaway slaves killed 20 whites before they were themselves slain — is justifiably proud of his ancestors’ achievements and defiant will.

He doesn’t deliver history in monochrome. Brown’s choice of material portrays a complex view of race relations in Charleston, which even during slavery was never officially segregated. We’re told, for example, that one of the richest freed black families was the DeReefs, whose patriarch, Richard Edward DeReef, owned multiple businesses — and at least 16 slaves.

Color was such a delineator of social status that freed “octoroons,” who had one-eighth black blood, judged themselves superior to “quadroons” with one-quarter slave ancestry. They, in turn, held themselves above mulattos, the children of white fathers who were often referred to, in delicate conversation, as “friends.” The divisions were physically embodied in the city’s many integrated churches, where slaves worshipped from the balconies while freed blacks sat behind whites in the lower pews.


Two hours speed by on this tour. Brown makes it clear that Gullah traditions thriving in secrecy and isolation for centuries have more recently become a source of civic pride. Efforts to preserve and celebrate the culture are being stepped up, he says. And events, such as the Gullah Festival in Beaufort each May, or the Penn Center Heritage Days Celebration every second weekend in November, draw ever-growing crowds.

“Slavery was always a taboo subject: blacks were ashamed and whites felt guilty,” says Chuma Nwokike, owner of Gallery Chuma, which hosts works depicting traditional activities like crabbing and sweetgrass basket-sewing. The gallery doubles as rendezvous point for Brown’s tour.

“Now, the younger generation wants to acknowledge what went on, so we’re better able to come together and say, ‘how can we make sure it never happens again?’ ”


instead of being a white man (he) is a mulatto

Web Site Tells Forgotten Tales of Slavery

By Dan Nonte and Lanita Withers Goins, University Relations

GREENSBORO, N.C. The 1860 U.S. Census registered the names of slave owners and the age, gender and color of slaves. But there, as in much of the historical record, slaves are nameless.

UNCG’s new Digital Library on American Slavery provides the names of more than 83,000 individual slaves from 15 states and the District of Columbia.

The web site, created in cooperation with University Libraries, features petitions related to slavery collected during an 18-year project led by history professor Loren Schweninger. The petitions filed in county courts and state legislatures cover a wide range of legal issues, including wills, divorce proceedings, punishment of runaway slaves, calls for abolition, property disputes and more.

“It’s among the most specific and detailed databases and web sites dealing with slavery in the U.S. between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War,” said Schweninger, the Elizabeth Rosenthal Excellence Professor in History. “There’s no web site like this, either in extent or content. The amount of information in here to be mined is enormous.”

Started in 1991, the Race and Slavery Petitions Project collected, organized and published the petitions. The Digital Library on American Slavery is the final phase of the project.

A complete collection of the full petitions, “Race, Slavery, and Free Blacks: Petitions to Southern Legislatures and County Courts, 1775-1867,” has been published on 151 reels of microfilm. In addition to UNCG’s Jackson Library, North Carolina university libraries with all or part of the microfilm collection are located at Duke, East Carolina, N.C. A&T, UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest.

Schweninger knows the value of conducting research from primary sources, something he learned from his mentor, the late Dr. John Hope Franklin. The stories he found in legal records were often not preserved anywhere else. “This was info that was not tapped,” he said. “Very few scholars had gone to county courts.”

Building the database for the archive was painstaking work. Schweninger visited about 160 county courthouses in the South and 15 state archives between 1991 and 1995. “The first three years, I was on the road 540 days,” he said.

Marguerite Ross Howell, senior associate editor, worked on the project for 11 years and was responsible for entering tens of thousands of slave names and connecting them with their own family members as well as their owners, creating a unique resource from original documents. Nicole Mazgaj, associate editor, worked on the project for seven years and focused her analysis especially on the rich documentary evidence from parish court houses in Louisiana.

“The archive is chock-full of information detailing the personal life of slaves,” Mazgaj said. “It’s probably about the most detailed that you’ll find.”

…The library includes petitions by more than 2,500 slaves and free blacks who sought redress for numerous causes. For example, George Sears of Randolph County, a blacksmith and a free man of color, purchased his slave wife Tillah for $300. He then petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly in 1818 to emancipate his wife and daughters and “render them Competent in Law to inherit the Estate of your Petitioner.”

Other petitions show how race and slave status were sometimes in dispute. In one case, a Georgia slave owner sued one of his neighbors for slander for calling him a “damned negro,” averring that he was a black man. In another, a woman in Baltimore petitioned for divorce because her husband “instead of being a white man is a mulatto and in reality had been born a slave.” A New Orleans teenager who was put on the auction block to be sold as a slave asserted in her petition that she was in fact a free white woman.

A number of the petitions also speak to how slaves fought their enslavement, providing details of slaves who ran away, burned down plantations, or plotted to murder slave owners. As the petitions show, the position of free blacks in the South was also precarious, especially as certain states and counties sought to expel them or refused to allow them to enter.

Read more HERE