Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dedication of Statue to Bass Reeves

Statue Honoring Bass Reeves Now Stands in Ft. Smith Arkansas Near the Arkansas River
My recent trip to Arkansas was filled with multiple events from a preservation conference, to an historic dedication.  The most exciting part of the trip was the opportunity to attend the dedication of a statue honoring US Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves.

This man, whose name should be a  household name, is finally being honored.  He served out of the court of Judge Isaac C. Parker, and his record was an amazing one.

Under a warm late spring sun, the statue was unveiled and dedicated, and I was honored to be there to watch the city honor a many whose legacy has been overlooked for more than 100 years.  The city finally honored him, and his legacy is now being embraced.   

The experience of being there was special and to see a city that had come from a unique sh history to truly embrace the history of this man .  I took photos and captured a small amount of film footage as well, and have put it into a brief video of the events of that day.

I gladly share it here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

They Nursed the Men, and they Moved The Mail-Black Women of World War II

The Six Triple Eight--Under the Direction of Lt. Colonel Charity  Adams

The distinguished women of the 6888th were the only Black women besides nurses to serve overseas in World War II. These women helped to move mail to service men during the war and they worked around the clock under incredible conditions.  Col. Charity Adams was the highest ranking black female in the army at that time.  May she and the women who served under her always be remembered.

* * * * *

From the perspective of medicine--there were the nurses.

During the war there was an effort to get women to join the nursing corps to assist with the War effort. The appeal to the population however, meant---only white nurses. However, in 1941, the army did open the nursing corps to African American women. In 1943 the Nurse Training bill was amended to bar racial bias. The amendment was introduced by Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton. So black women entered the US Army Nursing corps.  They worked on soldiers and some did have experiences where white soldiers screamed at them yelling racial epithets and insisting that these women of color not touch them--in spite of their own physical injuries--their racial bias was so deeply entrenched into their psyche. They saw these women not as Americans but as n-----s, even through their pain.

These women however, worked nevertheless, and tended to their patients as fellow human beings, as fellow Americans.These women--not often mentioned when veterans are honored, deserve their moment and they deserve to be memorialized.

War is often seen as a event between men. But there were women who gave their time, their courage and their love of country during those times as well.

They are therefore honored today on this Memorial Day.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Reflections from the Preservation Conference, 2012

This past week, the 6th annual Memorial In May Conference took place in  Ft. Smith Arkansas. I had the honor of delivering the keynote address each day.

PAAC is a group formed in Arkansas in 2003, by a group of genealogists and preservationists who noticed that several among them had a strong passion in the preservation of African American burial sites in Arkansas.  This year the conference took place in my hometown of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. The two day conference was held at the Creekmore Community center in Ft. Smith, which provided a wonderful place with ample space for presentations and exhibits.

One of many exhibits at PAAC Conference

More exhibits at PAAC Conference

Texas Cemetery Restoration was a popular exhibitor offering information on their services

The mayor of the City of Fort Smith, came on Saturday to extend official greetings from the city to those in attendance.

Mayor Sandy Sanders of Ft. Smith, Arkansas Greets those in attendance

The workshops were enlightening and informative, with presenters discussing their experiences on many topics from their own cemetery restoration projects to beginners asking questions about getting started.

Ms. Dee Curry of Morrilton Arkansas addressing the audience.

In addition, appreciation was shown to many who have worked over the past several years to find and restore abandoned and neglected burial grounds. On Friday, PAAC President Tamela Tenypenny  Lewis was honored with a special award in appreciation of her service not only to PAAC, but also to cemetery preservation.

Award being presented to President Tamela Tenpenny-Lewis

Saturday's luncheon provided opportunity for people to interact with each other and to share notes and stories about their work in historic preservation.

A number of presentations were made by community representatives, preservationists, archaeologists, made the conference interesting. One presenter was archaeologist Leslie "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy, from the Arkansas Archaeological Survey, in Morrilton, Arkansas. He went into detail about the preservation of cemeteries and how to determine where unmarked burials can be found.

Dr. Leslie "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy

I had the honor to give a presentation on the history and the impact of the Black Benevolent Societies.  I spoke about the groups that were a part of the local communities throughout the Black community. Among the groups I spoke about were the Mosaic Templars of  America, The Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World, the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, and more.

Benevolent Societies present in Arkansas in the late 19th century and early 20th century

Saturday's schedule events were opened up by Ms. Carla Coleman who later received an award for her continuous contributions to PAAC.

Carla Coleman opened up events on Saturday

On Saturday Dr. Bettye Gragg moderated events on Saturday. She serves on the board of PAAC was present and she spoke from the perspective of community developent. She works at the University of Arkansas Monticello and also works to preserve and document Campground Legacy Cemetery in the Monticello community.

Dr. Bettye Gragg

The afternoon offered two highlights---special awards were given to Tonia Holleman of Van Buren Arkansas, and Verdie Triplett of Ft. Coffee Oklahoma, for their work in the preservation of African American burial grounds. In addition Ms.Holleman has been responsible for documenting more than 40,000 persons of African Ancestry in western Arkansas. Mr. Triplett's award was accepted by Ms. Holleman on  his behalf, who could not be present 

Ms. Tonia Holleman of Van Buren Arkansas spoke about her work and also given 
a special award in appreciation for her work and research.

A luncheon was provided by Charlotte's Kitchen. The lunch break also allowed an opportunity for many to mix and mingle and to discuss share ideas pertaining to their own personal projects.

Sherri Tolliver and George McGill share a conversation with each other during the break.

A special highlight of the conference was to learn about a group  of children who attend Martin Luther King Elementary School, in Little Rock. These children are learning about history and preservation and they are also teaching electronic preservation methods to heir own teachers through a special initiative and grant funded program. The young people told the audience about their own work as young preservationists and the audience received them warmly.

Members of Junior PAAC impressed the audience and they were awarded plaques for their work.

One of the members of Junior PAAC also spoke to the crowd about their preservation work.

A representative of Junior PAAC members addressed the audience.

Carole Barger of the Ft. Smith Historical Society, and others took time to interact with some of the young children from Junior PAAC  afterwards.

Jr. PAAC members chatting with others in attendance.

Since PAAC holds it conference around the state in a different city each year, some from Ft.  Smith got a chance to meet others from Little Rock and share conversation with each other.

Mr. Henderson of Little Rock and Sherri Tolliver of Ft. Smith

Mayor Sanders interacts with Rev. Jackie Flake and Mr. Cecil Greene

Many were excited to listen to the presentation made by the representatives of the Texas Cemetery Restoration LLC. Their exhibit was equally as fascinating, and many received free samples of D2--an organic solution to dissolve lichen on headstones.

Representatives from Texas Cemetery Restoration LLC spoke to visitors at their exhibition booth.

Mrs. Allene Stafford was one of  the attendees from the local area at the conference.

The conference ended with a cemetery tour of Nowland Springs Cemetery located on North 6th street. Rev. Jackie Flake has developed an interest in preserving this burial site. This burial ground is long neglected and less than 100 stones can be seen. However, one visitor was able to see the headstone of her ancestors for the first time.

Sherri Tolliver of Ft. Smith stands near her ancestor's headstone.

While touring this burial ground one of the Mr. Gragg of Monticello pointed out that there was a benevolent society member buried there. The deceased was a member of the Mosaic Templars of America, and this is one few Mosaic Templar stones to be found in western Arkansas.

Mosaic Templar Burial at Newlon Spring Cemetery in Ft. Smith

From that headstone it was noted that there was a Ft. Smith chamber of the Mosaic Templars, known as Border City Chamber.

Border City Chamber was the local chapter of the Ft. Smith Mosaic Templars of America

In summary, this conference hosted by the a group of genealogists who share a passion for cemetery preservation, made the 6th annual PAAC conference a success.  From the old to the young Junior PAAC members, the concern for preservation of the burial sites of the ancestors is strong and growing.

I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to speak and participate in a wonderful event.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remembering My Mother

Pauline B. Moore Walton
1919 - 1997

Remembering my mother on this Mother's Day

* * * * *     * * * * *     * * * * *

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Black Coal Miner's Family History

I recently joined an interesting group on Facebook. It is called Ebay Genealogy. In that group, members share items that are for sale on Ebay that contain genealogical data. I decided to explore a bit myself, and I located an interesting bible for sale. It would not have necessarily have captured my attention, however, the item is listed as a Negro Family Bible and that this was a Black family with a coal mining history.

Caption for Black Family Bible for Sale
The item is located HERE.

The auction for this family bible will end on May 15th and so after that date the link will not remain for a long period of time.

I decided to study the family to confirm that this is an African American family. Surely enough, in the 1900 Federal Census in Fayette County West Virginia, there is the family.

Randolph Family in the 1900 Federal Census
Source: 1900; Census Place: NuttallFayetteWest Virginia; Roll: 1758; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 19; FHL microfilm: 1241758

The census document also reflected the fact that the head of the house William Randolph was indeed a coal miner. 

Entry from census reflecting the coal miner work of William Randolph

Another precious page of family data of the Randolphs is also featured in the same Ebay Genealogical Treasure--a marriage record.

Marriage Data from the Randoph Family Bible on Ebay

I have no connection to this family, but when this bible is sold, if it does not reach family hands, perhaps someone will find some joy in these images that were captured.  My hope is that the family bible will someday reach descendants of this line.

Family history is so precious and in many cases the piece of information that is needed comes from those family items that get lost, or discarded over the years. 

Our history is precious and it must be preserved.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A New Era in an Old Frontier Town

Images of Bass Reeves in Various Publications

Having grown up in a western frontier town that rests on the border of Arkansas and what was at one time Indian Territory, one has to appreciate the unique history of Ft. Smith Arkansas. 

At the same time, Arkansas, though on the edge of the western frontier, was also a southern state. And for me, growing up as a black child in the 1950s and 60s, that meant that there were rules of the "old south" that prevailed. Jim Crow was strongly in place, with no privileges extended to the city's black residents to eat in restaurants, and no accommodation was given for out of town visitors if they were people of color. Schools were separate, as were all aspects of life. And persons of merit who had done extraordinary deeds, if they were people of color, were never mentioned. Their accomplishments were kept secret and their history was buried. So growing up in Ft. Smith, a town with a remarkable history, a man such as Bass Reeves, was never mentioned, never discussed, and basically ignored.

Over the years the old south began to fade yet still the complete history of the city including that of people like Bass Reeves, remained untold. But in the1990s something began to change. 

In 1994, I obtained a copy of a new book that had been published by writer and historian Art Burton. And in that book, Black, Red and Deadly more than 60 pages were devoted to the history of a man whom I had never heard about, called Bass Reeves. I was amazed and captivated by his history and quite grateful that the author had exposed the history of this man. 

Black, Red & Deadly by Art T. Burton

Thanks to the scholarship of Art Burton, I was surprised to learn not only of the history of Bass Reeves the US Deputy Marshal, but also to learn that there were other men of color who also worked out of the Western District Court of Arkansas---right there in my hometown of Ft. Smith Arkansas.

Over the years things began to unfold in other ways---the National Historic Site operated in Ft. Smith by the National Park Service began to use images of Bass Reeves and to display his face among the many faces of the other US Marshals. In addition, thanks to the work of author Burton, the history of other men of color who also worked for Judge Isaac C. Parker's court were finally being told as well.

Fast forward to 2012. It is now 102 years since Bass Reeves died in Muskogee Oklahoma. The city from which he served the Western District Court of Arkansas, is finally embracing this amazing man. It was decided to erect a statue honoring Bass Reeves, and this month the statue will be unveiled.

And thankfully, the times have also changed. Jim Crow laws have died, visitors are welcomed to the city of all backgrounds and colors, and the days of restriction and oppression have faded. 

In these new times, a city that tried to bury Bass Reeves history, has now embraced his history. Donations have poured in from across the country. Local school children collected pennies for the erection of the statue that will honor this man. A wonderful website, The Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative was built to collect funds that supported this initiative. 

On May 26 of this month, the city of Ft. Smith will unveil a statue depicting Bass Reeves, and his remarkable legacy. This will be the first equestrian statue in the state of Arkansas. This will also be the first statue erected in the state honoring a person of color.

An image of the statue and the story of its creation, is already reflected on the most recent cover of Entertainment Fort Smith, Magazine.  The city rallied around efforts to pay for the monument, and as school children of all colors throughout the city collected pennies over the past two years to also help pay for this monument, another man who lives in the city, Baridi Nkokheli has a very strong resemblance to Bass Reeves and he has been portraying Bass Reeves at numerous evens throughout the city. He is celebrated and cheered in the annual Rodeo Parade, and children now know the name of Bass Reeves.

Baridi Nkokheli Portrays Bass Reeves
Source: The City Wire

And now, all eyes will be directed to the banks of the Arkansas River in Fort Smith Arkansas in late May. Visitors from the west will see the statue of Bass as they cross the bridge into the state of Arkansas from the west. All leaving the city traveling into Oklahoma will see Bass facing the western frontier as they leave.  

I am happy that this man is at long last being honored and that his story is at last being told.

Thankfully the times have changed, and there is a new era in this old frontier town.