Monday, December 31, 2012

WATCH NIGHT: Oh Glorious Day!

Page 1 of the Emancipation Proclamation

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."

"And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons."

"And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God."

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN

 * * * * *     * * * * *     * * * * *     * * * * *    * * * * *

The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe

And so it came to be--the Proclamation was released and with time, freedom came to the land. Some were already free by January 1st, others had to wait for some time. But no matter how long they had to wait, they endured, remained faithful and resilient and found freedom!

 On now that the day has come that this Proclamation is commemorated, I also commemorate those who toiled so long in bondage without hope and without joy! They kept their faith and were rewarded at long last! And for that I can rejoice and be glad!!!

One of the many copies of the proclamation made after January 1st 1863.

One of the oldest dated documents that I have reflecting my ancestors is an estate inventory with the names of all of the slaves of Major John Bass. The document was created in 1860. These men, women and  children ranged in age from 65 years of age to 2 months. In 1860 they were there together, enslaved, but thankfully, with time they were all freed. 

Estate Inventory of Major John Bass of Giles County Tennessee, 1860

Like my ancestors on other lines, freedom came to them in many ways. My uncles Sephus and Braxton joined the Union Army as well as Uncle Sephus' two sons. Mitchell was sent to Arkansas, and a daughter was eventually sent away from the family as well from the family unit before freedom finally came. Some freed themselves and others had to wait.

But when they were finally released from the yoke of bondage---it had to be a happy day, indeed!! As much as they had prayed for the day to come, finally freedom did come to them.  All are honored, today simply because they endured. And because they endured, I am here today.

The symbol of their freedom is the Proclamation Released on this day January 1st.

Whatever day that my ancestors found freedom, I cherish the emotion that they must have felt! Their prayers had been answered. They must have believed that God finally had heard their pleas, and had washed way their sins for they had truly reached that Happy Day of Freedom.  

Some could only watch as time brought freedom to them.
Some did fight for their freedom and won.
And all of them prayed that the day would come.

For all of them, no matter when, it was  a Happy Day!

Statement Made by Congressman John Lewis in the Prologue 
to the Commemoration Booklet of the Emancipation Proclamation

WATCH NIGHT: Honoring My Arkansas, Tennessee, & Mississippi Ancestors

National Geographic Video Retelling the Story Surrounding the Proclamation

Those for whom the Emancipation Proclamation were the enslaved in many states and for my ancestors, whose enslaved in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, would be included.

Some of their stories of Freedom, I know---some escaped when Union soldiers came through.Many of them joined to fight!

Others seized their own freedom and followed the men. and they later were declared contrabands of war, and were quickly put to work to support the army with their labor.

Black soldiers repairing a railroad track.
Contrabands working to secure the railroads.
Source: National Park Service Image

Women as well as men became contrabands, finding a new freedom. Some served as civilian workers for white regiments, as cooks, laundresses and servants.

Image of fugitive slaves known as contraband
A group of contrabands that served the 13th Infantry from Massachusetts

Many knew that if they could find sanctuary, and join others they could take refuge in some of the new Freedman colonies that formed and dotted the countryside in so many places.

A Freedmen's Colony village
An image of one of the Freedman's colony villages that appeared during the War.

But so many stayed at home. They did not leave, for they could not leave. In so many places there were no Union soldiers coming through, no men were given the chance to fight for their freedom, and so many were simply taken further away, to avoid the hope of Freedom. My ancestor Amanda was among them. She was taken to Lowdnes County Mississipi away from where she had lived in Tippah County. The threat of losing Amanda, the matriarch and cook to the family was too much and before my Amanda could join her family who had begun to leave, she was taken away. So unlike many in her family who had escaped, she was truly forced to wait for Freedom to come to her.

Taken from the Southern Claims Commission File
of Amanda Young, Tippah County, Mississippi.

Eventually the slaves were indeed freed, and it is said that there were those scenarios repeated in many hamlets and villages across the south. The Proclamation of freedom was read to them, and they were finally released into a new life and their future had begun again.

Their freedom stories are not known, but there are a few, whose names I do know. I honor them for their resilience and their desire to survive/
I honor my ancestors enslaved in Mississippi:
Amanda, Berry, John, Harriet, Violet, Nancy, Alsie, Paralee

I honor my ancestors in Arkansas:
Louis Mitchell, Georgia Ann, Minerva

I honor my ancestors enslaved in Tennessee:
Irving, Nancy, Sephus, Napier, Silas, Susan 

After so much, suffered so long, they were declared to be "forever free."

WATCH NIGHT: I Know Where My Ancestors Come From

Video: I Know Where My Ancestors Come From

This video was created in honor of my ancestors enslaved in Indian Territory. They lived in the Choctaw Nation most of the time and briefly in the Chickasaw Nation.
* * * * *
On my father's side is a unique history--that of slaves born in Indian Territory, taken west by the Indian Tribes that were relocated in the west.

I knew one of them Sallie, my gr. grandmother. I have told her story already. But there were others about whom so little is known.  I found some of these storied embedded in other documents, and other related files. Sallie was born during the Civil War, but her mother Amanda, lived a good portion of her life enslaved. And quite accidentally I also learned the name of Amanda's mother- Kitty Perry, a slave of the Perry clan from Mississippi, a large Choctaw family.

Though they are names without faces they belong to me, nevertheless. Amanda, Sallie's mother did live to see freedom as she died in 1898. But little is known about her mother Kitty. Amanda also had a brother Jackson Crow.  He too was born enslaved, and he died in 1888. But as much or as little is known, I am still compelled to say their names, so that they shall not be forgotten:

On this day, I honor these ancestors, who were not freed by the Emancipation, for the lived outside of the boundaries of the United States---they lived in Indian Territory.  Freedom would come three  years later with the Treaty of 1866. But because the lived under the same institution of enslavement--they are  honored here as well.  Their story is part of my story, and I call their names:

Sallie Walton

Amanda Perry
Kitty Perry
Joe Hunt Perry

Jackson Crow
Indiana Perry

They honor them on this day, commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation, for they too were slaved and they two lived to breathe the sweet air of freedom.

Watch Night - Lydia Walters Talkington

Lydia a Mysterious Name in a Family Bible

For many years, I saw Lydia's name in the family bible. I occasionally heard her name mentioned--Lydia Talkington. Sometimes they would call it Tarkington. But who was she?  The old Bible belonged to Sallie Walton, my great grandmother, but it previously was the bible used by her husband, Samuel Walton. But who was Lydia and could anything be learned about her?

In the 1990s when I had gotten rally into the family research, on a whim I decided to see if I could find out more about her. I had already learned about another mystery woman in the same bible, "Aandia" Hunt, I would come to learn was really Amanda Hunt, the mother of Sallie Walton, my beloved gr. grandmother.

Bible page reflecting Amanda Hunt's name.
When I found the Walton family on the Dawes Roll, it was clear that Sallie's mother was Amanda Hunt. So who was Lydia? I did see the name of Lydia on the same Dawes card, but the surname was different. Could I have learned more?

On a whim I decided to see if Lydia was possibly related to a Civil War Union soldier as there were many who enlisted from the same NW Arkansas Community. Then bam!!! There she was---she really was a Civil War widow. Lydia Talkington, widow of John Talkington, aka John Tuckington, of the 83rd US Colored Infantry!  I wasted little time in rushing to obtain the Civil War pension file of Lydia Talkington!

Then the story unfolded---Lydia was born  a slave in North Carolina. It is not known how/when she left, but she was just a young child---a tiny girl, and she was purchased by Hiram Walters in Illinois. The Walters moved and settled in NW Arkansas in the 1830--and Lydia was there, this tiny girl, was taken as a house servant to the Walters family.

In that pension file she told her story---she lived there in the Walter's home, sleeping near the hearth most of her life. She met a young boy nearby and was allowed to "court" him--his name was Patrick a slave of John Drennan, of Van Buren Arkansas. They "courted" for some some time--never allowed to marry. Two children emerged from that relationship. Samuel and Harriet.
Meanwhile Patrick her young love, was the personal man servant to John Drennan, and he was taken to Drennan household and had become ill. He died within a short time, and Lydia never got to marry this young man whom she so loved. What heartbreak this must have been, and now she had two small children to raise alone.

A year or so later another man was interested in Lydia. She was allowed to marry this young man, Sandy Ousley a slave of Mr. Ousley of Crawford County. In this small Arkansas hamlet, Lydia described in that pension file, how she was even given a wedding--with the formal dress, and colored preacher, and a sit down dinner was prepared in the home of her mistress. A white lady, friend of Mrs. Walters, came to dress  her for the event. She became the bride of Sandy Ousley. It is assumed that the slave holder also consented ot the marriage, however, Ousley the slave owner was also a slave trader. Within a few weeks, Sandy, was simply taken away to be sold. Such heartbreak--Lydia's Sandy was gone. Within a few weeks, she heard other people talking among themselves that Sandy the Ousley slave had died. No details emerged for her about how he died, but he too was gone from her life. 

The community in which Lydia lived was Dripping Springs Arkansas---a small rural hamlet, with only a few scattered families. Lydia's heartaches continued, Harriet, the younger of her two children, died. Infants died often in those days and she developed a cold from which she did not recover. She was not even two years old.

Lydia however, was a resilient woman, with a strong desire to live, and to love. A third young man entered her life--John Talkington. He was the slave of Isaac Walton Talkington, the county clerk of Crawford County. He heard of the young lady living with Widow Walters, and that this young lady Lydia was also a widow herself. He went into the hills to meet her. She intrigued him and in a few weeks, he courted her and consent was given again for her to marry. And incredibly--another ceremony was held--dress and all. 

From The Widow's Pension file, Lydia described her marriage to John Talkington

But the times were changing, including NW Arkansas--for the Civil War had begun.When the Civil War emerged there were Union sympathies in NW Arkansas, and when a few male slaves in that area chose to enlist in the Union army there was not much resistance. Nearby Ft. Smith in fact had enlisted a large number of slaves who joined the 11th US Colored Infantry. In another instance some were taken into Kansas, to Ft. Scott and those men joined the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. John Talkngton decided that he would enlist.  But before he left, he went to Dripping Springs to secure his bride, and as she put it "he bought me a small cooking stove, and then took me down to the city of Van Buren." He had set his new wife up in a place where she would wait for his return. But that was not to be. The Battle of Jenkins Ferry took the life of John Talkington. He paid the ultimate price for his freedom.

When the soldiers returned, he was not among them, and had been gravely injured. Isaac Talkington, John's former owner was the one who informed her of her husband's loss of life from his injuries.

Lydia---my heart breaks for you!
Born a slave with no mother's love to comfort you, 

Lydia --my heart breaks for you!
You loved three times and lost each time, your love.

Lydia did receive a Civil War widow's pension from her husband John Talkington. I learned later where she was buried with a small field stone to mark her grave at Fairview cemetery. And in that pension file, I finally learned why her name was in the family Bible. She had to prove her marriage to John Talkington, and she mentioned that the record of that marriage was kept with her son Samuel Walton, who was living by that time in the Choctaw Nation. I knew that name all too well---Samuel Walton who married my Sallie, was my gr. grandfather. And that made Lydia as well as Patrick my gr. gr. grandparents!

From the Civil War Widow's Pension
Lydia Talkington Widow of John Talkington (Tuckington)
83rd US Colored Infantry

It was therefore fitting that the memorial markers be placed side by side. Patrick who died in 1858, was buried in the Drennen family plot in Van Buren. His master was the town founder. His grave however, was unmarked. It was documented---but was not marked with a name. And when I learned from that pension file, the story of these two people who loved each other, I had these two markers placed side by side in a family owned plot.

(Headstones placed for Lydia & Patrick)

But--a word about John Talkington. 

A close colleague Tonia Holleman and I had been researching Black soldiers from the Civil War, and we learned that several soldiers were buried in the same cemetery as Lydia and so we were able to obtain military markers for them. John Talkington (Tuckington) was one of them. 

Thanks to Tonia, and also the Reese family another surprise emerged---the face of one so dear and who had endured so much. She still managed to smile---the face of Lydia was discovered.

Lydia Talkington
Born in North Carolina, Died in Arkansas

Lydia was a brave woman and her name for many years was a mystery. But her widow's pension file opened the door. From that file I learned so much more.  From her small corner of the NW Arknasas, she may have been the only one from her early years who lived to see Freedom, but now I can say her name. And from her story I mention all of their names:

Lydia Walters, Sandey Ousley, John Talkington, and little Harriet, I commemorate you on this day.

Oh Sweet Freedom!!

Watch Night - Sallie Ann Walton

Sallie Walton
When I discovered my gr. grandmother in an Oklahoma based document in 1991, I was more than surprised to learn that she had been born a slave.You see, I knew Sallie---she was Nana to me, and she was my heart!  She lived until 1961, and to this day, I still think of her, love her and miss her!

Sallie was born in the middle of the Civil War, in 1863, in Indian Territory, in the northern part of the Choctaw Nation. I knew Sallie--she was my dear beloved gr. grandmother. I knew she was born in Choctaw country, and was part Choctaw, but what a surprise to learn when I found her name on a Dawes Card,  that she was born enslaved. But there it was, clear as day---her name, and an item nearby indicating that she was born the "slave of" Emeline Perry.

Portions of Dawes Enrollment Card,Choctaw Freedman Card 777

Thankfully, Sallie was a small child, when slavery ended so memories of being enslaved were not a part of her life. However, she was also not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation either. 

She lived in Indian Territory, and Proclamation was essentially ignored in Indian Territory, and the slave holding tribes simply said it did not pertain to them as they  had not seceded. They had of course formed an alliance with the Confederate states, and fought for the South in the Civil War. It would later take a treaty written in 1866 to abolish slavery in the five slave-holding tribes. However, the talk of freedom ran throughout the Territory, and it was well known that Freedom was near!  Sallie was too young to hear it, but her mother Amanda would have heard it, felt it and truly lived to see it!

Because I knew this beautiful woman who was my gr. grandmother, I honor her, for she too, lived in the time of enslavement, and formed a rich life on the western frontier, and she like so many others, chose to survive!

On this watch night, I honor Sallie Walton, in commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation, and ultimate Freedom that followed!

WATCH NIGHT: Honoring my Ancestor Georgia Ann Houston

Georgia Ann Houston Bass

When I look into the eyes of my gr. grandmother Georgia Ann, I often wonder what she saw. Her eyes were the eyes that saw slavery. I sometimes think I see such sadness in her eyes.  Did she see siblings sold away? Did she ever know her father? Did she see children taken from mothers?

I know that Georgia Ann's eyes saw a lot in the small community in SW Arkansas where she was born. Her mother's name was said to have been Minerva, and she had an older sister whose name was Susan, and she like they, had been born enslaved.

It is said that she did have a half brother as well---but he was never enslaved. He was white and it is said that he was a son of a member of the family that had brought her mother to Arkansas. His name is said to have been George Millwee, and on occasion, he would come to visit her in her latter years. The family never called him "Uncle" George and he never referred to her children as his nieces and nephews. That was not done in those days and was not the social order of the day. But the children knew that when the white man came to visit, he was simply "Mama's brother" and they were to stay out of the way and let them talk.

I wonder what her eyes saw when she saw her brother. I wonder also what she thought and felt.
Georgia Ann was the younger of the Houston daughters--who were part of the Houston-Millwee clan. But exactly when they came to Arkansas is not known.

Her older sister Susan married Mitchell Bass after slavery ended. Susan took two children into that marriage--who were said to be children of another white man--J.S. Dollarhide. Those children would carry the Dollarhide name into the next several generations. Georgia's sister Susan had two children with Mitchell Bass, before illness took her life leaving four children without a mother.

Mitchell Bass then courted Georgia Ann, and she entered this marriage in 1879, with the intention of raising her sister's children. But with time, 11 more children were born into that household, and a large family emerged. Minerva, Georgia's mother was often mentioned, but by the time Georgia was raising her own large family, she was gone.

So Georgia Ann became the matriarch, and was mentioned often through the decades simply as "Mama" even by the Dollarhide children that she had raised. As grandchildren came along, she became "Big Mama", till she died in the 1930s. Though called  "Big Mama", she was slight in build and gentle in spirit. She was said to be the gentle voice of the family, raising her handsome sons, and her daughters who were known for their beauty. She would live to see many of her children educated, and the family would remain in the same community around her, until she died.

She was the gentle spirit and like her husband, she too saw slavery prosper, she saw it end and she was one who chose to survive.

It is not known how freedom came to Georgia Ann Houston Bass, but I honor her on this eve of the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation!

WATCH NIGHT - Louis Mitchell Bass

Louis Mitchell Bass
Patriarch of the Bass Family of Sevier County Arkansas

Known to be a strict disciplinarian and a devout family man, Louis Mitchell Bass was born a slave in Giles County, Tennessee. He was the son of Irving and Nancy, who were both slaves of Major John Bass of Elkton. 

Upon the death of Major Bass in 1860, some of the Bass estate was divided, and as debts were paid and gifts were made from the estate, the lives of the enslaved people were dramatically affected by this settlement. One of those affected was Mitchell. He was sent as a "gift" to one of the daughters of Major Bass, and sent to live in SW Arkansas, near the town of Horatio. 

Not much was known about his life while enslaved in Arkansas forever separated from his family. It has been said that he was often working with sheep and wool, and spinning yarn.

Louis Mitchell would remain in Arkansas, for most of  his life, although he would often receive news and treasure news about the family that remained in Tennessee. He would later keep in touch with one of the few remaining brothers who eventually left Tennessee and moved to Kansas. Two older brothers were in Texas, but Mitchell never saw them again.

Mitchell would marry twice in his lifetime, first to Susan Houston, and after she died he then married her sister Georgia Ann Houston.

Marriage of Lewis Mitchel Bass to Georgia Ann Houston, 1879

He would raise a very large family in Horatio Arkansas, even renting land to families nearby. Agriculture was how he made a living, and the family would remain in the same Arkansas community until the 1940s. In the late 1800s Mitchell Bass obtained some of his land as a homesteader. One of his sons, Irving also later acquired land and the family prospered for many years off of the combined parcels acquired land.

Part of Land Patent of Louis M. Bass

It is not known how Louis Mitchell Bass found his freedom, but in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation, and his freedom, I honor this ancestor! He is one who chose to survive and I honor him on this Watch Night!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

In Anticipation of Watch Night 2012

Images from Watch Night Celebrations Planned at Churches Throughout the Nation

For 150 years, African American churches have celebrated Watch Night. This is a tradition that has its origins rooted in the heart of the American Civil War. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the official Emanciaption Proclamation. The actual document had been written earlier in September of 1862, and Lincoln gave the states that had seceded 100 days to respond, in an effort to preserve the Union. Of course there was no official response, to re-join the Union, and on January 1, the act of Emancipation was issued.

This was a time of war. Many of the enslaved had already freed themselves, as opportunities occurred---and also the word of the upcoming Emancipation act had filtered into the slave communities. Although by 1863, many had left bondage by joining the Union Army and thousands had fled to the Union lines seeking refuge as "contrabands".  But, many thousands remained still enlsaved. In those slaves quarters the word had become more than a whisper--on January 1st, they would be officially free! This was hard to believe and even harder to comprehend.

For so many enslaved, they could only turn to God. With that faith, they gathered in quarters large and small. Some if they were allowed to also have religious services, prayed and watched, and waited.  This became the very first Watch Night.

This year, the very document--the Emancipation Proclamation will be commemorated on the 150th Anniversary of it's taking place.

While true, all were not freed by the document itself---it still represents the only official act addressing the status of enslaved men, women and children, and declared from the highest office in the land that they shall be, "forever free!"  And since there is no celebration nor act to commemorate the end to enslavement, I shall embrace January 1st as Emancipation Day, on this 150th Anniversary of the Proclamation!

Forever free! Such sweet words these had to be, for those who were born in bondage, and for their parents born in bondage, their grandparents born in bondage. Generations of  people were born on this soil sentenced to lifetimes of toil for no valid reason.

Forever free!  Such sweet words for those who were born without hope, without sanctuary and without allies.

Forever free! Such sweet words for all men and women whose children would no longer suffer the yoke of restraint, and the heartbreaking pain of separation!


I honor those ancestors of mine who endured and in their honor, I shall have my very own Watch Night event. 

From 6:00 pm till midnight, on December 31st,  I shall make a post on my blog at the top of each hour---in commemoration of the Proclamation, and in commemoration of my ancestors, who lived, who died, and who endured. As was said in  "Daughters of the Dust" :  We are the descendants of those who chose to survive.

Join me on Watch Night 2012!

Monday, December 24, 2012

These Things I Wish For Thee...

This has been an amazing year of research, and travel. 

I have been blessed to have been in the company of so many dynamic researchers, scholars and and leaders in the genealogy community. I look towards working with you all in the future and thank you all for a wonderful year!! 

May the Spirit of the Christmas Season be with you through the holiday season, and may the coming year bring even more promises!!

I share my annual Christmas wish to all in the genealogy community!

African Ancestors 12 Days of Christmas
 © Angela Y. Walton-Raji

On the 12th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
12 Brand new cousins

On the 11th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee
11 Slave ship names
On the 10th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
10 Birth Records
On the 9th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
9 Land Patents
On the 8th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
8 Marriage Records
On the 7th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
7 Dawes Enrollments
On the 6th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
6 Query Hits
On the 5th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
5 USCT’S.........
On the 4th Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
4 Manumissions
On the 3rd Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
3 Bills of Sale
On the 2nd Day of Christmas these things I wish for thee 
2 Deeds of Gift

….and Completion of Your Family Tree

Friday, December 21, 2012

They Watched, They Prayed, and They Waited

Christmas is a joyous season, but for those enslaved there were few joys during those painful times. However, 150 years ago, the status of my ancestors changed. As this year winds down and we head towards a new year--my ancestors headed towards a new future. On January 1, 1863, the word had spread throughout the land---they would be legally free.

How did they react? Had they heard the word?

Some of my ancestors in Mississippi had already heard that freedom was coming. My ancestor Amanda Young of Ripley Mississippi had seen her husband, her son, and her father leave when the Yankees came into the small town of Ripley. Two of her daughters and her sister also left. Her sister, Mary Paralee Young told how they freed themselves, when the chance came:

Source: Statement made by Mary Paralee Young Civil War Widow, and wife of Pvt. Joseph Young, 59th US Colored Infantry. Mary Paralee gave this statement on behalf of her sister Amanda Young, seeking pension for her husband Berry Young who also left and joined the Union Army

But Amanda was taken away shortly after the slaves had left. She did not get the chance to leave and seize freedom when the others did. She never saw most of them after they left. Did they live? Did they make it? She would not know until 50 years later when she finally saw Paralee, living in Memphis. Only then did she learn what happened when they fled, and that some of them made it to freedom while others did not.

But what happened to Amanda? 

In her file found in the Southern Claims, she revealed that she was taken away to another county--and she, unlike many in her family, had to wait for freedom.

Source: Southern Claims Commission, Approved Claims, Tippah County Mississippi

Amanda was taken to another area, someplace in Lowndes County, and she was now among others not known to her but still in bondage, as the war progressed.  But like countless other slaves who had heard since 1862--freedom was truly coming!

When word had reached the communities in the south, the promise of a new day, now had a date--January 1, 1863! So near, and yet so far, but as the days passed, the time came closer. 

Many of the enslaved who were people of faith, turned to their only hope on that New Year's Eve--God! So they waited!! As the day emerged---as hushed as it might have been--they gathered in the slave quarters and they prayed!

Source: Library of Congress Image

The night before Freedom they watched as the years of bondage melted away.
On that quiet night in 1862, they fell on their needs with the need to pray.
On New Year's Eve they waited at last for relief and freedom of that sweet day.

I think of Amanda, who was now away from those who loved her and those whom she had loved--they were gone and she was also gone away from what was familiar. 

But was she among a group of others who watched and prayed?

I know she waited, but did she attend the watch meeting in the quarters where she was? Did she share their joy? Did she have the hope of seeing her children again, and feel her husband's embrace?

Time and research answered some of those questions--she would never see her daughters Nancy and Alsie, again, and her husband would not return, for he had died in battle. 

But her joys at freedom? 

Oh yes--she shared them! And her joys upon being able to return to Ripley, to the familiar places soothed her weary soul. 

She would eventually remarry and have one more child--a boy called Elijah. And she managed, to have another life, thanks to the good man Pleasant Barr who married her and helped her care for her remaining daughters, Harriet and Violet. Harriet would carry the name of Amanda forward to the next generation and often told stories of Amanda her mother, to my own mother Pauline. 

The memory of Amanda and her quest for freedom would prevail.

I rejoice that Amanda, found a good man who became her life's companion after the war, and they married, and were leaders in the tiny St. Paul's Church, in Ripley Mississippi. Her huband Pleas Barr was also a man of faith, and both would become active in the tiny St. Paul's church community. Her husband Pleas Barr was a founder of the church, and Amanda, for many years was the matriarch of the church, that still stands today.

I think of her strength and how she faced an uncertain future with her new freedom. Her new freedom had stolen her husband, her father and her son, and two of her daughters had left never to return, so she must have clutched her other two daughters, so much closer. But she moved ahead with strength and dignity nevertheless. I wonder if she attended Watch Night services at St. Paul's over the years.

Every year, in most black churches throughout the country, Watch Night is a tradition on New Year's Eve. And I know that on that first Watch Night, Amanda watched and waited and prayed.

On New Year's Eve, I shall honor my own ancestors by holding my own Watch Night in their honor.

I urge other writers and bloggers to share your own watch night stories, traditions, or create a new one on  your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and other online platforms---the 150th Anniversary of our Freedom begins!

Button from the National Archives Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

Friday, December 7, 2012

Remembering Dorie Miller, An American Hero

Dorie Miller

He is part of America's greatest generation - the men and also women who defended this nation in World War II. On this day December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor this man became a hero.

His name is not a household name.  But he was a hero during a time when  his own country still regarded him as second class, and would even let enemies of the nation, German Prisoners of War have more privileges than he would be given. But in spite of this country's legalized system of exclusion of people who looked like him, this man would in a time of trouble still rise, still defend the nation where he was born, where his ancestors were born, lived, and died. But in December 1941, he, like so many others was attacked and he fought back. His name was Doris Miller, called most frequently "Dorie"

Like many men of color, because of his skin he was not given jobs that required the use of his skill nor intelligence. His color meant that he had to be a cook, and he was to be a servant to fellow white sailors, of the same age, same size, same background. It was believed that at best he could and should only be a servant, just as his ancestors were sentenced to a lifetime of unpaid servitude. That was simply the way America was in the 1940s--a mighty nation, yet far less than the best it could be.  It was simply, the way it was.

When the call came to enlist in the military to serve his nation, Dorie, like thousands of Americans enlisted. He was a healthy strong young man, who had been a fullback on his high school football team in Waco Texas. He had wanted to be a marine, but at that time, the US Marines did not allow men of color to serve.  So he enlisted in the US Navy. On the ship where he served, he would be the heavyweight champion. 

As fate would have it, he was on the USS West Virginia in December of 1941. It was early morning, and when the bombs hit, turmoil was everywhere. He was below deck working and going into the laundry area when he realized that torpedoes had hit. He went on deck and wounded sailors were everywhere. He immediately began to pick up the wounded to carry them to safer parts of the ship while torpedoes still came down.  The captain of the ship was wounded and Dorie stepped up again. He carried the ship's commander away from further fire. In spite of his build and size, Dorie had never been trained in firearms, as his color meant he was only to serve others in menial tasks. However---they were being attacked, and without hesitation after carrying his wounded commanding officer away from further fire he took hold of a machine gun and began firing at Japanese plans diving down for further attack. 

For fifteen minutes he fired the machine gun like a marksman, and brought down some of the enemy planes. As he described in his own words what happened, It wasn't hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns."

Dorie Miller was later honored for his bravery shown that day. He received the Navy Cross for bravery and duty above and beyond the call of duty.

* * * * *

In 1973, the USS Dorrie Miller was named in his honor.

USS Doris Miller

In 2010 the US Postal Service included an photo of Dorie Miller as part of the Distinguished Sailor's series.

Source: USPS

I honor the memory of Dorie Miller today, December 7th. He is an American hero and his name stands among the names of all men and women of honor who served on this day.

A video honoring Dorie Miller

Friday, November 23, 2012

National Day of Listening

Click Link to Listen

My mother, Pauline, B. Walton

My mother often told me stories that she heard from her grandmother Harriet Martin who raised her. The stories came from Ripley  Mississippi. Thankfully even when the names were few--she told  the stories and I was able to find more based on what she shared with me. Thank you dear Mamma, my heart.  To you I owe so much!  I love you and still miss you every day! (To hear some of the clues to the family history that she gave me, click on the link above.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Ancestors Told, My Elders Listened, We Now Pass It On

Source: Harper's Weekly 1881

For the National Day of Listening, I am sharing a story about an ancestor whose story was carried into the 20th century and preserved for the 21st century.  This simply reflects how a simple story  can unlock doors to the past.

The Ancestors Told....
In the late 1880s my ancestors living in rural Tennessee faced the threat that many black families faced---night riders!! They lived in Giles County Tennessee, the birthplace of the Klan. Until the 1880s the family had  lived mostly in peace, during those post Civil War years. One of the sons of the Bass family had even secured an education, attending and graduating from Meharry Medical School in 1878. Meharry was a school established in the 1870s to train black doctors. He had become a doctor and the family's status was rising in the small community where they lived. The changes in their life became the envy of a poorer white community and the prospect of seeing a black family acquire land and secure a better life meant that they had to be "put in their place. "

That fateful night occurred after the family had returned from a wedding event, and late that night, the family home was attacked by night riders in the small Elkton Tennessee community. Blood was shed. The patriarch of the family my gr. gr. grandfather Irving Bass was killed and during the melee and horrors of that night, the men of the family defended the family.

One of the men was a gr. gr. uncle who was not going to simply allow the Klan to come and burn the family home without a fight. He had been a soldier in the Civil War, and had served in the 111th US Colored Troops. He was also armed. The story is that he did manage to shoot and to kill at least two of the Klansmen who attacked the family.  Because he was known in the community the rest of the story is all that was ever said about him---he shot a white man and had to run away to Texas. Nothing more was known of this man---and it was only hoped that he made it to Texas and lived.

The man was my gr. grandfather Mitchell Bass's brother. The events of the shoot out were told over the years, it always ended with the same line---one of the brothers shot the Klansmen and ran away to Texas.

The Elders Listened.....

In the early 20th century, my grandmother's brother, George Bass was the youngest child in the family.
George N. Bass is picture with his parents, Mitchell and Georgia Ann Bass. 
He was the youngest child, and one who listened to the story of the ancestors.

George, the youngest child was the one who heard the story the most about this ancestor, who fired the shots at white men and who fled to Texas.  Over the years, the story was simplified to a one line story---we have an ancestor who shot a white man and ran away to Texas.

Uncle George heard this story told to him when he was a young boy.  And like many children who would hear stories of  tragic events, he would remember this story. Like an obedient child, he listened. And, because the story had one element-a surviving uncle---who survived and who fled to Texas---it was imperative that the story not be repeated outside of the family circle.  Why?  Because this unknown uncle had shot a white man---and any knowledge of his whereabouts would be fatal---he would have been sought and killed as well.

So the story and the message was---don't talk about this---we don't want our uncle killed.

The decades of the 20th century passed.  In the late 1980s at a family reunion, Uncle George, the child who had heard the story from his parents, was now an old man.

George N. Bass an an elderly man.

But this was almost a century later and he had become the patriarch of the family. At this reunion, the discussion arose about where the family was from. Not many facts were known--except that  there were roots in Tennessee.

Then Uncle George began to talk. "You know, back in Tennessee, there was a big fight when the KKK came to burn up the house. One of our uncles had a musket and shot some of the white men, and he had to run away to Texas."

"What"?  For most of the 20th century, this story was never told and generations had been born that had never heard this.

The family began to pressure him and wanted to know more. He simply said "All I can say is that one of the family shot a white man and ran away to Texas."

This was the very first time in decades that this story had ever been told! Cousins in their 40s 50s and even 60s had never heard this story before. And here, at this family reunion in the 1980s, our elder who had listened to this story as a child, was cautiously telling it to a new generation. Everyone was mesmerized, and then, he was pressure with questions:
"Who was he?"
"When did this happen?" 
"Who was the ancestor with the gun who defended the family?" 
"What was his name? What was his name? What was his name?"

Uncle George then repeated what he had been instructed to do. "Well now, we are not supposed to talk about that."  

Amazingly, this man, now an old man, was doing as he was told, he was not telling the story carelessly, because the uncle who had shot the white men, could be jeopardized if they knew where he was.

But finally----Cousin Buddy of Phoenix went up to Uncle George and said aloud, "But wait a minute. They are all dead. No one will be hurt by this. Even the uncle is dead---this took  place 100 years ago. Nobody will be mad and nobody can do anything.  We just want to know his name."

Uncle George, the youngest child from the Bass family took a deep breath and uttered the words, "Well his name was Sephus."

Sephus!!!  Sephus Bass.

Well as a genealogist--all I needed was a name and finally I had it----Sephus Bass. Could I find it?  Could I find him?  Did he make it to Texas?  Did I dare look for him?

We Pass it On.......

From the time I heard this story a few years after that reunion, I would remember his name. In 1995, I began a full scale hunt for Uncle Sephas.......and I found him!!

But what I found was far greater than I  imagined. I did not find Uncle Sephus a fugitive from Tennessee. I found a Civil War soldier, a freedom fighter! I found anther story about this man---who dared to stand up to night riders of terror. I found a man who enlisted in the US Colored Troops. I found a man who was taken prisoner by Nathan Bedford Forrest, and who escaped from him! And this escape was documented!  I found two of his sons who were also Civil War soldiers, and another brother in the family who served in the same unit.

I found a story about a true freedom fighter and a hero in our family history!

I have also passed it on---I tell the story at every reunion AND I have blogged about Uncle Sephus and how I found him as well.

I love this story---because it exemplifies how going back to the family's oral history--even if it is sketchy, the story can still come forth. In this case, as Uncle George told the simple story and could only say one thing about our mysterious uncle--he was found.  And now that I have found him---his story willl always be told!!!

I am most grateful that my ancestors told what happened.
I am most grateful that my elder, Uncle George. N. Bass listened when he was a child.
I am most grateful that I found Uncle Sephus and his story and it has been my honor to pass it on.

The Ancestors told!
The Elders Listened!
We Pass it On!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Blog Carnival is Coming on the National Day of Listening

Next week is Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving, is the National Day of Listening. This day, organized by StoryCorps is a day in which we can honor a loved one through listening. This is a massive oral history project in which ordinary people are honored by having their stories recorded and listened to by members of their own family or circle of friends. The suggested theme by StoryCorps this year is active duty military and their families. However, you are not limited by this theme--you may record anyone and any topic that you choose.

Well, myself and two other genea-friends (George Geder, and Toni Carrier of LowCountry Africana, have often communicated with each other and have called our small trio The Preservinators--a fun name reflecting our passion and interest in the preservation of family history. Well we, have reunited again in the spirit of urging our readers to participate in our Blog Carnival which will roll out on the 23 of November--the National Day of Listening.

Our theme:  

The topic is oral history from our elders. We urge you to write about the topic in any creative way that you can. You may choose to interview someone and post the recording as an MP3 file on your blog so that we may listen. You may wish to share an interview made with an elder years ago, or you may interview someone new today. You can also choose to write about the impact that oral history has made upon your own research journey---be creative and join the blog carnival!

Follow the instructions outlined on the Low Country Africana website, put your data on your blog between now and next Wednesday, and all of the links to the blog posts will be collected and rolled out next Friday on the National Day of Listening for all to share and enjoy!

Join the carnival, honor a loved one, tell a story and contribute to this Oral History Effort!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

So, Why Do I Blog?

A collage of my three blogs

A good conversation emerged today in one of the Facebook groups that I have joined. The question arose around the topic of writing and sharing. One participant admitted that she was not yet ready to blog and a bit nervous about it. I jumped into the dialogue and hope that I was able to encourage her to do so.  

I fully understood her point, she was hesitant and did not yet feel that she could blog. Then I thought about it-and I truly wanted to know why I have become so engaged in the blogs that I have. Now, I don't post in them all the time, and they each very different types of blogs. And though I don't post daily or weekly, they are still very important to me, and I decided to explain why. I realized why I have found blogging to be so special--it gives me the platform to share my stories.

As genealogists we all know that everyone does not share our passion.
Everyone we meet does not know the feeling of euphoria we get when we make "the big find".
Not everyone wants to hear how hard it is to find Mariah.  BUT---a fellow genealogist does!

We know the "rush" we get when we are on the trail, but we also know the emotion we feel when we find someone long sought. 

We all know how we felt when we first got started and we found the gr. grandparents in the early 20th century and we did the math when we saw their ages. We know the emotion when we realized that we were looking at someone who had been born enslaved. And when we follow that ancestor back in time to 1870---and we see the family a mere five years into freedom, we know how we felt that first time we saw that--and we want to tell everyone.

But---we also know that everyone does not share the passion.

But---there is comfort, because there is a family that wants to read about what you have found. 

There is a community that wants to read HOW I found Uncle Sephus, or WHY I was so captivated by Madam Martha Hockenhull. There are others who are excited to hear about my journey documenting a man called Spottswood Rice, and his journey to freedom and life as a dynamic AME leader. I even have a new friend whom I have never met, trying to locate the ruins of an all African American academy called Tushka Lusa Academy that thrived in the Choctaw Nation. And another friend---whom I have never met has also developed curiosity in a mysterious Black settlement that existed for several decades  in the late 1800s and early 1900s and then it disappeared. The new friend has himself become interested, and is visiting old courthouses to examine land records to see if he can also learn more.

I have tons of stories to tell and blogging allows me to share them.  

My hope is that in some way the people who were affiliated with these places will be known. 

I hope that in a small way that the names of these people who are ancestors to someone, will have their names called once again.  

My hope is that I can provide the platform so that  yes, we can call their names.

I guess that is why I blog.

"An ancestor never dies till there is no one left to call their name."
~African proverb~