In 1870, Henrietta Wood Sued for Reparations—and Won

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2019-08-20 13:39Z by Steven

In 1870, Henrietta Wood Sued for Reparations—and Won

Smithsonian Magazine
September 2019

W. Caleb McDaniel, Associate Professor of History
Rice University, Houston, Texas

Verdict slip collage
No image of Henrietta Wood survives today, but her story is recorded in court filings, including the verdict slip above. (Illustration by Cliff Alejandro; Source material: W. Caleb McDaniel; New York Public Library (3))

The $2,500 verdict, the largest ever of its kind, offers evidence of the generational impact such awards can have

On April 17, 1878, twelve white jurors entered a federal courtroom in Cincinnati, Ohio, to deliver the verdict in a now-forgotten lawsuit about American slavery. The plaintiff was Henrietta Wood, described by a reporter at the time as “a spectacled negro woman, apparently sixty years old.” The defendant was Zebulon Ward, a white man who had enslaved Wood 25 years before. She was suing him for $20,000 in reparations.

Two days earlier, the jury had watched as Wood took the stand; her son, Arthur, who lived in Chicago, was in the courtroom. Born into bondage in Kentucky, Wood testified, she had been granted her freedom in Cincinnati in 1848, but five years later she was kidnapped by Ward, who sold her, and she ended up enslaved on a Texas plantation until after the Civil War. She finally returned to Cincinnati in 1869, a free woman. She had not forgotten Ward and sued him the following year.

The trial began only after eight years of litigation, leaving Wood to wonder if she would ever get justice. Now, she watched nervously as the 12 jurors returned to their seats. Finally, they announced a verdict that few expected: “We, the Jury in the above entitled cause, do find for the plaintiff and assess her damages in the premises at Two thousand five hundred dollars.”

Though a fraction of what Wood had asked for, the amount would be worth nearly $65,000 today. It remains the largest known sum ever granted by a U.S. court in restitution for slavery…

But Wood’s name never made it into the history books. When she died in 1912, her suit was already forgotten by all except her son. Today, it remains virtually unknown, even as reparations for slavery are once again in the headlines.

I first learned of Wood from two interviews she gave to reporters in the 1870s. They led me to archives in nine states in search of her story, which I tell in full for the first time in my new book, Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America

Read the entire article here.

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The Disturbing Resilience of Scientific Racism

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2019-05-21 16:03Z by Steven

The Disturbing Resilience of Scientific Racism

Smithsonian.com
2019-05-20

Ramin Skibba


Nazi officials use calipers to measure an ethnic German’s nose on January 1, 1941. The Nazis developed a pseudoscientific system of facial measurement that was supposedly a way of determining racial descent. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images)

A new book explores how racist biases continue to maintain a foothold in research today

Scientists, including those who study race, like to see themselves as objectively exploring the world, above the political fray. But such views of scientific neutrality are naive, as study findings, inevitably, are influenced by the biases of the people conducting the work.

The American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” His words were borne out, in part, by science. It was the century when the scientifically backed enterprise of eugenics—improving the genetic quality of white, European races by removing people deemed inferior—gained massive popularity, with advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. It would take the Holocaust to show the world the logical endpoint of such horrific ideology, discrediting much race-based science and forcing eugenics’ most hardline adherents into the shadows.

The post-war era saw scientists on the right-wing fringe find ways to cloak their racist views in more palatable language and concepts. And as Angela Saini convincingly argues in her new book, Superior: The Return of Race Science, published May 21 by Beacon Press, the “problem of the color line” still survives today in 21st-century science.

In her thoroughly researched book, Saini, a London-based science journalist, provides clear explanations of racist concepts while diving into the history of race science, from archaeology and anthropology to biology and genetics. Her work involved poring through technical papers, reports and books, and interviewing numerous scientists across various fields, sometimes asking uncomfortable questions about their research…

Read the entire article here.

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The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2016-02-24 04:12Z by Steven

The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’

The Smithsonian Magazine
March 2016

Richard Grant; Photographs by William Widmer

A new Hollywood movie looks at the tale of the Mississippi farmer who led a revolt against the Confederacy

With two rat terriers trotting at his heels, and a long wooden staff in his hand, J.R. Gavin leads me through the woods to one of the old swamp hide-outs. A tall white man with a deep Southern drawl, Gavin has a stern presence, gracious manners and intense brooding eyes. At first I mistook him for a preacher, but he’s a retired electronic engineer who writes self-published novels about the rapture and apocalypse. One of them is titled Sal Batree, after the place he wants to show me.


On his property, Jones County’s J. R. Gavin points out a site that was a hide-out for Newt Knight. “The Confederates kept sending in troops to wipe out old Newt and his boys,” says Gavin, “but they’d just melt into the swamps.” (William Widmer)

I’m here in Jones County, Mississippi, to breathe in the historical vapors left by Newton Knight, a poor white farmer who led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War. With a company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi, he did what many Southerners now regard as unthinkable. He waged guerrilla war against the Confederacy and declared loyalty to the Union.

In the spring of 1864, the Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The county was known as the Free State of Jones, and some say it actually seceded from the Confederacy. This little-known, counterintuitive episode in American history has now been brought to the screen in Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) and starring a grimy, scruffed-up Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight.


As great-granddaughters of Newt and Rachel, Dorothy Knight Marsh, left, and Florence Knight Blaylock revere their past: “It’s a very unusual, complex family,” says Blaylock. (William Widmer)

…After the Civil War, Knight took up with his grandfather’s former slave Rachel; they had five children together. Knight also fathered nine children with his white wife, Serena, and the two families lived in different houses on the same 160-acre farm. After he and Serena separated—they never divorced—Newt Knight caused a scandal that still reverberates by entering a common-law marriage with Rachel and proudly claiming their mixed-race children.

The Knight Negroes, as these children were known, were shunned by whites and blacks alike. Unable to find marriage partners in the community, they started marrying their white cousins instead, with Newt’s encouragement. (Newt’s son Mat, for instance, married one of Rachel’s daughters by another man, and Newt’s daughter Molly married one of Rachel’s sons by another man.) An interracial community began to form near the small town of Soso, and continued to marry within itself…

Read the article here.

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The Slave Trail of Tears is the great missing migration—a thousand-mile-long river of people, all of them black, reaching from Virginia to Louisiana.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-10-22 01:18Z by Steven

The Slave Trail of Tears is the great missing migration—a thousand-mile-long river of people, all of them black, reaching from Virginia to Louisiana. During the 50 years before the Civil War, about a million enslaved people moved from the Upper South—Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky—to the Deep South—Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. They were made to go, deported, you could say, having been sold.

This forced resettlement was 20 times larger than Andrew Jackson’sIndian removal” campaigns of the 1830s, which gave rise to the original Trail of Tears as it drove tribes of Native Americans out of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. It was bigger than the immigration of Jews into the United States during the 19th century, when some 500,000 arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe. It was bigger than the wagon-train migration to the West, beloved of American lore. This movement lasted longer and grabbed up more people than any other migration in North America before 1900.

Edward Ball, “Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 2015. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/slavery-trail-of-tears-180956968.

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Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2015-10-22 00:02Z by Steven

Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears

Smithsonian Magazine
November 2015

Edward Ball, Lecturer in English
Yale University


A coffle of slaves being marched from Virginia west into Tennessee, c. 1850. (Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia)

Edward Ball is the author of five books of nonfiction and a lecturer in English at Yale University. His book, Slaves in the Family (1998) won the National Book Award and was a New York Times bestseller.

America’s forgotten migration – the journeys of a million African-Americans from the tobacco South to the cotton South

When Delores McQuinn was growing up, her father told her a story about a search for the family’s roots.

He said his own father knew the name of the people who had enslaved their family in Virginia, knew where they lived—in the same house and on the same land—in Hanover County, among the rumpled hills north of Richmond.

“My grandfather went to the folks who had owned our family and asked, ‘Do you have any documentation about our history during the slave days? We would like to see it, if possible.’ The man at the door, who I have to assume was from the slaveholding side, said, ‘Sure, we’ll give it to you.’

“The man went into his house and came back out with some papers in his hands. Now, whether the papers were trivial or actual plantation records, who knows? But he stood in the door, in front of my grandfather, and lit a match to the papers. ‘You want your history?’ he said. ‘Here it is.’ Watching the things burn. ‘Take the ashes and get off my land.’…

New Orleans, the biggest slave market in the country, had about 50 people-selling companies in the 1840s. Some whites went to the slave auctions for entertainment. Especially for travelers, the markets were a rival to the French Opera House and the Théâtre d’Orléans.

Today in New Orleans, the number of monuments, markers and historic sites that refer in some way to the domestic slave trade is quite small. I make a first estimate: zero.

“No, that’s not true,” says Erin Greenwald, a curator at the Historic New Orleans Collection. “There is one marker on a wall outside a restaurant called Maspero’s. But what it says is wrong. The slave-trade site it mentions, Maspero’s Exchange, was diagonally across the street from the sandwich place.”…

…Developing the exhibit, Greenwald and her team created a database of names of the enslaved who were shipped from the Eastern states to New Orleans. William Waller and his gang, and other hundreds of thousands arriving by foot, did not leave traces in government records. But people who arrived by ship did.

“We studied hundreds of shipping manifests and compiled data on 70,000 individuals. Of course, that is only some.”

In 1820, the number of ships carrying slaves from Eastern ports into New Orleans was 604. In 1827, it was 1,359. In 1835, it was 4,723. Each carried 5 to 50 slaves.

The auction advertisements at the end of the Slave Trail always said, “Virginia and Maryland Negroes.”

“The words ‘Virginia Negroes’ signaled a kind of brand,” Greenwald says. “It meant compliant, gentle and not broken by overwork.

“One thing that is hard to document but impossible to ignore is the ‘fancy trade.’ New Orleans had a niche market. The ‘fancy trade’ meant women sold as forcible sex partners. They were women of mixed race, invariably. So-called mulatresses.”

Isaac Franklin was all over this market. In 1833, he wrote the office back in Virginia about “fancy girls” he had on hand, and about one in particular whom he wanted. “I sold your fancy girl Alice for $800,” Franklin wrote to Rice Ballard, a partner then in Richmond. “There is great demand for fancy maids, [but] I was disappointed in not finding your Charlottes­ville maid that you promised me.” Franklin told the Virginia office to send the “Charlottesville maid” right away by ship. “Will you send her out or shall I charge you $1,100 for her?”

To maximize her price, Franklin might have sold the “Charlottesville maid” at one of the public auctions in the city. “And the auction setting of choice was a place called the St. Louis Hotel,” Greenwald says, “a block from here.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Children of the Vietnam War

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2012-04-26 21:08Z by Steven

Children of the Vietnam War

Smithsonian Magazine
June 2009

David Lamb

Born overseas to Vietnamese mothers and U.S. servicemen, Amerasians brought hard-won resilience to their lives in America

They grew up as the leftovers of an unpopular war, straddling two worlds but belonging to neither. Most never knew their fathers. Many were abandoned by their mothers at the gates of orphanages. Some were discarded in garbage cans. Schoolmates taunted and pummeled them and mocked the features that gave them the face of the enemy—round blue eyes and light skin, or dark skin and tight curly hair if their soldier-dads were African-Americans. Their destiny was to become waifs and beggars, living in the streets and parks of South Vietnam’s cities, sustained by a single dream: to get to America and find their fathers.
 
But neither America nor Vietnam wanted the kids known as Amerasians and commonly dismissed by the Vietnamese as “children of the dust”—as insignificant as a speck to be brushed aside. “The care and welfare of these unfortunate children…has never been and is not now considered an area of government responsibility,” the U.S. Defense Department said in a 1970 statement. “Our society does not need these bad elements,” the Vietnamese director of social welfare in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) said a decade later. As adults, some Amerasians would say that they felt cursed from the start. When, in early April 1975, Saigon was falling to Communist troops from the north and rumors spread that southerners associated with the United States might be massacred, President Gerald Ford announced plans to evacuate 2,000 orphans, many of them Amerasians. Operation Babylift’s first official flight crashed in the rice paddies outside Saigon, killing 144 people, most of them children. South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians gathered at the site, some to help, others to loot the dead. Despite the crash, the evacuation program continued another three weeks.

“I remember that flight, the one that crashed,” says Nguyen Thi Phuong Thuy. “I was about 6, and I’d been playing in the trash near the orphanage. I remember holding the nun’s hand and crying when we heard. It was like we were all born under a dark star.” She paused to dab at her eyes with tissue. Thuy, whom I met on a trip to Vietnam in March 2008, said she had never tried to locate her parents because she had no idea where to start. She recalls her adoptive Vietnamese parents arguing about her, the husband shouting, “Why did you have to get an Amerasian?” She was soon sent off to live with another family…

Read the entire article here.

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A Seminole Warrior Cloaked in Defiance

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2012-04-21 16:31Z by Steven

A Seminole Warrior Cloaked in Defiance

Smithsonian Magazine
October 2010

Owen Edwards

A pair of woven, beaded garters reflects the spirit of Seminole warrior Osceola

Infinity of nations,” a new permanent exhibition encompassing nearly 700 works of indigenous art from North, Central and South America, opens October 23 at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City, part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). The objects include a pair of woven, beaded garters worn by Billy Powell of the Florida Seminole tribe.
 
Billy Powell is hardly a household name. But his Seminole designation—Osceola—resonates in the annals of Native American history and the nation’s folklore. Celebrated by writers, studied by scholars, he was a charismatic war leader who staunchly resisted the uprooting of the Seminoles by the U.S. government; the garters testify to his sartorial style.
 
Born in Tallassee, Alabama, in 1804, Powell (hereafter Osceola) was of mixed blood. His father is thought to have been an English trader named William Powell, though his­torian Patricia R. Wickman, author of Osceola’s Legacy, believes he may have been a Creek Indian who died soon after Osceola was born. His mother was part Muscogee and part Caucasian. At some point, likely around 1814, when he and his mother moved to Florida to live among Creeks and Seminoles, Osceola began to insist he was a pure-blood Indian.
 
“He identified himself as an Indian,” says Cécile Ganteaume, an NMAI curator and organizer of the “Infinity of Nations” exhibition…

…“He was a bit flamboyant,” says historian Donald L. Fixico of Arizona State University, who is working on a book about Osceola. “Someone in his situation—a man of mixed blood living among pure-blood Seminoles—would have to try hard to prove himself as a leader and a warrior. He wanted to draw attention to himself by dressing in a finer way.”…

Read the entire article here.

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