A Fable of Agency

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2022-05-21 21:45Z by Steven

A Fable of Agency

The New York Review of Books
2022-05-26

Brenda Wineapple

Special Collections, University of Virginia Library

Lumpkin’s Jail; engraving from A History of the Richmond Theological Seminary, 1895

The Devil’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail by Kristen Green. Seal, 332 pp., $30.00

Kristen Green’s The Devil’s Half Acre recounts the story of a fugitive slave jail, and the enslaved woman, Mary Lumpkin, who came to own it.

In The Allure of the Archives (1989), a gem of a book, the French historian Arlette Farge talks about unearthing, insofar as it’s possible, a past that’s not quite past—particularly in relation to the lives of women, whose histories have often been hidden, forgotten, or written over, women spoken about but whom we seldom hear speaking. Combing through the judicial archives at the Préfecture of Paris, Farge reads the sullen or angry answers that ordinary eighteenth-century Parisian women, some of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable, give to the police who have arrested them. And she knows that to understand what they say, or don’t say, we need to care and not to care: to distance ourselves with empathy while we set aside expectations and assumptions. Deciphering what’s left in the archives, Farge writes, “entails a roaming voyage through the words of others, and a search for a language that can rescue their relevance.”

Piecing together stories about women who managed the uncertainties and privations of their situations is even more difficult when the women in question have been enslaved and thus forbidden even the basic rights that an eighteenth-century Parisian laundress enjoyed. That is Kristen Green’s task in her impassioned The Devil’s Half Acre, which she calls “the untold story of how one woman liberated the South’s most notorious slave jail.”

Green is a journalist and also the author of Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County (2015), a personal account of how that Virginia county defied Brown v. Board of Education and shut down its schools for almost five years rather than integrate them. In The Devil’s Half Acre, she recovers the life of Mary Lumpkin, an enslaved woman of mixed race born in 1832 who, likely by 1840, was held in bondage at Lumpkin’s Jail, a chamber of horrors located between Franklin and Broad Streets in Shockoe Bottom, the central slave-trading quarter in Richmond, Virginia

Read the entire review here.

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Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy

Posted in Autobiography, Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2022-05-15 18:49Z by Steven

Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy

Amistad (an imprint of HarperCollins)
2021-11-16
288 pages
6x9in
Hardcover ISBN: 9780063028654
E-book ISBN: 9780063028678
Paperback ISBN: 9780063028661
Digital Audio, MP3 ISBN: 9780063028685

Gayle Jessup White

A Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings’ family explores America’s racial reckoning through the prism of her ancestors—both the enslaver and the enslaved.

Gayle Jessup White had long heard the stories passed down from her father’s family, that they were direct descendants of Thomas Jefferson—lore she firmly believed, though others did not. For four decades the acclaimed journalist and genealogy enthusiast researched her connection to Thomas Jefferson, to confirm its truth once and for all.

After she was named a Jefferson Studies Fellow, Jessup White discovered her family lore was correct. Poring through photos and documents and pursuing DNA evidence, she learned that not only was she a descendant of Jefferson on his father’s side; she was also the great-great-great-granddaughter of Peter Hemings, Sally Hemings’s brother.

In Reclamation she chronicles her remarkable journey to definitively understand her heritage and reclaim it, and offers a compelling portrait of what it means to be a black woman in America, to pursue the American dream, to reconcile the legacy of racism, and to ensure the nation lives up to the ideals advocated by her legendary ancestor.

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The Devil’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2022-04-14 22:11Z by Steven

The Devil’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail

Seal Press (an imprint of Basic Books)
2022-04-12
352 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 9781541675636
eBook ISBN-13: 9781541675629
Audiobook ISBN-13: 9781549193354

Kristen Green

The inspiring true story of an enslaved woman who liberated an infamous slave jail and transformed it into one of the nation’s first HBCUs

In The Devil’s Half Acre, New York Times bestselling author Kristen Green draws on years of research to tell the extraordinary and little-known story of young Mary Lumpkin, an enslaved woman who blazed a path of liberation for thousands. She was forced to have the children of a brutal slave trader and live on the premises of his slave jail, known as the “Devil’s Half Acre.” When she inherited the jail after the death of her slaveholder, she transformed it into “God’s Half Acre,” a school where Black men could fulfill their dreams. It still exists today as Virginia Union University, one of America’s first Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

A sweeping narrative of a life in the margins of the American slave trade, The Devil’s Half Acre brings Mary Lumpkin into the light. This is the story of the resilience of a woman on the path to freedom, her historic contributions, and her enduring legacy.

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Gregory Howard Williams

Posted in Audio, Autobiography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Virginia on 2022-04-05 00:50Z by Steven

Writer Gregory Howard Williams’ “Life on the Color Line”

Fresh Air with Terry Gross
WHYY FM, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1995-02-21

Terry Gross, Host

Williams spent the first ten years of his life believing he was white in segregated Virginia, and that his dark-skinned father was Italian. When his parents’ marriage ended, his father took him and his brother to Muncie, Indiana, where the boys learned that they were half black. Williams’ new memoir “Life on the Color Line” is about the struggle and repression he faced growing up between the races. Publisher’s Weekly calls it “(an) affecting and absorbing story.”

Listen to the interview (00:23:10) here. Download the interview here.

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Did George Washington Have an Enslaved Son?

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2022-03-30 02:55Z by Steven

Did George Washington Have an Enslaved Son?

The New Yorker
2022-03-07

Jill Abramson, Journalist and Senior Lecturer
Harvard University

West Ford founded Gum Springs, a freedmen’s community, near Mount Vernon. Illustration by John P. Dessereau

West Ford’s descendants want to prove his parentage—and save the freedmen’s village he founded.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, two landmarks of early American history share an uneasy but inextricable bond. George Washington’s majestic Mount Vernon estate is one of the most popular historic homes in the country, visited by roughly a million people a year. Gum Springs, a small community about three miles north, is one of the oldest surviving freedmen’s villages, most of which were established during Reconstruction. The community was founded in 1833 by West Ford, who lived and worked at Mount Vernon for nearly sixty years, first as an enslaved teen-ager and continuing after he was freed. Following Washington’s death, in 1799, Ford helped manage the estate, and he maintained an unusually warm relationship with the extended Washington family.

Awareness of West Ford had faded both in Gum Springs and at Mount Vernon, but in recent years his story has been at the center of a bitter controversy between the two sites. His descendants have demanded that Mount Vernon recognize Ford for his contributions to the estate, which was near collapse during the decades after Washington’s death. They also argue—citing oral histories from two branches of the family—that Ford was Washington’s unacknowledged son, a claim that Mount Vernon officials have consistently denied. As that debate continues, Black civic organizations in Gum Springs are engaged in related battles to save their endangered community. They have resisted, with some success, Virginia’s planned expansion of Richmond Highway, which would encroach on the town, and they have embarked on the process of getting Gum Springs named a national historic site…

Read the entire article here.

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White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Poetry, United States, Virginia on 2022-03-29 01:06Z by Steven

White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia

Sarabande Books
2020-05-05
112 pages
5.3 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
Paperback ISBN: 978-1946448545

Kiki Petrosino, Professor of Poetry
University of Virginia

  • Winner of the 2021 UNT Rilke Prize
  • Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award Nominee
  • Library of Virginia Literary Awards Finalist
  • Winner of the 2021 Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice

In her fourth full-length book, White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, Kiki Petrosino turns her gaze to Virginia, where she digs into her genealogical and intellectual roots, while contemplating the knotty legacies of slavery and discrimination in the Upper South. From a stunning double crown sonnet, to erasure poetry contained within DNA testing results, the poems in this collection are as wide-ranging in form as they are bountiful in wordplay and truth. In her poem “The Shop at Monticello,” she writes: “I’m a black body in this Commonwealth, which turned black bodies/ into money. Now, I have money to spend on little trinkets to remind me/ of this fact. I’m a money machine & my body constitutes the common wealth.” Speaking to history, loss, and injustice with wisdom, innovation, and a scientific determination to find the poetic truth, White Blood plants Petrosino’s name ever more firmly in the contemporary canon.

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Surnames, by Counties and Cities, of Mixed Negroid Virginia Families Striving to Pass as “Indian” or White by Walter A. Plecker (ca. 1943)

Posted in Census/Demographics, Law, Letters, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Passing, United States, Virginia on 2022-01-20 22:18Z by Steven

Surnames, by Counties and Cities, of Mixed Negroid Virginia Families Striving to Pass as “Indian” or White by Walter A. Plecker (ca. 1943)

Commonwealth of Virginia
Department of Health
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond, Virginia
(Source: Encyclopedia Virginia)

December 1943

To Local Registrars, Clerks, Legislators, and others responsible for, and interested in, the prevention of racial intermixtures:

In our January 1943 annual letter to local registrars and clerks of courts, with list of mixed surnames, we called attention to the greatly increased effort and arrogant demands now being made for classification as whites, or at least for recognition as Indians, as a preliminary step to admission into the white race by marriage, of groups of the descendants of the “free negroes,” so designated before 1865 to distinguish them from slaves.

According to Mendel’s law of heredity, one out of four of a family of mixed breeds, through the introduction of illegitimate white blood, is now so near white in appearance as to lead him to proclaim himself as such and to demand admission into white schools, forbidden by the State Constitution. The other three find it more difficult to make the grade. As a climax of their ambition, colored people of this type are applying for licenses to marry whites, or for white license when intermarrying amongst themselves. These they frequently secure with ease when they apply in a county or city not the home of the woman and are met by a clerk or deputy who justifies himself in accepting a casual affidavit as the truth and in issuing a license to any applicant regardless of the requirements of Section 5099a, Paragraph 4, of the Code. This Section places the proof upon the applicants, not upon the clerks. We have learned that affidavits cannot always be accepted as truth. This loose practice (to state it mildly) of a few clerks is now the greatest obstacle in the way of the proper registration by race required of the State Registrar of Vital Statistics in that Section. Local registrars, who are supposed to know the people of their registration areas, of course, have no excuse for not catching false registration of births and deaths.

In many cases negroids have white marriage certificates, while the Bureau demands correct Legal registration as to race when their children’s births are reported. Armed with the clerk’s marriage certificate, they leave home and easily pass as white, when a birth certificate with the pedigree on the back is not requires. They are even threatening legal action against the State Registrar but have difficulty in securing a lawyer if he first applies to the Bureau of Vital Statistics for the facts.

The Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics, through the exceptional, painstaking, and laborious work of the highly trained genealogist whom it is fortunate in having, has made a study by groups and families of the principal borderline aspirants for racial change. The chief sources of information are the early birth and death records, made by tax assessors from 1853 to 1896; marriage records from 1853 to date; United States Census reports for 1830, 1850, and 1870, especially a printed list of free negroes by counties from the 1830 Census; county tapayer lists by races, now in the State Library, which have been studied back to 1808; and, not of least value, their own proclamation of race made by applicants for registration as voters, made soon after the War Between the States, to United States military authorities, now preserved in the State Library. The progenitors of the present would-be whites then marched up voluntarily and registered, for the first time in the life of their race in Virginia, as negro voters—not as Indians, not as whites.

Public records in the office of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, ana in the State Library, indicate that there, does not exist today a descendant of Virginia ancestors claiming to be an Indian who is unmixed with negro blood. Since our more complete investigation of all of these records and the statements (mostly signed) of numerous trustworthy old citizens, many now dead, all preserved in our “racial integrity” files, no one has attempted by early recorded evidence to disprove this finding. If such evidence exists, our research worker would have found it.

One weak point, which is giving us endless trouble, is the fact that many birth certificates since 1912 have, without realization of future danger, been accepted with false registration as “Indian.” Not a few, when we were off our guard, have slipped by as white. The General Assembly should empower us to state the recorded pedigree on the backs of such certificates and transcripts, to protect those desiring the truth now and in the future.

SURNAMES, BY COUNTIES AND CITIES, OF MIXED NEGROID VIRGINIA FAMILIES STRIVING TO PASS AS “INDIAN” OR WHITE.

Albemarle: Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey Amherst: (Migrants to Alleghany and Campbell) Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (this family is now trying to evade the situation by adopting the name of Burch or Birch, which was the name of the white mother of the present generation), Branham, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nuckles (Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southards (Suthards, Southerds, Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Fillis, Clark, Cash, Wood. Bedford: McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley. (See Amherst County) Rockbridge: (Migrants to Augusta) Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pults, Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Wood, Johns. Charles City: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins. King William: Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloe), Dungoe, Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams, Hawkes, Spurlock, Doggett. New Kent: Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins, Langston. Henrico and Richmond City: See Charles City, New Kent, and King William. Caroline: Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See Essex) Essex and King and Queen: Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond, Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson. Elizabeth City & Newport News: Stewart (descendants of Charles City families). Halifax: Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard), Young. Norfolk County & Portsmouth: Sawyer, Bass, Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter, Ingram. Westmoreland: Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells, Gutridge, Cliff. Greene: Shiflett, Shiflet. Prince William: Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier) Fauquier: Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips. (See Prince William) Lancaster: Dorsey (Dawson). Washington: Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley. Roanoke County: Beverly. (See Washington) Lee and Smyth: Collins, Gibson (Gipson), Moore, Goins, Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Miso, Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Mullins, Hawkins—Chiefly Tennessee Melungeons.” Scott: Dingus. (See Lee County.) Russell: Keith, Casell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt. (See Lee & Tazewell) Tazewell: Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell) Wise: See Lee, Smyth, Scott, and Russell Counties.

Very truly yours,

W. A. Plecker, M. D.
State Registrar of Vital Statistics

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My Monticello, Fiction

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Novels, United States, Virginia on 2021-10-21 00:21Z by Steven

My Monticello, Fiction

Henry Holt & Company (an imprint of Macmillan)
2021-10-05
240 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781250807151
e-Book ISBN: 9781250807168
Audiobook ISBN: 9781250820723
Compact Disk ISBN: 9781250820716

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

A young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings driven from her neighborhood by a white militia. A university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son. A single mother desperate to buy her first home even as the world hurtles toward catastrophe. Each fighting to survive in America.

Tough-minded, vulnerable, and brave, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s precisely imagined debut explores burdened inheritances and extraordinary pursuits of belonging. Set in the near future, the eponymous novella, “My Monticello,” tells of a diverse group of Charlottesville neighbors fleeing violent white supremacists. Led by Da’Naisha, a young Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, they seek refuge in Jefferson’s historic plantation home in a desperate attempt to outlive the long-foretold racial and environmental unravelling within the nation.

In “Control Negro,” hailed by Roxane Gay as “one hell of story,” a university professor devotes himself to the study of racism and the development of ACMs (average American Caucasian males) by clinically observing his own son from birth in order to “painstakingly mark the route of this Black child too, one whom I could prove was so strikingly decent and true that America could not find fault in him unless we as a nation had projected it there.” Johnson’s characters all seek out home as a place and an internal state, whether in the form of a Nigerian widower who immigrates to a meager existence in the city of Alexandria, finding himself adrift; a young mixed-race woman who adopts a new tongue and name to escape the landscapes of rural Virginia and her family; or a single mother who seeks salvation through “Buying a House Ahead of the Apocalypse.”

United by these characters’ relentless struggles against reality and fate, My Monticello is a formidable book that bears witness to this country’s legacies and announces the arrival of a wildly original new voice in American fiction.

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It’s Never Too Late to Publish a Debut Book and Score a Netflix Deal

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Interviews, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2021-10-03 03:22Z by Steven

It’s Never Too Late to Publish a Debut Book and Score a Netflix Deal

The New York Times
2021-09-28

Isaac Fitzgerald


Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, a public school art teacher for 20 years, is the author of “My Monticello,” her debut book. She also has a Netflix film deal. Matt Eich for The New York Times

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, at 50, is not the average age of a debut author. But the public school teacher describes herself as a “literary debutante” with the October publication of “My Monticello.”

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson has been a public school art teacher for 20 years, but she is not in her elementary classroom this fall in Charlottesville, Va. Her debut collection, “My Monticello” — five short stories and the book’s title novella — will be published on Oct. 5. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead has called “My Monticello” “nimble, knowing, and electrifying,” and Esquire named “My Monticello,” published by Henry Holt, one of the best books of the fall, writing that it “announces the arrival of an electric new literary voice.”

To top that off, Netflix plans to turn the book’s title novella into a film. In the novella, which is set in the near future, a young woman who is descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and a band of largely Black and brown survivors take refuge from marauding white supremacists in Monticello, Jefferson’s homestead…

Read the entire interview here.

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She was raped by the owner of a notorious slave jail. Later, she inherited it.

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2021-09-12 23:02Z by Steven

She was raped by the owner of a notorious slave jail. Later, she inherited it.

The Washington Post
2020-02-01

Sydney Trent, Local enterprise reporter


An engraving print of the Lumpkin Slave Jail, from Corey’s “A History of the Richmond Theological Seminary.” (City of Richmond)

Robert Lumpkin was one of the South’s most prolific and brutal slave traders, presiding over a slave jail in Richmond so notorious that it was referred to as the “Devil’s Half Acre.”

Mary Lumpkin lived with him — and with the horror of who he was, bearing witness to the extreme punishments he meted out to enslaved people like her.

Under Robert Lumpkin’s ownership from 1844 until the end of the Civil War, the jail held thousands of enslaved men and women in its dim and cramped cells, permeated by the stench of human excrement. Many were destined for the auction block; others were captured runaways. Some had been delivered there by their masters to receive more expert punishment. The names of dead prisoners appeared on Robert Lumpkin’s insurance claims, their bodies buried in unmarked graves scattered about the property.

Described by an abolitionist minister who met her as “large, fair-faced . . . nearly white,” Mary was also Robert’s slave. She was raped and impregnated by him as a child, ultimately bearing at least seven of his children, five of whom survived. She kept house and raised their offspring within the fenced brick compound that included the jail…

Read the entire article here.

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