‘The Vice President’s Black Wife’: New Book by IU History Professor

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2021-08-12 01:05Z by Steven

‘The Vice President’s Black Wife’: New Book by IU History Professor

Bloom Magazine
Bloomington, Indiana

Peter Dorfman

Blue Spring Farm, where Julia lived. This is the last standing slave building on the property, likely used as a kitchen. Courtesy photo

Dr. Amrita Chakrabarti Myers regards her work as an academic focused on slavery and Black women’s history as a “labor of recovery.” Her subjects, many illiterate, left little behind.

Myers’ second book, The Vice President’s Black Wife: The Untold Life of Julia Chinn, due out in 2022, focuses on the life of Julia Chinn, an enslaved woman in the early 1800s, on the Kentucky estate of Richard Mentor Johnson. Chinn had two children by Johnson, to whom she was married for 23 years. Because Chinn was Black, the marriage was not legal, but Johnson publicly treated her as his spouse. Chinn was literate, and Johnson put her in charge of the plantation (including oversight of the enslaved laborers) when he was away from home. “She was his wife in every sense,” Myers asserts…

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He became the nation’s ninth vice president. She was his enslaved wife.

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, United States on 2021-02-09 18:19Z by Steven

He became the nation’s ninth vice president. She was his enslaved wife.

The Washington Post

Ronald G. Shafer

Richard Mentor Johnson became vice president in 1837. (Library of Congress)

Her name was Julia Chinn

She was born enslaved and remained that way her entire life, even after she became Richard Mentor Johnson’s “bride.”

Johnson, a Kentucky congressman who eventually became the nation’s ninth vice president in 1837, couldn’t legally marry Julia Chinn. Instead the couple exchanged vows at a local church with a wedding celebration organized by the enslaved people at his family’s plantation in Great Crossing, according to Miriam Biskin, who wrote about Chinn decades ago.

Chinn died nearly four years before Johnson took office. But because of controversy over her, Johnson is the only vice president in American history who failed to receive enough electoral votes to be elected. The Senate voted him into office.

The couple’s story is complicated and fraught, historians say. As an enslaved woman, Chinn could not consent to a relationship, and there’s no record of how she regarded him. Though she wrote to Johnson during his lengthy absences from Kentucky, the letters didn’t survive.

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A young playwright’s quest to ask difficult questions about race, class and gender

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States on 2016-12-03 03:07Z by Steven

A young playwright’s quest to ask difficult questions about race, class and gender

The Los Angeles Times

Margaret Gray

Leah Nanako Winkler’s new play “Kentucky” is a comedy about a Japanese American woman raised in the South. Like her protagonist Hiro, Winkler is half-Japanese and grew up in Kentucky. Like Hiro, she left  for New York and didn’t return for years. And like Hiro, Winkler found her sister’s embrace of evangelical Christianity puzzling and alarming.

“It was like she’d joined a cult,” recalls Winkler, who clarifies that she wasn’t entirely like the Hiro of her play.

“I didn’t actually try to stop my sister’s wedding,” she says with a laugh.

Speaking from the dressing room at East West Players’ theater in downtown L.A., where the West Coast premiere of “Kentucky” runs through Dec. 11, Winkler says the new work is “circumstantially autobiographical.”…

…Born in Japan, Winkler spent some of her childhood there before moving to Kentucky. She won’t say how old she was at the time. “I don’t like to answer that question because there’s a lot of judgment placed on that,” she says. “There’s a big difference if I say 2 or if I say 12. People like to peg you on how Japanese or how American you are, when you’re mixed race.”

She will say that she was old enough to experience “a double identity crisis.”

“In Japan I was a child model because of my Western looks,” she says. “I was considered gaijin, which means foreigner. But in America I was the girl from Japan.”…

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A Picture of Her ‘Kentucky’ Home

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States on 2016-12-03 02:58Z by Steven

A Picture of Her ‘Kentucky’ Home

The Rafu Shimpo: Los Angeles Japanese Daily News

Mikey Hirano Culross

Leah Nanako Winkler was born in Japan, raised in Lexington, Kentucky, and now lives in New York City.

Leah Nanako Winkler arrived more than flustered, bounding into a dressing room at East West Players after having endured what should have been a 20-minute trek from Universal City to Little Tokyo.

Ms. Winkler, meet the 101.

The evening’s performance of her new play, “Kentucky,” was barely 90 minutes from curtain, and Winkler had plenty of tasks beforehand, including a quick chat with The Rafu.

Now a hard-studying MFA student in Brooklyn, Winkler has composed an honest look at family, with all its glory as well as warts, drawing on her experiences growing up in Lexington, Kentucky.

Her play follows Hiro, a woman on the verge of big-city career success whose homecoming is driven by the desire to dissuade her born-again sister from entering into a marriage that Hiro finds unsavory. Dealing with her family’s southern leanings, her own misgivings and a talking cat, Hiro’s mission is derailed into a completely unplanned direction.

“For me it was important to see a mixed-race family on stage and not seen through rose-colored glasses, that they have their faults, that they’re not perfect,” Winkler explained…

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Future Humans Will All Look Brazilian, Researcher Says

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2016-06-28 01:04Z by Steven

Future Humans Will All Look Brazilian, Researcher Says

Business Insider

Natalie Wolchover

It really happened: Six generations of inbreeding spanning the years 1800 to 1960 caused an isolated population of humans living in the hills of Kentucky to become blue-skinned.

The startlingly blue people, all descendants of a French immigrant named Martin Fugate and still living near his original settlement on the banks of Troublesome Creek when hematologists studied them in the 1960s, turned out to have a rare blood condition called methemoglobinemia. A recessive gene was pairing with itself to change the molecular composition of their blood, making it brown as opposed to red, which tinted their skin blue.

The hematologists’ attempt to trace the history of the mutant gene revealed a gnarly Fugate family tree, contorted by many an intermarriage between first cousins, aunts and nephews, and the like over the generations. Dennis Stacy, whose great-great-grandfather on both his mother’s and father’s sides was the same person – Henley Fugate – offered a simple explanation for the rampant interbreeding: In the old days in eastern Kentucky, Stacy said, “There was no roads.”…

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Cincy in 2060: 1 in 7 of us will be biracial

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-04 18:10Z by Steven

Cincy in 2060: 1 in 7 of us will be biracial

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mark Curnutte, Social Justice/Minority Affairs Reporter

Photos and video by:

Cara Owsley, Staff Photojournalist

A new index suggests many of our communities will look less like they do today and more like Austin or Washington, D.C.

EAST PRICE HILL –  Lydia Perez is 2 years old, with the curly black hair and dark eyes of her father’s Guatemalan heritage. Her complexion is fairer than his, more like that of her white mother, a woman of Appalachian descent who grew up in Lower Price Hill.

Lydia is 1 of 50 people now counted as bi-racial in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. But by the time she’s in her late 40s, in 2060, 1 in 7 people in our region will claim two or more races.

This is your grandchild’s Cincinnati: A place where a quarter of the people speak Spanish; where thousands more Latin Americans, East Africans, Asians and others live and work; and where increasing diversity is having profound influence on our families, schools, workplaces and politics.

The changes are part of dramatic shifts projected across America’s heartland in the next 50 years. A new diversity index by USA Today suggests that many of our communities will look less like the Cincinnati we know today and more like multi-ethnic Austin, Texas, or suburban Washington, D.C.

In many of our neighborhoods, chances will be 50/50 that the next person your child or grandchild meets in 2060 will be of a different race or ethnic background. In our eight closest-in counties, about one-third of us will be non-white, compared to 18 percent in 2010…

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“Turning Up Their Noses at the Colonel”: Eastern Aristocracy, Western Democracy, and Richard Mentor Johnson

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-02-07 01:50Z by Steven

“Turning Up Their Noses at the Colonel”: Eastern Aristocracy, Western Democracy, and Richard Mentor Johnson

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 111, Number 4, Autumn 2013
pages 525-561
DOI: 10.1353/khs.2014.0022

Miles Smith
Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas

In February 1849, the Kentucky legislature debated who would represent the state and fill the open seat in the U.S. Senate. At the completion of the election that followed the debate, the count stood at ninety-two for Whig leader Henry Clay and forty-five for the Democrat, Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson. After his defeat, the onetime Indian fighter and hero of the War of 1812, U.S. representative, senator, and vice president, finally retired from public life. Virtually unknown to the twenty-first-century public, Johnson remains best known to historians for his domestic life. The standard narrative, embraced since the mid-nineteenth century, asserts that Johnson maintained a slave mistress whom he regarded as his common-law wife. He acknowledged their two pretty daughters and introduced them into polite society. During the election of 1836, some genteel Southerners (Virginians especially, the story goes), offended by Johnson’s scandalous domestic and racial situation, obstructed the democratic nomination process and sent the election of the vice president into the Senate, where the senators elected Johnson along party lines.

Historians painted Johnson’s lack of support as an indication of southern displeasure over his relationship with Julia Chinn. In fact, it was Johnson’s egalitarian politics that finally proved to be what aristocratic planters in the old southern states feared. Along with openly engaging in miscegenation (what Johnson’s contemporaries called amalgamation), Johnson championed radical policies aimed at politically displacing southern elites with yeomen farmers and workers. Carolina and Virginia patricians feared Johnson’s brand of political egalitarianism. While Jefferson promoted the political aesthetic of being a simple farmer, he was, in fact, a Piedmont grandee. Jeffersonians ostensibly promoted agrarian equality, but certainly these supposed democrats were nothing more than planters who needed a political vehicle to protect agrarianism and their aristocratic prerogatives. Richard Johnson conceptualized Jacksonian democracy and subsequently the Democratic Party as a truly egalitarian institution where planters, small farmers, and even urban workers and immigrants found equal voice for their needs and concerns. While his relationship with Julia Chinn provided an acceptable public pretext to hamper Johnson’s political aspirations, Tidewater Jeffersonian aristocrats feared the rise of frontier farmers, largely because these backwoods Americans considered merit and service more important than station and acreage. To coastal patricians, Johnson and western democracy represented a very real threat to the political preeminence of the Tidewater and Carolina planters.

Jacksonian Democracy is somewhat inappropriately named. In the South and in the slaveholding West, large planters exercised an outsized influence in local and regional political matters during the so-called Era of the Common Man. And while Andrew Jackson exemplified the movement and served as its rallying figure, he did not “found” American democratic politics. In fact, many early Jacksonians were anything but common men. Andrew Jackson, James Polk, John Tyler, and other prominent Jacksonians garnered the political support of small farmers and workers, but each guarded the prerogatives of the planter class jealously. As Edward Pessen pointed out in his magisterial Jacksonian America, a broadened suffrage allowed American farmers and wage laborers to vote for men who assumed the aesthetic of the common man for political purposes. Glenn Altschuler and Stuart Blumin updated and nuanced Pessen’s thesis, but their argument is simple: Democrats and Whigs were largely similar, and the terms democracy and aristocracy were more often than not political rhetoric. This statement is true, but not universally so…

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Henry Samuel, Frankfort Barber and Free Man of Color

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, United States on 2013-07-18 03:13Z by Steven

Henry Samuel, Frankfort Barber and Free Man of Color

Random Thoughts on History: My musings on American, African American, Southern, Civil War, Reconstruction, and Public History topics and books

Tim Talbott
Frankfort, Kentucky

Recently reading Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom got me to wondering if Frankfort had any black barbers in the antebellum era. Well, I didn’t have to look too hard to find one. No, I didn’t have to search through slides of microfilm searching the 1860 census records for Franklin County barbers—after all, in this particular case that would not have helped me.

Fortunately, I had remembered seeing an advertisement for a town barber while browsing through issues of the Frankfort Commonwealth newspaper some time back. And, it was not difficult to find these particular advertisements when I went back searching, because Henry Samuel had an ad in almost every edition of the newspaper for many years in the 1850s and 1860s. He must have been a firm believer in the old adage that “advertising pays.” However, there was no clue from the advertisements whether he was African American or white. That part took some searching…

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In new book, two Kentucky families discover surprising racial histories

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2013-05-14 04:39Z by Steven

In new book, two Kentucky families discover surprising racial histories

Lexington Herald-Leader
Lexington, Kentucky

Linda B. Blackford

Freda Spencer Goble of Paintsville knew that she hailed from a proud and hardworking clan that carved a life out of the hills and hollows of frontier Johnson County. What she didn’t know was that one of those frontiersmen, her great-great grandfather, was partly black.

William LaBach is a Georgetown lawyer and genealogist who has long studied his Gibson relatives, a clan of Louisiana sugar planters who made a second home in Lexington before the Civil War. He’d heard that a colonial forebear was part African, but could never confirm it.

These two Kentucky families are now the subject of a new book by Vanderbilt University law professor Daniel Sharfstein. The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey From Black to White reveals the complex and shifting history of race in America, a history about people’s most basic — and yet most unreliable — assumptions about their own identity…

…Thanks to books like Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball and revelations about President Thomas Jefferson’s black descendants, people have become more used to the idea that family trees branch with different ethnicities. However, the idea they might be a different ethnicity themselves is a new idea that is only recently emerging in genealogy and other historical studies.

“This is a more unsettling story. … The story really changes the way people approach race,” Sharfstein said. “For a lot of the descendants I spoke with, being white meant they really didn’t have to think about race for most of their lives. But now they’re really paying attention.”…

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In Pursuit of Freedom: Slave Law and Emancipation in Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2013-04-05 21:38Z by Steven

In Pursuit of Freedom: Slave Law and Emancipation in Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky

The Filson Club History Quarterly
July 2002
pages 287-325

J. Blaine Hudson (1950-2013), Professor of Pan-African Studies
University of Louisville

The lives of both free and enslaved African-Americans were constrained to varying degrees by the powerful and paradoxical role of race in antebellum American society. According to Michael Omi and Howard Winant, this role was a consequence of the institutionalization of the United States as a “racial state,” a nation in which racial classification was a more important determinant of status than either socio-economic class or gender.’ In practical terms, this meant that “blackness” was considered prima facie evidence of slave status, that only persons of African descent were subject to the “social death” of slavery, and that, even if free, they were still black, and the visible marker of their Africanness consigned them to a place marginal to the American mainstream) In this context, the journey from the “social death” of slavery to the full enjoyment of freedom—such as African-Americans or their ancestors last experienced in their home African societies—was long, arduous, and, even now, remains unfinished. However, a careful reading of historical literature that reflects the perspective of African-Americans themselves indicates that there were several crucial milestones on this journey toward which the aspirations and efforts of African-Americans were directed: first, to maximize the freedom and human dignity possible within the confines of slavery; second, to become free—whether through legal or illegal means; and third, ultimately to achieve full equality and empowerment as free people in this country or, failing that, elsewhere.

As Frederick Douglass observed, for enslaved African-Americans trapped in the most horrendous and degrading circumstances, simply finding a “good master” or a less demanding work regimen or both was often viewed as a dramatic improvement in status. Unfortunately, for most, this first milestone was never reached; for the fortunate few, even this limited improvement was achieved at great cost over long years and was the best they could hope for in one lifetime. However, while escaping the most egregious evils of slavery was clearly desirable, slavery was still slavery, and freedom remained the ultimate goal. That the achievement of freedom was not an end in itself but only the beginning of another struggle for equality and empowerment did not lessen its attractions. Freedom was still preferable, by far, to bondage. It was for this reason that efforts by whites to ameliorate the conditions of slavery invariably failed to reduce the likelihood of escape or revolt—and often made these responses more likely.

In this broad context, there were several paths to the milestone of freedom in the antebellum period and each of these paths warrants careful analysis. As a general rule, African-Americans would choose the path of least resistance and minimum risk whenever possible. Such paths, of course, were few and—because they were legal and depended on the good faith, if not the good will, of whites—were closed to most enslaved African-Americans. Such paths were important nonetheless, and all were traveled to varying degrees at various times by African-Americans in Kentucky. Thus, it is appropriate to complement the previously published account of illegal routes to freedom with an analysis of how African-Americans in Louisville and Jefferson County pursued and achieved freedom through legal means during the antebellum period….

…The proportion of “mulattoes” (including “quadroons” and “octoroons“) in the African-American population was usually underestimated-since mulattos were often considered “living proof” of the sexual depravity of the slave system. Thus, census and other official records indicated that roughly ten percent of the slave population and roughly one-third of the free-black population were racially mixed. On the other hand, travel accounts, slave narratives, and the personal observations of southerners themselves suggest that the racially hybrid subgroup was a far larger segment of both the enslaved and free African-American populations. Clearly, local patterns seemed to follow the “unofficial” record, as African-Americans of mixed ancestry were overrepresented among those granted deeds of emancipation (68 of 129—52.7 percent). This fact may explain something of the unbalanced sex ratio. Some of the African-Americans emancipated were the children of slaveholders and the mothers of those children in many African-American “households.” The father was white—and missing…

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