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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown

I, for one, am proud to be present on the eve of truly understanding what Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Those words defined our future, even though it may not have been realized at the time. Just this year, we Americans have declared ourselves truly one people. As a native North Carolinian, I am proud to say that my home state, as North Carolina has so often been such a leader in the past, is a leader again in that official recognition.

On 12 April 2007, the General Assembly of North Carolina issued "Joint Resolution on Slavery" in the 2007 Session, a ratified bill, Resolution 2007-21, Senate Joint Resolution 1557. Section 3 of that resolution reiterates Jefferson's words, "The General Assembly calls on all North Carolinians to recommit their State, their communities, and themselves to the proclamation of their nation's Declaration of Independence and their State Constitution that 'all persons are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights' – to work daily to treat all persons with abiding respect for their humanity and to eliminate racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society."

"Juneteenth" recognizes June 19, 1865, when the last enslaved Africans in the US were freed some two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
In the spirit of "S.RES.198: US House and Senate Apology for Slavery, 19 June 2009," the United States official apology for the atrocities committed in the name of monetary considerations, I would like to honor a North Carolina African-American example of leadership who contributed to this accomplishment, a fellow human being who understood that human considerations should come before any measure of economic profit.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown was born in 1883 to descendants of slaves in Henderson, NC. In 1888 her family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston, to escape "Jim Crow" practices of the South and for better social, economic, and educational opportunities. Young Brown was an excellent student, and by chance she met and was mentored by educator Alice Freeman Palmer, for whom the Palmer Memorial Institute was named.

Palmer Memorial Institute, located east of Greensboro, began in 1902 as a rural African American school. It was a unique private school, for more than 60 years. Dr. Charlotte Hawkin Brown was its founder and a leader of the institute for 50 years.

Dr. Brown aired this speech on March 10, 1940 on CBS Radio:

"I have chosen to speak to you this morning on a subject which is very near to my soul, "The Negro and the Social Graces." By social graces I do not mean an attitude of cheap servility, assumed for the purpose of currying favor. I mean simply doing the courteous thing and making a pleasing appearance—the practice of everyday good manners so generally lacking nowadays in the conduct of the average young person, regardless of race.

My message for the most part is to that group of young Negroes from high schools and colleges whose education is above the average; for unfortunately many of these are inclined to associate all forms of politeness, fine manners, and social graces with the slavery-time performances of the maid and the butler, and to discard anything which they feel might have come out of those days in which their ancestors were slaves. They forget that even in those days many Negroes were schooled in the "correct thing," and that "what they were not taught, they caught," in the way of social demeanor.

One needs only to read any book, fiction or fact, associated with the life of Negroes in the households previous to 1865 to see that it was the Negro butler and maid who actually taught the social graces to the children of the aristocracy of the Southern white group; everything from learning how to curtsy to the art of walking with charm and grace across the ballroom floor. The canons of the social graces were learned by those slaves or servants as religiously as their masters learned the catechism.

Fortunate also are those whose parents, immediately after the Civil War, came under the wise and gentle tutelage of the flower of the white race that came from the North and Middle West, built private schools, became their instructors, and were their patterns for intellectual, moral, and social behavior. They taught our mothers and grandmothers the dignity of self-reverence and self-restraint. They taught our fathers—through example and precept—the proper attitude toward their women and what was expected of them in the new freedom which was theirs. These cultured Christian men and women gave to the students of that day "Open Sesame" to the best culture that the world knew.

It is perfectly natural that we want to forget much that was associated with slavery and its aftermath; at the same time it is very necessary that we pay attention to some of the things gained by our foreparents through intimate association with an aristocracy schooled in the finer things of life. Well may we add to our modern culture and educational efficiency some of the fine manners of those bygone days.

After all, the success of the American Negro depends upon his contacts with other races who, through the years, have had greater advantages of learning the proper approach to life and its problems. The little courtesies, the gentle voice, correct grooming, a knowledge of when to sit, when to stand; how to open and close a door; the correct attitude toward persons in authority; good manners in public places, such as railroad stations, moving picture houses, and other places where we are constantly under observation—the acquisition of these graces will go a long way in securing that recognition of ability needed to cope with human society, and will remove some of the commonest objections to our presence in large numbers.

Alas, in our day good manners for both races are almost outmoded. In many instances we have lost the art of fine living. The Negro, with all his handicaps, has now the opportunity of his life to develop anew the art of fine manners as one of the means by which he may climb the ladder of success. The white race, having reached such heights of culture in their civilization, oft times feel that they can afford to go back to earlier stages of barbarism, to sweatshirt grooming, to hilarious party and dance performances. Unfortunately many of our Negro youth are wont to follow this as a proper way of life. But in order for the Negro to get even half the recognition which he may deserve, he must be even more gracious than others, more cultured, more considerate, more observant of little courtesies and social finesse if he would gain a decent place in the sun.

Let us take time, therefore, to be gracious, to be thoughtful, to be kind, using the social graces as one means of turning the wheels of progress with greater velocity on the upward road to equal opportunity and justice for all."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fort Algernoune Conference in Hampton, VA

This event is scheduled now to attract attention to the Fort Monroe site, which is scheduled to be vacated by the Federal Government in Sept. 2011. When that happens, the fate of the base is up for grabs by the park service and developers. The tug-...a-war begins and the teams are being selected. Anyway, I was there to root for the park service, archaeologists, historians (like myself) who want this site preserved and not demolished for a shopping mall. The fate of Fort Algernoune is seriously in the balance, although the larger Fort Monroe is assured of its place.

Many eminent historians and archaeologists presented papers on Fort Algernoune or issues pertinent to it. Two of my personal heroes were present, Dr. Ivor Noel Hume and Dr. Karen Ordahl Kupperman. They have many scholarly works on Jamestown, Martin's Hundred, Native Americans associated with early English colonies, and of course, our own Roanoke Island and Fort Raleigh. While there, I met another gentleman that I have only seen in a special on James Fort's recent discovery. You see, like me, Bill Kelso learned as a kid that "James Fort" had washed into the sea, despite the fact that construction of a sea wall in 1901 intersected a wall of the old fort and earlier notes of a wall of post holes were made during the building of earthworks during the Civil War, also lending clues to the fort's presence. Bill Kelso located James Fort and found that the greater part of it was saved thanks to that sea wall, built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1901. He has since become "Mr. Jamestown" among historical circles. Thousands of artifacts have come from his digs, changing forever our perception of this first English fortification in the New World.

Sunday was a bust for the Fort Wool tour so I went west on I-64 to see Yorktown Battlefield instead. Then, a trip to Jamestown Island. Funny thing happened at Jamestown Island... I found out that Dr. Kelso is a resident there and personally oversees the dig 24-7. If it were my baby, I would, too. Then, on the way back, I stopped in to Edenton for more than fuel. Edenton was the long-time capital of North Carolina from its beginnings as a colony, since the separation with South Carolina in 1719. I just had to take some pictures, especially the downtown waterfront.

To the pictures:

The title pic is the destination and the abode for the conference. My question was, if this is a hotel, then why did we stay at the one in Downtown Hampton? Well, turns out that this is now a retirement home... but, it used to be a hotel and still has the conference facilities.

This is the main entrance to Fort Monroe. Note the traffic lights at the entrance. Yes, a car will fit in that tiny opening... one at a time, of course. The interior of the fort looks like a city unto itself.

This is a model of the layout of Fort Monroe.

This is a model of what we once believed Fort Algernoune to look like. Today, after Bill Kelso's excavations of James Fort at Jamestown, the fort is believed now to look like a similar triangle, but with the top angle 90 degrees while the bottom two angles are 45 degrees. It's a bit different. But, no change in the basic layout.

On the way to Hampton Museum of History from my hotel, I passed this... just a block away. There's more, too...

More history... these markers are right beside the Virginia Air & Space Center.

A daytime view of the marina from the parking deck. This is just off the coast at James River and just south of the location of Fort Monroe. This shot was taken Sunday morning before leaving Hampton for Yorktown Battlefield!

And, here we are at Yorktown. That was fast, huh? This is just outside the visitor's center, in the British line of defenses, if I'm not mistaken.

Now, with the powder, plunger, sponge, etc. we prepare to fire the cannon... we take range, aim...

There's our target... that lone British cannon on the hill, get ready... fire!


Clean out with the sponge, load the powder, ram, wadding, ram, lead shot, ram... Once more dear friends!!!... then get arrested by the Park Service!

Inside the center is a full size mock up of a ship-of-the-line. This is a very realistic version of I guess the captain's quarters. The facilities are a bit nice for an average sailor. The table has a raised edge to prevent spillage in rough weather and the bed (box on left is hanging from cords so that it will swing with the motion of the waves. I imagine that this could have been rather comfortable.

The next room houses some paddle-operated stone blade sharpeners and cannon! You will notice that the cannon used are real cannon that were pulled from the York River (some of them may have come from the HMS Charon; I didn't get a clear response from the ranger on this).

This interior of a tent is obviously that of a high-level officer. I was curious as to the reason that it was blocked off to the public by glass.

The trunk barely visible thanks to the glare of the glass has George Washington's name on it, so the tent is supposed to be his field office. After I looked at this exhibit, I stopped to talk to the friendly park ranger at the counter who informed me that the glass is up there for a very good reason... the tent IS George Washington's and so is the trunk!

Yorktown Victory Monument. The monument was authorized October 29, 1781 by Congress, just after the Battle was over on October 17th. Construction was not begun until 100 years later, completed in 1884. Of interesting note is that the original statue of "Liberty" was damaged by lightening (need another lightening rod, Ben!) and replaced by 1956.

This diagram gives a good description of the view seen and its place. I imagine that the island in the background may be the one where "Benny" Tarleton ("Bloody" Tarleton to most southerners) was waiting with reinforcements and to where Cornwallis hoped to escape to when the battle turned against him. He was thwarted in this plan by bad weather, like the weather that thwarted my tour of Fort Wool!

This is the historic district of Yorktown. The monument and park where I was at earlier is at the end of the street in the distance.

Hop the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown...

And arrive in this swampy mess, on an island with no fresh water source, filled with mosquitoes, not inhabited even by the Native Americans, became the site of the first "successful" English colony in North America, the famous Jamestown, Virginia, founded 1607 (thank you, Mr. Driggers!). Why here? It's complicated. It had to do with being on the river, accessible to the Atlantic and to supplies from England, upriver enough to be defensible against the Spanish (who claimed the land the English colonists were squatting on), and apart from the Indians enough to be comfortable. The result was near starvation for a greater part of the colony, some possible incidence of cannibalism, and general disarray of order. Strenuous beginnings, to be sure.

Jamestown National Historic Site is owned by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Here we are at the entrance to the original fort area, the Jamestown Church, and the grand statue of John Smith. The lady on wheels has got the right idea... this ol' pirate was getting worn out after that Jamestown Island tour with its many side-treks.

Jamestown Church, partially built in 1639 in Jamestown, Virginia, is one of the oldest surviving buildings built by Europeans in the original thirteen colonies. It is attached to the remaining bell tower of the first church, built in 1639. The present location of the church, and, presumably, the first church was built on one wall of the original fort. That sort of indicates the disappearance of the fort by that time. Of course, a fort built from rough wood planks doesn't stand up well to Indian attack... and especially, hurricanes. The church seen here was built by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1906, and the original cobble-stone foundations of the older church may be viewed behind glass in the wall/floor.

Pocohontas. There is far too much information to include here on this famous personage. Needless to say, I will leave it to you to look that up on wikipedia or whatever reference you choose. Let me just say that John Smith's accounts of the (actually 15-year old girl) young lady saving his life were probably exaggerated. I mean, Smith himself told the story much later than it actually occurred and his original report said nothing about her saving his life. Playing to an audience. I guess he knew what he was doing, though... the tale stuck. She did marry John Rolfe, though and traveled to England. But, she died soon after, probably from European diseases from which she had no natural defenses. Good statue, though. I'm not sure how accurate it is. I'm not that familiar with Powhatan dress codes.

The bell tower that remains from the 1639 structure.

Captain John Smith himself... well, the statue made in honor of himself. This faces out from a position of prominence over the James River. The archaeological dig is immediately behind the statue, but due to the dreary weather, it was covered with a heavy plastic tarp.

This is a reconstruction of the palisade facing the water. The barracks has been partially re-built as well. The palisade continues to the bastion and cannon placements are at the far end. The one behind me is the only part of the fort's structure that was claimed by the river erosion before 1901, when the sea wall was built.

Another cannon... boy, is it a good day for me! I was able to talk my way out of the troubles at Yorktown, so I'll leave this one well enough alone... for now. This replica is made to resemble the cannon likely at the fort from 1607 on.

Back toward East Carolina University and some decent barbeque!

Entrance to the famed Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), a 23-mile long tunnel-bridge combo that connects the Delmarva Peninsula with southeastern Virginia. I saw a TV special on this tunnel and the difficulties in building it. Lots of trouble!

The trip was relatively successful... I learned alot, asked probably too many questions, annoyed park officials, and spent way too much money! But, this is America's birthplace. Well, for a North Carolinian like myself, this is the "second" birthplace... Roanoke is the main dude! You just can't beat 1587!

Oh... one more thing... can't pass North Carolina's first capital city without stopping...

Happy History from Edenton on the Chowan River!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

To my cousin, Lynne

Mark Twain has always fascinated me. His witticisms and his compassion always struck me as quintessentially human... a humorous and touching inspiration. Twain is the "natural" nature of mankind. In considering my own loss of a young lady that brought me so much in touch with my own nature, I came across a quote of Twain's that he apparently made at his loss of another:

"Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child's loss of a doll and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size."
- Which Was the Dream?

Karen Lynne Powell Garcia touched a great many people in this way, so unassuming, always ready to help, and always ready to help you feel important... a perfect partner for all journeys in life. Many experiences we shared... from the east coast trip to Cape Cod, the hunts for every ghost in North Carolina, the Florida trips to Disneyworld, and even the late night explorations through spooky moss-draped cemeteries and for that "Maco light," when we scared the pants off our other cousins. Her laugh still lingers in my thoughts, her smile is still in the sunshine of each day. No mere words can express the feeling. But, Twain's expressiveness and his humanity reflect best what Lynne's family truly feels today.

I will miss my friend. She is more than just family. She is the heart of our generation. We all carry a piece of that heart with us now... keeping the warmth alive. It is our responsibility to Lynne. It is the very least thing that we can do. And, the most delightful memory to keep.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Advanced? Maybe not.

A very popular sentiment today (and I emphasize "sentiment") is to express regret at what happened to the Native American in this country. The same wave of "sentiment" regarding African-Americans and the trials they endured under slavery is common today as well. It seems a common trait of our race to desire forgiveness for the trespasses that gave us what we most desired, only after we have achieved them. I am not by any means saying that reparations should be made to the descendants of these oppressed peoples. And, they were severely oppressed, let's make no mistake. Descendants of oppressors need make no reparations to the descendants of the oppressed after the fact. The damage is done, the future is the only road to travel.

No, what I argue for is the recognition of the basic human trait that gave rise to these misdeeds. That human flaw still exists, even though we'd like not to think so. The lack of moral responsibility that disinherited the Native American or displaced the African is still here, despite our meager efforts at salving our consciences with charity at Christmas. Our lust for wealth and property continues, indeed, is even more attenuated today than it was years ago, before emancipation in the 1860's or 1830's during Indian Removal.

Everyday, I see signs of it in my email, with the 98 spam messages, containing irresponsible attempts to coerce me into buying something I don't need or to gain criminal access to my sensitive data. The five or six real messages are lost in this sea of avarice. Is that the average, then? 98 to 6. Greed to casual communication. Spam filters can't get rid of them all. Ten messages actually got through. Only about half of those were actually meant for me. The others were just cleverly disguised attempts to get my money. Tricks. Just tricks. Like snake oil salesmen.

We are no different today than we were in the 1830's or 1860's. We just have fancier toys. And, we have all the land... from sea to shining sea. I say "we." I somehow still feel responsible for the misdeeds of my ancestors. Perhaps that is because I understand that the potential to commit past atrocities is still with us today. There were some very conscionable folks in the 1830's who argued against Indian Removal... but, it occurred anyway. The majority of people wanted the land. And the common rhetoric of the day argued for the inferiority of the Native American to get it. This was never true, but we believed it. Because some very respectable people said so.

The successors of those "respectable" people are still with us. They are generally leaders because most of us need to be led and will listen to them if they promise us what we most want to hear at the time. They are generally the ones who took advantage of the moment, of our moral laziness. Today, the term "politician" is synonymous with "liar," "cheat," "womanizer," and many other disreputable qualities. But, these men are still revered as leaders. Other men espouse religion for their purposes, or to disguise their rhetoric in a widely appealing format. And we listen to it. We still pack our morality inside someone else's rhetoric. It's difficult not to.

I didn't really intend to preach. But, I can see potential for more disaster every day. It's not just in my email, but in the expediency of our society, the need to get ahead quickly. Advertisers are after the "quick buck" because they know we will probably forget how they got our money in the bustle. They are more aggressive now because they know that we have an innate desire to be courteous, not to hang up on someone or thrust the door into their faces. In the face of this aggression, we get harder, more uncaring and more likely to say, "What the hell!" when it comes to issues like the Native American or slavery, whether in that form or its modern equivalents.

In the haste, it passes most of us unawares. We often contribute to the problem and lose our money because we don't take the time to understand what we're buying or listen to issues and make an informed decision. For the most part, we are good people. So, let's not let the greed of a few take us along in a wave of rhetoric so they can take advantage of others. I'm just as guilty of this kind of laziness as anyone else. But, I'm trying not to be. This is the harder road to travel but the one you will be proudest of at the end of the journey. It's also what I get for reading Native American history. lol It could just as easily be termed, "American History." A history of avarice that needs to be recognized, dealt with, and changed for the better. Anyway, it's the truth... a hard one to swallow sometimes, but the truth, nevertheless.