Saturday, March 19, 2016

Teaching black children to be slave catchers

Nothing reveals more than U.S. slave narratives (such as the one that follows) the psychological damage done to the enslaved in the U.S.A. and the ways slavery destroyed the black family. The horrific dysfunction of American society during slavery undoubtedly remains with this nation, and we should not forget what happened during that part of history as some people would like us to.

In the following slave narrative, a former slave, Anna Baker, tells an interviewer from the Writers' Project of the Works Project Administration (WPA) about life pre-Civil War and after it. She was a little girl during the slavery era and relays how her master petted her and groomed her to report to him what the adult slaves said and to tell him if anyone planned to run away. She did as he told her but also reported to the slaves what white people said. Anna was less than eight years old doing this.

Symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome are also clear. The former slave, an old woman at the time of the narrative, still talks about "the good white people"making it possible for her to eat. Previously she'd told of the Ku Klux Klan coming for her grandfather. And this is just a snippet of the story.

Some white historians and slavery apologists over the decades have taken some of these narratives in which a slave seems to have liked the master and tried to rewrite this damning history as "a beautiful era" of kind masters and Southern gentility, a period during which black people loved being slaves. The more astute, however, know that slaves learned to dissemble for the sake of survival and if not dissembling about being happy had been conditioned to accept their lives.

The slavery system kept black people illiterate and masters taught slaves only what they wanted them to know. People can be brainwashed into thinking even rapists and sadists are doing what's best.

Slave masters also trained themselves and non-slave-holders to buy their propaganda even creating terminology based on fallacious science, such as the drapetomania diagnosis. That theory promoted under scientific racism that slaves who wanted to escape were mentally ill.

To those who argue black people and other Americans should stop discussing slavery and racism because it perpetuates pain and anger, please understand that the effects of trauma appear to be passed on genetically, so not talking about horror doesn't make its evidence disappear. Furthermore, as many scholars have pointed out, the Civil War did not the end of oppression of black people. The Civil War did not even end slavery, just that type of slavery. After the war came racist backlash during Reconstruction which resulted in Jim Crow laws which birthed the birth/school to "prison pipeline we see today" and other forms of institutionalized racism.

No, we don't talk about racism and slavery too little. We need to talk more. We should talk about this history and hack a its vestiges until justice prevails.

Anna Baker, Ex-slave, Monroe County
Mrs. Richard Kolb
Rewrite, Pauline Loveless
Edited, Clara E. Stokes

Aberdeen, Mississippi

Anna Baker, 80-year old ex-slave, is tall and well built. She is what the Negroes term a "high brown." Her high forehead and prominent cheek bones indicate that there is a strain of other than the pure African in her blood. She is in fair health.

"Lemme see how old I is. Well, I tells you jus' lak I tol' dat Home Loan man what was here las' week. I 'members a pow'ful lot 'bout slavery times an' 'bout 'fore surrender. I know I was a right smart size den, so's 'cording to dat I mus' be 'roun' 'bout eighty year old. I aint sho' 'bout dat an' I don't want to tell no untruth. I know I was right smart size 'fore de surrender, as I was a-sayin', 'cause I 'members Marster comin' down de road past de house. When I'd see 'im 'way off I'd run to de gate an' start singin' dis song to 'I'm:

'Here come de marster, root toot too!
Here come Marster, comin' my way!
Howdy, Marster, howdy do!
What you gwine a-bring from town today?'

Dat would mos' nigh tickle him to death an' he'd say, 'Loosahna (dat was his pet name for me) what you want today? I'd say, 'Bring me some goobers, or a doll, or some stick candy, or anything. An' you can bet yo' bottom doller he'd always bring me sampan'.

"One reason Marse Morgan thought so much o' me, dey say I was a right peart young'n' an' caught on to anything pretty quick. Marster would tell me, 'Loosanna, if you keep yo' ears open an' tell me what de darkies talk 'bout, dey'll be somp'n' good in it for you.' (He meant for me to listen when dey'd talk 'bout runnin' off an' such.) I'd stay 'roun' de old folks an' make lak I was a-playin'. All de time I'd be a-listenin'. Den I'd go an' tell Marster what I hear'd. But all de time I mus' a-had a right smart mind, 'cause I'd play 'roun' de white folks an' hear what dey'd say an' den go tell de Niggers.—Don't guess de marster ever thought 'bout me doin' dat.

"I was born an' bred 'bout seven miles from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was de baby of de fam'ly. De house was on de right han' side o' de road to town. I had four sisters an' one brother dat I knows of. Dey was named Classie, Jennie, Florence, Allie, an' George. My name was Joanna, but dey done drap de Jo part a long time ago.

"I don't recollec' what my ma's mammy an' pappy was named, but I know dat her pappy was a full blooded Injun. (I guess dat is where I gits my brown color.) Her mammy was a full blooded African though, a great big woman.

"I recollec' a tale ray mammy tol' me 'bout my gran'pa. When he took up wid my gran'mammy de white man what owned her say, 'If you want to stay wid her I'll give you a home if you'll work for me lak de Niggers do.' He 'greed, 'cause he thought a heap o' his Black Woman. (Dat's what he called her.) Ever'thing was all right 'til one o' dem uppity overseers tried to act smart. He say he gwine a-beat him. My gran'pappy went home dat night an' barred de door. When de overseer an' some o' his frien's come after him, he say he aint gwine a-open dat door. Dey say if he don't dey gwine a-break it in. He tell' em to go 'head.

"Whilst dey was a-breakin' in he filled a shovel full o' red hot coals an' when dey come in he th'owed it at 'em. Den whilst dey was a-hollerin' he run away. He aint never been seen again to dis good day. I'se hear'd since den dat white folks learnt dat if dey started to whip a Injun dey'd better kill him right den or else he might git dem.

"My mammy's name was Harriet Clemens. When I was too little to know anything 'bout it she run off an' lef' us. I don't 'member much 'bout her 'fore she run off, I reckon I was mos' too little.

"She tol' me when she come after us, after de war was over, all 'bout why she had to run away: It was on 'count of de Nigger overseers. (Dey had Niggers over de hoers an' white mens over de plow han's.) Dey kep' a-tryin' to mess 'roun' wid her an' she wouldn' have nothin' to do wid 'em. One time while she was in de fiel' de overseer asked her to go over to de woods wid him an' she said, 'All right, I'll go find a nice place an' wait.' She jus' kep'a-goin. She swum de river an' run away. She slipped back onct or twict at night to see us, but dat was all. She hired out to some folks dat warnt rich' nough to have no' slaves o' dey own. Dey was good to her, too. (She never lacked for work to do.)

"When my ma went off a old woman called Aunt Emmaline kep' me. (She kep' all de orphunt chillun an' dem who's mammas had been sent off to de breedin' quarters. When dem women had chillun dey brung 'em an' let somebody lak Aunt Emmaline raise em.) She was sho' mean to me. I think it was 'cause de marster laked me an' was always a-pettin' me. She was jealous.

"She was always a-tryin' to whip me for somethin' or nother. One time she hit me wid a iron miggin.
(You uses it in churnin'.) It made a bad place on my head. She done it 'cause I let some meal dat she was parchin' burn up. After she done it she got sort a scared an' doctored me up. She put soot on de cut to make it stop bleedin'. Nex' day she made me promise to tell de marster dat I hurt my head when I fell out o' de door dat night he whip Uncle Sim for stealin' a hog. Now I was asleep dat night, but when he asked me I said, 'Aunt Emmaline say tell you I hurt my head fallin' out de door de night you whip Uncle Sim.' Den he say, 'Is dat de truf?' I say, 'Naw sir.' He took Aunt Emmaline down to de gear house an' wore her out. He wouldn' tell off on me. He jus' tol' her dat she had no bus'ness a-lettin' me stay up so late dat I seen him do de whipping'.

"My pa was named George Clemens. Us was all owned by Marster Morgan Clemens. Master Hardy, his daddy, had give us to him when he 'vided out wid de res' o' his chillun. (Marster Morgan was a settled man. He went 'roun' by hisse'f mos' o' de time. He never did marry.)

"My pa went to de war wid Marster Morgan an' he never come back. I don't 'member much 'bout 'em goin', but after dey lef' I 'member de Blue Coats a-comin'. Dey tore de smoke house down an' made a big fire an' cooked all de meat dey could hol'. All us Niggers had a good time, 'cause, dey give us all us wanted. One of 'em put me up on his knee an' asked me if I'd ever seen Marster wid any little bright 'roun' shiny things. (He held his hand up wid his fingers in de shape of a dollar.) I, lak a crazy little Nigger said, 'Sho', Marster draps 'em 'hind de mantelpiece.' Den, if dey didn' tear dat mantel down an' git his money, I's a son-of-a-gun!

"After de war was over my ma got some papers from de progo[FN: provost] marshal. She come to de place an 'tol' de marster she want her chillun. He say she can have all 'cept me. She say she want me, too, dat I was her'n an' she was gwine a-git me. She went back an 'got some more papers an' showed 'em to Marster Morgan. Den he lemme go.

"She come out to de house to git us. At firs' I was scared o' her, 'cause I didn' know who she was. She put me in her lap an' she mos' nigh cried when she seen de back o' my head. Dey was awful sores where de lice had been an' I had scratched 'em. (She sho' jumped Aunt Emmaline 'bout dat.) Us lef' dat day an' went right on to Tuscaloosa. My ma had married again an' she an' him took turns 'bout carrying me when I got tired. Us had to walk de whole seven miles.

"I went to school after dat an' learnt to read an' write. Us had white Yankee teachers. I learnt to read de Bible well' nough an' den I quit.

"I was buried in de water lak de Savior. I's a real Baptis'. De Holy Sperrit sho' come into my heart.

"I b'lieves in de Sperrit. I b'lieves all o' us when us dies is sperrits. Us jus' hovers 'roun' in de sky a-ridin' on de clouds. Course, some folks is born wid a cloud over dey faces. Dey can see things dat us can't. I reckon dey sees de sperrits. I know' bout dem Kloo Kluxes. I had to go to court one time to testify 'bout' em. One night after us had moved to Tuscaloosa dey come after my step-daddy. Whilst my ma an' de res' went an' hid I went to de door. I warnt scared. I says, 'Marster Will, aint dat you?' He say, 'Sho', it's me. Whar's yo' daddy?' I tol' 'im dat he'd gone to town. Den dey head out for 'im. In de meantime my ma she had started out, too. She warned him to hide, so dey didn' git 'im.

"Soon after dat de Yankees hel' a trial in Tuscaloosa. Dey carried me. A man hel' me up an' made me p'int out who it was dat come to our house. I say, 'Dat's de man, aint it Marster Will?' He couldn' say "No", 'cause he'd tol' me twas him dat night. Dey put 'em in jail for six months an' give 'em a big fine.
"Us moved from Tuscaloosa while I was still a young girl an' went to Pickensville, Alabama. Us stayed dar on de river for awhile an' den moved to Columbus, Mississippi. I lived dar 'til I was old 'nough to git out to myself.

"Den I come to Aberdeen an' married Sam Baker. Me an' Sam done well. He made good money an' us bought dis very house I lives in now. Us never had no chillun, but I was lef' one by a cousin o' mine what died. I raised her lak she was my own. I sont her to school an' ever'thing. She lives in Chicago now an' wants me to come live wid her. But shucks! What would a old woman lak me do in a place lak dat?

"I aint got nothin' lef now 'cept a roof over my head. I wouldn' have dat 'cept for de President o' de United States. Dey had loaned me some money to fix up de house to keep it from fallin' down on me. Dey said I'd have fifteen year to pay it back in. Now course, I knowed I'd be dead in dat time, so I signed up wid' em.

"Las' year de men dat collec' nearly worrit me to death a-tryin' to git some money from me. I didn' have none, so dey say dey gwine a-take my home.

"Now I hear tell o' dat barefoot Nigger down at Columbus callin' de president an' him bein' so good to 'im. So I 'cided to write an' tell 'im what a plight dis Nigger was in. I didn' say nothin noxious[FN: obnoxious], but I jus' tol' him plain facts. He writ me right back an' pretty soon he sont a man down to see me. He say I needn' bother no more, dat dey won't take my house 'way from me. An' please de Lawd! Dey aint nobody else been here a-pesterin' me since.

"Dat man tol' me soon as de old age pension went th'ough I'd git thirty dollars a mont' stid[FN: instead] o' de four I's a-gittin' now. Now won't dat be gran'? I could live lak de white folks on dat much.

"I'se had 'ligion all my born days. (I never learnt to read de Bible an' 'terpet de Word 'til I was right smart size, but I mus' o' b'lieved in de Lawd since 'way back.) I'se gwine a-go right 'long an' keep a-trustin' de good Lawd an' I knows ever'thing gwine a-come out all right.

"'Twixt de Lawd an' de good white folks I know I's gwine always have somethin' t'eat. President Roosevelt done 'tended to de roof over my head."

Related: "There Goes the Wind" at the Harvard University Press blog

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