K and I went to Charleston five years ago to celebrate my 60th birthday (Did you say FIVE YEARS AGO?)
One of the places we toured was Boone Hall Plantation.
I was reminded of the tour this morning because as I was driving to pick up my new glasses I listened to most of an NPR interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones talking about her enormously influential 1619 Project.
In the interview, Hannah-Jones talks about the anodyne history offered in public schools. How much is missing. How Black history is American history is Black history. And how certain words either romanticized slavery or further demeaned the enslaved.
One of those words was “plantation.” It’s a word that calls to mind Tara of Gone with the Wind. It makes us think of long, beautiful live-oak-lined allees (which Boone Hall has), instead of snake-infested rice fields and all kinds of human misery. The better term, she suggests, is “labor camp.”
When K and I arrived at Boone Hall, they were setting up chairs for an outdoor wedding. I was appalled and said so on Facebook. There I was schooled by a local docent / historian who said that without the income produced by such affairs, many significant historic sites would’ve been turned into condos and golf courses. Okay, but still.
A Boone Hall employee sitting on a chair outside the first of many slave dwellings proudly announced that Boone Hall was “the second most romantic setting for a wedding in America.”
Without thinking, I said, “What’s number one — Auschwitz?”
If I’d been thinking, of course, I would have named an American setting. Perhaps Riker’s Island?
That’s it. That’s the memory.
Small add on — the first time I ever saw an eagle was at Boone Hall.
This popped up on my Instagram feed moments after I posted.
Focus and restriction can yield relief. After a few days on the BRAT diet, I am feeling better. Blood and stool lab work all came back negative. Phew. So a re-set. I can do that.
Focusing on the history of our young nation through the lens of John James Audubon also makes me feel better. I’m reading a second biography and taking notes. I’ve read two biographies about his wife, Lucy.
Okay, okay — so much for keeping secrets. But you probably would like to learn that at one point the Audubons owned close to a dozen slaves, yes? And that for some reason, historic mentions quantify nine as “a few.” Let me reality check. Would YOU refer to nine of anything as “a few”?
You cannot read about Audubon without getting fantastic descriptions of huge sycamore and chestnut trees, of paddling down the Ohio, of camping with the Osage, and of course birds. Birds, birds, and more birds.
Audubon loved them all which makes him even more appealing somehow — from the humble warblers and wrens to the spectacular eagles and rose-breasted grosbeak.*
Here’s what I’ve learned about JJA as a husband. He was hyper-focused on his drawings and investigations of nature, which meant he roamed the woods for weeks and even months at a time. He was an abject failure at business and also given to confabulation (DID he study with Jacques-Louis David, for instance?). In short, he was unreliable.
He presents the weird mix of fate and innate capacities that produces works of genius. But you also get poverty and extended periods of isolation for Lucy. For substantial stretches of their marriage, Lucy supported them by teaching.
It’s chilly this morning but supposed to reach 100 this weekend. Huh?
Had dinner with friends last night. Seven of us. We didn’t hug even though it’s been a while but if someone was sick, we’ve all been exposed, hugs or no.
K is on a conference call with China. They tend to be endless, which is part of why I’m outside. He goes into the office three days a week now, I think I’ve said. It seems a little pointless — the commute and diminished sleep the cost of collegiality?
All the annuals are in pots now.
* Under a Wild Sky, John James Audubon and the Making of The Birds of America, by William Souder, pages 90 – 93.
After dinner while K watched a taped Patriots game, I made a slideshow. It’s in the middle of the post. A few stills follow.
But first the original collages of the running girl. In them, her urgent need to escape emerged from the iterations. The double/triple exposures that form the basis of the slideshow, seemingly of their own accord, continue that feeling. The way she comes in and out of view heightens the sense of imminent harm and also, perhaps, points to the way trauma damages one’s ability to stay in the body.
I couldn’t sleep last night. Eventually got up and read. I came across an article about Emmett Till which you can read here.
Short version: a journalist hired to write about Till’s murder for Life Magazine (this was after the two men were acquitted), couldn’t get releases from two OTHER murderers, so he just WROTE THEM OUT OF THE STORY.
The journalist could be tried (could have been? Sorry, it was 3:00 in the morning) for accessory to murder after the fact.
The current article makes plain that not only was it journalistic malpractice and very possibly illegal, the omission generated more terror in the Black community than had they known there’d been four perpetrators.
If two men were capable of THAT, what’s next?
Maybe the sense of haunting had something to do with the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. K and I watched a Frontline episode — America After 9/11. Oh my god the lying politicians. The lazy press. It underscored a pithy tweet I read which said that we would have been better off as a country if we had literally done nothing.
The personal impact of the tragedy is rendered beautifully in this memoir piece: Hero by Liz Ackert.
Four of the hijackers spent their last night on earth in a discount hotel less than a mile down the road.
The place has long since been torn down.
P. S. Just went back and found a post about dreams the week before 9/11. And a Tarot card pulled (The Tower). Interesting to look back. A little haunting.
Did you know that before Robert E. Lee met with General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox to negotiate the terms of surrender that a white dish towel was raised? A classic and yet pedestrian signal of surrender, it’s also known as the Confederate Flag of Truce.
Artist Sonya Clark wove a giant version of the dish towel and made it the centerpiece of her installation at the DeCordova Museum, in Lincoln, MA (summer 2021). She asks the provocative question, “What if this was the symbol that endured?”
You can see the historic flag of surrender here. Also, here’s an ArtNews review of the show.
A facing wall features an iconic Gordon Parks photo of a cleaning woman. Clark stitched a reproduction of the cleaner’s dress and had someone video tape her wiping a floor with a confederate flag. A proper use. A reimagined status.
There were several other rooms of exhibits. I’ll leave you to find out more about them online.
In a tangential way, Clark’s show reminded me of a popular recent television series, Watchmen. The show answered a parallel question, “What if law enforcement was serious about chasing down and punishing white supremacists?”
A historian at the site of the Appomattox surrender describes the meeting between Lee and Grant here
Let’s dispense with notions of race. Not as in “I don’t see color,” but as in “your color will not matter if I am a cop and holding a gun that I claim to’ve believed was a taser” and OOPS!
Can’t we just arrest these killers on the spot? Forget suspension with pay or firing them or forming a commission or building a case against the police unions. Let murderers be treated like murderers.
The slamming down and winking out of a Black man’s life is one damnation. The slow-walked consequences constitute a second damnation.
Everyone knows that if the murderer just down the road is acquitted not just one cheap-ass Dollar Store will burn, but all of Minneapolis.
Notions of race have changed. They are at once fluid and rigid. Italians used to be considered “colored,” Catholicism was outlawed. Jews, no matter their designated race, have never managed to get ahead of those who would hunt them down and exterminate them.
Exterminate is a word that intentionally calls to mind vermin, rats. And Jews. Don’t say “Jew” if you’re not Jewish. It too easily glides into insult. Listen to this or that white supremacist refer to 1/4 of the American populous as “the blacks.”
Why can’t we eradicate the haters? The bearded, insecure, gun-toting white men who by most counts seem hell-bent on destroying the America they claim to love? They carry illusion in one pocket, grievance in another, and make violent scapegoating their mission.
Let seditionists be tried for sedition! Charging an insurrectionist with trespass is a little like charging Rockwell Inc. with trespass when clouds of plutonium smoke from its bomb factory poisoned entire neighborhoods south of Denver.
But, the Colorado courts wondered, can the plaintiffs make out a case even for trespass when it’s so hard to quantify the harm? Even if the impossibility of quantifying the harm is because its magnitude is nearly unimaginable? (let me insert here that the half life of plutonium is 240,000 years and that a particle the size of the head of a pin, when breathed in, will kill).
But the residents near Rocky Flats knew. The ‘downwind scars’ from thyroid removal so prevalent as to earn that cute nickname, children dying of weird cancers, calves born deformed. It’s a little like how an entire zip code of Black people in Ohio knew they were descended from Thomas Jefferson for several generations in advance of DNA proof.
But I digress. One man yells, “This is the people’s house!” Then another. Then a chorus. I want to yell back, “And these are the people’s laws!”
Meanwhile, how is it possible that the biggest seditionist of them all is waltzing around, golfing, disrupting weddings, drinking Coke while calling for its boycott, and spouting the Big Lie, still?
Inversion of truth has a way of wearing people down. Tell me again why a Dollar Store should matter more than a Black man’s life? Tell me again why the tanks and armor and gas and shields and vests and guns and batons and more gas arrived in force instantly at a crowd protesting injustice but did not manage to show up at a full fledged riot at the Capitol. Or why the men who threatened to kidnap and kill the Governor of Michigan did not end up being convicted. Of anything.
We all remember Dylan Roof’s post-massacre cheeseburger or the near-high fives the police gave Kyle Rittenhouse.
The curfew is a catch-22 for Black people. Protest and you’ll be arrested NO MATTER HOW EGREGIOUS THE HARM you protest. So many catch-22’s for Black people and so many with lethal consequence. Stay in your car, you’ll be shot. Get out of your car, you’ll be shot.
All those who plea for Black obedience have not been paying attention. Half of the men on the Hill frame grievance along racial lines, with utter disregard for the facts, for the Constitution, for actual history. It’s truly sickening.
Vote Them Out, rings hollow when voting rights are being gutted. All those good guys swearing they’ll wait a hundred hours in line or those others saying they’ll risk arrest to bring water and pizza to voters, seem not to have read the part about the legislature now being empowered to overturn elections.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how many well-meaning allies show up with water or how many patriotic Black voters wait eons to exercise their constitutional right, the Georgia GOP can change the result. Poof! There goes Stacey Abrams’s strategy and hard work. The Republicans have enshrined into law what the Orange Menace tried to do in November with his pathetic election-tampering phone call.
They fired the guy who taped that illegal call, I don’t need to tell you.
Even with my pale and privleged ass, I’m really tired of this shit.
The through-line from slave patrollers to current policing is direct. They basically killed first, asked questions after.
There was so much extra-judicial killing of slaves in South Carolina that the Slave Code of 1740 tried to put in some limits. Imagine, even as the Assembly imposed one onerous restriction after another on the enslaved, they put the brakes on the slave patrollers. Why? Because they were costing the elite planters too much money, damaging their investments, etc.
An owner, of course, could kill one of his slaves for any reason at any time. Also, if a black person struck a white person, they would’ve been condemned to death, if not killed on the spot. But patrollers out for blood or maybe for bounties, had to be reigned in. The average healthy male African cost the equivalent of $18 to $26,000. The price of a very good used car.
White colonial governance pitted Natives against each other to help finish what small pox started. They also had no problem situating — there’s a word — various tribes further inland — west of the Edisto River, say — as long as said placements — there’s another word — didn’t occupy land where rice would grow. But wait! If a slave ran away, it was common for the aggrieved owner to hire a Native tracker to bring the enslaved back. No one knew the landscape better than the Natives! Here’s a musket!
But if not hiring a Chocktaw to find a runaway from Gambia, say, the fancy second sons from England and France might have captured a passel of the so-called red skins to sell as slaves to sugar planters in the West Indies. It didn’t pay to keep them around — Natives were too adept at melting into the scrub to make them a sound investment.
But, keeping at least one Indian on register was considered good sense, since it was believed that mixing Native with African blood would produce offspring better able to withstand winters.
For no rational reason that I’ve ever come across, Natives on the auction blocks in Barbados or Antigua fetched lower prices than Black captives. Perhaps it had to do with how theories on race were gaining traction — solidifying — theories that said that the black-skinned were particularly suited to hard labor and that their owners did them enormous favors by offering them such opportunities, etc.
Because I’m not Black or Jewish or Asian, I cannot begin to imagine what it is to receive the hate and the threats that are such common currency in this country. But I AM tired of it all. Hypocrisy, the violence, the fake patriotism, molasses-paced consequences, the unraveling of truth as something that should matter.
Let me end with one piece of good news and a prayer.
The good news: Fani Willis did not pursue felony charges against the young legislator who knocked on the door where Kemp and his cronies signed the voter suppression law.
The supplication: I pray that the Chauvin jury does the right thing. Please, please, convict the motherfucker. There’s been enough damage done.
* sorry I don’t have an attribution for the protest photo.
A really good ongoing critique of policing can be found here:
This is a moment of cosmological reckoning for all that has happened in this land.