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.
You may recall that my manuscript consultant suggested an epilogue. How about 1758? That’s the year Eliza and her husband, Charles Pinckney, return to South Carolina after a lengthy stay in England. Charles dies in July. Malaria claimed a lot of lives in colonial America.
Prior research had been pretty laser-focused on the years 1738 to 1744. With many historic tomes, in fact, I just stopped reading at 1745. I barely read Eliza’s letters after her marriagein ’44.
Well that’s not entirely true. I read them two or three times, but I didn’t MINE them and their footnotes for personal events and tone and history.
So I had to ask: what was Charles Town like fourteen years after my original narrative ended? Also, because one character flees to Philly, what was the City of Brotherly Love like in 1758?
Imagine my glee — yes glee! — to learn about an early abolitionist who published the very first unequivocal position against slavery in the western world! His name was Anthony Benezet and he was a Huguenot-turned Quaker. The Quakers adopted the proclamation in Philadelphia in 1758. *
I found a Library of Congress lecture by one of Benezet’s biographers, Maurice Jackson, and listened to it in its entirety (those of you who know me understand how rare that is).
Why isn’t he better known?
His pamphlet or Slave Almanac was later copied in large measure by better known abolitionist John Wesley and relied upon by the likes of Granville Sharp.
I noodled around Ben Franklin’s early career as a printer (he was out of the business by 1758) and his then equivocal stance on slavery — or at least his unwillingness to attach his name to those early anti-slavery pamphlets.
The other thing to know generally was that the French and Indian war was going on. It was the reason why Charles and Eliza Pinckney had returned to South Carolina. They wanted to secure or sell their properties.
Fun fact: the Join or Die flag originally referred to the necessity to cooperate in the fight against France and only later was coopted by the Revolutionaries battling Britain.
* The proclamation was approved at a Quaker Yearly meeting in 1758 but not printed until 1759.
In other news, the wisteria is blooming and I got my hair cut. New glasses ordered. All systems go!
And I’m making a tunic. Ha! I’ll let you know how it goes.
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.
I’m adding light and shadow to appliqued hawk. Made her head lighter and used white poly for beak to make it pop. A scrap of fabric practically fell out of the basket and felt like a minor show of Providence.
Jude had the idea over on Instagram to darken some of the ripples around the hawk’s head. Since I like the way it adds a sense of motion, I may continue around the body as long as I have that color thread. It’ll look good flowing off the wings.
Had some gross polyester swirled with black in that basket, too. Added to tail and wings for more contrast. Light. Maybe you can see a difference with earlier incarnation, maybe not (below).
It’s nice to have company.
In the meantime, I finally talked to my paid manuscript consultant yesterday. Round three coming up. I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, perhaps even shouting off the rooftops: SHE LOVES MY BOOK.
I think people forget how solitary a process writing is.
House names should not be italicized. If I’m gonna talk about the elder Middletons toward the end, they need to be introduced earlier. Still sags here and there — needs tightening. Not so many descriptions of clouds, perhaps. Maybe not so much about Melody’s first owner. Explain what head rights are and how to memorialize land in Author’s Note, which starts like this:
When I began this novel, Trayvon Martin was alive and as I finished the second edit, George Floyd was dead.
The suggestion that I add an epilogue (say in 1758 after Eliza and Charles Pinckney return from a five year stay in England), will take a little more thought. That’s fourteen years after my original end. Lots of years I haven’t thought about all that much.
A six year time frame (1738 to 1744) allowed a laser-like focus. Etiquette in 1720? I don’t care! Rice markets in 1750? Also don’t care. Now I need to care. I’ll start with Eliza’s letters.
A walk with temps in the 40’s was cause for celebration this week. Daffodils shoving aside leaf debris. Snow shrugging off the curbs. It won’t be long now ’til the miracle of hyacinths.
In the meantime I am trying to answer the question (Acey’s): how do you hold your heart? Or maybe just asking it. Softly.
The collage challenge with Paris Collage Collective continues. This week: Shirley Chisholm.
More to come. I want to cut up seed catalogues and wreathe her head with flowers. In the collage above, the headstone of Harriett Jacobs served as reference to the long history of oppression, Jacobs being another Black woman who overcame so much.
In the spirit of ‘saying their names,’ the names of the enslaved “property” in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s estate are listed below. Black people were enumerated in testamentary documents along with furniture, horses and mules, jewelry and land, making clear their status as chattel.
[The names listed in bold on the list are names I’ve used in my novel (in its second edit now)].
It’s also worth noting that at the time of her marriage to Charles Pinckney (May 27, 1744), Eliza’s father included about two dozen enslaved people as part of her dowry. The record tells us that Quashee (aka John Williams) was a matter of dispute between Eliza’s father and her fiance. Both men wanted him and for good reason — he was literate and an extraordinarily skilled carpenter. Eliza’s husband-to-be won out and Quashee went on to oversee and help build the newlywed couple’s new home on East Bay.
Also note: it’s a mistake to think that slaves named after days of the week were so-named out of a heartless, objectifying inattention on the part of auctioneers and owners, much like some names were based on slave trading ships (see recent post about Phillis Wheatley). In some African cultures it was common. For instance, Cudjoe (variants: Cuffy, Joe) means Monday; Quashee, Sunday.