My dear friend, teacher and scholar Roberta Logan, posted an excerpt from the testimony of a former slave gathered by the WPA. I remembered that my uncle Marty (Martin Daniel Richardson) had been a part of the group of writers and journalists who collected those stories in the 1930s — in Florida, in his case. I’ve read a few he gathered and some transcribed by others. Many voices, and nothing simple about the choices and decisions enslaved men and women made for themselves and their loved ones.
So, short version, it turns out many of the typescripts were digitized by the Library of Congress. Here’s one; some of you will recognize the location thanks to Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker.
It was a real pleasure to be a part of this project by the brilliant cinematographer
Stay tuned for more on Edmonia Lewis’s Bozeman, MT, friend, Lizzie Williams. Big thanks to researcher Crystal Alegria.
Carte de Visite after William Carlton’s 1863 painting. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.
As Frederick Douglass wrote, “We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky, which should rend the fetters of four million of slaves; we were watching, as it were, by the dim light of stars, for the dawn of a new day; we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries.”
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” – From The Emancipation Proclamation
The painting hangs in what is now the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House, but was then his office where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The original painting was given as a gift from William Lloyd Garrison to President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and was removed from the White House after President Lincoln’s assassination.
A White House curator found another version at a New York antique shop in 1975. It was presented as a gift to the White House on the 200th anniversary of America’s founding in 1976.
Relief bust of Wendell Phillips by Edmonia Lewis. The original dates from c. 1864. This signed and dated version was carved in Rome in 1871.
See @wcaleb on Twitter for an excellent selection of excerpts from Phillips’ writings including this passage.
Reading around in print and electronic media, we have all seen the back and forth — some of it over-the-top heated — about the great safety pin question. Today I read the account of a lefty white clergyman friend of worshiping at a predominately black church where the question was raised about allies wearing pins.
Many congregants in the discussion found it to be a thoughtful gesture. Not a panacea, but a nice gesture that might even make a difference in a given situation. Like the purported powers of chicken soup; it can’t hurt, right?
So, here’s where I am on the question just now. I choose to see the safety pin worn as a sign of solidarity, or of willingness to offer help, bear witness, or ease a concern, as the secular equivalent of symbols of faith or belief worn and seen everywhere, every day. They, too, might come to speak more loudly as our present circumstance unfolds.
In the meantime, a little signal of unity on the lapel can’t hurt. And if it can on occasion really help, then shame on any of us for being cynical about the gesture.
A nice account of the recovery and history of this important marble bust of John Brown by the New England sculptor Edward (sometimes identified as Edwin) Brackett. He was Edmonia Lewis’s teacher in Boston. His influence on her work is particularly notable in her own heroic busts of figures such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others.