Monthly Archives: June 2007

A Pack, Not a Herd, Takes on a Pride

An incredible Battle at Kruger via Mississippi to Korea

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Atlanta’s Black Aristocracy

There is no major metropolitan area that has a better-organized black upper class than the city of Atlanta. Exerting its power in the worlds of politics, business and academia, Atlanta’s black elite sets the gold standard for its counterparts in other cities.

“We’ve had three black mayors with national reputations,” says my friend Janice White Sikes of the city’s Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, the nation’s best collection of black Atlanta history documents. “We are home to the best-known historically black colleges. And in addition to hosting the Olympics we have some black-owned companies that are the oldest of their kind in the country.”

Although she has spent most of her career researching and writing about an older, more rural Georgia, it is obvious that what excites Sikes most as we sit in the dining room of the Atlanta Ritz-Carlton is talking about the new Atlanta and how the black community has played a role in making it one of the most popular destinations for elite blacks in search of a city where they are in control.

“This city produced older civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, and Congressman John Lewis,” she adds while looking over some notes describing her uncle, a black class-of-1933 Harvard graduate, “but Atlanta has also elevated people like Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson, and Johnetta Cole to national standing in recent years.”

Unlike other cities of its size and sophistication, Atlanta has seen a black elite forge strong enough ties between blacks, whites, and the business communities of both groups to elect three consecutive black mayors. What is also interesting is that Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, and current mayor William Campbell are solidly representative of the black upper class—a characteristic that historically has not been welcome in black electoral candidates in cities like Washington, Chicago, or Detroit. In fact, when Marion Barry and Coleman Young of Washington and Detroit, respectively, were campaigning in mayoral races, they bragged about their ties to the urban working-class community. In Atlanta, good lineage, money, and top school credentials are appreciated by the black mainstream.

In addition to excelling in political clout, black Atlantans outstrip other cities’ elite in the area of college ties. Atlanta’s black academic community is larger than any other city’s because of prestigious schools like Spelman, Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Clark Atlanta. When former Spelman College president Johnetta Cole received a $20 million gift from Bill and Camille Cosby (she is a Spelman alumnus) in 1993, other cities and their black colleges took notice of the strong black university consortium that was growing on the southwest side of Atlanta.

And further reinforcing the role and place of the black elite in the city are its black-owned businesses. While it does not outnumber New York or Chicago in black entrepreneurs, the city does claim the nation’s largest black-owned insurance company (Atlanta Life), the largest black-owned real estate development firm (H. J. Russell), and some of the country’s top black-controlled investment firms, law firms, auto dealerships, and food service companies.

SOURCE: Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class, by Lawrence Otis Graham (Harper, 2000), pp. 321-322

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Wordcatcher Tales: Haint Blue

In Savannah, Georgia, last month the Far Outliers toured the Telfair Museum of Art‘s Owens-Thomas House, where we saw haint blue paint on the walls and rafters of the former slave quarters that now serves as a gift shop, waiting room, and exhibit (upstairs). Such blue paint is common in areas influenced by slaves from Africa.

The blue paint is said to ward off evil spirits and, by some accounts, insects. I lean toward the more practical explanation, for reasons elaborated below, but first I want to note an odd set of sound correspondences, where one member of each pair is not just nonstandard, but highly stigmatized.

  • haint ~ haunt
  • aint ~ aunt
  • ain’t ~ aren’t (in r-less dialects)
  • cain’t ~ can’t

I don’t know anyone who pronounces every member of the set with the ai vowel. Nor do I know anyone who has the same vowel in each member of the set. Nowadays, I pronounce each with a different vowel: (roughly) hawnt, ahnt, arnt, kænt. As a kid, I used to say cain’t (as my father still does), but I made a conscious effort to expel such (self-)stigmatized regionalisms from my speech during my youth. Worse yet, I used to tease my Southern Baptist missionary kid cohorts who returned from their furlough years with their regional accents in full flower. Some of my southern Virginia relatives also pronounce aunt the way Andy Griffith did in the name of Aunt Bee on Mayberry RFD (said to be based on Mt. Airy, NC), but I don’t know anyone who pronounces haunt the same way, except in jest.

Has anyone else noticed this odd correspondence set? Are there other possible members of the set?

Enough linguistics; now back to insects. Last year in Japan, I heard that indigo dye had mosquito-repellent properties, among other magical qualities. Historian and librarian Jennifer Payne has compiled some interesting evidence for the beneficial effects of indigo plantations, not just its blue dye. Here are a few excerpts (omitting footnotes).

Agriculture, disease, and slavery were three basic and interconnected aspects of life in Colonial South Carolina. Where one existed, the other two were sure to follow within a very short time. By the mid eighteenth century, rice culture, slavery, malaria and yellow fever were well established as a self-perpetuating cycle which had an adverse effect upon the life spans of the colonists. This study examines the establishment of the “rice-slavery-disease” cycle, speculates on how this cycle was broken by the introduction of indigo, and postulates how indigo effected the yellow fever/malaria mortality rates of Colonial South Carolina….

During the very same fifty years in which indigo took hold in South Carolina, an interesting phenomenon occurred. Persons in Berkeley County near Charleston began to live longer; the number of persons dying during the malarial months [August through November] began to drop. Furthermore, the frequent outbreaks of yellow fever in Charleston began to slow down and eventually, for a time, discontinue entirely….

The most dramatic change occurred between 1760 and 1800 during the years in which indigo gained its height. Only 20% of the males died before forty and some 45% lived to be sixty or more. Moreover, only 18% of adult women died before fifty and some 70% survived beyond seventy. Those statistics involving women are especially revealing for women tended to become victims to malaria during their childbearing years. The fact that a greater percentage of the female population survived past fifty is significant. Thus, according to this evidence, something was enabling the people of Christchurch and St. Johns parishes in Berkeley county to survive malaria and malarial complications during the last forty years of the eighteenth century….

Why was there a decline in malarial mortality and a cessation of yellow fever epidemics? One medical historian jokingly suggested that perhaps the Mosquitoes simply went away for forty years. This might be true. Interestingly, the yellow fever epidemics ended just as indigo gained ground as a staple cash crop. Even more fascinating is the fact that the yellow fever epidemics resumed as indigo culture was rapidly phased out after the Revolution. Although in 1788, 833,500 pounds of indigo were being exported, in 1790, only 1694 casks of the stuff were exported. By 1796, indigo had been virtually eliminated from the agricultural economy. Conversely, the epidemics raged within three years of this decline. Thus, it is quite possible that the introduction, rise, and subsequent fall of indigo production had an effect upon mortality rates in colonial South Carolina….

Was it simply coincidence that yellow fever and malaria experienced a decline during indigo’s rise, or are the two related in some manner[?] Whatever the connection between indigo and the mosquito is, the is little doubt that during the years of indigo’s sudden and swift rise in cultivation, the number of people dying from malaria related complications and those dying from yellow fever dropped markedly. Eliza Lucas Pinckney introduced a new cash crop which helped to make South Carolina one of England’s wealthiest colonies. However, her actions might have also helped the population of South Carolina reduce the fever mortality rates. The introduction of indigo broke the vicious cycle of rice cultivation, slavery, and fever by introducing a method of agriculture which did not rely on large amounts of standing water. Furthermore, the return of yellow fever epidemics in the mid 1790’s coincided with the rapid decline of indigo production due to the loss of the incentive of the bounty. Although the exact nature of indigo’s influence on the mosquito can only be speculated, research conducted to date indicates the probability of a connection between the two.

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Chicago’s Black Elite

First founded and settled by the black explorer Jean-Baptiste DuSable of [Saint Domingue =] Haiti, in 1773, Chicago was begun as a thirty-acre land parcel. DuSable, working as a fur trapper and trading-post operator, eventually owned in excess of four hundred acres. He and his new Native American wife remained in the area until 1800, when he moved to Missouri.

With an early black population that was much smaller than those of southern cities like Washington, Memphis, Atlanta, and Richmond, Chicago had a small black elite in the mid- and late 1800s—it consisted of only a few families. Most of them lived very integrated lives: They interacted while working together with liberal whites who had been abolitionists when the Underground Railroad moved black southern slaves into the North. The black elite of the period included people like physician Daniel Williams, Pullman Train Company executive Julius Avendorph, caterer Charles Smiley, and attorney Laing Williams. They were all educated people who lived, worked, and socialized among whites. “In fact,” says Travis, who also wrote the book Autobiography of Black Chicago, “at that time, there were blacks living throughout the North Side and elsewhere. Though we were small in numbers, we were represented in every census tract.”

Travis points out, however, that the total black population was still under fifteen thousand people. It was not until around World War I, the time of a major black migration from the South to the North, that a substantial black population arrived in the city. Most of these black southerners came—about seventy thousand of them between 1900 and 1920—as a result of the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper that was read in the South by educated blacks eager to escape their more rural environment. When these blacks arrived in town, the old-guard black families and their social clubs immediately decided who was “in” and who was not. Truman Gibson’s parents and Maudelle Bousfield Evans’s parents were clearly “in” as far as the black old guard was concerned. Interestingly, as old-guard blacks were busy trying to separate the “society blacks” like themselves from the new working-class arrivals, whites were making plans to ghettoize both groups together on the South Side. And they quickly did so by establishing restrictive covenants that moved blacks out of white areas.

In fact, the white community responded quite aggressively to black mobility during the early years of World War I. In the working-class and middle-class white neighborhoods that saw blacks moving in, white residents simply bombed the houses or set them afire. In more upscale neighborhoods like Hyde Park, which surrounds the University of Chicago, white residents organized a full-blown plan to preempt any sales to upwardly mobile blacks who might be able to afford homes in the well-to-do community. My Uncle Telfer, who died before the upscale neighborhood allowed blacks to buy homes there, had saved a copy of Hyde Park’s neighborhood newspaper, published in 1920, which read, “Every colored man who moves into the Hyde Park neighborhood knows that he is damaging his white neighbor’s property. Consequently … he forfeits his right to be employed by the white man…. Employers should adopt a rule of refusing to employ Negroes who persist in residing in Hyde Park.”

Soon after that time, restrictive covenants making it illegal to sell homes to blacks, regardless of their wealth, were strictly enforced.

But regardless of how violently whites reacted to the influx of poor and upwardly mobile blacks, the old-guard blacks of Chicago had their own dismal way of responding to their fellow blacks in this northern city. They were not happy to see them arriving.

“Not surprisingly, elitism was quite evident. But the rules governing black society in Chicago were always slightly different from the rules that were used in the southern cities,” explains former Chicago Defender society columnist Theresa Fambro Hooks. “In the South, black society was determined by the years your family had lived in a particular city and by their ties to one or more of the nearby black colleges like Howard or Fisk or Spelman. But the rules were different in Chicago because almost everybody was new—almost all of them had migrated from the South. There were very few old families and there were no old local black universities to be tied to.”

So the standard for black society in Chicago became, instead, financial success and, to a lesser extent, family ties to a few of the northern white universities. In both regards, the Gibson and Bousfield families were at the top. Acceptance by the right schools, the right churches, and the right clubs proved that.

SOURCE: Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class, by Lawrence Otis Graham (Harper, 2000), pp. 189-190


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Paducah’s Men in Quilts

Paducah 1873One of the artistic highlights of our recent Great Square Route around the eastern U.S. (MN – MS – GA – CT – MN) was the stunning Museum of the American Quilting Society in Paducah, Kentucky, which had just opened a special exhibit, 4 Guys & Their Quilts:

On exhibit May 16-August 12, these quilts combine the talents of four male award-winning quilters: John Flynn, Gerald E. Roy, Arturo Alonzo Sandoval and Ricky Tims. MAQS Curator of Collection Judy Schwender is proud to bring lesser known viewpoints from the quilting world to the Museum’s visitors.

“Any quilt reveals the sensibilities of its maker, and men bring perspectives to quilting that are unique to the medium,” Schwender explains. “Within the world of quilting, men are a minority, and the museum is committed to presenting quilting viewpoints of underserved populations.”

My favorite among the 4 Guys was Ricky Tims, whose work ranges from exquisite variations on traditional quilting patterns, like his Bohemian Rhapsody or New World Symphony, to renditions in fabric of depictive art that would not look out of place on a framed canvas or in stained glass, like his South Cheyenne Canyon or Glen Eyrie Castle.

Among the new quilting terms and techniques I learned about at the museum was trapunto (also called “stuffed work”), a texture-enhancing technique that Tims puts to fine use in his Rhapsody in Green.


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Minnesota’s Canned Corn and Carp

A 1997 Minnesota Historical Society plaque at a rest area near the state line on I-35 tells a bit about the history of Minnesota’s canneries.

Early settlers grew bumper wheat crops on Minnesota’s fertile prairies, land that today supplies produce for a thriving 270-million-dollars-a-year canning industry.

Sweet corn canneries opened in Austin and Mankato in the 1880s, followed soon thereafter by similar factories in Faribault, Owatonna, and LaSueur. Soon Minnesota’s canners were experimenting with new technologies and new products, and in 1903 the automated Big Stone Canning Company founded by F. W. Douthitt changed the industry nationwide. Douthitt’s plant in Ortonville had a conveyor system, mechanical corn husking machines, and a power driven cutter that produced the first whole kernel canned corn. The Green Giant Company, also founded in 1903 as the Minnesota Valley Canning Company, introduced golden cream-style corn in 1924 and the first vacuum packed corn in 1929.

Corn is still the major canning crop in Minnesota. The state’s more than thirty plants also freeze and can peas, beans, carrots, tomatoes, pork, beef, chicken products, and such unusual items as rutabagas. Mankato was the site of the nation’s first carp cannery in 1946.

For more on canned carp, read Dumneazu‘s well-illustrated blogpost on the Odessa Fish Market. In fact, just keep scrolling for an incomparable travelogue series on Dumneazu’s recent adventures in Ukraine.

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Iowa’s Passing Mormons and Utopians

A State Historical Society of Iowa plaque at a pretty little welcome center off Exit 4 on I-35 in Iowa tells two interesting stories, one on each side.

The Mormon Trail

The Mormons of Nauvoo, Illinois, forced from their homes following the murder of their prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., began their trek across Iowa in 1846 on their way to the Great Salt Lake Valley. From their first permanent campsite on Sugar Creek they travelled across southern Iowa toward Winter Quarters, near present-day Omaha. In addition to Sugar Creek, the Mormons also established permanent camps at Garden Grove in Decatur County, Mount Pisgah in Union County, and Kanesville in Pottawattamie County.

While camped by Locust Creek, near Corydon, William Clayton learned of the birth of his son in Nauvoo. On April 15, 1846, to commemorate this joyous event, he wrote the famous hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” The hymn became a great rallying song of the Mormons.

In 1846, seven Mormon families became separated from the larger body of migrants. They stopped for the winter in present-day Green Bay Township, Clarke County, and established what was known as “Lost Camp.” These families remained in the area until 1854, when they resumed the trek to Utah.

Utopian Experiments in Southern Iowa

Several utopian groups attempted to implement in southern Iowa their dreams of a better social structure. In 1839, Abner Kneeland, a pantheist, started Salubria in Van Buren County. Beset with economic problems, the experiment dissolved after Kneeland died in 1844. In 1843, followers of French socialist Charles Fourier founded Phalanx in Mahaska County, but this communal experiment lasted only two years. Followers of another Frenchman, Etienne Cabet, tried several experiments in the United States, including Icaria in Adams County, which existed from 1860 to 1895.

Led by Ladislaus Ujhazy, a group of Hungarian refugees from the Revolutions of 1848 settled in Decatur County in 1850 and founded the town of New Buda. After experiencing economic difficulties, most of these people moved to Texas in 1853.

In 1851, people from near Farmington formed a communal association called the Hopewell Colony. They moved to Clarke County later that year, and founded the town of Hopeville. Although the communal nature of the colony soon changed, the village survived and for several decades was a thriving community. It is the only one of these southern Iowa utopian experiments whose remnants lasted into the 20th century.

Wisconsin also seems to have attracted more than its share of utopians, these days confined mostly to Madison, I suspect.

The best-known communal experiment in Wisconsin was the Wisconsin Phalanx, a community based on the principles of Charles Fourier, established at Ceresco (Ripon). It was the second largest Fourierist experiment in the country, lasting from 1844 until 1850, and housed around 180 people, most of whom lived communally in the Long House. Although the Phalanx was an economic success and attract[ed] national attention, problems developed and the members agreed to dissolve their community in 1850.

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