I am fascinated by our people who suffered the humiliation of Slavery and subsequently the Jim Crow era of the South. I have a profound, deep respect for people who were not only able to survive but thrive while raising a family. Personally, my tolerance for pain is very low and my patience with racist people? Well, let’s not even go there. We will just say, there are days when I feel diplomatic and somewhat forgiven. And then there are days, when I am not feeling it, don’t have time for it, and will rise up on a fool if they don’t get out of my face.
As I write this article, I remember the times I would stop by my grandmother’s apartment. I was in my twenties, at a time when I was hurrying to get somewhere but really didn’t know where I was going. Grandma Gracie lived by herself in a little ground floor studio apartment around seventeenth and Vliet Street in Milwaukee. That had to be around 1965 or 1966. I always liked to stop by and have lunch, eat one of her teacakes while visiting with her. Sometimes I would bring her something, a packaged pastry or candy bar from the corner store. She liked the company but was always in grandmother mode. “Junior, you moving too fast…boy why you in such a hurry?” she’d ask. “Have you found you, somebody, to settle down with?” “Naw mama…but I am having a ball looking,” I would respectfully answer in the street lingo of the times. She would just look at me, shake her head and smile. “That’s all right, you’ll learn someday.”
We would sit there and chat about this, that and the other. She would ask about daddy and the rest of the family. I would report that all was well. She would tell me stories of how she had to tell the doctors at Milwaukee Country General Hospital “what is what” about her health. “I told him, you better stop poking me so hard otherwise Um gonna have to cut you.” “Grandma you didn’t pull your knife on the doctor again did you,” I’d ask while chewing my food. “Naw, but that old fool knows, he better not mess with me.” “I am sure after that time you chased him down the hall, they all know you,” I would say the both of us laughing about that particular incident. After a couple of hours, I would excuse myself, telling her I’d see her no later than next week and hurriedly leave after getting a hug and kiss. More than likely, I was headed for my favorite hang out at the time, Loves Hideaway Bar. It was only about four blocks up the way.
While walking I would laugh at some of the escapades Grandma had caused, been in, around or ended. She, like a lot of her peers from Bradley County Arkansas, was a woman who didn’t take any stuff from anybody of any color. Later on in my life while researching the book I wrote based on her life I learned of the hardships our people had to endure living in Jim Crows South. And that is when the reality of it all hit me.
For those who are still with us, we ought to kneel down, wash and massage their tired feet. They survived knight riders and other racist terrorism. Or at the very least, keep in mind the humiliation, mental and physical pain they endured as we look into their tired old eyes. Try to imagine some of the things they have seen and heard in Jim Crows south during their lifetime. Young white boys that had too many beers, looking for a darkie to tease, abuse, and push around. I’ve have heard a few black folk make statements like, “Don’t start bringing up those days. It’s over and I am glad I don’t want to have to deal with it.” I just shake my head and say, those people are the reason we are here. We are the reason they took all of those insults, beatings, and sometimes hangings. So, a little respect for those who came before us is in order…please.
You want to know who you are. Look across the dinner table at your mother or father. Talk to your grandparents if you are lucky enough to have them around. Ask your older uncles or aunts what it was like living in Bradley County when they were barefoot children. They didn’t have a television, radio, or even electricity. The comforts of hot running water or indoor bathroom facilities were not part of their house.
How about the right to vote? Or be educated with the most current educational tools, or even work for a fair labor rate? When you get a chance, look up the word sharecropping on the internet. Read all about the land owner’s requirements and how they tried to bind sharecroppers to a lifestyle of servitude. Look up and read books about the great migration of the Negro race from the south. Think about reasons why, reasons other than the primary one of searching for a better life. You will realize our folks decided that living in the south was like a dead end job at the time.
In fact go back to pre-Civil War days. Yes slavery, that time that some of us would like to erase from our consciousness and maybe our history. Look at that famous picture; it’s in all the documentation, on the internet, books, and films. They show you a not too old black man with his back to the photographer. He has so many whipping scars on his back it looks like a design of some sort until you realize what the whip has done to this man’s skin. Have I got your attention yet?
It places the importance of such places as Mount Olive in perspective. Imagine if the ground, trees and foliage could talk, what stories it could tell you about your people. Think of the contradictions between how white folks worshiped, calling themselves christens, all while wholeheartedly supporting slavery of black people. An example of that solid Southern support can be found in the following Civil War era 16” x 21” propaganda poster. It begins by announcing in a bold headline…
“SOUTHERN DEMOCRACY! The object of the Southern Rebellion and its Northern allies is to render Slavery universal. Under the names of Democracy, they seek to deprive labor of all its rights. Read what the Leaders say: The theory of free labor is a delusion. Slavery is the natural and normal condition of the laboring man, WHITE or BLACK. –De Bow’s Southern Review. The enslavement of the laborer is right in itself, and does not depend upon difference of completion. -Richmond Enquires….Make the laboring man a slave, and he would be far better off.- Fitzhugh’s Sociology…Thus the “Democrats,” North and South pronounce free society a failure, and feel labor a curse. Slavery is a blessing to be extended over all men who labor whether black or White.”
This idea came from and was no doubt written by the cream of high society. One thing is clear, they don’t really care who gets the work done as long as it gets done and garners them all the profit and a bare minimum amount of expense. After reading this poster, I bet some poor white people was able to see the writing on the wall, while suddenly realizing that these planters didn’t really give a damn about them either. A sobering thought for whites who thought they were just as special as the masters and mistresses. Nevertheless, and by the grace of God, the Civil War ended with the Union intact and the end of slavery as they knew it.
It was a long and hard road for those who were once slaves to find their way in this new environment. Amidst this chaos sprouted, one of many in the South, a community of black folks. It is noted that Mount Olive began as a safe haven for black land owners. Land as low as fifty cents per acre attracted homesteaders from surrounding states at the time. These settlers did as white settlers around the country. They built a community with entities that communities needed to function, such as a church, school and stores that sold or barter goods and services. Some of which they didn’t have or couldn’t grow. Every month or so, such items were brought into the area by steamboat on the Saline River. And therefore by the grace of God, and their belief in the same, they acted as the unincorporated community they were by raising families.
They built log cabins for housing. Women ‘wore homespun dresses, knitting their socks and stockings.’ Their first church was called Camp Ground. Its seats were made from split logs. By 1883, they bought a little church that was near the center of the community, naming it Mt. Olive.
The Mount Olive community was the benefit of funding from a favorite project of philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. His School Fund was established to build schools for the specific education of black folks. In 1927, the Mt. Olive Rosenwald School, located on Bradley Road 45 was built. The wood frame building, one of five such schools built in Bradley County during that era, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2004.
That is why they have these Homecomings in the South. It’s like walking on hallowed ground that once supported our ancestors. You get to see and feel the hot sun they endured during field duty. There is nothing like visiting these type events that are so connected to our great grandparents and other relatives from that era. Call Hostess/Host Princella & MacArthur Davis at 870-226-7011 for details.
Let us embrace how our ancestors spoke, conducted business, lived their lives with morality, cooperation among other members of their community. We should remind the world that those people who many categorized as simple, uneducated by societal design and thought to be nothing but chattel was able to make away for us to be here. Let us show the world who we are and where we came from. What if the world doesn’t care? Oh well, it does not really matter because it’s not the world that we wish to honor. It is those millions of black folks brought to this land in chains and their offspring and thus…ourselves. It’s the culture borne out of poverty and a lifestyle of survival and the necessity to cope with life. It is the way we sing, dance, eat, dress, and yes even pray and forgive that we are honoring today. For with the events happening in the way it did, we are a stronger people for it. We may be forgiving of the past, yet we are also cognizant of the future. As a people, we embrace it with open arms. It is great to be black and alive.
Peace, make it a day in which Jesus Christ would be proud of you,
Codis Hampton II
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