Two Islands – Two Stories – Which One is Yours?

Most of us have heard of Ellis Island. Many of us who have traced our ancestry can lay claim to having descended from someone who came through Ellis Island on their journey to becoming an American citizen.

Prior to 1892 immigration was controlled by individual states. On January 1, 1892 the Federal government opened an official immigration station on Ellis Island. More than 12 million immigrants would arrive in the United States via this island in the next 62 years. The island became a symbolic landmark and immigrants who came to this country to seek a better life saw this island as the doorway to the land of opportunity. A large majority of those who came were from Northern European countries.

Even today Ellis Island is held up as a great symbol of our country and the welcome it gave to immigrants. On a web site devoted to the island it is called “a poetic symbol of the American Dream”

After arriving at the island immigrants were screened for any obvious physical ailments. They also had to fill out a form before boarding the ship with their name, country they were from and some questions that could be used by the legal inspectors before being granting leave to enter the USA. Although some were turned away or kept for many days before being allowed to enter or sent back to their home country, only two percent were denied entry.

Today there is a National Museum of Immigration on the island. The first immigrant to be processed there has a statute in her honor. She has become a well-known historical figure

Annie Moore, 17 year-old arriving from Queenstown, Ireland

Other well known immigrants came through Ellis Island including Bob Hope, Irving Berlin and Cary Grant. Other less well known were Jamaican poet and writer Claude McKay and Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku.

This island is celebrated by our nation and it boast its own foundation website who states that its goal is:

The Foundation works to preserve and honor two of our country’s greatest landmarks: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We pursue a diverse range of educational and community building efforts and work to create meaningful connections between island visitors and the dense fabric of American history.

There is a Passenger Search database where you can search for family members who arrived there from 1820 to 1957. There are close to 65 million passenger records. For $50 you can even have a foundation members search the records for you.

But what if your ancestors did not come from northern Europe? What if your ancestors came to the USA as slaves? Is there an island, is there a foundation for you to research your background?

Well there is Sullivan Island in South Carolina.

In 1674 Captain Florence O’Sullivan was placed by the government of Carolina in charge of protecting the city of Charles Towne (Charlestown). He chose the island that now bears his name as the best place to place a gun that would protect the town.

It quickly became a commercial center for rice and indigo trade. As the colonies grew and trade in slaves became another highly commercial venture, Charlestown quickly became the largest slave port in the USA. Sullivan’s Island was the main entry point for Africans forced into slavery in the North American colonies. Until January 1, 1801 when the slave trade was abolished in the USA, approximately 400,000 Africans were imported to the USA to labor in the tobacco and cotton fields of the South. It is believed that at least 40% of that number came through Sullivan Island.

“Pest houses” were built on the island where the slaves would be quarantined for days before they were then transported to Charles Town for sale at public auction.

Sadly, unlike Ellis Island, there is little to mark the history of those who came to the USA through this island.

In 1989 writer Toni Morrison noted this lack of recognition by our nation.

“There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”

In 1990 a small plaque was finally placed on the island commenorating all those who came to the USA through Sullivan’s Island.

A place where…Africans were brought to this country under extreme conditions of human bondage and degradation. Tens of thousands of captives arrived on Sullivan’s Island from the West African shores between 1700 and 1775. Those who remained in the Charleston community and those who passed through this site account for a significant number of the African-Americans now residing in these United States. Only through God’s blessings, a burning desire for justice, and persistent will to succeed against monumental odds, have African-Americans created a place for themselves in the American mosaic.

A place where…We commemorate this site as the entry of Africans who came and who contributed to the greatness of our country. The Africans who entered through this port have moved on to meet the challenges created by injustices, racial and economic discrimination, and withheld opportunities. Africans and African-Americans, through the sweat of their brow, have distinguished themselves in the Arts, Education, Medicine, Politics, Religion, Law, Athletics, Research, Artisans and Trades, Business, Industry, Economics, Science, Technology and Community and Social Services.

A place where…This memorial rekindles the memory of a dismal time in American history, but it also serves as a reminder for a people who – past and present, have retained the unique values, strength and potential that flow from our West African culture which came to this nation through the middle passage.

Erected in 1990 by the S.C. Department of Archives and History. The Charleston Club of S.C. and the Avery Research Center.

Pursuant to a request from the South Carolina General Assembly as Evidenced in concurrent resolution S. 719, Adopted June 3, 1990.

Two different islands – two different stories. Although those who came through Ellis Island no doubt suffered many difficulties just making the trip and then going through the screening process on the island, they came willingly as their own choice and came seeking the hope of a better life.

Those who came through Sullivan Island did not come as their own choice but were stolen from their family and home and subjected to a journey over the ocean that we cannot even begin to imagine. They did not come seeking anything or hoping for a better life.

Ellis Island might have a sign that said “Welcome to America”

Sullivan Island’s sign might say “Welcome to Hell.”

A Black Poet?????

In Boston there is a Women’s Memorial that honors three women from our country’s early beginnings.

By Ingfbruno – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27653635

One of the statutes anyone familiar with American history would recognize. She is Abigail Adams, wife of our second president, John Adams, and mother of our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. One thing she is remembered for is advocating for women to be included in our country’s fight for freedom. Unfortunately, although our Constitution stated that “all men are created equal” it seems that did not include women. It would be years before women were given the same rights as men to take part in our country’s political life.

In her letter to her husband Abigail written on March 31, 1776 she asked him:

and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

A second woman honored there is Lucy Stone.

Lucy Stone

An fervent abolitionist Lucy was one of the first women in Massachusetts to graduate college. Following in her parents’ footsteps she worked with the American Anti-Slavery Society. As she became an outspoken advocate both for freedom of the slaves and for women’s rights she was excommunicated from the Congregational Church.

After the Civil War when the Fifteenth Amendment was proposed giving black men the right to vote, many of the women’s rights proponents argued against it since it did not include women. Lucy supported it because it agreed with her abolitionist viewpoint and she believed it would eventually lead to women also gaining that right.

Lucy rightfully asked the question:

If, while I hear the shriek of the slave mother robbed of her little ones, I do not open my mouth for the dumb, am I not guilty?

The third woman is one that we rarely hear about. Phyllis Wheatley.

By Scipio Moorhead – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a40394. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1629684

She was the first African-American poet to be published. What is so amazing is this took place while she was still a slave, even before our nation had declared its independence from England. Abigail Adams was a fan of her writings as was George Washington.

As her writings became popular and people were told they were the work of a black woman, many could not believe it. A group of prominent Boston men examined her and concluded that she had indeed written the poems. They wrote a preface to her book to attest that it was indeed written by a black woman. Even so, publishers in Boston refused to publish the book so she went with her master’s son to London where it was published.

As I read about this talented woman, it made me wonder just how prejudiced and can I say “stupid” our founding fathers were that they could not believe a black woman (and by inference black people) could be capable of such intelligence. I am so amazed at the courage it took for her to go to London and have the book published.

Here is one of her poems:

Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

I find it ironic that she refers to Cain as black. Clearly although her owners had recognized her abilities and had taught her to read and write, even learning Greek and Latin, they had also taught the false teaching in the Christian church at that time was that the curse God put on Cain was to make him black.

Sad how white slave owners tried to use the Bible to justify their slave society. Sad that even as educated as Phyllis was, she seemed to accept that terrible lie.

Even today, I wonder how many lies our society hangs on to as justification for not reaching out to those not like ourselves.

I Refuse to Be Color Blind

We often hear people say we should be color blind. When we look at someone we should not see white/black/brown but rather just a person. That sounds like a good idea. But it is one I cannot accept.

First of all, I think it is simply not possible. How can you not observe what color someone is when you look at them? I have grandchildren whose skin color runs from white as snow to warm chocolate brown to black as midnight. It would be hypocritical of me to say I do not notice the difference in their skin color.

I used to call these two my “salt and pepper” loves.

While I understand the idea of being “color-blind” is a good one when used as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did in his great “I have a dream” speech, I think it can be misleading.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Clearly we need to be people who judge a person by who they are, not what they look like.

However, to try to not see someone’s color can mean not really seeing who they are. When I meet a black person if I try to pretend I do not notice they are black, I am really refusing to give them the acknowledgement I should. And exactly what does that mean? Am I pretending they are white? Am I trying to treatment them like they are white? Well, they are not. Like it or not, we are all shaped to some extent by the culture we were raised in, by the way we see the world and the world sees us. The color of our skin plays a role in that.

To try to pretend that a black woman has had the same experiences of life that I have, that she will view the world exactly as I do is to deny who she is.

An example of what I mean. On my first job after high school I had a black co-worker who became a friend of mine. (This was in the 1960’s when there was a lot of unrest in our cities over the Civil Rights Movement.) At that point I really had not taken into account the difference in our skin color. I thought I was color-blind. One day we went out for lunch. I enjoyed the meal and was surprised when she refused to go out again to eat with me later in the week. I could not understand. Had I done something to offend? Did she not like the restaurant? We could go to another one.

She told me she was not comfortable with the stares we got from the other customers. At first I told her I did not know what she meant. But after thinking about it a little, I realized we did get very poor service and our waitress was very unfriendly. Still I did not have a clue why until she told me she felt they did not like our eating together and being so obviously friendly with one another.

Up to that point I had basically lived in a white world. She was my first black friend. To a white woman at that point I did not feel what she felt when people stared or when our waitress was rude. But now I realized I needed to not be color-blind. I needed to try to see the world through her eyes, to acknowledge that her skin color caused her to be treated differently, caused her to notice the stares more than I did, to feel the waitress’ rudeness more deeply than I did. Only when I quit trying to be color-blind, could we begin to navigate how our friendship would work going forward. She wanted to keep our friendship hidden but I wanted to go back to that same restaurant and dare someone to be unkind to her.

To this day I do not know if I did the right thing but I tried to push her to step out and not let others stop us from having a friendship that we did not have to hide. She finally continued to eat lunch with me, but when her car broke down and I wanted to give her a ride home, she stupidly refused. To be honest I was never sure if she did not want our co-workers (who were white) to get upset with me or if she did not want her family to know that she had a white friend. While we remained friends at work, we were never able to take our friendship to a deeper level. To this day I wonder – did I unknowingly treat her with prejudice? Did she unknowingly have prejudice toward me? I have always been sad that our friendship ended when I left for another job. That it did not survive outside our work place.

Now that I have grandchildren who are black, I again cannot ignore how the world treats them differently because of the color of their skin. My grandson, who is black as midnight and handsome as can be, and I have had discussions of what he faces as a black man. To try to pretend that he is the same and faces the same world as my white grandsons is both not true but also unfair to him.

Only when we acknowledge our differences can we then celebrate those differences. How dull this world would be if we were all one color, one background. I want to see that whiteness, that blackness you wear and then learn what your experiences have taught you and how you can share with me and we can celebrate who we are.

From Slave Songs to Gospel

In 1866 an university was established in Nashville Tennessee that was open to women and men regardless of color. Founded by the American Missionary Association, Fisk University was only one of more than 500 schools and colleges this anti-slavery group set up before, during and after the Civil War.

Five years after its founding, the university found itself in financial distress. Hoping to raise money to keep the school open Fisk treasurer and music professor, George White, took nine of his students on tour to perform in small towns around the country.

 Deciding what songs to sing, Professor White wrote, “One day , there came into my room a few students with some air of mystery. The door was shut and locked, the window curtains were drawn, and, as if a thing they were ashamed of, they sang some of the old-time religious slave songs now long since known as Jubilee songs.” This was one of those moments that changed everything. It was a moment that altered the course of musical history. Current musical director, Professor Paul Kwamit, said of that moment “the Fisk Jubilee Singers changed the Negro spiritual into an art form and introduced it to the world.”

There were some hostile audiences. Refused first-class seats on the train, George Pullman intervened and ended segregated seating on his trains. But over time their beautiful voices and immaculate performances brought praise and recognition. Mark Twain was a great fan of theirs and said “I would walk seven miles to hear them sing again.” Their efforts to help the university was a huge success. They raised enough money to build the school’s first permanent building. Named Jubilee Hall after them, it is now a National Historic Landmark.

The group sang at the World Peace Festival in Boston and later at the White House for President U.S. Grant.

In 1873 the original nine members were increased to 11 (all but two of this group were former slaves) and they took their singing to Europe. There they performed before Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone. Queen Victoria was so enchanted by their singing that she commissioned a massive group portrait by her own official portraitist. This beautiful floor-to-ceiling portrait hangs in the Jubilee Hall.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1925, on their way to Windsor Castle to sing for the king and queen. Photograph: Getty Images

Since then the group has continued to share their talents around the world. In 2000 they were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Music City Inc. included them, along with Reba McEntire, Roy Orbison and Ronnie Milsap, into the inaugural class of honorees of the Music City Walk of Fame. The U.S. Embassy sent them to Ghana in July 2007 to help that nation celebrate their 50th independence anniversary. President George W. Bush presented them with the 2008 National Medal of Arts.

We owe much to the black community for our own music. Much of jazz, rhymn and blues, gospel, and even rock and roll was largely influenced by the black community and the songs they created from their experiences.

“If American music is unique, it is largely due to its bedrock foundation of blues and
gospel music, two forms of music that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Anchoring the sounds of African America, these styles underlay the musical innovations
of the century: jazz, rhythm and blues, rock, soul and hip hop. They are known and
cherished around the world and in every corner of the U.S. It would be impossible to imagine American music without them
.”….Charles E. McGovern, Associate Professor of American Studies and History, College of William and Mary.

Check out the stories of some of these great black musicians:

  • Louis Armstrong
  • Muddy Waters
  • Sam Cooke
  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe
  • Ma Rainey
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • Nat King Cole

No Time For Silence

February is Black History Month. Although it was not officially recognized by our government until President Gerald Ford acknowledged it in 1976 and stated “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” it was not a new idea.

Carter G. Woodson, who has been called the “Father of Black History,” created Negro History Week in 1926. Mr. Woodson was the second black man to receive a PhD in history from Harvard. By working to make society aware of black history he hoped to make white America aware of the contributions blacks had made to the creation of America. He wanted to show that blacks deserved to be treated equally as citizens.

Growing up as a white person I only heard the history of a few blacks and what I heard was very limited. There was Harriet Tubman who led many slaves to freedom on the Undergrown Railroad and George Washington Carver who I was told discovered peanut butter (not true). That was about the sum of my education on black history.

I wonder how much the average white person really knows of the accomplishments of blacks in our country. Even more, I wonder how much we really know about the bitter treatment we have given to them in our nation’s history.

Let me ask you: do you know any of these people or what role they played in our nation’s history?

  • Phyllis Wheatley
  • P.B.S. Pinchback
  • Booker T. Washington
  • Langston Hughes
  • Lois Mailou Jones
  • Dorothy Vaughan
  • Mary Jackson
  • Katherine Johnson
  • Christine Darden
  • W.E.B. DuBois
  • James Amistead Lafayette

I could go on and on. The list is endless.

I quote from the National Museum of African-American History and Culture:

You can tell a great deal about a country and a people by what they deem important enough to remember, to create moments for — what they put in their museum and what they celebrate. In Scandinavia — there are monuments to the Vikings as a symbol of freedom and the spirit of exploration. In Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis celebrated their supposed Aryan supremacy through monument and song. While America traditionally revels in either Civil War battles or founding fathers. Yet I would suggest that we learn even more about a country by what it chooses to forget — its mistakes, its disappointments, and its embarrassments. In some ways, African American History month is a clarion call to remember. Yet it is a call that is often unheeded.

We recently celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was interesting how many of us posted his comments on love not hate and peace not civil discord. All very good things to remember. But where were his other quotes?

“As the nation, Negro and white, trembled with outrage at police brutality in the South, police misconduct in the North was rationalized, tolerated, and usually denied.” Leaders in Northern and Western states “welcomed me to their cities, and showered praise on the heroism of Southern Negroes. Yet when the issues were joined concerning local conditions, only the language was polite; the rejection was firm and unequivocal.”

Speaking two years after the terrible Watts riots of 1965, Dr. King said this:

Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.

May I encourage you to look up some of these people listed above or do a search on Google to learn more about the all great contributions in our nation’s history that blacks have made — and become more aware of their story.

One quote of MLK I did not see on any of my friend’s posts says it all I think.

Do You Know These Women – Part V?

Last year I shared stories of women who played a big part in history – yet are often ignored in our history books and their stories remain largely untold.

I wonder if anyone who read those blogs even remember those women now.

Dot Graden, Ann Caracristi, Virginia Adaholt, Jeannette Rankin and Katherine Johnson were all women who played an important role in the history of our country.

Deborah, Jael, Shiphrah and Puah were given small mention in the Bible, yet played important roles in the history of Israel as told in the Bible.

As we approach the Christmas season and hear the Christmas story, I wonder if anyone will stop and ask “Who are these women” that Matthew mentions in his opening chapters telling of the birth of baby Jesus?

Matthew’s first chapter is written to show that Jesus descended from the father of the nation, Abraham, and also from the kingly line of David. He mentioned many men but surprisingly he includes the names of five women.

Who were these women? Why were their included in this list?

(NOTE: Of course we have no idea what these women looked like. These pictures are only an artist’s idea. I found it interesting in searching for pictures of Biblical characters that the majority of them are white even though we know the people of the Old Testament were from the Middle East and I am sure Jesus was not blue-eyed and blonde.)

The first one mentioned is Tamar. Her story is told in Genesis 38.

As you read her story you might wonder what this woman, who was probably a Canaanite and who solicited sex from her father-in-law, is doing here. A daughter-in-law of Judah, after her first husband died she married his brother. This was the custom when a man died leaving no children. On the death of her second husband, Judah promised to give her his third son as a husband when he was old enough to be married. However, he had no intention to do so. When it became apparent to Tamar that she would not have another husband, she posed as a prostitute and solicited a sexual encounter with Judah. This very questionable action on her part was her pursuit of justice for herself. Remember, there was no social security in those days and women without a husband or children often had little or no resources to sustain them. When Judah realized what Tamar had done to make sure she was taken care of he said “she is more righteous than I am.”

Then there was Rahab. We learn of her in the book of Joshua.

The Old Testament says she was a prostitute in the city of Jericho.

Not only a prostitute but a Gentile, we find Rahab had heard the stories of how God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt and had led them in the defeat of King Sihon and King Og just across the the Jordan River from Jericho. Clearly she believed that Israel’s God was the true God as she hid the spies sent to check out Jericaho. She told them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you….for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”

Rahab clearly believed that the God of the Israelites was the true God and she was willing to risk her life to help them. She also apparently believed this was the way to save her own life. Looking out not just for herself, she asked for protection for her family. Her faith in the God of the Israelites saved her and her family when Jericho was defeated by Joshua’s army. She later married Salmon and gave birth to a son, Boaz, who we meet later in another woman’s story. Jewish tradition says Salmon was one of the spies she hid.

Our third woman’s story is given in the book of Ruth.

The story of Ruth is a beautiful love story. Not only the story of love between Ruth and her husband, Boaz, but also Ruth’s love and commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth was also a Gentile. She had married into Naomi’s family when the family had settled in Moab trying to escape a famine in their own land of Israel. While there Naomi’s husband and her two sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law widows. Naomi decided she needed to return to her own land and her own family. One of the daughter-in-law stayed in Moab with her own people, but Ruth refused to allow Naomi to go back home alone. Her Words to Naomi are often used in wedding ceremonies. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”  Once back in the land of Israel, Ruth continued to do all she could to take care of her mother-in-law. Read the beautiful love story of how Ruth came to find a new husband in Boaz, son of Rahab.

Our fourth woman is Bathsheba. We really know little about this woman except in the context of King David’s adultery and later murder. Caught in a difficult situation and in that culture, forced into betraying her husband, she suffered not only the death of her husband but also the death of her child by David. But it appears she remained resilient and later she gave David another son who became his father’s heir. She is a good example of how life may put us in situations over which we have little control, but God is still faithful.

Of course, we all know the story of the last woman mentioned, Mary. What a story it is! A simple young girl living in a town far from the hustle and bustle of the day is told by an angel that she is going to have a child. Imagine the fear that would fill her heart. To be pregnant before marriage was an offence punishable by stoning. Who would believe her story? Yet we all know her response was “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

These women and their stories tell us much about God and his love. He chose those we would have never have picked to be the earthly ancestors of God. Yet, in selecting these women, I think it reveals hope to us all.

God can and will use anyone who is willing.

God and and will use the weak and the foolish.

Those people may reject – God can and will use.

I think it all shows just how much the story of Christmas is about Jesus coming to be “one of us.” To take on our weaknesses, to know hunger, cold, pain. His birth, his earthly life show us that he truly can relate to us who are weak, with faults and in need of a Savior.

First Integrated School – Long before Brown vs Board of Education

Because of Covid our plans for continuing our exploration of Michigan this summer did not materialize. However, we did get in just a little adventure on a recent trip back to Illinois to visit family. During that trip my husband and I took a side tour to Otterville, Illinois.

My husband was interested in the area because many of his mother’s family had once lived there. During research on his family tree, he discovered that one of his ancestors (his tenth great grandfather) was actually a slave from Angola. From previous trips to that area we knew there was a school that had been established in Otterville for the education of black students. Intrigued by the idea that a school for black students had been established in the same area where the branch of his family descended from a slave had also resided, he wanted to check out this school.

Hidden away in this small country town is a jewel of history. The building we found there is no longer in use as a school, but has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Classes were actually held there through 1971. Beginning in 1983 the site has been open for tours and an annual Hamilton Primary School Festival is held each year in September.

This school’s claim to fame is that it was the first integrated school in the nation. Years before the Civil War and before the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 Brown vs Board of Education, the Hamilton Primary School opened in 1835 as a free school open to everyone regardless of financial resources or color of skin.

Named after its benefactor, Dr. Silas Hamilton, a stone schoolhouse was opened in 1836. The finances for this school came from $4,000 Dr. Hamilton left in his will for construction and operation of a building for both educational and religious purposes. Razed in 1872, rebuilt and enlarged classes were held here until 1971.

Hamilton Primary School in 1835

Dr. Hamilton, a physicial originally from Vermont established a practice in Nashville, Tennessee. Saddened by the treatment of slaves that he saw, he bought a plantation in Mississippi in 1820. His mistaken idea was that he would treat his 28 slaves humanely and that would serve as a model for his neighbors. Of course, this did not work.

Recognizing this was an unrealistic and impractical experience, he traveled to Ohio where he freed his slaves. Moving west, he settled in what became Otterville and opened a medical practice.

While still a slave owner in Mississippi and on a trip back to Vermont he found a little boy whose parents had been sold at a slave auction. He purchased the young boy whose name was George Washington. While he freed George, the young man came with him to Otterville. The residents of Otterville were supporters of abolition and it is rumored that the town may have been a stop on the Undergrand Railroad.

On his death, Dr. Hamilton provided funds for the school to be built.

“Believing in the very great importance of primary schools, and desiring that my friends and relatives in this neighborhood should receive the benefit of them, I give and bequeath $4,000. dollars for the establishment of a primary school.  $2,000 dollars to be appropriated to the erection of a building suitable for the school and a place of public worship, and $2,000 dollars to constitute a fund for the support of a teacher, said house to be erected not to exceed one mile south of this residence, nor one mile north, nor a quarter of a mile east, but at or near the point called the Four Corners, and I desire my executors to oversee the erection of such a building…”

Influenced by Dr. Hamilton, George Washington continued to live as the doctor had – caring for his neighbors. He was a successful farmer and active in the Otterville Baptist Church. An excellent singer, he often lead the singing and taught a Sunday School class also. Those who shared stories about George to their family members said that whenever a family had sickness, he would show up with wood for the fire and food for the table. He was the community “grave digger” working for free. As long as he stayed in Jersey County he was a free citizen. However, on a trip to the nearby city of Grafton (Calhoun County), he was assaulted by some men and placed in jail charged as a fugitive slave. Fortunately, a Jersey County businessman heard of his arrest and was able to procured his freedom.

On his death he left a sizeable estate to pay his debts, provide a monument to this former master and for the education of “colored persons, or Americans of African descent.”

On his death Washington was buried alongside his former master. While Southern plantation owners often buried their slaves in family plots, this is probably the only incident where the master and slave were buried side-by-side. Also, the only known instance where a former slave erected a monument for his master.

The newer school and church built in 1873 used stones from the original building. Since 1983 it has served as a museum with the halls and classrooms line with photos of past graduation classes, and photos and cermeonies remembering Hamtilton and Washinton.

Another reminder that when you get off the beaten path there is so much history hidden in small towns and unexpected places.

Exploring Southern Michigan

Almost two years ago my husband and I moved to Michigan.  Situated close to the middle of the “mitten” we have spent the last two years exploring this beautiful state.  We have fallen in love with the many small towns around the state that are full of arts and crafts, charming down towns that have preserved the older buildings and, of course, the many towns built by Lake Michigan with their beautiful beaches and historical lighthouses.  While it would be hard to pick one town over the other, I must confess I especially loved Holland during the tulip festival and Frankfort was probably my favorite.

Some of our trips started out with a particular town in mind but most of the trips we just got in the car and headed north – east – west.  Getting off the interstates and taking side roads led us to discover many lovely towns and beautiful scenes that we would have missed if we had stayed with the main road.

Yesterday we decided to head in a direction we had not taken – south.  Heading south we discovered the area looked more like our home in Illinois.  More corn fields, more open areas with fewer trees.  The majority of trees were – like back home – deciduous.  While there were evergreen trees they were in the minority.

It was nice to get the sense of being back home, but I must confess in my opinion the southern part of Michigan does not begin to compare with the beauty up north.

However, we did discover two interesting towns.

  • Jackson Michigan

The town of Jackson claims to be the birthplace of the Republican party.  (I have found other towns making that claim.)  There is a plaque commemorating a meeting held in 1854 that Jackson claims was the start of the party led by anti-slavery men.  oaks

 

 

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Jackson also lays claim to having the first prison in Michigan.  Today the old prison area has been turned into the Armory Art’s Village.  Situated behind a 25-foot stone wall, these apartments are home to emerging artists and musicians.

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They give tours of the old prison site, but due to the virus restrictions we were not able to take the tour.  Something to put on our bucket list for later.

Jackson also has several buildings/areas that were part of the underground railroad – but again because of the virus we were not able to visit them.  Add that to the bucket list.

  • From Jackson we headed west to Hillsdale.

Hillsdale College sits in the heart of the city.  The school was established by Free Will Baptists as Central Michigan College at Spring Arbor in 1844.  In 1853 it moved to Hillsdale and changed its name.  It was the first American college whose charter prohibited discrimination based on race, religion or sex.  Hillsdale was the second college in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women.

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The college was very active in the fight to end slavery with more students enlisting to fight for the Union than any other western college.  More than 400 students fought for the Union and sixty gave their lives.  Four students earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, three became generals and many served as regimental commanders.  In honor of that heritage the college had a statute of an Union soldier on its campus as well as Frederick Douglas.

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We also saw statues of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Leaving Hillsdale we headed back home.  While I must confess my trip south was not as beautiful as the trips we have taken north, still it was good to have discovered more about our adopted state, Michigan.

I vote that our next road trip takes us back north!

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Your Picture of God?

It’s Friday – time again for a post on the old church hymns.

This week as I thought about what song to write one very old hymn came to mind.

So I ask – What picture do you see when you think of God?

From reading the Bible I have found some unusual pictures.

  • A hen covering her chickens with her wings.  (“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”)
  • A giant rock rising up high from the earth.  (“God is my rock in whom I take refuge.”
  • A shepherd tenderly holding a baby lamb.  (“The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.”)
  • A might warrior with shield and sword.  (“I have come as the commander of the Lord’s army.”)

The writer of today’s hymn saw God as a mighty fortress – a place of protection and shelter from those who would seek to harm us.

It is believed the writer based the song on verses from Psalm 46 that say “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”  Twice in the Psalm the writer says “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

The writer of this song, Martin Luther, was hiding in exile from Pope Leo X after nailing a list of grievances against the Catholic Church to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany.   Given 24 hours to renounce his 95 Theses, Luther apologized for any disrespect he may have shown the Pope or the church, but refused to renounce his beliefs.  Tradition is that Luther said “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

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Photo by Baltimore Sun

Forced into hiding after the trial, Luther lived for over a year at Wartburg Castle.  Few knew where he was – many thought he was dead.  When you look at pictures of the castle, you can see where his experience in hiding there might also have contributed to the words of this old hymn.

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Perhaps he had this castle and his stay there in mind as well as the Scriptures as he wrote this hymn.

Although few churches sing this hymn now with no doubt the exception of the Lutheran churches, its verses still encourage us when we realize that God truly is our source of strength in times of trouble.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

No doubt today’s church goers probably have no idea what Lord Sabaoth even means.  When speaking of God as a mighty fortress this title is very appropriate.

It means “the LORD of hosts.”  It speaks of God’s military strength.  It was the name David used when speaking to the giant Goliath.  David told him “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts (Lord Sabaoth).”

Although the song is no longer used much in our churches, I hope you will take a moment to listen and be encouraged that our God is able to deliver us, to give us strength in times of trouble.

 

The Chautauqua Movement is Alive and Well Today

After a quick drive through Bay View Michigan where we discovered beautiful Victorian houses, we learned this community was part of the Chautauqua movement from the late 1800’s.  Although the movement slowly died out in the 1920’s this community has remained active from its founding in 1875.

Always interested in our country’s history I have done some research since coming home on the Chautauqua movement.

I found the word is an Iroquois word and means ““a bag tied in the middle” or “two moccasins tied together.”   This name apparently was given to the movement because the first such meeting took place near Chautauqua Lake in New York where the word described the shape of the lake.

Started by John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller in a Methodist camp meeting site, it was used as a summer school for Sunday School teachers.  Although it started in this religious setting, it was more than just religious teaching.

It quickly spread throughout the country and attracted families to enjoy educators, preachers, musicians, orchestras while also enjoying camping and other outdoor summer activities.

Politicians also enjoyed speaking at these gatherings.  The large crowds that attended these summer programs gave them a way to get their message out (before the days of television, Facebook and cable news).  One of the most famous of those politicians was William Jennings Bryan.  A Democrat who ran for president three times, Bryan was very adamant about the importance of making education available to all.  He found the Chautauqua Movement an excellent way to make educational, religious and cultural programs open to all.

Theodore Roosevelt called it “the most American thing in America.”

The movement began to die out as television and other modern entertainment venues grew in popularity.  However, today it is experiencing a come back.  The idea of lifelong learning has gained importance again and the desire for cultural experiences is returning.  There are existing Chautauqua communities throughout the USA.

The original Chautauqua is now a 750-acre education center in New York State.  During the nine-week summer season at the Chautauqua Institution, over 7,500 persons enjoy the all the programs which include the four pillars of the movement:  religion, recreation, arts and education.  Courses are offered in art, dance, theater, writing among many other psecial interests.

The one we found in Bay View is definitely one I want to visit next summer.  In addition to the beautiful homes and the programs they are offering, I look forward to enjoying the  sunsets on beautiful Little Traverse Bay just across the street.

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If you do not live near Michigan, check the map to find one of the many Chautauqua facilities and check it out.

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