On the 5th day of October, 1859, in Monroe County, West Virginia, three siblings sued their mother, Rebecca Graham, and their brother, John Graham. They were contesting the right of Rebecca to keep the Stephenson Cabin, the plantation where they lived, along with the “negro girl, Dinah,” and any children she might eventually have. Joseph Graham, Rebecca’s husband, had recently died, and ownership of the land and the slaves, having passed over to him upon their marriage. was now in dispute. Rebecca and John believed it to be theirs, while the three other siblings believed it should be divided among the four children. The tract of land comprised two hundred and eighty-six acres, and at the time of the suit, Rebecca Graham was living on the land with her son, John Graham, and, Dinah, who had in the intervening years become the mother of two sons, Ira and Stuart. The court documents described Dinah as “old, and still in possession of the said Rebecca Graham,” and her sons as “very stout, valuable men, worth each about $ 1,500.00, . . . very recently been sold . . . and carried out of the country.” The plaintiffs brought the suit against Rebecca in an attempt to get the land and proceeds from the sale of Ira and Stuart to be divided equally among them all, rather than Rebecca getting all of it. Rebecca stood firm in claiming all as her own.
In1869, the court decided that the plaintiffs were all entitled to a portion of the land and the value of the slaves. This decision was appealed, and in 1870, the Court reversed the decision and dismissed the plaintiffs’ bill. Counter appeals and more continued for several years, but nowhere in any of the court documents is the fact that slavery was over ever mentioned, nor was that fact considered relevant. More than ten years after the Civil War had been fought and decided, this family was still arguing in the courts over how much Dinah, Ira, and Stuart were worth, and who should get the proceeds from their sale to a Mr. Bledsoe more than twenty years previously. This concept of a “negro fund,” – disputed money that changed hands prior to the end of slavery – was a legal concept through which profiting by slavery continued even after slavery had been abolished.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery headstones, and San Diego highrise hotels.

In 1880, Warren Richardson published the memoir of a Barnstable ship captain named Austin Bearse, called Reminiscences of Fugitive-Slave Law Days in Boston. In it, among many adventures on land and sea, Bearse describes his conversion from his early years working with slave-traders to his later dedication to the cause of abolition.

Bearse writes, “ In the year 1828, while mate of the brig ‘Milton,” of Boston, bound from Charleston, S.C., to New Orleans, the following incident occurred, which I shall never forget. The traders brought on board four quadroon men in handcuffs. An old negro woman, more than eighty years of age, came screaming after them, ‘My son! Oh, my son!’ She seemed almost frantic, and when we had got more than a mile out in the harbor, we heard her screaming yet.”

Eventually, such moments persuaded Bearse that slavery and the slave trade were inhumane, and he became active in using his ship for helping fugitive slaves escape.

In the following excerpt from the Reminiscences…, Bearse tells the story of his role in the safe transfer of a young fugitive named Bernardo:

“People used to write to Mr. Phillips from the South, out in those places just before slaves were about to start. Mr. Phillips got the letters, and so was on the lookout when the vessels got into Boston harbor. He would know the name of the vessel, and who was on board, and be all ready to help them. Perhaps this was the way little Bernardo came to Bath.
[Letter of Mr. Phillips to Captain Bearse]
Dear Friend:
When my little colored boy arrives, I wish you to take charge of him, and keep him till you can get some safe way to send him to the Cape. You know it is not safe to have colored children travelling about alone, so be very careful that you get him a safe conveyance. He is to be sent to J.E. Mayo, Harwich, to stop at the Union Store there. If Mr. Mayo is not there, Captain Small will attend to him. You must write to Mr. Mayo two days before he will arrive, telling him when to expect him. Pay postage on your letters. His name is Bernardo. I shall direct the Bath people to have him left at 21 Cornhill. So tell Wallcutt about him and let him attend to Bernardo till you arrive. Write me of his arrival the moment he comes. Charge expenses to me.

January 10, 1853.

I got the boy safe down to the Cape, as Mr. P. wanted.”

Bernardo stayed for several years with the Harwich ship captain who took him in, but eventually became ill, probably with tuberculosis. His last few weeks were spent in the care of abolitionist Mrs. Frances H. Drake, of Leominster, whose home was a stop in the Underground Railroad, and she attended to him faithfully as her own.

The Provincetown Abolition Society began in November of 1837 as the Anti Slavery Society in Provincetown, Massachusetts, meeting formally, usually once a year in December, until 1842. The name changed in 1839, when the group became an auxiliary of the Massachusetts Abolition Society. Proponents of emancipation, they met in the vestry of the Methodist Meetinghouse “to take into consideration the subject of slavery,” according to the minutes, which are now held in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum. John Adams, President; Ebenezer Atkins, Vice President; and John Atkins, Secretary, drafted the organization’s constitution. Each meeting was opened with a prayer, led by the Methodist Episcopal pastor, who, at the founding of the organization, was Reverend Ira McLeod Bidwell. “Rev. Mack,” as he was known, who served at the Provincetown Methodist Episcopal Church from 1837-1838, and in Wellfleet in 1839, represented a radical element in the national Church organization, as its official position at the time was pro-slavery.

The Society’s constitution established the object of the society as to “petition congress to put an end to the domestic slave trade and abolish slavery in all those portions of our common country.” They later voted to petition congress specifically “to stop traffic in human beings,” and requested “the Ladyes of this town,” in their separate “female Anti Slavery Society” to petition congress as well.

At their meeting held in December of 1838, they voted to take up quarterly collections and to have monthly lectures on subject of slavery. They also established plans for a library to house “Anti Slavery publications” and chose the first librarian, Rufus Conant. When the Society disbanded officially in 1842, some of the members took their anti-slavery activities underground. Nathan Freeman, the Society’s last librarian, later funded the construction of a building to serve as the town’s public library. Society members later became involved in working with Wendell Phillips to help fugitive slaves escape, and Captain Isaac Mayo in 1852 adopted Bernardo, a young fugitive slave, as his son, and took him along on voyages.

If there was a focal point outside New York City for the cultural phenomenon known as the Harlem Renaissance, it was Anne Spencer’s garden at 1313 Pierce Street in Lynchburg, Virginia. Friends, neighbors, and visitors made the pilgrimage to her remarkable garden, among them George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King Jr, Mary McLeod Bethune, W. E. B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Paul Robeson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Adam Clayton Powell, and Thurgood Marshall.
According to Keith Clark, “About Anne Spencer,” http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/spencer/about.htm  (from The Oxford Companion to Women’s Writing in the United States. Ed. Cathy N. Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Oxford University Press)  “Anne Spencer cultivated a garden that attracted several members of the black artistic community for over half a century…. Her devotion to illuminating the beauty of God’s garden and humankind’s place in it anticipates writers such as Alice Walker, who also sees a cosmic and spiritual relationship between human beings and the earth.”
Spencer was herself a significant contributing writer in the Harlem Renaissance. Composing her poetry in her garden, it was central to her imagery and meaning. She cultivated the garden from 1903 until her death on July 25, 1975, and the legacy lives on, as the garden is maintained by Lynchburg resident Thelma Chow.   Anne Spencer’s garden enhanced the creativity of the artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and later, providing a respite and a cultural focal point for the black artistic community of the early twentieth century.

The “Bug.” The “Rabbit.” The “Touareg.” Did Volkswagen corporate executives deliberately name their SUV after the nomadic camel herders of Africa? And why? Out of respect? To honor and celebrate them? Or is it offensive exploitation?

“Arts and Life in Africa,” from http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/toc/people/Tuareg.html, tells us that the Touareg, spelled various ways, speak Temajeg, and have settled in areas of Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Mali, and that “Tuareg camel caravans played the primary role in trans-Saharan trade until the mid-20th century when European trains and trucks took over. Goods that once were brought north to the edge of the Sahara are now taken to the coast by train and then shipped to Europe and beyond. Tuareg history begins in northern Africa where their presence was recorded by Herodotus. Many groups have slowly moved southward over the last 2,000 years in response to pressures from the north and the promise of a more prosperous land in the south. Today, many Tuareg live in sedentary communities in the cities bordering the Sahara that once were the great centers of trade for western Africa.”

The Touareg people have lately been in the news. According to Bloomberg.com, “An ethnic Touareg uprising in Mali, driven by armed fighters returning from Libya, prompted soldiers to overthrow the government that tasked them with quashing the rebellion. . . . The Azawad National Liberation Movement began a revolt in January, opening fire on military targets in northwest Africa . . . Touaregs have staged similar battles for autonomy in Mali and neighboring Niger in the five decades since the countries became independent from colonial ruler France. The current uprising is bolstered by Touaregs who returned from Libya after the October death of leader Muammar Qaddafi, according to the UN.”

What exactly is VW saying in naming an SUV after the Touareg? And what is someone saying when they buy one? What is the media trying to imply about the Touareg? Even more important, where in all this is the Touareg voice?

In a New York Times Book Review, the cover story was Sean Wilentz’ review of Nicholas Lemann’s book, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War. A mostly favorable review criticizes one nagging point, a tenacious problem that dogs historians still, “Lemann’s interpretation is uneven. . . the black participants in the story remain mostly obscure, and often come across more as victims than as political actors.” So, what else is new? This situation, however, can be remedied. Untapped, unexpected sources exist, offering the opportunity to find information that will lift the black participants of history out of obscurity. One example is William Meadows.

For most of his life, William Meadows was a slave. But after the Civil War, in 1868, he was free, and he served as one of the forty nine elected black delegates to Louisiana’s Constitutional Convention. Meadows died some months after the convention, shot and killed at his home in Claiborne Parish, in front of his family. The details of this event, including the eyewitness testimony of his wife, were captured in a contemporary state government publication, a report published by the General Assembly of Louisiana. A committee investigating the conduct of the elections recorded information about Meadows’ murder, thereby insuring that the details became part of the public record. This effort at the local level to record and preserve the information affords us the possibility of discovering the truth.

This is the eyewitness testimony of Meadows’ wife, as recorded by William Stokes, Assistant Sub-Assistant Bureau Commissioner, Claiborne Parish:
“I was out in the yard milking the cow when my husband passed going to the stable; my little son was with him; as soon as I was done I went into the kitchen with the milk; the kitchen is about twenty yards from the house; my little boy and his father were returning from the stable; my little boy turned off to come to me, and before he had reached the kitchen he heard some one call “Meadows”; his father looked toward the kitchen . . . at that moment he was shot; my boy saw him fall; he [was not] more than ten steps from his father when the first shots were fired; my boy is eight years old; I jumped out of the kitchen door and looked around at the men, and called for the gun; after I reached my husband they fired again, making three shots in all; I saw the guns in the men’s hands; when I reached my husband he was dead; the men stood there and I asked them who they were, they made no answer.”

The story of William Meadows points out the local resources that scholars have, at best, under-utilized, and, at worst, neglected, overlooked, or ignored. Most of the secondary sources on the Reconstruction era, even those works specifically on Louisiana or on the Constitutional conventions of the time period, do not mention William Meadows. If they do, it is but to say he was a Constitutional Convention delegate who was a former slave, or that he was a farmer. Some sources mention his murder, but give few details. Yet, there is information about Meadows’ murder in the report of the Joint Committee, and upon investigation, a rich and complex picture emerges.

Meadows’ wife’s testimony continues. “It was just about dark; they were dressed in black clothes; I saw them plain enough to know they were white men; I think they wore black hats; their clothes all looked dark; my first impression was that one of them was Newton Glover. . . I think the other was John Taylor; I am not sure of him. This man Glover threatened to kill my husband some time before: the Glover family seemed to be very much against my husband, and were always trying to meddle with him in some way. Mr. Carter, f.m.c., told my husband ten days before he was killed, that Newton Glover said that he held my husband’s life in his pocket, and if he did not leave in two weeks he would be killed. . . My husband was five years away from me,” she continued, “and served three years in the Federal army. The people refused to let him stay in the country when he first returned from the war, and many said he was not safe.”
The state government of Louisiana has provided an account that proves to be a rich vein to mine. Indeed, biased or not, censored or not, exaggerated or not, the usefulness of documents produced by local governments will vary with the attitude and motives of the local people involved. These sources give us something to consider, something to analyze, something to deconstruct. These sources offer the opportunity to lift the stories of people like William Meadows out of obscurity.

This is another in a series of Research Briefs, describing current research projects remedying society’s historical amnesia. For more information, contact janvoogd@yahoo.com

Hazel Ying Lee (1912-1944) broke through ethnic and gender boundaries to serve the US effort in WWII as a pilot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program becoming one of the first Chinese American women to fly for the U.S. military, and was killed in action.
Hazel Ying Lee was born in 1912 in Portland, Oregon into a merchant family who had immigrated from Canton, China, in 1911. Her father became a partner in a restaurant. She grew up with seven siblings, and had a reputation as a tomboy, playing cards, running races with the boys, and learning to drive. After graduating from high school in 1929, Lee found a job in downtown Portland as an elevator operator in a department store, one of the few jobs available to a Chinese-American woman at the time. A couple of years later, a ride at an air show captivated Lee, and she began saving money for private flight lessons. At that time, flying was considered a daredevil sport for men, and only a tiny percentage of pilots in the U.S. were women. Lee joined the Chinese Flying Club of Portland, took flying lessons, and by October 1932, she had become one of the first Chinese-American women to earn a pilot’s license. Some sources indicate that in 1943 Lee married another member of the Flying Club, “Clifford” Louie Yim-Qun, who later had a distinguished military career. At some point in the 1930s, Lee lived in China, and when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1934, Lee volunteered to fly for the Chinese Air Force. Because she was a woman, she was not accepted by the military, and flew only occasionally, for a commercial private airline. She remained in China until about 1938 when she left to work in New York.
A shortage of male pilots motivated the military to establish the Women Airforce Service Pilots program, (WASP), in 1943. The WASPs ferried planes across the country, towed targets for shooting practice, and moved war materials. Often the WASPs would be the first to fly planes just off the assembly line, and hence the first to learn if there were malfunctions or shoddy manufacturing. Accepted into the 4th training class, Hazel Ying Lee became one of the first Chinese American women to fly for the United States military.
Completing training on August 7, 1944, Lee was assigned to the Air Transport Command’s 3rd Ferrying Squadron at Romulus Army Air Base, Michigan. In April 1944 she went to instrument school, followed by intensive training at Pursuit School in September 1944, where she became one of the 134 women pilots who were qualified to fly all the Army’s single-engine fighter aircraft, including P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51 and P-63.
On November 23, 1944, Lee flew a P-63 to Great Falls, Montana. Several P-63s were in their approach to the airport at the same moment. Lee was cleared to land by the control tower radio operators, but another P-63 pilot had been cleared to land using the light system, because his radio was malfunctioning. The control tower radioed both planes to pull up rather than land, as they were attempting to land on the same runway at the same time. The plane with the useless radio did not receive the message, so when Lee pulled up and the other aircraft didn’t, the two planes collided and crashed onto the runway. Lee survived the crash, but suffered severe burns and trauma, and died two days later from her injuries.
The Lee family chose a burial site in a Portland, Oregon, cemetery, but were refused permission to bury the Hazel in the chosen place, because cemetery policy did not allow Asians to be buried there. The Lee family successfully challenged the policy, and Hazel Ying Lee was laid to rest in a non-military funeral, and buried alongside her younger brother Victor, who had also been killed in action.
As many as 25,000 women signed up for the WASP program in 1942, but only 1,074 completed the training. These successful and dedicated WASPs have been credited with opening the door for women aviators and, later, astronauts. As a WASP, Hazel Ying Lee represents a role model for gender equality; as one of the two Chinese-American WASPs, Lee also represents a role model for racial equality. For decades, members of the WASP and their supporters fought for military status for the women pilots, who, despite flying under military command, were classified as civilians. In March of 1979, after Congressional approval of Public Law 95-202, military status was granted.
Further Reading
Merryman, Molly. Clipped Wings: the Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. New York: NYU Press, 2001. Drawing upon military documents, congressional records, and interviews, Merryman looks at the WASP wartime experiences and the eventual success of their efforts to gain military status and receive veterans’ benefits.
Hodgson, Marion Stegeman. Winning My Wings: a Woman Airforce Service Pilot in World War II. Albany, Texas: Bright Sky Press, 2004. An engaging story told through the letters Hodgson wrote at the time, some of them describing the crashes that killed 38 of the WASPs.
Gott, Kay. Hazel Ah Ying Lee, Women AirForce Service Pilot, World War II : a Portrait, McKinleyville, California: Kay Gott, 1996. One of several books fellow WASP Lois Kay Gott Chaffey has written, this generously illustrated book collects friends’ memories of Hazel Ying Lee.
Strebe, Amy Goodpaster. Flying for Her Country: the American and Soviet Women Military Pilots of World War II. Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2009. An accessible account, describing the WASP’s skillful flying, their loyalty to their country, and their grace, both in the sky and on the ground.

Publishing content since February, African.Americana is a new blog dedicated to highlighting African American library collections, history, culture, arts, and ideas.


The woman behind the blog, Raquel Von Cogell, has been a librarian at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center Library for Black Culture and History at the University of North Carolina, a contributor to the Harvard Guide to African American History, and co-editor of Diversity in Libraries: Academic Residency Programs. The mission of the Stone Center is to “”encourage and support the critical examination of all dimensions of African and African American diaspora cultures through sustained and open discussion, dialogue and debate…”.

Stella Thompson. Prostitute, but Thief?

A glimpse of truth from a court document out of Austin, District Court of Travis, Texas, 1913, noting that Lawrence Robinson and Stella Thompson are “both negroes”:

Lawrence Robinson went to his job at the Lone Star Ice Factory on the 4th of July, 1913, bringing with him $53. His plan, according to his testimony, was to put $52 in the bank, but found that because of the holiday, the bank was closed. After work, having fallen in with some women of loose virtue, he was in bed with a prostitute, his pants lying by the bed. Robinson testified in court that Stella Thompson, also a prostitute, entered the room while he was carrying on his business with the other woman, got his wallet from his pants pocket, and carried it away to a water closet. Later the wallet without the money was found in the water closet.

A. J. Zilker, a white man, well known to the jury, testified: “I know Lawrence Robinson and have known him about fifteen years. He has worked for me at the Lone Star Ice Factory; he was working for me on July 4, 1913, and all during that summer, I know his reputation for truth and veracity here in Austin; his reputation as a darkey is good; his reputation in the neighborhood where he lives and here in the city is good for truth and veracity; I find him to be above the average.”

W. B. Loveless, a merchant, testified: “I live in South Austin. I run a general merchandise store over there. I know Lawrence Robinson, a colored boy, and have known him since he moved into my neighborhood about two years ago. He has been renting a house from me up until about one day after Christmas when I sold the place. He trades with me. I know his general reputation for truth and veracity in the community and it is good.”

Stella Thompson emphatically denied stealing the money. No one testified on her behalf. She was convicted on appeal and sentenced to two years in prison.

Stella Thompson v. The State. No. 3111. COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS.
74 Tex. Crim. 145; 167 S.W. 345; 1914 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 299. April 29, 1914, Decided