My African American History: A Lynching

Signature of Warren Stewart aka Warren Matthew, my second great-uncle. The signature was taken from his

Signature of Warren Stewart aka Warren Matthews, my second great-uncle. The signature was taken from an 1892 pension file.

Long time no blog!

I’ve been working hard to finish a book about researching my family’s history which hasn’t left much time for anything let alone blogging. But African American history month is here, so I had to post something about my family’s story.   I’ve posted on this before, but it’s worth the repeat. (I don’t want to forget that this month isn’t just about the triumphs of black people but also what our ancestors suffered.) What follows is an excerpt from the Feb. 2nd, 1901 issue of the “Daily Herald” newspaper of Mississippi about the lynching of Warren Stewart who I’m pretty sure was my second great-uncle:

PRISONER LYNCHED

When the prisoner, Warren Stewart, was conveyed to Ocean Springs, a great wave of indignation spread over the place, and the mutterings were ominous.  It was concluded to give him a trial, and while the examination was in progress a mob of about 300 persons took him from the officers, carried him across the bayou, and hanged him, after which his body was riddled with bullets about 100 being fired into it.

According to the paper, Warren was lynched for the alleged assault of a white girl and the story was covered in at least eight newspapers from Ohio to Idaho. (My cousin, Monique has posted some of the newspapers on the Our Black Ancestry page on Facebook, so join to have a look and to read her post on this painful part of our past.)

The age and the story of the Warren Stewart in the article match up with my information about my second great-uncle, but I still need to confirm that this is my ancestor, the son of my great, great-grandparents, Colonel Stuart and Tempy Burton. Unfortunately, vital records like death certificates weren’t recorded in Mississippi before 1912.  So, I’m checking funeral and court records from Ocean Springs in hopes of finding a case on file that might include information about Warren’s family and the details of the crime he was accused of. Whether he was innocent or guilty of the attempted assault, his lynching was a murder, an act of domestic terror and it served its purpose. It scared one whole line of my family right out of the south. My Smith cousins left Mississippi for good in the 1920s, and the lynching, my cousin, Sylvia  told me, was an impetus.

Are there lynchings in your family history?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating African American History Month at Glenfield School

Filmmaker Dawn Porter and journalist Kuae Mattox celebrating African American History Month at Glenfield Middle School in Montclair, NJ (photo courtesy of Ki Keys)

Actor Andre Braugher takes questions from the crowd at Glenfield Middle School's celebration of African American History Month. (photo courtesy of Ki Keys)

Every year, my daughter’s school holds African American Career day in celebration of Black History month.  This year, they had a kickoff assembly first, which was held on Friday.  Even though the snow was falling and storm Nemo was on its way, actor Andre Braugher and filmmaker Dawn Porter still showed up and shared their remarkable success stories with over 600 attentive middle school students.

Braugher shared about his various roles from portraying a Union soldier in an all-Black regiment in the iconic film, Glory, (one of his first jobs after graduating from Juliard) to his latest TV series Last Resort, where he played the commander of a submarine. Graciously, he answered all kinds of questions including what other famous people he’d met.

“All of them,” Braugher answered, “except Steven Spielberg.”

Porter showed a clip from her latest film, Gideon’s Army, a documentary about public defenders that won the editing award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  The kids’ mouths dropped to the ground when they discovered thousands of films are submitted to Sundance but only a handful are actually accepted.  You can see Gideon’s Army this summer on HBO.

The discussion was moderated by parent volunteer, Kuae Mattox, a journalist formerly with NBC and the Miami Herald. She is also president of Mocha Moms Inc., a national support group for mothers of color.

This Friday, February 15, the celebration continues when Glenfield Middle School holds its Annual African American Career Day from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.

The event will feature African American presenters, most of whom are from the local community.  From police officers to politicians, each presenter will share his or her career story to let all students see African Americans achieving success in an array of fields.  The objective is to break stereotypes, illustrate the achievability of all professions, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity and of course to inspire.

Please come help inspire the next generation of leaders by sharing your success stories.  If you’re in the Montclair, NJ area, contact me at dionnelford@gmail.com to participate.

“The Whipping Man”: Civil War history on stage


Last night, I saw the powerful play, “The Whipping Man,” starring Andre Braugher, Andre Holland and Jay Wilkison at City Center in Manhattan.  It’s the story of three Jewish men at the end of the Civil War. Two are newly freed slaves and one is a Confederate soldier (their master) fresh from battle and the trio has to navigate their shifting relationship.  As I watched,  I couldn’t help but think of how my ancestors would have had to make similar choices.

My great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton, was in her 40s when freedom arrived at her doorstep in Ocean Springs, Mississippi where she lived with her masters, Elizabeth McCauley Stuart and Col. W.R. Stuart.  Tempy bore several of the colonel’s children including my great-grandmother, Josephine for whom this blog is named. Tempy was illiterate from all the census records I’ve seen and it would have been difficult to say the least for her to up and move. By the time the Civil War was over she’d already had at least one son by the Colonel, Alfred Burton Stuart, so it would have been even more difficult to move with a small child.   Like the slaves in the play, she would have had to decide if she wanted to stay in the same town, the only one she’d known for most of her life or head out without knowing how to read or write and try to make a life for herself somewhere new.  Should she sever all ties to the people who once owned her and with whom she now had blood ties or could she find a way to take that bitter relationship and make it palatable like the characters seemed to be doing as they ate bitter herbs during their Passover Seder. Bitter herbs or Maror symbolize the bitterness of the Jews’ slavery in Egypt.   But what most stirred me watching a dramatization of what was in a way my family’s real life, was mention of the word “love” among people in an inherently imbalanced relationship such as slavery. To elaborate on the love idea would spoil the play.  So, instead I’ll pose a question: Could love exist?  What about their shared faith, which did not keep the white Jew from enslaving the black ones? Could their common belief  alleviate the scars slavery left on them all?

These are all things I wonder every time I look at my ancestors’ faces pictured in the header. My great-grandmother probably inherited her beliefs the way the slaves in the play inherited their Jewish faith from their master. Did my ancestors’ shared faith as Methodist Episcopalians help them forge a new relationship after emancipation?  Tempy and Elizabeth lived together for most of their lives.  Tempy and the colonel had at least two children together, but possibly seven before and well after slavery ended. Did any or all of them believe there was love between them? Unless I turn up a diary, I’ll never be able to unequivocally answer these question, but some of the things I’m finding in  my research journey are at least providing possible explanations.

If you’re in the New York area, “The Whipping Man” is worth seeing especially as we celebrate Black History month (Braugher is an actor worth celebrating) and commemorate the upcoming sesquicentennial anniversary of the the Civil War. “The Whipping Man” is bittersweet food for thought.

Friend of Friend Friday: Slaves of Alexander Stirling

I found the above will in the Lewis Stirling Family Papers, archived at the Louisiana State University.  The Stirling family, wealthy Louisiana planters, owned my third great-grandmother, Eliza Burton.  I’ve been scrolling through the microfilmed documents hoping that they will include some information about her.   The Stirlings kept receipts for everything  from purchases at their favorite New Orleans clothing store to  ferry trips across the bayou. So far, Eliza hasn’t turned up in their voluminous records but scores of other enslaved people have.  Here are slave names included in Alexander Stirling’s 1808 will:

Lucy, 15

Nan, 7

Old Kitty

Hercules

Tennance

Betsy, mulatto child of my negro woman Sarah

Lucy and Nan were to be left to Alexander’s daughter, Anne.  Old Kitty was to be freed upon Alexander’s death and Hercules and Tennance would be freed when Alexander’s son, John turned 21.  For “(his) own reasons,” Alexander puts the mulatto child, Betsy and her mother, Sarah under his son, Henry’s care. (Sarah could also be under her son John’s care if she wants, but her daughter, Betsey will have to be under John’s will).  I can’t help but wonder what that’s all about.  But more importantly, I can’t help but hope that this information can be helfpful to someone searching for their ancestors.

I’ll keep posting any slave names I come across as I go.

Wordy Wednesday: Mystery Relatives’ Obituary?

Back in June, I was introduced to a turn-of-the century Methodist Episcopal newspaper,  the Southwestern Christian Advocate when a good Samaritan alerted me to one of its ads placed by my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton.  Tempy was looking for her family who she’d been separated from by slavery.  You can read her ad and how I found it here.

Turns out my relatives show up in the Southwestern quite often. My great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford frequently wrote into their column, “Uncle Cephas” and her wedding announcement was featured in the paper as well.  This obituary also appeared in the Southwestern’s February 9, 1888 edition with several familiar names and locations:

Sister Martha Burton departed this life Dec. 22, 1887, aged forty-six, at Ocean Springs, Miss.  She was a native of North Carolina, lived several years in New Orleans, and finally moved here in 1885, whence she left for heaven in triumph.  She shouted the harvest home.  -J. Ford, P.C.

Tempy Burton’s original slave owners were from North Carolina.  Like Martha, Tempy also lived in New Orleans for a time. My great-grandfather, who married Tempy’s daughter, Josephine was James Ford, a local minister in the Ocean Springs area.  Could J. Ford, P.C. be my great-grandfather?  Could Martha Burton be a relation to Tempy?

Unfortunately, Mississippi did not keep death records in 1887.  According to their Vital Records department, Mississippi was not required to keep them until November 1, 1912.

Any suggestions on what I should do to find out if the woman in the obituary is one of my relatives?

African-American History Month

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3e-HLc5ETg&NR=1&feature=fvwp]

As African-American history month winds down, I’m pleasantly surprised by all the new information I’ve learned about both ordinary and extraordinary black people and the integral part both played in building this country over the past four centuries. I’ve learned about the father of African-American film, Oscar Micheaux, the black man who patented the horse bit as portrayed in the Generations Project, and the former slaves who told their stories in the Slave Narratives, the Federal Writers Project which compiled their written and recorded histories in the 1930s.  One of my favorite authors, Zora Neale Hurston conducted some of the interviews.

Before I heard a segment of the Slave Narratives on NPR earlier this month, I didn’t even know they existed.

I knew my great great-grandmother, Temple Burton wouldn’t be among the other former slaves interviewed since she died before the Slave Narratives project began, but my heart skipped a beat nonetheless when I searched the index and saw listed among the biographies one for a 101 year-old woman named Tempy.  I’m taking it as a sign that I will find more information about her.  I’d love to get a fat tome about Tempy Burton and her family like the one YoYo Ma was handed in last night’s episode of Faces of America!   But I guess that’s expecting too much, since I already did find an enormous collection of personal letters, poems and newspaper clippings that belonged to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart, Sr. whose son would go on to own Tempy and impregnate her with several children.  The letters offer tons about my slave-owning side of the family from who was the favored child to who was the black sheep,  but so far, no mention of Tempy.

But I’m still hopeful to find more information about Tempy’s original owners, (the Burtons, I assume) and maybe even some sign of her parents.

Thanks to our genealogy buddy, Ghita Johnson, we have found who owned Tempy before my great great-grandfather which puts us closer to our goal.   Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the voices of other enslaved people who lived to see freedom in the Slave Narratives.

What new piece of history did you learn during African-American history month?

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