Just Do It!

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If you’re like me, by now you’re wishing this election campaign was over, or better yet had never started in the first place.   We all have opinions and theories, disappointments, predictions and concerns around any election, but this one is different.  It would be easy to become so frustrated and confused that we consider skipping the whole thing.    But at the end of the day, the important, the crucial thing is to JUST DO IT,  in the familiar words of the Nike slogan.   Important for all of us, but especially for any of us  who have felt the pain of having our voices ignored or discounted,  in other words, for most women at some point in their lives.     Even now.    And it’s not so long ago that women’s voices were not only ignored, they were suppressed.

imagesTo put it in  perspective:

Freed male slaves were  granted the vote in 1845.*    The Nineteenth Amendment  granted women the right to  vote in 1920.

And here’s another shocker:    In 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed a Constitutional amendment, eventually known as the Equal Rights Amendment to  prohibit all discrimination on the basis of sex.

It  has Never Been Ratified.   

The women’s suffrage movement in America began in New York  in 1848,  led by well-known early pioneers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their enormous sacrifices and their perseverance to achieve for us a right we often take for granted, if we think about it at all.

However, there is another compelling and little known tale of struggle and dedication to suffrage in Mississippi. By 1820, a  growing number of southern women in Mississippi  had mobilized to improve social and educational conditions for women and children and the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed.  In 1890,  The Mississippi Constitutional Convention seriously considered granting women the right to vote.  Sadly, the proposal died in committee by a single vote.

But it was not over.

Nellie Nugent Somerville(1863 – 1952) Courtesy Mississippi Dept of Archives and History
Nellie Nugent Somerville(1863 – 1952) Courtesy Mississippi Dept of Archives and History

In the 1890s the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association,  under the leadership of Nellie Nugget Somerville,  began efforts to gain the vote in Mississippi.  The fledgling movement floundered in spite of heroic  efforts by the suffragists.  Facing fierce opposition by the legislators,  by the 1900s they had almost given up.  In 1906, Belle Kearney,  a compelling professional speaker,  breathed life into the nearly moribund movement and gradually the suffragists regained momentum.  However, they could not win  over the
necessary majority of state legislators,  and the state suffrage campaign of 1914 failed.  Legislators declared that woman suffrage was “not in the best interest of Mississippi women, that women should remain ‘queen of the home and hearthstone.'”

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Belle Kearney (1863 – 1939) Photo from her autobiography, A Slaveholder’s Daughter.

But it was not over.

In 1918, a state suffrage amendment was once again introduced and received a tie vote, insufficient to  meet the required two-thirds majority.   In 1919  a resolution was introduced to reject the amendment as “unwarranted, unnecessary and dangerous interference with state’s rights.”  The rejection resolution was approved by a vote of 106 to 25.  At this point, many of the suffragists left the movement in despair.

But it was not over.

By now the Nineteenth Amendment  had been ratified by 35 states and some Mississippi senators felt the state must do likewise for the sake of the Democratic Party.  The bill was recalled, amended to read “ratify” rather than “reject” and the bill passed the Senate.

But it was not over

The House  rejection was swift and decisive. As one legislator put it, he would rather “die and go to hell” than vote for it.  The amendment went down  90 to 23.

But it was not over.

By 1920, Mississippi was only one of two states in the nation that had not ratified the Nineteenth Amendment.  However,  as a federal law, it superseded the state law and provided women the vote. Ironically, two years later, Mississippi’s two leading suffragists, Somerville and Kearney, were elected to the state legislature, surviving the battles and winning the war.

The State of Mississippi finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment  with no opposition on March 22, 1984. Neither  Kearney nor Somerville lived to see the ratification.

But it was over at last.

So, just in case you were thinking about giving Election Day a pass this time, please take a minute to remember the struggles of our Foremothers on our behalf.vote-661888__180

Go Vote.

Just Do It!

____________

*The bill was ratified, but not enforced until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Source:   Marjorie Julian Spruill and Jesse Spruill Wheeler, Mississippi Women and the  Woman Suffrage Amendment,  Mississippi History Now, Mississippi Historical Society 200-2015.   http://bit.ly/2fvviLw

 

 

 

 

DO YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN?

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Santa Barbara’s trees, like its oceans and mountains, are one thing she says she never tires of here.”I feel very fortunate to have my car,” she says. “It’s a little cramped, but it’s softer than cement.” For Some Seniors Without Housing: A Parking Lot Is Home; NPR, Sept 18, 2016

My stomach lurches every time I look at this photo.    How can this be happening in upscale Santa Barbara?  This woman  could be my neighbor, the grandmother in the  pew next to mine at church, she  could be that woman struggling along with me at  Pilates class.   She probably  went to college, paid her bills on time, baked cookies for the PTO, raised a family.  Or so it would seem.

Maybe not.  Maybe she lived wildly beyond her means, enrolling her kids in expensive private schools, indulging in spas and Mediterranean cruises, driving a Lexus. Rotating credit cards for payment, betting on the return of the pre-recession economy.  Or maybe  she was forced out of a longterm marriage by a deluded husband frantically trying to recapture his youth.  Or maybe she’s a widow  bankrupted by overwhelming medical bills.

Maybe.  But is  something more fundamental in play?   In our frenzied rush to achieve “success,” have  we have forgotten our need for each other?  Have we  lost our communities?

I grew up in a tight community.  And I hated it.  Everyone knew everything you did, and worse, attributed it to your genetics.  If your family was properous, that predestined your success, despite all distressing evidence to the contrary.  If as in my case, your familymain-street
were not  wealthy landowners, city fathers or otherwise distinguished, you were not expected to rise above your family’s  social standing.  No credential, diploma or bank statement could refute  this.    That was the down side, the only side, I saw growing up.

But no one, no matter what color or family circumstances.  NO ONE lived in a car or wanted for food or clean clothes.   This was not because were endowed with unnatural virtue or were a microcosm of  Christian charity.  Far from it.  We were mean-spirited, kind, quilting-bgenerous, greedy,  intellectually gifted and psychotic, industrious, and lazy; like people everywhere.  With one major exception: We needed each other.  No one had to tell us that.   We knew it by birth;  we were a poor farming community; if we were to survive, it meant cooperation.  It meant community.  In our case, a community formed around a church.

The little community still exists; thrives, in fact,  and its people are still just as flawed and nosy.  Inevitably, though, time has brought  change. Its members are more diverse, better educated, more tolerant now.  But  community foundation  never changed.  If a neighbor’s house is damaged by flood or fire, the community rebuilds the house and supplies food and clothes.  A  member’s bad medical diagnosis country-church1triggers a  rotation of members to supply food and housekeeping.   Extra rows are planted in  gardens for needy members.  The list goes on.   And this is why such a photo could never have been, never will be,  taken in that community.

So I wonder.  Why have our larger urban communities failed this woman?  Does she not meet some tedious beaurocratic requirement?  Is she in need of psychiatric help?  Are there so many like her that community organizations are overwhelmed?  Is it even possible for government to organize community?   Or can lasting  community be forged only on the anvil of  fundamental interdependence?    Is her plight, then, simply the logical outcome of a society who has forgotten this  fundamental truth?

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Southern Writers: Sally Whitney

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the many benefits to me of this blog is the opportunity it provides me to  celebrate  the successes of fellow southern women writers.   I am delighted to  showcase  Sally Whitney’s  latest book, Surface and Shadow, just released today.

A few weeks ago, I asked  Sally to share some of her thoughts about being a southern writer and in particular, what inspired her latest book.

What gave you the idea for this novel?

 I can’t say that anything gave me the idea for this novel. The idea just seemed to grow. Strong women have always been my favorite characters in novels, so I knew my novel would have a woman as the protagonist. I think women have a hard time being strong because for many years, expectations and requirements have been set against them. Too often, women have to show strength in defying cultural norms before they can be strong anywhere else. I wanted to show this personal battle within my protagonist. I’m also interested in North Carolina cotton-mill towns, partly because very few of them still exist. I put the woman in the cotton-mill town and asked “What if?” And the story grew from there.

 Why did you choose to write about the South?

 The South chose me. Place is very important to my fiction. Often with short stories I get a sense of place before anything else. I see a backyard vegetable garden baking in the mid-summer sun. Or a front porch sagging under the weight of family generations who have traipsed across it. With Surface and Shadow, I saw the narrow main street of a small town with its decades-old store fronts and a mysterious aging farmhouse partly obscured by trees and flowers.
Always the places I see are in the South, usually in North Carolina. And it’s not just the physical places that draw my thoughts in that direction. It’s a sense of mystery and wonder, history and hope, darkness mixed with light. When I was in graduate school in New Jersey, I tried to write about a woman living in New Jersey, but my professor told me to “get that woman back down south where she belongs.” He knew where my imagination lives.

 What do you think are the greatest pitfalls to writing about southern women?

 Number one is falling prey to stereotypes. We all know them. Southern women have been caricatured in books and movies and jokes since such means of communication began. But avoiding stereotypes and still conveying some of southern women’s significant characteristics can be tricky. Stereotypes, like caricatures, have some basis in truth. While southern women are not as hung up on social niceties and proper etiquette as they’re often portrayed, we do expect people to be kind to each other. Good manners are nothing more than being considerate of other people. We are not simpering, obedient belles trying to please the men in our lives. We do not go to college just to find a husband. We are independent women, but we often find ways of exerting that independence that are more persuasive than combative. We like men, and generally love a few of them, but they aren’t required to help us lead fully developed lives.

 What do you think defines a “southern writer?”

 Although southern writers are often defined by where they live, I think they’re more accurately defined by the books they write. My favorite contemporary southern authors, including Lee Smith, Joshilyn Jackson, Tom Franklin, and Fannie Flagg, tell stories of passionate people caught in difficult circumstances, not necessarily unique to the South, but certainly influenced by southern culture, climate, and geography. In Jackson’s gods in Alabama, for example, the great respect many Alabamans hold for football plays an important role. In Franklin’s The Tilted World, which he wrote with his wife, Beth Ann Fennelly, the roaring force of the southern Mississippi River is a major character. Heat is often one of my favorite characters in stories by southern writers. Although other parts of the United States can be hot, there’s no heat like southern heat. And heat can make people do crazy things. Southern writers understand the South and its people with all their beauty and their flaws. They know the strong ties between the people and the land and the climate. Their stories could not take place anywhere else.

For more about Sally Whitney and her work, see this blog, May 1, 2015.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonnie Parker, Southern Original

8e804aaae395b5b98a1fcc34650cf891I grew up knowing the story of  Bonnie and Clyde as well as I knew the fairy tales my mother read to me.   In fact,  in family stories, one of our  distant (always emphasized in the telling)  cousins was rumored to have sheltered them from time to time.  And  if you dug long enough, you were sure to find a common ancestor. My family, however, did not see them as the glamorous  bank robbers  portrayed in the film.  We knew the Barrows gang as reckless killers who robbed and killed anyone who got in their way.  In their brief run they are said to have killed 13 people, as many as 9 of which were law men.   But contrary to the myth that they only targeted banks, they usually robbed  small stores or rural gas stations since  it was easier to escape detection.  Their take was usually small and they were constantly on the run.

Bonnie Parker was not  the pistol packing, cigar smoking desperado depicted in the press and crime magazines of the time.  She, never smoked cigars –   the famous photo of her with a cigar in her mouth was staged as a prank.  And as for the pistol-packing outlaw,  Bonnie was not actively involved in the shootings, and probably never  killed anyone, but only drove the getaway cars.

Bonnie grew up in the depression, the child of a single mother after her father died when she was four.  Life was harsh and they struggled to get by.  But  Bonnie  loved music and the stage. She  performed in school pageants and talent shows and excelled at writing.   She told her friends they would see her name in lights someday, a dream that ironically came true– but in a sadly distorted way.

Both Bonnie and Clyde were devoted to their families and made frequent trips to Dallas to visit.  When they had money, they sent it to their families; when they did not, the families sent them food and provisions.

While  in prison in 1932 after a failed hardware store burglary, Bonnie 56A54359-850E-434F-B12C-B3527D010FE5wrote a collection of 10 poems  called “Poetry from Life’s Other Side,”   One of these, “The Story of Suicide Sal,” about an innocent country girl lured by her boyfriend into a life of crime, was left
behind when the gang escaped the police in Joplin, Mo.    Two weeks before her death, apparently sensing that the end was near, Bonnie wrote a poem for her mother  called “The Trail’s End” that ended with the stanza:

Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side,
To a few it’ll be grief—
To the law a relief—
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

We may never know the true story of Bonnie and Clyde, but their 3C1762F2-2A5B-467B-8A40-B2CA38E7AEC5poignant love story shines through. For Bonnie and Clyde  it was love at first sight and their  love endured overwhelming hardship.   Bonnie was still married to her first husband, shocking behavior in those days.  Clyde was a hardened criminal constantly on the run.  But Bonnie remained a loyal companion to Clyde, although she believed their violent deaths inevitable. Their daily lives were difficult as they struggled to evade discovery, resorting to campfire cooking and bathing in cold streams.   In 1933, Bonnie was injured in a car crash and badly burned.   She never regained full use of her leg and  often had to be carried by Clyde.

After two short years on the run, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed  in ambush on an isolated stretch of highway in the piney woods near Gibsland, Louisiana, about 50 miles from the farm where I grew up.  A  combined total of about 130 rounds left their  bodies  so riddled with  holes that embalming was almost impossible.  More than 20,000 people attended Bonnie’s funeral, and flowers arrived from all over the country, some said to have been sent by John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.

Today, you can find Bonnie and Clyde memorabilia – and a t-shirt – at the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, La.  On display are some of Clyde’s guns, Bonnie’s red hat, and grisly photos of the ambush scene. The  car in which they were killed is in a casino in Las Vegas; its price being beyond the budget of the little museum in Gibsland.  Until recently, the museum was managed LAGIBambushmus_3891by the son of one of the arresting law men but is now under new ownership.  The new owner says he may move the museum to nearby Arcadia if he can’t fix the roof.  LASAIambushsite_3896

In 1972, a small monument was erected at the ambush site.  Over the years, it has been riddled with bullet holes and covered with entwined hearts and initials of young lovers, apparently hoping  for a Bonnie and Clyde romance.

Sadly, against their wishes, the two were buried in separate cemeteries near Dallas.   Bonnie was still wearing the wedding ring from her first marriage when she was buried.  She was 24 years old.

Resources:

Bonnie and Clyde; Wikipedia; Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, Gibsland, La.,

Bonnie and Clyde; Lovers on the lam,  www.biography.com

10 Things you may not know about Bonnie and Clyde, www.history.com

Bonnie Parker’s Poems, texashideout.tripod.com

 

Harriett Tubman: Freedom Pioneer

In 2020,  Harriet Tubman’s likeness will appear on the face of the
Unknown-1$20 bill. She will also be the first woman to appear on U.S. currency.  Ironically, $20 is the exact amount of her Civil War monthly pension.  To add to the irony, the slaveholding president, Andrew Jackson remains on the bill.  We might have chosen a more friendly partner, but at least he has been demoted from its face to the rear.

Harriet Tubman, originally named Araminta (“Minty”) was born into slavery in 1822 in Maryland, the fifth of nine children. Her childhood was one of daily beatings and forced hard labor. The family was fragmented when members were sold to distant plantations. Her skull was fractured by an irate overseer when she attempted to save a young boy, injuries which left her with headaches and seizures the remainder of her life. She says of her childhood, “I grew up like a neglected weed, – ignorant of liberty.”

72970509Around 1844, Harriett married John Tubman, a free man, a rare occurrence at the time.  Five years later, fearing she was about to be sold, she and two brothers escaped. By this time she had changed her name to Harriett. Her brothers turned back, but she continued alone and finally escaped to freedom. Her husband decided not to join her and instead married another woman with whom he had four children. Harriett was heartbroken, but refused to sacrifice her Harriet2 615 Jacob Lawrencefreedom and instead committed to bringing other slaves to freedom. From 1850 to 1860, by her own account Tubman returned to Maryland 13 times and rescued 70 family and friends. Harriet was a no-nonsense leader who carried a rifle on these trips to discourage slaves she was trying to help from trying to turn back. If necessary, she bribed people.

UnknownHarriett Tubman was one of the most prolific Underground Railroad conductors of all time. During the Civil War, she served as nurse, scout, cook and spy in the Union Army and became the first American woman to lead an armed raid into enemy territory. Harriet returned to Auburn, New York after the war and began another career as a community activist, humanitarian, and suffragist. The capstone of her humanitarian work was the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, located near her home in Auburn. Harriett continued to be active in the suffrage movement and appeared at suffrage conventions until the early 1900s. She died at her home in Auburn, NY in 1912, at the age of ninety. Harriet Tubman attributed her ability to risk everything for the cause of freedom to her deep spiritual faith.

In 1944, the S.S. Harriet Tubman, the first Liberty ship named for a black woman was launched in South Portland, Maine and in 1978, the U.S. Postal Service issued the Harriet Tubman stamp in 1978, the first in the Black Heritage Series. The Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in Auburn, New York, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974, and her residence was declared an historic landmark in the 1990s.

Myths surround the life of Harriet Tubman. Photos on the internet of a beautiful young girl are falsely identified as Harriet. She has been credited with the rescue of over 300 people all over the south in 19 trips with a $40,000 bounty on her head. She has been said to have navigated the Underground Railroad using the quilt code. Several Civil Rights slogans are falsely attributed to her.
In my mind, these myths do Harriett Tubman a disservice. There is no need to exaggerate or embellish her story. The truth speaks for itself. There’s no need to say anything more. And beginning in 2020 her face on the $20 bill will remind us of incredible courage and unswerving dedication to the cause of freedom.

Kate Larson has recently published an excellent history of Tubman’s life.  See Book of the Week and also the  website for the book;
http://www.harriettubmanbiography.com

Disclaimer:  Harriett Tubman was not born in the south but is included here because of her significant impact on southern women.

 

Southern Originals: Marie Thérèse Metoyer

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Marie Therese Coincoin, Artist Interpretation from Geni.com

Marie Therese Coincoin is truly a Southern Original.  Her life story is surprisingly little known, and yet so amazing as to be incredulous.   In the words of her biographer (1) Coincoin was “born a slave … and became an independent black woman in a world dominated by white men. She adapted successfully to all the situations that life presented to her; from being the concubine and housekeeper of a rich white man, she became a profitable farmer and businesswoman in her own right.”
“She was born a slave and became an independent black woman in a world dominated by white men.

This was a woman  born at the lowest rung of her society, who endured deprivation, injustice and hardship, not the least of which was her absolute lack of freedom.  Unfortunately, she left no written record, but nothing in the historical records suggest that she faced formidable challenges with anything but courage and grace.

Marie Therese Coincoin was born a slave  in Nachitoches, La in August, 1742.  She lost her parents to the plague when she was 16 and was taken into the household of her godmother, Marie de Soto.  During this period, she had five children with a fellow slave.   When she was 24 she was “loaned” to Pierre Metoyer, recently arrived wealthy French merchant .  Over the next 20 years she lived in the house with Metoyer and born him 10 children.  In 1777, a Spanish Priest denounced her as a “public concubine” and ordered her out of Metoyer’s home.  This prompted Madame deSoto, who still owned Marie Therese to finally sell her to Metoyer,  who bought her freedom as well as that of their 10 children who were slaves of the deSoto family.   Marie Therese, Metoyer and their children lived together in apparent financial and family stability for the next decade, although she was unable to free her three oldest children.  However Metoyer  eventually  succumbed to public pressure to marry a “suitable” French woman.

Cane River, Nachitoches, La
Cane River, Nachitoches, La
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Melrose Plantation, (Photo: Henrietta Wildsmith/The Times)

We know nothing of her reaction to the ending of their relationship, however, we can only imagine the pain of this betrayal.  However,  in parting, Metoyer gave her a yearly annuity and a plot of land  on the banks of Cane River, which allowed her finally to be independent.  She built a house, farmed tobacco, raised cattle and trapped bears, and slowly accumulated more land.  Because of this size of her businesses, she eventually  took on slaves  to work her land.  Again, we can only imagine her sentiments at becoming a slaveowner after having gained her own freedom at such a price.  By some accounts, she did this in a desperate attempt to free her remaining enslaved children and grandchildren. Sadly, she was never able to free all of her children.

Melrose_Wash_House
Melrose Wash House Wikipedia Commons

Over time Marie Therese’s family became the leading family of Isle Brevelle, a thriving community of “gens de couleur libre”, free people of color;  business people, plantation and slave owners.      Cane River’s famous Melrose Plantation  was built by her son Louis over the period
1810-1832.    Melrose was completed by Louis’  son Jean Baptiste after Louis’ death. When Jean Baptiste died in 1838, the Melrose estate was valued at over $100,000. The Metoyer family owned Melrose Plantation from 1796 until 1847. http://bit.ly/1OCe35

(1) African American National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2008