Monday, August 22, 2011

Few Safeguards Between the Youth and Human Traffickers

Human trafficking is more widespread in poor economic times. This is not an evil that is far removed from us. Many fall of our young people are falling victim to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude and more. Children as young a 12 are falling to these predators. We are not immune to it in the United States.  Cases have been reported in every state. 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States each year. See Human Trafficking:  Facts and Figures.

It is surprising that after all these years, we have not a suitable description of human trafficking which would help us identify the perpetrators and prosecute them. Many of the jobs once held by our youth are not available to them because they have been replaced by more mature individuals. They have taken to the media and social networking to find employment.

They are falling victim to traps set for them appearing online as harmless employment opportunities. Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking.  We need to be on the lookout in our communities and know the signs of possible victims:

A victim:
  • Has unexplained absences from school for a period of time, and is therefore a truant
  • Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis
  • Chronically runs away from home
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
  • Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
  • Lacks control over her or his schedule or identification documents
  • Is hungry-malnourished or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
Additional signs that may indicate sex-related trafficking include:
  • Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, behavior, or material possessions (e.g., has expensive items)
  • Makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms
  • Has a “boyfriend” who is noticeably older (10+ years)
  • Makes references to terminology of the commercial sex industry that are beyond age specific norms; engages in promiscuous behavior and may be labeled “fast” by peers
              See Human Trafficking of Children in the United States. 

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Recommendation for About Peonage and Nurturing Our Roots

Antoinette Harrell, genealogist and peonage researcher, and researcher, writer, Robin Foster recently received a letter of recommendation from Professor Clare Washington of Portland State University for providing resources on About Peonage and hosting six episodes on Nurturing Our Roots Blog Talk Radio where students were able to receive supplemental resources, discuss blog posts on peonage, and ask questions.
Home in modern-day Fluker, Louisiana.  Walter C. Black, Sr., Photographer.

Before her course began, Professor Clare Washington flew to the Mississippi Delta to tour some of the areas most affected by poverty and peonage.  Antoinette took her on a tour of the area where Crawford Allen and his family were kidnapped.  See Crawford Allen and family sold for $20 in Fluker, LA.

For six weeks, Professor Washington, Antoinette, and Robin were able to interact with students on Blog Talk Radio, and each week the students shared their opinions and reactions from family and friends with whom they discussed the things they learned. It was very rewarding to engage in a dialog on so many levels with scholars, genealogists, researchers, students and the regular listening audience of Nurturing Our Roots.

Each of the following blog posts on About Peonage was discussed during episodes of Nurturing Our Roots:
Peonage letter leads Harrell to Oprah Winfrey's ch...
Genealogist reveals Georgia Roman Catholic priests...
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) knew slavery did n...
Jewish immigrants suffered peonage in United State...
Crawford Allen and family sold for $20 in Fluker,...
Thurgood Marshall notifies DOJ about 1943 peonage ...

Each of the episodes are available on Blog Talk Radio.  The following is the episode, "Thurgood Marshall Notifies DOJ about 1943 Peonage Case in MS:"

Thurgood Marshall notifies DOJ about 1943 peonage case in MS

Listen to internet radio with antoinette harrell on Blog Talk Radio

Professor Washington will continue to be able to access the resources at About Peonage and Nurturing Our Roots Internet Radio Show, and further resources are being developed for her next session in the fall.  This is just one of the many ways Robin Foster and Antoinette Harrell are using social media to educate both university communities and the grass roots about African American history and slavery in the 20th Century.

We appreciate the recommendation from Professor Washington has been made available with permission:

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Community is above self with South High Students and Columbus, OH Rotary Club

Antoinette Harrell and Robin Foster, Hosts of Nurturing Our Roots on internet radio and NOATV, wishes to honor Freshman Ambassadors, Tyler Fisher, Jaidon Price, Aaron Mullin, Ileesha White, Colin Stearns, Terry Davis, and Amber Reynolds of South High School in Columbus, Ohio.  What started as a school project has evolved into a major act of community service as these students are the catalysts for bringing much needed school supplies to school children of the Mississippi Delta.

These students are a shining example to us all of compassion and putting others above self.  Antoinette Harrell, is not just a genealogist and a peonage researcher.  Her knowledge has taken her to a new level. She is a relentless advocate of those who are suffer the effects of generations of poverty subsequent to slavery.

Her first contact with the South High came when Dr. Johnetta D. Wiley, principal of South High School, called to set up an interview at the request of Tyler Fisher.  Tyler contacted Antoinette Harrell for an interview to learn more about 20th Century slavery, poverty, and how she became involved.

I really like the way Ileesha White explained how they made the decision to chose a community within the United States:  "We've come to a conclusion that we should start with the United States before venturing off to others when people are in need here!"  Ileesha explained that they wanted to inform the student body and the staff members about what they learned from the YouTube videos and the interview with Antoinette so they all could help "make a change in the country and inform others" about what is going on right here in the United States.

This is a slide show that the students created using interviews:

The students also interviewed teachers and other students about peonage, and it is so wonderful to see them helping to educate their community. To me, there is no greater power than a student who has made his or or mind up to bring about change. Their desires have brought them a long way, and has inspired the Columbus Ohio Rotary Club to help in addition to arranging for the students to personally deliver the school supplies in time for the school this Fall.

I have never heard such excitement as you now can hear in Antoinette's voice.  She is so proud of these students for what they have done.  She created the slideshow below:

Antoinette is truly grateful to the Columbus Rotary and South High School principal and staff for the enormous support they have been to the students. She is also deeply touched by the recognition they have received, and that their accomplishment has not gone unnoticed.  We would like to thank Millie Broste of the Columbus, Ohio Rotary Club for all the support given to the Student Ambassadors of South High School. She is busy preparing to welcome the students to the Mississippi Delta.

"I am excited about this upcoming project.  Those students will be traveling here.  I just think that is wonderful. What I am hoping to achieve here is to introduce the South High students to those people they saw in the video. I would like the young people in the Delta to tell them what their everyday life is like. I want the students to interact with each other. I just want to listen and learn.  I want to see these children compare their lives having resources versus having no resources. I want to take the students to a town where there is no library, no bus stop, no mall. I want to be able to bring to them a life changing experience,"  said Antoinette.  Antoinette attributes social media as the avenue where the students were able to connect and have the opportunity to have this life changing experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mississippi Blues Queen, Sheba, and her escape from the Delta

Queen Sheba 

"We lived in a half house. Half of the house was gone. We did not have an outhouse. We had a portion that was kinda used for the outhouse. It was disgusting, but that was the way it was. The floors was all torn up. You had little pallets. You slept on the floor. All us kids used to pile together to keep each other warm. And then sometime we did not have a proper cover. I remember we put some old raggedy mattress on top of us to try and keep warm. Those shacks were really disgusting.  It was not just one big house. It was a half a house. And it was a whole in the middle of the house were you had to go to the toilet. You would go there rather than go out at night with the snakes."

To hear Queen Sheba recount the story of her life in the Mississippi Delta, you would think you were listening to one of the narratives of former slaves.  To hear her tell of her mother's escape from Sunflower, Mississippi from the grips of a plantation owner where her entire family planted and picked and chopped cotton, you would expect it occurred before 1865.  Not so.

Once Valledupar's main economic produce; CottonImage via Wikipedia

Queen Sheba was born Martha Booker and was one of the seven children her mother rescued from Sunflower, Mississippi in 1965.  Up to the age of twelve, Queen Sheba worked alongside her mother and siblings and grandparents in the cotton fields.

Harvesting cotton in the Mississippi Delta nea...Image via Wikipedia

"Oh man. I remember working sometimes as long it was daylight. As I sing in my song when there was just moonlight, we would be out there picking cotton then. I remember those times.

I had a couple of brothers that did not go to school. They would mostly do work. That happened to a lot of the black males. When they did not have a mule or a cow or a plow, they used one of them to do that,"  said Sheba.

Queen Sheba said her mother always hated Mississippi.  "She always wanted to leave there. When she left in '64, I always tell everybody she escaped Mississippi. She was just so glad to get away from there. It was in '64 when my mom first left. It was in May of '65 when she took us out of there, but there were so many of my friends that I knew whose parents just left them there. They left them with relatives and friends, and they didn't come back to get them.

I remember how we would pick cotton all summer, and at the end of the time of picking the cotton, there was no money. My mom would have a list at the grocery store that the white man owned property that we were sharecropping. All during the winter, you had to go there and get things on credit. So what would happen is at the end of picking all the cotton, you would have nothing because you would owe it all to the owner, the “boss man.” You would wind up no having anything.

My mom just got tired of that. She really got tired, so what she did one night was... She did not want to tell my grandparents that she was leaving because she knew they were going to be upset about it.  At that time I think it may have been about seven of us. She told us all that she was going to leave and that she was going to come back and get us. We went to the field this particular day, and she left us n the field. There was a sharecropper's bus, and she left and went to Florida, and our grandmother and grandfather found about it a little later on that night that mom was gone. 
Image at Wikipedia

It was something within her that drove her away from that place because she knew it was not right. She knew it was not right, and I guess that's the same thing in me. There is something that is driving me about Mississippi. There is something in me about that song, “Strange Fruit.” I love that song because there is something within us. The same thing that when there was something within Harriet Tubman. There was something in them. A lot of the people back then could not read or write like my grandfather. There was something within them. Our ancestors speaking within our genes, within our DNA telling us. It is in us. Move on! Continue! This is not where you are supposed to be. This is not it! Keep going! And my momma, there's something within her that made her not leave her children there. She wanted to come back and get her children. Something within her."

Queen Sheba is a Blues singer and a courageous woman.  She wants to help others who have experienced similar things in their life.  She was destined to tell her story through her music:

"Back home in Mississippi I was brought up singing in the fields and in the churches. That's how I started singing. It was a part of me because my father was a singer. My mother was a singer. I came from a whole family of singers. So it was just a natural gift. As far as the Blues, I really did not start singing the Blues until years later after I left Mississippi. I was ashamed to tell people I was from Mississippi. I didn't even want people to know I knew anything about the Blues. 

 Later on, as I got older, my true self began to come out, and someone observed me, a very wonderful pianist by the name of Josiah Israel. He would observe me singing. I would do a lot of Billie Holliday songs, standards, and jazz and stuff like that. He was telling me that the market was pretty tough for me because I was a little older and a lot of young ladies were out doing their thing. He felt that a market in the Blues would be perfect for me. I had the sound. I had the look. I had the history. I had been through it all. I had been dogged out by men, and been dogged out by life itself. 

So I was really prepared for it. As he was telling me these things, I said, 'that is my roots, singing the Blues.'  That is how I started getting into the Blues. I am being true to myself really instead of being out there trying to do all these other things which are not me.  I could do all those other things, but my heart and soul is there in the Blues. That's me. That's where I came from. That's why I am into it."

Queen Sheba has developed a healthy perspective about the tragedies she has lived through. In fact, she is excited to share the lesson she has learned.  

"My grandfather couldn't read or write, but he would travel different places. One thing he told me, he said, “Listen, anytime you are going someplace, like you are on the bus. Like you are on the Greyhound Bus and they make a stop at a rest area, and you cannot read the signs and you want to know where the bathroom is or where the food is at. All you need to do is watch the people. Watch the people because most of the time they are going to the bathroom or they are going to the food. So that has always stood out with me about my grandfather. He could not read or write, and I always wondered how he could keep up with counting money.

My grandmother loved baking cakes, and I loved when they made the quilts. They did a lot of canning, canning peaches and different stuff. She was very good at that, and I loved how she used to dress so...
nice with her pretty hats and all that.

So all that is still a part of me because even in my little yard now I am growing okra. I could still live off the land. That is in me. A lot of these people nowadays do not even know about that stuff. When you talk about the chicken and wringing their necks and all that stuff.

People still need to know how to live off the land. If you go in the woods, you need to know what kind of stuff you can eat and survive on in case you get lost in the woods. Most people don't. I knew from a child that when you a walk in the woods, you have to respect the woods. You can't just go walking in there not looking where you are going. You have to respect the animals in the woods. Snakes and stuff are everywhere. You have to know how to walk. Most people do not know how to do that. That is staying connected to nature, I believe.

I remember how we used to lay our head on the ground and listen to the ground and could hear animals coming. We could hear the rain coming because in the Delta, it is flat so you can ear stuff for a long ways. When you put your head on the ground, you can hear stuff coming from a long way off. What people remember that kind of stuff? We are losing it. People are ashamed of this kind of stuff now. This is what I am finding out. They are so tied to this new technology where everything is on the computer. Just hit a button and that is it. I think it is good that we have all this stuff, but I think the knowledge of those still should carry on just in case the computer one day does not work or just in case one day something happens.

 I remember we used to go get our fish. We used to do something they call muddying where you get over in the pond and muddy up the water. When you muddied up the water, all the fish would come to the top. Then we would have a little basket or a little dress or something to pick up the fish. We used call that muddying, muddying the water to get fish. Now I believe this kind of knowledge came all the way from Africa. This knowledge I am quite sure I learned from my mom or somebody, but that is how we got our fish and our craw fish and all that stuff. Muddying up the water and using little dresses like a net to get the fish. That was truly wonderful.

Queen Sheba can share many skills for survival that were passed down to her from her mother and grand parents.  They developed a particular way of living and getting by based on the difficult times they saw as cotton sharecroppers:

"My grandmother and grandfather and all of them would talk about not having enough this and that and not having enough food.  My grandmother and all of us wished that when we saw that Greyhound bus coming, we wished we could just get on that bus and leave. We all were hopeful about getting out of there one day.

I remember as far as my eyes could see there was cotton everywhere. There were huge fields.  About five families would be on one plantation, and each family had a certain set of cotton field to work as I recall. The plantations we were on were really big. My momma was telling me how this one particular person that was next us us had himself and his wife and one child. She and all her little kids outdid us picking cotton. If you were big enough to pick up a bole of cotton, you were in the field. If you were one year old and walking, you could pick up a bole of cotton. They trained you."

We will share more about the things Queen Sheba has learned that may help others in our next post.  Queen Sheba made contact with Antoinette Harrell on YouTube, and made contact so she could tell her story.  She felt great comfort sharing her story on Nurturing Our Roots with Hosts Antoinette Harrell and Robin Foster.  Please take the opportunity to listen to the messages in the Blues songs by Queen Sheba on her album, "Butter on My Roll."  Also, listen to the Nurturing Our Roots episode "Sheba, the Mississippi Queen of Blues," here:
Listen to internet radio with antoinette harrell on Blog Talk Radio
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Remember on Juneteenth slavery did not end in 1865

[African American cotton plantation workers, h...Image by New York Public Library via FlickrWe have identified new avenues that have not been previously considered through the lens of genealogy.  Recently we have provided examples of records documenting peonage after 1865 surrounding topics such as chain gangs, asylums, orphanages, the circus, and more.

Without delving into some of these records there are those who may not be able to identify an ancestor. Equally or more important is the fact that after slavery was outlawed, the slave master engineered a new system to extract the labor and resources from African Americans involuntarily. How does one go about revealing a system  such as this which if you call it slavery or peonage, people deny it exists because it has been declared illegal under those terms? Well, we have living examples of people who are coming forward to share their experiences living in modern slavery in America.

Recenty on Nurturing Our Roots internet radio, we interviewed Blues singer, Sheba, Queen of the Mississippi Blues.  See album, Butter on My Roll.  After her mother became frustrated about working for the "boss man"  growing and picking cotton and always owing him at the end of the year, she decided to leave without even telling her parents.  Her children watched her depart from the field late at night.  She was gone for about nine months.  She, unlike most parents, returned to Sunflower, Mississippi for her seven children in 1965.  There was only one catch.  Athough the family had worked hard to bring in the cotton crop in her absence, the "boss man" still claimed Sheba's mother owed him and had to pay in order to keep anything from happening to her before he would let her leave that place with her children to go to Florida.

Sheba's mother would work all year, and after the debts were settled, she barely came away with forty dollars for a year's work.  That, my friends, was the labor system that took the place of slavery.  It was not called slavery anymore, however, entire families worked in cotton fields for no pay because the books were adjusted to show they had over-extended their credit.  They would remain trapped in a system where they would never know increase.  According to Sheba, cotton picking has been replaced today by catfish farming.

When her family escaped from Mississippi in 1965, they went to Florida where at the age of 12, Sheba lived in a labor camp and worked alongside the tomato pickers with other Mexicans and Blacks.  The new condition was only slightly fairer than the one they had left.

So, even though the freedmen in Galveston, TX were late in hearing about Emancipation, we are here to issue a second such notice which is more than 150 years overdue.  A form of slavery continued well into the 20th Century for thousands of African Americans.  Millions of records documenting involuntary servitude exist in the National Archives and local courthouses and libraries.  Only the term "slavery" was nullified because it could not be applied after being declared illegal weakening the ability to prosecute while the system still existed and even intensified.

We will have more to share in upcoming posts on Sheba's experiences, but for now in response to the various Juneteenth celebrations we have this to offer:

"I am here to issue a telegram that is over 150 years overdue.  I would like to know how many Juneteenth celebrations will disclose the fact of slavery in all forms and slavery into the 20th Century?  I would like to know how many of them will be including the fact that slavery did not end with Emancipation.  Juneteenth should be about more than just celebrating and face painting, and fashion shows and music.

 I come to bring a report that slavery still exists, and people are still living in poverty on the plantation.  Children are being used as sex slaves.  I would like to ask that the organizers of Juneteenth celebrations to please make this announcement.

It is so hard to believe that the Civil War did not really set us free?  Was it just an act or just a bill?  Are we free? Are we free to keep our children from the prison system?  If anything we are still in Reconstruction. We need to educate during Juneteenth celebrations.  I cannot celebrate Juneteenth unless I would be able to go and teach and bring new substance.

To those of you who celebrate freedom, I do not have anything to celebrate until I know that the last person is off the plantation and we have done everything and can give a report about slavery in the 20th Century. It is an injustice to celebrate freedom in 1865 and not look at 20th Century slavery.  We cannot reconstruct anything until we have all the facts.

Some families just received their freedom in the 1960's.  Do we not believe that these families are still in Reconstruction trying to adapt to a system and in need of the resources that will bring them up to the level of the 21st Century? 

For example, they are without energy efficient homes with air conditioning and heat, and some are without homes. In some deep rural areas throughout the South they are without  public transportation, and some are without private transportation.  They lack federal and state resources that can empower them.   If we continue to only discuss slavery in the past tense, we will continue to overlook the existence of new forms of slavery.  We fail to realize poverty was the result of slavery. If we continue to focus on slavery in the past, we will not be able to identify the new forms of slavery." Antoinette Harrell, genealogist and peonage researcher.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Part 2: The kidnapping of young boys, Eko and Iko, and the circus

We recently shared information about Eko, Iko, and Clicko who were forced to work without pay for the circus in the article:  "Eko, Iko, & Clicko kidnapped and forced into Barnum Circus."  Clicko was kidnapped from South Africa at a different time than the brothers Eko and Iko.  Eko and Iko were kidnapped in 1899, and we are working our way back in the research to determine what happened to them before they crossed paths with Clicko where they all performed in the same circus act in the 1920's.

The first time that genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell, heard of Iko and Eko was in a local Mardi Gras song about local Indians.  She learned more about them in documents at the National Archives.  "There was time that the circus took people with mental and physical disabilities.  Although they were handicapped, they were beat, drugged, mistreated, and lived a miserable life.  There were no human right's organizations back then to protect them from abuse, " said Antoinette.

Charles Rubenstein, Eko, Clicko, and Iko

Since our purpose here is to share records documenting peonage and reveal the history of African Americans trapped in involuntary servitude that far below the radar of records such as census records, we are sharing the following copy of a letter submitted to the FBI in 1946 by a man who traveled with the Clyde Beatty Circus for three or four summers in Illinois at the same time as Iko and Eko.  Please click on the documents to see them in full screen:

Department of Justice, NA, RG60 
Submitted by genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell. 

Department of Justice, NA, RG60 
Submitted by genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell. 
The name of the individual who submitted this letter has been withheld.  He learned about the kidnapping of Eko and Iko from their own account, and he was eyewitness to the conditions they lived under.  The description of their living quarters with thousands of bed bugs is particularly gruesome.

Also unfortunate is the fact that the first side show operator who kidnapped them died and they were just passed to a new owner.  We know that Clicko was dead by time and that they had performed together in the Barnum Circus.
Clyde Beatty Circus ad submitted byAntoinette Harrell

This happens to be the most disturbing piece of oral history which I have ever read, however, it reveals the fact that  circus records can definitely be included among sources to consider when for documenting ancestors who were trapped in peonage.

Eko and Iko in 1937. Submitted by Antoinette Harrell

"Peonage was worse than slavery.  The inhuman treatment that occurred during slavery was supposed to be abolished. Not until the later part of 1920 was it obvious that there were those who still had to serve without volunteering and without being paid,"  said Antoinette.

Please check back. Antoinette will share her thoughts on the contradictions between Juneteenth celebrations and the knowledge gleaned from historical documents that 20th Century slavery did exist for scores of African Americans.  Some of their descendants remain in poverty and on the plantation today. 
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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Eko, Iko, & Clicko kidnapped and forced into Barnum Circus

Charles Rubenstein, Eko, Clicko, and Iko performing.  Submitted by Antoinette Harrell.
You may find it hard to fathom, but in 1899, two small lads, 6 year old Eko and 7 year old Iko,were kidnapped from their mother in Roanoke, Virginia after being scouted previously for the circus.  They crossed paths between the 1920's and 1930's with an African also forced into peonage.  They performed across the country for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus with Franz Taaibosch aka Clicko, "The Wild Dancing Bushman," who was kidnapped from Kimberely of Cape in South Africa by Morris "Paddy" Epstein.  Franz was paraded across England, France, Cuba, and the United States. 

This is our first discovery of an enslaved African brought to the United States and forced into peonage.  To learn more about Franz' story, see "Clicko"-  The story of Franz Taaibosch- yesterday's Caster Semenya.  This book is also available at Amazon:  
What type of society would nurture or find amusing the publicizing and the parading of the unfortunate individuals which where exploited by others for profit in so-called "Freak Shows?"  According to author, Robert Bogdan, freak shows were very popular in the United States between 1840 and 1940 and "freak hundreds of shows crisscrossed the United States exhibiting their  dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and others.  Why was this form of entertainment acceptable for hundreds of years.  The book is available on Amazon.  Freak Show:  Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement.  From Clicko, Eko, and Iko, we understand that these shows were internationally popular.

This form of public entertainment existed earlier in Europe. Unfortunately, this same type of entertainment became popular in the United States and many were engrossed with exhibitions which exploited African Americans as well.  See "P. T. Barnum and the Birth of the Freak Show:"

“P.T. Barnum and the Birth of the Freak Show,” The History Channel website, (accessed Jun 5, 2011).

In the next post, genealogist, Antoinette Harrell, will share a record that she discovered in the National Archives that will reveal more about Eko and Iko.  Check back soon.

More Links:

Clicko:  The Wild Dancing Bushman (University of Chicago Press)

Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Route Book, 1950

Eko and Iko, The Remarkable Life of Willie Muse

Friday, April 15, 2011

Chain gang records have genealogical value

Chain gang, Library of Congress

Chain gangs originated in Georgia almost fifty years after the Civil War and were the second type of outdoor convict labor to originally exist.  They ceased to exist in 1960. The other type of labor was prison farm labor. When African American genealogists and family historians who are in search of historical records to document ancestors may find the following resources helpful:
  • census (listed as an inmate)
  • newspaper
  • court records
  • oral history
Antoinette Harrell, genealogist and researcher, has shared an example of a chain gang record:

"As long as I have been conducting genealogical research and attending different seminars, no accredited genealogist has taught me to look at records such as these.  Chain gang records, asylum records, mineral and lease documents, and lynching records, are very important records to consider for documenting ancestors.
Failing to work public road: Chas. Wilson, 25th Judicial Court Record, State of Louisiana, St Helena Parish, 1923

Perhaps the reason African Americans overlook these records is because genealogy has been labeled a hobby which people want to enjoy.  These records are not fun, and once you learn about a family member who was once lost, it takes a long time for the feelings to go away.  We have no problem embracing famous ancestors, but we do not want to embrace the ones who wrestled with the darker side of life.  That is too painful.  We push them back.

Any record that has someone's name, place, event, or a date has genealogical value.  Most of these records are not indexed.  I am creating a database for asylum records, but these record types are difficult to research.  These are possible reasons people try to avoid them," shared Antoinette.
History of the chain gang
    "Chain gangs flourished throughout the South and by the 1920s and 1930s chained prisoners, mostly black, became a common sight along southern roadways. Georgia grasped the economic and social benefits of the chain gang, which soon developed into the “good roads movement.” “Bad boys,” a Georgia folk saying went, “make good roads.” Hired labor and even conscription had proved unreliable in the past, as free men were not disposed to work the roads if they could help it."  See Chain Gangs at Online Encyclopedia.

     Prisoners, who were also women, would be chained together to perform hard labor such as road work, ditch digging, or chipping stone as a form of punishment.  The introduction of the chain gang brought great economic benefits to the South, but the conditions of the unfortunate prisoners caught in the system was much like that of slavery.  From slavery to the convict lease system, the only real difference was that the "master" or one in control went from the plantation owner to the federal government itself under the guise of the United States Agricultural Department's Office of Public Roads.
    Southern Chain Gang, Library of Congress

    "To a southern black prisoner there was little difference between his situation as a slave on the plantation, as a leased convict forced to toil in the coal mine, or as a chained prison worker on the roads. The chained southern black man on the southern county road had been transformed from the plantation owner’s chattel into a “slave of the state.”
    The state now became the actual master responsible for the welfare of a growing pool of forced black labor. Black prisoners labored and even slept together, with chains fastened through their feet and around their ankles. Their rations were infested with maggots. With an armed white overseer, the black convict slaved from sunup to sundown. Brutalities, corporal punishments (beatings with a leather strap, thumpings with rifle butts and clubs) and outright torture, were commonplace. Major atrocities, such as the staking treatment (chaining an inmate between stakes and pouring molasses over his body while flies, bees and other insects crawled all over him); the sweat box treatment (locking a prisoner for days into a wooden box that was neither high enough to stand nor deep enough to sit, while temperatures exceeded one hundred degrees); and the Georgia rack (stretching the inmate between two hooks with a cable and a turn crank) were all meted out for the most trivial disobedience."
     The chain gang was re-introduced:

    See also: Sheriff runs female chain gang

    For lectures, interviews,  and more information on the subject of peonage, contact:
    Antoinette Harrell  504-858-4658

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    Friday, March 18, 2011

    African American genealogical records yet to be unearthed

    Asylum records in local parish and county courthouses are an important genealogical resource.  The most brutal and harshest conditions that former slaves endured occurred after Emancipation.  Transitioning to a new way of life from slavery to pseudo-freedom, realizing freedom did not elevate one to a higher social station, and being submitted to unjust treatment took its toll. Some lost their sanity.

    Stress made some lose sanity

    "Due to the horrific atrocities that happened to some ancestors, it was too much to handle.  They had to look at lynchings, beatings, mistreatment, undernourishment, and being overworked.  There were those who could not hold on to sanity,"  said genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell.   "Some endured a lot of harsh treatment and watched their communities and loved ones suffer.  Some of them were descendants of slaves who were sold away and they still suffered because of being so closely associated with the former plantation."

    Antoinette is only two generations from her ancestor, Alexander Harrell, who was born a slave in 1859.  Her grandfather, Jasper Harrell, Sr. was the son of Alexander Harrell.  Her mother is the granddaughter of a slave (Alexander Harrell).  Slavery was not that many generations ago for many African Americans.  I am also a great granddaughter of a slave on three lineages.

    "Some of them saw so much, and they could not talk about it with anyone.  They had to deal with so much injustice such as being jailed and beaten.  If it drove you insane, it drove you insane," said Antoinette.  For many years after slavery African Americans were not admitted to hospitals or asylums.  When the South was forced to address the issue, African Americans were admitted to institutions run by former Confederates. 

    Below:  Antoinette Harrell, conducting courthouse research

       Photographer, Walter C. Black, Sr.

    Asylum records are "out the box"

    Today, Antoinette shared the asylum record below, and she stresses the fact that medical records are private and are not shared due to privacy laws.  However, these records are available in courthouses.  She says that we must realize for African Americans conducting genealogical research, we are just getting started.  There are many more records to be revealed and studied.

    "In the early seventies, the first knowledge about genealogical research came through Alex Haley, the author of Roots.  We really did not get started until the early nineties when genealogy became the number two hobby.  It took ten years to realize it is not a hobby,"  said Antoinette.

    "We have to look outside the box outside of census records, marriage records, death records, social security records, and birth records.  We do not know what is outside the box.  Record types vary.  Asylum records are a rich genealogical resource. They give the name, age, condition, residence, birth place, information about who the person was living with, diagnosis, and more," explained Antoinette. She said we have not yet examined Jim Crow records or Civil Rights records for example.

    Records do exist for African American research

    Antoinette also shared the fact that it is not that we hit brick walls because records do not exist to provide the documentation that we need.  The records do exist!  They just have not been revealed by African American researchers.  Records exist which are so rich and vital to African American genealogical research.  Antoinette discloses that some do not want to reveal them because they will show we were still enslaved.

    "The picture cannot be complete until every piece of the puzzle has been revealed.  If a record contains a name, date, birthplace, something about an ancestor, that makes it a genealogical record.  The records of prominent families in an area are maintained in archives, museums, associations, and local and university libraries.  There is no problem obtaining grants to preserve this history.  Resources, funds, and manpower are devoted to researching, documenting, and preserving the files," said Antoinette.

    Antoinette explained that most of the time, African Americans go in search of a particular document, when we need to go to learn about the courthouse and the courthouse records "simply because there is no educational tool that will educate about a parish or county that is being taught in secondary education or higher."  The history that pertains to genealogy is excluded.  

    We have to "go through every courthouse and look at the index of all books that are in that courthouse."  This is how we will learn about records "outside the box."  Antoinette suggests that genealogists should also search records of pioneering families, university libraries, state archives, and local libraries.

    Insanity of H. Wheeler of St. Helena Parish. LA

    The following is the 25th Judicial Court Record in the matter of the Insanity of H. Wheeler of St. Helena Parish. LA on May 24, 1914.  Extract the vital information about H. Wheeler below and decide on the best way to discover more about is wife, and mother.  Hint:  Louisiana Deaths from 1900-1940 are indexed on

    25th Judicial Court Record in the matter of the Insanity of H. Wheeler of St. Helena Parish. LA on May 24, 1914.

    25th Judicial Court Record in the matter of the Insanity of H. Wheeler of St. Helena Parish. LA on May 24, 1914.

    25th Judicial Court Record in the matter of the Insanity of H. Wheeler of St. Helena Parish. LA on May 24, 1914.

    25th Judicial Court Record in the matter of the Insanity of H. Wheeler of St. Helena Parish. LA on May 24, 1914. 

    25th Judicial Court Record in the matter of the Insanity of H. Wheeler of St. Helena Parish. LA on May 24, 1914.

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    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Jewish immigrants suffered peonage in United States

    "Try to save me, dear cousin.  Maybe it will be useless and we will never see one another again.  They have fooled me to this place, where I cannot escape.  I am beaten because I am not strong enough to carry big boards, and beating does not give me any more strength. For twenty days, I have been sick with fever.  They will not let me go.  The company says that I owe money for food.  Try. try, and release me.  Colored men with guns guard me, and I cannot escape.  This is worse than Russia, and I thought it was a free country,"  Jacob Lerner.
    Published in The New York Times, "Woman Lawyer Heard of Peonage Cases," July 23, 1906

    I was so taken back by the horrific experiences of immigrants to the United States who were trapped by the system of peonage that I wrote What is history without historical documentation? on About Our Freedom where I explain my policy of treating historical documentation as if I am color blind and how cheated I feel after my parents provided a private school education for me only to learn I know so little about historical truths.

    I know most people assume that I am only an African American researcher, and they are grossly in error.  I am a scavenger of all record types and especially the rare ones no matter who they document.  I have been able to help people of all races find records to document their ancestors.  For that reason, I am not going to side-step peonage records replete with the oral history of immigrants and their experiences when they entered this country.

    Mary Grace Quackenbos and the Federal Campaign 
    against Peonage: The Case of Sunnyside Plantation
    Randolph H. Boehm
    The Arkansas Historical Quarterly
    Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 40-59
    (article consists of 22 pages)
    Stable URL:
    After genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell, shared the Department of Justice records documenting the peonage suffered by Jewish immigrants and others, I can now suggest, and she agrees, that those who have an ancestor who immigrated to the United States who disappeared or was unaccounted for in public records should search county and federal peonage records in the National Archives.

    As I have researched some of the personal experiences of these immigrants, I have come to understand that they were treated as slaves in most cases.  If you read the last post, Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) knew slavery did not end in 1863,  you will recall that the Tampa, Florida Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to Secretary of State Elihu Root in 1908 accusing Attorney Mary Grace Quackenbos of New York City of being a "discredited sleuth." 

    She actually had been appointed by the Department of Justice to investigate peonage in the turpentine industry in Florida.  She was also assigned to other states and industries which we will address in a future post.  Antoinette Harrell shared a list of affidavits taken from some witnesses to peonage in Florida on record in the DOJ peonage files:

    This letter found among  Dept. of Justice collection NARG60

    Even while aboard vessels bound for the United States, immigrants learned about advertisements which promised pay for work luring them South to Florida to Buffalo Bluffs and other locations not disclosed beforehand.  Once there, they signed contracts which may or may not have been translated for them to understand.  They were at times misled by false statements in labor contracts and found themselves being charged for food, water, and travel even before the first day's work.

    Antoinette also shared the sworn statement below given by Jewish immigrant, Heinrich Yonge, on August 15, 1906 and witnessed by Mary Grace Quackenbos.  Yonge found passage aboard the Kroonland from Antwerp (See Germany Emigration and Immigration) where he learned from a cook aboard the ship about work in the South advertised in the newspaper.

    He made an agreement to be taken to Buffalo Bluffs, but after leaving, he discovered they tried to take him to Maytown until he protested. At Buffalo Bluffs he signed a contract where he would be given "not much work" for $1.25 a day and later $1.75.  Transportation would cost $13.00.

    Jews and German immigrant workers were housed separately.  He said the Jews were treated "shamefully."  They were not given mattresses and were "hit" more than the Jews.  Yonge was eventually given a little authority over the other workers.  He was made a deputy sheriff and one of the colored guard's gun was taken and given to Yonge.

    He was told that if he saw anyone running away, he could shoot them.  When men did run away, he always said he did not see them.  He did on one occasion protest when another guard drew his gun to shoot a group of escapees.  Read the testimony in its entirety below:

    This letter found among  Dept. of Justice collection NARG60

    This letter found among  Dept. of Justice collection NARG60

    According to Antoinette Harrell, those most effected by peonage were: Hungarians, Jews, Polish, Mexican, Native Americans, Italians.  Even though many immigrants suffered, the majority were African American, and even though several cases went before federal courts, many many more were never heard or brought before the federal court.

    "The institution of peonage had an effect on everyone, and everyone profited from companies, banks, stockholders, and political associations," said Harrell who questions why presidents who had knowledge of this information and these injustices did not do more to end it.  She raises a valid point when she says there was a need for a second emancipation.  I feel that this discovery of peonage among immigrants to the United States will help to reveal the plight of African Americans who suffered under this institution simply because their case and stories were not as readily heard in federal court. 

    Already, I have discovered peonage in the time period and places where my ancestors lived where the records and oral history are silent.  I no longer need to look through the glass darkly, but can glean more about their experiences through the eyes of immigrants who have existing local and federal documentation.  This much the same way that African Americans discover more about their ancestors through slaveholders' estate records.  Stay tuned...much much more to come!

    Many thanks to Antoinette Harrell for her sacrifices to bring this history forward!

    To learn more about the history about how the peonage immigrant investigation began see page 83 of The shadow of slavery: peonage in the South, 1901-1969  By Pete Daniel:

    For lectures, interviews,  and more information on the subject of peonage, contact:
    Antoinette Harrell  504-858-4658
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