Friday, March 11, 2011

Genealogist reveals Georgia Roman Catholic priests held slaves in 1921

Antoinette Harrell at National Archives, Walter C. Black, Sr., photographer

When genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell, shared her next finding with me yesterday, I was astounded.  I have come to the conclusion that not only do many peonage records exist, but the record-types are also quite varied.  So far, a few of the types Harrell has shared have been an NAACP letter to the Department of justice, a newspaper clipping, and a local courthouse constable record.

Senator (later US President) Warren G. Harding...Warren G. Harding, Image via Wikipedia

Letter to Warren G. Harding

The latest records that she shared which she unearthed in the National Archives on one of her many research trips happen to further reveal the scope of peonage particularly in Georgia.  The letter below was addressed to President Warren G. Harding notifying him of an article in the Columbia Sentinel, whose editor was a Georgia senator, disclosed the news that 65,000 girls were lost or went missing between 1920 and 1921. The second letter acknowledges the receipt of the first letter to the White House.

This letter found among  Dept. of Justice collection NARG60

This letter found among  Dept. of Justice collection NARG60

The number of girls missing is staggering.  The National Congress of Mothers appeared in Washington on April 27th to "file a plea" for the 65,000 missing girls who had not been found.  What is totally mind boggling is that according to the article, a "great majority of these girls were captured by Catholic priests and sentenced to slavery in the Houses of the Good Shepherd."

Bishop Keiley

Bishop Benjamin Joseph Keiley (1847-1925), Bishop of Savannah, is mentioned as having "a score or more" of the missing girls in Savannah, Georgia. There were laws instituted which gave authorities in Chatham County, Georgia the right to inspect his facility.  Act No. 548, Inspection of Private Institutions, was approved on August 21, 1916 and called for inspections of private institutions where citizens of Georgia are kept confined in Houses of the Good Shepherd, convents, private hospitals, asylums, and the like.

The law required:

  • an interview with each person confined in these institutions to determine why they were there, what labor they performed, and whether they desired to be there.
  • a report of dissatisfied persons confined in an institution was to be made known in open court or in the local newspaper.
  • persons held under involuntary servitude or persons whose liberties were being compromised were to be ordered to be released immediately.
  • there would be prosecution for false imprisonment.
Even though this law was in place to protect the citizens of Georgia and it was charged that the House of the Good Shepherd under the stewardship of Bishop Keiley, held some of the "missing girls," authorities were not allowed to inspect.  According to the Columbia Sentinel editorial, Bishop Keiley "informed them that he gets his laws from Rome, and, therefore, he cannot recognize laws made in this country."

Screenshot of Benjamin Keiley, The New Georgia Encyclopedia

"I am not surprised at the Vatican's involvement because of their involvement in slavery.  This is just one of the untold hidden truths that has been uncovered," said Antoinette Harrell.  I began to be curious about why Bishop Keiley felt that he was above the law and could not be held accountable by Georgia law.  I discovered that Bishop Keiley served in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in 1864 under Robert E. Lee.  When he died, a Confederate flag was draped near his coffin, and a wreath from the United Daughters of the Confederacy was at it's foot.

Also "Keiley publicly criticized President Theodore Roosevelt for inviting Booker T. Washington to the White House, and once stated: In America no black man should be ordained. Just as illegitimate sons are declared irregular by canon black can be declared irregular because they are held in such contempt by whites."  See Benjamin Joseph Keiley. See also the address of Bishop Keiley delivered before Confederate Veterans on April 26, 1902 on page 125 below.

Unanswered questions

So these questions remain:  What happened in the end?  Was there a cause for concern about African Americans confined as wards in House of the Good Shepherd?  What forces protected this Bishop from being prosecuted for refusing inspections required by Georgia law?  Why did he refuse inspections?  Why did he resign in March 1922? Was failing sight the real reason? See BISHOP KEILEY RESIGNS.; Failing Sight Causes Retirement of Savannah Prelate at 74.

Portland State University students

Portland State University students under the direction of Professor Clare Washington and genealogist, Antoinette Harrell, will work to shed more light on this issue.  Stay tuned to the articles on this blog about peonage, involuntary servitude, and sharecropping which will be used a part of the course syllabus.  Also Nurturing Our Roots BlogTalkRadio show will be used as a classroom for the students.  Special guests have been lined up during the Wednesday evenings students meet including those who have lived in the shadows of slavery.

No doubt students will discover other articles in the Columbia Sentinel that address peonage.  The letter to Warren G. Harding mentions a second article:

"You will observe that the leading article on this page states that it remains to be seen whether the people of this country shall be blessed by the hypocrisies and false pretenses of Warren G. Harding as they were by Woodrow Wilson, and that the Roman Catholic Church dictates to Harding, just as it dictated to Wilson."

Tracing Georgia families

How would one tracing a family with one of these missing girls proceed at this point?
1.  Trace each member of the family group on each census (especially 1910-1920).
2. Locate girls if possible on 1930 Census (some may have married).
3. Check Georgia death certificates.
4.  Search state and federal peonage records (not indexed).
5. Learn about procedure for reporting missing persons.
6.  Research local newspapers.

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

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1 comment:

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