Monday, March 14, 2011

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) knew slavery did not end in 1863

Slavery, involuntary servitude, and peonage are all relatively the same thing as argued by Assistant Attorney General, in November 1908 (See The shadow of slavery: peonage in the South, 1901-1969, by Pete Daniel, page 105).  Persons in these conditions all suffered from being held against their will, forced labor, and the like. The reason the term peonage was adopted was because prosecuting someone based on the enslavement of another left an open door to a defendant. The objection was that since slavery had been outlawed, no one in the United States could be convicted of it because it did not exist. Crazy, right? What if we could not convict someone for murder because it was considered not to exist only by the virtue of it being outlawed?

Peonage and involuntary servitude became substitutes for the word slavery. I reserve the right here to use these words interchangeably because I feel they are all relatively the same. Just keep in mind that prosecutors needed to distinguish between slavery and peonage in order to secure convictions. The word peonage  lessens the severity because not many can define it. We know a great deal about slavery, and I would say, by any other name it is still the same. Who can define exactly what victims were subjected too under peonage? Perpetrators took the same liberties over those under peonage as they did under slavery when it existed. Crimes committed after 1865 were even more heinous than slavery, because laws against such acts had been instituted.

People such as Mary Church Terrell knew the practice of slavery had not ended. Both of her parents, Robert Reed Church and Louisa Ayers had been slaves. They understood the liberating power of education, and they sent her from Memphis, Tennessee where she was born to Antioch Model College School in Yellow Springs for elementary and secondary school.
Mary Church TerrellMary Church Terrell (1863-1954) Image via Wikipedia

At Oberlin College, Mary became the editor of the Oberlin Review and earned and became one of the first African American women to earn a bachelor's degree in 1884. She went on to teach at a school in Washington D.C. and at Wilberforce University in Ohio. After two years of study in Europe, she became fluent in French, German, and Italian.

Her accomplishments are too great to do justice here. I would suggest you read her autobiography, "A Colored Woman in a White World." Mary Church Terrell became a strong civil rights activist and was a leader in the woman's suffrage movement. See Mary Church Terrell to learn more.

"Mary used her education in journalism to bring awareness to the world that people where still held as slaves and that slavery did not end as alleged in 1863 for hundreds of thousands of people in 16 states and 27 counties," said Antoinette Harrell, "Notable people such as Mary Church Terrell, Thurgood Marshall, James Weldon Johnson, and Fannie Lou Hamer knew that slavery did not end."

Antoinette Harrell personally feels the importance of unearthing and disclosing records from such notable people in the world whose voices should be heard. As a writer and researcher, I feel compelled and honored to write about the peonage research of Antoinette Harrell and to bring to you the following documentation which Antoinette discovered in the National Archives which illustrates the frustration which Mary Church Terrell brought to those in Florida who upheld the institution of peonage.

This letter found among  Dept. of Justice collection NARG60
This letter found among  Dept. of Justice collection NARG60

The Chamber of Commerce in Tampa, Florida is responding to Secretary of State, Elihu Root, after he declined the invitation to attend an Immigration Convention. Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce seems rather agitated by what he perceives as governmental endorsement of "slander" about peonage in the South. The convention was planned to "show" that they were preventing peonage. 

Thompson expresses his anger about Department of Justice investigations and writings of Mary Church Terrell and others.  Even though Thompson says there was not enough evidence to convict. I will show in the next post that in fact, there were convictions.
"I am learning the hidden history by researching my own genealogy.  Documents such as these and other artifacts and memorabilia would not have been revealed if I had not been on my personal genealogy journey," Antoinette Harrell.

Last night, Antoinette's special guest, Fabiola Clark-Taylor, said that she had named her the "Bloodhound of Genealogy."  This is absolutely true.  Just recently, Antoinette proved beyond a shadow of a doubt how far her great diligence in searching and preserving will take her.  Look for an upcoming post on her latest find below on About Our Freedom.

           Antoinette Harrell salvages history, Walter C. Black, Sr. photographer

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

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