May 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
In 1912, an article entitled More Slavery in the South was published by The Independent. (The online source, Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, does not give the location of The Independent, but I assume they refer to the New York newspaper that was published from 1848 to 1921. The newspaper covered social topics, primarily opposition to slavery and religious subjects.) The article was written by a reporter from a transcription of an interview with an anonymous African-American domestic worker living in Georgia. The interview documents the other side of the loving and loyal mammy myth. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 15, 2013 § 1 Comment
Lillian Smith (1897 – 1966) was a remarkable Southern white author, educator and activist who spoke out all her life against injustices, in particular the impact of segregation on blacks and whites in the 20th century South. In her seminal work, Killers of the Dream, she draws on memories of her own childhood to describe the psychological and moral costs of the powerful, contradictory rules about sin, sex and segregation—what she calls intricate systems of taboos that still undergird US society. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 15, 2013 § 9 Comments
In the 20th century, it was common for white families in all parts of the United State to hire African American women as maids. Usually this job included taking care of children, sometimes actually raising them from infancy.
It is obvious that the presense of African American caretakers in the homes of whites would sociologically and psychologically transmit cultural and behavioral information between the caretaker and child. However, this impact may be deeper and more persistent than we have previously thought. The scientific theory of epigenisis hypothesizes that behaviors, actions and thoughts can trigger changes in the functioning of a gene without affecting the inherited qualities of the DNA genome. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 13, 2013 § 3 Comments
Simms and Llewellyn Interview
In 1994, I conducted an interview with my first cousin, Simms Oliphant, about Llewellyn Rowe Hopkins—an African American woman who worked for our grandmother for 50 years. The interview was done as part of my early research for the documentary film, Shared History. Shared History is a PBS film about the connection of the descendants of the enslaved families at Woodlands Plantation and my family, who were the slave owners.
February 23, 2012 § 2 Comments
Bringing Up “Mammy”
It is past time to bring up the issue of “mammy”—the cultural icon created in the antebellum South by slave owners looking to soften the image of slavery and give authority to their paternalistic ideal. Mammy flourished during Reconstruction and has persisted through the present. In the late19th century, she was portrayed as a faithful beloved slave—a loving, trusted, and self-sacrificing servant who took care of both black and white children on the plantation—hardly a slave at all. In the 20th century, mammy evolved into a large, soft, dark-skinned woman, often good natured, sometimes firm. She was viewed as safe and un-sexual and was often described as one of the family. Amongst other duties of housekeeping and childcare, she was likely a valued cook. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 3, 2012 § 7 Comments
I found this tribute online at a website called Southern_Style. It is reminiscent of so many other tributes I’ve read. This one is particularly lacking in awareness of what “Mammy” thought about her relationship with the author’s family and how segregation and racism affected her. Where is the appreciation of her services? What I’m struck with, though, is how similar the feelings are that are revealed by the adult white children toward the beloved caregiver. In this tribute, the author says “…Mammy became as dear to us as our grandmothers.” With so many whites expressing their love and respect for their black caretaker, was there something about Africa American women in the 20th century that, beyond the stereotype, really did represent a pure ideal of maternal care? Or after a model was established by white child and loving black women during slavery, did housemaids and caretakers eventually contrive their affections because that was what was expected by the white family? How many white children were, perhaps, fooled? I hope to explore this issue in future posts. I would love to have your thoughts.
I REMEMBER MAMMY
Mattie Lee Martin (“Mammy”)
By one who loved her, Sharman Burson Ramsey
Thirteen year old Mattie Lee Martin took her mentally challenged older sister by the hand and led her down the rutted, red clay country road. Neither looked back. Mattie was determined her sister would not be abused again in their grandparents’ home. She’d finally accepted that her parents would never come back to get them. The road led to the town of Dothan, Alabama, and a life, Mattie Lee hoped, that would be better than the one they’d known on that god-forsaken farm. « Read the rest of this entry »