BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery

June 29, 2015 § 2 Comments

Llewellyn Hopkins holding my uncle.

Llewellyn Hopkins holding my uncle.

I recently authored a post for the Coming to the Table blog, BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery.  Coming to the Table is a non-profit organization whose members include descendants of enslaved people and slave owners who come together to promote reconciliation and healing.  The blog focuses on the stories and observations of descendants who are “linked” by slavery–in many cases those who have researched their genealogy and met people whose ancestors had been in a slave/master relationship before the Civil War.  These linked descendants have usually encountered each other in the spirit of cooperation.  In some cases, friendships have formed and several pairs of these descendants share their stories to public audiences in communities across the country.  In  my post, Just Like Family, I suggest that many black and white people today are also “linked” by their relationship with African American women domestics who raised white children  as well as their own.   In my own case, I could be said to have both kinds of links in one person through my relationship with Llewellyn Rowe Hopkins.  Mrs. Hopkins was descended from enslaved people at the plantation in South Carolina that my family owned and was my grandmother’s maid for over 50 years.  Her ancestors stayed on at the plantation after the Civil War as tenants,  sharecroppers or domestics.  Although Mrs. Hopkins worked for my grandmother, she was very much involved with raising my sisters and me.  See a previous post on this blog for further details about Mrs. Hopkins and how she defied racism in my family.

Slavery in the South: 1912

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 »

Lillian Smith—Mid-century (20th) Views Of Segregation from a Southern Rebel

May 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

Lillian SmithLillian 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 »

Epigenetics and Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome

May 15, 2013 § 8 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 »

Llewellyn

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 HistoryShared 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.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing Up “Mammy”

February 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

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 »

I Remember Mammy

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 »

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