America’s Old West was undoubtedly a Wild West before an ex-slave named Mary Fields arrived in 1885 at a small railroad town in present-day Montana. Yet she certainly made things more interesting. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”
Last week, a patron showed me some photographs that she took of a crumbling London’s Primitive Baptist Church on London Church Road. The Church, built in about 1895, was moved to this site from Herring Avenue in 1992 to preserve the structure. All has not gone as planned and after a tree fell through the church sometime after 2013, it has been left as a ruin. The patron that brought me the photos had been trying to get Preservation Wilson to renovate the structure, but they said that it was the landowner’s responsibility. The church was deeded to the owners of American Museum of Music but after one of them died, the other was unable to take care of the important historic building. For more on the church, see this post in Black Wide-Awake.
Raines and Cox Studio got its start in Wilson, NC in 1947 and went about documenting Wilson’s history, culture and people up until the 2000’s. Guy Cox died a couple of years ago and his vast collection of mostly photographs and negatives were donated to the State Archives of North Carolina. I recently requested that they digitize the collection and the first fruits of this request are now on their Flickr page! Hopefully with more to come soon.
The images are from two albums from the 1940’s owned by probable Wilsonian, Henry Battle. The images and the metadata suggest that he was a US Army soldier during the occupation of Italy? (my guess, they suggest eastern Europe). The other album is from a trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In Slate magazine there is a great article entitled, “Why do so many Americans think that they have Cherokee blood?” This is something that I run into all the time with patrons whether they are white or black. My first thought when they say that a great great grandma was a full blooded Cherokee is, “Why a Cherokee? They didn’t live in Eastern NC.” If she was a Native American around here she would have been an Algonquin or a Siouan or a Tuscarora. But being part Cherokee in the US has come to be the Holy Grail of genealogy and the article tries to explain why this is and it is fascinating.
First, unlike many other tribes, the Cherokee had a tradition of exogamous marriages, which is marrying outside of their clan, and sought to marry European traders in order to seal alliances and secure reliable sources of European trade goods. This produced a large mixed-race population that wasn’t mirrored by other tribes.
Wealthy Cherokees adopted the European racial slave system and bought African slaves. Some of these Africans traveled with the Cherokee after their removal in the 1830’s and may have created interracial families.
The Cherokee traveled widely and took advantage of educational systems that put them in contact with whites and blacks, which could have led to intermarriage.
White southerners came to have an idealized, sentimental view of the Cherokee after their removal and their resistance to the federal government. And these whites in the 1840’s and 1850’s thought that by alleging a Cherokee ancestor or a “princess” they would be “… legitimating the antiquity of their native-born status as sons or daughters of the South, as well as establishing their determination to defend their rights against an aggressive federal government, as they imagined the Cherokees had done. These may have been self-serving historical delusions, but they have proven to be enduring.”
These myths and actual pairings of the Cherokee and other races have caused these beliefs to persist today.
But I think that race is a social construct and none of the different peoples that have lived side by side in the American South for to the past 500 odd years have existed in a vacuum, populations have always exchanged genes (called admixture) and even in the face of the rigidly stratified South this holds to be true. I have seen the evidence in patron’s and extended family member’s autosomal DNA tests.