Monday, December 29, 2014

Who is the Unnamed Slave Boy in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana?

Photo Credit: Dr. Charles Smith
Under a oak tree in Hammond, Louisiana., you can find the gravesites of Peter Hammond, his wife, three daughters,  and the grave of a little boy who was his slave. No one has ever mentioned the little boy by name. He is referred to as the favorite "slave boy."

Hammond, Louisiana is located in Tangipahoa Parish.  The city of Hammond is named for Peter Hammond-(Peter of Hammerdal)- a Swedish immigrant who first settled the area around 1818.

In the Hammond Graveyard; The Hammond Vindicator, Hammond, Louisiana, Nov 5, 1977.  They counted eight graves, nine if they counted the one, unmarked, of a little negro, a pet of Peter Hammond, who he buried there in the early sixties.

The article also mentioned that the spot became a favorite one with Hammond and when a dedicated slave child died, his especial pet, he buried it there. The first grave in the Hammond Graveyard, a striking expression of a Southerner's love for his slaves.
Photo Credit: Dr. Charles Smith
Dr. Charles Smith was shocked and outraged by the anonymity of "favorite slave boy," Dr. Smith
contacted local officials and researched the library for clues to the identity of the unidentified child slave to no avail. He realized that Hammond, Louisiana., would be just the place to begin his second African-American Heritage Museum and Black Veterans Archives, where he educated today's generations of black youth who seem uninterested.

I know that I can say not only should we educate the youth, adults in the area need to be educated as well about their local history and the history of their ancestors as it relates to the area in which they live. As a genealogist and family historian, I'm committed to researching any information I can find on this little boy to give him his name if I can find it. My heart aches as I write and publish this article. He wasn't a pet, he was a human being.

A very special and warmed hearted thank you, Dr. Charles Smith for caring enough to do something in remembrance of the child who was a slave. There are many unmarked graves that hold our enslaved ancestors in the parishes of Tangipahoa and St. Helena, La., Today, I light a candle in remembrance of all of them. But especially for the little boy who is buried in Hammond, LA.

For those of you that will celebrate NewYears Eve 2014, can you at least stop to think about what January 1,  1863, meant to your enslaved ancestors? If it wasn't for them where would you be today?  Because we chose to forget our history, past, and present this is why so many unjust situations are repeating itself again.

Light a candle in remembrance of those who died as slaves. Light a candle in remembrance of those who died fighting for freedom. Your freedom was given to you, there were much bloodshed for a little taste of freedom. To say the least I'll call him "Freedom Child."

For further reading please visit the following sites:,_Louisiana.html

Women Making History in Kentwood, Louisiana

Irma Robertson taking Oath of Office
As National Women's History Month approaches in 2015, I know several women who are making history. This years theme: "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives," bring to mind two women in Kentwood, Louisiana., that made history this year. The newly elected Justice of Peace Irma Robertson, Ward 1 and Mayor Elect Irma Thompson Gordon. Matter of fact three women named Irma was elected this past election. Irma Holloway Clines was elected to serve on the Kentwood City Council.

Nurturing Our Roots Blog salute these courageous women who took Oath of Office to serve the people and Town of Kentwood, Louisiana. Irma Robertson was sworn in by Attorney Ethel M. Clay. The inauguration was held at the Lion's Club. Irma defeated incumbent David Sellers.

The Town of Kentwood, Louisiana Elected Its First Woman Mayor

Kentwood First Elect Female Mayor
Irma Thompson Gordon is no stranger to the Town of Kentwood Louisiana for services rendered. She retired from the Tangipahoa Parish School System after dedicating thirty-years educating children. Many students she taught at Kentwood High School remembered her at the voting poll this past election.

She is the daughter of the late Jimmie and Bertha Thompson. She's the proud mother of two children and the grandmother of five grandchildren. She attended O.W. Dillon Memorial High School and graduated from Kentwood High School in 1969. She earned a B.S. Degree at Southern University in Baton, Louisiana., and a Master's Degree at Southeastern Louisiana University.

She served on the Kentwood City Council for twenty-years; sixteen of which she held the position of Mayor Pro-Temp.  As Mayor-Elect, she plans to work hard to bring new business, small business chains, and social services to the Town of Kentwood, La., One of the issues we discuss was the outdated website that needs to be updated immediately so that the citizens of Kentwood, Louisiana can use to get updates and access information that is vital to the Town of Kentwood. One of her goals is to plan various activities for the youth, seniors and the town that will promo education as well establish entertainment entitles for families and children.

Mayor-Elect Irma T. Gordon and offsprings.
"She is the first female elected as Mayor of Kentwood, Louisiana., although as previously said she is no stranger to serving our community." It's surprising that she would choose her ninety-eight-year-old aunt to hold the bible that she used to be sworn on December 28, 2014, inauguration. She has a great respect for the elderly people in the community. One of her platform missions is to bring more programs to the Town of Kentwood for the elderly citizens.

I couldn't help but think about the time in which Ms. Geneva was born, a time when women didn't have rights. Many women of color fought for the right to vote.  The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women's Right to Vote was passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment guarantees all American women the right to vote.  Now Ms. Geneva was witnessing her niece being sworn in as the first female mayor elected to the Town of Kentwood. Although women in Kentwood, Louisiana., has been elected as Town Council members.

Please follow Mayor Gordon at

Sunday, December 28, 2014

In Remembrance of Enslaved Africans of St. Helena, Louisiana

As January 1, 2014 approaches, I couldn't help but think about what my ancestors and all the enslaved Africans and prisoners of war thoughtout Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes went through on January 1, 1863. They were held as slaves for four hundred years under the brutal evil acts of slavery at the hands of their white masters. It was on Thursday, January 1, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The 2015 News Years Day falls on Thursday.

There were a different type of fireworks that sparked the air. The sparks of freedom filled the air for hundreds of thousands of newly freed Africans who were held as slaves in both parishes. My ancestors being some of the enslaved Africans who cried tears of joy because the freedom bell rung. The Richardson, Vining and Harrell's were slaves in St. Helena and East Feliciana Parishes, Louisiana.

I'll be forever grateful to Stephanie K. Martin-Quiatte slavery database records for St. Helena Parish. Her extensive slave database can help many African Americans find their enslaved ancestors.

I found a man named "Wash" in a sheriff's sale in St. Helena Parish, Bailey Chaney vs. William Whitten on August 4, 1860 in the database she published.

State of Louisiana
Parish of St. Helena
Eigth Judicial District court  #2,40(?)
Bailey Chaney vs William Whitten

By virtue of a writ of Fieri Facina (?) issued from the honorable court aforesaid, in the above entitled suit, and directed to the Sheriff of St. Helena Parish, and State aforesaid, I have seized on and will offer for sale to the highest bidder at the courthouse door in the town of Greensburg on Saturday, the 4th day of August 1860, between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm of said day.  It being the first Saturday in said month all the rights title, interest  and claim of the defendant R.P. Lee in and to the following named property to wit:

A certain Negro named Wash, age of about 25 years and black in color.

Property pointed out by the plaintiff to satisfy the above writ and all cost.
Terms of sale, cash with the benefit of appraisment

J.J. Wheat, Sheriff
June 30, 1860

For more information please visit her databases at

Cleaning Out a Deceased Relative House

Antique Radio
If anyone has ever had to clean out the home of a deceased family member, they can tell you how challenging it could be. It’s something that most of us don’t want to think about or have to face. I've heard time and time again that someone cleaned out a family member’s house and threw away all the family papers, records, photographs and furniture. 

Yes, this can be a difficult task. It is a task that must be carefully thought about and planned. The first thing that I suggest is go through each room one room at time. Access the room, look at the items carefully and decide what you want to do with them. If there’s a group of people working together, put together a plan.

 If there is a person in charge, they should make it clear that nothing should be thrown away without consulting with the person in charge. If it is large furniture and large items, you can post little sticky notes on the items to say what you want. Whether you are donating to the Goodwill or giving them to a family member, it would help the people who are helping you to achieve your goals for the items. For the smaller items and personal items, it would help to get three boxes and put them in the middle of the floor. Mark each one as follows: Box one: keep; box two: donate to family members who want them; box three: donations for Goodwill. 

Photo: Unknown
Now, most important is the paperwork. No more than two people should handle the papers and other documents in the house if it can be arranged. The reason that I am suggesting this is to avoid having important papers and other documents thrown away. Too often this happens and people lose valuable documents and family papers because too many people were handling the documents.

Read every document carefully, and if you’re unsure whether it’s something you should keep, just hold on to it at least six months to a year. When it comes down to old photographs, please don’t throw them away. Check around and see if anyone in your family, church or community can recognize the people, places or know something about the location of the picture. If all else fails, please consider contacting your local university or genealogy society to see if they would take the photographs to be preserved.

Finally, please, if aren't pushed for a date to move out of the home, don’t be in a big rush. After all you don’t want to throw away important items, documents, and photographs that you would regret later.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Where Are the African-American Historic Landmarks in St. Helena and Tangipahoa Parishes?

Church in Reid's Community, Amite, LA 
I've traveled throughout St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes searching for one historical African American landmark. There are several places that should be preserved as National Historic Landmarks.  

Sweet Home Folklife Museum in Kentwood, LA.,  mission is to preserve African ancestry celebrated with artifacts in the museum, crafts, a walk through the Nature Trail, storytelling and you can witness an outdoor Baptism in Cool Creek. 

The African American Heritage Museum & Veteran Archives is dedicated to preserving, maintaining and educating the public on the history of African-American ancestors in the State of Louisiana and Tangipahoa Parish in collaboration with other entities of cultural interest throughout the United States of America and aboard through artistic endeavors.

Where are the places where African Americans pioneers lived, raised their family, the location where an important even took place, the home of someone who left a legacy in the community?  Whether its a school, a church or building that hold special memories that are important to you and the community. These landmarks help tell the story of the people who make up the fabric of their community.

The National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places invites you to explore the history and culture of Southeastern Louisiana, featuring historic places along the Mississippi River. African- American people in St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes has a rich heritage that needs to be preserved. One church comes to mind in the Reid Community in Amite, LA, a little church that should be on the preserved list. In Roseland, LA, there is the Big Zion School where African American students attended classes before integration.

Sweet Home Folklife Museum, Kentwood, LA
Because of social media, African-Americans from both parishes are sharing more photographs of family members and photographs from the earlier years. I was inspired to start a collection for photographs and other records at Southeastern Louisiana Studies three years ago. This collection is rich in photographs, funeral programs, church programs, family history and other documents of the people who live in both parishes.

It’s very disappointing to see so many people from St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes, who graduated from Southern University and Grambling State University not working to preserve historic landmarks, the history of the local people and the history of African American people. Many families have been in the parishes since these parishes were formed. I hope that the alumni of these schools and other social organizations can come together to preserve the history before it is lost. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Obituary of Gussie Fluker of Kentwood, LA.

Gussie Fluker
A long life, useful and fruitful, a Christian life, tells the earthly story of the late Sister Gussie Fluker. She was born in Kentwood, LA., January 29, 1883, the daughter of the late Bro. Wallace McGee and Sister Josephine Cutrer McGee. She was united in hold wedlock to the late Curtis Fluker and to this union was born two children. After the passion of her, she took the responsibility for the rearing of her five children. All of whom she became mother.

She became a member of Oak Grove A.M.E. Church at an early age and remained a faithful soldier in God's Army until she was called to rest on August 19, 1972. She was a member of Stewardess Board No.1, The Household of Ruth No. 1619, and Tangipahoa Christian Benevolent Association No. 3., She is survived by one daughter, Hollis Butler, one son Erwin Fluker, bout of Kentwood; one foster brother, Edward Eley of Chicago, III.; I grandson Percy Fluker, Kentwood; six foster children, and Wallace of Chicago, Frank of Glenburnie, Md., Eugene, Berkley, Calif., T.D. and Edmond of Kentwood; four great-grandchildren, two great-great grandchildren, a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives, and friends.

Please note that the information in this post is printed just as it is on the obituary. No correction or change has been made.

Source: Bernice Alexander Bennett

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bickham African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church History of Amite, Louisiana

My colleague, friend and Radio Talk Show Bernice Alexander Bennett sent me several obituary and other information that is vital to the history of African American people of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. She sent me this Cornerstone Service Program for Bickham African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

For anyone who are researching their family history these types of service programs and obituary can be very helpful and useful to you.

The Church History

In October 1796, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was founded in New York City. The organization grew out of the well-known dissatisfaction among the people of color over the kind of treatment received in services of the church. From the beginning, this independent movement of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was largely influenced and structured by James Varick. He was the consistent leader and was later the virtual pastor of the is first church called Zion.

Zion Church was incorporated in 1801 by the name, "The African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York " Methodist was always in the title to exhibit the retention of the doctrine and form of church government under which the denomination originated. "African" was prefixed to the rest of the title of the church because it was to be controlled by descendants of Africans in the interest of humanity, regardless of race, color, sex or condition. Another organization came into existence around the same time, with the same title, causing much confusion. Because of this, the General Conference of 1848 voted to make Zion a part of the denominational name.

As the growth of the Zion churches spread from city to city, village to village, it was affixed on the hearts of Mr. Leander Butler and Mr. Jordon Bickham to donate and acre of land in the Velma community, referred to at times as Bickham Town, for the purpose of constructing a Zion Church in order to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1878 Bickham Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was erected the acres of land and was named in honor of Mr. Jordon Bickham. Since that time preacher have preached, should have been saved, members have gone to the great beyond., but we here at Bickham Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church still cherish the memories of those who have contributed immensely to the upbuilding of God's kingdom.

Bickham Chapel A.M.E. Church, of the New Orleans District, is one of 14 churches in the Louisiana Conference. The leaders of this great organization are: Bishop Arthur Marshall Jr., Presiding Bishop; Reverend Hollis Callahan, Presiding Elder; Reverend Wille Gene Johnson, Pastor.

Our church is part of the A. M.E. Zion Church which believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ, Holy Ghost, the Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion, Resurrection, the Lord's Supper, forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.

The members are proud of their heritage and pledge to forever uphold and be governed by the laws of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. We further pledge to continue to life the name of Jesus who is our strength and our savior.

This church has has as pastors, God-like, devout Christian preachers: Rev. Nazereth, Rev. Joe Graves, Rev. Dillion, Rev J.S. McCall, Rev. P. A. Silas, Rev. S.C. Byrd Sr., Rev Charles Atherly, Rev. Hollis Callahan, Rev. Lemar Perry, Rev. Francis Williams, Rev. Charles Robinson and presently Rev. Willie Gene Johnson. These ministers have preached the gospel so that everyone could hear of Jesus, know of his goodness and see his works in the lives of men.

As we dedicate this church today, may it stand as a living monument that all the sons and daughters of Bickham A.M.E. Zion Church can rejoice and say we have come this far by faith.

Talking To Your Kids About Racism and Bigotry

This past weekend I wanted to take my grandchildren for a ride to look at some of the historical landmarks in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. We came up on an old store with a gas pump that appeared to be from the 50s in Roseland, Louisiana., right on Highway 51 North. As usual I wanted to photograph some of the building captures moments of the past.

What I didn't want to hold on too was some of the racism we as African American people had to face in Tangipahoa Parish. I was just about the same age my grandchildren are when I had to face the ugly faces of racism, and now my grandchildren met it as well.

We pulled up and waiting for the person who was taking photographs of the same building to finish take her photographs. The little old gray headed white woman didn't say a word to her. She allowed her to take her pictures. When my grandchildren and I started taking our pictures she rushed over there. My grandchildren spoke and wave at her several times and she refused to speak to them.

Once they got back to the car they started talking to me about how mean she was. They couldn't understand why she was so mean and hateful. I explained to them that some people are that way and the little old woman was one of those people.

As old as she is, someone would think that she wouldn't want die with those ugly feeling of hatred in her heart especially where children are concerned. We know that it wasn't only white people who patronized her store. Many African American people on the northern end of the parish patronized her business establishment.

After posting the photographs on Facebook this morning, a woman named Rochelle said," I remember going there when I was a young girl, as we were getting out of the car a little boys shouted something I won't repeat." I just told someone about that experience a few days ago. That just gave me chills. It probably the same lady too. I'll never forget that. It was my first real experience with racism.

It maybe hard to talk with your children or grandchildren about racism but we can't be afraid to talk with them about the ugly face of racism.

Look for the teaching moments and take the opportunity to teach them and by all means be truthful with them. Teach them to treat all people with respect and dignity. We can't alway keep our children shield from bigotry,  nor can we always shield them from people who are prejudiced.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Berlin Childress Gordon of Kentwood, Louisiana

Berlin Childress Gordon
On Monday evening the angel of silence invaded the Gordon family and with chilling fingers sealed the lips of a superannuated A.M.E. Minister and the oldest citizen of Kentwood, Louisiana. He was 102 years old.

Berlin C. Gordon, the son of the late Mrs. Julia Huff ( Gorman) Gordon and Mr. Henry Gordon, was born free on March 30, 1865 in Greensburg, Louisiana.

He was converted under the Rev. T.A. Wilson at Cross Roads A.M.E. Church, presently Turner's Chapel A.M.E. Church in Greensburg, Louisiana.

 He pastored 22 years in Mississippi and missed only one Conference; served 23 years in Louisiana and converted many souls during his service for the Masters. He was joined in Holy Matrimony three times, five children were born by the first union; none by the second and nine the third union.

He leaved on mourn a wife, Mrs. Sarah Singleton Gordon of Duck Hill, Miss; three sons: Hurley Gordon of Kentwood, La.; Milton Gordon of New York City, NY; Nathaniel Gordon of Vallejo, Calif; three daughters: Mrs Beatrice Sykes of Grenada, Miss; Mrs. Gladys Mondy of Duck Hill, Miss; Katherine McDougal of Clarkdale, Miss.; and a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

Berlin and Sarah also had a son named Berlin.  In 1920 the younger Berlin was living in East Feliciana, Louisiana in Police Ward 6, in the household with mother Sarah and his siblings; Alis, Oscar, Beatrice, Persillia and Moses Gordon.

Sources: Berlin's Gordon's funeral program obituary and the 1920 United States Census.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Historical Rosenwald School in Fluker, Louisiana

Fluker School
 Fluker, Louisiana

Fluker, Louisiana is were my paternal side of the family lived. Fluker is a small unincorporated town.

My father shared with me how life was for African American people who lived in Fluker, Louisiana.

Fluker, Louisiana was founded by Richard Amacker Kent and named for his father, a Confederated named James Fluker Kent. Fluker was the maiden names of Fluker Kent's mother, was was the daughter of Colonel Robert Fluker, a veteran of New Orleans.

Historic NameFluker School
Current Name
Building PlanOne-teacher type
Building TypeSchool
Budget Year1925-26
Current Address
Land (Acreage)2.00
CountyTangipahoa Parish
Application #3-E
Total Cost$1800.00
Additional Comments
Funding Sources
      » Negroes$300.00
      » Whites$1,000.00
      » Public$100.00
      » Rosenwald$400.00

Source: Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database

Historical Rosenwald School in St.Helena Parish, Louisiana

St. Helena Parish Colored School
Photo Courtesy of Dewayne Cook
My associate Leonard Smith III, sent me an email that got my attention about the historical Rosenwald School in Louisiana. 

Julius Rosenwald -(1862-1932) became interested in the welfare of Negroes established the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which had to be spent within 25 years of his death to better condition for Negroes through education. 

More than 5,000 schools for Negroes in 15 southern states( including Louisiana and especially St. Helena Parish). 

He became known as the father  of the Negro Parish Training School, a school for Negroes, located in a Negro community, usually a mile or two from a town.

Historic NameHarrell Industrial
Current Name
Building PlanTwo-teacher type
Building TypeSchool
Budget Year1928-29
Current Address
Land (Acreage)3.00
CountySt. Helena Parish
Application #30-H
Total Cost$2400.00
Additional Comments
Funding Sources
      » Negroes$850.00
      » Whites$260.00
      » Public$790.00
      » Rosenwald

Source: Fisk University Rosensald Fund Cart Database.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Share The Same Surname In A Small Town? Are We Related?

Minnie Nolan Harrell
Many African-American people, whose ancestors were slaves, carry the surname of the last slaveholder or the one they chose after the emancipation proclamation ended slavery in America to this present day. 

Children were sold away from their parents, and fathers & mothers were taken away from their children. Many a times they were sold to other plantations. Sometime the children who were slaves were given to the daughter or son of the plantation owner as a wedding gift to them, often time never to be seen by their family member again.

One of the first things that some newly freed slaves did, when they received their freedom was to started searching for their lost family members. Mothers walk miles looking for their children. Some men started an all-out search hoping to find their wife and children.

Point in case; if there are several people in a small community that carries the last name Hudson, and you ask them if they’re related to the Hudson’s in the same town. They may say to you that they aren’t. The first question that I ask them is “how do you know that you aren’t related to them?” They can’t answer that question because they don’t know if they are related to them or not.

As a genealogist, I hear that quite often.  One piece of advice I can give them is that i they would conduct their family history they would be certain of their history.  I always advise them to speak with the oldest person in the family and find out what he or she knows and if they are willing to share their family history with them. Ask questions about the family and sit back & listen to the answers.

My grandfather Alexander Harrell had other siblings that no one in my family knew anything about.  His siblings were John, Anow, and Marietta, and we know nothing about them or their descendants.  So my point is John, Anow and Marietta could have had children. So if someone asked someone in my family if they are related to the Harrell’s in Roseland, Louisiana, they just might tell you no. They could be the descendants of my great grandfather’s brothers and sister.

That is why it is important to conduct a research to find out if there is any kinship involved.  Especially, if they live in the same area as that of your family. Although, slavery was abolished in 1863, effects of it can still be felt today.  Some genealogists and family historians are still searching for their long lost relatives. I am one of those genealogist’s who is still searching for my great grandfather Alexander Harrell’s sibling descendants.

My mother often said that her father Jasper told her that his father was from Clinton, Louisiana. Jasper was only two years old when his father Alexander Harrell passed away in 1914 in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. Jasper knew very little about his father Alexander and his other siblings.

Could this be where we got another set of people that share the same surname us and our family have? Should we conduct a genealogy research to find out whether these are the long lost family members that our ancestors were looking for?

When I am conducting my family history on the Harrell’s side of the family, I know that any Harrell in Clinton, Louisiana could be a relative.  It was recently that I met a police officer in New Orleans, Louisiana by the name of Stephen Harrell who knew that his father was from Clinton, Louisiana.  Although we haven’t confirmed that we are related, we haven’t dismissed the thought either.  We are still conducting a research to find out whether there is a connection or not.

After all everyone on a plantation carried the last name of the slaveholder. I looked at the slave inventory list and at the 1870 U.S. census to answer some of the questions about our ancestors’ life after slavery.  The 1870 U.S. census is the first census to record the names, gender, and race of African-American people unless you were a free person of color, or an African-American slaveholder.

Being three generations removed from slavery, I can see why many genealogists and family historians are still searching for their missing family members. After all that is the first thing that some of the new freed slaves did, they searched for their family members who were sold off. Some walked miles and miles searching for their relatives.

Further studies using DNA testing should be used in studying African-American people, who came off the same plantations with the last surname. Some may find that they are related to each other. My grandmother Emma Mead Harrell had thirteen children by her husband Alexander.  Alexander had children by another woman who lived in the same town. The older family members didn’t say how many children he had with the other woman and this I found out at my grandfather Jasper’s funeral.

It was revealed when someone asked the lady who was sitting on a bench that was earmarked for the family to sit. The lady responded by saying that she was his sister. This is how my mother and other family member found out that my grandfather Jasper had other siblings outside of his parents, Alexander and Emma.

This wasn’t at all an uncommon situation. There are many similar situations in various small towns across America where slavery took place.

Monday, September 22, 2014

In Touch With Our History in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana

Antoinette Harrell and Bernice A. Bennett researching
family history in St. Helena Clerk's Office
Whenever I visit the St. Helena Clerk of Court office to conduct genealogy research, I prepare myself to spend the entire day. There are so many records and documents to read. The marriage, conveyance and other indexed books are very helpful, if you would like to see the original documents you can tell the employees and they would gladly pull them for you.

After finishing my research in the courthouse I went to the St. Helena Parish Branch library. There isn't many African American genealogy family history books in the library. I made copies of all the family records that I could find of my family members on all side of my family, and any other record that's vital to my family research.  Once I left the library, I visited Rocky Hill A.M.E. church were my 2nd great grandfather Thomas and his wife Amanda Richardson are buried. Their graves were easy to find because they have headstones. Amanda Breland Richardson was born in Livington Parish, Louisiana in the mid 1800s. 

Rocky Hill Cemetery, St. Helena Parish
Several branches of my family roots are deeply connected in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana. The Richardson, Hart, Burton, Boykin and Harrell records can be found and I still have relatives that reside in St. Helena Parish. 

My plans is to go back and look at other records that had been buried in the dust. Since I've been traveling back and forth conducting genealogy research, I found one other African American person researching their family history and that is a woman by the name of Myrtis Johnson. Myrtis was looking for slave cemeteries, and I'll never forget the first time she took me to a slave cemetery in St. Helena Parish. There were over forty unmarked graves. She managed to get the graves cleaned off and add some head and foot markers put on the graves. 

I asked her did she know the names of any of the people in the cemetery,  she said that someone gave a few names. I wanted to know if Carrie Richardson was buried in that cemetery. I would like to find other information about Carrie. I do know she was sold to the Kemp family in St. Helena and that's all I know about Carrie.

St. Helena Parish has beautiful land. If you live close by and are looking to take a country scenic ride, St. Helena Parish is the place to visit. I often stop and talk with elderly people who were sitting on their front porch. I enjoy sitting a spell as they would say to talk with them, I soon learn that I'm talking to a walking library so I sit, listen and take notes, especially when you are talking about people they know and events they can recall.  If I'm lucky they will pull out a photograph of their loved ones.   

Sometimes I feel like I stepped back in time, a time when life was much simpler.  My ancestors who were slaves saw the harsh treatment of the slave masters and planters. But they remained in St. Helena and called it home. As a matter of fact, some will tell you that there is no other place they would rather live. The smell of the morning fresh air, trees whispering, birds chirping and the morning dew can be found on the green grass and beautiful meadows.

Most of the people who live there wouldn’t trade the beautiful and quiet parish for life in a busy city.  They will stay their until they are called on to “Glory” as they would say. Genealogy has no ending, I can only research and document what I found until the next genealogist or family historian comes along and pick up where I left off. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Records In The St. Helena Parish Vault

St. Helena Parish Courthouse
One of my favorite places to research is the St. Helena Parish courthouse in St. Helena, Louisiana. There are so many document and records that can help you when you’re researching your family history. Although you can no longer go into the vault to pull the records for yourself, but one of the employees will gladly pull the records for you.

I found the succession records of Benjamin Richardson and my ancestors Carrie and her child Thomas were listed in his inventory as well as  how much they appraised for. Some of the records are crumbling up and are in bad shape and need to be preserved. There are records such as: the Asylum Records, Crop Lien Records, Marriage Records, Land Records, and Court Records housed in the vault.

If your ancestors were slaves in St. Helena Parish, the inventory list can be very vital to anyone who is researching their family history, especially if they come from St. Helena Parish, Louisiana.  Researching the history of the slaveholder family might give you some answers you were looking for.

I got a full understanding of crop liens when I found the application of those who were borrowing
money to plant their crops. The application named the person who applied for the services. They also gave you a legal description of the property and how much money they borrow against the crops.

When I first opened the drawer to access the files in the vault, my eyes filled with tears of excitement when I found my ancestors in the succession records. I was pulling their files for the very first time, I found them and who owned them.

Bernice A. Bennett and Antoinette Harrell inside the vault
I couldn’t help but wonder what was that day like for Carrie and her child Thomas Richardson who appraised at $1,100 dollars. As I continued to review the succession and inventory list, I wanted to know if the others people on the inventory list were related to Carries in some way.

Standing inside the vault and looking at old file cabinets that I had seen on the television series "Gunsmoke" wondering how long it had been since anyone opened these files outside of the employees who are employed there.  Pulling the files for the first time and opening them to look at the records was like freeing my ancestors and letting them know that I came back to learn more about their lives as slaves in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana.

I took the files and sat at the desk with my fingers cross in high hopes that I would find more of my ancestors.  Reviewing the succession records of Benjamin and Celia Bankston Richardson and looking at all the slaves they own on their plantation. I wanted to know if any of the other slaves were related to Carrie, could one of the women on this inventory list be her mother?

I wanted to know more about Carrie. Where did she come from? Who did they purchase her from? Was she one of the Africans’ who was kidnapped and sold into slavery? Who were her mother and father? Did she have other siblings? What cemetery is she buried in?

As I continued to look inside the vault, I found the crop lien records of people who borrowed money to grow their crops. I found my maternal grandmother Emma Mead Harrell and her son Jasper in those files. Jasper’s brother Palmer Harrell’s application was there also. 

Scanning the room looking at the old books, the policy jury records, criminal records, and the asylum records, my curiosity has gotten the best of me and I wanted to look at those asylum records.  For what medical reason was that person  sent to East Louisiana Mental Hospital?  I knew my maternal great-grandfather Thomas Richardson spent many years in the asylum and I was hoping that I would have found his medical records, but I was out of luck here.

When I visit the St. Helena Clerk of Court office to conduct genealogy research, I can stay all day. There is so much to see and so many records and document to look at. The marriage records are indexed in books and if you would like to see the original marriage license you can tell the clerk and she would be glad to pull them for you.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Precott Plantation In St. Helena, Louisiana

Genealogist and Author Bernice Alexander Bennett
Bernice Alexander Bennett spend long hours conducting genealogy research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.,  Her genealogy roots are connected to the East Florida Parishes and Orleans Parish. Researching the Freedmen Bureau Records is her specialty. A very special thanks to Bernice for sharing these records with Nurturing Our Roots and Preserving Our History in St. Helena and Tangipahoa Parishes, Louisiana.

The following contract is from the Precott Plantation of St. Helena Parish, dated August 5, 1867. The list below are the names of all the people who was working on the Prescott plantation in St. Helena Parish in 1867. They could read or write, they made their (x) to confirm that they were in agreement with the contract. She found her on maternal great-great grandfather in the slave inventory, he appraised at $1,700 dollars and was purchased for $1, 500 dollars. If anyone with the surname Sweeny, I hope that you find your ancestors on the contract. 

The records by the Freedmen's Bureau through its works between 1865 and 1872 constitute the richest and most extensive documentary source available for investigating the African American experience in the post Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Historians have used these materials to explore government and military policies, local conditions, and interactions between freed people, local white populations, and Bureau officials. 

Name                      Age    Sex

Nathan (x) Sweeny 48    Male
Lotta    (x) Sweeny 19    Female
Ellen    (x) Sweeny 15    Female
Albert  (x) Sweeny 12    Male
Joseph (x) Gordon  42    Male
Sebrum (x) Washington      

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Undocumented History and Culture of African American People in St. Helena and Tangipahoa Parishes, Louisiana

Agreement with Freedmen Contract
Courtesy of  Bernice Alexander Bennett
Tangipahoa Parish began in 1869, when it was carved from Livingston Parish, St. Helena Parish, St. Tammany Parish, and Washington Parishes, Louisiana. According to the Tangipahoa Parish Quick Facts from the U.S. Census Bureau,  Black or African American percent alone was 30.3%. Tangipahoa came from an Acolapissa word meaning “ear of corn” or “those who gather corn.”

Earlier settlers emigrated from South Carolina and Georgia in the late eighteenth century. The parish is a blend of several noted cultures: Scottish, English, Irish, and Italian.  Although there is a large African American history that blends into this parish as well, very little is written or documented about the African American people, their history or their culture. Slavery was abolished in 1863 and many newly freed slaves came from St. Helena, Washington and Livingston Parishes into Tangipahoa Parish. A large percentage of African Americans remained in the parishes where they were held as slaves, and some migrated to Tangipahoa Parishes as sharecroppers on farms or plantations.

Sharecropping became widespread during the end of slavery and after Reconstruction.  With no food, shelter, clothes, land, seed, tools and money, the former slaves had no other choice but to seek employment by signing contracts that would perhaps bond them to a new form of slavery called sharecropping.

An Agreement with Freedmen was contracted that listed former enslaved African Americans on by the Holloway Plantation in 1868 who remained or moved to the plantation seeking employment. The Holloway Plantation listed the following people who worked on their plantation and signed their mark (x) because they couldn’t read or write. The following people below were listed on the Agreement with Freedmen contracts for the Holloway Plantation.

Simone (x)  Holloway 35,  Ellen (x) Holloway 28, Sally (x) Holloway 13, Ada (x) Holloway 12, Carolina (x) Holloway, Julia (X) Holloway 16, Louise (x) Holloway 15, and Bell (x) Holloway.

The Agreement with Freedmen contracts bonded them to a new form of slavery called sharecropping or peonage.  The sharecropping system is a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops produced on the land. While there were some advantages to sharecropping, there were often corrupt situations where African American and other poor people of color were cheated out of their wages because they couldn’t read or write and had no one to turn to for help or justice.

The disadvantages of sharecropping quickly became apparent. The new system of credit, peonage,   Many African-American sharecroppers complained of being told that they owed for that year of crops, even though they knew that they made a good harvest. They couldn’t dispute what the landowner said was on the account books. Crop liens and loss of land became associated with sharecropping.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Today, you can’t find many people, black or white, who will talk about the history of slavery, segregation, peonage or sharecropping.  Many African Americans who were sharecroppers up until the mid-sixties can still be found in the parishes of Tangipahoa, St. Helena, Washington, and Livingston.

The harsh realities of the time and period of sharecropping unleash bitter memories that many choose to block from their memories. The days of beating, murders, rapes, and being called derogatory names is what keeps them from wanting to talk about it.

Part of me can understand not wanting to re-live the harsh life as sharecroppers or peons. However, learning about the history of the African American life in the East Florida Parishes is absolutely crucial, and so African Americans who lived in the parishes must discuss and document their past history.

There are many Ruby Bridges that can be found in the East Florida Parishes that keep their own voices silent.  The 1965 Selma to Montgomery march, also known as “Bloody Sunday”, was one of the marches that led to the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The birth of the civil rights movement for the East Florida Parishes  took place in Washington Parish, Louisiana in a town named Bogalusa in August 1967, where African Americans marched from Bogalusa to the State Capitol in Baton, Louisiana for equal economic opportunities, equal education, desegregation of all public accommodations and facilities and other discriminatory laws.

History tells us that P.B.S. Pinch was the first African American Governor in our nation’s history. He was the son of a planter and an emancipated slave. He was elected to the Louisiana Senate in 1868 and, three years later, became acting lieutenant governor when Oscar Dunn, the first elected African American lieutenant govern in American history, died.

Did the former slaves and African American sharecroppers pass their fears of living in the Macon Dixie line down to the present generations? The fear of talking about their own history and the history of their ancestors who were slaves is still prevalent today in the East Florida Parishes. No one should be afraid to talk about or discuss their family history.

A genealogist’s ultimate goal is to get more people interested in researching, documenting and preserving their family history in genealogy libraries, universities, and other repositories. Indeed, family history makes up the history of parishes or counties.

There are many historical and cultural events that have taken place in the African American communities in the East Florida Parishes that need to be recorded and documented for study.

Early African American noted pioneers in Tangipahoa Parish like Fred McCoy, Rev. Willard Vernon, Emma Mead Harrell, Reginald Cotton, Sr., Spelman Jones, Willie K. Gordon, Sr., Alexander Richardson, Dr. Walter Reed, and Dr. Percy Walker and many others helped shape the African American communities. However, some will agree that communities in the Town of Amite, Louisiana, like Clemmons, Hyde and Reid Quarters should be renamed. These communities are predominantly African American communities and yet they still carry the names of large plantations or planters.  In the 21st century, African American people in these communities are still calling their communities “the quarters”. It could be a possibility that the African American’s of those communities don’t associate the word “quarters” with slave quarters.

 After approaching several African American Town Councilmen who sit on the Amite City Council asking them to consider passing a resolution to rename the community is the first step. The African American’s who live in the communities need to contact their council person and ask them to support and pass the resolution to renamed these African American communities.


Unpuzzling Our Family History and Our Past

Antoinette Harrell conducting research in the
St. Helena Parish, Louisiana
A genealogist is one who studies the family history, events, places and records. Often times we spend a great deal of time researching family’s vital records and documents, preserving our history, family photographs and collecting oral history. Thinking of genealogy with a twist--one may ask the question what that means? Well, the question that I often ask is, “What have we learned from the past? How are we applying what we learned? Have we strived for success, or have we regressed?”

I have talked with many people who don’t think that family history isn't important. I am the third generation from slavery. My third maternal great-grandfather Thomas Richardson was a slave born on the Benjamin and Celia Bankston plantation in St. Helena Parish, Louisiana. Thomas and his mother Carrie appraised for $1,100 dollars in 1853. Not much is known about Carrie and her son Thomas after they were sold to the Kemp Family. However, I know that after the freedom bell rung in 1863, Thomas married Amanda Breland of Livingston Parish. They had five children; Thomas, John, Sophia, Annie and Golene.

Gordon Family
Thomas, my great-great-grandfather married Emma Vining.  During their union, they gave birth to four children; Rosabell, Alma, Josephine and Alexander .  My mother shared the oral history that she   She said that he spent most of his life in East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson, LA for mental illness.

 I interviewed several people that knew him.  They knew him as Mr. Moss or Uncle Moss. One thing they all pointed out during the interview was that Moss was a very intelligent and handsome man. He passed away in 1958 in Amite, Louisiana.  My mother was the only person in the family who would talk about him and the illness he suffered and share the information she knew about him.

We can learn so much from our family history if we chose to study it. The oral history passed down to me about my grandfather Thomas are very helpful to me, and I hope that others family members find this information helpful for medical information.

Thomas's descendants went on to become successful people,  many have earned college degrees and  hold the occupations as engineers, lawyers, doctors, educators, entrepreneurs, ministers, dentists, entertainers, television talk show hosts, authors, law enforcement officials and other careers. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if these people who have become successful in their careers ever think about their ancestors and were forced into slavery and who shoulders they stand on.

I wonder if they ever think about paying tribute to those who endured the long, hot days in the cotton fields working for the slave masters, being sold on the auction block and never to see their dear loved ones again. What was life like for Carrie and her child Thomas? Did Carrie have other children? If so, where are they and who are they? Perhaps I am looking at her offspring every day, not realizing that I am actually seeing a relative.

Why we've chosen to forget our history is a puzzling mystery! What impact would it have on the youth if we told them about their history? Why aren't we telling them about slavery and Jim Crow? Perhaps we think that we're saving them from something without realizing that we’re hurting them by keeping the truth from them.

Some people are ashamed of their history and avoid the topic of slavery and its widespread effects. I wanted to know about my ancestors, where they came from, if they were free people of color, or if they were slaves. If they were slaves, who owned them? What kind of plantation did they live on?

What happened to them after the freedom bell rung? What did they do and where did they go? I may never have all the answers, but at least I can pay tribute to them for all that they endured for me. We’re are talking about people who had little or no formal education, but nonetheless purchased land and build their own homes with no mortgages. They fed themselves from the food they grew and kept themselves warm with the wood from the land they owned. They understood what freedom meant. Today, we define ourselves by material things, we have lost sight of the things that should be most
important to us, and we pass those same senseless values down to the next generations.

What ever happened to the respect for the community and ourselves? The elders in the community would come together to solve problems; they would share food with one another, help take care of those who were ill and certainly took in children who needed homes and families. I often wonder if this was just a dream. At times, I even wish I lived in a world were we took care of our community.  It is the past that shapes the present, and the present that shapes the future? Where is our future headed if we don’t take responsibility for it?

We can learn valuable lessons by studying our own family history. I am grateful for the lessons I learned while researching my family history.  I found land ownership, home ownership, business owners, family members who were debt-free, and family members who cared about each other. Now I can pass these lessons down to my grandchildren.