Jubilee Singers And Their Biggest Fan

051This may be the last time ever to hear the haunting, unusual and poignant songs of slavery!

So went some of the advertisements for the Jubilee Singers’ concerts in the early 1870’s. And it was true. For despite the many tours of the ensemble after the first few its heart changed with the death of their tireless conductor George White.

George White demanded much of the group of former slaves, children of plantation owners and those who never tasted slavery at all—their time, their health, their unswerving loyalty to the mission they believed was from God.   For such young men and women (the youngest only 15) they carried themselves with great nobility, shocking many of the Northern crowds who had never seen slavery up close and even those who despised their arrival and tried to be rid of them.

The wife of an innkeeper was tied back by a humiliated husband so she could not pummel the young black woman playing the piano in the parlor of the inn. The innkeeper’s wife was disgusted at the thought of dark hands on her ivory keys.

For many winter months the troupe went hungry. The mission society they were affiliated with saw George White’s passionate project as a fool’s mission and a slight embarrassment to their organization until after months of small crowds, blatant racism and food at irregular intervals something changed. At every stop, like the Jews wandering in the desert after their own escape from slavery, God in the guise of enlightened people provided just enough to keep the cold and hungry band from giving up.

“There were many times, when we didn’t have place to sleep or anything to eat. Mr. White went out and brought us some sandwiches and tried to find some place to put us up.” Other times while the singers would wait in the railway station, White “and some other man of the troupe waded through sleet or snow or rain from hotel to hotel seeking shelter for us”*

Henry Ward Beecher of the famous Beecher clan invited them to perform at his church in Brooklyn. The Jubilee Singers brought the house to tears.

Some people really hate the idea of a “white” hero helping his downtrodden fellow man– as if it makes the efforts of the talented group of singers less inspiring. At any given point the young people could have quit. Their mission was to raise funds not for themselves but their foundering and beloved school, Fisk University.

When someone survives a great trial in life they have two choices. To many, a quiet life remembering their heroism with satisfaction is the road taken. To some, remembering in their own trial the suffering of others, the only path is one that turns back with outstretched hand as soon as they reach a place of decent footing.

Some may remember from a PREVIOUS POST that George White came home from the war a shattered man. Tuberculosis lingered in his lungs. He married a friend’s sister when they met at Fisk. White managed the school’s shaky finances while his wife taught. This worry over finances and White’s love of music and the freedmen led him on an improbable journey. His enthusiasm and belief in his troupe when most people held little regard for the abilities of black people inspired the young men and women to believe in themselves.

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With the money they made Jubilee Hall was built.

They played before presidents and queens. At a time when many may have wanted to bury their sad songs with the many dead of the war, White saw musical value, saw a cultural treasure and demanded it be preserved. Many ex-slaves sang these songs to each other in ashamed whispers. White demanded they come into the light and respect themselves as valued members of God’s family.

In time members of the troupe were drawn away to pursue solo careers or work in other areas. White struggled not to feel abandoned by them. He’d lost his first sickly wife while touring England (he’d hoped the trip would heal her). His own tuberculosis came in fits of bloody coughs. Ella Shepherd ( soprano, piano, organ, and guitar) stayed true to her maestro. She worried White would die before returning to the states with his three young children.

White carried on. He insisted he practice with his beloved Jubilee Singers even when he opposed a certain concert they wanted to perform. I imagine he was caught up in the music when he fell from the platform and shattered his leg. For the rest of his years he could barely walk. His second wife was forced to clean houses. White had given every cent he’d ever made to the Jubilee Singers. He died of a massive stroke at 57.

What is the soundtrack of your life?

George White’s first troupe of performers were never recorded. By the turn of the century others eagerly sought to refine and record songs like Swing Low Sweet Chariot, but I imagine it wasn’t the same thing playing in the ears of soldiers passing field hands during the war. It wasn’t the same as the voices of The Jubilee Singers with only one foot out of slavery and wondering about a future yet to come.

Quote from DARK MIDNIGHT WHEN I RISE

Related: SOUNDTRACK (a wonderful post about sound-tracking your life)

                 WHAT IS YOUR AURAL HISTORY?

Novel Inspiration (3): The Scapegoat

INSPIRATION: Every addict needs a scapegoat.

Captain Simon McCullough’s motto: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. This gets John Weldon’s goat. How unfair it is that Simon coasts through life suffering nary a scratch while drinking, womanizing and joking all the way?

Weldon fails to note the fatalism in Simon’s motto. He underestimates the friend he tries to hate.

There’s a type of 19th century military memoir tremendously fun to read. The accent is on the antics of  soldiers in downtime that almost trick one into believing war is quite a great time. I’ve always admired the way boys and men conduct friendship and briefly considered running away to be an intelligence officer in the Navy (to escape that first marriage and possibly  meet a naval officer–a weird twist of fate had me meet and marry a Navy man years later).

I often hear about those extroverts who skim the surface of life with little self-reflection. Simon McCullough only plays that role in his family. Never judge a book by its cover, they say.

“Have you read all these books, sir?” Weldon asked but regretted it.

Scott laughed tracing his fingers over the rim of his glass with a self-satisfied air. “These and more. A person is nothing without a mind for knowledge. I had high hopes for Simon and bought every book here for his education.” He sighed.

Simon took a drink, his expressionless face toward the fire.

“Well, when things turned sour, and we sent Simon off to military school…our Katherine kept reading for enjoyment sake, I suppose. She has a decent mind for a girl, but an education is wasted on women. And truth be told Simon was no scholar.”

Simon, with his light hair slicked back and his brawny shoulders pent up in fine summer linen, oozed a restlessness which annoyed his father and saddened Katherine who knew that Englewood was too small for him now. Simon poured another drink in the stifling silence. Katherine mourned over something lost in him. She went to a shelf and took out the scrapbook she had made since his first going away to West Point and then the war. She ran her fingers over the tintypes of Simon at war and the yellowing newsprint which had brought the battles home to her. The boy who used to bring her into his world had never come back as a man.            

Scott’s eyes fell upon Katherine with an air of sad disappointment.

Simon noticed and broke into story. “Father, you’d have been appalled at the antics of the soldiers away from home doing as they pleased. One officer even tended bar in a bawdy house in full uniform  . . . or so I hear.” Simon winked at Weldon. “And some of the girls were pretty . . . from a distance, anyway. Father, you know the Renner’s from English Neighborhood? Remember, Weldon, how we caught him out? It was a laugh. We were just walking through Murder Bay—for an evening stroll to round up the boys, Father, nothing more—and who do we come across after leaving a drinking establishment but Renner as tight as can be in an alley—how idiotic he looked with his trousers around his ankles and a Cyprian with her mouth around his . . .”     

 

Novel Inspirations: THE ADDICT

THE ENABLER

ENTER THE GOODREADS GIVEAWAY! (The winner gets the much prettier new cover)

tenafly10

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The House on Tenafly Road by Adrienne  Morris

The House on Tenafly Road

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends December 06, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Bravery=Freedom

What would you do if you saw a person you knew as an acquaintance being taken away by two strange men?

John Price escaped from slavery in 1856 with few skills and in sorry health. When the residents of the utopian Christian town of Oberlin, Ohio took him in, they found Price odd jobs and had him stay at various homes realizing Price didn’t have the strength or skill set to make it further up the Underground Railroad.

As the leaves turned on a chilly fall day in 1858 an Oberlin teenager picked up Price who’d been gathering potatoes on a freedman’s farm at the edge of town, for Oberlin was fully integrated and strongly abolitionist. Oberlin had been established by two Presbyterians who believed that Christians needed to work out their salvation by living a truly righteous life–one that advocated freedom for slaves. Oberlin College was open to men of all races and their town had hidden many runaway slaves.

Let us stop to wonder about men who establish towns. From scratch.

Sometimes I fear I may offend a random visitor to my blog who hates Christians. This random visitor may see my favorite Bible quote , “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 and dismiss me as one of those people.

It’s obvious that I don’t have the moral courage to form a town based on my understanding of Christianity. I doubt I’d even have the courage to wear a t-shirt proclaiming my belief in the sanctity of all life (it helps ease my conscience that I look terrible in t-shirts, but still.). The men and women at Oberlin didn’t have to wear t-shirts. Their acts of courage and commitment were the greatest form of advertisement for the Good News of JC (I often cringe at saying Jesus Christ out loud).

My blog is a small one and I think it would be fair to admit that the likelihood of real harm coming to me for mentioning my Christian beliefs is relatively small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but my ego is big. But enough about me. 🙂

John Price, the runaway slave picking potatoes, rides along with the teenager from Oberlin. The teenager slows his horse as another carriage approaches with two strange men. The men are slave hunters. They capture Price quite easily since the teenager is an accomplice in the kidnapping. Further down the road two white students from Oberlin pass the carriage carrying Price back to slavery. Price calls out to them in their buggy, but they turn their eyes away.

Ansel Lyman, one of the students in the buggy runs through the town of Oberlin upon his return with news of Price’s kidnapping, and the town comes alive. As men and women race toward Wellington, some with guns, the crowd grows as news of the kidnapping spreads. No one sits at home watching TV or watching their fireplaces.

In Wellington the slave catchers and Price watch from their hotel as the crowds gather. The catchers are armed of course but they fear their fate will be the same as the building across the way which happened to burn down that morning. I imagine this was a bit more than the catchers bargained for. The Dred Scott decision had made it legal to catch slaves in free states.

The people of Oberlin considered the Scott decision unconstitutional and morally wrong as did many brave souls in the North. Here we must remember that abolitionists were painted as extremists. Most people chose peace over righteousness.  I wonder if I would have done the same. I like staying home before the fire.

400px-oberlinrescuersRumors spread that the army will be called in. A few good men with guns rescue Price. A freedman eventually gets Price to Canada, but the incident challenges the nation.

The Rescuers as the men who stormed the hotel and hid Price are now called are marched to stand trial before a jury and judge of the Democratic persuasion who hate abolitionists. Two men are tried and both are found guilty. All the others after the judge frees them on bail refuse to pay and spend time in the jail across the courtyard. The head of the jail happens to support abolition and opens the place to visitors. At first it’s just the families of the men but before long people from across the North journey to support the abolitionists. Black and white men and women flood the area united against immoral and corrupt government policies and actions.

The Democrats‘ worst nightmare comes true. War is just around the corner, but forgive them for not knowing it just yet.

slave-catcher_pic_poster_so2011

**Featured image of John Mercer Langston, a lawyer and Oberlin’s town clerk, came from a family of abolitionists. His brother Charles and his brother-in-law O.S.B. Wall were among the town’s residents who rescued John Price from a slave-catcher.

Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio

READ MORE: WHEN THE SLAVE CATCHER CAME TO TOWN

 

Amusement Parks and Masculinity

 

We talked about Lena Dunham wanting to be loved not for her writing but for her half-naked figure in grungy underwear as we sat by the lake watching boys split into rival teams; ISIS vs.soldiers and super heroes.

One hundred and fifty years ago both Union and Confederate soldiers “spoke routinely of deluded people, dupes of the politicians, and ignorant masses. Both  Northerners and Southerners feared that democratic institutions were not adequate to deal with the realities of nineteenth-century America–they relied too heavily on the existence of a virtuous and intelligent citizenry.” Civil War Soldiers by Reid Mitchell

After the Civil War there lived some men and women who imagined high art and expositions like  the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 could pull the native and immigrant masses from their ignorance and childishness. For these men and women believed that real manhood and womanhood were attained when one practiced thrift, sobriety and volunteerism. This Yankee discipline and religiosity had served the North well. The aristocratic South lay in ruins and many veterans of the war remembered the South as a bizarre, other-worldly place of sloth and heat.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is never an empty place, thank goodness. On most weekends the front stairs are crammed with students, tourists and people needing a seat to eat their hot dog lunches, but many, many more people have rejected this “high” art as bizarre and other-worldly.

As much as we hate to admit this about humanity, there are many people who would rather not work at liking something. They’d rather go with their feelings and fuss over strained muscles (brains and brawn). Informational booths at a fair do only scant business compared to the corn dog stand (I like corn dogs–do you?).

Man/boys may have always existed in Western civilization, but for a good, long while in Yankee American culture they were looked down upon, seen as missing a key element of manhood and suspected of deviant behaviors. There is a certain sad and pathetic element to men who play too many games and wear funny pajamas. Women/girls who do photo shoots in bathrooms, give lip service to an ever changing feminism and then complain when young, handsome athletes don’t fawn over them are pathetic as well.

The once famous man/boy Fred Thompson who created Luna Park on Coney Island in the early 20th century had an epiphany at the Buffalo Exposition when the high-minded men of learning nearly bankrupted the endeavor for failing to realize the simple fact that most people didn’t want to be uplifted. They didn’t want to know about lost civilizations and proper canning methods. What they wanted was to be carried along the Midway where amusements abounded. Exotic dancing girls, loud music and incandescent lighting mesmerized and excited the people who already felt too old. Peter Pan was (and is) the hero of the day.

Even among the boys at the lake  some  created strategies and lofty goals. Some boys interrupted with random thoughts about nothing. Some led and some followed. The less ambitious waited to be picked on a team but offered nothing more than their feelings and soon wandered off to cool themselves in the lake before getting a snack from their mothers who probably like us were talking about inane controversies involving childish women we would never actually meet.

Sometimes, even beside a beautiful lake, it’s difficult to stay in an elevated frame of mind.

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It is the mystery of the unknown
That fascinates us; we are children still,
Wayward and wistful; with one hand we cling
To the familiar things we call our own,
And with the other, resolute of will,
Grope in the dark for what the day will bring.–Henry W. Longfellow.

 

 

Death and Life in a Hospital

I wonder if many people still name their children after the great men and women of the past or have modern historians  poisoned that well too. I named my daughter after Theodore Roosevelt not so much for his policies (some of which I disagree with) but in honor of his zest for life and fearlessness after a rather wimpy start.

Daniel Webster Whittle was obviously named after Daniel Webster. Parents back then had big ideas for their children. The day before Whittle went off to fight in the 72nd Illinois Infantry he married his sweetheart. I imagine a fresh-faced young man in new uniform,  a peacock standing beside his pretty bride. She glances up at him with a mix of worry and pride. God is not in the forefront of his thinking.

The thrill of love and leaving causes mixed feelings for this young man, but he never questions his duty to the Union. This is before endless marches and blood shed. It’s before Vicksburg and the fateful day he is wounded and captured by Confederate soldiers. What must it feel like to lose an arm in battle?

One day you are whole and the next you are a casualty, a bed filler, a drag on the effort and a prisoner.

Young Whittle is like the many men today, with more humble names maybe, who sit in clean hospital beds making peace with war wounds. No matter the decor, no matter the Impressionist paintings hung on the walls in cheap frames a hospital is  a sad prison. We met a veteran once at a beekeeping seminar and beside him was a serious Labrador Retriever, a therapy dog. The man got very agitated about some opinion expressed about hives and honey. The dog chilled him out. PTSD sucks.

Whittle had no therapy dog because back then Bibles and chaplains were allowed to do their job. Christianity was considered normal. Daniel Whittle was ambivalent about faith. He was also bored so he picked up a copy of the New Testament on his bed stand. For those of you who don’t know it’s the part of the Bible where Jesus sacrifices his life for our sins. It’s the part people don’t really want to believe in because Jesus expects similar sacrifices from us–but we’ll save that for another day.

Each day Whittle flipped through the stories of healing, the stories of doubt and the stories of great conversions. And each day he closed the book deciding he wanted no part of it. Maybe he questioned why he no longer had an arm when other soldiers got off scott free. Maybe he wondered if his new wife would still find him attractive. Maybe he liked to hunt but now would never hold a gun. Who knows.

One night a hospital orderly woke him. “The young one over there is dying and wants a prayer.”

Whittle had seen death before. “So?”

“You’re a Christian aren’t you?” the orderly asked. “I’ve seen you reading the Bible every day.”

Whittle knelt beside the dying young man’s bed with an awkward sigh. He was no Christian, just a sleepy soldier put on the spot. As he knelt there watching the boy before him wrestle with death he took the boy’s hand in his. The boy settled. A sudden sense of needing forgiveness came over Whittle. He was surprised and confused by it, but found himself confessing to being less than the man he should be. A love for the dying boy caused him to pray his first stumbling prayer and caused him later to write this hymn:

 

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

And so Daniel Webster Whittle, brevetted a major in the war, went home a changed man. Some men will never open a Bible and that is their choice. The words are often challenging. Actually reading the Bible is a brave thing because a decision must be made when you finish it. Hearsay about this controversial book keeps many people away–they don’t get the full story, sadly.

The PTSD beekeeping soldier got a dog. I wonder if he ever was offered a Bible.

Thanks to all the men and women who sacrifice for their fellow man.

***FEATURED IMAGE CIVIL WAR REVISITED

 

Are You Brave?

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 Courtesy Flickr

While many would see the above image as horrifying proof of racism in America, we must remember the flip side. Yes, there were racists, but as the cartoon says, the Republican congress  gave blacks the right to vote and pushed for racial equality. The fact that violence and hatred still remained after the Civil War does not negate the valiant works of many white and black Republicans who fought and sometimes died to see that real freedom for all would not remain just a dream. I admire the men and women of the past and present who put race on the back burner and fight for freedom for all.

All too often we only see the massacres, the riots and the acrimony between the races (I suggest this would be true studying any society), but there is so much more to people than that. People were often horrified at the troubles between the races in the late 19th century, but put yourself back there after asking yourself how many hours you’ve spent watching the news and despairing at the idea that there’s nothing you can do to stop people in faraway places from victimizing each other. How many of us would have stood up to paramilitary groups inflamed by not only race hatred but by defeat, sudden poverty and loss? How many of us would have cowered or turned away in disgust after years of endless suffering and loss of human life?

Bravery is a rare and beautiful thing. We like to imagine ourselves brave. How many of us actually are?

THE 1873 BATTLE OF COLFAX: COUNTER REVOLUTION IN LOUISIANA

19th CENTURY DEMOCRATS AND RACE

US GRANT / COLFAX

Rape Culture Civil War Style

Restraint, boys . . .
Restraint, boys . . .

Good news! There was no such thing as “rape culture” among Northern soldiers fighting for the Union in America’s Civil War. Scholars looked for the tell-tale signs of “rape culture” and found none. No Rolling Stone frat parties gone awry, no Duke Lacrosse team—oh wait those things didn’t actually happen. Back to the Civil War. Despite what popular culture would have us believe about men and boys in America, most don’t rape–or think of rape. Many don’t even want to be around women anymore for fear of the “rape culture” witch hunt.

Oops. Back to the Civil War:

 Northern men in the 1860’s were supported by a culture that valued self-restraint. In fact self-restraint in men was seen as one of the top indicators of a truly masculine man. To lose control was seen as childish, feminine and kind of pathetic. Of course this does not mean that all men kept away from prostitutes or that all men were angels–there were a few cases of rape but astonishingly rare.

For all the bad press patriarchy gets,  the notion of the South going against the father (government) and the brotherhood (the northern states) created an interesting twist when it came to how the northern soldiers viewed southern women. This changed over the course of the war to be sure as the women went from outspoken vixens (she-devils) to co-combatants (stories of women luring soldiers to guard their homes only to shoot them in the head spread like wildfire and in some cases were true). There was a sense initially that messing with southern women was like messing with your best friend’s sister–not good. As time went on it seemed more soldiers fantasized about killing southern women than sleeping with them.

And what is this thing about rape during war anyway? There’s always plenty of hookers hanging around. Rape during war is mental assault against an opponent–what kind of man isn’t able to protect his women folk?  Again I will remind everyone that northern soldiers were hardly ever rapists (like most US men are hardly ever rapists). In the rare recorded cases the raping seemed to be more a thing done to slave women (considered southern property) and usually in front of their white southern female owners as if to warn them that it could happen to them if they weren’t careful. Some Union soldiers blamed the fiery southern women for prolonging the bloody war by convincing their men to keep fighting against all odds.

There were a few well-documented cases of gang rape done by colored troops and here the reasoning may have been more in line with revenge against their former white masters.

Here are my questions: When did self-restraint in men become something to be laughed at? When did men begin to cling to childhood and abdicate their proper place as men? What’s not cool about taking care of families (other than divorce courts being brutal on men)? When did childish women decide that unrestrained lust would make for better relationships? When did these same women start calling all men rapists?

There was a Cult of Womanhood back in the 19th century. Women had a great mission and a great power. Not everyone lived up to the ideal or even wanted to and that’s fine, but when a culture turns its people into children unable to use self control  and actually applauds self obsession and stupidity one wonders when the real men and women will stand up.

Essay prompted by THE VACANT CHAIR by Reid Mitchell

Henry Burden “spent a lifetime in devising means for lightening toil”

Civil War Horse who's probably in better shoes than his friend. courtesy Pinterest
Civil War Horse who’s probably in better shoes than his friend.
courtesy Pinterest

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of the shoe, the horse was lost; For want of the horse, the rider was lost; For want of the rider, the message was lost; For want of the message, the battle was lost; For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Henry Burden’s story and how he helped win the American Civil War starts the way all success stories seemed to start in the 19th century. Driven, hardworking, innovative and independent young men thrived under America’s young and vibrant system.

Henry  was the son of Scottish sheep farmers. At home he studied engineering, improving upon farm implements for his father until he up and moved to New York. Not a man to sit still or think small he immediately moved up the ranks at “the Townsend & Corning Foundry, manufacturers of cast iron plows and other agricultural implements, located in Albany’s south end – near today’s Port of Albany. The next year, he invented an improved plow, which took first premium at three county fairs, and a cultivator, which was said to have been the first to be put into practical operation in the country. He also made mechanical improvements on threshing machines and grist mills.” (WIKI)

Not satisfied being under anyone Henry quickly went to work building his own company across the river in Troy. Some of us are happy to have a job to go to. Henry built his job, defining it as he went brick by brick, building by enormous building.

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Look for the tiny man! courtesy wikipedia

He invented things and patented them. Fascinated by not only the useful implements he made but also the tools that made the useful things he erected huge waterwheels for powering his projects (The Ferris Wheel was inspired by his massive waterwheel).

As the winds of war blew up the Hudson Henry was set with his HORSESHOE MACHINE. It is said that Henry’s 600,000 KEGS OF HORSESHOES sent south each year won the war. If we find the importance of one company  hard to believe there is evidence that the Confederacy sent special men to infiltrate the Burden works hoping to destroy the business but to no avail. Iron works were some of the first targets in a war of horses and their shoes.

ulysses-s-grant-generals
The Atlanta Campaign courtesy Longhair.net

Think of the great generals astride their beautiful mounts–no horseshoes, no beautiful mounts.

Henry employed many Troy men. Mrs. Burden worried about their souls and the long walks they must take on Sundays to get to church. Upon her death Henry Burden built Woodside Presbyterian Church granting her final wish. He died a few years later having lessened the burdens of others.

 

What the Burden Works Look Like Today