Friday, May 26, 2017
A new interactive map highlights historic sites in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a region that includes the barrier islands and coastal mainland communities from Pender County on the southern coast of North Carolina to St. Johns County on the northern coast of Florida.
Gullah Geechee describes a language, culture and a people, the direct descendants of enslaved Africans brought to America to labor on coastal plantations. The Gullah Geechee people lived in relative isolation on the plantations and later as free people in small island and mainland communities in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. As a result, they were able to retain and pass down many of their ancestors' African traditions, languages and foodways.
The map was developed by Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission in partnership with the History Department at Queens University of Charlotte. The project was funded by the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more.
Posted by Michele Nicole Johnson at 6:27 AM
Saturday, May 13, 2017
One of my mother's last requests of me was that I gather up her genealogy records and keep them safe.
This was no easy task.
My mother began her research in the late '70s when we lived in Washington, D.C. She would go to the National Archives and bring home large faded photocopies of U.S. Census records. While we ate dinner, she'd get so excited sharing all of the facts she had found about our ancestors.
Along with Mama's census records were legal pads with handwritten notes, photographs, letters, old report cards, funeral programs and delicate newspaper clippings and obituaries.
The thought of gathering all of these documents together and making sense of them, organizing and storing them in my tiny home was overwhelming. But everything is here, and I am steadily doing the research and getting everything in order.
I recently became a grandmother, and this new family status has me thinking about my legacy. I don't want my children and grandchildren to inherit this mountain of paperwork I now possess. My goal is to digitize photos and documents, contribute our family information to online family trees and write down and share as much oral history as possible with my extended family.
While I love the idea of passing this role down to my son, daughter or granddaughter, I realize that this work might not interest them. The stories could be lost, and my promise to my mother could be broken.
But if I toss our stories out to everyone, they will be treasured by those who want to know our history. And they just might land in the hands of a family member with the passion to keep the story going forward.
Posted by Michele Nicole Johnson at 7:29 PM
Friday, November 18, 2016
The Charlotte Observer published a story about my great-great grandfather, Frank Lytle, on Sept. 26, 1912. The headline read: "Colored Farmers in Mecklenburg: Frank Lytle's Story."
The reporter asked how this black man who was born a slave had acquired 300 acres and sent all eight of his children to college. Lytle’s short honest answer: "By hard work."
But he could not leave it at that. Lytle, who was 56, and by all accounts a smart business man, humbly added, “My white friends have trusted me and helped me and I have sought to justify their confidence.”
In this article and in others I've found, it's clear that my ancestor and other black farming families had to work hard to make white people feel comfortable and to convince them that they were worthy of all they had earned.
Lytle came into this world as someone’s property, was taken from his mother, Mary, and sold off to another plantation. He was 10 when he was emancipated, and Mary reclaimed him. He had to have known of the Colored Farmers Alliance formed in the late 1880s, and the violent opposition it faced from white farmers who felt threatened.
He understood who and what he was up against.
Nevertheless, he and his colleagues organized anyway. They held conferences and farming workshops at black colleges in Charlotte and Raleigh. They hosted "colored fairs," shared ideas, worked together and looked out for each other, all the while being careful not to step too far ahead.
At one meeting of the Negro Farmers' Union the guest speaker urged the audience "to be cool and quiet" and to stick to their jobs and make friends with their white neighbors "by sober and industrious conduct." The Charlotte Observer reported on the meeting on Sept. 5, 1919.
Lytle and the other black farmers in North Carolina walked the fragile tightrope of racism. Many had been enslaved, had seen their families torn apart, had endured Jim Crow laws that were meant to limit opportunity and restrict their every move, and yet, they still had to be humble, be quiet, be cool, and by all means, be friendly, lest they offend their oppressors merely by being successful in spite of it all.
Posted by Michele Nicole Johnson at 2:42 PM
Friday, July 29, 2016
Joseph McGill sleeps overnight in extant slave dwellings, to call attention to the stories of the people who lived there. Learn more about The Slave Dwelling Project.
Posted by Michele Nicole Johnson at 8:13 AM
Thursday, March 17, 2016
My Grandma Polly (left) is pictured here with her cousin, Dorothy, with her long hair wrapped around Grandma's shoulder. This is one of my favorite photos. It was taken in Mecklenburg County, N.C., at my great-great grandfather's house. I remember Cousin Dorothy visiting from New York when I was a young girl. She drove a cute Volkswagen bug, and Grandma Polly was so excited about her visit. I could tell these cousins loved each other.