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Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001

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FOLLOW THE DRINKING GOURD


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Peter T. 17 Dec 01 - 12:13 PM
katlaughing 17 Dec 01 - 12:58 PM
JenEllen 17 Dec 01 - 01:07 PM
katlaughing 17 Dec 01 - 01:17 PM
JenEllen 17 Dec 01 - 01:32 PM
Amos 17 Dec 01 - 05:56 PM
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Subject: Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001
From: Peter T.
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 12:13 PM

The Drinking Gourd was a story that unfolded recently here, and extensive reference was made to Eston Hemings -- turns outny times editorial today that things were more complicated in Charlottesville and after, and have certainly become more interesting as time passed....

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001
From: katlaughing
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 12:58 PM

Peter, can you copy and paste, it won't let us see it unless we join, etc.? Thanks!


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Subject: RE: Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001
From: JenEllen
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 01:07 PM

(here ya go kat...join...join...join...*g*)

December 17, 2001

EDITORIAL OBSERVER A Hemings Family Turns From Black, to White, to Black By BRENT STAPLES The Census Bureau is poking and prodding the nearly seven million people who described themselves as belonging to more than one race in the 2000 census. A survey due out next year will offer a more expansive portrait of this group but will not tell us all we wish to know about those who view themselves as multiracial. Are some of them about to quit one race and join another? Given the slippery history of race in the census, the answer is probably "yes."

Historians who study the 19th century commonly turn up people who appear as "black" or "mulatto" in one census and "white" in another. These judgments were made by census workers who behaved essentially as race police, counting people as either black or white depending on what they looked like or on the race of the people who lived nearest to them. White people who either lived with or married blacks were magically rendered black in the census. This came at a time when blacks were sometimes barred from voting, from public school and from testifying in court. Fair-skinned blacks escaped the penalties of race by moving to places where no one knew them and taking up lives among the white folk. They lived in terror of discovery. To protect their new identities, they often broke ties with their black families.

The number of black people who passed into whiteness is difficult to determine. A provocative 1958 study cited in Supreme Court records estimated that as many as 15,000 blacks slipped across the line to live and sometimes marry as white every year in the 1940's alone. The study, by the sociologist Robert Stuckert, concluded that by the close of that decade, one in five Americans who were recorded as white in the census had an unacknowledged black ancestor within the previous four generations. Summing up a paradox, Mr. Stuckert wrote that "the majority of persons with African blood are classified as white."

The 40's found young Julia Jefferson entering her teens in a white, suburban household with parents who admonished her to avoid black people and play only with "her own kind." When she bicycled off to meet a black friend she'd met in Bible school, her parents followed her in the car, put the bicycle in the trunk and told her never to do that again. Julia said: "Maybe they thought it was catching, I don't know. Or maybe my father knew about his black background and was worried."

Julia's father was descended from Eston Hemings, a son of the enslaved woman Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. A genetic study in 1998 established a match on the Y chromosome markers between Thomas Jefferson's descendants and Eston Hemings's. A genetic link was not found between the Jeffersons and another Hemings son, but Eston's case and the mountain of circumstantial evidence have caused an about-face among historians who disputed Jefferson's paternity for decades. The emerging consensus is that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings became lovers when she was little more than a child and remained involved for nearly 40 years. The evidence suggests that the former president fathered several, if not all, of Sally's children.

Three of the Hemings children slipped off into whiteness, leaving the family and their black identities behind. Beverly and Harriet Hemings seem to have made a clean getaway, leaving little evidence that would have allowed people to track them down. But the Hemings records and oral histories show that Eston's journey into whiteness was painful.

Freed in Thomas Jefferson's will in 1827, Eston and his brother Madison lived for a time in the mixed-race community of Charlottesville, Va., but were forced to abandon the state by a vicious campaign aimed at purging Virginia of free people of color. The two brothers moved to Ohio, where Madison lived as black for the remainder of his days.

Driven perhaps by the "black codes" that forbade him from educating his children or testifying in court, Eston moved with his wife and three teenaged children to Wisconsin. There he dropped the "black" Hemings name and became the "white" E. H. Jefferson. Turning white allowed Eston's children and grandchildren to fare well professionally. But they often exhibited signs of distress, including early deaths and a possible suicide that may have been related to the stress of passing for white.

Virginia Woolf's notion that women experience history through their mothers fits the Hemings clan exactly, according to oral histories recently collected by the Monticello Historians Lucia Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright. The Hemings men slipped easily over the line and were lost in the world. But the Hemings women kept Sally alive in the family lore, and she was still at least a whisper by the time Julia Jefferson was coming into adolescence in the 40's. Her father and his brothers are said by a relative to have agreed on a cover-up, pledging that the story would die with them.

Julia learned about Sally Hemings during the 1970's, after the historian Fawn Brodie published a steamy biography of Jefferson, which included speculation about the love affair. The subterfuge and deceit of the cover-up have come pouring back to Julia in recent years, as the story became steadily more public and the white and the black Jeffersons began to discover each other and make common cause.

Meeting the black Jeffersons has had a profound effect on Julia, now Julia Westerinen. She has examined her own prejudices and found the exercise "very painful." Everyone in the family was aware of her journey. But they were probably surprised when this 67-year-old grandmother announced her plan to declare herself "black" on the 2000 census. Julia says her children are fine with the decision. But another relative said it was a bad idea to pass blackness down through the generations and said that Eston had sacrificed a lot for the advantages Julia was "throwing out the window."

Julia responded that "these are different times." When people ask her why a middle-class woman who has lived all of her life as white would check "black" on the census, Julia sometimes gives them the smart- alecky answer "Because I can." Then she tells them the real reasons. She wants the government to support affirmative action and believes that goal will be easier to achieve if more people are counted as black. Most important, she says, "I want to show people that I am not afraid to be black."


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Subject: RE: Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001
From: katlaughing
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 01:17 PM

Kewl! Thanks, Jen.
True confession: I did join, just can't remember as who or what pw! I'm baaaaaddd!LOL


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Subject: RE: Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001
From: JenEllen
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 01:32 PM

Oh, just that multiple personality thing again? I find that I have to keep using the same phone booth over and over again otherwise I leave my cape in one, and my mask in another.... Nothing more disheartening than trying to fight crime in spandex and clown shoes. The baddies never take you seriously...(can't you contact them and get your PW back?)


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Subject: RE: Follow The Drinking Gourd: 2001
From: Amos
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 05:56 PM

Oh, that outRAGEOUS Wenchnet!! LOL!!!

And now thanks to Peter, you're gonna not only remember which door you came in through, but what color you were when you entered it!! 'S enough to make you go back to treating voles!!!

A


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