Anthropology Friday: God of the Rodeo: Angola, Louisiana

Point Lookout Cemetery, Angola

Angola, also known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary, is the largest maximum-security prison in the US. It holds 6,300 inmates, most of them for life–and for those who have no families or friends to bury them, death.

Before it became a prison, Angola was a slave plantation, named for the country most of its residents came from. With 18,000 acres and a working farm (complete with cotton fields) run by inmates, many people call it the nation’s last plantation.

I wanted to move away from traditional anthropology–focused primarily on “primitive,” non-industrialized peoples–and focus instead on the economic, political, and social lives of people on the margins of our own societies, such as pirates; criminals; prisoners; and the completely innocent, ordinary poor.

Alas, not many anthropologists have infiltrated criminal organizations and written books about them, (I can’t imagine why,) and my selection among the books that do exist is limited by what I can actually get my hands on. With that in mind, I selected Bergner’s God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana’s Angola Prison (1999.)

Spoiler alert: This is not an upbeat book. I mean, the author tries. He really does. But we are still talking about criminals who’ve been sent to prison for life. If you’re looking for something cheerful, go look at funny cat pictures.

Amazon’s blurb for the book reads:

Never before had Daniel Bergner seen a spectacle as bizarre as the one he had come to watch that Sunday in October. Murderers, rapists, and armed robbers were competing in the annual rodeo at Angola, the grim maximum-security penitentiary in Louisiana. The convicts, sentenced to life without parole, were thrown, trampled, and gored by bucking bulls and broncos before thousands of cheering spectators. But amid the brutality of this gladiatorial spectacle Bergner caught surprising glimpses of exaltation, hints of triumphant skill.

The incongruity of seeing hope where one would expect only hopelessness, self-control in men who were there because they’d had none, sparked an urgent quest in him. Having gained unlimited and unmonitored access, Bergner spent an unflinching year inside the harsh world of Angola. He forged relationships with seven prisoners who left an indelible impression on him. There’s Johnny Brooks, seemingly a latter-day Stepin Fetchit, who, while washing the warden’s car, longs to be a cowboy and to marry a woman he meets on the rodeo grounds. Then there’s Danny Fabre, locked up for viciously beating a woman to death, now struggling to bring his reading skills up to a sixth-grade level. And Terry Hawkins, haunted nightly by the ghost of his victim, a ghost he tries in vain to exorcise in a prison church that echoes with the cries of convicts talking in tongues. …

According to Bergner, in Angola’s early days in the late 1800s (post-Civil War,) conditions were extremely bad. Convicts were basically worked to death in Louisiana’s swamps; average life expectancy for a long-term prisoner was only 6 years.

The state took over the prison in 1901, which hopefully ended the working-to-death-era, but as Wikipedia notes:

Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that Angola was “probably as close to slavery as any person could come in 1930.” Hardened criminals broke down upon being notified that they were being sent to Angola. White-black racial tensions in the society were expressed at the prison, adding to the violence: each year one in every ten inmates received stab wounds.

In 1952, 31 inmates cut their own Achilles’ tendons in protest against prison conditions, (which are reported as pretty horrible,) but things didn’t really improve until the 70s, when Judge Polozola decided the prison was so bad that if the legislature find funds to clean things up, he’d start releasing prisoners. According to Bergner, this led to an initial improvement in conditions, but subsequently a liberal warden with a kumbaya-approach to running the place was appointed and matters degenerated again. The lax approach to managing the prisoners led to men sleeping in cafeteria-tray armor in hopes of not being murdered by their neighbors in the middle of the night.

A more conservative warden replaced the liberal one, marched in military style, re-established order, and got the shivving rate back down. Angola appears to have found a workable middle-ground between getting worked to death in the swamps and getting stabbed to death during candle-lit kumbaya sessions.

But since Louisiana is poor and people tend not to want to spend money on criminals, Wikipedia notes:

In 2009, the prison reduced its budget by $12 million by “double bunking” (installing bunk beds to increase the capacity of dormitories), reducing overtime, and replacing officers with security cameras.[36]

That sounds like a bad idea.

Unfortunately for me, Bergner doesn’t explore the prisoners’ economy beyond the occasional reference to trade in cheese, cigarettes, or marijuana. (Cigarettes as prison currency appears confirmed.) He also doesn’t go into much detail about how the 6,300 prisoners (many of whom sleep in a large, open dormitory) regulate social relations among themselves. Rather, he focuses on describing the lives of a handful of inmates. Bergner’s mission is to humanize them–to portray them as people who, potentially, could be redeemed–without forgetting their crimes.

The biggest thing that stood out to me while reading was the gulf between these men’s lives and the world of middle and upper-class people who like to say high-minded things about criminals. The common vogue for blaming bad life outcomes on environmental effects–as though a few changes in early childhood could have radically changed the course of these men’s lives (and their victims’,) sending them to university instead of prison.

But this is not the story the mens’ biographies tell.

Obviously some people end up in prison by accident–unfortunate folks who actually were wrongly convicted. Then there are folks who did make a bad decision–or whose parents made bad decisions–that led to a much-regretted action. But this does not describe most of the Bergner’s criminals.

Rather, they share a combination of impulsiveness (high time preference,) aggression, and low-IQ.

In isolation, each of these traits is not so bad. People with Down’s Syndrome aren’t very bright, but they’re friendly and don’t murder others. An aggressive but smart person can understand the consequences of their actions and direct their aggression to socially-acceptable activities. But taken together, even people who later greatly regret their actions can, in a fit of rage, put a meat-cleaver into someone’s skull.

And even once they are in prison–a place where the average person might reflect that violence was a bad life choice–many criminals commit yet more violence–beating, raping, stabbing, and occasionally killing each other. Despite Angola being more peaceful than it was in the past (a peace imposed by marching guards in full riot gear,) it still requires constant, armed surveillance and daily searches to prevent the prisoners from shivving each other.

Bergner also visits a former Angola inmate in his home, where he now lives with his mother. As they survey the landscape surveying his childhood home–burned down buildings, crack houses on every corner, childhood friends consumed by drug use–it is clear that the traits that lead many men to Angola are not abnormalities, but more extreme forms of the traits responsible for the degradation around them.

This is an extremely difficult problem to solve, or even think up potential solutions for. It’s easy to say, “get the crack out of the cities,” but there were people dealing drugs even inside Angola. If people can smuggle and sell drugs in a maximum security prison, I don’t think anything short of heads on pikes will stop them from smuggling drugs into cities.

And even well-intentioned, drug-free people struggle with basics like picking up trash from their yards and preventing their homes from falling apart. As Bergner writes:

We stepped away from the house, a shabby box of pale green wood, the house Littell had been born in, that his mother still lived in, that he had returned to. A corroded swing set stood in front, then a low, wilting cyclone fence, then a stack of four torn tires like a welcoming statue beside the fence gate. … He never invited me inside, and I have always wondered what level of decrepitude or disarray he preferred not to show me…

Across from his house a vacant lot occupied half the block, a reminder of the property facing O’Brien, except that there the grass was cut low, while here saplings crowded one another amid shoulder-high reeds. An abandoned nightclub buckled behind the saplings. Within the tall grass were the charred boards of two houses leveled by arson while Littell had been at Angola. A pair of tremendous oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, had once shaded those houses. The trees still thrived, though now the effect was different, the dangling webs of moss no longer gentle but looking like an onslaught of chaotic growth spilling from the sky.

“This neighborhood was no Fifth Avenue,” Littell said as we passed between the lot on one side and homes like his mother’s on the other. “But it looked good. Fifteen years ago, a lot of these houses were still pretty new. Now it’s like nature’s taking over. When people move into a community they build up on nature, and now it’s like nature’s coming back and the will of man is losing out.” …

But he felt more threatened than I did, walking me around the neighborhood. Up ahead, three or four teenagers sat on the unrailed porch of a shack with boarded up windows. “They think you’re here to buy drugs,” he said, their eyes tracking us past the house. “They think I’m bringing the white dude around.” …

It was no joke to him. …. He had nothing to show the police if they stopped him for questioning. …

“Every evening, I try to be back inside by eight o’clock,” he said, “‘Cause all I need is to be in the wrong place at the time. They ask me for some ID, they see I got none, they run a check, see I’ve been to Angola, that’s it. Any unsolved robbery, they can pin it on me. You see, Dan, the new thing is that crack. And that’s everybody. It’s seldom you see anyone around here who’s straight. Sometimes it makes me thankful for Angola–all the guys I grew up with are wasted on it.”…

Then I listened to the neighborhood. At six-thirty in the evening it was silent, almost motionless. The dealers on their porch weren’t speaking. Nor were the women in their dingy yellow or powder blue knee-length shorts, sitting on a stoop propped up on cinder blocks. They only stared. No cars drove by…. A few rickety bicycles difted past,w ith grown men riding them. The supermarket where we went to buy sodas had seel mesh ove every window and, inside, scarecely any light… The grocery seemed to be the only operating business around. …

The place was like a ghost town, still inhabited.

I’ve often wondered: what is the difference between poverty and merely being poor or living at a lower socio-economic level? We don’t normally think of nomadic hunter-gatherers or pastoralists as “homeless.” A homeless guy sleeping under a bridge is poor, an aberration in a society where most people can afford homes; a hunter-gatherer sleeping in the bush is just living like his ancestors have always lived.

We might say that poverty is a departure from a community’s average–that is, a man is poor in comparison with his neighbors, not some global, a-historical ranking. But it seems a little dishonest to lump together people who live simply on purpose with people who struggle hard but still can’t get ahead.

So I propose a second definition: the inability to maintain the level of civilization you’re in. The Amish, for example, have a relatively low standard of living, low incomes, etc. But they are more than up to the task of maintaining their infrastructure, building their homes and barns, taking care of their horses, raising crops, etc. Amish society isn’t falling apart.

By contrast, Littell’s neighborhood has fallen apart over the fifteen years he spent at Angola. Nature is reclaiming the houses and burned-out businesses. We can blame crack, but that’s just kicking it back a level: why was this neighborhood blighted by crack while others went unscathed?

Many of the prisoners Bergner follows are functionally illiterate–one struggles (and fails) to pass a quiz intended for younger elementary school children. His struggle cannot be blamed on “lack of opportunity to learn,” as he is enrolled in a prison-based literacy programed whose entire purpose is to help inmates learn to read, and if there’s one thing people have lots of in Angola, it’s time.

Again, just as with impulsivity and aggression, the prisoners’ low-IQ mirrors that of their neighbors and peers back in the free population.

To be fair, this does not describe all of the prisoners. Some (like editors of the Angolite, Angola’s award-winning prison magazine) seem bright; some come across not as impulsively aggressive, but truly sociopathic.

Bergner wants us to consider redemption–the possibility, at least, that some of the men who have served 20, 30, or 40 years in prison may not be dangerous anymore, might have repented, might deserve a second chance at life. (One of the men he follows does seem truly sorry:

“Please take him off,” Terry prayed late at night, in Walnut [one of the dorms.] “He’s hunting me down again.”

His bedtime ritual had been performed hours earlier. On his cot, he had read the verses he’d highlighted months ago during his Bible group back at D. He turned the thin pages to find the neat orange markings

Lord, I cry unto Thee:
make haste unto me;
Give ear unto my voice…
Incline not my heart to any evil thing.

Then, twenty feet from whee the man had lost his sneakers and gained a long, scythe-shaped scar on the left side of his face, Terry knelt beside his own cot and closed his eyes and lowered his head to his folded head.

“Lord Jesus,” Terry went on, with a persistent hope that he was heard though he had failed to be saved,”thank you for looking over me… please keep an eye on my, Lord; can You take some of this away, Lord? Can you forgive me, Lord? …”

But after midnight something had woken him, and now Mr. Denver Tarter wouldn’t let him return to sleep. So Terry knelt again. …

“Please take him off. Please just this one thing.”

Religion plays a prominent role in the narrative, from the warden’s blustering claims of saving souls to the prison’s Pentecostal, “holy roller” church service; from quiet Bible study to the chaplain’s rounds:

Chaplain Holloway was assigned to Camp J. … Holloway pushed a grocery cart full of inspirational literature. … “What’s up, bro?” the chaplain asked at each set of bars. “What can I get for you, bro?” Built thick, a football player in college, he was a white hipster in a golfing shirt in the middle of the Inferno. I don’t know what he was, but he was tireless. And kind.

“How’d you end up back on One, bro?” he asked an emaciated man, referring to the worst of J’s levels, where you were let out of your cell–int a solitary dogrun–only two hours each week.

“I just told hello to a nurse on hospital call and told her she looked beautiful this morning.”

“Well, you know, babe,’ the chaplain said, understanding what had probably happened, that the man had told her hello and started jerking off, “next time just say hi and skip the rest of the verbology.”

He asked the man if he wanted to pray. They held hands and, leaning together, their foreheads almost touched. “In nine months you could be out of here, back in population,’ he encouraged afterward. … “You want some reading?”

“All right.”

He slipped through the bars a paperback of big-print advice and biblical quotations called You were born a Champion, Don’t Die a Loser. They held hand once more, and the chaplain moved on to the next convict. This was his day, this was his life, cell after cell after cell.

Those of us whose lives are so good that we have time for this voyeurism of peering into prisoners’ lives often approach religion with a disdainful, scornful attitude. Who needs a bunch of rules set down by an invisible sky fairy? Do you really need someone telling you not to steal? Don’t you already know how to behave?

But for many people at the bottom of society–not just criminals, but also the poor, the suffering, folks struggling with addictions, loss, disabilities or life-threatening diseases–religion really does seem to be a comfort, a guide, a way of working toward a better life. As I’ve documented before, in some of the world’s poorest and most isolated places, religious folks are often the only people willing to go to these awful places to try to help people.

It’s easy to look at statistics and say, “religious people are, on average, poor/less educated/more likely to be in prison/etc than atheists” but maybe this is like saying that people who buy hammers have a lot more nails that need pounding in than people who don’t.

The last thing that stands out in this narrative is the women who date and marry convicted murderers. Two of the men whose lives Bergner follows begin dating while in prison (for life). One meets a woman while performing in the annual Angola rodeo; she is impressed by his amateur bull-riding performance and they begin writing letters back and forth. Soon they were planning marriage, hoping for a pardon or an overturned conviction:

Pretty soon, he’d have it going in the courts. Pretty soon, he’d be working for Gerry Lane [just a guy he hopes to work for] himself, raising Belva’ kids like a regular father, straightening out her daughter and making sure the rest of them stayed on the right road Pretty soon, he’d have a son of his own. Pretty soon he’d be lying in bed next to Belva with all their letters piled up between them, all their letters from when he was in Angola, to read over how they got started.

They would be a family. They were already. He hadn’t met the two daughters, but the two boys had been to visit once, when there had been room in Sandra’s car. [Belva doesn’t have her own car but gets a ride with another woman visiting someone at the prison.] He played Pac-Man with the boys. …

Pac-Man: who knew?

The little Pac-Man munches snapped their jaws, and Brooks urged, “Gobble ’em, son, gobble ’em, move that stick,” and Marcus squealed, “Coon ass things! Coon ass things!” He seemed to think the Pac-Man prey were Cajun rednecks.

“Con ass things?” Brooks laughed.

And Marcus aw that it was funny. “Coon ass things! Coon ass things!” He cracked himself up, and Brooks put his cheek next to Marcus’s jittery, giggling head.

The boys had sent Brooks a Father’s Day card, and after his phone call with Belva he took the card from his box …:

“No one chooses a Dad
From a magazine ad
Or a paper with classifieds in it….

But if we’d had the chance
For a choice in advance
You’re the Dad we’d have picked in a minute.”

Tight to the top of the inside page, the thirteen-year-old, Kenny, had drawn a smiley face and written, “You are the father we did not have.”

He and Belva do get married, in a ceremony in one of the prison chapels. I rather doubt the relationship will last for the long-haul, however. Dating a guy in prison may seem fun at first, but as year after year of a life sentence pass by (and the author gives us no real reason to expect the men will receive the pardons they hope for,) the problems inherent in any long-distance relationship begin to manifest.

Bergner describes another relationship, begun when the prison’s band performed a show off prison grounds and the guitarist met a fan. She, too, already had a child (in this case, only one,) who quickly bonded with her “new father.” They were also married, but as the years passed, she stopped calling, stopped visiting. I suspect she has just grown bored, found someone else who is physically present in her own neighborhood.

Bergner doesn’t explore these women’s lives, what motivates them to date criminals serving life sentences for murder, nor the effects on their children. Chances are there is something deeply wrong in these women’s lives. Whether it is merely that love sometimes blooms in even unusual places, or something deeper, I can’t say and Bergner makes no comment. His focus is the criminals.

Race is obviously ever-present in the book–Angola’s population is about 90% African American, (according to Bergner,) in a state that’s only 30% black–but he never addresses it in any systematic way, nor does he discuss how (if at all) race impacts relationships between the prisoners.

Disclaimer: my copy of the book was missing a few pages, so there might have been something on those pages that I missed.

Ultimately, this isn’t exactly the book I’d have chosen for Anthropology Friday if I’d had more options, but it was still a good read and probably deserves more attention than it’s garnered.

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South Carolina: The Land Democracy Forgot

While researching my post on migration and the Civil War, I came across a curious twist in American history: out of all the states in the union prior to 1860, one, South Carolina, never let its citizens vote for president. The popular vote did not come to South Carolina until after the Civil War, when democracy was imposed.

In America’s first election, (George Washington, 1789,) the country hadn’t really worked out how this whole “elections” thing worked. Three states didn’t even participate in the election; six states had no popular vote but let the legislature choose electors instead; three states held a popular vote for electors; and one state–Delaware–totally meant to let people vote, but forgot to get ballots.

Everything worked out, though, and Washington received 100% of the electoral votes.

By the election of 1800, 6 states had something resembling popular votes, and 10 did not.

In 1812, the country was evenly divided: 9 by popular vote, 9 by legislature.

In 1824, 18 states had popular votes and only 6 still used the legislature.

In 1828, only two states–South Carolina and Delaware–still had no popular vote, and by 1832, South Carolina was the only one left.

The citizens of South Carolina were not allowed to vote for president until the election of 1868, after the Civil War and the passage of various legislation related to reconstruction, black citizenship, and popular voting.

Strom Thurmond’s incredible 48 straight years as Senator from South Carolina makes me wonder, though, if democracy ever truly took hold in this final hold-out.

Anthropology Friday: Slavery Narratives (pt 4/4)

Alexandre Dumas, son of former slave Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, general in the French army
Alexandre Dumas, son of former slave Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, general in the French army

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re finishing Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.) These stories were gathered in the 1930s as part of a Federally-funded program to get people working and preserve first-hand accounts of the history of the United States before everyone involved passed away.

When I start an anthropology text, I don’t know if I’m really going to enjoy it. Some texts are informative but dull, and many are both dull and uninformative. These personal narratives might not count as “anthropology” in the formal, polished sense–most of the interviewers probably had little to no formal “anthropology” training, and did very little to analyze or comment on the material they gathered.

Despite the obvious shortcomings of their methodology (interviewees sometimes seem to be inventing or exaggerating stories for the sake of the white interviewer,) and many short interviews with people who had little to say, the interviews still constitute nearly 10,000 pages of genuine first-hand accounts of slavery, the Civil War, and the late 1800s in the US South.

As someone who grew up in the South, much of this dovetails with my own cultural knowledge/memories. The tradition of eating black eyed peas for luck on New Years’ was at least mentioned, if not exactly observed (my grandmother probably still eats them.) For that matter, when my grandparents (who are still alive, if quite elderly) were young, back in the 30s, they heard first-hand accounts about the Civil War from their elderly relatives (long story short: Union troops burned down the farm.)

While every story is unique, they have certain commonalities, and many–especially the ones about the Yankees–are similar to the ones passed down in my own family.

Anyway, let’s begin.

“Aunt” Millie Bates: The Ghosts of War

“Was not long after dat fore de spooks wuz a gwine round ebber whar. When you would go out atter dark, somethin’ would start to a haintin’ ye. You would git so scairt dat you would mighty ni run every time you went out atter dark; even iffin you didn’t see nothin’. Chile, don’t axe me what I seed. Atter all dat killin’ and a burnin’ you know you wuz bliged to see things wid all dem spirits in distress a gwine all over de land. You see, it is like dis, when a man gits killed befo he is done what de good Lawd intended fer him to do, he comes back here and tries to find who done him wrong. I mean he don’ come back hisself, but de spirit, it is what comes and wanders around. Course, it can’t do nothin’, so it jus scares folks and haints dem.”

Maggie Black, 79 years old: Children’s Nurse, Games, and School

“Gawd been good to me, honey. I been heah uh long ole time en I can’ see mucha dese days, but I gettin’ ‘long sorta so-so. I wuz train up to be uh nu’se ‘oman en I betcha I got chillun more den any 60 year ole ’bout heah now dat I nu’se when dey wuz fust come heah. No, honey, ain’ got no chillun uv me own. Aw my chillun white lak yuh.”

EvX: As far as I know, the tradition of hiring black women to care for white children has disappeared from the South, (modern children are sent to daycares where they are raised by Hispanic women,) but memories of the system linger. Considering the South’s rather strict racial hierarchy, this was a kind of curious inversion. In practice, I wonder how it affected social relations. But continuing on:

“No, no’mam, dey wear long ole frock den en uh girl comin’ on dere when dey ge’ to be any kind uv uh girl, dey put dat frock down. Oh, my child, dey can’ ge’ em short ‘nough dese days. Ain’ hab nuthin but uh string on dese day en time. Dey use’er wear dem big ole hoop skirt dat sit out broad lak from de ankle en den dey wear little panty dat show down twixt dey skirt en dey ankle. Jes tie em ’round dey knees wid some sorta string en le’ em show dat way ’bout dey ankle. I ‘member we black chillun’ud go in de woods en ge’ wild grape vine en bend em round en put em under us skirt en make it stand out big lak. Hadder hab uh big ole ring fa de bottom uv de skirt en den one uh little bit smaller eve’y time dey ge’ closer to de waist. Ne’er hab none tall in de waist cause dat wuz s’ppose to be little bitty t’ing.” …

Cabin School
Cabin School with African American students

“A’ter freedom ‘clare, uh lady from de north come dere en Miss Leggett send we chillun to school to dat lady up on de hill dere in de woods. No, honey, yah ain’ ne’er see no bresh tent ’bout heah dis day en time. Dis jes de way it waz make. Dey dig four big holes en put postes in aw four corner ’bout lak uh room. Den dey lay log ‘cross de top uv dat en kiver it aw o’er wid bresh (brush) dat dey break outer de woods. Ne’er hab none uv de side shet up. En dey haul log dere en roll em under dat bresh tent fa we chillun to set on. Oh, de teacher’ud hab uh big box fa her stand jes lak uh preacher. Eve’ybody dat go to school dere hab one uv dem t’ing call slate dat yah ne’er hadder do nuthin but jes wash it offen. En dey hab dese ole l’arnin’ book wha’ yuh call Websters.” …

“Oh, gourds waz de t’ing in dem days. Dey waz wha’ de peoples hab to drink outer en wash dey hominy en rice in aw de time. Dey was de bestest kind uv bowl fa we chillun to eat corn bread en clabber outer. Peoples dis day en time don’ hab no sech crockery lak de people use’er hab. Honey, day hab de prettiest little clay bowls den.”

Samuel Boulware, 82 years old: Food, Slavery, and Poor Whites

“Us had plenty to eat in slavery time. It wasn’t de best but it filled us up and give us strength ‘nough to work. Marster would buy a years rations on de first of every year and when he git it, he would have some cooked and would set down and eat a meal of it. He would tell us it didn’t hurt him, so it won’t hurt us. Dats de kind of food us slaves had to eat all de year. Of course, us got a heap of vegetables and fruits in de summer season, but sich as dat didn’t do to work on, in de long summer days.”

EvX: Oh God, a year’s worth of rations purchased all at once. That sounds pretty unappetizing.

It appears that one of the questions on the questionnaire the interviewers used was about food, so there are a lot of responses on the subject. The vast majority of responses state that food in slavery times was simple but abundant. By contrast, post-slavery, many people experienced a great deal of hunger (especially since the war disrupted agriculture and the Yankees burned down a lot of food.) But continuing on:

“Marster had over twenty grown slaves all de time. He bought and sold them whenever he wanted to. It was sad times to see mother and chillun separated. I’s seen de slave speculator cut de little nigger chillun with keen leather whips, ’cause they’d cry and run after de wagon dat was takin’ their mammies away after they was sold.

“De overseer was poor white folks, if dats what you is askin’ ’bout, and dat is one thing dat made him so hard on de slaves of de plantation. All de overseers I knowed ’bout was poor white folks; they was white folks in de neighborhood dat wasn’t able to own slaves. All dis class of people was called by us niggers, poor white folks. …

“Most them there patrollers was poor white folks, I believes. Rich folks stay in their house at night, ‘less they has some sort of big frolic amongst theirselves. Poor white folks had to hustle ’round to make a living, so, they hired out theirselves to slave owners and rode de roads at night and whipped niggers if they ketched any off their plantation widout a pass.

EvX: Several interviewees mentioned that overseers/patrollers/KKK members were drawn largely from the class of “poor whites”–an ethnically distinct group of whites drawn from a combination of the English lower classes, “Scotch-Irish,” and probably some regular Irish.

Andy Brice, 81 years old: Fiddlin’ Fiddler and the Election of 1878:

“Howdy Cap’n! I come to Winnsboro dis mornin’ from way ‘cross Wateree, where I live now ‘mongst de bull-frogs and skeeters. Seem lak they just sing de whole night thru: ‘De bull-frog on de bank, and de skeeter in de pool.’ Then de skeeter sail ’round my face wid de tra la, la la la, la la la part of dat old song you is heard, maybe many times. …

“One day I see Marse Thomas a twistin’ de ears on a fiddle and rosinin’ de bow. Then he pull dat bow ‘cross de belly of dat fiddle. Sumpin’ bust loose in me and sing all thru my head and tingle in my fingers. I make up my mind, right then and dere, to save and buy me a fiddle. I got one dat Christmas, bless God! I learn and been playin’ de fiddle ever since. I pat one foot while I playin’. I kept on playin’ and pattin’ dat foot for thirty years. I lose dat foot in a smash up wid a highway accident but I play de old tunes on dat fiddle at night, dat foot seem to be dere at de end of dat leg (indicating) and pats just de same. Sometime I ketch myself lookin’ down to see if it have come back and jined itself up to dat leg, from de very charm of de music I makin’ wid de fiddle and de bow. …

“They say behind my back, in ’76, dat I’s a white folks nigger. I wear a red shirt then, drink red liquor, play de fiddle at de ‘lection box, and vote de white folks ticket. …

“I ‘members very little ’bout de war, tho’ I was a good size boy when de Yankees come. By instint, a nigger can make up his mind pretty quick ’bout de creed of white folks, whether they am buckra or whether they am not. Every Yankee I see had de stamp of poor white trash on them. They strutted ’round, big Ike fashion, a bustin’ in rooms widout knockin’, talkin’ free to de white ladies, and familiar to de slave gals, ransackin’ drawers, and runnin’ deir bayonets into feather beds, and into de flower beds in de yards. …

“Ellen and me have one child, Sallie Ann. Ellen ‘joy herself; have a good time nussin’ white folks chillun. Nussed you; she tell me ’bout it many time. ‘Spect she mind you of it very often. I knows you couldn’t git ’round dat woman; nobody could. …

“You wants me to tell ’bout dat ‘lection day at Woodward, in 1878? You wants to know de beginnin’ and de end of it? Yes? Well, you couldn’t wet dis old man’s whistle wid a swallow of red liquor now? Couldn’t you or could you? Dis was de way of it: It was set for Tuesday. Monday I drive de four-hoss wagon down to dis very town. Marse John McCrory and Marse Ed Woodward come wid me. They was in a buggy. When us got here, us got twenty, sixteen shooters and put them under de hay us have in de wagon. Bar rooms was here. I had fetched my fiddle ‘long and played in Marse Fred Habernick’s bar ’til dinner time. Us leave town ’bout four o’clock. Roads was bad but us got home ’bout dark. Us put de guns in Marse Andy Mobley’s store. Marse Ed and me leave Marse John to sleep in de store and to take care of de guns.

“De nex’ mornin’, polls open in de little school house by de brick church. I was dere on time, help to fix de table by de window and set de ballot boxes on it. Voters could come to de window, put deir arms thru and tuck de vote in a slit in de boxes. Dere was two supervisors, Marse Thomas for de Democrats and Uncle Jordan for de Radicals. Marse Thomas had a book and a pencil, Uncle Jordan had de same.

“Joe Foster, big buckra nigger, want to vote a stranger. Marse Thomas challenge dis vote. In them times colored preachers so ‘furiate de women, dat they would put on breeches and vote de ‘Publican radical ticket. De stranger look lak a woman. Joe Foster ‘spute Marse Thomas’ word and Marse Thomas knock him down wid de naked fist. Marse Irish Billy Brice, when him see four or five hindred blacks crowdin’ ’round Marse Thomas, he jump thru de window from de inside. When he lit on de ground, pistol went off pow! One nigger drop in his tracks. Sixteen men come from nowhere and sixteen, sixteen shooters. Marse Thomas hold up his hand to them and say: ‘Wait!’ Him point to de niggers and say: ‘Git.’ They start to runnin’ ‘cross de railroad, over de hillside and never quit runnin’ ’til they git half a mile away. De only niggers left on dat ground was me, old Uncle Kantz, (you know de old mulatto, club-foot nigger) well, me and him and Albert Gladney, de hurt nigger dat was shot thru de neck was de only niggers left. Dr. Tom Douglas took de ball out Albert’s neck and de white folks put him in a wagon and sent him home. I drive de wagon.

When I got back, de white boys was in de graveyard gittin’ names off de tombstones to fill out de talley sheets, dere was so many votes in de box for de Hampton ticket, they had to vote de dead. I ‘spect dat was one resurrection day all over South Carolina.”

EvX: I believe this was the 1878 Gubernatorial election. Wikipedia says:

The 1878 South Carolina gubernatorial election was held on November 5, 1878 to select the governor of the state of South Carolina. Wade Hampton III was renominated by the Democrats and ran against no organized opposition in the general election to win reelection for a second two-year term. …

Upon becoming Governor after a prolonged struggle against Daniel Henry Chamberlain in the gubernatorial election of 1876, Wade Hampton adopted moderate racial policies and favored many Republican proposals. For instance, the state modified the agriculture lien law and passed a law giving counties the ability to mandate the fencing of livestock. Hampton also appointed many blacks to government positions and provided for more funds to be spent educating black children than white children. …

Throughout Hampton’s first term in office, he appealed for political harmony between the races. Hampton carried out his pledge to ensure equal rights between the races and he appointed more black men to office than Chamberlain had during his term as governor.[5] The more militant faction of the Democratic Party, led by Martin Gary, was entirely against any cooperation with blacks and instead sought to remove blacks completely from political life. The Edgefield County Democrats would not acknowledge any black Democratic clubs and they prevented blacks from participating in the primary elections. Hampton publicly refuted this policy and no other county followed suit.[4] Nevertheless, new laws were enacted by the General Assembly in 1877 to make it harder for blacks to participate and vote in the electoral process.

Hampton took every county in South Carolina, winning by an absurd 119,550 to 213 votes, or 99.8%.

Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee
Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

George Briggs, 88: The Healing Preacher

“I is gwine over to Tosch to see Maria. Everybody know Maria. She go by Rice–Maria Rice. She sont fer me to cure her misery. First, I went from my home in lower Cross Keys, across de Enoree, to see Maria. When I reached dar whar she stay, dey tell me dat her daughter over to Tosch. Done come and got her.

“A kind friend dat de Lawd put in my path fetched me back across de Enoree and over to Tosch to Maria’s gal’s house. I is gwine straight over dar and lay my hand on Maria and rid her of dat misery dat she sont word was ailing her all dis spring. Don’t make no diff’uns whar you hurts–woman, man or suckling babe–if you believes in de holler of my hand, it’ll ease you, allus do it. De Bible say so, dat’s why it be true. Ain’t gwine to tell you nothing but de truth and de whole truth, so help me Jesus. Gone 65 years, I is been born agin dat long; right over in Padgett’s Creek church, de white folks’ church, dat’s what de Lawd tuck my sins away and washed me clean agin wid His blood. Dat’s why I allus sticks to de truth, I does. …

“Sho I can remember when dey had de mustering grounds at de Keys. Dar day mustered and den dey turn’t in and practiced drilling dem soldiers till dey larn’t how to march and to shoot de Yankees. Drilling, dat’s de proper word, not practice, I knows, if I ain’t ed’icated. Dey signed me to go to de 16th regiment, but I never reached de North. When us got to Charleston, us turn’t around and de bosses fetched us right back to Union through Columbia. Us heard dat Sherman was coming, fetching fire along ‘hind him. …

“I can histronize de poor white folks’ wives and chilluns enduring de time of de Civil War fer you. When dese poor white men went to de war, dey left deir little chillun and deir wives in de hands of de darkies dat was kind and de rich wives of our marsters to care fer. Us took de best care of dem poor white dat us could under de circumstances dat prevailed.

“We was sont to Sullivan’s Island, but befo’ we reached it, de Yankees done got it and we won’t ‘lowed to cross in ’64. But jes’ de same, we was in service till dey give Capt. Franklin Bailey ‘mission to fetch us home. Dar we had to git ‘mission fer everything, jes’ as us niggers had to git ‘mission to leave our marster’s place at home in Union County. Capt. Bailey come on back to Cross Keys wid us under his protection, and we was under it fer de longest time atter we done got home. …

“I see a man in de courthouse dis morning, and he was like Nicodemus. Why dat man want to be resto’d back like he was when he was jest 21 years old. I seed him setting down dar in Mr. Perrin’s office, and I knowed his troubles when he ‘low dat he done been to every doctor in town. De trouble was, he never had no faith in de doctors and nobody else. How could he have faith in Jesus when he never had none in nothing else? Brother, you has to have faith in your fellowman befo’ you has faith in de Lawd. I don’t know how come, but dat’s de way it is. My plan is working by faith. Jesus say, ‘Work widout faith ain’t nothing; but work wid faith’ll move mountains’…

“Dey looks at de back of my head, and de hair on it ain’t rubbed against no college and fer dat reason dese young negroes don’t want me to preach. Dey wants to hear dat man preach dat can read. Man dat can read can’t understand less’n some divine man guide him. I speak as my Teacher gives it to me, dat’s de Lawd. In so doing, I testify de word dat no man can condemn. Dat is my plan of Salvation: to work by faith widout price or purse, as de Lawd, my Teacher has taught me.”

aa_9993John Brown, 86 years old: Mixing

“My father was a ginger-bread colored man, not a full-blooded nigger. Dat’s how I is altogether yallow. See dat lady over dere in dat chair? Dat’s my wife. Her brighter skinned than I is. How come dat? Her daddy was a full-blooded Irishman. He come over here from Ireland and was overseer for Marse Bob Clowney. He took a fancy for Adeline’s mammy, a bright ‘latto gal slave on de place. White women in them days looked down on overseers as poor white trash. Him couldn’t git a white wife but made de best of it by puttin’ in his spare time a honeyin’ ’round Adeline’s mammy. Marse Bob stuck to him, and never ‘jected to it.

aa_9995

 

Sylvia Cannon, 85: A different Perspective

“Times was sho better long time ago den dey be now. I know it. Yes, mam, I here frettin myself to death after dem dat gone. Colored people never had no debt to pay in slavery time. Never hear tell bout no colored people been put in jail fore freedom. Had more to eat en more to wear den en had good clothes all de time cause white folks furnish everything, everything. Dat is, had plenty to eat such as we had. Had plenty peas en rice en hog meat en rabbit en’ fish en such as dat. Colored people sho fare better in slavery time be dat de white folks had to look out for dem. Had dey extra crop what dey had time off to work every Saturday. White folks tell dem what dey made, dey could have. Peoples would have found we colored people rich wid de money we made on de extra crop, if de slaves hadn’ never been set free. Us had big rolls of money en den when de Yankees come en change de money, dat what made us poor. It let de white people down en let us down too. Left us all to bout starve to death. Been force to go to de fish pond en de huckleberry patch. Land went down to $1.00 a acre. White people let us clear up new land en make us own money dat way. We bury it in de ground en dat how-come I had money. I dig mine up one day en had over $1500.00 dat I been save. Heap of peoples money down dere yet en dey don’ know whe’ to find it.”

EvX: Many slaves had cruel masters whom they disliked and left as quickly as possible. But many slaves also suffered–and died–of hunger, sickness, and exposure after the war. “We would have been rich if not for the war” sounds like wishful thinking, but Mrs. Cannon may have actually lost the money she’d been carefully saving up before the war.

Charlie Davis, 79 years old: Patrollers and Marriage

“De patrollers was nothin’ but poor white trash, mammy say, and if they didn’t whip some slaves, every now and then, they would lose deir jobs. My mammy and daddy got married after freedom, ’cause they didn’t git de time for a weddin’ befo’. They called deirselves man and wife a long time befo’ they was really married, and dat is de reason dat I’s as old as I is now. I reckon they was right, in de fust place, ’cause they never did want nobody else ‘cept each other, nohow. Here I is, I has been married one time and at no time has I ever seen another woman I wanted. My wife has been dead a long time and I is still livin’ alone.”

EvX: I haven’t been keeping track of how many people married vs. never married, but my general impression is that most people interviewed did marry and never parted from their spouse except in death. This is quite different from our modern situation, in which a rather large percentage of the black community never marries and instead carries on relationships with a number of other people. One theory holds that the modern Welfare State has disincentivised marriage by giving more money to unmarried women with children than to married women with children; another holds that high density–and ghettos and housing projects are definitely dense–interferes with our ability to form lasting pair bonds.

Well, that’s the end. I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.

Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 3/4)

Slaves (and others) on J. J. Smith's cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina, photographed by Timothy O'Sullivan standing before their quarters in 1862
Slaves (and others) on J. J. Smith’s cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina, photographed by Timothy O’Sullivan standing before their quarters in 1862

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we are continuing with Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.) These stories were gathered in the 1930s as part of a Federally-funded program to get people working and preserve first-hand accounts of the history of the United States before everyone involved passed away.

William Ballard, 88, lived on a very extensive plantation:

“We was allowed three pounds o’ meat, one quart o’ molasses, grits and other things each week–plenty for us to eat.

“When freedom come, he told us we was free, and if we wanted to stay on with him, he would do the best he could for us. Most of us stayed, and after a few months, he paid wages. After eight months, some went to other places to work. …

“The master always had a very big garden with plenty of vegetables. He had fifty hogs, and I helped mind the hogs. He didn’t raise much cotton, but raised lots of wheat and corn. He made his own meal and flour from the mill on the creek; made home-made clothes with cards and spinning wheels. …

“The master had his own tanyard and tanned his leather and made shoes for his hands. … We had old brick ovens, lots of ’em. Some was used to make molasses from our own sugar cane we raised.

“The master had a ‘sick-house’ where he took sick slaves for treatment, and kept a drug store there. They didn’t use old-time cures much, like herbs and barks, except sassafras root tea for the blood. …

“My father run the blacksmith shop for the master on the place. I worked around the place. The patrollers were there and we had to have a pass to get out any. The nigger children sometimes played out in the road and were chased by patrollers. The children would run into the master’s place and the patrollers couldn’t get them ’cause the master wouldn’t let them. We had no churches for slaves, but went to the white church and set in the gallery. After freedom, niggers built ‘brush harbors’ on the place. …

Slaves on a South Carolina plantation (The Old Plantation, c. 1790)
Slaves on a South Carolina plantation (The Old Plantation, c. 1790)

“Some games children played was, hiding switches, marbles, and maybe others. Later on, some of de nigger boys started playing cards and got to gambling; some went to de woods to gamble.

“The old cotton gins on de farms were made of wooden screws, and it took all day to gin four bales o’ cotton.

“I was one of the first trustees that helped build the first colored folks’ church in the town of Greenwood.”

EvX: One thing that stands out to me, after reading a few dozen of these accounts, is these folks showed far more composure–sangfroid, if you will–about their lives than we tend to imagine we would.

It is very easy to imagine that you would act differently in a situation than others did–better, smarter, kinder, braver, whatever. Chances are, of course, that you’d be exactly like everyone else. So would I. And in most cases, people who grew up in slavery didn’t really have a very good idea of any alternative system, or how they would function (survive) in it.

This is part of why slave rebellions were so (relatively) rare in the US. You might think, “Slavery is awful and unjust, and in parts of the South there were more blacks than whites, so of course if I were a slave, I’d have helped start a successful rebellion.” But in reality, if you were a slave, there’s very little chance you’d be able to coordinate with other slaves, especially those on other plantations, much less convince them all to throw away the system that does feed them for the promise of an unknown system that might not feed them.

Even after slavery ended, plenty of slaves stayed where they were, not because they “liked” slavery, but because they didn’t have any immediate option of a better employer. Most of these folks left later when better opportunities arose.

Returning for a second to a popular (but under-discussed IMO) NRx topic, the whole point and importance of Exit is to allow citizens, like customers in a free market, to chose between countries, thus encouraging countries to treat their citizens well.

Large plantations were, like Medieval Manors, impressively self-contained, producing their own food, clothes, leather, timber, etc. A few people ran the place, keeping everything organized and making sure the finances worked out, and a thousand people did the actual labor.

Peter or Gordon, a whipped slave, photo taken at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863;
Peter or Gordon, a whipped slave, photo taken at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863;

The downside to such a system is that there isn’t a whole lot to prevent the people running it from mistreating their slaves. In fact, the whole system is run on two different groups with two different sets of interests. The owners want to extract as much labor as possible from the slaves, and are perfectly willing to whip them to do so. They don’t want to kill their slaves, as slaves cost money, but they don’t care particularly much if their slaves are in pain and miserable.

The slaves, of course, want to do enough work to feed themselves and no more.

Freedom and Exit are essentially the same concept. Free slaves generally end up doing the same work they were doing before slavery, but now they can leave an cruel master and offer their labor to the best employers around. Obviously the terms an employee can demand have a lot to do with their individual skills and the local supply of labor, but at least employers are much less likely to whip them.

Anyway, continuing on…

Charley Barber, 81: The End of the World

“I stay on [at the plantation] ’til ’76. Then I come to Winnsboro and git a job as section hand laborer on de railroad. Out of de fust money … I buys me a red shirt and dat November I votes and de fust vote I put in de box was for Governor Wade Hampton.”

EvX: Another red shirt voting for Wade Hampton. I express my doubts. But back to Mr. Barber:

“Bless your soul Marse Wood, you know what old Mudder Shifton say? She ‘low dat: ‘In de year 1881, de world to an end will surely come’. I was twenty-five years old when all de niggers and most of de white folks was believin’ dat old lady and lookin’ for de world to come to an end in 1881. Dat was de year dat I jined de church, ’cause I wanted to make sure dat if de end did come, I’d be caught up in dat rapture.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia’s list of predicted apocalyptic events:

[Mother Shipton, a] 15th-century prophet was quoted as saying “The world to an end shall come, In eighteen hundred and eighty one” in a book published in 1862. In 1873 it was revealed to be a forgery; however, this did not stop some people from expecting the end.

And about Mum Shipton herself:

Ursula Southeil (c. 1488–1561) … better known as Mother Shipton, is said to have been an English soothsayer and prophetess. The first publication of her prophecies, which did not appear until 1641, eighty years after her reported death, contained a number of mainly regional predictions, but only two prophetic verses – neither of which foretold the End of the World, despite widespread assumptions to that effect.[4] …

The most famous claimed edition of Mother Shipton’s prophecies foretells many modern events and phenomena. Widely quoted today as if it were the original, it contains over a hundred prophetic rhymed couplets in notably non-16th-century language and includes the now-famous lines:

The world to an end shall come
In eighteen hundred and eighty one.[6]

However, this version did not appear in print until 1862, and its true author, one Charles Hindley, subsequently admitted in print that he had invented it.[7] This invented prophecy has appeared over the years with different dates and in (or about) several countries (for example in the late 1970s many news articles about Mother Shipton appeared setting the date at 1981[citation needed]). The 1920s (subsequently much reprinted) booklet The Life and Prophecies of Ursula Sontheil better known as Mother Shipton[8] stated the date as 1991.[9][10]

“I b’longs to de St. John Methodist Church in Middlesix, part of Winnsboro. They was havin’ a rival (revival) meetin’ de night of de earthquake, last day of August, in 1886. Folks had hardly got over de scare of 1881, ’bout de world comin’ to an end. It was on Tuesday night, if I don’t disremember, ’bout 9 o’clock. De preacher was prayin’, just after de fust sermon, but him never got to de amen part of dat prayer. Dere come a noise or rumblin’, lak far off thunder, seem lak it come from de northwest, then de church begin to rock lak a baby’s cradle. Dere was great excitement. Old Aunt Melvina holler: ‘De world comin’ to de end’. De preacher say: ‘Oh, Lordy’, and run out of de pulpit. Everbody run out de church in de moonlight.

When de second quake come, ’bout a minute after de fust, somebody started up de cry: ‘De devil under de church! De devil under de church! De devil gwine to take de church on his back and run away wid de church!’ People never stop runnin’ ’til they got to de court house in town. Dere they ‘clare de devil done take St. John’s Church on his back and fly away to hell wid it. Marse Henry Galliard make a speech and tell them what it was and beg them to go home. Dat Mr. Skinner, de telegraph man at de depot, say de main part of it was way down ’bout Charleston, too far away for anybody to git hurt here, ‘less a brick from a chimney fall on somebody’s head. De niggers mostly believes what a fine man, lak Marse Henry, tell them. De crowd git quiet. Some of them go home but many of them, down in de low part of town, set on de railroad track in de moonlight, all night. I was mighty sleepy de nex’ mornin’ but I work on de railroad track just de same. Dat night folks come back to St. John’s Church, find it still dere, and such a outpourin’ of de spirit was had as never was had befo’ or since.”

EvX: I think people just plain believed in things more than they do now. I still blame electricity for the change.

Ed Barber, 77: Another Red Shirt!

“It’s been a long time since I see you. Maybe you has forgot but I ain’t forgot de fust time I put dese lookers on you, in ’76. Does you ‘members dat day? It was in a piece of pines beyond de Presbyterian Church, in Winnsboro, S. C. Us both had red shirts. You was a ridin’ a gray pony and I was a ridin’ a red mule, sorrel like. You say dat wasn’t ’76? Well, how come it wasn’t? Ouillah Harrison, another nigger, was dere, though he was a man. Both of us got to arguin’. He ‘low he could vote for Hampton and I couldn’t, ’cause I wasn’t 21. You say it was ’78 ‘stead of ’76, dat day in de pines when you was dere? Well! Well! I sho’ been thinkin’ all dis time it was ’76. …

“Who I see dere? Well, dere was a string of red shirts a mile long, dat come into Winnsboro from White Oak. And another from Flint Hill, over de Pea Ferry road, a mile long. De bar-rooms of de town did a big business dat day. Seem lak it was de fashion to git drunk all ‘long them days.

“Them red shirts was de monkey wrench in de cotton-gin of de carpet bag party. I’s here to tell you. If a nigger git hungry, all he have to do is go to de white folk’s house, beg for a red shirt, and explain hisself a democrat. He might not git de shirt right then but he git his belly full of everything de white folks got, and de privilege of comin’ to dat trough sometime agin. …

“My mother name Ann. Her b’long to my marster, James Barber. Dat’s not a fair question when you ask me who my daddy was. Well, just say he was a white man and dat my mother never did marry nobody, while he lived. I was de onliest child my mother ever had. …

“My marster, James Barber, went through de Civil War and died. I begs you, in de name of de good white folks of ’76 and Wade Hampton, not to forget me in dis old age pension business.

“What I think of Abe Lincoln? I think he was a poor buckra white man, to de likes of me. Although, I ‘spects Mr. Lincoln meant well but I can’t help but wish him had continued splittin’ them fence rails, which they say he knowed all ’bout, and never took a hand in runnin’ de government of which he knowed nothin’ ’bout. Marse Jeff Davis was all right, but him oughta got out and fought some, lak General Lee, General Jackson and ‘Poleon Bonaparte.”

EvX: I suspect the Civil War might have gone a bit differently had Napoleon shown up on the battlefield, too.

“Does I know any good colored men? I sho’ does! Dere’s Professor Benjamin Russell at Blackstock. You knows him. Then dere was Ouillah Harrison, dat own a four-hoss team and a saddle hoss, in red shirt days. One time de brass band at Winnsboro, S. C. wanted to go to Camden, S. C. to play at de speakin’ of Hampton. He took de whole band from Winnsboro to Camden, dat day, free of charge. Ah! De way dat band did play all de way to Ridgeway, down de road to Longtown, cross de Camden Ferry, and right into de town. Dere was horns a blowin’, drums a beatin’, and people a shoutin’: ‘Hurrah for Hampton!’ Some was a singin’: ‘Hang Dan Chamberlain on a Sour Apple Tree’. Ouillah come home and found his wife had done had a boy baby. What you reckon? He name dat boy baby, Wade Hampton. When he come home to die, he lay his hand on dat boy’s head and say: ‘Wade, ‘member who you name for and always vote a straight out democrat ticket’. Which dat boy did!”

Anderson Bates, 87: Courtship, DuPont, and the Ku Kluxes

“Dat’s funny, you wants to set down dere ’bout my courtship and weddin’? Well, sir, I stay on de old plantation, work for my old marster, de doctor, and fell head over heels in love wid Carrie. Dere was seven more niggers a flyin’ ’round dat sugar lump of a gal in de night time when I breezes in and takes charge of de fireside cheer. I knocks one down one night, kick another out de nex’ night, and choke de stuffin’ out of one de nex’ night. I landed de three-leg stool on de head of de fourth one, de last time. Then de others carry deir ‘fections to some other place than Carrie’s house. Us have some hard words ’bout my bad manners, but I told her dat I couldn’t ‘trol my feelin’s wid them fools a settin’ ’round dere gigglin’ wid her. I go clean crazy! …

Slaves processing tobacco in 17th-century Virginia
Slaves processing tobacco in 17th-century Virginia

“Then I go back to de quarry, drill and git out stone. They pay me $3.50 a day ’til de Parr Shoals Power come in wid ‘lectric power drills and I was cut down to eighty cents a day. Then I say: ‘Old grey hoss! Damn ‘lectric toolin’, I’s gwine to leave.’ I went to Hopewell, Virginia, and work wid de DuPonts for five years. War come on and they ask me to work on de acid area. De atmosphere dere tear all de skin off my face and arms, but I stuck it out to de end of de big war, for $7.20 a day. …

“Does I ‘member anything ’bout de Klu Kluxes? Jesus, yes! My old marster, de doctor, in goin’ ’round, say out loud to people dat Klu Kluxes was doin’ some things they ought not to do, by ‘stortin’ money out of niggers just ’cause they could.

“When he was gone to Union one day, a low-down pair of white men come, wid false faces, to de house and ask where Dick Bell was. Miss Nancy say her don’t know. They go hunt for him. Dick made a bee-line for de house. They pull out hoss pistols, fust time, ‘pow’. Dick run on, secon’ time, ‘pow’. Dick run on, third time, ‘pow’ and as Dick reach de front yard de ball from de third shot keel him over lak a hit rabbit. Old miss run out but they git him. Her say: ‘I give you five dollars to let him ‘lone.’ They say: ‘Not ‘nough.’ Her say: ‘I give you ten dollars.’ They say: ‘Not ‘nough.’ Her say: ‘I give you fifteen dollars.’ They say: ‘Not ‘nough.’ Her say: ‘I give you twenty-five dollars.’ They take de money and say: ‘Us’ll be back tomorrow for de other Dick.’ They mean Dick James.”

EvX: I never did figure out who Dick James and Dick Bell were.

“Nex’ day, us see them a comin’ again. Dick James done load up de shotgun wid buckshot. When they was comin’ up de front steps, Uncle Dick say to us all in de big house: ‘Git out de way!’ De names of de men us find out afterwards was Bishop and Fitzgerald. They come up de steps, wid Bishop in de front. Uncle Dick open de door, slap dat gun to his shoulder, and pull de trigger. Dat man Bishop hollers: ‘Oh Lordy.’ He drop dead and lay dere ’til de coroner come. Fitzgerald leap ‘way. They bring Dick to jail, try him right in dat court house over yonder. What did they do wid him? Well, when Marse Bill Stanton, Marse Elisha Ragsdale and Miss Nancy tell ’bout it all from de beginnin’ to de end, de judge tell de jury men dat Dick had a right to protect his home, and hisself, and to kill dat white man and to turn him loose. Dat was de end of de Klu Kluxes in Fairfield.”

That’s all for today; we’ll be wrapping up next week.

Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 2/4)

Eastman Johnson's painting, The Young Sweep
Eastman Johnson’s painting, The Young Sweep

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we are continuing with Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.)

I’ve been selecting excerpts that I personally find interesting. I’m not trying to paint the big picture of slavery nor highlighting awful things like whippings (there are many other places you can find those accounts.) Just because they’re not here doesn’t mean I’m pretending they aren’t in the accounts–I just assume you already know about them.

Frances Andrews, 83: The Skeleton

“It is said that the old brick house where the Wallaces lived was built by a Eichleberger, but Dr. John Simpson lived there and sold it to Mr. Wallace. In the attic was an old skeleton which the children thought bewitched the house. None of them would go upstairs by themselves. I suppose old Dr. Simpson left it there. Sometimes later, it was taken out
and buried.”

EvX: ??? Who keeps a (presumably real) skeleton in their attic? Did someone die up there and no one bothered to remove the body until it had completely decayed? Or was it a medical skeleton? That is seriously creepy.

Josephine Bacchus, about 75-80 years old: Earthquake and Folk Medicine

“Yes, mam, dey was glad to have a heap of colored people bout dem cause white folks couldn’ work den no more den dey can work dese days like de colored people can. Reckon dey love to have dey niggers back yonder just like dey loves to have dem dese days to do what dey ain’ been cut out to do.” …

“Lord, I sho remembers dat earth shake good as anything. When it come on me, I was settin down wid my foots in a tub of water. Yes, my Lord, I been had a age on me in de shake. I remember, dere been such a shakin dat evenin, it made all de people feel mighty queer like. It just come in a tremble en first thing I know, I felt de difference in de crack of de house. I run to my sister Jessie cause she had been live in New York en she was well acquainted wid dat kind of gwine on. She say, ‘Josie, dis ain’ nothin but dem shake I been tellin you bout, but dis de first time it come here en you better be a prayin.’ En, honey, everything white en colored was emptied out of doors dat night. Lord, dey was scared. Great Jeruseleum! De people was scared everywhe’. Didn’ nobody know what to make of it. I tellin you, I betcha I was 30 years old in de shake.”

Charleston, South Carolina, post-earthquake
Charleston, South Carolina, post-earthquake

EvX: Given that this narrative was collected in South Carolina, and… *adds up the years* I assume this was the 1886 Charleston Earthquake:

The 1886 Charleston earthquake occurred about 9:50 p.m. August 31 with an estimated moment magnitude of 7.0 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme). The intraplate earthquake caused 60 deaths and between $5 million and $6 million in damage to 2,000 buildings in the Southeastern United States. It is one of the most powerful and damaging earthquakes to hit the East Coast of the United States. …

It was felt as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, to the north, Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the northwest, as far as New Orleans, Louisiana, to the west, as far as Cuba to the south, and as far as Bermuda to the east.[4] It was so severe that outside the immediate area, there was speculation that the Florida peninsula had broken away from North America.[3]

Continuing on:

“Oh, de people never didn’ put much faith to de doctors in dem days. Mostly, dey would use de herbs in de fields for dey medicine. Dere two herbs, I hear talk of. Dey was black snake root en Sampson snake root. Say, if a person never had a good appetite, dey would boil some of dat stuff en mix it wid a little whiskey en rock candy en dat would sho give dem a sharp appetite. See, it natural cause if you take a tablespoon of dat bitter medicine three times a day like a person tell you, it bound to swell your appetite. Yes, mam, I know dat a mighty good mixture.”

EvX: It turns out that Black Snakeroot is a real plant, more commonly known as black cohosh. According to Wikipedia:

Native Americans used black cohosh to treat gynecological and other disorders, including sore throats, kidney problems, and depression.[3] Following the arrival of European settlers in the U.S. who continued the medicinal usage of black cohosh, the plant appeared in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1830 under the name “black snakeroot”. In 1844 A. racemosa gained popularity when John King, an eclectic physician, used it to treat rheumatism and nervous disorders. Other eclectic physicians of the mid-nineteenth century used black cohosh for a variety of maladies, including endometritis, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, sterility, severe after-birth pains, and for increased breast milk production.[6] …

Black cohosh is used today mainly as a dietary supplement marketed to women as remedies for the symptoms of premenstrual tension, menopause and other gynecological problems.[3] Recent meta-analysis of contemporary evidence supports these claims,[1] although the Cochrane Collaboration has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support its use for menopausal symptoms.[7] Study design and dosage of black cohosh preparations play a role in clinical outcome,[8] and recent investigations with pure compounds found in black cohosh have identified some beneficial effects of these compounds on physiological pathways underlying age-related disorders like osteoporosis.[9]

However, you should note:

No studies exist on long-term safety of black cohosh use in humans.[13] In a transgenic mouse model of cancer, black cohosh did not increase incidence of primary breast cancer, but increased metastasis of pre-existing breast cancer to the lungs.[14]

Eastman Johnson's A Ride for Liberty: the Fugitive Slaves
Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty: the Fugitive Slaves

Please don’t just go eating plants from a random field or ordered off some website without being absolutely sure they’re actually safe.

Sampson snake root is also a real plant, otherwise known as Orbexilum pedunculatum. According to the internet, which I am sure would never lie to me:

Sampson snakeroot will help to…

  • Relieve from snakebites.

  • Retrieve of attract gay lovers among men.

(By the way, the internet lies all the time.) Continuing on:

“Oh, my Lord, child, de people was sho wiser in olden times den what dey be now. Dey been have all kind of signs to forecast de times wid en dey been mighty true to de word, too. Say, when you hear a cow low en cry so mournful like, it ain’ gwine be long fore you hear tell of a death.”

“Den dere one bout de rain. Say, sometimes de old rain crow stays in de air en hollers en if you don’ look right sharp, it gwine rain soon. Call him de rain crow. He hollers mostly like dis, ‘Goo-oop, goo-oop.’ Like dat.”

“De people used to have a bird for cold weather, too. Folks say, ‘Don’ you hear dat cold bird? Look out, it gwine be cold tomorrow.’ De cold bird, he a brown bird. If you can see him, he a fine lookin bird, too. Yes’um, right large en strong lookin, but don’ nobody hardly ever see
him dese days.”

“En I reckon you hear talk bout dis one. Say, not to wash on de first day of de New Year cause if you do, you will wash some of your family out de pot. Say, somebody will sho die. Dat right, too. Den if possible, must boil some old peas on de first day of de New Year en must cook some hog jowl in de pot wid dem. Must eat some of it, but don’ be obliged to eat it all.”

Black-eyed peas, for the New Year
Black-eyed peas, for the New Year

EvX: Eating black-eyed peas was a New Year’s Day tradition when I was a kid, too (it probably still is.) But why? According to Why we Eat Black Eyed Peas on New Years Day:

Most Southerners will tell you that it dates back to the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were considered animal food (like purple hull peas).

The peas were not worthy of General Sherman’s Union troops. When Union soldiers raided the Confederates food supplies, legend says they took everything except the peas and salted pork. The Confederates considered themselves lucky to be left with those meager supplies, and survived the winter. Peas became symbolic of luck. …

(“Most” here is probably an exaggeration.)

One explanation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the southern slaves had to celebrate with on the first day of January, 1863. What were they celebrating? That was the day when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. …

The oldest explanation for this tradition I found is on Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia, the tradition dates as far ancient Egypt. During the time of the Pharaohs, it was believed that eating a meager food like black-eyed peas showed humility before the gods, and you would be blessed. According to Wikipedia, the Babylonian Talmud, which dates to 339 CE, instructs the faithful Jews to eat black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashana.

Well, since it is still January, if you haven’t had your black-eyed peas yet, perhaps there’s still time to cook up a pot and enjoy what might be a very old tradition.

 

When “Crime” is a Euphemism for “Lynching”

A rare perpetrator’s memoir described one such recent crime in Virginia. The author, at the time a teenager, was hanging out on his neighborhood corner with his friends one afternoon when they saw “a white boy, who appeared to be about eighteen or nineteen years old… pedaling a bicycle casually through the neighborhood.” One of the black fellows pointed him out to the others, called him a derogatory name, and suggested that he must be crazy to have come there. … They ran after the white boy, knocked him, and beat him unconscious while cars drove past. They kicked his head until blood gushed from his mouth… one of his comrades continued “like he’d gone berserk” and even topped off the episode by picking up the bicycle and smashing it down on the victim as hard as he could. …

“Fucking up white boys like that made us feel good inside,” he wrote, adding that as they walked away they laughed… He said that when his older brother got his driver’s license, the gang would cruise around nearby white neighborhoods, picking out vulnerable targets and beating them close to death. — from Evil: Inside human violence and cruelty, by Baumeister

According to the Tuskegee Institute, 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968.[7] The Equal Justice Initiative counts 3,959 blacks lynched between 1877 and 1950.[8][9]  (I don’t know if this includes the 1868 election massacres.)

Wikipedia estimates that about 50-100 lynchings occurred per year between 1868 and 1923, with a peak in 1892 of 161 deaths.

Most of the folks lynched in the US South had been accused of violent crimes such as rape, assault, and murder; many had already been arrested and were awaiting trial when they were dragged out of jail and killed. Lynching functioned, therefore, not like random crime–a bunch of serial killers run amok–but as a form of extra-legal law-enforcement.

A posse of random citizens stringing up horse thieves makes sense in rural, frontier areas where prisons and courts hadn’t yet been built and the nearest police officer might be hundreds of miles away, but 1890s Georgia was hardly the frontier. Neither can we assume that the mobs were afraid that these (mostly black men) would have been acquitted had they gone to trial–the South’s all-white juries tended not to be favorable to black defendants.

If your desire is simply to get accused criminals off the streets, lynch mobs and courts probably returned similar results. (Note: I am not passing judgment on whether or not the accused were actually guilty.)

But court proceedings are banal; prisons are hidden from sight and executions–at least these days–tend not to be public spectacles. Lynchings were public, almost communal events–people even made postcards out of photographs of lynched bodies.

I have said before that intra-racial killing is crime, and inter-racial crime is war. People who commit crimes are entitled to a lawyer, a fair trial, a jury of their peers, and a chance at rehabilitation if they are not clearly psychopaths. People who commit war (or treason) do not get trials; they get rounded up in a counter-raid and executed back.

We like to think that we enlightened moderns can rise above the level of the raw, primal chimpanzee bashing another chimp’s brains out with a rock for daring to wander near its territory, but much of the time we don’t.

(Really, one wonders how the North thought this would all turn out.)

The media is great for whipping up this kind of sentiment, as seen in the targeting of whites during the recent Milwaukee riots over the death of a black man at the hands of a black police officer.

Furthermore, lynching–or beating random whites who happen across your protest–sends a loud, visceral message to the other side that merely arresting lawbreakers does not: We will kill you.

In 1968 my father was walking home from work through the alley off of Ohio street in downtown Chicago. He had done this for years.

At the time he was 60 years old. One day a group of 7 black teens and young men decided that they wanted to beat a white man to a pulp. He told my mother that they surrounded him and started calling him racial slurs and then proceed to beat him. They did not rob him. Someone found him and took him to the hospital where they had to cut into his eyelid to release the pressure and blood. He had bruises and cuts all over his body, face, and head. …

He made it through, but that was after being in a coma for three weeks and having to have brain surgery to relieve the bleeding on his brain. … He had small seizures and grand mall seizures all of the time until at the end, one took his life. — “Letter from a Dead Father

I bet people in ISIS-controlled territory are very careful about how they act.

I couldn’t find the percent of blacks who were lynching victims, so I used data from the Tuskegee Institute + census to calculate it myself. I went into some detail on my methodology in the previous post.

picture-18

Obviously lynching was not reserved exclusively for African Americans. In the aftermath of the Civil War, angry Southerners lynched many whites suspected of helping helping the Union. Asians, Hispanics, and Indians were also lynched. In one of the largest lynchings, 13 Italians were lynched by New Orleans Irish after an Italian guy killed an Irish guy. But these lynchings died down relatively early, while about 100-50 blacks continued to be killed each year through about 1922.

picture-121 copy

At the height of the violence, just over two blacks per 100k were lynched every year (or 0.002%.) To put that into perspective, the homicide rate in the US (as of 2013) is 3.9 people per 100k. Japan’s homicide rate is 0.3 per 100k, Canada’s is 1.4, Mexico’s is 15.7, and Honduras’s is an astonishing 84.6.

World-Murder-Rate-Geocurrents-Map-1024x726The “Great Migration” is a little-known part of American history in which millions of black people headed north. Wikipedia, like many others, asserts that lynching was one of the prime motivators that inspired blacks to move:

In the Great Migration, particularly from 1910 to 1940, 1.5 million African Americans left the South, primarily for destinations in northern and mid-western cities, both to gain better jobs and education and to escape the high rate of violence. From 1910 to 1930 particularly, more blacks migrated from counties with high numbers of lynchings. …

800px-Percentage_of_African_American_population_living_in_the_American_SouthThe industrial buildup to World War II acted as a “pull” factor in the second phase of the Second Great Migration starting in 1940 and lasting until 1970. Altogether in the first half of the 20th century, 6.5 million African Americans migrated from the South to leave lynchings and segregation behind. Unlike the first round, composed chiefly of rural farm workers, the second wave included more educated workers and their families who were already living in southern cities and towns. In this migration, many migrated west from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to California in addition to northern and midwestern cities, as defense industries recruited thousands to higher-paying, skilled jobs. They settled in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.

To unpack this for a second, we can identify three important economic factors that prompted the Great Migration:

  1. The continuing mechanization of agriculture meant that fewer workers were needed to produce the same quantity of crops, and wages for agricultural workers in the South subsequently dropped;
  2. WWI and WWII triggered the creation of massive numbers of manufacturing jobs in the North;
  3. And the Immigration act of 1924, which massively cut the number of immigrants allowed into the country (particularly from southern and eastern Europe,) forced factory owners to pay their workers better wages.

(We may also add that the hookworm eradication campaign started around 1910 improved the health of Southern whites, who who were more vulnerable to the parasite than blacks, making them better workers.)

By 1910, the lynching rate had fallen bellow 1 per 100k, and by the 20s it had fallen to less than 0.25 per 100k, which suggests to me that people were more motivated more by the overall unpleasantness of Jim Crow and segregation than the lower-than-your-chance-of-being-murdered-in-Japan chance of lynching.

Unfortunately, the Great Migration appears to have triggered its own crime wave:

I stole this graph from Steve Sailer
Well, at least we have less Italian crime these days.

CNyyQS7VEAIRGCY

 

According to Baumeister’s book on Evil:

The lynch mob is still the most vivid symbol of hate crimes in America, but lynchings are largely a thing of the past. There are still plenty of hate crimes today, but they take a different form. Indeed, the very racial direction of hate crimes has seen a fundamental reversal. According to an FBI report on violence during 1993, black people were four times more likely to commit hate crimes than white people.

NYC had 7.3 million people and 2,605 murders in 1990, or a homicide rate of 35.7 per 100k. If NYC were a country, it would have been one of the most violent places in the entire world, but “white flight” remains a mysterious phenomenon wherein evil white people, for no rational reason, suddenly become afraid of black people moving into their neighborhoods and move away.

Belle Isle Park, Detroit, 1905--h/t Photos of Detroit's Golden Age
Belle Isle Park, Detroit, 1905–h/t Photos of Detroit’s Golden Age

Few people today seem to remember that Detroit was once one of the country’s richest, most innovative cities. Employment in Detroit’s auto and war-production factories created economic prosperity for millions of people. According to Barry Bluestone, co-author of The Deindustrialization of America:

In the 1950s and ‘60s, when I was growing up in Detroit, it was one of the richest cities—if not the richest—not only in the United States but in the world. The city had the most powerful industry in the world—the auto industry. The General Motors Corporation itself was so huge that its total annual revenue in the mid-1950s was larger than the gross domestic product of Belgium. That made it the 18th largest country in the world—not just company. … That created tremendous wealth and then that wealth was spread at least somewhat more equally because of the powerful auto workers’ union, the UAW, which was able to win at the bargaining table both wage increases and benefit increases—pensions and health care and life insurance—that made auto workers some of the highest-paid workers in the world. The gains made by the UAW not only benefited white workers but also provided black auto workers with the ability to join America’s middle class.

Detroit Book Depository
Detroit Book Depository, today

Obviously many factors contributed to Detroit’s decline, but today we’re concerned with crime. According to Wikipedia:

Ethnic whites enjoyed high wages and suburban life styles. Blacks comprised 4% of the auto labor force in 1942, 15% by the war’s end; they held their own and were at 16% by 1960. … a large well-paid middle class black community emerged; like their white counterparts, they wanted to own single family homes, fought for respectability, and left the blight and crime of the slums as fast as possible for outlying districts and suburbs.[71] …

The Model Cities Program was a key component of President Lyndon B. Johnson‘s Great Society and War on Poverty. Begun in 1966, it operated five-year-long experiments in 150 cities to develop new antipoverty programs and alternative forms of municipal government. The ambitious federal urban aid program succeeded in fostering a new generation of mostly black urban leaders. Detroit was one of the largest Model Cities projects. … Detroit received widespread acclaim for its leadership in the program, which used $490 million to try to turn a nine-square-mile section of the city (with 134,000 inhabitants) into a model city. … The Model City program was terminated in Detroit and nationwide in 1974 after major race riots in most of its target cities. Detroit witnessed growing confrontations between the police and inner city black youth, culminating in the massive 12th Street riot in July 1967. Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan National Guard into Detroit, and President Johnson sent in U.S. Army troops. The result was 43 dead, 467 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. Thousands of small businesses closed permanently or relocated to safer neighborhoods, and the affected district lay in ruins for decades.[76]

Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, explained the long-term impact:

“The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit’s losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. …[77]

Scholars have produced many studies documenting the fall of Detroit from one of the world’s premier industrial cities in 1945 to a much smaller, weaker city in the 21st century, struggling to survive against the loss of industry and population, against crime, corruption and poverty. …

While Detroit was still 55 percent white according to the 1970 census, by 1980 whites only made up 34 percent of the population. The population shift was even more stark considering that Detroit was 83 percent white at the time of the city’s all-time population high in 1950. The migration of whites to the suburbs left blacks in control of a city suffering from an inadequate tax base, too few jobs, and swollen welfare rolls.[83] According to Chafets, “Among the nation’s major cities, Detroit was at or near the top of unemployment, poverty per capita, and infant mortality throughout the 1980s.”[84] …

Several times during Young’s tenure Detroit is named the arson capital of America, and repeatedly the murder capital of America. Often Detroit was listed by FBI crime statistics as the “most dangerous city in America” during his administration. Crime rates in Detroit peaked in 1991 at more than 2,700 violent crimes per 100,000 people.[91] … the arson rate in Detroit was 6.3 times the national average in 2003 and the murder rate was 5.1 times the national average.[92]

Detroit
Modern Detroit

Around Halloween, a traditional day for pranks in late October, Detroit youth went on a rampage called “Devil’s Night” in the 1980s. … Over 800 fires were set in the peak year 1984, overwhelming the city’s fire department. Hundreds of vacant homes across the city were set ablaze by arsonists….

In September 2008, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (who had served for six years) resigned following felony convictions. In 2013, Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 federal felony counts, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and racketeering,[103] and was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison.[104]

In July 2013, Michigan state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr asked a federal judge to place the city of Detroit into bankruptcy protection.[105]

In March 2014 the indebted Detroit Water and Sewerage Department began cutting off water to customers homes with unpaid bills over $150, or if the payment was more than 60 days overdue. As of the 15th of July, more than 15,000 homes had been cut off.[106]

Whew. Sorry that quote was so long; I just couldn’t decide what to cut.

Apologists are quick to present excuses for crime, but I note that Kentucky has also been facing economic difficulties, and yet Kentucky’s homicide rate is far lower than Detroit’s.

Cn_DWIVXEAITNt8Of course, crime rates have been going down since the early 90s, but how much of this is improvements in medical care?

Looks like a lot of it.

By the way, if all of those stabbed and shot people died, as would be more likely if you were shot in a third world country with little medical care, our homicide rate would shoot over 20/100k.

(How much of our soaring healthcare costs are trauma-related?)

According to Color of Crime:

  • In 2013, a black was six times more likely than a non-black to commit murder, and 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone of another race.
  • In 2013, of the approximately 660,000 crimes of interracial violence that involved blacks and whites, blacks were the perpetrators 85 percent of the time. This meant a black person was 27 times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa. A Hispanic was eight times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa. …
  • Picture 201In 2015, police killings of blacks accounted for approximately 4 percent of homicides of blacks. Police killings of unarmed blacks accounted for approximately 0.6 percent of homicides of blacks. The overwhelming majority of black homicide victims (93 percent from 1980 to 2008) were killed by blacks.
  • Both violent and non-violent crime has been declining in the United States since a high in 1993. 2015 saw a disturbing rise in murder in major American cities that some observers associated with “depolicing” in response to intense media and public scrutiny of police activity. …

Picture 17 Picture 16New York City, for example, does not participate in NIBRS but it records the races of arrested offenders, and consistently distinguishes between whites and Hispanics. In 2014, 374 people were arrested for murder. Their races were as follows:

White: 2.9 percent
Black: 61.8 percent
Hispanic: 31.8 percent
Asian: 2.7 percent
Other: 0.8 percent …

Given a population (page B1 of report) that was 32.8 percent white, 22.6 percent black, 28.9 percent Hispanic, and 13.0 percent Asian, a black was 31 times more likely than a white to be arrested for murder, a Hispanic was 12.4 times more likely than a white, and an Asian was twice as likely.

Approximately 12.5% of modern Americans are black and 63% are white. If an equal percent of whites and blacks were criminals, and if criminals chose their victims at random, we would expect about 12.5% of white victims to have been harmed by a black criminal, and 63% of black victims to have been harmed by a white criminal.

In 2013, there were 4,091,971 violent crimes against whites and 955,800 against blacks. A rate of 12.5% and 63% would result in 511,496 black on white crimes and 602,154 white on black crimes.

In reality, there were 560,600 violent black on white crimes, and only 99,403 white on black crimes. And as noted above, this means that 85% of b-w crime is committed by the group that is only 12.5% of the population.

Continuing:

When whites commit violence they target other whites 82.4 percent of the time, blacks 3.6 percent of the time, and Hispanics 7.8 percent of the time. In other words, white violence is directed overwhelmingly at other whites. When blacks commit violence only a minority — 40.9 percent — of their victims are black. Whites are 38.6 percent and Hispanics are 14.5 percent. Hispanic assailants also attack their own group less often than they attack others. Their victims are: Hispanics — 40.1 percent, whites — 50.7 percent, and blacks — 4.7 percent.

Finally, interracial crime can be expressed in terms of the greater or lesser likelihood of a person of one race to commit violence against a member of the other. In 2012/2013, the actual likelihood of attack was extremely low in all cases, but statistically, any given black person was 27 times more likely to attack a white and six times more likely to attack a Hispanic than vice versa. …

The Department of Justice keeps national records on murder. In 2013, it reported 5,621 single-offender, single-victim cases in which the race of the murderer was known. Like most federal statistics, there is no clear distinction between whites and Hispanics, so the only meaningful racial categories are black and non-black. Blacks killed 2,698 people — 48 percent of the total — and non-blacks killed 2,923 or 52 percent. Since blacks were just 13.3 percent of the population, it meant a black was six times more likely than a non-black to commit murder. Although most murders are within the same race, blacks were 13.6 times more likely to kill non-blacks than non-blacks were to kill blacks.

And don’t give me some bollocks about poor people being more likely to commit crime. I know homeless people who don’t commit crime. No one here is committing violent crime to save themselves from starvation.

If the Great Migration was a sensible response to lynching, then White Flight is a sensible response to black homicide.

Edit: an astute reader pointed out that some of the quoted data was wrong and I have removed it.

Two Graphs

It’s one of those you need a graph, you gotta make it yourself kind of days. picture-18

Feel free to take and use these graphs for your own essays.

The data for these graphs came from the Wikipedia page on lynchings in the US and the Tuskegee Institute. The Tuskegee Institute may not have counted 100% of lynchings (I don’t think anyone really could,) but these are the ones they documented. “White” in the original dataset I recoded as “non-black” because Tuskegee included Asians, Hispanics, and Indians as “white.”

picture-121 copy

I couldn’t find stats on what % of blacks were victims of lynching, so I used the demographic data from the Wikipedia page on US blacks, which I assume gets its data from the census to calculate the rate per 100k black people.

Since the census is only conducted once every decade and the lynching data was reported for each year, I used the average per-year change between censuses to estimate the population on non-census years.

(I suppose this still does not give us an aggregate total percent.)

I chose “rate per 100k” because that’s how homicide data is normally presented. For example, a rate of just over 2, at the peak of black lynching, means that about 2 out of 100,000 black people were lynched, or 0.002% of the total population.

By comparison, the United States today has an overall homicide rate of 3.9 per 100k people (meaning that any random person walking around the US today is more likely to get murdered than a black person was to get lynched, though of course this does not count non-lynching forms of racially motivated murder.)

Appalachia pt 2: Background

(Skip back to: Part 1 or forward to: Part 3)

Warning! Posting while drunk

Disclaimer: while I am probably 25% Appalachian by blood and lived there for a bit as a small child, I really know diddly squat about the region. But if my Appalachian contacts are to be believed, Appalachia is the awesomeist place ever and everywhere else is full of lame strivers. (Note: the majority of people I have talked to, no matter where they are from, like the culture they grew up in.)

So with that in mind, let’s take a look back at the history of Appalachia:

Once upon a time, lots of different groups lived in Britain (and Ireland):

1.17136uk-origins3

wood_landingand a great many of them moved to the US, where they spread out, creating broad cultural zones that may have persisted to this day, like Yankeedom and the Deep South. Folks from the borderlands between Scotland (many of whom had apparently first moved to Northern Ireland) skipped over the coastal flat region and headed for the mountains.

You might think that the border between Scotland and England would be a partially-Englishy place that would somewhat resemble the monoraialized English further south, like the guys who settled New England, with the highlanders from further north being the really wild folks, but it turns out that the border was apparently kind of a lawless place because if you committed a crime in Scotland you could just hop over to the English side to avoid prosecution, and vice versa. So I hear, anyway. So instead of being, like, half manorialized, the border was more like anti-manorialized.

According to Wikipedia,

The first trickle of Scotch-Irish settlers arrived in New England. Valued for their fighting prowess as well as for their Protestant dogma, they were invited by Cotton Mather and other leaders to come over to help settle and secure the frontier … The Scotch-Irish radiated westward across the Alleghenies, as well as into Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.[37] The typical migration involved small networks of related families who settled together, worshipped together, and intermarried, avoiding outsiders.[38]

… Most Scotch-Irish headed for Pennsylvania, with its good lands, moderate climate, and liberal laws.[citation needed] … Without much cash, they moved to free lands on the frontier, becoming the typical western “squatters”, the frontier guard of the colony, and what the historian Frederick Jackson Turner described as “the cutting-edge of the frontier.”[39]

… With large numbers of children who needed their own inexpensive farms, the Scotch-Irish avoided areas already settled by Germans and Quakers and moved south, down the Shenandoah Valley, and through the Blue Ridge Mountains into Virginia.[citation needed] These migrants followed the Great Wagon Road from Lancaster, through Gettysburg, and down through Staunton, Virginia, to Big Lick (now Roanoke), Virginia. Here the pathway split, with the Wilderness Road taking settlers west into Tennessee and Kentucky, while the main road continued south into the Carolinas.[41][42]

Gutierrez map of 1562 showing Appalachia
Gutierrez map of 1562 showing Appalachia

The name “Appalachia,” btw, is one of the oldest place names in the US, hailing from the name of an Indian tribe or something that made it onto a map way back in the 1500s.

Anyway, these folks moved to the mountains, probably because they were rough-and-tumble sorts who could survive out in the harsh wilderness where more wilting types fainted from the lack of square corners and nicely plowed fields and then got killed by Indians. Also according to Wikipedia:

Because the Scotch-Irish settled the frontier of Pennsylvania and western Virginia, they were in the midst of the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion that followed.[43] The Scotch-Irish were frequently in conflict with the Indian tribes who lived on the other side of the frontier; indeed, they did most of the Indian fighting on the American frontier from New Hampshire to the Carolinas.[44][45]

Mountains tend to remain wilderness areas long after flatlands are settled and conquered, you you had to be tough to survive in the mountains. So the Appalachians attracted and rewarded a particular sort of person who could survive in them.

800px-Davy_Crockett_by_William_Henry_Huddle,_1889*Davy, Davy Crocket. King of the wild frontier…*

If you want to know more about the recent history/culture of West Virginia, I recommend “When I was Young in the Mountains,” unless you don’t like picture books.

I get the impression that the Appalachians were basically left alone most of the time (except for getting invaded during the Civil War, which was pretty sucky since there weren’t even a lot of slaves in Appalachia and the folks there weren’t really in favor of secession, they just got dragged along by the rest of their states. [As I mentioned yesterday, Appalachia seceded from Virginia over the issue,] and the occasional issue like the Whiskey Rebellion.)

Being up in the mountains was probably bad for the development of agriculture, both because it is difficult to plow steep hillsides, (especially without having all of your images-1dirt wash away come the next rainfall,) and also because it was harder to build railways and other transportation networks that could get the crops/produce/meat out of the mountains and down to other markets. Likewise, it was difficult to ship in manufactured goods like factory woven cotton cloth for people to purchase; as a result, the Appalachians were probably rather cut-off from the rest of the expanding economy of the 1800s. I have searched for comparative GDP numbers for the 1800s, but unfortunately found nothing.

Railway lines only really expanded into the area after coal mining became a big deal.

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about the history of Appalachia without talking about coal. Apparently people knew about the coal way back in the 1700s, but it only became a big deal after the Civil War. The massive expansion of the mining industry attracted newly freed blacks from the Deep South and immigrants (mostly Irish but probably also Italians, eastern Europeans, etc.) from the coastal cities. There aren’t a lot of black folks currently in Appalachia, so it looks like they didn’t stick around, but the Irish did.

Coal mining was dangerous, exhausting, terrible work. If you didn’t die in a cave-in or an explosion, there was always miner’s lung. In return for powering the US, miners were paid crap–usually company scrip, only usable in company stores, so that even if they got a raise, the company would just increase the cost of goods at the store. And then there’s the pollution.

Eventually this led to strikes and attempts at unionization, to which the mine owners responded with violence, murdering strikers and assassinating their leaders, which culminated with an “army” of armed miners marching on the mines and Federal troops being called in to put down the “revolt.”

(This is better than the way the British treated their Scottish coal miners, who were literally enslaved for nearly two centuries, but still pretty shitty.)

These were the days when the Democrats were the party of Southern laborers, the Republicans were the party of Northern industrialists, an anarchist shot the President and the Russians executed their Czar.

Anyway, conditions in and around the coal mines gradually improved, until mining became a reasonable way to support a family rather than a death trap. (And if mining wasn’t to your liking, there were garment factories, tobacco farms in the South and steel mills in the North.) It was a time of relative economic well-being–unfortunately, it’s also when mechanization kicked in, and most of the miners became redundant. NAFTA and trade with China killed manufacturing, and the shift away from smoking left tobacco growers with a bunch of plants they could no longer sell.

IQvsGDPThis has been not good for the local economies.

See that X at the very bottom center of the IQ vs. GDP graph? That’s West Virginia. (The X on the far left is Mississippi.) Kentucky isn’t doing much better, though Tennessee, the third state that falls almost entirely within “Greater Appalachia,” isn’t doing too badly.

While it is true that the graph is practically random noise, West Virginia seems to me to be doing worse than it ought to be. There seems to be a basic sort of “floor” below which few of the states fall–were Appalachia on this floor, per cap GDP would be about 4k higher.

There’s a certain irony to all of this. Like Appalachia, Saudi Arabia contains a vast wealth of fossil fuel. To the best of my knowledge, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Oil States have attempted to use their vast wealth to uplift their people and are trying to develop modern, functioning economies that will be able to keep chugging even once the oil dries up. Sure, the Saudi princes get to live like, well, princes, but every one else in Saudi Arabia is probably a lot more comfortable than folks were a few generations back when the primary occupation was nomadic goat herding. (Don’t cite me on that I don’t actually know what the primary occupation in Saudi Arabia was a few generations ago.)

In Appalachia, by contrast, the locals have seen relatively little of the coal wealth (and that after a good deal of violent struggle,) and many areas are still not seeing long-term economic development.

To be fair, the US has tried to uplift the region, eg, LBJ’s War on Poverty, and been fairly successful in some areas. TVA cut flooding, rural electrification brought people lightbulbs, and pretty much everyone these days has a flush toilet and shoes. But many regions of Appalachia are still suffering–and some are doing much worse than they were a generation ago.

We’ll examine possible causes tomorrow.

(Skip back to: Part 1 or forward to: Part 3)

Related articles:

E-WV: Agriculture, How the Coal Industry Impoverishes West Virginia, Rolling Stones: Where the Tea Party Rules, Corporate Responsibility in Appalachia: Coal mining costs more per year than it pulls in, Plundering Appalachia, Friends of Coal: A History of Coal in West Virginia, WV History: The Mine Wars

 

supertues2 Picture 40 Picture 30 GR2009012802033Inequality-and-Trump

What Ails Appalachia?

Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachia
Jayman's map of the American Nations
Jayman’s map of the American Nations

(Skip to: Part 2, Part 3.)

Appalachia is a lovely geographic region of low mountains stretching from southern NY state to northeastern Mississippi; as a cultural region, “Greater Appalachia” includes all of West Virginia and Kentucky; almost all of Tennessee and Indiana; large chunks of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia; small parts of nearby states like Alabama and Pennsylvania; and a few counties in the northwest Florida (not on the map.) (The lack of correspondence between state boundaries and Appalachia’s boundaries makes most state-level aggregated data useless and forces me to use county level data whenever possible.)

While generally considered part of “the South,” Appalachia is culturally and ethnically distinct from the “Deep South,” generally opposed secession (West Virginia seceded from Virginia following Virginia’s secession from the Union in order to return to the Union,) and never had an economy based on large, slave-owning plantations.

Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)
Per capita GDP by county (wikipedia)

Appalachia is also one of the US’s persistent areas of concentrated poverty (the others are the highly black regions of the Deep South and their migrant diaspora in northern inner-cities; the Mexican region along the Texas border; and Indian reservations.) Almost 100% of the nation’s poorest counties are located in these areas; indeed, the Southern states + New Mexico as a whole are significantly poorer than the Northern ones.

First a note, though, on poverty:

There is obviously a great difference between the “poverty” of someone who chooses a low-income lifestyle in a rural part of the country because they enjoy it and are happy trading off money for pleasure, and someone who struggles to stay employed at crappy, demeaning jobs, cannot make rent, and is miserable. Farming tends not to pay as well as finance, but I don’t think anyone would be better off if all of the farmers parked their tractors and took up finance. Farmers seem pretty happy with their lives and contribute to the nation’s well-being by producing food. By contrast, I’ve yet to talk to anyone employed in fast food who enjoyed their job or wanted to stay in the industry; if they could trade for a job in finance, they’d probably take it.

6398967_origUnfortunately, Appalachia (and parts of the Deep South) appear to be the most depressed states in the country. (No data for KY and NC, but I bet they match their neighbors.) Given that depression rates tend to be higher for whites than for blacks, I suspect the effect is concentrated among Southern whites, but I wouldn’t be surprised if black people in Mississippi are depressed, too.

Of course, depression itself may just be genetic, and the Scandinavian ancestors of the northern mid-west may have gifted their descendants with a uniquely chipper outlook on life, except that Scandinavians have pretty high suicide rates.

US Suicide Rates
US Suicide Rates

(Note also that Appalachia has higher suicide rates than the black regions of the Deep South, the Hispanic El Norte, and white regions in NY.)

This high suicide rate may have something to do with, as Steve Sailer has taken to calling it, “The White Death.” As Gelman has noted, death rates have been increasing for middle aged white women, in contrast to virtually everyone else.

The white death rate is highest in Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Nevada, and South Carolina, with the greatest increases in death rates in West Virginia and Mississippi.

White-Death-by-State2I have assembled a list of articles and a few quotes discussing the increasing white death rates:

The White Death, Death Rates Up among 25-34 year old Whites, Too, Why are White Women Dying Young? Death Rate Still Rising for Middle Aged White Women, Why are White Death Rates Rising? The White Death:

“When I looked into the dataset that Case and Deaton used (https://spottedtoad.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/correlates-of-middle-aged-white-mortality/ ) and mixed it with Census Data, it appeared that there were three main predictors of county-level death rates for middle aged whites:
1) Median income
2) Obesity
3) SSI-Disability …”  — Spotted Toad

White Death Deaton vs. Gelman, Why are White Women Dying Young?  The White Death and the Black Death:

“I hang out in WV fracking country from time to time. The local community college had a 1 year program to learn how to become a “tool handler” (or something). Get your certificate, and go straight to work making $50k / year – good money is a crummy economy. The program was under-subscribed because the majority of the applicants failed the drug test.” — Jim Don Bob

NY Times: How the Epidemic of Drug Overdose Deaths Ripples Across America, Why are so many Middle Aged Whites Dying? Why did Middle Aged White Death Rates increase from 1998 through 2013? Why is Pennsylvania Outpacing Virginia and Ohio?

“… SSDI (“disability”) culture has been deeply entrenched in West Virginia for decades, particularly in the southern coal counties where work-related injuries have historically been common…” — Chip Smith

But we will get back to death rates later. For now, given high rates of poverty, depression, suicide, and rising death rates, I’m willing to say that Appalachia sounds like it is in distress. Yes, it’s probably a drugs and obesity problem; the question is why?

The generally accepted explanation in HBD circles for Appalachian poverty is IQ–“West Virginia has an average IQ of 98”–and the personalities of its Scotch-Irish founding population. I find this inadequate. For starters, West Virginia’s average IQ of 98.7 is slightly higher than the national average. And yet West Virginia is the second poorest state in the country, with a per capita GDP of only $30,389 (in 2012 dollars.) (Only Mississippi is poorer, and Mississippi has the lowest IQ in the country.)

If IQ were the whole story, West Virginians would be making about $42,784 a year, the national average.

For that matter, Canada’s IQ is 97, Norway, Austria, Denmark, and France has IQs of 98, and Poland and Hungary are up at 99. Their respective per cap GDPs (in 2014 $s, unfortunately): $44,057, 64,856, 46,223, 44,916, 38,848, 24,745, 24,721 (but Poland and Hungary are former Soviet countries whose economies are believed to have been retarded by years of Communism.)

So IQ does not explain Appalachian poverty. But it is getting late, so I will have to continue this tomorrow.

(Head on over to: Part 2, Part 3.)

Animism, HeLa Cells, and Mystical Flesh, (pt. 2)

This is a series on the animist religions popularly known as Voodoo. Yesterday we discussed various West African forms and their notable tendency toward human sacrifice (and even cannibalism.) Today we are hopping the Atlantic to examine the thankfully less-homicidal, local Voodoo variants. (Tomorrow’s post is here.)

The trans-Atlantic slave trade created new religious communities by mixing up adherents from different parts of Africa and exposing them to new religions traditions–Protestantism in the US, Catholicism in Haiti and Latin America, and various Native religions.

The results are the forms of Voodoo you are probably familiar with, due to their frequent depictions in popular media, Halloween productions, and Louisiana tourist shops.

Haitian Voodoo altar located in Boston
Haitian Voodoo altar located in Boston

Voodoo makes for better fiction than reality, because in reality, Voodoo doesn’t work. (If Voodoo spells for power and money worked, Haiti would have conquered the planet and would be fabulously wealthy. Who needs nukes when you could just take out you enemies with Voodoo Dolls?) Voodoo’s popularity is based, instead, on appealing psychologically to its adherents.

Wikipedia claims that Voodoo Dolls aren’t actually for doing harm to others, “The Hoodoo doll is a form of gris-gris and an example of sympathetic magic. Contrary to popular belief, Hoodoo dolls are usually used to bless and have no power to curse,” but this is obvious bullshit. “Sympathetic magic” is the idea of influencing one thing by doing something similar to another thing. So, for example, if you have yellow fever and I want to cure you, I make a little effigy of you, paint it yellow, and then wash off the paint, hoping this will “wash off” the “yellow” from you. Sympathetic magic goes both ways; if I can cure you of yellow fever by washing the paint off the doll, I can give it to you by putting paint on the doll.

Consider, similarly, a claim that “Christian prayer is only supposed to praise god and request good luck or favors, not to invoke harm against others.” A Christian might say that, but in reality, prayers like, “Dear God, please give me victory in battle so that I may defeat the infidel,” or “Please give Johnny a cold so he won’t go to school and beat me up tomorrow,” are pretty common.

There is a general reluctance on Wikipedia to write things that reflect negatively on one’s subjects. For example, the page on West African Vodun doesn’t mention the word “sacrifice” at all, though one wonders how those fetish markets obtain their large piles of animal parts for magic rituals if animals are not killed in some way. The Wikipedia page on the DRC only references cannibalism only in the footnotes, and that’s just the title of an article from which a statistic on the size of the Pygmy population is based. The DRC human rights violations page also fails to mention cannibalism, focusing instead on their more mundane forms of horrifically common violence.

Or take this Scribol article on West African Voodoo, which admits that animal sacrifice is part of the religion, but also says, “These days, Voodoo remains flexible and capable of assimilating ideas from different traditions. At its core, however, it is monotheistic, believing in a single creator god who is assisted by spirits known as “Orishas”.” No, Voodoo is not monotheistic; having a supreme deity who rules over lesser deities is not the same thing as having only one deity. The article is accompanied by this photo:

voodoo2

Wow, look at that expert focusing of the camera on something other than the actual subject of the photo so that you can’t actually tell what’s going on, and the convenient black-and white to make the blood not stand out! If you’re going to defend animal sacrifice as “not cruel” or sinister, then don’t turn around and act like you’re afraid to actually show it to us. The article also reassures us that human sacrifice hasn’t been part of West African Voodoo for a hundred years, though recent news articles tell a different story.

Still, it’s true to say that human sacrifice isn’t exactly “mainstream” in the region and governments in most of the affected countries are trying to stomp it out.

Luckily for us, sacrifice takes a milder form in most of the New World forms of Voodoo, with many adherents content to just pour out libations for the thirsty dead or hand them the odd cigarette.

As always, exceptions exist.

Palo is a Cuban variety of Voodoo with large Congolese influences, which also invokes the magic of human remains. According to Wikipedia:

The main practice of Palo focuses upon the religious receptacle or altar known as a Nganga or Prenda. This is a consecrated vessel filled with sacred earth, sticks (palos), human remains, bones and other items. …

Palo has been linked to a rash of grave robbing in Venezuela. Residents report that many of the graves at CaracasCementerio General del Sur have been pried open to have their contents removed for use in Palo ceremonies.[2] In Newark, New Jersey, USA a Palo practitioner was found to have the remains of at least two dead bodies inside pots within the basement, along with items looted from one of the tombs.[3]

I looked up the Newark case (the original article is from the WSJ, but you have to join to read it, so I linked to a copy from another site):

Unlike its close relative, Santería, which stops at animal sacrifice, Palo believes that dead humans can also help connect believers to the spiritual realm. Paleros, says Mr. Canizares, believe that “the body has a right to be resurrected as a religious aid.” In the mythology of Palo, he says, “there is nothing wrong with asking a skeleton to work with you.” …

Skulls are the most prized form of human remains put into the nganga. Effort is made to leave at least three-quarters of the skull exposed, to enhance the visual effect for adherents at services. The nganga is the home to the spirit of a particular Palo god as well as the spirit of the dead person whose remains are “fed to the nganga.”
Which brings us to grave robbing, or “so-called grave robbing,” as paleros like Mr. Canizares refer to it, objecting to Western judgmentalism. Palo doctrine insists that those who take remains from graves perform elaborate “permission rituals.” The dead are to be left alone if they say no. A palero can gauge skeletal interest by sprinkling liquor on a grave and listening for a rumbling sound–i.e., “yes.” Other permission rituals involve nailing an animal’s tongue to a tree so the spirit can speak through it.
How often do you think those tongues say “no”?
Not all skeletons are created equal: The more evil or powerful a person was in life, and the more violent the death, the better. This makes criminals and corrupt politicians especially appealing, along with murder victims and suicides. The longer a person has been dead, the better, too. An infant’s full skeleton is also highly prized for its power.
With its high concentration of Cuban immigrants, northern New Jersey has become a Palo hotbed. In 1999, Kearny, N.J., police charged a Palo priest and several followers with the theft of the remains of an infant dead for 83 years. Workers at the cemetery had found machetes in trees, and animal tongues.
Consider that it is not actually that easy to get from Cuba to the US! Unless Castro did something clever like load his most annoying population into boats and aim them at the US, one imagines that the average Cuban-American had to do something pretty daring and clever to get over here, or at least had a lot of money. Jumping over to Wikipedia for a second:
From 1965 to 1973, there was another wave of immigration known as the Freedom Flights. In order to provide aid to recently arrived Cuban immigrants, the United States Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966. The Cuban Refugee Program provided more than $1.3 billion of direct financial assistance. They also were eligible for public assistance, Medicare, free English courses, scholarships, and low-interest college loans.[citation needed] …

Fidel Castro sent some 20,000 criminals directly from Cuban prisons, as well as mentally ill persons from Cuban mental institutions, with the alleged double purpose of cleaning up Cuban society and poisoning the USA. Those people were labeled “unadmissible” by the US government, and with time, through many negotiations, have been returned to Cuba.[citation needed]

So Castro was pretty clever. (In case you were wondering, New Jersey has 83,000 Cubans, the nation’s third highest concentration after Florida and California.)
Continuing with the article:
…connections to a Palo conspiracy remained elusive until an informant led police to a religious-items store, or botanica, while a ritual was in progress in August of this year. Inside the pots were three skulls and body parts from five corpses. Police charged the store owner with burglary, theft and conspiracy. Just a month ago, Newark police raided the scruffy tenement at Central and Norfolk. Inside a basement worship room, 10-gallon Palo pots held at least two sets of human remains, including two skulls. … The other bones may belong to a juvenile. This, police say, raises the prospect of an unreported grave robbery or even a murder. The scene inside the worship room, says Newark Detective Donald Stabile, was ghastly. Animal parts were arranged on altars around the room. The basement “had an odor that you keep with you–like your first DOA.”
Photo that accompanied the article:
24/7/10A man collapses after the spirit possessing him leaves his body during a Palo Mayombe ceremony in Camagüey, Cuba. After a few minutes passed other members of the Palo house helped to revive him: taking him into the garden and pouring buckets of cold water over his head until his own spirit was revived.
A man collapses after the spirit possessing him leaves his body during a Palo Mayombe ceremony in Camagüey, Cuba.

Let us be thankful that most Palo followers are content with grave robbing. Some, like serial killer Adolfo Constanzo, aren’t:

Constanzo was born in Miami, Florida to Delia Aurora Gonzalez, a Cuban immigrant mother in 1962. She gave birth to Adolfo at the age of 15 and eventually had three children of different fathers. She moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico after her first husband died and remarried there. Constanzo was baptized Catholic and served as an altar boy, but also accompanied his mother on trips to Haiti to learn about Voodoo.[1] … As a teenager, Constanzo became apprenticed to a local sorcerer and began to practice a religion called Palo Mayombe, which involves animal sacrifice. His mother remarried and his new stepfather was involved in the religion and drug dealing. Constanzo and his mother were arrested numerous times for minor crimes like theft, vandalism and shoplifting.

They sound like lovely people! I hope we keep our policy of indiscriminate Cuban migration just because we hate Castro!

As an adult, Constanzo moved to Mexico City and met the men who were to become his followers: Martin Quintana, Jorge Montes and Omar Orea. They began to run a profitable business casting spells to bring good luck, which involved expensive ritual sacrifices of chickens, goats, snakes, zebras and even lion cubs.[1] Many of his clients were rich drug dealers and hitmen who enjoyed the violence of Constanzo’s “magical” displays. He also attracted other rich members of Mexican society, including several high-ranking corrupt policemen who introduced him to the city’s powerful narcotics cartels.[1]

Constanzo started to raid graveyards for human bones to put in his nganga, or cauldron, but before long he would need live human sacrifices instead of old bones. More than 20 victims, whose mutilated bodies were found in and around Mexico City, are thought to have met their end this way.[1]

Constanzo began to believe that his magic spells, many of which he took from Palo Mayombe, were responsible for the success of the cartels and demanded to become a full business partner with one of the most powerful families he knew, the Calzadas. When his demand was rejected, seven family members disappeared. Their bodies turned up later with fingers, toes, ears, brains and even (in one case) the spine missing.[2]

Finally Constanzo murdered an American, at which point politicians in Texas managed to do what politicians in Mexico apparently didn’t feel like doing, and got the Mexican police to do their fucking jobs:

Police quickly discovered the cult and that Constanzo had been responsible for Kilroy’s death, after a ‘good’/superior brain for one of his ritual spells. Officers raided the ranch and discovered Constanzo’s cauldron, which contained various items such as a dead black cat and a human brain.[3] Fifteen mutilated corpses were dug up at the ranch, one of them Kilroy’s.[3] Officials said Kilroy was killed by Constanzo with a machete chop to the back of the neck when Kilroy tried to escape about 12 hours after being taken to the ranch.[4]

Costanzo committed suicide, but 14 of his associates were arrested and charged with murder, drug-running, etc.

I actually don’t object, abstractly, to the physical practice of animal sacrifice. Most sacrificed animals are eaten after wards. I eat animals; what does it matter if someone says a prayer over an animal before butchering and eating it?

I object to the spiritual notion that animal (and human) bodies contain magical powers or spirits that you can obtain by killing them. That is a road that leads to head-hunting, cannibalism, and murder.

One of the things I appreciate about Christianity and Judaism is that they have basically eliminated sacrifice. Judaism first did away with human sacrifice, symbolically in the story of Abraham, Isaac, and the ram, and then explicitly in the injunctions not to sacrifice your children to Moloch. This was no mere hypothetical; their neighbors regularly sacrificed children to Moloch.

Jews still conducted animal sacrifices until the fall of the Second Temple, after which there was nowhere to do the sacrifices, and so they stopped. Hypothetically they could resume if anyone ever gets around to rebuilding the temple, but this does not appear to be a priority, and I don’t think most Jews want to do animal sacrifices.

Christianity never had animal sacrifice of any kind, having begun with a replacement of all forms of sacrifice with deistic sacrifice in the form of Jesus’ death and resurrection. (As a result, some early Christian sects were vegetarian, due to the association between all forms of animal butchering and “sacrifice.”) The closest Christianity gets to sacrifice is the Catholic belief in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, in which bread and wine are supposed to become, in some non-physical way, Jesus’ flesh and blood. Still, there is no threat of Catholics tracking down an actual Jesus and deciding to eat him.

But I’m off-topic. Grave robbing may be illegal in the US, but animal sacrifice isn’t; in 2009, for example, a Texas court ruled that Jose Merced, a Santeria priest (Cuban variety of Voodoo also common in PR,) was legally allowed to sacrifice animals in his home:

“Merced cannot perform the ceremonies dictated by his religion,” Judge Jennifer W. Elrod wrote. “This is a burden, and it is substantial. It is real and significant, having forced Merced to choose between living in Euless and practicing his religion.”

The court said Merced’s only available ceremonial space was in his house, due to the scarcity of Santeria temples in the United States. They also found that the Santeria priest discarded of the animal remains in a timely and sanitary manner.

The Dallas Observer has an interesting article on the case, and a ritual sacrifice reporters were allowed to watch:

As the sacrificial hour approaches, several priests (Santeros) are preparing the 40 assorted goats, roosters, hens, guinea hens, pigeons, quail, turtle and duck who grow noisy and nervous in their cages. Their lives will be taken in an exchange mandated by Olofi, Santería’s supreme god and source of all energy, to heal the broken body and spirit of Virginia Rosario-Nevarez and to initiate her into the Santería priesthood. …

Mounted against a wall in the back room shrine in Merced’s house are shelves containing clusters of small ceramic pots, ornately decorated and filled with shells, stones and other artifacts—the physical manifestations of the Orishas that reside in the room. To initiate Nevarez as a priestess, new godly manifestations of the old gods on Merced’s shelf must be born. To make this happen, animal blood will be spilled onto new pots, which the priestess will take home to begin her own shrine with her own newly manifested gods. …

Thea article then takes us through Merced’s childhood in Puerto Rico and introduction to Santeria. At the age of 12 he developed chronic stomach pain:

A medical doctor suggested exploratory surgery, but his mother wouldn’t hear of it. … he asked his mother to bring him to a woman his mother had been seeing for private spiritual readings. Even without him mentioning it, the woman told him about his intestinal pains and his nightmares. Hoping she could cure him, Merced began attending weekly séances at her home. …

The woman became his godmother in Santería, and she continued to treat him with herbal potions and spiritual readings. Over the next 18 months, he lost 60 pounds and had good months as well as bad.

I’m interpreting “lost 60 pounds” as “his stomach was so bad he couldn’t digest food anymore and was starving,” rather than “he became increasingly healthy and worked off excess fat,” but I’m not positive.

Finally, Merced says that the Orishas spoke through the woman and told her that the only way to make his pain disappear was to get initiated as a priest. Merced was ready, but the ceremony was expensive, $3,000, and he didn’t have enough money. For a year after graduating high school, Merced saved up …

Anyone else get the impression that someone is taking advantage of sick people?

He had helped with other initiations at his godmother’s house but was never allowed inside the shrine-room. “I saw the animals going in alive and coming out dead,” Merced recalls. But he had no idea why. … If you’re not crowned [a priest], you’re not supposed to know. So when I went in to my ceremony, I didn’t have a clue.” … As the animals were brought in, he was told to touch his head to the animal’s head and its hooves to other areas of his body. The animal was absorbing his negativity. He had to chew pieces of coconut, swallowing the juice but spitting the coconut meat into the animal’s ear.

… The pieces of coconut represented Merced’s message—his thoughts, feelings, needs—which were transferred to the goat for direct passage to Olofi. His physical contact with the animal was also symbolic of his commitment to God. As soon as the animal’s blood was spilled, Merced’s negativity, which had been absorbed by the goat, was released. The purified blood then spilled into the pots. (bold mine)

Shortly after the initiation, he says his stomach pains subsided. “I never, ever have felt again the same pain that I used to feel before,” he says.”

It’s a pity this sort of thing doesn’t seem to replicate under controlled, scientific conditions, because if you could really cure chronic conditions just by sacrificing a few goats, modern medicine would be revolutionized.

Getting back to the legal situation:

Laycock had successfully represented the Santería church before the Supreme Court in 1993 after the city of Hialeah, Florida, tried to ban the ritual killing of animals not for public consumption. The Hialeah City Council enacted the ban specifically targeting the Santería religion after it learned one of its churches had plans to locate within city limits. The high court saw this ordinance as being applied exclusively to Santería and held it an unconstitutional restriction on the free exercise of religion.

Snake handlers
Snake handlers

Laws specifically targeting snake-handling Christian churches have been on the books in pretty much every Southern state but West Virginia for decades, (WV believes in freedom of religion or something,) and the SCOTUS seems fine with that. (Actually, the court might decide in their favor if they bothered to bring a case.)

The American South has its own Voodoo traditions, with Catholic and Haitian influenced Voodoo down in Louisiana, and the more Baptist flavored Hoodoo everywhere else.

Haitian/Louisiana Voodoo probably come closest to the form of an organized religion, in large part because Voodoo has been able to operate above-ground in Haiti, where about half the people believe in it, including their erstwhile dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier:

Duvalier fostered his cult of personality and claimed he was the physical embodiment of the island nation. He also revived the traditions of Vodou, later using them to consolidate his power with his claim of being a Vodou priest, himself. In an effort to make himself even more imposing, Duvalier deliberately modeled his image on that of Baron Samedi, one of the loa, or spirits, of Haitian Vodou. He often donned sunglasses to hide his eyes and talked with the strong nasal tone associated with the loa. The regime’s propaganda stated that “Papa Doc was one with the [loa], Jesus Christ and God himself”.[11] The most celebrated image from the time shows a standing Jesus Christ with a hand on the shoulder of a seated Papa Doc, captioned, “I have chosen him”.[31] Duvalier declared himself an “immaterial being” as well as “the Haitian flag” soon after his first election.[32] In 1964, he published a catechism in which the Lord’s Prayer was reworded to pay tribute to Duvalier instead of God.[33][32]

Duvalier also held in his closet the head of former opponent Blucher Philogenes, who tried to overthrow him in 1963.[25]:132He believed another political enemy was able to change into a black dog at will and had the militia begin killing black dogs on sight in the capital.[34]

Clearly the kind of guy you want running your country!

Personally, the vibe I get off Papa Doc is less Loa of Death and more Steve Urkel:

DUVALIER-ELECTION-PRESIDENCY-286296 CNiBkOIUYAAGOxq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But maybe you had to be there.

Sadly, I can’t find the picture of Jesus endorsing Papa Doc.

Wikipedia gives some insight into the practice of Haitian Voodoo, which appears to revolve around death, worship, and spirit possession:

Antique Haitian Vodoo drum
Antique Haitian Vodoo drum

The practitioners of Vodou revere death, and believe it to be a great transition from one life to another, or to the afterlife. In some Vodou families, it is believed that a person’s spirit leaves the body, but is trapped in water, over mountains, in grottoes, or anywhere else a voice may call out and echo for a span of one full year and one day. … After the soul of the deceased leaves its resting place, it can occupy trees, and even become a hushed voice on the wind. …

As the songs are sung, participants believe that spirits come to visit the ceremony, by taking possession of individuals and speaking and acting through them. … In Haiti, these Vodou ceremonies, depending on the Priest or Priestess, may be more organized. But in the United States, many vodouists and clergy take it as a sort of non-serious party or “folly”. In a serious rite, each spirit is saluted and greeted by the initiates present and gives readings, advice, and cures to those who ask for help. Many hours later, as morning dawns, the last song is sung, the guests leave, and the exhausted hounsis, houngans, and mambos can go to sleep.

Vodou practitioners believe that if one follows all taboos imposed by their particular loa and is punctilious about all offerings and ceremonies, the loa will aid them. Vodou practitioners also believe that if someone ignores their loa it can result in sickness, the failure of crops, the death of relatives, and other misfortunes. [32] Animals are sometimes sacrificed in Haitian Vodou. A variety of animals are sacrificed, such as pigs, goats, chickens, and bulls. “The intent and emphasis of sacrifice is not upon the death of the animal, it is upon the transfusion of its life to the loa; for the understanding is that flesh and blood are of the essence of life and vigor, and these will restore the divine energy of the god.”

Hoodoo seems pretty mild, all things considered, involving more stories of witch doctors and sacrifice than actual witch doctors making actual sacrifices, and is less of a “religion” and more a collection of folk medicines and superstitions. Wikipedia explains:

The purpose of hoodoo was to allow African Americans access to supernatural forces to improve their lives. Hoodoo is purported to help people attain power or success (“luck”) in many areas of life including money, love, health, and employment. As in many other spiritual and medical folk practices, extensive use is made of herbs, minerals, parts of animals’ bodies, an individual’s possessions and bodily fluids, especially menstrual blood, urine, saliva, and semen.

Contact with ancestors or other spirits of the dead is an important practice within the conjure tradition, and the recitation of Psalms from the Bible is also considered spiritually influential in hoodoo. …

Hoodoo is linked to a popular tradition of Bottle Trees in the United States. According to gardener and glass bottle researcher Felder Rushing, the use of bottle trees came to the Old South from Africa with the slave trade. Bottle trees were an African tradition, passed down from early Arabian traders. They believed that the bottles trapped the evil spirits until the rising morning sun could destroy them.

*Googles “bottle tree”*

bottle tree, American South East
Oh, that’s really pretty.

Hoodoo and Louisiana Voodoo are referenced frequently in American music:

Many blues musicians have referred to hoodoo in their songs. Popular examples include “Louisiana Hoodoo Blues” by Ma Rainey, “Hoodoo Lady Blues” by Arthur Crudup, and “Hoodoo Man Blues” by Junior Wells. The Bo Diddley song “Who Do You Love?” contains an extensive series of puns about a man hoodooing his lover. He also recorded an album titled Got My Own Bag of Tricks (1972), a reference to a mojo hand or trick bag. In Chuck Berry‘s song “Thirty Days” he threatens an ex-lover, telling her that he “…talked to the gypsy woman on the telephone […] she gonna send out a world wide hoodoo…”. Woody Guthrie wrote the lyrics for “Hoodoo Voodoo”, a song later performed by Wilco and Billy Bragg. Creedence Clearwater Revival made reference to it in their hit song “Born on the Bayou” with the lyrics, “And I can still hear my old hound dog barkin’, chasin’ down a hoodoo there….”

and folklore–God, Doctor Buzzad, and the Bolito Man is a good book if you’re interested in the subject, but since I don’t have my copy anymore, here’s a story I found on the internet:

The first Dr. Buzzard came to Beaufort on a slave ship. Almost as soon as he was given a cabin in which to live, his master learned of his magical powers. This Dr. Buzzard had so much influence over the other slaves that his master gave him a large measure of freedom to be used in the practice of witchcraft. When the slaves were allowed to pursue their ancestral customs and beliefs, they performed their tasks more cheerfully.

I have read elsewhere that the “first” Dr. Buzzard was a white guy, but after he died, the mantle was taken up by dozens of others, most of them black. I doubt anyone could prove it either way.

The people born in slavery and their descendents relied on those who “worked in root” for their medical needs. Roots were mixed with cemetery dirt, frog’s feet, hearts of owls, and crushed bones and used as charms.

…He wore purple eyeglasses, a custom which prevented others from seeing his eyes, and he seemed to be always chewing on a root. The root on which he chewed had magical power, according to Dr. Buzzard. He said if he went into a courtroom during the time a case was being tried, he could chew the root and affect the outcome of the case. He also used another procedure in affecting the result of trials. He concocted a powder by grinding together certain materials, and he sprinkled the powder on desks, tables, and chairs in the courtroom. After the powder had been scattered about the courtroom, Dr. Buzzard said the room had been “rooted” and the course of the trial in progress would change.

Dr. Buzzard’s routine also called for the use of black cat’s. He said there was no stronger force in the world than that of a bone from a black cat that had been boiled alive! The technique called for Dr. Buzzard to put a black cat in a kettle of boiling water, and when the hot water covered the cat, “ That cat would talk just like a man.

After the cat had been boiled, it was dropped into a sack (the water in which the cat had been boiled was poured into a container for future use, as it was considered to be powerful in the treatment of certain maladies) and taken to a creek. The cooked cat was then dumped into the creek. If the process of boiling the cat and dumping the remains into the creek had been done correctly, according to the unexplained techniques of voodoo, all the bones would float away from the bank of the creek or sink, except one bone. “That bone just floats right to me,” Dr. Buzzard said. That was the bone with the power. Anyone carrying that bone was safe from “the law and everything else.”

In Dr. Buzzard’s case, it was probably more important to be known as the kind of guy who would boil cats alive than to actually boil them alive–but you never know.

I thought perhaps the “Magical Negro” trope in movies had its origin in folks like Dr. Buzzard, but it appears that–O Brother, Where Art Thou? possibly excepted–the trend is a recent thing has nothing to do with Southern folklore. Besides, proper Hoodoo doctors are supposed to be a bit scary.

I see a certain similarity between the ecstatic dance and spirit possession of the Voodoo ceremonies; the ring shouts of American black churches; speaking in tongues, faith healing, and spirit possession in various Pentecostal or Charismatic churches; snake handling; etc. These groups are not all theologically linked, but they are all common in the South, where they may have influenced each other by proximity.

More likely, though, I suspect the impulse toward these forms of worship arose fairly independently, simply because they appeal to the people involved.

Part one (yesterday)

Part three (next).