BLACK GENEALOGY AND THE AFRICAN
* Presented before the East Texas Genealogical Society
at Tyler, Texas on Saturday, February 8, 2003.
The objectives of this paper are threefold. The first objective is to encourage the further development of black genealogical research by looking at its challenges, opportunities, constraints, and research resources. The second objective is to show the similarities between the missions of black genealogy and the African American Museum movement. The third objective is to make the audience aware of the resources available at the A. C. McMillan African American Museum, located at Emory, Texas, approximately a 30-minute ride from Tyler.
Black genealogy is in its second renaissance. The first renaissance was inspired by Alex Haley and the publication of Roots (1976) and the subsequent television miniseries. The first renaissance was also motivated by the movie entitled "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." Both of these works were the products of the Black Consciousness Movement of the 1960s. The second renaissance, which we are now in, was inspired by the development of advanced computer technology and accessible web sites such as Afrigeneas.com, which has links to several useful web sites.
Black and white genealogical research both start with the simple "family tree" and the development of collateral family trees. Both rely heavily on oral history traditions. However, the basic difference between black and white genealogical research is that the white paths are clearer, documented, and connected. On the other hand, black genealogical research paths are disjointed and not well defined. The cause of this problem was the institution of slavery in America. For a period of over 300 years, African American history was not systematically kept nor encouraged. Case in point: During slavery, African Americans were treated as property, not as human beings; therefore, few records were kept of births and deaths. Marriages were statutory illegal. Freedom to associate and form organizations was prohibited. Education was discouraged. Consequently, much of African American history is lost from an individual and cultural perspective. Despite these conditions, African Americans had the audacity to survive. Before 1865, the primary source of historical information on African Americans was slave narratives. Thanks to historians such as Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, Lorenzo Greene, Benjamin Quarles, John Hope Franklin, and many others, African American history is not totally lost. These academically trained historians are not universally known because much of their research materials have been largely confined to African American colleges and universities and the African American community.
W.E.B. DuBois, a Harvard trained Ph. D. and noted scholar, wrote such classics as The Soul of Black Folk (1903), Black Reconstruction in America (1935), and The Philadelphia Negro (1899). He was a co- founder of the NAACP and served for over 30 years of the editor as The Crisis Magazine. He also directed the one-of-a-kind Atlanta University sociological studies on Black America.
Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard trained historian, was born in the South and educated in the North. He made the preservation and celebration of African American history his life's work. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and in 1916 he founded the Journal of Negro History. Both the organization and the Journal are active today. Woodson saw the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as the cultural analogue of the NAACP and the National Urban League. The Journal of Negro History was the first national-scale organization directed at the preservation of African American history.
Dr. Woodson wrote the classic The Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933. It argued that the African American feeling of inferiority could be addressed through greater knowledge of African American history and African history. He further believed that white racism and prejudice could be eradicated through education regarding African Americans. His personal library was given to Howard University at his death. Other outstanding African Americans of this era were Lorenzo Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England (1942), Rayford Logan, The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir (1954), and Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution.
Most recent scholarship in this area has been developed by Dr. John Hope Franklin and his landmark publication, From Slavery to Freedom (1947, 7 th Edition, 1994).
In 1977, Charles L. Blockson wrote Black Genealogy. This valuable book discusses the challenges and opportunities faced by African Americans in tracing their family history. He also presents a fresh approach to little-known available public records such as local directories, government offices, newspapers, census records, military records, pension bureaus, libraries, historical societies, and archives. He heavily stresses the importance of black church records, cemetery headstones, and family Bibles. Among the sources of data and inforination available on African Americans in the 18th and 19th. Centuries are:
- List of free black heads of families in the first census of the United States (1790)-available from the National Archives;
- Carter G. Woodson's Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830 and Free Negro Owners of Slaves in 1830. These books can be purchased from The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in Washington, DC.; and
- Slave Schedules that were maintained by each southern state and further broken down by counties, with slaves listed under the owners' names.
The primary tactic in black genealogical research is to trace family history and events back to slave ship docks in America, (e.g., Savannah, Georgia) then locate the ship and its sources of slave cargo. Definite slave routes can be documented. For instance, slaves bound for the United States mostly came from Guinea, The Gold Coast, and Senegal. Slaves bound for the West Indies came from Gambia, Congo, and Angola. Once this documentation is done, the ultimate challenge is to trace the family back to Africa and to identify the family tribe. Among the more popular tribes were the Hausa, lbo, Senufo, and Yoruba. These were all located in West Africa.
A thorough knowledge of African American History from inception to the present is very useful in black genealogical research. Plantation records, although most were destroyed during the Civil War, can be an additional source of inforination in understanding the management of the Plantation and the buying, selling, and breeding of slaves. Because blacks were considered property, a search of plantation owners' wills at death can be helpful in identifying the names, ages, and other data on slaves as they were transferred to other members upon the masters' death. Some manumission papers (freedom papers) are in special collections at such places as the Schomburg Collection in New York City, Howard University in Washington, D. C., The National Archives, and the Library of Congress.
Black genealogical research is further complicated by the several name changes when slaves were sold, migration after the Civil War, and miscegenation between African Americans and Whites and Indians. Many genealogical studies reveal two sets of families-one black and one white. The case of Thomas Jefferson is a case in point. History shows at least three mulatto children were fathered by Thomas Jefferson with Sally Hernings. Other cases can be cited such as Stephen Girard of New Orleans and John Randolph of Ohio-both prominent men. The noted abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass, bom a slave in Maryland, is known to have had a black mother and a white father. Douglass himself had first a black wife and then a white wife. Many African Americans born from mixed heritage now pass as white in America to take advantage of opportunities. In summary, many Americans have mixed blood lines.
Similarities between Black Genealogy and African American History Museums
Both black genealogy and the African American History Museums focus on the same subject. Black genealogy collects data -and information on families. The African American History Museum collects data, information, artifacts, and historical items significant to African Americans as a united people, race, or ethnic group.
In the early part of the Twentieth Century, several African American history collectors were active. Among them included Daniel Alexander Payne Murray, Arthur Alonso Schomburg and Jesse B. Moorland. Murray developed the African American history and culture collections at the Library of Congress, while Schomburg and Moorland amassed private collections.
Jesse B. Moorland, a wealthy real estate speculator and YMCA activist, in 1914 donated a collection of over 3,000 books, manuscripts, engravings, paintings, and other objects to the library and archives of Howard University, his alma mater. The Moorland collection coupled with other major collections were the foundation for founding the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University-one of the best of its kind.
Arthur Schomburg, an African American native of Puerto Rico, started around 1896 to build a collection on African Americans and Africans in Europe. He amassed an envied collection, which was purchased by the Carnegie Corporation and donated to the Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library. Since 1920, this institution has stood as an active place for African American artists and intellectuals and has a world-renowned reputation.
The A. C. McMillan African American Museum in Emory, Texas
The A. C. McMillan African American Museum was founded in the year 2000. Since its inception, it has focused on developing permanent collections and hosting special exhibits geared to the interests of Texans and especially East Texans. The question that is constantly asked is "Why did7you choose Emory, Texas to locate the A. C. McMillan African American Museum?" The answer to this question is twofold. My wife and I conducted an on-site survey of similar museums and institutions in Washington, D. C., Tennessee, New York, Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, and Texas. We determined that East Texas could benefit from such an institution because (to our knowledge) no organization focused on African American history and culture in East Texas. Consequently, we founded the A. C. McMillan African American Museum at Emory, Texas. It was named in honor of A. C. McMillan, an African American who had served for over 36 years as teacher and principal in Rains County, Texas. He was an outstanding leader that was involved in many of the social issues of the last half of the
201h Century. Mainly, he supervised and taught all African Americans in the segregated public school system during his tenure and he participated in the smooth transition of the integration of the racially dual public school system in Rains County. He saw first-hand the damage that segregated schools did to African American youth and the additional resources that were provided to African American youth in a racially integrated environment. Also, an interesting fact is that one of the first known African American educators in Rains County was A. C. McMillan's grandfather, who had the same name.
The original thinking regarding the need for the museum in East Texas (and still exists today) was the fact that the African American population has a long and rich history in this section of the state. When early pioneers came to Texas and settled on farms and plantations, they often brought black slaves. Some of your larger slaveholding plantations were located in Colorado, County. In the early 1850's through the 1870's, Harrison County (Marshall, Texas) had a black majority population. This was reflected in that fact that Harrison County el(fcted more African American politicians to local and state offices than any other county in Texas during the Reconstruction Era.
We envisioned The A. C. McMillan African American Museum as a vehicle to help to record the history of African Americans in East Texas and to develop public awareness through exhibitions in art, history, literature, and religion. One of our focuses is on the public school systems in our area. We believe that the museum can play a supplemental educational role in providing all students with an appreciation for racial diversity and history.
At the A. C. McMillan African American Museum, we have the following permanent collections: The Slave Shackles Collection, The Dolls of Color Collection,
Musical Instruments Collection, African Jewelry Collection, The Buffalo Soldier Collection, The Negro Baseball Leagues Collection, The Local African American Family History Scrapbook Collection, and Blacks in Texas Reconstruction Collection. Samples from these collections are on the exhibit table. To celebrate our third anniversary in May, we will be installing The African American Commemorative U. S. Postage Stamp Exhibit, which will become a part of our permanent collections. This exhibit is a collection of stamps dating back to 1940, when the first stamp with an African American picture of Booker T. Washington appeared on a 10 cent stamp as a part of The Great American Series. Since then, 42 African Americans have appeared on U. S. Commemorative Stamps. The latest being the late Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.
Black genealogical research is an open frontier. It is time for more scholars to follow the lead of Charles L. Blockson and provide more research methodology to guide laymen and community interest organizations in conducting black genealogical research on individual families at the community level.
Among the research sources in Texas are the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Federal Archives and Records Center, Texas Library and Historical Commission, Texas Southern University Library, Texas State Historical Association, Texas State Library, and the University of Texas at Austin Library. The black press is also a very valuable resource. Among the ones that have been published for several years are the Afro-American (1892), Amsterdam News (1909), Chicago Defender (1905), Norfolk Journal and Guide (19 10), Pittsburgh Courier (1910), and The Spokesman and Recorder (1934).