Remembering That People Matter–Victorian Style

As I was reading the book called Women In Atlanta by Staci Catron-Sullivan and Susan Neill, I came across this featured photograph of a 19th Century black woman wearing an embellished Victorian Dress.  Staci and Susan draw the eyes to the young lady’s hand which appears to be covering a necklace charm.  They state, “The sitter appears to shield an object and may be concealing a slave hire badge. . . . If hired-out slaves were found without the proper badge, they were arrested, and their masters were forced to pay fines for their return.”

1848 Free Slave TagAtlanta, Georgia City HallCourtesy: Africanafrican.com

1848 Free Slave Tag
Atlanta, Georgia City Hall
Courtesy: Africanafrican.com

Then I remembered the Labor Behind the Veil tour in Milledgeville, Georgia.  Often slaves were arrested and their legal tags were taken from them by the captors.  As a result, many slaves and free people of color were then taken to the auction block and resold to new slave owners.  Either circumstance, shielding one’s identity was critical to survival during the era of slavery.  If you are following the story of Lavinia Flagg, she and Wilkes were sold back into slavery after leaving the state of Georgia and returning.

Because someone knew that Wilkes and Lavinia mattered as human beings, the Wilkes family freedom was reestablished after $750 in fines were paid. Historians tend to focus on the peculiar institution of slavery.  However, many rarely look at slavery from the slave or free person of color’s perspective.  This is why the masses have lost interest in Civil War history which has become primarily about the Generals, the Battlefields, and the progression of the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t want the Wilkes’ love story and similar Civil War stories to be hidden within hundreds of pages of books.  As the authors of Women in Atlanta point out, these stories are about people, not property; and their life experiences deserve to be shared globally.  Love, Faith, and Hope are relevant in 2013. This is why its important to remember that people will always matter.

Highlighting the good in humanity,
Ann DeWitt

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Not Allowing 19th Century Slavery To Overshadow Her Individual Story–Victorian Style

The great advantage that comes from volunteering as a Living Historian stems from the compilation of information. I have decided to focus my search for a 19th century Southern Heroine within Georgia (CSA).*  Several wonderful ladies are mentoring me on the subject matter of 19th Century women’s fashion, customs, and social life.  On Saturday, I began to shadow a Living Historian to gain a deeper understanding of the role.

As you may know, slavery existed during the 19th Century in the United States of America. My narrative must address slavery at some level. However, I want my sphere of influence to get to know the 19th Century woman and not allow the term “slavery” to overshadow her individual story.

The first matter of course is to determine social class for my Southern Heroine: slave, free, or black slaveholder in Georgia (CSA). Again, much has been written about slavery. However, overwhelmingly, the 19th Century African American woman’s point of view at the surface of history has been downplayed.

As an example, what do you see when you look at this photograph? I see a 19th Century woman who will not deal with nonsensical behavior. Her strength lies in her stance. Her determination is squarely within her eyes. Her dress demonstrates labor–for she teaches us there is a time to be all about business.  Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to win an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress due to her outstanding performance of this type of slave role in Gone with the Wind.

Highlighting the good in humanity,
Ann Dewitt

*On January 19, 1961, the state of Georgia seceded from the Union–hence Georgia (CSA)

Photograph: Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries