Archival Choices

Hello! I’m Hannah Foltz, class of 2013 and current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin. This summer, I’m working with the Humanities program and the Archives and Special Collections team. I’ll be scouring the College’s archives, documenting and studying depictions and erasures of marginalized populations in historical materials. Because of my disciplinary background, I am most interested in the archives’ rhetorical role, or in other terms, how the records and materials we deem worthy of saving define the im/possibilities of not only historiography, but also of popular conceptions of identity and belonging. 

My posts this summer have focused on the lack of neutrality in historical records and articles, such as Davidson’s yearbooks and newspapers. We’ve discussed how editorial choices—to include, to omit, how to frame—affect the historical record. This week, however, I’ll turn my attention to the construction of the archive itself; how we must understand it not as a complete and impartial repository, but as a composition that reflects the intentions, priorities, and ethics of those tasked with creating, maintaining, and displaying it.

The 1968–1969 school year was a pivotal one for Davidson; it saw the abolishment of compulsory ROTC (“Board Follows Faculty Lead, Assents to Voluntary ROTC,” p.1),  anti-war protests (“Peace Group, Navy Vie,” p. 6), the presidential election (“The Davidsonian Report: Election–1968,” p. 3), murmurs about coeducation (“Coeducation Gets Overwhelming Support in Student-Faculty Poll”, p.1), the end of campus curfew (“Faculty Vote Opens Dorm Doors,” p. 1), the town going “wet,” (“State ABC Board Approves Permit,” p. 1)  and ongoing criticism of the treatment of black students at Davidson (“Black Students in an Ivory Tower,” p. 3). While auditing the physical collection of that year’s Davidsonians, I hit a snag. An entire issue was missing! April 11th’s paper was not included in the bound collection; however, subsequent references to the issue confirmed that not only did it exist, but that it also upset many members of the community. 

Letters to—and from—the editors suggested that an inflammatory letter to the editor had been published, one that had contained a personal attack. Elizabeth Smyre of Gastonia writes to say, “To include ‘good taste’ as a criterion for publication is an example of responsible editing” (Davidsonian, 2 May 1969, p.2). Mrs. Frontis Johnston, wife of the dean of faculty, comments that she has “never before read columns of such incredible rudeness” (Davidsonian, 18 April, p.2). The editors promise that, because of the furor, they would no longer publish letters to the editor that “constitute personal attacks”(Davidsonian, 18 April, p. 2). 

I assumed the archival omission of this hot-button item was merely a mistake. The library keeps two bound collections of each year’s Davidsonians; maybe only one copy had been saved for binding? However, when consulting the volume that is not available for public browsing, I found the same gap. 

My mind swirled with possibilities: what on earth was the archive hiding? Criticism of the administration? Offensive comments by a professor? Publication of a malicious rumor? Driven by curiosity, I asked Sharon Byrd—Davidson’s “Institutional Memory”—about the omission. She was able to point me to a scan of the microfilm of the April 11th issue. What I found answered some questions, but raised new ones. 

The item that had caused so much tumult was a letter to the editor from a Taylor Adams of New York City. Mr. Adams, an advertising executive, writes after viewing the Davidson team compete in the GE College Bowl, a popular televised trivia show. To avoid amplifying Adams’ objectionable statements, I’ll paraphrase his comments: he expresses disdain for the team captain’s North Carolina accent, explaining that, in his view, such a dialect represents stereotypes Southerners have tried to overcome. Mr. Adams minces no words and manages to malign not only the College Bowl captain, but also Davidson, the state of North Carolina, and the black community. 

The 1969 Davidson GE College Bowl team was named a champion team after winning the maximum five consecutive matches.  Men stand with sign that says "Congratulations G.E. Bowl Champs."
The 1969 Davidson GE College Bowl team was named a champion team after winning the maximum five consecutive matches. 

The preservation of a microfilm, but not a physical, record of this letter is peculiar. We’re not sure who made decisions about binding in 1961, and to be clear, we’re not certain that the omission was purposeful. However, if we speculate that it was, what would such a choice indicate? My hunch is that although this person(s) recognized the necessity of keeping a complete record, they hesitated to place an ad hominem attack on a student in the library’s browsing collection. It’s an understandable example of an intervention made in the name of ethics. But was it the right one? Although the omission prevented circulation of a malicious screed, it also obscured reality, making it more difficult for a historian of the institution to access the full record.

As is often the case in the presentation of historical texts (or statues, plaques, etc), the addition of context and framing could go a long way in mediating the frequently conflicting pressures of ethics and historical transparency. Rather than present Mr. Adams’ offensive words in a relative void, one solution could be to redact them from the printed copy, but include directions for accessing them digitally and a short explanation that the redacted item contains objectionable material. 

What do you think? If the omission was purposeful, was it the right choice? Should anything be redacted or omitted from the record—even if has the potential to hurt or offend? What kind of context should frame objectionable material?

Editorial Voices, part 2

Hello! I’m Hannah Foltz, class of 2013 and current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin. This summer, I’m working with the Humanities program and the Archives and Special Collections team. I’ll be scouring the College’s archives, documenting and studying depictions and erasures of marginalized populations in historical materials. Because of my disciplinary background, I am most interested in the archives’ rhetorical role, or in other terms, how the records and materials we deem worthy of saving define the im/possibilities of not only historiography, but also of popular conceptions of identity and belonging. 

Last week I used the 1959–1960 Davidsonian to illustrate how editorial choices play a large role determining what is recorded as public opinion. A college paper, the Davidsionian presents an extreme example of this phenomenon, as the annual rotation of editors produced highly divergent editorial policies from year to year—all under the masthead “The News and Editorial Voice of Davidson College.” 

Masthead of the February 28, 1964 edition of the Davidsonian. The Davidsonian referred to as "The News and Editorial Voice Of The Davidson College"
Masthead of The Davidsonian, February 28, 1964.

As the 1960s progressed, and the newspaper began tackling more controversial issues—particularly civil rights, Communism, tensions in Vietnam, and the college’s ties to the Presbyterian Church—the assumed association between “editorial voice” and popular opinion became a source of anxiety for some. The 1963–1964 paper, under editor David Stitt, had assumed a decidedly liberal stance, reporting extensively on racial issues, endorsing a student-led march in support of the Civil Rights Act, and questioning the school’s religious commitments. 

In the first week of March 1964, David Stitt received the following correspondence from the College president: 

At the recent meeting of the Trustees the following motion was made and unanimously approved: “that the Editors of the Davidsonian be requested to remove from the masthead of that paper the words, ‘the news and editorial voice of Davidson College’ and that appropriate words in substitution thereof be worked out between the staff of the Davidsonian and the Administration of the college.” 

D. Grier Martin

Trustee meeting minutes are not available for review, so perhaps we’ll never know definitively what most irked the Board. However, there are several hints that growing critiques of Christian influence were particularly disturbing to the Trustees, many of whom were ministerial representatives of the Presbyterian Church. The Davidsonian decision came at the same meeting at which the Board had decided to amend, but ultimately retain, the Christian loyalty oath required of tenure track professors, a policy the Davidsonian had strongly opposed (“The Oath,” Davidsonian 7 Feb 1964, p. 2). The retention of the oath came on the heels of a controversial National Review article (only available to institutional subscribers), which suggested that 82 percent of Davidson students experienced “anti-religious reaction.”

Furthermore, many alumni and parents had been upset by a recent campus appearance by Michael Scriven, a philosopher of science who spoke on the “Non-Existence of God” in a discussion sponsored by the YMCA. (“YMCA’s Forum Draws Avowed Atheist, Minister,” Davidsonian, 10 Jan 1964, p.1). The event, which was covered by the Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte News, provoked many devout Christian readers to send letters of protest to the editors of the Observer, News, and Davidsonian (“Area Fundamentalists Protest Athiest’s [sic] Talk,” Davidsonian, 14 Feb 1964, p. 2)

Headshot of Dr. Michael Scriven from an article of The Davidsonian discussing his talk at Davidson entitled "Non-Existence of God"
Headshot of Dr. Michael Scriven, The Davidsonian, January 10, 1964.

Whatever its cause, the Board’s decree led the editorial board to adopt a bulker compromise masthead : The News and Editorial Voice of the Davidson College Student Body. While the change doesn’t appear to have affected day-to-day operations, it underlines the weight carried by the term “editorial voice.” It was hefty enough that it concerned the Board of Trustees, a group with undeniably greater material control over the state of affairs than any editor of the Davidsonian. With one seemingly minor copyedit, the Davidsonian’s constituency was minimized: it was no longer the voice of students, alumni, faculty, administration, and staff. It was simply the voice of the students. 

Masthead of the March 20, 1964 edition of the Davidsonian. The Davidsonian referred to as "The News and Editorial Voice Of The Davidson College Student Body"
Masthead of The Davidsonian, March 20, 1964.

In short, the scramble over the masthead provides yet another example of how rhetorical framing matters. An editor with a wide mandate has the opportunity to dictate how history is recorded. But that power is vulnerable; it is easily hacked away with a few semantic changes. With one stroke of the pen, or in this case, a few strokes on the typewriter, editorial possibilities are foreclosed and administrative power is exerted.

Editorial Voices, part 1

Hello! I’m Hannah Foltz, class of 2013 and current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin. This summer, I’m working with the Humanities program and the Archives and Special Collections team. I’ll be scouring the College’s archives, documenting and studying depictions and erasures of marginalized populations in historical materials. Because of my disciplinary background, I am most interested in the archives’ rhetorical role, or in other terms, how the records and materials we deem worthy of saving define the im/possibilities of not only historiography, but also of popular conceptions of identity and belonging.

This week, I took on the Davidsonian, the college’s weekly newspaper. In an era of “fake news” and “activist journalism,” we’re used to scrutinizing our new sources. We typically associate this with verifying claims; today there are dozens of resources devoted to this goal, including FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and CNN’s ongoing “Facts First” features. However, our consideration shouldn’t stop there. In this post, I’ll use historical issues of the Davidsonian to illustrate the power of the editor, not only in issuing opinions that claim to be representative, but also in choosing which stories are told and how.

In the late 50s and early 60s, the Davidsionian’s masthead proclaimed: “The News and Editorial Voice of Davidson College.”  For the most part, editorials in the Davidsonian ran unsigned. Although a note in small font clarifies that “unsigned editorials are by the editor,” these articles’ framing as the “voice of Davidson”—rather than the voice of an individual—suggests they are incontestable. One gets an artificial feeling that the piece speaks for the whole community.

Thus, the editor plays a strong role writing history: a researcher referencing the Davidsionian may get completely different perspectives on college opinion depending on who was at the publication’s helm. Because the Davidsonian’s editor changes every year, this means the tone and coverage of the paper can—and does—change dramatically between consecutive issues.  

For example, consider the following editorial positions from issues of the Davidsonian:

“The editorial policy we consider most vital to the future of Davidson takes precedence over all of those enumerated in this column. If it is violated Davidson will lose far more than she will gain. We oppose the admission of Negroes to Davidson—now or ever.”

“It is disappointing to see prejudice sneak into the meetings of the policymaking body of the college. This prejudice is almost unavoidable to a person who was reared in the South. But try as we have to find one, a significant justification of a segregated Davidson is almost non-existent.”

With such divergent arguments, one might assume these excerpts represent different eras. After all, remember that the Davidsionian’s masthead claims the paper is “the news and editorial voice of Davidson College”—for public opinion to have swayed so significantly, considerable time must have passed, right? Wrong. The first passage is from 15 January 1960. The second is from 16 February 1960.

In all likelihood, the student body’s consensus on integration did not change dramatically during those 32 days. What did change was the editor of the Davidsonian. The former position was articulated by editor Ed Armfield Jr, who graduated in January 1960. The second position was penned by Dick Smith, who assumed the role of editor on 5 February.

Editorial impact goes beyond editorials, of course. The previous year, the school’s trustees had voted against opening admission to black students. Rather than settle the issue, this sparked even greater controversy. In response, under Armfield’s leadership, the Davidsionian provided significant coverage—articles, interviews, speech excerpts—to figures such as Thomas R. Waring, notable proponent of “states’ rights” and segregation. It also republished inflammatory racist editorials from publications around the South, as well as 19th-century Davidson addresses that bemoaned abolition and civil rights. Armfield’s Davidsonian portrayed Davidson as a reactionary campus hostile to integration. On the other hand, Smith’s Davidsonian took a progressive activist bent, even going so far as to publish a special “Trustee Issue” that not-so-subtly devoted the majority of its content to persuading the board to reconsider their decision on desegregation.

The “truth” of public opinion probably lay somewhere in the middle—an unofficial Chapel poll in 1960 showed 297 against integration, 121 for immediate integration, and 178 for providing a path for integration. The contrast between the poll’s indecisive results and the Davidsonian’s (two) editorial stances underscores the rhetorical power of the editor. This individual chooses what is recorded as representative opinion. He (or she, after 1977 when Catherine Landis became the first female Davidsonian editor) chooses what stories are told, what figures are profiled. His or her decisions will inevitably shape how histories are written. In evaluating both present-day and historical news sources, we must consider editorial intent and influence. Who is reporting and who is editing? How are opinion pieces framed and flagged? Which stories and perspectives have been included and which have not? Perhaps most importantly, who benefits from drawing attention to this story or promoting this viewpoint?

Stay tuned next week for part 2 of this series, which examines outside influence on the Davidsionian’s editorial board.

The Spirit(s) of Davidson

Introducing guest blogger Hannah Foltz ’13! Look forward to additional posts this summer!

Hello! I’m Hannah Foltz, class of 2013 and current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin. This summer, I’m working with the Humanities program and the Archives and Special Collections team. I’ll be scouring the College’s archives, documenting and studying depictions and erasures of marginalized populations in historical materials. Because of my disciplinary background, I am most interested in the archives’ rhetorical role, or in other terms, how the records and materials we deem worthy of saving work to define the im/possibilities of not only historiography, but also of popular conceptions of identity and belonging.


This week, I’ve been working my way through Quips and Cranks, the College’s yearbook. One of the volumes’ most popular tropes is that of the “Davidson Spirit.” Year in and year out, it is heralded as that je-ne-sais-quoi that makes Davidson a special place. Even today, College marketing centers on the notion of being “Distinctly Davidson.”

But what does it mean to possess the “Davidson Spirit?” I was struck by the evolution of this concept, which is illustrated by contrasting the Forewords of Quips & Cranks from 1933 and 1952.

Foreword of the 1933 Quips and Cranks discussing the "Spirit of Davidson." The text is framed by illustrations of campus, including male students under a tree.
Foreword of the 1933 Quips and Cranks discussing the “Spirit of Davidson.”

“Davidson’s student life is in itself homogeneous and simple. Davidson’s spirit is emblematic of the unpretentious denying itself the luxuries of form and show. Davidson’s faculty, like her students, are alike in tastes and pursuits. Davidson’s traditions are few but powerful, making evident the sameness of the mould in which we are all cast. Davidson’s athletics speak eloquently of this same spirit of modesty. Davidson’s activities add voices of modulation to the general tone.

Of this life without superfulity and unwanted ostentation Davidson’s Yearbook attempts to speak. Therefore with simple lines and plain colors we have built a monument to that Spirit of Davidson.”

1933 (Robert L. McCallie, ed.)


1952 Quips and Cranks foreword discussing the spirit of Davidson. Images of students and faculty line the edges of the page.
Foreword to the 1952 edition of Quips and Cranks.

“Every man in the class is different. Everything we do is unique. We are a class and as a group we have characteristics that are solely our own. We have lived together and suffered together and out of this heroic mixture we have developed a sense of brotherhood that makes us distinct from any other class before and since…

The Davidson Story is not devoted to any one class or any one group of any description. It is a blend, whether good or bad, of the character of anyone that has ever participated in the corporate life that is the college. From the President to the rawest janitor, each has a role and a line in the comedy or the tragedy that is Davidson.”

1952 ( William A. Adams, ed.)

While perhaps the dourness of 1933 can be attributed to Depression-era values or a reaction against rising fascism abroad, it’s clear that its notion of the Davidson Spirit is one that is static and inherent. It is something one is born with, something that determines membership in the community. It is very Protestant. It is a “sameness of mould.”

Fortunately, by 1952, the notion of the Davidson Spirit (or Story, in this case) had grown closer to how we conceive of it today: an ethos developed through a shared transformative experience, not through any inherent sameness. This Spirit can be taken up by every member of the community, each in his own way. This Spirit includes a recognition of the good—and the bad—in its past and present. All in all, where the other is unchangeable and exclusive, this Spirit is dynamic and welcoming.

Yes, Davidson was still far from realizing this ideal Spirit in 1952; it was still all male, and virtually all white and all Christian. And yet, this articulation of an alternative kind of unity marks an important step towards building the kind of inclusive, generous, and enjoyable educational community we are still striving to create.

AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration, Amaya Bradford

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Amaya Bradford

During the 1930s and 40s, the Federal Writers Project completed interviews with men and women who were formerly enslaved to tell their stories. This collection is called Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves. These interviews took place after slavery had been abolished, with many of these people being at young ages when they were set free. One particular woman was named Fannie Moore and was from Asheville, North Carolina. In her interview, she gives much insight into how enslaved women’s gender interacted with slavery in North Carolina, specifically around the Charlotte/Asheville area.

Moore mentions her mother frequently in her interview. It is revealed that her mother was fiercely protective over children as Moore states, “She stan’ up fo’ her chillun tho’. De ol’ overseeah he hate my mammy, case she fight him for beatin’ her chillun. Why she git more whuppins for dat den anythin’ else” (pg. 131). This depiction of Moore’s mother gives her the heroine title of Moore’s story, since she protects her children from physical punishment with her own body.

Similarly, a contract is created in 1867 that binds an enslaved woman, Vina, and her four to Margaret Torrance at Cedar Grove Plantation for two years of labor, in exchange for food and clothing. This is another example of enslaved women putting their children above themselves and using different methods to protect them. In this example, Vina is protecting her children from starvation and the weather, instead of explicit physical punishment, even though they were more than likely at risk for such.

Image of two pages of text from "Plantation World Around Davidson." The right page features a two story brick home, also known as "Cedar Grove."
Image of pages 70 and 71 from former College Archivist’s, Dr. Chalmers Davidson, “Plantation World Around Davidson.” Cedar Grove Plantation is pictured, here.

The interview with Fannie Moore and Vina’s contract reveals that enslaved women in North Carolina commonly used their bodies to protect their children. They ensued their roles as mothers, during a time when enslaved women were stripped of their maternity, with is also an act of resistance against the institution of slavery.

Since their bodies were constantly used as shields, they were the most subject to abuse. Going back to Moore’s interview, she also describes a woman named Aunt Cheney, who had light skinned children by the sexual assault of a white man, get sold separate from her children since she was a “breed woman”, and was frequently whipped by her abuser. While Aunt Cheney did not explicitly receive punishment to protect her children, her body was still used as an area of violence.  All these women were subject to physical violence by their enslavers, with the connection to their reproductive rights and maternity. Enslaved women in North Carolina had a lack of control over their reproductive choices because of sexual violence and lack of agency, but commonly, the children they had were fiercely protected with the continual use of their bodies.

Bibliography

Work Projects Administration. “SLAVE NARRATIVES.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of Slave Narratives, North Carolina, Part 2, (A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves), by Work Projects Administration., www.gutenberg.org/files/31219/31219-h/31219-h.htm#Page_127.

“Vina’s Contract.” Torrance and Banks Family Papers, digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p16033coll14/id/11.

AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration, Ashley Ip

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“The Other Perspective”

written by Ashley Ip

History is made up of various stories told from different aspects and in some cases, said stories get distorted over time. It is the duty of historians to analyze who is telling these stories and who is left out in order to paint a full picture. Black women are often left out of the discussion when discussing slavery in the South. This can be attributed to the lack of sources and primary documents that focus on the role that Black women played during slavery. Archival research is important because it gives voice to those who are often left out in the retelling of history. These documents are vital to the research of Black women because it provides historians with a perspective that is often overlooked.

The article “More Slavery at the South” is a transcribed interview with an anonymous African American woman. This source was actually written by a reporter for The Independent. This African American woman is a nurse and goes into detail about the hardships she encounters as a Negro nurse in the South. Although this source was published after slavery was abolished in the United States, this document gives a first-hand look into Jim Crow laws and the way it affected daily life for Black women in the south.

This nurse goes into detail about the demands of her job by describing herself as the “slave, body and soul of [the] family.” She backs up this claim by explaining that she works “sunrise to sunrise, every day in the week” and thus, “[doesn’t] know what it is to go to church; [doesn’t] know what it is to go to a lecture or entertainment of anything of the kind.” She lives a life that is controlled by the family who she works for. From “watering the lawn with the garden house, sweeping the sidewalk, mopping the porch and halls, helping the cook, darning stockings of putting the three children to bed, she must “tamely submit and answer when called.”

Snapshot of the landing page A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.
Landing page for A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South. Source: Documenting the American South, UNC Chapel Hill.

Not only were the work conditions horrendous, the wage is a “pitiful sum of ten dollars a month.” She explains how she struggles to get by because she has to pay house rent, feed and clothe not only herself but for her three children. She understands that nothing will be done to increase her wage because she means to the white family she works for, she is easily replaceable. If she were to quit, she understands “there would be hundreds of other negros right on the spot ready to take their places and do the same work, or more for the low wages that had been refused.” Thus, she must settle to work for less than nothing.

She also very eloquently explains how she must always present herself within the relationship of master and servant as she recalls her experiences on railroad trains and street cars. As long as she is with the white children and explains to white men when they ask that she is their servant, she will not be questioned when she sits in the white man’s coach. However, as soon as she doesn’t present within this relationship, she is subjected to the “colored people’s coach” section of the railroad.

Lastly, this nurse touches on something that is often very overlooked within the Black women experience – the sexual mistreatment and abuse they were forced to endure from their male employers. She adamantly claims that this is by far the worst part of her experience and that white men are always able to get away with their misconduct. When she reported to her husband that her madam’s husband tried to kiss her, her husband confronted him and was slapped and arrested. The police judge fined her husband $25 and the white man denied the charge. The judge looked up and said “The court will never take the word of a nigger against the word of a white man.” All white men are able to take their “undue liberties with their colored female servants.” This nurse emphasizes the need of research on Black women. By ignoring Black women’s experiences, historians unintentionally excuse white mens sexual abuse.

Archival research into Black women is vital to understanding the impact of slavery in the United States. By failing to incorporate Black women in scholarly discussions and conversations, a full picture cannot be painted.

Source:

A Negro Nurse, More Slavery at the South. From The Independent, 72 (Jan. 25, 1912): 196-200. New York: Published for the proprietors, 1912.https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/negnurse/negnurse.html

AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration, Kaitlin Barkley

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Primary Source Analysis”

written by Kaitlin Barkley

Archives tell a story through its pictures, diary entries, posters, and assortment of documents. Each curated source, like a puzzle piece, placed together to create a portrait of the past… but often the picture is incomplete. Like a puzzle with missing pieces, the archives often miss important narratives from voices that were marginalized or oppressed at the time. Therefore, although the archives tell a story, the story comes full of biases and half-truths. As an audience knowing this, what do you do with these stories? How do you look at them without falling into its inevitable trap?

 

Saidiya Hartman in her article “Venus in Two Acts” suggests that the archives, especially those that curate materials on slavery, are inherently violent because of the ways they continue systems of power and oppression. The biggest example of this is the lack, and quite frankly erasure, of enslaved and free women’s voices in the archives. More times than not, there are endless piles of diaries, documents, and pictures of men of varying statuses, occupations and ages. And is compared to the few token materials archives have about women. This stark difference shows the importance placed of the lives and voices of men. Regardless, Hartman suggest that one solution to this inevitable trap is narratives found outside of the archives because they often help supplement the gaps within its archival stories especially about women. Additionally, simply understanding the gaps and limitation of the archives.

 

Hartman’s words stuck with me as I searched through the archives on slavery in North Carolina, curated by different institutions around the country. To be frank, I wasn’t surprised by how difficult it was even to find materials about the home lives of women. Even when using words that stereotypically denoted occupations and social position for women, I only found materials written or about men. Nevertheless, I found two sources that I thought paired well together because of their contrasting content.

 

The first source was a poster advertising the start of the Mecklenburg Female College. The poster was created by the college in 1867 illustrating the college’s main building, the cost per semester for amenities, and a short paragraph about the purpose and benefits of the college. In the paragraph, the college boasted about being a qualified and “devoted to female education”. This advertisement is contrasted by a correspondence I found between Mary Gibson and her brother Robert Gibson, a Davidson College Board of Trustee. In the letter, she writes to her brother asking him to make a confederate bond so that she can have access to her money in order to purchase two enslaved women.

 

Scanned page of handwritten text by Mary Gibson to her brother, Robert, on November 2, 1863. In the document, Mary complains about how the Civil War has made it difficult to find slave labor.

First of two pages written by Mary Gibson to her brother, Robert, on November 2, 1863.

 

Both documents are connected to the lives of white women in North Carolina during slavery. The first, about Mecklenburg Female College, is implicitly connected to slavery. It causes us, as an audience, to consider how these young women’s education is being paid for. The latter source, is explicitly connected to enslavement. Yet, both sources help establishes a fuller narrative about the impact of slavery on womanhood in North Carolina.

 

These two materials are only three years apart…I am left wondering in those three years how many other stories, tied to archival sources, remain undiscovered.



AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration, Bry Reed

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Examining The Politics of The Archive”

written by Bry Reed

There are a few things you prepare for when going on a Spring Break trip: the lines at the airport, the long flight, the sunshine. When going on a Spring Trip to Barbados, however, to study the legacies of women and slavery on the island, you prepare yourself for a few additional things. Beyond the sunshine, I prepared myself to delve deeply into the brilliance of Bajan archival history. Before leaving Barbados, I would start to question the politics of archives themselves as institutions for their role in accessing information.

Several students gather around a plaque in a large field marking the cemetery of enslaved persons in Barbados.
Students in the AFR 329 course visit the largest known cemetery of enslaved persons in Barbados. The enslaved woman at Newton Plantation who practiced “obeah” is buried, here.


In visiting The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, I quickly realized that archival work is not a small feat. It is an expansive task of displaying the depth, wealth, and expansiveness of history. All the while connecting materials to an abundance of lived experiences, lineages, and legacies. While detailing the religious history of enslaved Black communities alongside white enslavers, the museum featured a red and orange gemstone recovered from Newton Plantation. The museum’s description of this stone explains that it allegedly belonged to a powerful enslaved woman at Newton who practiced “obeah” (a word synonymous with hoodoo).

The large stone intrigued me for its archival value and religious significance. I admired the choice by the Barbados Museum and Historical Society to acquire and display the object in the core exhibit. It is important that we as scholars recognize that the choices on acquiring materials and displaying them happen intentionally. It takes money, work, and dedication to shape history.

The presence of the stone in the Bajan national archive adds a mark of institutional legitimacy often not afforded to African and Caribbean religious practices. These modes of religious expressions suffer severe demonization across the African Diaspora that renders them “illegitimate”. The choice to display the obeah stone publicly combats silencing in the archive that stems from anti-Blackness and ongoing colonization of academic spaces. More broadly, making space to explore the role of obeah via the archives creates avenues for Black feminist scholars, like myself, to draw broader connections across disciplines and borders.

It is my hope that scholars interrogate the politics of the archives they explore. Who is represented within them? Who is silenced? Who is put on display? In answering these questions, we reconcile with the larger questions about access, silence, and colonization within the institution of archives themselves.

AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration, Uyen Nguyen

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Enslaved Female Representation in Slave Advertisement During the Antebellum period (1784-1860)”

written by Uyen Nguyen

Slavery was the main economic and political force that shaped the culture and social life of North Carolina. The treatment of enslaved 1 people worsened due to the whites’ fear of abolition. Under increasing brutality and violence of Black Codes, many enslaved individuals in the South attempted to run away to the North with the hope to gain manumission. Enslavers suffered a massive economic loss when their slaves 2 ran away. In order to have their “property” returned, they hired slave catchers and disseminated advertisements rewarding individuals who could find their runaway slaves.

Screenshot of the homepage for the Introduction to the North Carolina Slave Runaway Advertisements database, "A brief history of slavery in North Carolina."
Introduction to the North Carolina Runaway Slave Advertisements database, “A brief history of slavery in North Carolina.” The organization of this database is led by UNCG and NC A&T University.

While enslaved women were less likely to run away than men due to familial commitments and geographic limitations, they were more likely to get caught because there were more advertisements reporting them as running away. Besides serving as a common tool to find their runaway slaves, 3 slave runaway advertisements were disseminated by white people as propaganda to further criminalize the resistance of enslaved people in means of legal and moral justifications. Furthermore, the representation of women in these ads perpetuated the inferiorization of enslaved women and their bodies.

In a runaway slave advertisement created by John McCord on the 23rd of August, 1838, an enslaved women named Lucy disappeared during her shift at another plantation. The ad 4 describes Lucy as “about 25 years of age, very black, and about five feet high and slender.” Like 5 features of other runaway slave advertisements, the color of this enslaved women, as well as her “immoral act,” were mentioned.

In the ad, her owner accuses her of stealing a cotton frock and taking the clothes with her during the escape. With the use of language such as “very black” and the inclusion of the enslaved women’s stealing, this ad further perpetuates the inferiority of enslaved women based on their skin color and how their enslavers have the legal and moral rights to have her returned. In another runaway ad, enslaver Samuel Sugg reported an enslaved woman named Sylvia on December 10, 1824, who escaped his plantation in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

She was 35 years old, and the ad describes her as “very black, low set and chunkey 6 made.” Sugg suspected that she was passing as a free woman and would reward any person that “will take her up and lodge her in jail.” Indeed, by giving any person a right to confine Sylvia, 7 her owner conveys that her runway act and passing as a free woman are against the law and should be punished with imprisonment. In addition, she was described as sneaky and “rather a 8 down look when spoken to, and a very palavering tongue.” In this ad, we can see Sylvia’s whole existence is constructed through her owner’s description, and her character and moral compass were assassinated with dehumanizing languages. Her skin color and attributes were the only things that seemed significant about her, as they conveyed her criminality and mischievous behaviors. In the big picture, this type of representation reinforces the inferiorization of Black women’s bodies and how their body “was regarded by much of American society as no more than biddable property.” 9

In these ads, white owners give the rights to anyone to use violence against their slaves because of their immoral act of running away. It was no longer an individual effort to find the enslaved, but it became a societal effort to reclaim the runway enslaved who were the “property” that belonged to white people. Through the language used to describe runaway slaves, we can see the hyper-criminalization in which enslaved resistance was propagandized as immoral and illegal. The enslaved female representation in these ads was racist and dehumanizing and reinforced the notion that enslaved women’s worth is solely based on their body. By describing runaway enslaved as inferiors and criminals, white owners concealed their violence and brutal acts, which were the reasons for the enslaved to run away, and framed themselves as the losing parties.

Bibliography

Boyd, B. P. “$20 Reward.” Charlotte Journal. March 5, 1840.

Camp, Stephanie M. H. Closer to Freedom : Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Gender and American Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 2004. Accessed April 19, 2019.

Sugg, Samuel. “Ran Away.” Raleigh Register and North Carolina Weekly Advertiser. May 27, 1825

Winer, Samantha. “A brief history of slave in North Carolina.” N.C. Runaway Slave Advertisement. Accessed April 19, 2019. http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/history/collection/RAS.

Footnotes

1 Samantha Winer, “A brief history of slave in North Carolina,” N.C. Runaway Slave Advertisement, accessed April 19,2019. http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/history/collection/RAS 2 Ibid. 3 Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom : Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, Gender and American Culture, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 2004, Accessed April 19, 2019. 4 B. P. Boyd, “$20 Reward,” Charlotte Journal, March 5, 1840. 5 Ibid. 6 Samuel Sugg, “Ran Away,” Raleigh Register and North Carolina Weekly Advertiser, May 27, 1825 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid.

9 Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom : Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, Gender and American Culture, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 2004, Accessed April 19, 2019.

AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic – Course Collaboration, Salome Araya

After multiple class sessions introducing our archival and manuscript collections and oral history best practices, students in Dr. Nneka Dennie’s Spring 2019 AFR 329: Women & Slavery in the Black Atlantic course produced a documentary using oral histories created throughout the semester. These materials will be donated to the Archives.

In addition to this main project, students were tasked with identifying primary sources from local archives, historic sites, and/or repositories that shed light on the lived experiences of enslaved women or women enslavers. The following series of blog posts are authored by these students upon the completion of this archival research process and serve as reflective pieces.

Thank you for your submissions-and a wonderful semester of fruitful collaborations!

“Nancy Midgett v. Willoughby McBryde”

written by Salome Araya

In December 1855, Nancy Midgett, a white woman living in North Carolina, filed a case in the Supreme Court against William McBryde. Midgett appealed to the courts for full custody of her two children who were described as being “mulatto”, and “begotten by a negro father”. During this time, the law stated that only “legitimate children of free negroes” must serve an apprenticeship alongside their parents. However, the case with Midgett could not apply this law to the case because she was a white woman, who was claiming black children. This case exemplifies what motherhood and family structures served to the system of slavery during the late 1800s in North Carolina.

Screenshot of Court case NANCY MIDGETT v. WILLOUGHBY McBRYDE found in "Slavery, Abolition, and Justice."
Court case found in “Slavery, Abolition, and Justice,” made available through a library subscription with Adam Matthew: http://www.slavery.amdigital.co.uk/.

Agency in motherhood among white women differed tremendously compared to black women in slave societies. However, the barriers produced by a patriarchal system informed what mother’s roles looked like. According to Sarah Franklin, the patriarchy “illuminates the subordination of slave to slaveholder and the similarity of that subordination to the subordination of woman to man and child to adult” (2012, 2). Midgett appeals to the patriarchy, being an active participant in the institution of slavery. In this document, you will notice how Midgett used the reputation of her father to claim custody.

She “illuminated subordination” to her father to prove that she was still following the codes of slavery. This is significant because she did not use the law to try to argue that her children were “worthy” or “deserving” of freedom, despite that their mother was white. Whether or not she would continue to enslave her children is unclear, but it implies what Midgett could give as a mother. Being a mother to “mulatto” or light-skinned children, Midgett internalized slavery’s racism with the racialization of labor. Her children could not be trained to pass down the generational wealth of her family, thus they would have to continue to live as “apprentices” in her household.

Though this document emphasizes the differences in motherhood among white and black women, it also causes readers to question what motherhood looked like for Midgett after she won her case. How did she raise her children in her household? Who raised her children? Lastly, did her case appeal to white enslavers because she saw it as the only way to win? All of these questions reflect how understanding the history of primary sources does not occur in one instance. Using other court appeals and scholarly articles on motherhood and the roles of women in slavery can provide more context to Midgett’s story.

Bibliography:

Franklin, Sarah L. “Introduction: Patriarchy, Paternalism, and the Development of the Slave Society.” In Women and Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Colonial Cuba, 54:1–20. Boydell and Brewer, 2012. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1x71ph.5.

North Carolina Supreme Court. “Transcripts – Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice.” Accessed April 19, 2019. http://www.slavery.amdigital.co.uk/Contents/Transcript.aspx?imageid=252707&searchmode=true&hit=first&pi=1&previous=0&prevpos=197658&vpath=searchresults&doc=197658.