July 13, 2005

The Elders

Over the July 4th Holiday, my family and I, plus two nieces of my extended family, squeezed into my Mazda Protégé and headed to see family and friends in my home state of Michigan. We drove from Minneapolis, where I now reside, to Milwaukee, where we took a brand new state of the art high speed ferry across Lake Michigan, saving us the headache of driving through the congested and always under construction highways of ChicagoLand.

I try to get back to Michigan as much as possible as my parents are not getting any younger and I want my children to be exposed as much as possible to them. This trip was really no different from the rest, aside from taking the Ferry, which I recommend for anyone who is heading to Michigan or Ontario Canada from the upper West. It’s fast, convenient and scenic. Aside from that, my father’s brother (my uncle of course) stopped by while I was visiting and we had about an hour long conversation. He will be 80 years old on his coming birthday.

I had done a little research a few years back, when I was visiting my parent’s state of birth, which is Mississippi. While there I looked through state archives and went back through records to find my lineage on my fathers side. The farthest back I could get was 1860 and the name of a slave that I am a descendant of. As I was sharing this information with my uncle and mentioned the name of the slave, he lamented “Oh yeah…I can remember talking with him many times in my youth. He lived to be about 93”. I was immediately stunned because I had never heard mention of his name by my father. My father was obviously not the family historian.

My uncle told me that my great grand father was a very dark and no nonsense type of guy. The most fascinating thing he told me, however, was the fact that my great grandfather had been sold to another plantation right before emancipation and that is how we got our surname. Before, he and his family were the slaves of the "Hohandle" plantation, spelling I am not sure of. Of course I found all of this mesmerizing and wanted to record it on CD so that it can and will be passed down.

Here we are in 2005 with slavery seeming and being framed as an event long, long ago, with no relevance to today, yet, I sat on my parents porch talking with a living individual who talked with a slave. It’s kind of like meeting someone who was friends with Malcolm X or Marcus Garvey, in that it makes them nearer to you and connects you with their spirits. The revelation gave me the greatest joy and inspiration to honor these spirits of my ancestors. Although slavery is portrayed as something long, long ago, it is really a lot closer to us than this country makes out to be the case. There are children and grand children of slaves still living in this day and time.

My uncle also shared with me other stories about living in the Mississippi Delta and how when he retuned from duty in the Navy having lived in a non segregated California, he went back to Mississippi and sat in the front of the Bus out of his newly formed habit. He told me that bus drivers used to carry guns back then. He said when he sat in the front of the bus, the bus did not move. He said he then remember that he was back in Mississippi and not California, but did not want to get up because he wanted to save face, so he just sat their quietly. Then the bus driver clutched his gun and said “Boy….do you want to live and do good….then you best get back there with the rest of the Niggras”. To this proposition my uncle then complied to move back. The next day, he moved to Michigan and later came back to get my father and some other siblings. This was in the late 50's.

There is a wealth of wisdom and experience stored in the memories and minds of elders. Its too bad that much of this information and wisdom is not being transferred down generations, along with DNA.

5 Comments:

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Its a shame, they know so much but you have to ask the right questions to get a pile of knowledge.

To them its nothing special, they don't realize how much you value what to them is trivia.

 
At 2:46 PM, Blogger Len said...

I am always delighted to listen to oral history from an Elder. They play vital roles within our community. Our elders have provided us with most of what we know about our family and ancestry. To bad, they are invisible and discarded by the community at large. Many lives are lost because someone preferred the pooled stupidity of his or her peers to the accumulated wisdom of an elder.

Noah your uncle’s experience reminded me of mom’s experience on her first bus ride in Dallas, TX in the late 50s. We have so much history at our grasp.

Warm regards,

Len

 
At 5:53 AM, Blogger LouisChauvin said...

Noah I must admit I feel ya on this one.

"It’s kind of like meeting someone who was friends with Malcolm X or Marcus Garvey, in that it makes them nearer to you and connects you with their spirits."

The question that always looms in my mind about the past is, how older black people who faced the daily humiliation of segregation,
deal with caucasions today? The same people that were fighting to keep segregating the schools my parents went to are still around. Hell, the children that did not want to go to school with my black parents are now the CEOs or other people in society. While it is interesting to hear these kinds of stories it must take a large amount of strength and or forgiveness to tell.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger Conrad said...

Both my parents grew up under Jim Crow segregation in the South. They told me about all the mistreatment and humiliation they had to endure. It angers me when I think that my mother – who is such an elegant and sophisticated woman – was treated in this way. I was raised as a spoiled and privileged suburban kid, and was shielded from many of the current realities of racial hatred. But I was still thoroughly educated and made aware of our history. I think it’s extremely important for young people to be knowledgeable of their history.

The burden of racism has a devastating psychic affect that often convinces us that we have limited possibilities, and gives us a chip on our shoulder. It often causes us to preemptively mistreat others as a protective measure; and makes us feel that all our personal failures are the result of racism. The trick is to historically educate our children without breaking their spirit, and fostering a new generation of underachieving bigots in the process. We must fight racism by keeping this history alive, but we must not let hatred turn us into the very thing that we are fighting against.

The courage, resilience, and continued humanity of my elders has encouraged me to fight racism; but still maintain dignity, strength, good character – but most importantly compassion.

 
At 10:12 AM, Blogger Noah TA said...

Hollis, maybe you want to define or qualify your statements about chips on the shoulder and characteristics. The logical scientific reasoning and methodologies do not use emotional terminology to describe phenomenon. Although it is your prerogative to say what you please, I tend to simply limit the analysis to that of cause and effects and actions and reactions.

If you are unfortunate to know of anyone who has been rapped, then a reaction to and indeed a symptom of the rape is a heightened fear or sensitivity concerning rape. This is an evolved animal and human response mechanism to promote survival. Experience and memory serves the purpose of promoting survival. If humans did not employ memory, we could not survive because we would have no store of knowledge to prevent us from repeating life threatening encounters of phenomenons. Thus, there is nothing abnormal, given the experience, in regards to black reaction centuries of oppression. The truth is that it should be expected as the consequence and fallout of the action. It’s not a black reaction. It’s a predictable Human reaction.

The cause or catalyst exists in the original sin. If black people preemptively mistreat whites or others, to protect themselves, as you claim, who or what is the cause of that phenomenon? Can you blame people from simply trying to defend or protect themselves, after 300 years of terrorism against them? That a human biological response mechanism to promote survival. It’s not a “black thing”, per se, but manifests more among blacks as a natural consequence of being a “targeted” group of people, which manifested a targeted reaction. If some black people are held back only because of the fear and ambiguity created from the psychological warfare of white supremacy, then of course the cause is white supremacy. Should one attempt to exempt blacks from humanity by the expectation than we not respond like…..humans? Why should blacks not fear what has hurt them? Why should not blacks have been conditioned by the socialization and acculturation of living 300 years under the doctrine of white supremacy and black inferiority, supported by laws and literature? Why would one NOT expect actions to manifest reactions in general and why would one not expect 300 years of oppression against blacks to manifest a reverberating impact upon the present and future?

Of course, people will always point to blacks who overcame, but what type of low life individual would condemn those who did not survive an attack well, because others survived it better? You will never hear people condemn the Jewish victims under Nazi Germany, because there were other Jews from that era that survived. You will never hear people condemn the deceased victims of 911 because other victims of 911 lived, thus invalidating an external cause to the deceased deaths. Yet, you hear all the time people use blacks who have overcome, while living under a discriminatory racist system, as an argument against external cause to those who have yet to overcome. Black people are certainly held to a different standard.

 

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