Monday, May 16, 2016

History nuggets …

via Jim Remsen:

"Southern Stunt Surpasses Huns." With that 1918 headline, The Chicago Defender, the leading black newspaper of its day, reported on the killing of a black man by drunken whites in Jonesboro, Ark. The mob tied the doomed man to railroad tracks and watched as a passing mail train did its grisly work. The killers then deposited the man's headless body at a funeral parlor with a crude note about the "drunken darkie." I found the account in a book about The Defender that I've been reading to find possible links to The Scranton Defender, another gutsy newspaper of the era. What struck me about the killing wasn't just the horror of the crime but the official aftermath. A white postmaster in Texas refused to deliver the edition and complained to his superiors that The Defender was fomenting "rank race hatred which shows signs of German conspiracy" and might lessen support for America's entry into World War I. The postal service had the same shoot-the-messenger response. It warned The Defender that it could run afoul of the Espionage Act and said any article suggesting black people "are being just as badly treated by the whites of America as they would be by the whites of Germany tends to interfere in the cause of the United States and should have no place in a loyal newspaper." Fortunately, The Defender kept up its matter-of-factual reporting on lynchings and injustice.
"Bringing in The Captured Guns." My dear cousin Terry West recently mailed me a priceless heirloom--a scrapbook that one of our ancestors compiled during the Civil War. Being 150 years old, its pages are faded and brittle, but boy, did its glue hold those news clippings in place. And zounds, the centerpiece was an original image from Harper's Weekly that depicts a battlefield victory by the very soldiers I'm profiling in my book! The victory occurred in June 1864 at Petersburg and changed white attitudes about black troops. I cover the historic event at length in the book, and already planned to use that same image, titled, "The colored infantry bringing in the captured guns, amid the cheers of the Ohio troops." So who was my ancestral scrapbooker? Cousin Terry suspects he/she was a kin of our great-grandfather James B. Martin, who served in the war, behind the lines as a bricklayer. Did my mysterious scrapbooker perhaps have a special affinity for the black cause? I'll see what I can find out. Meanwhile, below,  and attached, is a photo of the scrapbook spread, along with a photo of my great-granddad soon before his death in 1913.

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