The School of Hope

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June 28, 2019, St. Helena Island, SC-

I am of the opinion that there should be no child left behind-and I don’t mean to throw us back to the Federal educational initiative by that name, which only met the need in a limited fashion.

Truly meeting a child’s needs is something that no “one size fits all” program can possibly address. The basis for any effort to improve a person’s well-being is love for that person, as an extension of one’s love for humanity.

Penn Center, in the heart of this Sea Island near Beaufort, is a shining example of the true meaning of “No Child left Behind”.  Its genesis was the implementing of the Emancipation Proclamation. One thing that was ever in Abraham Lincoln’s mind, when he contemplated freeing the slaves in the Confederate States, was the immediate unleashing on Southern society of millions of illiterate people, the majority of whom were also not trained in any skilled trade.  “Forty acres and a mule”, the mantra of freed enslaved minister Garrison Frazier, turned into a scattershot attempt to relieve that society of its immediate burden, once it became actual Federal policy.  Lincoln himself, hamstrung by his own conviction that any given White man was inherently superior to any given person of another “race”, had no coherent plan to alleviate the situation.

So, it fell to Rev. Frazier and a council of educated Black men, in the Lowlands from Savannah to Charleston, to devise and implement a plan to establish a school for the children of the Sea Islands region. Penn School, established, as its name implies, with the support of the Society of Friends, became just such a school. It was initially established in 1862, even before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.  Truth be known, word had reached the Black community in Savannah that many slaveholders in Virginia, Louisiana and Georgia were teaching their male slaves how to read and write.  Many others had been taught, surreptitiously, by the wives and children of their masters. The former estate of a freed slave, Harvey Gantt, became the site of an expanded school, in 1864. By 1865, Quaker abolitionists in Philadelphia began supporting the school, and it was named Penn School.  In 1901, Hampton Institute, a Black college in Virginia, began sponsoring the school, which was cut off from public funding by Beaufort County’s segregationist leadership. Even with this assistance, though, the school continued to struggle.  In 1948, Penn School closed and Penn Center, a community development and cultural preservation institution, emerged on the property.

Today, Penn Center is a haven for the study and preservation of Gullah language and culture and for the promotion of Civil Rights.  Its York W. Bailey Museum has a wealth of African art and Gullah artifacts.  The Center promotes the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park, of which it is the epicenter, and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, from Florida to North Carolina.  It maintains active relationships with people in West and Central Africa, with the President of Sierra Leone visiting the Center, in 1988.

Here are some scenes of Penn Center’s grounds.  No photography is permitted in the Bailey Museum itself.

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The Gantt House  (Pine House) today serves as one of the learning sites for Penn Center.

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These storage cisterns were once the school’s main source of fresh water.

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This is Darrah Hall, Penn Center’s oldest building, built in 1903.  It is used for large events.

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The flat bottom boat is a staple of Low Country transportation.  This one was built and used by freed slaves.

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This is the Center’s Administration Building.

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Here is one of the first classroom buildings of Penn School, circa 1905.

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This complex was a beehive of activity, during my visit.  Vibrant teens were calling out friendly greetings to me, while their teachers were trying to get them focused on the activity of the afternoon.

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As in any community, a small cemetery has sprung up at Penn Center.

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I end with two shots of Brick Church, the original site of the school, and which predates Penn Center.

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There is much to learn, as yet, about Gullah Geechee culture, so I know this is far from my last visit to the Low Country.  Penn Center, though, gave me an excellent introduction.

NEXT:  The Wonder That Is Charleston

 

Day of Rage and Remembrance

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June 19, 2019, Joplin MO-

The title refers to August 10, 1861, and I will elaborate, momentarily.  My Juneteenth began in Amarillo, with three surly drivers edging towards road rage, within a span of an hour.  The first one zipped around the corner and found me in his way, so the horn blew and the fist was pumpin’.  I got off the road and waited a bit.  Then there was the woman who was off-kilter because I went straight when there was no “left turn only” indicator.  Still no harm, no foul.  Finally, after my Planet Fitness workout, across town, I was screamed at, for driving across a parking lot and not stopping at each point where the road intersects with said lot.  This is, apparently, an Amarillo thing. (In Arizona, every parking lot intersection has a STOP sign. We must be spoiled.)

With all that, I left the city behind, and waltzed on over to Shamrock (See Ernest Tubb’s “Waltz Across Texas”).  There is a place there, called Big Vern’s Steak House.  Aram and I had lunch there, in 2011.  Vern no longer opens for lunch, so after looking around and asking the kind cross street neighbour as to whether Vern was okay (He is; he just opens for dinner only, is all.), I checked out a place called Rusty’s.  The perky owner told me she wouldn’t be open for another week or so, but if I went north a piece, I’d find a nice little place called Mesquite Canyon Steak House.  I did, and it filled the lunch bill nicely.

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Next to Rusty’s is  Spinning Jenny’s House of Music.  If I’d been in a better mood, I’d have popped on in there.  Rusty and Jenny are both pretty and vivacious ladies, with good product, so it’s likely I’ll stop in Shamrock, next time I’m in the area.

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I recall June 19 as Juneteenth, the day that Texas slaves received word of the Emancipation Proclamation:  June 19, 1865, when the Union forces landed in Galveston and spread the news.  This was 2 1/2 years after President Lincoln issued the Proclamation.  Today, many people are still not free of their own limiting mental chains.

“Waltz Across Texas” became “Zumba Across Oklahoma”, shortly thereafter.  I have a breakfast meet-up with one of my cousins, who lives near Joplin, early tomorrow morning.  So, there were no Sooners on my schedule, this leg of the trip.  I took the I-40 to 44 and onward straight-away, finding that the long-standing detour through the east side of Tulsa has been eliminated.  It’s all freeway, from Erick to Miami, so I found an hour had been shaved off the drive.  There was a minor rush hour jam, near downtown OKC, but that was all.

Once in Joplin, I found Motel 6 was reasonable, and that this franchise owner has a high-tech system, reminiscent of the European hotels I used, in 2014.  Keyless entry and paperless registration are here in the Heartland.

NEXT:  The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

Honest Abe and the First Nations

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February 12, 2019-

It is human nature to approach, and evaluate, other people by the same standards one holds to oneself.  It takes a lot of open-mindedness, and patience, for the average person to view people of different cultures as those of different cultures view themselves.  When  homogenization of cultural viewpoint takes deep root in a nation’s dominant culture, there is the appearance, if not the reality, of racism.

From thence, has risen the persistent assessment of people not of the dominant culture as being somehow inferior to those assimilated to said culture.  President Abraham Lincoln, on several occasions, hosted First Nations delegations, at the White House, during various points during his Presidency.  His purpose was to encourage them to assimilate into “the Christian culture of the majority of American citizens.” , as he regarded traditional ways of the nomadic among the indigenous peoples, and their non-Christian traditional Faith Communities, to be just shy of barbaric.

Not addressing the more than 200 years of atrocities committed by Europeans against both First Nations people and African-Americans, in the contiguous territory of the United States, and the nearly 200 earlier years of brutality against people of colour in other parts of the Americas, Mr. Lincoln, perhaps pre-occupied with the Civil War, found time to carefully evaluate, and dismiss all but 38 of the cases against 302 Lakota fighters, for alleged atrocities against the settlers of European descent, in the newly admitted State of Minnesota, during the six-week Dakota War of 1862.  Those 38 men were executed, in the largest non-combat execution act in U.S. History.

His record is far murkier, and less circumspect, with regard to the Sand Creek Massacre, in Colorado 1864 and the Long Walk, of Dineh and Inde (Navajo and Apache) people, from their traditional lands to Boque Redondo, in eastern New Mexico, beginning in 1863.  The Homestead Act and Pacific Railway Act of 1862 made settlement by European-Americans easier, and movement of goods far more efficient, but made no consideration, at all, of the needs of First Nations residents.

In fairness, Lincoln sincerely believed in the importance of  “civilizing” the First Nations people, which the leaders of those Nations, far from being ignorant or savage, viewed as both ironic and ludicrous, given the “brother against brother” reality of much of the “War Between the States”.  Cochise and, later, Geronimo,  saw the propensity for fighting among all groups in the Southwest as being pandemic:  Whites against whites, whites and Mexicans against each other, both groups against First Nations-and vice versa,

Lincoln espoused forward-looking policies towards southern slaves, primarily to ruin the economy of the Confederacy, whilst viewing people of African descent as being “legally” 3/5 of a free white man and viewing indigenous people as only worth the price of the land from which they might be removed-unless they became Christian. Abraham Lincoln was a man of his times, and can’t really be judged solely by the standards of our own imperfect era, however much more enlightened we might like to view ourselves.  He does not, however, deserve to be regarded as a universal emancipator of all those who were being persecuted during his tenure.

My own view is that people of various groups are more alike than different and that we, of each group, have more to learn from one another than we have to impart on others.  This, I have learned, consistently, from visiting many areas of this country-and some parts of other countries.

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, Part XXIII: Great Lakes and Muddy Rivers

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April 12, 2017, Prescott-  Every major transportation route, from airlines to roads, seems to lead to Chicago, or at least within its magnetic sphere.  For me, there is an added draw:  The Baha’i House of Worship for North America, in Wilmette, north of the city.  The House of Worship’s location, overlooking Lake Michigan, highlights the fascination I’ve long had, with the Great Lakes.  I would frequently visit “the Temple”, regardless, but the lake is a draw, in itself.  A few dips in its waters, as well as at Indiana Dunes and Fruitport, MI, have been a tonic, on a hot day. I have also been alongside Lake Erie, in Toledo, Cleveland and Erie, as well as Lake Superior, at Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The lakes are only part of what I have enjoyed about the east central region, between the Great Plains and the Atlantic Coast.  Chicago, as problematic as its internecine battles have been, remains a majestic city.  So, too, does St. Louis, especially with the Gateway Arch, and nearby Cahokia Mounds, highlighting the importance of the confluence of two great rivers.  Speaking of which, Cairo, IL has a special place in my heart, marking the union of the Ohio and the Mississippi.  I have prayed at Trail of Tears State Park, in Missouri and at Scioto Hills, Ohio, for the recognition that mankind is one, and that the Aboriginal nations feel vindicated of their long ago suffering.  I have felt intensely welcomed in Des Moines , in Cape Girardeau, New Madrid, and Rolla (MO), Quincy (IL), Francesville (IN) and Fruitport (MI).  Two of the best meals I’ve ever had, were in Dixon and in Vandalia (IL).

The Indigenous People of the riparian region may have irritated Abraham Lincoln, whose heritage I have honoured, in New Salem and Springfield (IL) and in Hodgenville, KY.  There would, however, not be as rich an overall heritage, for the Midwest, were it not for Cahokia, Chillicothe (OH), Pipestone (MN)  and the remaining nations that grace nearly every state in the East Central swath.  Too bad  that Honest Abe didn’t get to know the Native peoples better.  It may have made a great difference in the fates of their descendants.

I have plenty of family in this vast region- in Avilla and Blue Springs, MO, plus  Jeffersonville, IN.  Friends abound here, as well, in northern Illinois, the Twin Cities, Wisconsin, several parts of Missouri, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, across Indiana, Little Rock, New Orleans, and eastern Alabama.

There remain many parts of the mid-section that pique my interest, from northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to bubbling, revitalizing cities, like Kansas City, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Detroit.

I will be back across, on the way to/from a family reunion, in mid-summer.  It’ll be a fine thing to feel the water, and the warmth of Midwest welcomes.

Crash Course or Coarse Crash?

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September 8, 2016, Prescott-  I have been contributing heavily to the classroom’s instructional day- basically running the Social Studies lesson, in a pinch.  Next week, I will be in training for two days, so hopefully the others will not run out of their own ideas.

Random thoughts- Has anyone read Jerzy Kosinski’s “Being There”?  It is a tale of a novice running for President, and being elected.  Sound familiar? My preferred candidate asked a news analyst, “What’s Aleppo?”  I am disappointed.  I knew what Aleppo was, and where it was, when I was 11.  This candidate needs a crash course in geography.  We must not be content to “all go into the garden.”

The people who thought that another candidate would be the poster child for the resurgence of ignorance, are finding out that he senses an actual chance of winning the Presidency, and is thus refining his efforts.  Whether this will work for him is anyone’s guess.  Many feel that a leopard does not change its spots.

I am opposed to people acting out of ignorance. When I have so lapsed, the reaction has been swift and brutal.  Take the time to enlighten yourself, before, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “opening your mouth, and removing all doubt” ,(about being thought a fool).

 

Tales from the 2016 Road: The Long Walk of 1864

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Entrance to Fort Sumner National Monument,NM

July 1, 2016, Fort Sumner, NM-  There are several places in the United States, that every citizen should see, if for no other reason than to know that unity is a delicate thing.  Fort Sumner, a place of captivity for thousands of people, in the 1860’s, is such a place.

I have known, and  worked with, Navajo (Dineh) and Hopi people, for several years.  The Dineh, along with the Mescalero Apache (Indeh) people, were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, in 1864, by one of the most unfortunate edicts of President Lincoln, who had a blind spot, where Native Americans were concerned.  He never stopped being an Indian fighter.

The people endured the harsh life of captives, very similar to what the Japanese internees endured in the camps of World War II.  The difference was that the Dineh and Indeh people built the camps, including the quarters of their overseers.  Many died of disease and starvation, in this squalid place.

The people were released in 1868, on orders from President Andrew Johnson, who had no real axe to grind with the Navajos or Apaches.  They walked homeward, and the Navajo wept, when they spotted one of their sacred mountains, Mount Taylor, east of Albuquerque.

Here are some of the sights that presented themselves to me, during my visit here, this morning.  The first shows the pyramid-like structure that houses the museum displays and theater, that tells the story of the Long Walk.  The ranger initially interpreted my foregoing the film, as a sign of disinterest in the actual events.  A conversation, afterward, corrected that misconstruance.

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Monument Headquarters, Fort Sumner, NM

The second photo shows the area, as it might have appeared when the captives first arrived in Bosque Redondo, as the woods were called back then. The Commemoration Stone, first brought here by Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah, in 1994.

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Nature Trail, Fort Sumner, NM

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Commemoration Stone, Fort Sumner, AZ

The descendants of both Navajo and Mescalero Apache internees, and many others from various tribes, bring items of dedication to this memorial site.

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Memorial Site, Fort Sumner, NM

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Barracks for US Army troops, Fort Sumner National  Monument, NM

The above is an example of the structures which captives were forced to build, for the housing of their overseers.

Below is a flock of Churro Sheep, raised by Navajos and now viewed as an heirloom breed, for the quality of their wool and meat.

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Churro Sheep, Fort Sumner National Monument, NM

This visit, which I had planned for quite some time, was a sobering reminder of just how far we have come, and a caution of how far we can fall backwards, in our inter-human connections. Like Manzanar, and Berga, Germany, it is a place that the smug and self-assured would do well to see, as a wake-up call.

NEXT UP:  Return to Amarillo’s Happy Southwest 6th Street.