Saturday, June 15, 2013

An Old West Cowboy with SWAG

"Born on June 14, 1854 as a slave on Robert Love’s plantation in Davidson County Tennessee, Nat (pronounced Nate) Love would grow up to be one of the most famous cowboys in the Old West. Raised in a log cabin, Nat’s father had become a slave foreman on the plantation and his mother worked in the kitchen of the "big house.” Looked after primarily by an older sister when he was young, but she, like her mother, had duties in the kitchen so Nat primarily looked after himself. Though he had no formal education, with help from his father, he learned to read and write. After the Civil War, when the slaves were freed, Nat’s father worked a small farm that he rented from his former master, Robert Love. But, freedom was to be short-lived for the former slave, as he died just a few years later. Nat then took various jobs on area plantations to help support the family and found that he had great skill in breaking horses. In 1869, Love left his family in an uncle's care and headed west with $50 in his pocket. When he reached Dodge City, Kansas he ran into the crew of the Texas Duval Ranch. Having just brought a herd to the Kansas railhead, the cowboys were having breakfast when Nat joined them. The young man soon approached the trail boss asking for a job. The boss agreed that Nat could join them if he could break a horse named Good Eye. The wildest horse in the outfit, Nat would later say it was the toughest ride he’d ever had. But ride he did and got the job with the Duval Ranch at $30 a month. The 16 year-old quickly adapted to the life of a cowboy, showing excellent skills as a ranch hand and practiced so often with a .45 revolver that his shooting skills also became very good. Earning a reputation as one of the best all-around cowboys in the Duval outfit, he soon became a buyer and their chief brand reader. In this capacity, he was sent to Mexico on several occasion and soon learned to speak fluent Spanish. After three years with the Duval Outfit, Love moved on to Arizona in 1872, where he went to work for the Gallinger Ranch on the Gila River. There he traveled many of the major western trails, sometimes working in dangerous situations in Indian battles and fighting off rustlers and bandits. During these years as an Arizona cowboy, Nat was referred to as Red River Dick and claimed to have met many of famous men of the West including Pat Garrett, Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. In the spring of 1876, the Gallinger cowboys were sent to deliver a herd of three thousand steers to Deadwood, South Dakota. When the crew arrived on July 3rd, the locals were busy preparing for a 4th of July celebration. One of the many organized events included a "cowboy” contest with a $200 cash prize to the winner. The contestants competed in roping bridling, saddling, and shooting. Winning every competition, hands down, Nat walked away with the $200 prize and the nickname of "Deadwood Dick." Nat continued to work as a cowboy in the southwest for another 15 years before he began to settle down and got married in 1889.The next year he took a job in Denver, Colorado as a Pullman porter on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. As such, he worked on the routes west of Denver and moved his family several times to Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada before finally settling down in southern California. In 1907, Nat Love published his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick," a tale that tended to take on the epic proportions more noted in the many "dime novels” of the time. Though he boasts in the book that everything actually happened, there is very little external verification, such as those famous western men that Love allegedly met. In other cases, there are no records for the cattlemen that he said he worked with and for. As to what portion of the book is fact, and what is fiction will never be known; however, that didn’t stop the American public, hungry for tales of the west, from avidly reading the book. Love’s last job was working as a courier for the General Securities Company in Los Angeles, California." Source: Kathy Weiser/Legends of America,

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry AaronThe Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a walk through a time in America that was not a pretty one for a black person growing up in much of the country. For Henry Aaron, it is also a story about a man trying to escape the repression and American style apartheid that he grew up with, even as he became an American icon for his exploits on the baseball field. Henry's life journey through Jim Crow laws and stifling oppression in America, to his landing as an American hero for breaking the legendary Babe Ruth's home run record, is a journey every American who wishes to understand American racism should take. Even as Henry broke a record that was considered unbreakable, the racism prevalent in American culture was moving to change Ruth's record as the single biggest baseball accomplishment in the sport's history to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak as the record that all records should be measured by.

Equally telling in this tome is Aaron's relationship with his peers and with younger players as he became the aging icon that many of the new players looked to for leadership and guidance. From Aaron's worship of Jackie Robinson to his disdain for Barry Bonds to his enduring racial put-downs by legendary teammates such as Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, Henry Aaron had quite a journey through some of baseball's most tumultuous years.

It is a triumph for Aaron that he emerged as a successful businessman who, unlike many present day athletes who end up bankrupt almost immediately after their playing days end, succeeded in the business world and is now able to enjoy his retirement without concern for financial woes.

This book should be a must read for anyone who enjoys baseball, baseball legends, and a journey through an America that is gone, but still with us.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Black seaman's 1861 heroics recalled in new film

The Story of William Tillman

Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, 1861, depicting the recapture of the schooner S.J. Waring by William Tillman.
William Tillman faced a brutal choice: slavery or death.

He was steward and cook onboard the merchant schooner S.J. Waring, about 300 tons, bound for Montevideo, Uruguay with an assorted cargo. Three days out from port, July 7, 1861, and one hundred fifty miles out from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, at lat. 38°, long. 69°.

Tillman's vessel was boarded by men from the rebel privateer Jeff Davis. They declared the schooner property of the Confederate States of America. The Civil War was less than four months old.

The rebels ransacked the vessel and ordered Captain Smith, the ship's master, to haul down the Stars and Stripes. He was then taken to the privateer. Tillman was told that he, like the ship, was southern property and that he would be sold into bondage when the ship reached its new destination.

The confederates put a five man prize crew on Tillman's ship and turned her south, toward Charleston. Now, each day at sea beat down on Tillman like a hammer. An overwhelming sense of dread, however, was gradually replaced by iron-willed resolve. Tillman, in concert, with a handful of passengers hatched a bold plan.

Tillman's duties gave him the run of most of the vessel. The rebels were used to seeing him moving about. Moreover, while cautious around the handful of white crewmen and passengers, the prize crew did not consider Tillman capable of either bravery or treachery; it was to be their undoing. Tillman was key to the recapture of the S.J. Waring. And he struck in the middle of the night.

William Wells Brown, an African-American writer and historian described Tillman's heroism and subsequent actions in a book written in 1867:

Armed with a heavy club, he proceeds to the captain's room. He strikes the fatal blow: he feels the pulse, and all is still. He next goes to the adjoining room: another blow is struck, and the black man is master of the cabin. Cautiously he ascends to the deck, strikes the mate: the officer is wounded but not killed. He draws his revolver, and calls for help. The crew are aroused: they are hastening to aid their commander. The negro repeats his blows with the heavy club: the rebel falls dead at Tillman's feet. The African seizes the revolver, drives the crew below deck, orders the release of the Yankee, puts the enemy in irons, and proclaims himself master of the vessel.

The Waring's head is turned towards New York, with the stars and stripes flying, a fair wind, and she rapidly retraces her steps. A storm comes up: more men are needed to work the ship. Tillman orders the rebels to be unchained, and brought on deck. The command is obeyed; and they are put to work, but informed, that, if they show any disobedience, they will be shot down. Five days more, and "The S.J. Waring" arrives in the port of New York, under command of William Tillman, the negro patriot.

Harper's Weekly, August 3, 1861 reported that Tillman was held briefly in the House of Detention as a witness and "that he had been before the Chamber of Commerce, and it is in contemplation to present him with a substantial reward."

Brown records that Tillman received $6,000 in prize money and he also wrote:

The New-York Tribune said of this event, - To this colored man was the nation indebted for the first vindication of its honor on the sea. Another public journal spoke of that achievement alone as an offset to the defeat of the Federal arms at Bull Run. Unstinted praise from all parties, even those who are usually awkward in any other vernacular than derision of the colored man, has been awarded to this colored man. At Barnum's Museum he was the center of attractive gaze to daily increasing thousands. All loyal journals joined in praise of the heroic act; and, even when the news reached England, the negro's bravery was applauded.

A few weeks later, there was another attempt by the Jeff Davis to seize a northern vessel. This time the capture of the Enchantress, was foiled by a black steward named Jacob Garrick when he alerted a nearby union gunboat.

The long tradition of black seamenship and courage of men like Tillman and Garrick may have paid off in another more unexpected way. Perhaps these exploits also helped persuade Navy Secretary Gideon Welles to open enlistment in the Union Navy to African-Americans in September 1861, long before the Army permitted such enlistment.

Story taken from the US Maritime Administration website

Monday, June 27, 2011

Battle of Gettysburg destroys Abraham Bryan's Farm

In July, 1863, the American civil war was entering its third bloody summer. While winning most of the battles, Confederate general Robert E. Lee knew he was in a war of attrition with the north and the union Army of the Potomac. With the south’s limited manpower and industrial capacity facing the seemingly unlimited manpower and industrial capacity of the north, Lee knew no matter how many battles he won, he could not win a war pitting material and human resources of the southern states against those of the northern states.

After defeating the Army of the Potomac at the battle of Chancellorsville in late April and early May, 1863, a battle that cost Lee the life of the brilliant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Lee decided that an attack into northern territory north of Washington, DC, would put the entire war on a different footing. Lee also knew a letter had been prepared to deliver to President Abraham Lincoln, calling for a cessation of the war and recognition of the confederacy by Lincoln, after Lee had destroyed the Army of the Potomac.

With that in mind, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia headed north, with the goal to attack and sack Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, thus pressuring Washington into abandoning the war.

On July 1, 2, and 3, 1863, General Lee’s army of Northern Virginia was locked in deadly combat with Union General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac in the small farming village of Gettysburg, Pa. Gettysburg was approximately 3 hours from Harrisburg, Pa and Washington, DC, and Washington was already in a mild panic over Lee’s invasion so close to the nation’s capital.

Lee probed and attacked both the left and right flanks of the Union lines, then decided on July 4th to attack the Union center. Led by General George Pickett, the attack, preceded by an intense artillery barrage, came over an open field and reached the union positions before faltering and being repulsed. Those union positions included the farm of Abraham Bryan.

Bryan was one of 170 free black Americans who were living in Gettysburg at the time of Lee’s invasion. After learning of the approach of the confederate army, Bryan and the other black Americans left Gettysburg, fearing the Confederates would capture them and send them south into slavery.

The modest home pictured here was the home of Abraham Bryan, and his fences were destroyed and his crops trampled as first, Union soldiers used the area for defensive purposes, and then Confederate soldiers attacked through them trying to overwhelm Union lines. Mr. Bryan’s home was riddled with bullets and shell fragments. His home nearly destroyed, Mr. Bryan petitioned the government for $1,028 in restitution after the battle, and received $15. Undeterred, Mr. Bryan rebuilt his home and his farm and prospered until his death in 1879.

A plaque on the battlefield notes that he and James Warfield, who lived near the southern end of Seminary Ridge, were a part of a "small, unique group of farmers" who were free black men who also owned property.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

John Rock-Doctor, Dentist, Abolitionist, and Attorney

The first black lawyer approved to practice before the US Supreme Court
John Rock (October 13, 1825–December 3, 1866; also John Sweat or John Swett Rock) was an American teacher, doctor, dentist, lawyer and abolitionist who originated the notion of "black is beautiful." [1] Rock was one of the first African American men to earn a medical degree.[2] In addition, he was the first black person to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.[2] With a keen passion for knowledge and an incessant fight for the equality of blacks, John Rock was destined to become one of the most distinguished and educated men of his time.

Early life and education

John Sweat Rock was born to free African-American parents on October 13, 1825 in Salem, New Jersey. In Rock's formative years, it was relatively uncommon for white children to complete grammar school, and significantly rarer for blacks. Rock’s parents, however, encouraged their diligent son in his studies and, despite having little in terms of financial resources, provided for him to follow through with formal schooling. By the age of 19, Rock had received the necessary amount of education to take up a position as a teacher. He started out in 1844 in a one-room school in Salem, where he would continue to work for the next four years, garnering the attention and approval of veteran schoolteachers. Rock had an impressive work ethic, cconsistently holding class for six hours, conducting private tutoring sessions for two hours, and studying medicine under two white physicians, Dr. Shaw and Dr. Gibson, [3] who allowed him to study their textbooks and use their personal book collections for eight hours daily.[2] Medical students at the time commonly undertook apprenticeships with practicing doctors, as Rock did, as a means of gaining medical training. In 1848, Rock applied to medical school, but faced rejection on the basis of his race. [4]

Rock then decided to transfer into the field of dentistry and, after an 1849 apprenticeship with Dr. Harbert, a white dentist, opened a dental practice in Philadelphia in January, 1850. Just one year later, he was rewarded with a silver medal for his expert work on a set of silver dentures that he crafted and later displayed. [2] After finally gaining admittance to medical school, Rock graduated from American Medical College in Philadelphia in 1852, becoming one of the first African Americans to attain a degree in medicine.[2] At the age of 27, he had established himself as a talented and well-respected teacher, dentist, and physician.

In 1853, Rock decided to change locations to Boston, which many at the time considered to be the most liberal city in the United States for African Americans. There he set up his own practice in dentistry and medicine. Many of his patients turned out to be ill fugitive slaves making their way through Boston on the Underground Railroad, fleeing towards Canada. He also provided care to members of an integrated abolitionist organization called the Boston Vigilance Committee, which aimed to aid and protect fugitive slaves targeted by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. [2] Rock was the second black to gain acceptance to the Massachusetts Medical Society, sometime after the induction of Dr. John De Grasse in 1854. [5]


Rock, a passionate abolitionist and civil rights leader, held a strong belief in the dignity and rights of all Americans. Like other abolitionists in the movement, such as George T. Downing and Robert Purvis, John Rock became a renowned public speaker and campaigned for equal rights. Initially, Rock’s speeches were public notice; however, they soon began to receive positive public reviews, which led him to travel throughout New England and, occasionally, westward. In 1855, Rock took part in the campaign responsible for the legal desegregation of Boston public schools.[6] Although he and other abolitionists were determined to see that equality for black Americans was achieved, there were several significant setbacks in the push for civil rights. The infamous Dred Scott Decision was just one example of the rejection of this movement. Dred Scott, a slave, wanted to sue for his freedom, but on March 6, 1857 it was decided that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional, and that African Americans were not intended to be citizens under the law. This established that Scott would not, in fact, receive his freedom. It was the verdict of this important court case that spurred John Rock to continue in his pursuit as an abolitionist and later ignited his determination to start a new career. Rock is credited with coining the phrase "black is beautiful" during a speech he gave in Faneuil Hall in March of 1858 as a refutation of the western idea that the physical features of African Americans were unattractive. However, research on Dr. Rock's speeches in the Black Abolitionist Digital Archive have shown that he in fact did not say the exact words "black is beautiful", but did in essence about the beauty of the black people.[1] John Rock’s polished speeches were printed in William L. Garrison’s "The Liberator" as well as in general newspapers,[7] promoting these central ideas.


Troubled by health-related problems, Rock went to Paris to seek the medical treatment of two leading French surgeons, Auguste Nelaton and Alfred Armand Velpeau.[2] He returned to Boston in February of 1859, and in 1860, under his doctors' stipulations to cut back on his workload, he gave up his medical and dental practices and began to study law. On September 14, 1861, T. K. Lothrop, a white lawyer, made the motion before Judge Russell to have Rock examined.[2] Rock passed and gained admittance to the Massachusetts Bar. He then opened a private law office, through which he advocated even more diligently for the rights of African Americans. In 1862, he spoke at the Anti-Slavery Society in Boston, where he voiced his opposition to Lincoln’s plan for the so-called "negro colonization" in Haiti and sided with Frederick Douglass on several issues.[2] Rock achieved much success as a lawyer, but did not feel that he had truly gained "success" given the lack of freedom that blacks continued to experience. Rock also stated sadly that an educated negro feels the oppression much more than does an uneducated one.[2] It was thoughts similar to this one, in addition to the lack of executive action for African Americans, that led him to strive to attain the next level of achievements.

On February 1, 1865, the same day Congress approved the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery, Charles Sumner introduced a motion that made Rock the first black attorney to be admitted to argue in the Supreme Court of the United States. Rock became the first black to be received on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.[3] There was much celebration the day he appeared there.


On April 9, 1866 the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed which enforced the 13th Amendment. Rock enjoyed this honor for less than a year. He became ill with the common cold that weakened his already failing health, and limited his ability to commute efficiently. On December 3, 1866, John S. Rock died in mother's home of tuberculosis at the age of 41. He was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery, and was buried with full Masonic honors.[2][3] His admittance into the Supreme Court is recorded on tombstone[2]; however, he needs to be remembered more. Rock emphasized that the next level of success can always be achieved with hard work and the obsession for knowledge. Hard work always pays off and he wanted African Americans to constantly improve themselves so they would be able, like he and other abolitionists, to help make the law an equal one. John S. Rock strongly believed that “Whenever the colored man is elevated, it will be by his own exertions.”[3]

Read more:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mexico's lost African culture

Mexico's lost culture
With little knowledge of the history of slavery in the region, Afro-Mexican culture slips away.

By Myles Estey — Special to GlobalPost
Published: August 10, 2010 05:48 ET in The Americas

Ernesto Noyola Macia and wife Hacintha Habila Norga in El Azufre.
CUAJINICUILAPA, Mexico — The common story goes that somewhere off Mexico's southwest coast, a Spanish slave ship crashed in the 1600s. Its human cargo fled to shore, adapting to a new life of freedom.

Hundreds of years later, descendants of these ships are the reason for the distinctly African features of villagers living throughout what today is known as the Costa Chica.

While the concentration of Mexico’s ethnic blacks along this friendly stretch of pristine coast lends credence to this theory, there are two major flaws: why was a slave ship on that coast in that era, and how did the slaves manage to free themselves from the shackles to get to shore?

“It’s a myth,” said Eduardo Anorve Zapata, a local historian, journalist and author. “Oral [historical] culture comes with its fantasies. Historically, there is no way it's possible, it's not logical.”

Anorve Zapata’s beliefs fall more in line with another theory: the location of Spanish haciendas on the coast.

Though Oaxaca is highly arable and rich in resources, the heat, insects and disease made it an undesirable place to live for Spanish conquistadores. Thus, as early as 1519, they moved slaves from Veracruz — Mexico’s primary port on the Caribbean coast — to labor on the haciendas and plantations on the lush lands slightly inland from the coast. Meanwhile owners opted to live in more hospitable regions.

American anthropology professor Bobby Vaughn, who runs the website Afro Mexico, says research shows that Afro-Mexicans outnumbered those of European descent up until 1810 and by a factor of roughly 2:1 until the 1700s.

As Spanish rule in the region weakened and eventually fell with Mexico’s War of Independence (1810-1821), the former slaves slowly established their own settlements near their former estates, some of which remain today.

Despite lack of formal support, traces of African culture remain in pockets along the coast. Ties to food and language seem to have largely disappeared. But the presence of musical instruments such as the bote and cultural events such as the Baile de Diablo trace back to traditions brought from Africa.

Yet, overall, residents know little about the unique heritage of their region. Many rural areas offer little to no education about black history in Mexico, despite its visible presence.

“I’ve never thought that much about it,” said David Perez, a student near San Jose del Progreso. “It's true, a lot of us are blacks near here, but we don’t know why. It's not something that we talk about.”

Lessons on the history or culture of the region’s African heritage have been absent at home and at school, he said.

This has been the case for generations, said Ernesto Noyola Macial. He and his wife Hacintha Habila Norga have lived an hour up a potholed, dirt road from the region’s main highway in the coastal village of El Azufre since roughly 1960.

Like many in the predominantly black village, they say they moved to the coast from inland Oaxaca because they were poor and fishing offered a constant food source. At two generations older than Perez, they are among the oldest in the village, but say they have no knowledge of their ethnic roots to pass along.

“No one has the mentality that they are black here,” said Norga, “they don’t celebrate it … There is no one on this coast who knows anything about the history of it.”

This break in the chain of passing along traditions causes some to question whether connections to this culture will slip away altogether. Outside of the Costa Chica region, Afro-Mexicans are rarely seen, and knowledge on the topic is generally nonexistent around Mexico, despite the major role slavery played in the early colonial years.

A small, though professional museum in Cuajinicuilapa, a few academic publications and a handful of local leaders define the current reach of the topic. Yet, Anorve Zapata sees no reason for worry that this culture will disappear. In fact, he sees momentum swinging the other way, to bolster the few existing cultural practices and to help make this history accessible to the Mexican public.

Now, an unofficial group from the region is appealing to Mexican senators for a new law to recognize Afro-Mexicans and improve official historical recognition of the topic.

If this succeeds, it will be an important first step toward developing a more robust relationship between residents and their ethnic history.

“The knowledge exists,” said Anorve Zapata, “but it exists in the halls of academia. It has to come down to the people.”