General Order 3 was read to the enslaved African American population and their enslavers in Galveston, TX on June 19, 1865 by Union Major General Gordon Granger.
General Order No. 3 states:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The proclamation he’s referring to is Proclamation 95 which is commonly known as the Emancipation Proclamation dated January 1, 1863.
He didn’t tell them they had been legally free for two years, four months and eighteen days. Or that the Civil War had ended two and a half months earlier which codified their freedom. There was no offer of income, or other funds to allow them to move about freely. No employment offers. No suggestions on where the free could live freely. He didn’t even tell them that their former enslavers would be compensated by the government for the loss of their forced laborers. However, he made sure to tell them to return freely to the plantations they were just freed from and expect wages from their new employers/former masters. He made sure to tell them not to bother approaching the military for any assistance. And he clearly told them they would not be supported anywhere.
This is how the last of the enslaved African American population was informed of their freedom in the failed experiment that is the United States of America. No grace. No urgency. No mercy. Even from the side that wants to be celebrated as emancipators.
This is by no means a full list of creative works or published/recorded documents by Black Women in America. More accurately, it’s a highlight reel of some of the historical works in the public domain. Some of the women were/are prolific writers and have multiple publications which are not listed within my timeline.
Begin With A Seed
The I AM WOMAN Project began with the idea that resistance and speaking up for ourselves are not a new concepts for Black Women. Lo and behold, a bit of digging reveals Black Women have been speaking, shouting, fighting, and resisting being controlled and abused since before our words were written down.
Discover a Forest
The Timeline in I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhoodin America includes 421 years of documented words by African descended Women in the United States of America proclaiming who they are and telling their stories in their own words. The Book List spans 421 years of Black Women in America advocating for themselves, their families, their communities and their people while exhibiting an impressive breadth of accomplishments throughout the centuries.
Black Women in America have a long and truly empowering history. Our truth cannot be hidden forever. Neither will freedom elude us forever. We are our most loyal encouragers. We are our own best defenders. Black Women have always been their own most worthy heroes.
Everything before 1924 is public domain and can be downloaded for free. May the readings liberate your mind, heart and soul. May your vision and understanding be infinitely expanded. Asè.
This has been quite an undertaking for I AM WOMAN: Expressions of Black Womanhood in America!
At first I assumed there had to be chronologies of African Women in America and our contributions or achievements throughout the centuries. But there really weren’t any. I was able to source a chronology of enslaved African American Women. I was able to locate chronologies of African Americans in general and African American men specifically. But nothing that told a broader history of Black Women in this land. This has consumed a great portion of my development time on the I AM WOMAN project, but I think it’s a necessary part of the continuing story I’m trying to show and tell about our roots and our trajectories. Our struggles and our joys. The way we make do and make better no matter our starting points. We, Black Women, are magnificent in all our statuses, throughout any affliction or oppression, we not only continue to rise, we shine, we illuminate our surroundings and provide routes of escape for others to follow.
I’m so humbled and encouraged by the varied richness of the short bio lines of the women in the I AM WOMAN Timeline. To aid Women and Girls to see themselves as part of the overall story, I’ve added a space for them to add themselves to the timeline.
Have you pre-ordered your copy yet? If not, you can do so here!
In 2019, the United States of America and Ghana commemorated 400 years since Africans were brought to the United States of America in bondage. The NAACP called their commemorative trip Jamestown to Jamestown, beginning with a trip to Jamestown, Virginia and flying over to Jamestown, Accra. Ghana created a whole year of programming named Year of Return which according to Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Barbara Oteng-Gyasi boosted Ghana’s economy by $1.9 billion from 200,000 visitors[i] most of whom were members of the African Diaspora. Ghana is now creating an ongoing program, Beyond the Year of Return[ii] to further capitalize on the Diaspora’s tortured need to connect to the Homeland.
On August 19, 1619 a ship pulled into Jamestown, Virginia with twenty Africans. These men and women were sold in the first British human auction in North America. Because America has a very British-centric way of retelling its history, non-British colonial stories are marginalized and framed by tales of wars with Mexicans and Native Americans.
Spain began importing enslaved Africans from the Iberian Peninsula[iii], where they were taken after capture, in 1501. In August 1518, the king of Spain authorized direct shipment of captured Africans to the Americas[iv], putting an end to Spanish human trade holdovers in Europe. This drastically increased the enslaved populations throughout the Americas.
Black women of African descent are documented in Spanish settlements throughout the present-day states of Florida, New Mexico, and California. African men and women had long accompanied European travelers to the Americas on Spanish, Portuguese, and English expeditions[v]. The Spanish city of St. Augustine, Florida is viewed as the first permanent colonial city in what is now the United States of America. It was settled with African and Native slave labor in 1565. However, Santa Fe, New Mexico was established in what was formerly known as New Spain, in 1610. It is now the oldest state capital in the United States[vi].
In 1600, Isabel de Olvera, a free woman of African and Native descent living in Querétaro, Mexico[vii], joined a relief expedition to the recently colonized province of New Mexico. It is said she was traveling as a servant to Spanish woman. Before leaving, she spoke an affidavit to declare her free status to the mayor of Querétaro, New Spain, don Pedro Lorenzo de Castilla. She had three witnesses standing with her, a free black man, a mestiza woman (mixed race), and a black slave woman and insisted on having a copy to carry with her at all times. Isabel’s statement, intended actions, as well as her witnesses illustrate the broad presence of slavery in North America at that point in time. It also highlights the legal standing of women in Spanish colonies no matter their legal statuses and heritage – 365 years before Black Women got the federal right to vote in the United States. Spaniard’s were moving Africans and their descendants around the America’s more than one hundred years before the United States acknowledges commoditizing and trading human beings within its current borders[viii].
With the cross-cultural and competitive histories of the colonizers, it’s amazing that the expressed sentiments of a Black Woman survives to this day. Isabel’s affidavit, a legal document in the historical archives of two countries – Mexico and the United States, is the oldest recorded example found of a Black Woman speaking up for herself in North America. Though her journey began in Mexico, she deemed the document necessary for her travel to New Mexico. She demanded justice and respect for her existence, singleness, freedom and future. The confidence embedded in her statement remains empowering and inspirational centuries later. May her character and determination lift our voices and strengthen our resolve.
I am going on the expedition to New Mexico and have some reason to fear that I may be annoyed by some individual since I am a mulatta, and it is proper to protect my rights in such an eventuality by an affidavit showing that I am a free woman, unmarried and the legitimate daughter of Hernando, a Negro, and an Indian named Magdalena . . .. I therefore request your grace to accept this affidavit, which shows that I am free and not bound by marriage or slavery. I request that a properly certified and signed copy be given to me in order to protect my rights, and that it carry full legal authority. I demand justice.[ix]
by Robert BenzCo-Founder, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives
As Co-Founder of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, I’m able to publish, exclusively, the following statement from the direct descendants of Frederick Douglass:
The President’s comments from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, about Frederick Douglass, were noted and appreciated by us, the Douglass family. In fact, we believe, if he had more time to elaborate, the President would have mentioned the following:
“Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job …
* Enduring the inhumanity of slavery after being born heir to anguish and exploitation but still managing to become a force for solace and liberty when America needed it most,
* Recognizing that knowledge was his pathway to freedom at such a tender age,
* Teaching himself to read and write and becoming one of the country’s most eloquent spokespersons,
* Standing up to his overseer to say that ‘I am a man!’
* Risking life and limb by escaping the abhorrent institution,
* Composing the Narrative of his life and helping to expose slavery for the crime against humankind that it is,
* Persuading the American public and Abraham Lincoln that we are all equal and deserving of the right to live free,
* Establishing the North Star newspaper when there was very little in the way of navigation or hope for the millions of enslaved persons,
* Supporting the rights of women when few men of such importance endeavored to do so,
* Arguing against unfair U.S. immigration restrictions,
* Understanding that racism in America is part of our “diseased imagination,”
* Recruiting his sons—who were born free—to fight in the war to end the enslavement of other African Americans,
* Being appointed the first black U.S. Marshal by President Rutherford B. Hayes,
* Being appointed U.S. Minister to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison,
* Serving as a compelling role model for all Americans for nearly two centuries.”
Like the President, we use the present tense when referencing Douglass’s accomplishments because his spirit and legacy are still very much alive, not just during Black History Month, but every month. Leading up to the Bicentennial of Douglass’s birth, in February 2018, here are some of the initiatives that we, the Frederick Douglass family, will be implementing as well as some of those we hope to implement with the support of this administration, the institutions it leads and the American people (black, brown and white alike):
* Further renaming the bill to honor him during his Bicentennial: “The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention & Protection Act.”
These are just a few examples of how Frederick Douglass has impacted and will continue to impact this country. We look forward to helping re-animate Douglass’s passion for equality and justice over the coming year leading up to his Bicentennial in 2018. We encourage the President to join in that effort.
On Sunday, June 26, Jesse Williams received the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. He gave a powerful acceptance speech that is an on-point statement highlighting racial inequality in America today. It’s ironic that it was given in a room full of entertainers, one of which was posturing with a thick gold chain while pointing to the brand on his shirt right before Jesse called out the culture of selling ourselves for brands after praying and working for centuries to escape being branded.
“This award is not for me. This is for the real organizers across the country: the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. Right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There’s no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free – they keep telling us. But… she…she would have been alive had she not acted so… free. Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.”
“The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance… for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
“The thing is though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
Recruitment poster for the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first regiment to enlist Black men as soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War. Source: http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=49&pid=15
The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Prior to 1863, no concerted effort was made to recruit black troops as Union soldiers. The adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the Fifty-fourth Regiment.
The formation of the regiment was a matter of controversy and public attention from its inception. Questions were raised as to the black man’s ability to fight in the “white man’s war.” Although Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew believed that black men were capable of leadership, others felt that commissioning blacks as officers was simply too controversial; Andrew needed all the support he could get. The commissioned officers, then, were white and the enlisted men black. Any black officers up to the rank of lieutenant were non-commissioned and reached their positions by moving up through the ranks. On 28 May 1863, upon the presentation of the unit’s colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, spectators lined the streets with the hopes of viewing this experimental unit. The regiment then departed Boston on the transport De Molay for the coast of South Carolina.
All but one of the portraits below (the lithograph of Robert Gould Shaw) were collected by Capt. Luis F. Emilio, commander of Company E of the regiment. The photographic portraits date from circa 1860 to 1880 and include tintypes, one ambrotype, and albumen photographs depicting both African-American members of the regiment, as well as white officers. The entire collection of 108 photographs is described in a collection guide with links to digitized images,54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment photographs (Photo. Coll. 72). Forty-three additional images of the volunteers can be found in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment carte de visite album (Photo. Coll. 103).
By the middle of February 1863, recruiting for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment was underway. Newspaper advertisements and recruiting posters (see below) encouraged black men to enlist. Twenty-five men responded promptly, and by the end of the first week of enlistments seventy-two recruits were present at Camp Meigs in Readville (now West Roxbury), Massachusetts. However, more soldiers were needed and recruiters turned their attention to states throughout the North and South and into Canada to locate enough eligible black men to fill the regiment. By 14 May 1863, the regiment was comprised of 1000 enlisted men, and a full complement of white officers. In May 1863, Captain John W. M. Appleton donated the Enlistment roll of Company A of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The remaining recruits became the nucleus of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
On 16 July 1863, serving as a diversion for the intended attack on Morris Island, South Carolina, the Fifty-fourth Regiment saw its first action on James Island, losing forty-five men. On 18 July, after several days with little sleep, food or water, the regiment was instructed to lead the attack against Fort Wagner on Morris Island (see an 1863 watercolor of Morris Island from Fort Wagner by Henry Webber). In the disastrous assault led by Colonel Shaw, the 54th suffered very heavy losses, most notably the loss of their commander, and nearly half of the men present were killed, wounded, or missing. Despite this, the unit showed exceptional bravery and honor, never retreating as they waited for the reinforcements which would never arrive.
While the Fifty-fourth Regiment suffered heavy losses at Fort Wagner, there is no evidence that the unit was chosen because they were thought of simply as cannon fodder. When the news of the attack reached home, the unit which had been the target of so much attention, publicity, and skepticism finally earned the respect it deserved. Despite the defeat at Fort Wagner, the use of black soldiers in the 54th was viewed as a success and opened the way for numerous other black units in the Union Army for the remainder of the war.
“‘In my mind, I see a line, and over that line I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line… but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
~ Viola Davis on accepting her first Emmy for Leading Actress
The intention of this post is not to focus on the fact that crime and violence are at the center of each of the shows Uzo Aduba, Regina King and Viola Davis won Emmys for during the 67th Emmy Awards on Sunday, September 20, 2015… which happens to be the first Emmy program I’ve watched in full since… I don’t know when…. I’ll save that analysis for another post.
The intention of this post is to bask in the glory of black womanhood – in all her collective complexity, grace, humility, gratitude, strength, perseverance, life-giving, life-building forthrightness and beauty.
Three black women won Emmys – the highest industry award for their craft – in one night. I was happy for Uzo Aduba – though I only gotten through the first eight episodes or so of the first season of Orange is the New Black. Her character, Crazy Eyes, left an impression for sure. When Uzo Aduba accepted her Emmy, her gratitude was inspiring and beautiful witness.
“Hi. I really just want to say ‘Thank you’ a thousand times! If I could say ‘thank you’ a thousand times, it would not be enough to cover the amount of thanks that I feel for you, Jenji Kohan. I love you so much! I appreciate you for putting belief back in my heart. I love you. Thank you for making this show, for creating this space – for making a platform…. I love you most for your kindness! Thank you…. Thank you everybody! [I want to say thank you to my team] I love you most…mostly.. because you let me be me!”
~ Uzo Aduba on accepting her second consecutive Emmy for the same character, Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black, Netflix
Like many other black women of my generation, I’ve grown, aged and matured watching Regina King in countless roles on the small and big screens beginning with 227 in the late 1980’s. Her speech warmed my heart. She’s been a working actress for over twenty years, well-known and acclaimed and during her speech she put motherhood front and center as her greatest accomplishment. That warmed my heart and gave me hope.
“I was not expecting this, so I am just going to listen to God and just give gratitude for all the love that surrounds me. Thank you [to many]…. My amazing mother and grandmother who have taught me the power and the blessing of being a woman…. And this is absolutely amazing… My son Ian [sigh], the fact that I get to share this night with you, the best date in the house… ah, man… you make being a mother my greatest accomplishment. I love you! Cheers!
~ Regina King on accepting her first Emmy, for Best Supporting Actress in Limited Series or Movie, American Crime, ABC
I can’t tell you the first time I saw Viola Davis on screen. I don’t know what her first role was or if I saw it in real time. But I can say that I have known her – and women like her – most of my life: her rawness, her emotional honesty and power, her determination to allow her presence to be seen and experienced as equally noteworthy talent no matter her role or amount of screen time. Watching Viola evolve into a Hollywood powerhouse and a dynamic voice has been a distinctly awesome experience.
“‘In my mind, I see a line, and over that line I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line… but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people… people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman. To be Black! And to the Taraji P. Hensons, Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Megan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line! Thank you… to the Television Academy.”
~ Viola Davis on accepting her first Emmy for Leading Actress in a Drama Series, How to Get Away With Murder, ABC
Early in February 1863, the abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first official call for black soldiers. More than 1,000 men responded. They formed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first black regiment to be raised in the North. Many of the 54th soldiers did not even come from Massachusetts: one-quarter came from slave states, and some came from as far away as Canada and the Caribbean. To lead the 54th Massachusetts, Governor Andrew chose a young white officer named Robert Gould Shaw.
On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts stormed Fort Wagner, which guarded the Port of Charleston, in South Carolina. It was the first time in the Civil War that black troops led an infantry attack. Unfortunately, the 600 men of the 54th were outgunned and outnumbered: 1,700 Confederate soldiers waited inside the fort, ready for battle. Almost half of the charging Union soldiers, including Colonel Shaw, were killed.
Black soldiers and their officers were also in grave danger if they were captured in battle. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called the Emancipation Proclamation “the most execrable measure in the history of guilty man” and promised that black prisoners of war would be enslaved or executed on the spot. (Their white commanders would likewise be punished—even executed—for what the Confederates called “inciting servile insurrection.”) Threats of Union reprisal against Confederate prisoners forced Southern officials to treat black soldiers who had been free before the war somewhat better than they treated black soldiers who were former slaves—but in neither case was the treatment particularly good. Union officials tried to keep their troops out of harm’s way as much as possible by keeping most black soldiers away from the front lines.
THE FIGHT FOR EQUAL PAY
Even as they fought to end slavery in the Confederacy, African-American Union soldiers were fighting against another injustice as well. The U.S. Army paid black soldiers $10 a week (minus a clothing allowance, in some cases), while white soldiers got $3 more (plus a clothing allowance, in some cases). Congress passed a bill authorizing equal pay for black and white soldiers in 1864.
By the time the war ended in 1865, about 180,000 black men had served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. This was about 10 percent of the total Union fighting force. Most—about 90,000—were former (or “contraband”) slaves from the Confederate states. About half of the rest were from the loyal border states, and the rest were free blacks from the North. Forty thousand black soldiers died in the war: 10,000 in battle and 30,000 from illness or infection.
The original “Uncle Tom”, Josiah Henson (June 15, 1789 – May 5, 1883) was an author, abolitionist, and minister. Born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland, he escaped to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1830, and founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, near Dresden in Kent County. Henson’s autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849), is widely believed to have inspired the character of the fugitive slave, George Harris, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), who returned to Kentucky for his wife and escaped across the Ohio River, eventually to Canada. Following the success of Stowe’s novel, Henson issued an expanded version of his memoir in 1858, Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life (published Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1858). Interest in his life continued, and nearly two decades later, his life story was updated and published as Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (1876).
Josiah Henson (1789-1883) and his second wife Nancy, Ontario, Canada, 1877
Josiah Henson was born on a farm near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland. When he was a boy, his father was punished for standing up to a slave owner, receiving one hundred lashes and having his right ear nailed to the whipping-post, and then cut off. His father was later sold to someone in Alabama. Following his family’s master’s death, young Josiah was separated from his mother, brothers, and sisters.His mother pleaded with her new owner Isaac Riley, Riley agreed to buy back Henson so she could at least have her youngest child with her; on condition he would work in the fields. Riley would not regret his decision, for Henson rose in his owners’ esteem, and was eventually entrusted as the supervisor of his master’s farm, located in Montgomery County, Maryland (in what is now North Bethesda). In 1825, Mr. Riley fell onto economic hardship and was sued by a brother in law. Desperate, he begged Henson (with tears in his eyes) to promise to help him. Duty bound, Henson agreed. Mr. R then told him that he needed to take his 18 slaves to his brother in Kentucky by foot. They arrived in Daviess County Kentucky in the middle of April 1825 at the plantation of Mr. Amos Riley. In September 1828 Henson returned to Maryland in an attempt to buy his freedom from Issac Riley.
He tried to buy his freedom by giving his master $350 which he had saved up, and a note promising a further $100. Originally Henson only needed to pay the extra $100 by note, Mr. Riley however, added an extra zero to the paper and changed the fee to $1000. Cheated of his money, Henson returned to Kentucky and then escaped to Kent County, U.C., in 1830, after learning he might be sold again. There he founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, Upper Canada. Henson crossed into Upper Canada via the Niagara River, with his wife Nancy and their four children. Upper Canada had become a refuge for slaves from the United States after 1793, when Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passed “An Act to prevent further introduction of Slaves, and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province”. The legislation did not immediately end slavery in the colony, but it did prevent the importation of slaves, meaning that any U.S. slave who set foot in what would eventually become Ontario, was free. By the time Henson arrived, others had already made Upper Canada home, including Black Loyalists from the American Revolution, and refugees from the War of 1812.
Henson first worked farms near Fort Erie, then Waterloo, moving with friends to Colchester by 1834 to set up a Black settlement on rented land. Through contacts and financial assistance there, he was able to purchase 200 acres (0.81 km2) in Dawn Township, in next-door Kent County, to realize his vision of a self-sufficient community. The Dawn Settlement eventually prospered, reaching a population of 500 at its height, and exporting black walnut lumber to the United States and Britain. Henson purchased an additional 200 acres (0.81 km2) next to the Settlement, where his family lived. Henson also became an active Methodist preacher, and spoke as an abolitionist on routes between Tennessee and Ontario. He also served in the Canadian army as a military officer, having led a Black militia unit in the Rebellion of 1837. Though many residents of the Dawn Settlement returned to the United States after slavery was abolished there, Henson and his wife continued to live in Dawn for the rest of their lives. Henson died at the age of 93 in Dresden, on May 5, 1883.