What Happened In Alabama?

American Public Media

What Happened in Alabama? is a series born out of personal experiences of intergenerational trauma, and the impacts of Jim Crow that exist beyond what we understand about segregation. Through intimate stories of his family, coupled with conversations with experts on the Black American experience, award-winning journalist Lee Hawkins unpacks his family history and upbringing, his father’s painful nightmares and past, and goes deep into discussions to understand those who may have had similar generational - and present day - experiences. What Happened In Alabama? is a series to end the cycles of trauma for Lee, for his family, and for Black America. read less
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Episodes

Introducing: What Happened in Alabama?
Apr 30 2024
Introducing: What Happened in Alabama?
What Happened in Alabama? is a series born out of personal experiences of intergenerational trauma, and the impacts of Jim Crow that exist beyond what we understand about segregation. Through intimate stories of his family, coupled with conversations with experts on the Black American experience, award-winning journalist Lee Hawkins unpacks his family history and upbringing, his father’s painful nightmares and past, and goes deep into discussions to understand those who may have had similar generational - and present day - experiences.TranscriptMy name is Lee Hawkins. I’ve been a journalist for 25 years. I research, listen and ask ALOT of questions.My story begins in 1980s Minnesota. In the Twin Cities suburb of Maplewood. We were a Black family living in a predominantly white neighborhood. Naima: Oh, Maplewood. It was, it was really interesting. It certainly was. My childhood was marked by so many things.Watching our backs on the walk home from school.Getting our hair cut in the Black neighborhood. And church on Sundays. [MUSIC IN: Lee sr singing “Whose on the lord side”] Leroy Hawkins: Alright Who's on the lord's side? That’s my dad, Leroy Hawkins Senior, singing at our church. [MUSIC OUT Lee sr singing “Whose on the lord side”] He taught me how to sing. We played music together. And he really believed in me Lee Sr: Cause when you grew up, everything, you touched was great.From the time I was a little kid, it was always me and him. Lee Sr and Lee Jr . . . Leeroy and Lee Lee. But while my dad was happy at church, nightmares interrupted his sleep sometimes. He’d wake up screaming, startling the whole house. It scared me so much as a kid.One morning, I got the courage to ask him what he was dreaming about. He just looked down at the floor and said, “Alabama, son. Alabama.” Lee Sr.: When I had left Alabama, something came out of me, man. A big ass relief. And I didn't even know where I was going. But it was a big ass, just, man like a breath of fresh air, man. And that's the way I felt.Born in 1948 in a small town in Alabama, he never talked about the place, but for my Dad, Alabama was always present…In my mid 30s, I started having my own nightmares. I tried to ignore them, but couldn’t. I had to find out why I was being haunted. Did it have anything to do with my dad? To answer the question, I went into journalist mode. I had deep conversations with my dad, family members, and even experts, all to to understand what happened to him... and to meLee Sr: I really haven't shared this shit withanybody. You know..Ruth Miller: It’s going to take a whole lot of truth telling for folks to really understand. And i think it’s time now because people are passing on, and if we don’t document this history it’s going to be gone. Zollie Owens: I may not have money in my pocket. But if I have that land that is of value, that is money.Zollie Owens: My kids can fall back on this land, they'll have something Lloyd Pugh: I’m looking at the will of John Pugh. One woman, Judy worth $200. One young man name Abraham. $400. I mean, that's the proof of our line owning slaves. Lee Hawkins: Do you feel guilty about it? Lloyd Pugh: No.While I started to unravel questions for myself, as a reporter it’s never just about me. This journey revealed a part of American history we haven't talked much about. The aftermath of Jim Crow. Ruth Miller: That trauma, That collective trauma, keeps happening over and over again. And every day that you live You're running into something.It’s a history that’s shaped my and other families’ experiences in America. AND how my parents raised me as a Black kid in my own country. Roberta Hawkins: We were afraid for you that something would happen, because things have happened.Asking questions can lead to answers that lead to healing. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Daina Ramey Berry: There's so much strength and power in this history.Daina Ramey Berry: If you look at history as a foundation, the foundations that were laid are still what have built our houses.This is “What Happened in Alabama?”, a new podcast from APM Studios. I get answers to some of the hardest questions of how things came to be for many Black Americans, and the truth that must come before any reconciliation can happen.First episode drops on May 15th.
EP 1: Prologue
May 15 2024
EP 1: Prologue
When journalist Lee Hawkins was growing up, his father, Leroy, would have nightmares about his childhood in Alabama. When Lee was in his 30s, he started to have his own nightmares about his childhood in Minnesota. These shared nightmares became a clue that set Lee on a decade-long genealogical journey. In this episode we meet Lee and his Dad, and through them, we discover the roots of What Happened in Alabama?, and reveal the stakes of daring to ask the question – and all the questions that followed.TranscriptLee Hawkins (host): We wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes talk of abuse and acts of violence. You can find resources on our website, WhatHappenedInAlabama.org. Listener discretion is advised. In 2004, when I was 33 years old, my dad called me for the first time in a year. I remember it so well. It was a Saturday. It wasn’t long after his retirement party, which I missed, because we weren’t talking.[phone ringing] A year may not sound like that long to some of you, but you have to understand, my dad and I used to talk every day. He was my best friend. We stopped talking because I asked my parents to go to therapy. I wanted them to confront some things from our past that had started haunting me as an adult, but they refused. And then a year later, Dad called. That one call turned into hundreds over several years. And what he told me, would change my life forever. Lee Sr.: I really haven't shared any of this shit with anybody, you know. But what it - I'm sorry I'm goin’ back in that shit. But you know everybody's life isn't as peachy as people think. My name is Lee Hawkins and this is What Happened In Alabama: The Prologue.[music starts]Before we go much further, I need to tell you how uncomfortable this makes me. I’m a journalist and a writer; and as journalists, we’re taught to tell other people’s stories — but this story, well, it’s all about me and my family. So that takes me out of my comfort zone, but I’ve learned over the years that sometimes the most powerful story you can tell is your own.So let’s start at the beginning. Back home in Maplewood, Minnesota, where I grew up. [game sounds] Maplewood was that suburban American dream – the white fences, green lawns and ranch-style houses. It was the 1980s, so my two sisters and I were always either playing outside or in the house listening to music. My favorite was the handheld Mattel Classic Football 2 game. I used to play that thing all day. [game sounds] We lived and went to school in a predominantly white neighborhood, but we also spent a lot of time in our Black community in Saint Paul, where our church was, and many family and friends lived. Having that balance was a real blessing. A lot of the childhood joy I experienced as a kid was fueled by the time I spent with my Dad and my grandfathers. Playing drums and singing at music gigs. Going to the “Brotherhood Breakfast” – which was a pancake and waffles extravaganza that my church organized for Black fathers and their sons. We talked about everything from the Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes fight to Prince’s latest hit.[barbershop sounds] Getting lined up at Mr. Harper’s Barbershop – basically one of the few places for a Black man to get a haircut in Saint Paul. And on Sunday we went to Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church.[church music starts] Lee Sr.: [singing] Who's on the lord's side? That’s my dad, Lee Roy Hawkins Senior, singing at our church. From the time I was a little kid, it was always me and him. Lee Senior and Lee Junior. Lee Roy and Lee Lee.But there was something bubbling up under our picture perfect surface. [foreboding music starts]Sometimes, my dad would have nightmares. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to his screams. He’d wake the whole house. I’d hear my mom shouting, “Lee Roy, you’re having a dream! It’s okay, you’re having a dream!” She’d say it over and over and eventually he’d wake up and calm down. Like most boys my age, I idolized my dad. I thought he was the most fearless person on Earth, and that he wasn’t afraid of anything. So hearing him scream out like that told me that whatever he was dreaming about had to be pretty fierce. I knew better than to go in that room during those nightmares, but one morning, I somehow found the courage to finally ask him, “Dad, what were you dreaming about last night?” He hardly spoke. He just looked down at the floor and said, “Alabama, son. Alabama.”My father was born in 1948 in a small town in Butler County, Alabama, during the height of Jim Crow. He rarely talked about it or what happened while he was there. But Alabama was always with us. It’s like he’d packed it into his suitcase when he moved to Minnesota. In his screams at night and in the things he didn’t say. I couldn’t explain it back then, but it also showed up in how he punished us. Like this one time back in 1979 I was eight years old, and as usual, playing my video game.[video game noises] It was a Sunday. I remember because we’d just come home from church. My dad was in the kitchen putting mayonnaise on a bologna sandwich, and I was in the living room, when suddenly…. TOUCHDOWN![video game beeps]I jumped up man, and I ran over to dad in the kitchen. And I told him, “Dad, dad, I scored a touchdown!” [dark music starts]Instead of congratulating me, he snatched the game from my hand. He threw it down on the ground, and then he picked me up and body slammed me to the linoleum floor. Hard.And then he just started screaming, “Do it on the field! Do it on the field!” Looking up at him from the floor, I was completely bewildered and confused. As an eight year old kid, I had no idea why he’d done that.Like many Black kids we knew, we got the belt whenever we did something wrong. If I try to estimate it, I definitely got whipped with a belt over 100 times throughout my childhood and my teenage years. Both of my parents whipped me with inexplicable anger. You didn’t always know when their tempers would be triggered, but when they were, you couldn’t forget it. There was a sense of fear of the outside world that hung over our household constantly. When we’d get punished, our parents would tell us that it was to protect us, to keep us from being killed, by the police, by white racists, or even someone from our own Black community. I could sense it in my Dad’s nightmares. But I didn’t think about it too much until I started to have my own nightmares as an adult. The summer of 2003, I was a journalist in my early thirties, and I’d just landed a job at the Wall Street Journal covering General Motors from Detroit. I had a new apartment, strong friendships and my loving family – my two sisters, my mom, my dad. They all lived in suburbs around the Twin Cities. My parents still lived in Maplewood. Like always, I talked nearly every day to my dad on the phone.I was, in a lot of ways, fulfilling my dreams. But at night, something was happening. I’d fall asleep, and then, I was eight years old again, getting body slammed by my dad. I started having these dreams like multiple times a week. And each dream focused on that same attack.I would wake up sweaty and disoriented, still thinking from the vantage point of that eight year old kid looking up at my dad’s face from the floor. Every time it took a few minutes for me to realize that I wasn't still that kid. That I was an adult. I was far away from Minnesota. And I was in my own home. There was one particular night when I realized that the nightmares were seeping into my daily life. I was at a bar with my friends. [bar sounds] The bar was packed. We were standing around tall bar tables, and everyone was talking over everyone. It smelled like Grand Marnier. As my friends talked, all of a sudden their voices became distant. I was standing next to a table, trying to laugh along with everybody, but my mind's eye was on that 8-year old version of me – that little boy who kept springing up in my dreams. I was admonishing myself. I kept thinking over and over about what I could have done to protect him. And then, I leaned back, and suddenly, I was on fire. My shirt had caught the flame of a small candle that was burning on the tabletop. My friend Marcus jumped into action. He started putting out the flames on my arm with his hand while everyone else took a step back.A little later, Marcus made a joke about it and we laughed, but I could tell my friends were baffled, wondering how could I be so out of it that I’d set my arm on a burning candle. What in the world is going on with me? Why can’t I stop thinking about stuff that happened two decades ago? That year got harder and harder for me. The endless replay of this past memory, the brain fog, the anxiety, the disorientation, and the anger. The weight of it all became overbearing. So much so that one night I was screaming at my father in the dream. When I woke, I knew I needed to confront my parents. Immediately. I reached for the phone.[phone ringing] I tried to catch my breath while it rang. When my mother answered, I shouted, "Put Dad on the phone!" My heart was pumping outside of my chest. My fists were clenched, and I felt like I could punch through the wall. When he answered, I asked him if he remembered body slamming me to the floor when I was eight years old over a game I was playing. He just sat there listening to me breathing and said, “I don’t know. I did a lot of crazy things.” My mom started screaming into the phone, telling me I was being disrespectful.I told them I would stop talking to them forever unless they went to therapy first. They refused. So I hung up the phone. And I didn’t talk to my parents for over a year. I was committed, and I was done with them. [music starts]And during that time, I tried to confront my nightmares. I went to therapy. I exercised and started meditating. I did all the things I could do to manage the stress on my body and my mind. And I thought about that conversation with my parents a lot, about how all I had wanted was to know why. Why did they treat me like that as a kid? Intellectually, I knew that in that particular instance, they were trying to teach me a lesson – a lesson that even at eight years old, I had to hurry up and become a man.That’s what “do it on the field” means – that Black boys need to make real-world accomplishments if they want to be successful in life. I understood this, but I didn’t understand why my dad felt he needed to body slam me. And then my dad called. He told me he’d missed me at his retirement party, and he’d missed all of our hours-long chats. He apologized, and said that he understood that I had been taken for granted, and that I had every right to be upset about everything that happened to me as a kid. It was our separation that made him realize that. He told me he and my mom were ready to go to counseling. And I was too. Lee Sr.: Yeah, but see I got a lot of memories down there that I really didn't wanna deal with, you know? They’ve been living in this survival, get what you can bullshit all these years, man, it’s been like that my whole adult years. Been putting out fires, man, my whole life. My whole adult life. There were so many questions I wanted to ask my parents growing up. Questions about them, about their lives. And about how that affected the choices they made in raising me and my sisters – choices that were imposed on us by our own country, and our country’s perception of our place in it. I started with my dad. His life in the south was a mystery to us, and I wanted to know what happened to him. What happened in Alabama?Lee: Tell me about your earliest memory in Greenville and what it was like to grow up there. Lee Sr.: Lived in a little house…had two or three rooms and a kitchen. My dad built the house. When I started working on this project in 2014, Dad really opened up about his life in the Jim Crow south. And I was blessed to be able to record some of our interviews. Some of what he shared were beautiful memories of this little boy we’d never seen pictures of. He shared fond memories of Alabama, especially the baseball field he played on. His team would play during the day. And sometimes Negro League legends like Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige would play there at night. Other memories were super hard for him to revisit. But he courageously kept opening up. He told me about something he’d always been too pained to talk about: how the loss of his mom in 1961, when he was just 12 years old, changed his whole life. Lee Sr.: You know, that was a real devastating thing for me when I lost my mommy. I just can't even, you know, shit, I couldn't, I couldn't make it through that man. And how it felt when, after his mom's death, he moved north to live with one of his older sisters and her husband in MinnesotaLee Sr.: When I had left Alabama, something came out of me, man. A big ass relief. And I didn't even know where I was going. But it was a big ass, just, man like a breath of fresh air, man.Later, he expressed the regret, confusion and rage he felt when he returned to Alabama at 27 years old, when I was just a baby, to bury his father – who was killed.Lee Sr.: I was looking forward for him to see you guys. And I was always thinking I had more time, you know, because he was a healthy guy, man. He was a healthy man. And how hard that return was, for many reasons. Lee Sr.: It was horrible because somebody had killed him, and people were looking at us like trying to figure out what we were gonna do about it. And I was saying, fuck, I got to get through this and get out of this motherfucker. You know, I ain't got time to look for no murderer.As he told me these stories, I realized that my father knew very little about his own upbringing. He had left Alabama at such a young age, and because of that there were so many secrets that were kept from him – and these were the secrets that showed up in his nightmares as an adult. The ones he kept from me. As a journalist, for me, one of the hardest things is to know there’s a story there, but to not be able to break it open and just tell it. It was nagging at me, and I knew something had happened in my family to make my parents so extremely fearful for themselves and for us. So in 2015, I took a DNA test.Lee Sr.: And that thing, you know they say, if you don't know where you come from, how the hell you know where you going? For years, I had believed that the stories of Black families like mine were irretrievable, but with the help of that test, my father and I went to work filling in that family tree. I embarked on a genealogical journey for myself, but also for – and often with – my dad. [phone ringing]Lee Sr.: Hello?Lee: Hey, Dad. Lee Sr.: Yeah. Hey, man. Lee: Can you hear me okay? Lee Sr.: Yeah. You’re good.Lee: Okay. Good, man. Good. Thanks a lot. Lee Sr.: Oh, yeah. Let’s get it. I dug into archives and sifted through census records. I’d call him up when I found new information.Lee: I'm looking at this um, hmm. This genealogy shit is crazy.Lee Sr.: Well, I'll be darned. Lee: Did you realize that when your mom's father was killed, she was nine? Lee Sr.: She was nine? Lee: She was nine. Lee Sr.: No, I didn't know that. Lee: But, you know, your dad has, in the census, he had a couple brothers and sisters that were listed as mulatto. Lee Sr.: Oh, goodness me. The project became so much bigger than discovering our family. It turned into an exploration of American history that no one really likes to talk about: the aftermath of slavery and Jim Crow, a history that shaped my family's experience in America.This is a story about some of the more tragic parts of my family and my country’s history. The parts that, amid all the love and the closeness, were buried and rarely if ever discussed. It’s about my journey to uncover and understand those tragedies.I did hundreds of interviews. Some of them with family members, others with genealogists and academics on everything from the intergenerational effects of the Holocaust on survivors and their descendants, the effects of slavery on Black America, and even the mental health of the children of people who have been incarcerated or murdered. Even when it didn’t seem like it, every interview I did was also a means to understand our family history and in turn myself, so much better. Brandon Jones: Well, we have a lot of old parenting techniques that were picked up and conditioned from slavery that have continued on. Doctor Joy DeGruy talks about this in her book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Prof. Christopher Haveman: There was no real justification – moral justification – for it other than whites had the racist premise that they were civilized and the Indians were “savages” and that the whites could make better use of the land than Indians.Dr. Ruth Thompson-Miller: And for folks who think that, you know, that was like 50, 60, 70 years ago, we've gotten past that – oh, no, no we haven't. The people who lived through it suffered through the violence and everything that went along with being an American living under a system of Jim Crow. They haven't recovered.The punishments, the belt, and the nightmares that haunted me and my father — I knew they couldn’t be isolated incidents. They had to be echoes of a deeper shared history. A history that is alive in all of us today. [music]For four years, my dad and I kept calling each other up on the phone to talk through my most recent discoveries. In 2019, he did an epic three-hour interview. It was planned as the last interview that I’d need for him to get it done.Since Dad and I were both still actively involved in music and had just recorded a Christmas song together, we were both looking forward to doing more. I told him I’d come to Minnesota to produce a song for him. And I thanked him for going so deeply into the past with me – that I was proud of him, and that he’d done an amazing job. He asked me, “Son, is there anything else you need?” I said no, but I’d see him soon.Lee Sr.: Alright man, thanks for the call, man. Lee: Okay, talk to you later. Lee Sr.: Keep on keeping on. Love you. Lee: K, love you. Bye. [phone hangs up]Shortly after that, he and my mom went to celebrate their 50th anniversary at the Buddy Guy/Mavis Staples concert, and he had a massive cardiac arrest, right there in the concert venue. Four days later, on February 28, 2019, he died. It was devastating. I think about my dad and the dynamic duo we were. And just like the music we made together in our life, this project was largely inspired by him. Even though it was hard for him at times, he did it, yes for himself, but especially for me. It was the greatest gift he could ever give me. And his unexpected death completely changed the story for me. For all of us. Roberta: He went through so much in his life. Went through so much. He did. This is my mom, Roberta Hawkins. She met my dad while they were both hanging out at McCarron’s Lake in Roseville, splashing around on the beach with friends. They were just 14 year old kids. And that concert my dad had the cardiac arrest at was one of the many date nights they went on, this time, in honor of their 50-year wedding anniversary. That teenage love just grew stronger and stronger.On a cold, snowy afternoon in Saint Paul, I sat down with my mom and one of my sisters for a conversation. We’d rescheduled our meeting because of a blizzard earlier that week, so the day we recorded this just happened to be a significant one. Lee: Today is the fourth anniversary of Dad's death, and it’s just a coincidence that we’re here today talking. Can we reflect on what this means for us? Roberta: One thing, great memories. Great memories. But it's, it's hard because I miss him so much, and life isn't the same. When we sat together on the anniversary of his death, the pain of losing him was still very raw for us. We reflected on dad — and how we missed and loved him.I’ve come to understand that all of the grief, all of the racism and all of the stressful experiences that started when he came into the world as a child of Jim Crow stayed with him until the day he died. When I think about my dad in the context of American history, I recognize that the country that we all loved – and he defended as part of the Air Force – refused to love him back. Our country, which I also love so deeply, sought to destroy my family by forcing them to live under this brutal caste system for five generations following Emancipation. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I continue with this project, day after day, because I know that without intervention and education, history can repeat itself. I’m doing this for my father, and for my ancestors and elders. But especially for our Black children, and their families. Because the process of breaking the cycles born out of slavery and Jim Crow that many of us inherited and internalized has to start inside of our families. The beauty and the power of our people, and our true, authentic Black identity of unwavering excellence and dignity that comes from those family members who came before us, that’s the part we need to celebrate and to keep.Lee: What does family mean to you, and what do you want people to know about you and the family, our listeners? Roberta: I think family means everything, because that's one of the reasons that we can survive, with family. And we all go through a lot. And this has been the hardest part of my life, is – even with my husband gone, and knowing how much he went through in his life. And he was a wonderful, wonderful husband and father. And I just don't know. It's very difficult even to go day to day without him, because he was my best friend, too. When my dad died, I lost my best buddy, a father and a mentor. And in many ways, he was a partner in all of this. He needed to do this work. We needed to do this work. And I believe it’s necessary for any cycle breaker, not just for my family but for many other American families.I hope that this podcast can serve as an inspirational blueprint for others looking to discover, investigate and understand their own family history. We can no longer bury the dark parts of American history because it makes people feel uncomfortable. For none of us are responsible for the sins of our forefathers, and we can’t rewrite the past. But we certainly can shape the present, and most importantly, the future.This story is mine, yes, but it also belongs to you.[music]CreditsWhat Happened in Alabama is a production of American Public Media. It’s written, produced, and hosted by me, Lee Hawkins.Our executive producer is Erica Kraus. Our senior producer is Kyana Moghadam. Our story editor is Martina Abrahams Ilunga. Our producers are Marcel Malekebu and Jessica Kariisa. This episode was sound designed and mixed by Marcel Malekebu. Our technical director is Derek Ramirez. Our soundtrack was composed by Ronen Landa. Our fact checker is Erika Janik.And Nick Ryan is our director of operations.Special thanks to the O’Brien Fellowship for Public Service Journalism at Marquette University; Dave Umhoefer, John Leuzzi, Andrew Amouzou, and Ziyang Fu; and also thank you to our producer in Alabama, Cody Short. The executives in charge at APM are Joanne Griffith and Chandra Kavati.You can follow us on our website, whathappenedinalabama.org or on Instagram at APM Studios.Thank you for listening.
EP 2: Meet the Hawkins
May 15 2024
EP 2: Meet the Hawkins
Growing up in a middle-class suburb in the 1980s often felt idyllic to Lee. It was the age of crank calls and endless summers playing outside. The Hawkins kids were raised by their parents to excel in everything they put their minds to — and they did. They were model students at school and in their community. But at home, a pervading sense of fear and paranoia governed the household. In this episode, Lee sits down with his younger sister Tiffany to discuss the tensions at home. Later, he talks with psychotherapist and trauma expert Brandon Jones to uncover the roots of his parents’ fears, and how it dates back to slavery and the Jim Crow era in the United States.RESOURCESPost Traumatic Slave Syndrome | Dr. Joy DeGruyTranscriptLee Hawkins (host): We wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes talk of abuse and acts of violence. You can find resources on our website, WhatHappenedInAlabama.org. Listener discretion is advised.Hi, this is Lee Hawkins, and we’re about to dive into episode two of What Happened in Alabama. This one’s about family and how policies impact parenting. There’s a lot to get into. But you’ll get a whole lot more if you go back and listen to the prologue – that’ll give you some context for the series and this episode. Do that, and then join us back here. Thank you so much. [music starts]Family. There are so many variations of what this unit is. For me, it’s mom, dad and my sisters. No matter what your family looks like – be it blood or chosen – there’s a shared experience of people who know you inside and out, who’ve seen you grow. There’s a common language for your memories, an ease when you’re together.This journey I’ve been on to understand how I was raised and the histories behind who I am today starts with the people who know me best and have seen me at my highs and my lows. They bear witness to stories in the far reaches of my mind and fill in the gaps when my recollection isn’t clear.Growing up in Maplewood, Minnesota, there are a lot of memories. Understanding myself means understanding my parents, my grandparents, and all the people who came before them. [musical intro]I’m Lee Hawkins, and this is What Happened In Alabama. Episode 2: Meet the Hawkins. [music starts]In many ways, I grew up in a picture-perfect American family: mom, dad, three kids. Me and my two sisters, Tammi and Tiffany. Tiffany: I would be outside from sunup to sundown playing with the neighbors. We'd always have a game of kickball or softball, fight over, you know, whose ball it was or if the person lost the game, they’d take the ball and want to go home or kick it over the neighbor’s fence. I mean, we really had a great time with that aspect growing up. That’s Tiffany. Looking back on our childhood with her brings back so many great memories. We were children and teenagers of the '80s, and that was an almost magical time to grow up in. Tiffany: You know, we'd go play in the woods or you know, ding dong ditch or, you know, the phone calls that we would make pranking people. I mean, these are things that could have –Lee: Oh the prank calls on the three-way? Oh man. Tiffany: Yeah, you know, I was really mad when they came out –Lee: That was some funny stuff though.Tiffany: That caller ID really messed us up, you know, caller ID ended all of that. [Lee laughs] Because we used to really get people in some binds there. I mean, if social media was out there, we coulda made tons of money off of those calls that we were genius –Lee: Oh man, we would be blowing up. [Tiffany laughs] We would be so rich if we were, if social media was out now, our show would be the bomb. Our prank call show. [Tiffany laughing] Oh my gosh. Tiffany: Yeah, it would’ve. It would've. Like I said, we had fun as kids. But there were some tense times, too. Mom and Dad were strict.Tiffany: You know, it's just like them coming home from work. Like, is, are all the chores done? Like, what kind of mood are they gonna be in? Like, are we gonna get yelled at or beat today, or you know, what's gonna happen? You never knew. You were constantly having to live with this, you know, fear. And you had no control over how, what was gonna happen. Lee: Right, and then our parents would come home, and they were like military inspectors, and they would go over – Mom would go over and make sure if there was a, you know, if there was a smudge on the mirror, then that meant you were gonna go – she was gonna come into your room, drag you out into the living room, and beat you down. And tell you, [yelling] “There was a smudge on the mirror!”Tiffany: [laughing] It's so crazy because, yeah.Lee: And we laugh now because there’s that thin line between comedy and tragedy, right, that’s what they say. And I think that now that we made it out – we made it out, Tiff. We made it. Tiffany: Yeah. But for the grace of God. Our parents raised us to be perfectionists. We were super high achieving kids. Both Tiff and I were elected class president, me four consecutive years, Tiff three consecutive years. She was the homecoming queen and a star athlete. And I was known more for my activism and was elected YMCA Youth Governor of the State of Minnesota. We had lots of friends and were often thought to be role models. But at home, we were sometimes seen as falling short, and the penalty for that was the belt, or verbal tirades from our disappointed parents.It’s a hard thing to talk about, because I can’t in good faith paint my parents as evil monsters who just wanted to abuse us, because they weren’t. In fact, they didn’t see it as abuse. And neither did we. We were a close family, and we loved our parents, and I know they loved us. Our parents were and are good people. They were active in the church, they were amazing neighbors, and they made a lot of sacrifices to raise us into the productive citizens we’ve become. That said, they, like a lot of our Black friends’ parents, could be really mean. Over time, my research into the history of my family and my country, revealed an explanation for that.Before I go too deep into this, I should mention that Tiffany and I – and our family’s experiences – don’t represent that of the whole Black community. We’re speaking about ourselves. The terror our family went through during enslavement and Jim Crow made our parents feel that they needed to be brutal with us. A few months ago, I sat down with Tiffany to talk more deeply about how we were raised trying to make sense of our parents’ fear and trauma and how it impacted us. The focus on hard work, getting ahead and the American Dream – all things Mom and Dad thought would keep us safe. You’ll also hear parts of my conversation with Brandon Jones, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. He helps us process how this tension between some Black parents and their children manifested as trauma in every generation going back to slavery. We had to follow the rules, and the penalty of not following those rules was almost always violence at home and social condemnation in the world outside. The interviews with Tiffany and Brandon helped me see it so much more clearly.Tiffany: You know, being the youngest comes with a lot, where I had siblings – and you and Tammi were, I think in that day and age, were quite a bit older than I was, but not really because, you know, five and seven years older. But we were, still had this closeness. Lee: And what do you remember about me? How was I as a kid? Tiffany: You were very animated. I remember that you were always very talented at everything you did. You could sing and dance, and you were always a leader, a leader of the pack. You were never, did the same as everyone else, and I thought that was a great thing. You also were mischievous, I think. [laughs] At times you could be: “Oh, Lee Lee.” “Oh, what's Lee Lee done now?” Lee: Right. ’Cause we called it “hyper.”Tiffany: He's always getting in trouble.Lee: On my way to prison. Tiffany: Yeah, well, yeah. [laughter]Lee: Or to get killed by the police. One of the two. ‘We better whoop his ass.’Tiffany: The paranoia. Yeah. Looking back, I now see we were under a lot of stress, even though we also had fun as kids. But the pressure to never make any mistakes – under the threat of the belt – was constantly weighing on us. The understanding was that if we messed up as kids – even buying a candy bar without getting a receipt – that would go on our records and could be brought back by white people, even years later, to destroy our futures and lives and careers as adults. So we avoided a lot of trouble. But when we did really well, especially against white kids, our mother sometimes seemed reluctant to celebrate with us. It was almost as if our success and our confidence and our belief in ourselves as Black kids sometimes frightened her. Lee: Did you feel supported when you were achieving all these things?Tiffany: No. You know, at times in, I had, you know, two different – and depending on which parent you were talking about, I mean, Dad supported us in everything. But there were still limits to that. I mean, I felt like they were glad to have something that was keeping me busy and out of trouble. But never really embraced the fact that that could have been something that I took a lot further. I'm not sure why Mom was like, you know, with pretty much anything that we did almost, as to keep us in our place in some way, she would also make it, always make it feel like, ‘Yeah, that's great and everything, but it's not really that important,’ you know? ‘It doesn't mean anything.’ Lee: And also, ‘Why do you think that you can be this or that?’ ‘Why do you think –,’ you know? Did you get that? I got that all the time, right in the midst of accomplishing things.Tiffany: Oh, I got that a lot. Or, ‘Why do you have to be –,’ yeah, ‘Why do you have to be always doing stuff?’ Like, ‘Can't you just be satisfied with this?’ Like, ‘Everybody else isn't doing that.’ That was another thing that drove me crazy, is hearing about what everybody else's kids were doing. And it was like, ‘Yeah, but I mean – and that's great and I'm glad that they are – but do you see what I'm doing? Everybody else's kids aren't doing this.’Lee: But that was when we would get beat. I remember a time Tiffany had a big track meet leading up to the state tournament. But it coincided with a family trip down south. When they picked me up on the way down, I asked Tiffany how her track season was going. When she told me she’d qualified for this meet, I was furious, because it was a huge opportunity. I didn’t understand why my parents didn’t let her go to the meet and join us on the trip later. But Tiffany and I knew not to push. Lee: You and I have talked about the play Fences – August Wilson's Fences – and Troy Maxson and how he despised his son coming home saying, “Dad, I got a football scholarship, and they're gonna pay the way. They need you to sign off for me to go to college for free,” and Troy Maxson said, “You're not going.” Because he was a major league, he was a Negro League baseball player, and his dreams got dashed and he really resented the opportunity and the freedom of that next generation. And I always look back, and I think back to how Mom used to tell us about Grandpa Buddy, which was so hard to hear, because Grandpa Buddy was so supportive of us, but she would say that Grandpa Buddy thought she should just get married and not go to college or anything. “You're just a woman, so just go get married. Why should I spend money on college?” And so it seems like in our bloodline – not on Dad's side of the family, but definitely on Mom's side of the family – every generation kind of resented sometimes the next generation's opportunities of, you know, that it was like, ‘Yes, I'm providing this for you, and we're going to make sure you have braces, and we're going to make sure that all of your needs are met. We're not gonna hug you. We're not gonna tell you we love you. We're not gonna baby you, we’re gonna beat excellence into you. But then when you become excellent, we're also gonna resent you because we didn't have the same opportunity that you had.’Brandon: Well, we have a lot of old parenting techniques that were picked up and conditioned from slavery that have continued on. Doctor Joy DeGruy talks about this in her book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Brandon Jones is the executive director of the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. He also consults for other organizations in developing culturally relevant and trauma-informed mental health services for children throughout the state. When I told him this story, he immediately recognized the connection to slavery and Jim Crow. Brandon: One of the things that really just blew my mind is the downplaying of achievement of our children in kind of – it's, it's in a, it's in a joking way, but it was a protective measure on the plantation where you would have Black parents, mostly mothers, who would downplay the achievements of their son or their daughter because they didn't want their child to be sold off or moved to another part of the plantation where they couldn't keep an eye on them or protect them. Lee: Right, they would have a talent for playing the violin or something, and the fear was that Massa's gonna sell him to be, and say, “Oh, this Negro plays the violin and he can work during the day,” and get a pretty penny for that person and then they'll be separated from the family. Brandon: Right. So there was a protective measure to keep kids close to their parents.Hearing that from Brandon actually made me feel a lot better, because when I was a kid, I just thought our mother hated us. But it’s not that simple. Looking back, I now see she was under a lot of stress, working a full-time job as a nurse and a health coordinator at a major corporate assisted living center, raising us, taking care of our dad, and being the matriarch who made a lot of sacrifices for us. And quite often, she’d have chest pains, which is a telltale sign of a heart attack. And I’d say 90% of the time she complained of chest pains, it would be because we upset her; usually if we disagreed with her, were perceived as talking back, or even if we looked at her in a certain way she didn’t like. That really scared us, but it horrified our dad. He would transform into an attack dog and just haul off and slap us, and then order us all to get into the car so we could take our mom to the emergency room. It got to the point where that scenario just kept playing out. Tiff and I couldn’t tell if she was really having pains or if she was using it as a weapon of punishment. We were scared for our mom. And for ourselves.Tiffany: Yeah, I can laugh about it now, but it was actually terrifying as a kid because, you know, I can remember several times that she did this, but one in particular when she pulled that having chest pains thing. And maybe she was having chest pains, maybe that was a sign of her anxiety, but I also know that she knew how to use that to play that card with Dad. You know, the ambulance was called, it was all of this. And Dad looked me in the eye, and he said, “If anything happens to my wife, I'm gonna kill you.” And I believed that. I mean, he was so scared that something was gonna happen to her. And it scared me so much that I caught a cab from there and left, because I was afraid that something was gonna happen and Dad was gonna kill me. Lee: Other moms that we knew, if someone threatened their child, especially their husband, and said, “I'll kill you,” then they would say, “No, don't do that. Don't do that.” And a lot of black women that we know from the church would have said, “Uh uh, you're not gonna threaten my child's life.” [Tiffany laughing]Lee: But our mom was just like silent, like, and she would look at us like, ‘Yeah, see? He’ll kill you for me. He'll kill you for me.’Tiffany: Yeah, it would give her fuel. And we didn't know enough then. And also I feel like we – they knew how to isolate us in that way. We were fearful of ever communicating what we were going through at home, because one of the reasons, I think we didn't even realize that this was not normal behavior because we knew, you know, other friends that would say that their parents spanked them. We thought we were getting spanked, you know? It wasn't until later we realized this was a lot more than getting spanked, I mean, ya know? And so then that's when I realized when I did start sharing with people and they would be looking at me like, ‘Are you crazy?’ Like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Like, ‘That's horrible.’ Like, people would be affected. And I'm like, ‘Why are you so affected by that?’ That's not a normal spanking. This is not normal behavior. But I didn't know that until after. We never could tell family business. You remember, we were always told that? “Don't tell family business.” [music starts]And of course, years later, my father opened up about how, when he’d beat us, he’d scream, “Don’t ever disrespect your mother! I would give my life for five minutes with my mama!” And be beating us and going into a whole explanation of how sweet and kind his mother was. And the more he’d say, the harder he’d swing that belt. His mother died of a kidney infection when he was just 12 years old, and I think when she died, he never got over the pain and the guilt of feeling like he didn’t protect his mother. So he wasn’t going to let that happen again in his adult life. I guess he addressed that pain by protecting our mother from us. I wish my dad would’ve just talked about his grief and explained what it felt like to be in that helpless position and how much losing his mom affected him. Maybe if he did, life at home would’ve been more peaceful.Tiffany: I'm sure there were a lot of people that had no idea that this was going on in our household. Lee: Mom to this day to me has said, “We've never beat you with the belt. We never hit you with the belt. We only spanked you.”Tiffany: Yeah. Lee: And we were hit hundreds of times with the belt. Tiffany: Yeah.Lee: And to this day –Tiffany: With a belt, comb, shoes thrown at us. Lee: Slapped –Tiffany: I mean – Lee: Slapped across the face.Tiffany: Slapped. Tackled. Lee: Thrown down the stairs. Tiffany and I both got the belt. But we were also sometimes punished in different ways, depending on the parent, and depending on the moment. Tiffany: Through therapy, I realize some of the things, some of my paranoia, some of, you know, the anxiety that I have were triggered from situations that happened during my childhood. So like getting locked in a house that you couldn't leave, and if there was a fire, would have burned in. Not being able to access the phone if there was an emergency because it was blocked so that you couldn't make calls out. There could only be calls that were coming in. You know, being dragged out of bed in the middle of the night…[laughing] this is almost embarrassing to say – because someone ate the Breyers ice cream. I mean, like – Lee: But Tiffany, like, okay, so you said that it wasn't until you started talking about it with other people that you started to realize that this was not normal, right? But I remember when I was a kid, I think part of the reason I didn't completely implode at that time and it took like many, many years later for me to break down was because I thought, ‘Well, we're Black kids.’ Mom and Dad programmed us, and I guess society programmed me – I don't want to speak for you – but it programmed me to believe, ‘This is what Black kids have to get. I'm a Black kid. And being Black, Black people –.’ And mom would say, “This is a Black custom. We whip our kids. This is what Black people do.” And so I just believed that because I'm Black, I have to be beaten because this is our heritage and this is who we are. And Black kids are not allowed to have that level of freedom. [music starts]My parents were among the approximately 70% of Black parents who believe in hitting kids. Out of all the ethnic groups in America, Black households believe in it at the highest rates, and in the 17 states where corporal punishment is still legal in schools, Black children are hit more than children of any other race, and their parents are most likely to sign forms allowing teachers to strike their children. Once again, I’m not saying this is the case for all Black families, but in my home, and in the homes of many of the Black kids I grew up with, it was framed to us as being a Black custom. I asked Brandon Jones about this.Brandon: Unfortunately, due to our own historical trauma and our adaptation of intergenerational trauma that has become culture, spankings or whoopings have become primary. And what ends up happening is you have a lot of kids who are spanked or whooped as a first approach towards discipline without other methods of means happening. And you get a lot of shame as well that takes place when parents don't whoop or beat or use corporal punishment to their children. Other Black parents or family members will encourage you to do so or ask you, “Why are you not spanking your child?” Or, “Why are you talking to your child about what's going on? That child needs their butt whooped,” and things of that nature. Like these are very common conversations and interactions that happen within the Black community. In hindsight, a lot of the reasons for my whipping was because I was often asking questions. Yes, as a student leader, but especially as a Black kid. I wasn’t afraid to speak out. I never felt like I couldn’t compete, or any anxiety about being Black and having lots of friends of all races. And my parents would say, “Be careful at that school. Watch what you say, and don’t get cocky with these white people.” And I feel like I got punished for not being afraid and staying in my place, for that unapologetic curiosity and confidence to ask questions and express opinions. And of course, I made it worse by becoming a journalist. I was in my thirties before I began to question the way we were raised. Until then, I think I too believed that Black kids needed to be treated this way, to keep them out of the criminal justice system or to be able to work in corporate America without being kept out because they stole a candy bar from Walgreens when they were nine. But Tiff was much smarter and braver than me. She knew it was wrong as a child. As a parent, she broke that cycle in our family and talked a lot about the need to focus on healing. Tiffany: A lot of people have been through different childhood traumas that are horrible, but it's what you do to try and reverse that. So I’ve spent most of my adult life, and I know you have too, trying to heal, you know, and sometimes it's exhausting going to a therapy session and coming home and all this stuff is drug up and, you know, you just feel defeated. But I also know that it has caused me to be a better mother. Because that was my biggest fear, is when I started having children, I did not want to repeat the cycle. So I haven't, I never spank my my children. And I try to, you know, talk to them about things. And I always want them to feel like they could come to me about different things. Now, there were times when I'll say, and they'll, they could tell you too, like I saw little Lee Roy or Roberta in me, you know, especially with, like, the explosive, you know, or yelling. And that would make me feel horrible, you know, some of the things, the verbal things that I've had to catch myself saying. But the difference between that is that, you know, once I was able to calm myself down and really critically think about what had just happened, I will always give someone an apology about my behavior and how that impacted them. It doesn't mean that it didn't affect the person, you know, because words hurt. But I have, you know, tried to live a life where I'm not continuing the cycle. And I just constantly working on it. You know, there's things that still trigger me. Lee: Right. And I remember when you and Tammi started having kids. That was when it triggered something in me that made me confront Mom and Dad. Because I was also afraid that they were gonna try to beat them, to beat my nieces and nephews. And I remember I was vicious, you know, I was, I had a vengeance in me and saying, ‘Don't you dare repeat that cycle another generation.’Tiffany: Mm hmm. As a journalist in 1999, around the time Tiffany and I started recognizing all this, that was when the first version of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study came out, showing that traumatic childhood experiences can stalk people and increase the likelihood of mental illness, substance abuse, and chronic health problems. Subsequent updates to the research showed that childhood trauma can shorten life expectancy. That’s when I started thinking consciously about how adults – of all races – have this responsibility to protect children. But that doesn’t mean trying to beat safety into them. And yes, there are political, social, and economic realities that caused my parents to legitimately worry. But it’s my hope that for new generations, we put down the belt and find a way to give a child a peaceful home without screaming, violence, and constant uncertainty about when the next outburst could happen. That said, this is a very complicated conversation to have, because despite it all, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my parents, my dad especially. And I’m talking about all the good things – his unwavering encouragement and belief in us, his omnipresence in our lives, and his undeniable devotion as a husband and a father. My sister Tiffany feels the same way too. Tiffany: I get people that tell me all the time about the way that Dad changed their life or how invested he was in them. And even just to, like, call them and say, “Hey, remember what we talked about, that thing you were going to do? Did you ever do it?” You know, he was always a great person for that. Lee: He was an incredible motivator. He was someone who wanted to see us go to the next level and far beyond what he could have ever dreamed. For our whole childhood, our dad’s life before us was a mystery. We couldn’t even ask about it. We just knew the basic facts. He was born in Alabama and moved to Minnesota after his mom died when he was 12 years old. But beyond that, any clues about his childhood would appear at the most unexpected times. Tiffany: I still have never seen a picture of him as a child. And any time I did try and bring things up, like, “What was your mom like or your dad like?,” we would either get told to be quiet, not by Dad, but by Mom, like, “Shhh, don’t, we're not gonna talk about that. You know that it's really hard for your dad.” Sometimes having these kinds of conversations about the difficult things that have happened to us can feel like poking an old wound. But I believe that the wound needs to breathe before it can be healed. And that’s really what this conversation with Tiff was. It was healing. As part of this project, I also talked with my mom. She sat down for an interview on the fourth anniversary of our dad’s death. She answered some very hard questions about why she was so hard on us, and she cried, because it was a tender day. And I realize now it’s not fair or true to make the blanket statement that our mom didn’t support us. For example, she came out and did the interview – not because she was dying to do it, but because she did it to support me and this podcast.And the conversation with Brandon really helped me further process the reality that our mother was afraid that our success would make us targets for white racists. Yes, when we were younger, she pushed us to excel. But once we got older and got into the limelight in spaces where it mattered, it was frightening for her. Lee: What were your fears for me as a Black boy in Maplewood?Roberta: It was because of the, we just don’t know how other people would accept you. And one of the things about it is that you were really outspoken and all that, but some, they hated, I mean some were haters. And we, and their parents too. But we were afraid for you, that something would happen. Because things have happened. That’s the complexity of coming from a family like mine. Our mom may not have shown up in the way some people think a mother should. Still, I believe she did love us. She worked hard, sacrificed and gave us what we needed. And I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for my sisters. Tammi prefers her privacy, but she still came out with Mom and talked with us, for me. And Tiffany, too. This couldn’t have been easy for my baby sister. She didn’t show up because she wanted to be in a podcast talking about her life and her childhood pain. My mother showed up for her son, and both of my sisters showed up for their brother. For me. Lee: I love you so much, sis. Tiffany: Aww I love you, too.Lee: I want to thank you for the courage that you've exhibited in everything you've done to support me in this at times where I was so alone. Tiffany: Yeah. And I just want to say thank you for the opportunity, because this has been healing for me, and I know I’ve thought about you a lot, I’ve prayed for you. I can’t imagine what it was like with all the research that you’ve gone through. Having to be there and go through and process all of the things while your regular life is going on and then in the midst of this, to lose our father. I think this is an important part of your legacy, and I think it is going to really change the way that people view things. But yeah, the time has come.[music starts]All of this encouragement, this support, that’s what love looks like to me. And I’m so happy about that. During this whole process, I had so many family members who poured out a lot of memories and feelings, facing up to parts of their Black experience that they may not have ever discussed. Especially my dad. And all of that, really, was the starting place for all this. When I started working on this project, I knew I’d have to go back to where it all started with my dad in Alabama. But I had no idea even where to begin. So I started researching and asking questions, and pretty soon, I realized that this was so much bigger than him. It’s not just his story, it’s America’s story.CreditsWhat Happened in Alabama is a production of American Public Media. It’s written, produced, and hosted by me, Lee Hawkins.Our executive producer is Erica Kraus. Our senior producer is Kyana Moghadam. Our story editor is Martina Abrahams Ilunga. Our producers are Marcel Malekebu and Jessica Kariisa. This episode was sound designed and mixed by Marcel Malekebu. Our technical director is Derek Ramirez. Our soundtrack was composed by Ronen Landa. Our fact checker is Erika Janik.And Nick Ryan is our director of operations.Special thanks to the O’Brien Fellowship for Public Service Journalism at Marquette University; Dave Umhoefer, John Leuzzi, Andrew Amouzou, and Ziyang Fu; and also thank you to our producer in Alabama, Cody Short. The executives in charge at APM are Joanne Griffith and Chandra Kavati.You can follow us on our website, whathappenedinalabama.org or on Instagram at APM Studios.Thank you for listening. Next time on What Happened in Alabama. He died tellin’ them to take care of me, that’s what happened there. There’s a reason why you’re killing each other. There’s a reason why, you know, you don’t have land. There’s a reason why, you know, they’ve criminalized your body and put you in prison for free labor.
EP 3: The Legacy of Jim Crow
May 22 2024
EP 3: The Legacy of Jim Crow
Lee always knew that his father grew up during Jim Crow, but he never really understood what that meant as a child. In school he was taught that Jim Crow was all about segregation - separate but unequal. It wasn’t until Lee started asking his dad more questions about Jim Crow as an adult, that he realized that it was much, much deeper than he could’ve ever imagined. In this episode, Lee sits down with Dr. Ruth Thompson-Miller, a professor at Vassar College and co-author of Jim Crow's Legacy, The Lasting Impact of Segregation. Together they detail the depths of terror that characterized the Jim Crow era and discuss why it’s important to tell these stories.TranscriptLee Hawkins (host): We wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes talk of abuse and acts of violence. You can find resources on our website whathappenedinalabama.org. Listener discretion is advised. [music starts]Hi, this is Lee Hawkins, and we’re about to dive into episode three of What Happened in Alabama. It’s an important conversation about the intergenerational impact of Jim Crow, how it affected the way my family raised me, and why it matters today. But you’ll get a whole lot more out of it if you go back and listen to the prologue first – that’ll give you some context for putting the whole series in perspective. Do that, and then join us back here. Thank you so much. [musical transition] Jim Crow survivor. This isn’t a common term, but it’s what I use to describe my father and family members who grew up during this time in American history.Jim Crow was a system of laws that legalized racial segregation and discrimination through state and local legislation – mostly in the South – for close to a hundred years. After slavery – from 1877 until 1965 – Black people living under Jim Crow continued to be marginalized, even though they were “free.” Housing, education, and access to everything from healthcare to public parks was all separate, and definitely not equal. This history affected how my father was raised, how his siblings were raised, and – even though I wasn’t born during Jim Crow – how I was raised.The fact is, there are millions of Black Americans alive today – 60 years or older – who survived Jim Crow and were never defined as a group, acknowledged, or even compensated for their experiences. Instead, Jim Crow survivors are sandwiched between the anger around slavery, and the glimmers of hope from the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a time that’s talked about in shorthand. We’re taught that the worst of it was separate drinking fountains and bathrooms, and sitting in the back of the bus. But this wasn’t the extent of what my father, my family, and countless others went through. Not even close. So that’s what we tackle in this episode. The lasting legacy of Jim Crow.Seven years ago, when I was on the phone with my dad, he told me a story about his childhood in Alabama during Jim Crow.Lee Sr.: Yeah, me and my sister, me and my, uh, cousin be walking to school, and this one little, little ass boy, we knew we could kick his ass, but he'd come over every day and we'd be going one way and he'd be passing us. He'd run into one of us and just push us, just bump us. And we, we couldn't do nothing, man. We were scared, you know? We, you know, we could kick his ass, but we would have had to pay the price. Lee: So what could happen if you would have beat his ass?Lee Sr.: Oh, they probably would have hung our asses, man, or anything. See, it wouldn't have been no kid getting in fights, it would have been these niggas touched this white boy. That was always there, Lee. [music starts]My dad was 10 years old when this happened. Only a decade into his life and he already knew what he had to do to stay alive: stay in his place. This was his reality growing up under Jim Crow.Dad grew up in Greenville, Alabama, a small town of a few thousand people, just about an hour south of Montgomery. His father worked at the railroad and the sawmill, and his mother was a homemaker. They were part of a strong Black community with businesses and churches. And while separate, they interacted with white neighbors in an uneasy existence. But despite all this, Dad was constantly on edge.Lee Sr.: The white folks that, you know, we literally came in contact with in the neighborhood, my dad used to go over and help them cut trees and mow lawns and stuff like that. Of course, when you went downtown, that's a different story because, you know, you had to give them the right of way, you know. Lee: So what did that mean?Lee Sr.: That mean if a white person's coming down the street, you gotta kinda stay over to, out of their way. Don't get close to them. Try not to, you know. Same with the cops, you know, if they on the street, you just walk by them, that's easy, you know what I mean? It was, it was that sensitive, you know. Sensitive. I always marveled at Dad's word choice.This sensitivity manifested as fear for his mom, my Grandma Opie Pugh Hawkins. And she passed that fear down to my dad. My relatives described her as a nervous, jittery woman who used to grind her teeth and drink Coca Cola by the eight pack to keep going every day. She taught my father not to trust white people and to be very cautious with them. One of his most vivid childhood memories is from a trip to a local department store with Grandma Opie.The trip was supposed to be uneventful, just another day shopping for household necessities, people laughing and having conversations as they shop for deals. Lee Sr.: And they had water fountains in the store, one over there for the whites, and one over here for the Blacks. And I, I didn't care. I didn't know the difference. I went and drunk out of the white one. Now you might think you know where this is headed. A little Black boy drinks from the wrong fountain, and all hell breaks loose. But that's not what happened. No one even noticed. But all hell did break loose.Lee Sr.: My mom just went crazy, man. To protect me, she went crazy, because you couldn't miss me over there drinking. So instead of having them come hang me, she did, you know, went into her act, you know. [music starts]Grandma Opie unleashed a wrath dad had never seen before – he was four or five years old at the time. Boy, she yelled, swatting him repeatedly on his butt, “I told you not to go near that fountain. That's for the white folks.” This show was a protective instinct.Grandma Opie only beat Dad a few times as a kid, and every time she did it, it was in public to keep him in line with the rules he was still too young to know or understand. But things were different at home. Grandma Opie and her husband, my grandfather Papa Lum, they never laid a hand on Dad there.He was the baby of the family, showered with love. Grandma Opie had him when she was 43, and by then she and Papa Lum were past their whooping years. He was Grandma's miracle baby and constant shadow. He even slept in the bed next to her.Lee Sr.: I never told anybody that, but I did, yeah. That’s what I did, I was in the middle. I only had a little while with her being healthy.When he was about six years old, Grandma Opie fell sick with kidney disease. She made several visits to the doctor, and dad would wait at home patiently for her after each one. Lee Sr.: We used to get on our knees every night, every night and every morning, but especially at night. And when my mom was sick, I could hear her praying to God, you know.Over the years, her health worsened, until eventually, when my dad was around 12, she was confined to bed rest. Shortly after that, family members began visiting from as far as California to pay their respects. Lee Sr.: She had talked to me a lot before she died.Lee: And what were some of the lessons? Lee Sr.: Oh, she's just telling me, ‘I ain't gonna be here much longer.’ You know? And I, it was hard for me to get that in my head. I couldn't even, I denied that shit all the way, you know? But she was telling me that I'm gonna have to grow up faster than I really was supposed to. You know, ‘You're gonna have to try and get along,’ and, you know, ‘Listen to your older sisters and brother.’ She died telling them to take care of me. That's what happened there. Only a few years ago did I learn the full story behind Grandma Opie's declining health and passing. The main medical facility in Greenville at the time was LV Stabler Memorial Hospital.It was a segregated hospital, meaning in this case that the same white doctors and nurses treated everyone, but in separate facilities. White folks received their care in a state of the art building. Black folks could only be seen across the street in a little white house with just 12 hospital beds.This is where Grandma Opie was treated. The last time she visited that hospital, they wouldn't admit her and sent her home. Instead, a few hours after she was turned away, the doctor came for a house visit. He told the whole family, “I'm going to give her this shot, and if it doesn't work, there's nothing more I can do.”He administered the shot, packed his supplies, and left. No one knows what was in the shot, or what it was supposed to do. Grandma Opie died of kidney failure at the age of 56. This happened in 1961. At the time, life expectancy for black people was 64. For white Americans, it was 71. A whole seven more years of life.Lee Sr.: You know, that was a real devastating thing for me when I lost my mommy. I just can't even, you know, I, shit, I couldn't, uh, I couldn't make it through that man, you know, ’cause I fell asleep during the funeral, and that was just like, trying to just get it out of my mind, you know? Big sleep came on me, man, and by the time it was over, then I was waking up, you know. In the nights following Grandma's funeral, Dad stayed haunted.Lee Sr.: For a whole week or so, I was having nightmares like a motherfucker. That’s one thing. I was going crazy.Grandma Opie's dying wish was that her youngest children be moved out of Alabama to Minnesota to live with one of her oldest daughters, my dad's sister. Aunt Corrine and her husband LC were in their early thirties when Grandma Opie died and had moved to Minnesota years before.Aunt Corrine honored Grandma Opie's request. Just two days after Grandma Opie’s funeral, Dad and two of his sisters were packed into the back of Aunt Corrine and Uncle LC’s Ford Fairlane headed up the interstate to start a new life.I never had the honor of meeting my grandmother Opie, but I thank God for her. She had a strong spiritual intuition. One of my aunts called her “the holiest woman I've ever known.” She had a divine foresight that told her she needed to get her babies out of Alabama. Lee Sr.: When I left Alabama something came out of me man, a big ass relief. And I didn’t even know where I was going, but it was a big ass, just, man, like a breath of fresh air, man.[music starts]In trying to understand my dad and how he raised us, yes, with love and with care, but also with fear that manifested as belt whipping, I turned to research. I traced this violence centuries back in my own family. I learned that Grandma Opie’s father was murdered when she was just nine years old. She went outside to see his bullet-riddled body slumped over his mule, with his feet still in the stirrups. And my grandfather – Papa Lum – his dad was also murdered, when he was just five. Both of them were killed by white men who were never brought to justice. This is what Jim Crow means to me: violence and fear.To connect the dots between my ancestors’ experiences and my own, I read dozens of books and talked to experts, like Dr. Ruth Thompson-Miller. She’s a professor at Vassar College and co-author of Jim Crow's Legacy: The Lasting Impact of Segregation. She spoke with almost 100 Jim Crow survivors as part of her research, and coined the term “Segregation Stress Syndrome.” This refers to the chronic, painful responses to the individual and collective trauma that Jim Crow survivors endured. Over the course of my research we talked a number of times, but I started by asking Dr. Thompson-Miller why she took on this area of study.Dr. Thompson-Miller: I went to, um, the University of Florida to get my bachelor's degree in anthropology. And I had this interesting experience. I took a class with this older white gentleman called Dr. Fagan who, I have to say, Dr. Fagan literally did save my life. And so he had said to me that he wanted me to try to talk to people who lived through Jim Crow.I only knew minimal stuff about it. I mean the history that you learn in school. And so I was naively going out there to ask folks, “How did you cope?,” I mean, “How did you get through the day to day with everything being separated?” And I gotta tell you, what I learned from those folks who were willing to share with me, even through their own pain, was something that has changed my life forever.Lee: I'd like you to kind of get in deeper into telling us about the research that you did. What kinds of people did you talk to? Who were they?Dr. Thompson-Miller: Um, well, I interviewed nearly a hundred folks and most of the African Americans that I interviewed were women, um, in their, you know, sixties and seventies, eighties, nineties. Some were educated. Um, some were just domestic workers. So they ranged from, uh, you know, different, uh, socioeconomic statuses. And it took a few interviews before I started getting troubled, like I knew I was looking at something, but I was missing something. And then it hit me one day. I was interviewing this woman in her house. It was the middle of the day, it had to be noon, it was, it was very sunny. And I walked in the house and it was so dark I couldn't even see my, my tape recorder and my pad and stuff. And they had the drapes and everything was really closed up. And so, um, she didn't want to be tape recorded, this woman, she must have been in her seventies, I believe. And I had to constantly reassure her that nobody would know that it was her that was talking to me.Because people were still afraid, people are still afraid, right? So she told me, this incident that happened to her. I think she was elementary school age. She said that one day she went with her mother to work. Her mother was a domestic worker and she had washed this white man's, you know, shirt, and there was a spot on the shirt that she had missed and she talked about how, you know, he was yelling and screaming at her mother, how afraid she was for her mother. And, um, there wasn't anything that she could do. And her mother was apologizing and begging him to forgive her. And, and my God, and she starts crying. And it hit me what I was looking at.I was looking at people that were suffering from trauma that's never been addressed. This happened over 70 years ago and she's still emotionally responded to it. And I said to her, “Listen, we can stop. I'm really sorry that this happened to you.” And she said to me, she said, “No, I don't want to stop. I want people to know what I went through.” [music starts]And what these folks really told me was that they never shared things with their children. They kept it all to themselves. Why? Because they really wanted to protect their children. They didn't want their children to be angry. They didn't want them to, you know, to react to whites in a particular way because they knew, as their parents, what these children might experience and they didn't want that for them. And they thought that it would help them to be, for lack of a better word, to live a like normal childhood if they didn't understand what came along with living under this extreme system of oppression.Lee: I want to interject here because I think that that's a really profound contradiction that you’ve pointed out. And that's the one thing, is that so many of our elders wanted to protect us by not telling us the stories. And that's almost like a coddling thing. But then on the other side, we're we're going to whip them to protect them. And somehow something gets turned off in the brain that makes people think that the best way to go about this is to whip them.Dr. Thompson-Miller: Oh, my goodness. Absolutely. I mean, listen, I got, I got whipped. You know, my father was always the one that, you know, did it. But I think he felt like he was protecting us because he got whipped really badly by his father and by his stepfather. So this is the way that you're socialized. And you don't even know where this stuff comes from, but it absolutely comes from that connection. There’s hundreds and hundreds of years of history that has gotten us here where we are, the way that we are. This theme of protection surfaced many times in my conversations with Dr. Ruth Thompson-Miller. It wasn’t just protection through punishment. It was also about shielding some children from the truth of the atrocities they endured – and the fractures it caused in the Black family dynamic. Dr. Thompson-Miller: There was a, um, a man, uh, that I interviewed, and he told me about kitchen babies. They called them kitchen babies. I said, “Kitchen babies, what is that?” He said, ‘Those are the babies that black women had when they were raped by the person who came to your house to maybe bring ice.’ Or, you know, these traveling salesmen would rape women and they would get pregnant and they would call them kitchen babies.One woman told me about a particular case in her family where she said her mother and her grandmother, she said, would have gone to their graves with this information, but she had a cousin that told her about a member of their family, a woman who was working, doing domestic work, like, you know, cleaning this woman's house who happened to be the town prostitute.And so there was this white guy pretty well known in the community who visited this prostitute, a white woman prostitute. And so one day the man came over and the woman was gone. And so he raped the girl. And so she never told anybody what happened to her. She didn't run home and tell her family that he had raped her. But then she got pregnant. And she explained to her family what happened, that this man had raped her. So they were going to go see the man. And the family told her father, you have to send her out of town. You can't say anything to him. Send her out of town. Send her away, let her have the baby, and don't mention it.And this woman told me that this happened to a lot of women during Jim Crow. And it wasn't women, these were girls, right. And a lot of families kept this stuff a secret, to the point where you had this term called “kitchen babies,” where you have men who, some men would stay even after, um, their wife uh, had a child that was biracial. Um, but a number of men left. And you know, this is something that has always bothered me. This notion of protecting. Protecting the women, the girls in your family. And when that almost seems impossible, I think there's a certain amount of shame in, you know, humiliation. Because, I mean, one thing that most men are socialized to do is to protect. And when you can't even protect your own, what do you do with that?It’s hard to comprehend. Some Black men could not always protect their wives and children in their own homes. And out in the world, they were scapegoats. Can you explain more?Dr. Thompson-Miller: I saw an example, and I mean and I had people tell me about lynchings, how, you know, like young men, and I'm sure some of this went on if, you know, a young white woman was fooling around with black guys or flirting or whatever and she got caught, she would say that they raped her. And one woman said, ‘I remember they went in a home, and they took these boys out – they were just boys – out in the middle of the night, and they lynched them.’ And you know, it always reminds me of Emmett Till, and they focus on Emmett Till, but that happened everywhere.It's really frightening, you know, and I don't think we'll ever know the number of people that have been lynched in this country. They say it's thousands, but, you know, there's so many books about it, but we'll never know how many people really got lynched. That's what I believe. The number’s a lot higher than we really know about. For me, one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life was sitting at the Legacy Sites in Montgomery as part of my research. One is a memorial that honors thousands of Black people who were lynched or murdered between 1877 and 1950. Their names are on more than 800 columns. To see that little children – four year olds, six year olds – were even lynched, and they all left families behind.The museum presented story after story of Black people being killed without any evidence or even a trial, or trials by all-white juries. Many were lynched for things like not stepping off the sidewalk for a white person to pass, talking too confidently to white people, for owning land, and for attempting to vote.And as I passed the rows and rows of names, I thought: if neither of my murdered great-grandfathers' names were on those memorials, how many other thousands of Black people were killed, whose names and stories will never make it into a museum, or be kept secret from future generations by their own families? Throughout our conversations Dr. Thompson-Miller shared example after example after example of the horrors of Jim Crow, resulting in what she calls, “Segregation Stress Syndrome.”Dr. Thompson-Miller: You know, the interesting thing about Segregation Stress Syndrome and how I came up with it was, I just looked at the post traumatic stress literature initially. I looked at the fact that like when you're in war, that's an event that happens. So you may be in war for a couple of years and then you come home and you get help and you're out of that situation, but for Black folks, you never get out. And so you went from slavery to Jim Crow, you might not have been in chains, but during Jim Crow, it wasn't much better. Yeah, you were able to have some stuff, but it could have been taken away from you at any given moment, and everybody knew that.And so it's this collective experience that people are having at the same time with, with no way, uh, and no recourse when bad things happen to you. So you just have to hold it in, you know, you have to eat your anger. And so that trauma, that collective trauma, keeps happening over and over again. And in every day that you live, you're running into something and it manifests itself in different ways. First of all, you pass it on onto your children, you know, you pass the trauma on. And I suspect that, you know, folks telling me their stories, I didn't realize they were passing it on to me, you know, and with Segregation Stress Syndrome, it's not just, you know, these traumatic experiences. It's this institutional betrayal. So institutions, you know, the judicial system, the medical system, you know, the educational system, they're supposed to be there, uh, for everybody, but unfortunately, when things happened to Black folks, they had nowhere to go. These institutions that were supposed to be there, equal justice under the law, that didn't mean that for them, so now you have this second class citizenship where everything that you believe about, you know, America, it really kind of gets thrown out the window.Lee: In our last interview and in previous conversations, we talked about your trip to South Africa. Dr. Thompson-Miller: Yes. Lee: And you interviewed people and they lived through apartheid. And it started to occur to you that that's what Black people went through in America. Dr. Thompson-Miller: Yes. Lee: What do you think about the use of the term apartheid in reference to Jim Crow? Dr. Thompson-Miller: I mean, I think you have to use it. You can't honestly say that Emmett Till was killed. He was viciously and violently tortured and murdered by people just because he was Black. And if you're uncomfortable with the term apartheid, well, to be honest with you, white South African, they actually were inspired by the system of Jim Crow in this country, which is where they got their system of apartheid. I remember being a kid in the 1980s and participating in marches against South African apartheid. What I didn’t know is that this system – and also Hitler’s regime – was modeled on Jim Crow. The dictionary defines apartheid as a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. This definition is applied specifically to South Africa in the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam Webster, but just as easily could have been said about what Dad lived through in Alabama. Lee: What do you want people to understand about Jim Crow that they don't know already? You know, um, it's important for us, you know, we just talked a lot about the experience of living under it and the impact on families and communities, but if you really were to look back over the years and to feel like there's something more that you want to drive home, that you, the most important thing that people need to know about Jim Crow and Segregation Syndrome and everything that undergirds that, what would it be?Dr. Thompson-Miller: This is really hard because, you know, I think it, it brings me back to thinking about my father, and I just think it's really important to forgive people for not being honest, um, for hiding stuff that they thought that would be better for you if they did hide it, um, for not fighting back, um, because there's got to be something in particular about people who did fight, who did protest, who did get beaten, who got bitten, and who had water hoses on them that made them do something different.I'd like to know what that was so we can get it in more people, um, and not be, you know, these passive people that just have this stuff happening to them. So I think I, I would like to, to look at that and, um, just try to figure out a way to get people to heal.Lee: Which kind of leads me into that next question and that final question, why do you think this research is still important? Why is it so important that we do this now? I just added my piece that I believe that not just white Americans, but Black, Black people, Black descendants of slavery and Jim Crow, but also our brothers and sisters who are immigrants need to know this history.Dr. Thompson-Miller: So unless you really understand where we've been, and I mean it's an, it's an old cliche, you don't know, you know, if you don't know where you're, you're going, you know, it could happen again or however they say it, but that is actually true, you know, and I think that, in, in order to, to ensure and to help people understand why they do the stuff that they do.I just want Black folks to really start valuing themselves more. Because what you are saying is like, we value everybody else and want to help everybody else, but we're the last one in line to get valued, even, even by our own people and even by ourselves. And I think that's something that's been, you know, pushed into us from inception.And, um, people need to talk to their families, um, while you still can. That's all I say. Everybody go interview your grandma, your grandpa, or your auntie, or your uncle who's of age and who lived through Jim Crow, and hear what they went through, and you'll look at them differently, I promise you – in a better way, in a more respectful way, than you do now. That's my advice. Lee: And that's a wonderful way to end, you know, in the words of Alex Haley, regardless of the opinions that people may have of him, there was one thing that he said that always resonates with me with this work: when an elder dies, it's like a library burned down, and once it's gone, it's gone.Dr. Thompson-Miller: Yes. Lee: Sister, thank you. Dr. Thompson-Miller: Exactly. Lee: God bless you. I love you. Dr. Thompson-Miller: Oh, thank you so much. God bless you, too. Love you, too. Be well now. Lee: Okay. Dr. Thompson-Miller: Okay. Bye bye. I don't know if Dr. Thompson-Miller truly understands how grateful I am to her for venturing into this rare area of study around the effects of Jim Crow. It helps me validate my previous understanding that my work and my family's experiences are not an isolated experience.And it made me feel for my father’s parents. Who wouldn’t be impacted by having their father murdered as a child? When a family member is murdered, so much attention at the time is put on mourning the person in the casket, but what about the health and well-being of the people surrounding the casket – especially the children – who have to find a way to keep going, carrying all that pain? And then, my father’s father was murdered as well.They did a lot of praying – which in our family, is often seen as enough – but my professional training and experience makes me realize that, on top of faith, therapy, self-care, and other strategies can help. Otherwise we can’t really call this post traumatic stress, because the “post” implies that it actually ended. In my father’s case, he was a middle-aged man before he could even talk in-depth about any of this.I hope that people whose families have been through any kind of government imposed atrocities and/or apartheid – Jim Crow, the Holocaust, Japanese internment, any kind of apartheid or political persecution, anywhere in the world – can give themselves permission to investigate these atrocities and how they truly impacted their families. I hope they can work on finding solutions together, as families. My conversation with Dr. Thompson-Miller also helped me truly understand why my father and some of my elders were so captivated with the discoveries I made about our family history. With each passing year, they became more eager to share their memories with a sense of urgency.Here’s me and my dad talking with his sister, my beloved Aunt Toopie. Lee: You know, it's important because when y'all are gone, it's over. These future generations – Lee Sr.: Yeah, that’s true.Lee: They're not gonna be interested in it. And when, when they get old enough to be interested in it, it's gonna be gone. Aunt Toopie: That's right. Lee: All the people who know are gonna be gone. So as a journalist –Aunt Toopie: That's right. Lee Sr.: Yeah, and it's gonna be more important even then than it is now.Aunt Toopie: That's right.Lee: Right. And I feel like I use all, I'm using all my journalism for other people's stories, so I feel like I need to, um, use it for my family story. Listening to our discussions about how important sharing family history is, it chokes me up a bit, especially now. Dad and Aunt Toopie are no longer with us. When I ventured into my family's history as landowners and settlers and how much of the blood of my ancestors was spilled just on the basis of their desire to buy land and live out the American dream, I got an even deeper understanding of how and why Jim Crow was so deadly. That’s on the next What Happened In Alabama.[closing music]CREDITSWhat Happened in Alabama is a production of American Public Media. It’s written, produced, and hosted by me, Lee Hawkins.Our executive producer is Erica Kraus. Our senior producer is Kyana Moghadam.Our story editor is Martina Abrahams Ilunga. Our producers are Marcel Malekebu and Jessica Kariisa. This episode was sound designed by Marcel Malekebu. Our technical director is Derek Ramirez. Our soundtrack was composed by Ronen Landa. Our fact checker is Erika Janik.And Nick Ryan is our director of operations.Special thanks to the O’Brien Fellowship for Public Service Journalism at Marquette University; Dave Umhoefer, John Leuzzi, Andrew Amouzou, and Ziyang Fu; and also thank you to our producer in Alabama, Cody Short. The executives in charge at APM are Joanne Griffith and Chandra Kavati.You can follow us on our website, whathappenedinalabama.org or on Instagram at APM Studios.Thank you for listening.
EP 4: Black Land Loss
May 29 2024
EP 4: Black Land Loss
Around 1910, Black farmers collectively owned over 16 million acres of farmland. A century later, over 90% of that land is no longer owned by Black farmers. In Lee’s own family, the acquisition and loss of land has been a contentious issue for nearly every generation, sometimes leading to tragic circumstances. In this episode, Lee heads back to Alabama to meet his cousin Zollie, a longtime steward of the family land, to learn more.Lee is later joined by Jillian Hishaw, an agricultural lawyer and author, who has devoted her life to helping Black families keep their land. They discuss the tumultuous history of Black land ownership and what Black families should do to keep land in the family.TranscriptLee Hawkins (host): We wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes talk of abuse and acts of violence. You can find resources on our website whathappenedinalabama.org. Listener discretion is advised. Hi, this is Lee Hawkins, and we’re about to dive into episode four of What Happened In Alabama. It’s an important conversation about the history of land in Black communities – how it was acquired, how it was taken, lost, and sometimes given away, over the past century – but you’ll get a lot more out of it if you go back and listen to the prologue first. That’ll give you some context for putting the whole series in perspective. Do that, and then join us back here. Thank you so much. [music starts]Around 1910, Black farmers collectively owned over 16 million acres of farmland. A century later, 90% of that land is no longer in the hands of Black farmers. Economists estimate that the value of land lost is upwards of 300 billion dollars.This is an issue that’s personal for me. There were large successful farms on both sides of my family that we no longer own, or only own a fraction of now. How we became separated from our land is part of the trauma and fear that influenced how my parents raised me. I want to get to the heart of what happened and why. That’s the goal of this episode. I’m Lee Hawkins, and this is conversation number four, What Happened In Alabama: The Land.Zollie: I may not have money in my pocket. But if I have that land, that is of value. That is my – my kids can fall back on this land, they'll have something.That’s Zollie Owens. He’s my cousin on my dad’s side, and Uncle Ike’s great-grandson. Zollie lives in Georgiana, Alabama, not far from Uncle Ike’s farm. Uncle Ike is a legend in my family. He was my Grandma Opie’s brother, and very much the patriarch of the family until he passed in 1992. I only met him once, back in 1991 when my family drove down to Alabama. But his name and presence have held a larger-than-life place in my psyche ever since.Zollie: And so that was instilled in me back then from watching Uncle Ike and my uncles, his sons, do all that work on that land.For the first time since my visit with my family in 1991, we’re headed back there. Zollie’s lived his whole life in this town. It’s where he played and worked on the farm as a kid, where he got married, and where he raised his family. And because Uncle Ike had such an influence on him, he’s made working and farming the land his life. I would say that out of all my cousins, the land is the most important to him. And that was instilled in him through Uncle Ike. Zollie: This man. I don't know if he was perfect, but he was perfect to me. I didn't see him do anything wrong from my understanding. And reason being, because whenever he said something, it generally come to pass.He was extremely respected and well-liked. So much so that years after his death, his impact is still felt.Zollie: I have favor off of his name now today. When they found out that I'm his grandson, I get favor off of his name because of who he was. And that’s not for me to just go out and tear his name down, but it’s to help keep up his name.Lee: Oh, that was one thing that was mentioned about credit – that way back in the day he had incredible credit around the town. That even his kids, that they would say, “Oh, you're Ike's kids. You don't have to pay. Pay me tomorrow,” or whatever, [laughter] which was a big deal then, because Black people didn't get credit a lot of times. Black people were denied credit just based on the color of their skin. But he seems to have been a very legendary figure around this town. Zollie: Being amenable, being polite, speaking to people, talking to ’em about my granddad and everything. And so once I do that, they get the joy back, remembering, reminiscing how good he was to them – Black and white.[music starts]Cousin Zollie spent a lot of time at Uncle Ike’s when he was a kid. Like all my cousins who knew Uncle Ike, he had fond memories of him. Zollie: He passed when I was like 12 or 13, but I remember him sitting me in my lap or sitting on the shoulder of the chair and he would say, “Man, the Lord gonna use you one day, the Lord gonna use you. You smart, you're gonna be a preacher one day.” And like so many of the men in my family, Zollie is very active in the church. In fact, he became a preacher, and even started a gospel group. And he’s preached at Friendship Baptist, where the funeral services for my Grandma Opie were held.We bonded over both growing up in the music ministry, listening to our elders singing those soul-stirring hymnals they’d sing every Sunday.Lee: And now, of course, they didn't even, I realize that a lot of times they weren't even singing words. They were just humming –Zollie: Just humming. Lee: You know? Zollie: Oh yes. Lee: And then the church would do the call and response. And the way that that worked, somebody would just say [singing], "One of these days, it won't be long," you know, and then –Zollie: [singing] “You're gonna look for me, and I'll be gone.” Lee: Yup. [laughter][Lee humming] [Zollie singing]Lee: Yeah. [Zollie singing]Lee: Yeah. [Lee laughs]Uncle Ike owned a 162-acre farm in Georgiana. Zollie and his wife took me back to visit it. The farm is no longer in the family, but the current owner, Brad Butler, stays in touch with Zollie, and he invited us to come and check out the property. Zollie: There was a lot of pecan trees, which he planted himself. Kyana: These are all pecans? Brad: Yup, these are pecans. These are, the big ones are pecans. That’s a pear.Zollie’s wife: And that’s a pear, okay.Brad: Yeah.Lee: Did he plant that too? Zollie: Which one?Lee: The pecans? Zollie: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. Brad: But now, come here. Let me, let me show you this pear tree. This pear tree will put out more pears than any tree you’ve ever seen in your life. Lee: Oh, yeah?Brad: Yup, there'll be a thousand pears on this tree.These are all trees Uncle Ike planted decades ago. It was an active farm up to the 1980s – and a gathering place for family and so many other people in the region. The property is split up in two sides by a small road. One one side is where all the pecan and peach trees are. The other side has a large pond about twice the length of a pro basketball court. Beyond that, it’s all woods. [walking sounds]As we walk, I look down at the ground beneath my feet at the red soil that many associate with Alabama and other parts of the deep south. It’s a bright red rust color, and it’s sticky. There’s no way to avoid getting it all over and staining your shoes. Lee: Why is the dirt so red here? Zollie: It's been moved in. Lee: Okay.Zollie: The red dirt has been moved in for the road purpose – Lee: I see. Zollie: It get hardened. And it is hard like a brick, where you can drive on it. The black dirt doesn't get hard. It's more ground for growing, and it won't be hard like a brick. Zollie’s referring to what’s underneath this red clay that makes the land so valuable: the rich, fertile soil that makes up the Black Belt – a stretch of land across the state that was prime soil for cotton production. This land wasn’t just valuable for all the ways it offered sustenance to the family, but also for everything it cost them, including their blood. When I was 19 years old, I found out that Uncle Ike’s father, my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Pugh Senior, was murdered. Isaac Pugh Senior was born before emancipation in 1860, the son of an enslaved woman named Charity. His father remains a mystery, but since Isaac was very fair-skinned, we suspect he was a white man. And the genealogy experts I’ve worked with explained that the 18% of my DNA that’s from whites from Europe, mainly Wales, traces back to him and Grandma Charity. The way it was told to me the one time I met Uncle Ike, is that Isaac Pugh Senior lived his life unapologetically. He thrived as a hunter and a trapper, and he owned his own farm, his own land, and his own destiny. And that pissed plenty of white folks off. In 1914, when he was 54 years old, Isaac was riding his mule when a white man named Jack Taylor shot him in the back. The mule rode his bleeding body back to his home. His young children were the first to see him. I called my dad after one of my Alabama trips, to share some of the oral history I’d gotten from family members.Lee: When he ran home, her and Uncle Ike and the brothers and sisters that were home, they ran out. And they saw their father shot full of buckshot in his back. Lee Sr.: Mm mm mm. Mm hm.Lee: They pulled him off the horse and he was 80% dead, and he died, he died later that night.Lee Sr.: With them? Wow. Lee: Yeah.Soon after Isaac died, the family was threatened by a mob of white people from around the area, and they left the land for their safety. Someone eventually seized it, and without their patriarch, the family never retrieved the land and just decided to start their lives over elsewhere. Knowing his father paid a steep price for daring to be an entrepreneur and a landowner, Uncle Ike never took land ownership for granted. He worked hard and eventually he bought his own 162-acre plot, flanked by beautiful ponds and acres upon acres of timber. [music]Over four years of interviews, Dad and I talked a lot about the murder of Isaac Pugh Senior. Uncle Ike told us about it during that visit in 1991, but years passed before I saw anything in writing about the murder.Before that, I’d just been interviewing family members about what they’d heard. And their accounts all matched up. For years, some family members interested in the story had even gone down to the courthouse in Greenville to find the records. On one visit, the clerk looked up at one of my cousins and said, “Y’all still lookin’ into that Ike Pugh thing? Y’all need to leave that alone.” But they never gave up. Then, I found something in the newspaper archive that would infuse even more clarity into the circumstances surrounding the murder of my great-grandfather Ike Senior. It brought me deeper into What Happened In Alabama, and the headline was as devastating as it was liberating.There it was, in big, block letters, in the Montgomery Advertiser: WHITE FARMER SHOOTS NEGRO IN THE BACK. The shooting happened in 1914, on the same day as my birthday.It read: “Ike Pew, a negro farmer living on the plantation of D. Sirmon, was shot and killed last night by a white farmer named Jack Taylor. An Angora goat belonging to Mr. Taylor got into the field of Pew and was killed by a child of Pew. This is said to be the reason Taylor shot the Negro. The Negro was riding a mule when he received a load of buckshot in his back.”My dad was surprised to hear all the new details. Grandma Opie herself only told Dad that he’d died in a hunting accident. Lee: Do you realize that when your mom's father was killed, she was nine?Lee Sr.: She was nine?Lee: She was nine. And she never told you that her dad was killed? Lee Sr.: Well, let me think about that. My sisters told me that. Not my mom. My mom didn't talk about anything bad to me.I asked Zollie about Isaac, and if he ever remembers Uncle Ike talking about his father’s murder. Zollie: No, I never heard that story. No, no, never. Not that I can remember him mentioning it. No sir. I can't say that I'm surprised by this answer. By now, I’ve seen how so many of our elders kept secrets from the younger generations, because they really didn't want to burden us with their sorrow. But I couldn’t help but think, “If these trees could talk.” Walking around the family property, I feel the weight of history in the air. To me, that history makes the land valuable beyond a deed or dollar amount.Uncle Ike’s farm is no longer in the family. It wasn’t taken violently the way his father’s farm was, but it fell victim to something called Heir’s Property, which as I realized talking to Zollie, can be just as heartbreaking and economically damaging to generations of Black landowners. Zollie: I may not have money in my pocket. But if I have that land that is of value, that is money. [music starts]When Zollie was younger, he lived on part of Uncle Ike’s land and he paid lot rent every month. When Uncle Ike passed in 1992, he had a will. In it, he left the land to his living children, but it wasn’t clear how it should be divided up. His son, Pip, was the only one living on the land, so that’s who Zollie paid rent to. But when he died, there was no documentation to prove that Zollie had been paying rent. Zollie: And so when it came up in court, I did not have no documentation, no legal rights to it.After the death of a property owner, and without proper estate plans, land often becomes “heirs property,” which means that the law directs that the land is divided among descendents of the original owners. The law requires “heirs” to reach a group consensus on what to do with the land. They inherit the responsibility of legal fees to establish ownership, property fees, and any past debt.Zollie wanted to keep the land in the family. He was ready to continue farming on it as he had been for 17 years. But some other family members weren’t interested. Many had long left Georgiana and the country life for Birmingham or larger cities up north, like my father and his sisters. Some didn’t want to take on the responsibilities of maintaining the land.Zollie: The part of the land that I was living on, on the Pugh family estate, it got sold out from up under me. I could have never dreamt of anything like that was gonna happen to me. Where I would have to move off the family land. The family didn't come together. They couldn't even draw me up a deed to take over the spot I was on. In the South today, “heirs property” includes about 3.5 million acres of land – valued at 28 billion dollars. Heirs property laws have turned out to be one of the biggest factors contributing to the loss of Black family land in America. It’s devastating not just for the loss of acreage but the loss of wealth, because when the court orders a sale of the land, it’s not sold on the market, it’s sold at auction, usually for much less than it’s worth. Brad: When this thing sold at auction, Hudson Hines bought it, and they cut the timber. That’s Brad Butler again. He bought Uncle Ike’s farm at auction in 2015.Brad: And we were just gonna buy it, kind of fix it up a little bit and then sell it and go do something else. Towards the end of our tour, my cousin Zollie turns to Brad and makes him an offer. Zollie: You know, some of the family, like myself and Mr. Lee, want to get together and make you an offer. Would you be willing to sell? Brad shakes his head and points to his son, who's been hanging out with us on the tour of the land. Brad: Not right now. Now right now. This is, this is his. And we've done so much trying to get it ready.It’s his land, he says. His son’s. It’s heartbreaking to hear, but I didn’t expect any different. It makes me think about Uncle Ike and if he ever thought things would pan out this way. After the property tour with Brad, Zollie invited me over to his house, where I asked him how he thinks Uncle Ike would feel. Zollie: He would be disappointed. That just the way, my memories of it and the way he, he did, I believe he would be disappointed. I really would. Lee: And he did the right thing in his heart by leaving the land and putting everybody's name on it. But then that ended up making it harder –Zollie: Yes.Lee: Right, and I don't quite understand that, but, because everybody's name was on it, then everybody had to agree. If he would have left it to one person, then you could have all, that person could have worked it out. Is that how – Zollie: Yes, that is correct. Lee: The law works?Zollie: And then when the daughters and the sons, when they all passed, it went down to their children. And that meant more people had a hand in it now and everybody wanted their share, their portion of it. Because they're not used to the country living it, it didn't mean anything to ’em. It was just land. Lee: So it sounds like a generational thing. Zollie: Yes. Lee: And especially if you're, not only if you're not used to the country living, but if you didn't grow up there –Zollie: If you didn't grow up there.Lee: And you didn't really know Daddy Ike.Zollie: Mm hm. Lee: Is that also –Zollie: Yep.Lee: A factor?Zollie: I can see that. Yes.Lee: Okay. Zollie: Oh yes.Lee: Man, this is so interesting because it happens in so many families –Zollie: It does.Lee: Across the country. It really does. And this land out here more and more, it’s getting more and more valuable.Zollie: Oh yes. It's just rich. Some parts of it is sand, but a lot of part – and it’s, the stories that I've been told, Bowling is up under a lake. There’s a lake flowing up under Bowling. Lee: Oh.Zollie: That's why it's so wet all the time in Bowling, and it is good for growing because the ground stays wet. That wet ground is fueling an agricultural economy that so many Black farmers – like my cousin – have been shut out of. It’s enough to turn people away from farming altogether. I couldn’t imagine being a farmer, but Zollie wasn’t deterred. After leaving Uncle Ike’s land, he and his wife purchased a plot and built a house on it in 2021. It’s on the edge of Georgiana, six miles away from Uncle Ike’s old farm. It’s a four-bedroom, three-bath brick home which sits on three acres Zollie owns. He said it was important for him to own so that he could leave something behind – and he’s already talked with his children in detail about succession planning. Lee: What I love about you is that you are one of the people who stayed. Zollie: Yes.Lee: And you are our connection to the past, which we desperately need. Because I think a lot of people feel like, ‘Well, where would I work in Georgiana,’ ‘Where would I work in Greenville?’ And then they end up leaving and then they lose that connection. And I think a lot of us have lost the connection, but you're still here with a farm. What does it mean to have land and to have a farm? What does it mean to you? What's the significance to you?Zollie: My kids can fall back on this land. They'll have something. Like when it comes to getting this house. My land helped me get my house built this way. And so I thank God for that. [music starts]I’m so glad that I was able to sit with my cousin Zollie and hear his story. Growing up in a suburb outside of a major city, the importance of land was never really impressed upon me. In some ways it felt regressive to make your living with your hands, but I understand so much clearer now how powerful it is to be connected to the land in that way. Imagine how independent you must feel to be so directly tied to the fruits of your labor – there’s no middleman, no big corporation, and no one lording over you. When you have land, you have freedom. What must that freedom have felt like for the newly emancipated in the late 1800s? And how did it become such a threat that in the past century, Black people would lose over 90% of the farmland they once owned?Jillian: Land is power, because you not only own the soil, but, it's mineral rights, you know, which is what my family have, you know, is airspace. You know, you own everything when you, when you own acreage. These are some of the questions that led me to Jillian Hishaw. She’s an agricultural lawyer with over 20 years of experience helping Black families retain their land. She previously worked in the civil rights enforcement office of the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, and she founded a non-profit called FARMS that provides technical and legal assistance to small farmers. She’s also the author of four books including Systematic Land Theft which was released in 2021. In our wide-ranging conversation, we talked about the history of Black farmland, how it was gained and how it was lost, and what people misunderstand about Black farmers in this country. Lee: I mean, you've done so much. What drew you to this work? Jillian: My family history. My grandfather was raised on a farm in Muskogee, Oklahoma. And when they relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, which is where I was born and raised, my great-grandmother moved up several years later, and they hired a lawyer to pay the property tax on our 160-acre farm. Our land was sold in a tax lien sale without notice being given to my grandfather or my great-grandmother. And so where my grandfather's house is, there's an oil pump going up and down because the land had known oil deposits. So that's why I do what I do. Lee: Okay. And I mean, wow, that, that is just such a familiar narrative. It sounds like this is a pervasive issue across the Black community –Jillian: Yes. Lee: How did Black people come to acquire farmland in this country? And when was the peak of Black land ownership? Jillian: Yes. So the peak was definitely in 1910. According to census data and USDA census data, we owned upwards to 16 to 19 million acres, and we acquired it through sharecropping. Some families that I've worked with were actually given land by their former slaveholders and some purchased land. Lee: Wow. Okay. And that dovetails with an interview that I did with my uncle in 1991 who told me that in his area of Alabama, Black people owned 10 to 15,000 acres of land. And when he told us that, we thought, ‘Well, he's old, and he probably just got the number wrong.’ But it sounds that that's true. It sounds like Black people in various parts of the country could own tens of thousands of acres of land collectively. Jillian: Yes, yes, I know that for a fact in Alabama because I finished up school at Tuskegee University. So yes that is accurate. Your uncle was correct. Lee: Okay. And when and how did many of these families lose the land? Jillian: So the majority of land was lost after 1950. So between 1950 and 1975, we lost about half a million Black farms during that time. The primary reason why it was lost in the past was due to census data and then also record keeping. With the census data, they would state, ‘Oh, well, this farmer stated in his census paperwork that he owned 100 acres.’ But then the recorder would drop a zero. Things of that nature. And so also courthouses would be burned. So let's take Texas, for example. There were over 106 courthouse fires. And a lot of those records, you know, were destroyed. Now, ironically, often during those courthouse burnings, the white landowners’ records were preserved and, you know, magically found. But the Black landowners' records were completely destroyed, and they have no record of them to this day. Now, the primary reasons for the present land loss is predatory lending practices by US Department of Agriculture. Also, lack of estate planning. Lee: So for our family in particular, I mean, I never really understood the heirs property and how that ended up causing our family to have to, you know, get rid of the land or sell the land. Can you tell me about heirs property? What is it and why has it disproportionately affected Black landowners? Jillian: So over 60% of Black-owned land is heirs property, and the legal term is “tenants in common.” But, you know, most Black folk call it heirs property. And heirs property begins when a, traditionally a married couple will own the land outright in their names. And so it'll be Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. And if they don't have a will and they die, what's called intestate, and they die without a will, the state takes over your “estate distribution.” And when I say estate, that's all of your assets that make up your estate. So your property, your house, your car, your jewelry, your clothes, everything. And the state will basically say, ‘Okay, well, since you died without a will, then all of your living heirs will share equally,’ you know, ‘ownership in whatever you left’ in, you know, with Black farm families, that was the land, that was the homestead, that was the house. And so say Mr. and Mrs. Wilson pass away without a will, and they have 10 kids, and then those 10 have 100 kids and so forth and so on. And so, you know, five generations later, there's 300, you know, people that own, you know, 100-acre, you know, or 200-acre farm outright. And if one of those 200 heirs sells to a third party, oftentimes it's some distant cousin in LA or Pennsylvania for whatever reason, and they just sell their rights, to a developer often, that developer basically takes the place of that, you know, third cousin in LA. And they'll go around, like in the, you know, the Bessemer case in South Carolina, and they'll, you know, get another third cousin in San Francisco and in, you know, Arizona and in Houston and then they'll go to the court and they'll force the sale of the remaining, you know, 195 heirs because 200 were owners in what's called a court partition sale. And that's how we lose 30,000 acres each year so fast, so quick. Lee: Wow. And this is exactly, very similar to what happened to my cousin Zollie. I mean he was just heartbroken, because he didn’t have the money to do it himself. And so he ended up getting some other land, but it was really hard for him. People talk about this in the context of saying, “We lost the land.” But there are others who might say, “Well, you didn't lose the land. You sold the land because you couldn't come to an agreement.” Is this a strategic way to wrestle land away from families? Jillian: Yes. In, in part. But, you know, Black people also have to accept responsibility. You know, I, I've tried years to get families to agree. I mean, you know, you have to come to some agreement. You can’t just, you know, bicker about stuff that happened in 1979. I mean, you have to get past your own differences within your family. And that’s part of the problem. And the families need to come together to conserve their land. Because, you know, I'll tell you right now, if my family had it any other way, we would come together to get our land back. I have taught workshops and written books. You know, I've written about four or five different books, and families have taken those books, you know, attended the workshops, and they've cleared their deed, you know, and it's heirs property. And so what I'm saying is that it can work. And I wish more families would, would do that because I've seen it work. Lee: We definitely don't want to take a victim mentality, but the legacy of white supremacy in this country sort of positions us to have tense relationships, because there's a lot of unaddressed things that happen, and there are a lot of secrets that are kept. [music]Lee: Tell me about the clashes over land between whites and Blacks. What did they look like, especially in the period following the Civil War? Jillian: So during Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction, we all know about the “40 acres and a mule” program and how, you know, within a year the land was given and then taken back. But there were landowners, particularly Black, of course, that got to keep the land, and some were located in South Carolina, primarily South Carolina, Georgia, and a few areas in Alabama. Of course, there were clashes with, particularly when the patriarch passed away, similar to to your ancestors. Whites would go to the land and force the Black mother and wife off of the land, and they would set the house on fire and just force them to, to get off the land. When she shared those details, I thought back to the family members who told me about Isaac Pugh’s wife and my great-grandmother, Ella Pugh, and the horrifying situation she found herself in, with more than a dozen kids, a murdered husband, and a mob of men on horses coming by every night, screaming for them to leave. That’s the part of this story that the newspaper article didn’t contain. Uncle Ike said, “They were jealous of him.” He talked about Taylor, too, but also about a band of whites that he believed were working with him. The news reports said the murder was about livestock, but according to Uncle Ike, it was about land. The assaults on my family and many others were orchestrated, and institutional. And the attacks on Black landowners wasn’t just about one white man resenting a Black man. The damage was often done by groups of people, and institutions, including government agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture. Lee: What was the impact of Jim Crow on Black land loss? Jillian: Well, it was definitely impactful. You know, again, going back to the, 1950 to 1975, half a million farms were lost during that time, and the equivalent now is 90%. We've lost 90% of the 19 million acres that we owned. You know, according to the 1910 census data. And, a lot of that is due to, you know, Jim Crow and, you know, various other factors. But, you know, this was predatory lending, particularly by USDA. And so you also need to look at USDA. And the reason why you need to look at USDA is because it's “the lender of last resort.” And that's basically the hierarchy and the present foundation of the USDA regulations right now. And it's admitted guilt. They, they've admitted it, you know, from the 1965 civil rights report, you know, to the CRAT report to the, you know, the Jackson Lewis report, you know, 10 years ago, that they purposely discriminate, particularly against Black farmers. And it's due to predatory lending. You look at the fact that between 2006 and 2016, Black farmers made up 13%, the highest foreclosure rate out of all demographics. But we own the least amount of land. And so, you know, that right there is a problem. Lee: What is the state of Black land ownership today and where is it really trending?Jillian: To me it’s trending down. The ’22, ’22 USDA census just came out last month, and the demographic information will be out, I believe, June 26th. But, we own, you know, less than 2% according to the USDA census, but I believe it's like at 1%, because they include gardeners in that, in that number to inflate the numbers. But, but yeah. So it's, it's trending down, not up. Lee: Okay. And what do people get wrong about Black land ownership in this specific history? I mean, I know that there are everyday folks who have opinions that they speak about freely, as if they're experts, but also educators and journalists and policy makers and lawmakers. I mean, what do they get wrong about this history? Jillian: They portray the Black farmer as poor, illiterate, and basically don't know anything, but that's for, you know, that's far from the truth. I know families – five-generation, four-generation cotton farmers that own thousands of acres and are very, you know, lucrative. And so the, this portrayal of the, you know, the poor Black farmer, you know, dirt poor, land rich, cash poor is just a constant. And a lot of my clients don't even like talking to reporters because of that narrative. And it's, it's not true. Lee: I feel like it's missing that the majority of this land in this country was acquired unfairly. And on the foundation of violence and on the foundation of trickery – Jillian: Yes.Lee: And legal maneuvering. And I don't see that really as something that is known in the masses. Jillian: Correct. Lee: Or acknowledged. Is that true or –Jillian: That’s true. Lee: Or am I off?Jillian: Yes. That's true. But with Black folk it wasn't, it's not true. So Black people earned the land. They, they worked, they paid, you know, for it. It wasn't acquired through trickery and things like that compared to the majority. You know, the 2022 USDA census, you know, 95% of US farmland are owned by whites. You know, as you know, similar to the 2017, you know, USDA census. And so that is often, you know, the case in history. That it was acquired through violence. Lee: Mm hm. And how would you like for the conversation around Black land ownership to grow and evolve? Where's the nuance needed?Jillian: I believe the nuance is through – like you referenced – financial literacy. We need to retain what we already have, and that’s the mission of my work, is to retain it. And so we’ve saved about 10 million in Black farmland assets, you know, over the 11 years that I’ve been in operation through my non-profit. And it’s important that we focus on retention. You know a lot of people call me asking, ‘Oh, can you help me, you know, find land, buy land,’ but that’s not my job. My job is to retain what we have. In my family’s case, I wonder if the inability to reach an agreement on whether to keep Uncle Ike’s land in the family would have been different if the younger generations would have had a chance to talk with Uncle Ike about the hell he went through to acquire it. Or maybe if they’d all had the opportunity to learn about the history of Black land loss and theft even in more detail. I just don’t know. But what’s clear is, though I don’t hold any resentment about the decision, I do think it’s just another example of how important studying genealogy can be. Not just the birth dates and the death dates, but the dash in between. Learning about our ancestors, and what they believed in, what they went through, and what they wanted for us. I know that’s what a will was intended for; but in Uncle Ike’s will, he thought he was doing the right thing by leaving the land to his children equally. I don’t know if he knew about heirs property law. But even if he did, I suppose he never dreamed that the future generations would see any reason to let that land go. Not in a million years. [music starts] Lee: And what do you think about the debate around reparations, especially as it relates to land? I know that there was a really hyper visible case of a family in California that got significant land back. Do you think justice for Black farmers is achievable through reparations? Jillian: I believe it is, but I don't know if it's realistic because it's based on the common law. It's based on European law and colonial law. And so how are we supposed to get reparations when, you know, we can't even get, you know, fair adjudication within, you know, US Department of Agriculture. And so we're basing it, and we're trying to maneuver through a system that is the foundation of colonial law. And, I think that that will be very hard. And I think that we should take the approach of purchasing land collectively. Where are the Black land back initiatives? When are we gonna come together, you know, collective purchasing agreements? Lee: You're blowing me away. Jillian: Thank you. Lee: And I just really want to thank you for this work that you're doing. I believe that as a Christian, I'll say that I believe that what you're doing is God's work. And I just hope that you know that. And I just wanted to, to really just thank you. On behalf of my family, I thank you so much. Jillian: Thank you.Talking with Jillian Hishaw helped me clearly see that the racial terrorism and violence against my Black American family and countless others under Jim Crow was not solely physical but also economic. Hordes of white supremacists throughout America felt divinely and rightfully entitled to Black land, just as their forefathers did a century before with native land. They exploited unjust policies and the complacency of an American, Jim Crow government that often failed to hold them accountable for their murders and other crimes. Before Malcolm X yelled out for justice “by any means necessary,” Jim Crow epitomized injustice by any means necessary. This conversation deepened my understanding of the deadly penalty Black Americans paid for our determination, for daring to burst out of slavery and take our piece of the American Dream through working hard and acquiring land. Since 1837, I’ve had a family member killed every generation, and this reporting helped me understand why so many of them were killed over land and the audacity to move ahead in the society. So to see the deadly price family members paid only to see it lost or sold off by subsequent generations that are split as to how important the land is to them is truly eye-opening, something I see more clearly now.To understand part of the root of this violence, I have to travel back to
EP 5: Meet the Pughs
Jun 5 2024
EP 5: Meet the Pughs
When Lee got the results back from his DNA test, he was stunned to discover that he had pages and pages of white cousins. All his life he’d been under the impression that 95% of his DNA traced to West Africa. This discovery opened up a new historical pathway, one that traces all the way back to 17th century Wales. In this episode, Lee takes us on the journey to discover his white ancestry. Later, Lee sits down with two newly-found white cousins to understand how differently history shaped the Black and White sides of one family. TranscriptLee Hawkins (host): We wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes talk of abuse and acts of violence. You can find resources on our website whathappenedinalabama.org. Listener discretion is advised.My name is Lee Hawkins, and this is What Happened In Alabama.[intro music starts]Back in 2015, I took a DNA test and found out some pretty shocking information. I always thought that I was 95% West African but it turned out that nearly 20% of my DNA was European. This revelation raised so many questions for me and led to years of research that would change my understanding of my own upbringing forever. Today I’ll share that with you. We’re going to go all the way back to 17th century Wales to uncover the path my ancestors took from Europe to the American South and how that, through slavery, led to me.I'll talk with experts and newly discovered white cousins to explore the history that connects the two sides. I want to find out how my family’s experiences on the opposite ends of slavery and Jim Crow shaped our beliefs and our understanding of American history. But you’ll get a whole lot more out of it if you go back and listen to the prologue first – that’ll give you some context for putting the whole series in perspective. Do that, and then join us back here. Thanks so much. In many ways, the seeds for this project were planted in 1991, during the first trip I remember taking to Alabama.[cassette tape turning over, music starts] Tiffany: He would play an album on repeat. That’s my sister, Tiffany. I call her Tiff. It’s 1991, she’s sitting in the backseat of our family’s car, driving from Minnesota to Alabama. Tiffany: Dad used to like still stay up to date on, you know, pop culture, current music. There were certain songs that he would be like, “Oh, I like that,” you know, like Tony! Toni! Toné! It Feels Good. And things like that.My dad hated flying. He’d seen too much in his life, and he related flying to so many of the musicians he loved: Otis Redding, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Buddy Holly. They were all his contemporaries, and they all died in air crashes. So instead, we drove.I was 19 years old, and I was attending college at the University of Wisconsin Madison. At that time, I had just really gotten into the school newspaper. I was thinking about becoming a journalist or maybe a lawyer, but at that point, writing was more intriguing to me. I was excited about this family trip to Alabama, and I had no idea what was coming.Tiffany: Yeah, so Alabama, it's been kinda a, a mystery for me throughout my life because I wasn't able to ask questions that anyone would ask when you're wanting to know things about your parent.One of the big reasons my dad wanted to go to Alabama was to interview my great-Uncle Ike. He was the eldest patriarch of the family in Alabama, and he owned a farm near Greenville, dad’s boyhood town. But most importantly, because he was in his 90s, he knew a lot about family history. And Dad had a lot of questions. I remember getting to Uncle Ike's and sitting in the living room, and across from me sat a caramel-skinned, white-haired man. For me, his reflection was like looking into a mirror and adding 70 years.Uncle Ike was in his early 90s, but those high cheekbones and blemish-free skin made it harder for me to believe that he was a day past 75. It was also hard to believe we were actually in Alabama, with Dad finally standing before his legendary, long-lost uncle, with a tape recorder in his hand. It was a trip we’d been talking about for months. Dad wanted to learn as much as possible about the Alabama family he left behind. Lee Sr.: Well, it's definitely, it’s been a blessing to get to see you. As interested as I was in journalism, I was far from having the experience and interview skills to feel confident taking the lead. Plus, I knew that Dad needed this, so I deferred to him. The fact that he grew up there meant his questions would be far better than anything I could just randomly think of. But hearing his questions and how basic they were showed me just how far he'd strayed from his Alabama roots. Lee Sr.: Let me see, um, you were telling me about my father Lum. Now, how many brothers and sisters did he have? Most of the conversation was going over family tree details. Simple things like, how many siblings did my father have? And what were their names? We sat in that living room and asked Uncle Ike questions for just over an hour.Uncle Ike: I understand that all of them were named [unclear].Lee Sr.: Oh, we had a aunt, uh –Uncle Ike: Colby…When Uncle Ike answered, I struggled to catch every word of his southern accent. It was so thick, I thought it might even be a regional dialect, one that was unique to what my dad always humorously called, “LA,” Lower Alabama. I marveled at how quickly Uncle Ike started reciting family members. Even at his age, his recall, it was as swift as a rooster’s crow at dawn! Lee Sr.: Oh yeah, Aunt Jem. I remember her…As we talked, my eyes began to drift to the fireplace, which was decorated with family photos. There, I saw a framed, weathered photo of a white man looking like he'd been plucked from a vintage Field and Stream ad. He appeared part outlaw, part GQ model. He was in hunting attire. There were hounds at his heels, and it looked like he was gripping a musket. Why, I thought, would Uncle Ike have a picture of some random white man hanging over his fireplace? Lee Sr.: Now this, what's this guy's name? Is this George Pugh up here on this picture? Uncle Ike: No, that's Isaac Pugh. Lee Sr.: That's your father? Uncle Ike: Yeah. They called him Ike, but his real name was Isaac. That made him my great-grandfather, Isaac Pugh Senior. I looked closer at the photo, into his eyes. His gaze was a determined one, as if he was daring me to look into the records and find out more. Who was this white man?[music starts]That day was more than 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve learned so much more about our family history. Seeing that picture of Isaac Pugh Senior on the mantel opened up an entirely new branch of my family tree – a white branch – that I had no idea existed. Digging through the records and existing research, I was able to trace that line all the way back to 17th century Wales.I recognized that I couldn’t fully understand my family’s experiences in America without uncovering the history of our white blood relatives on the other side of enslavement and Jim Crow. I had so many questions. Why did they come to America? What did they do when they got here? And most importantly, how were they connected to me? [sounds of a boat on water, sea gulls]In 1695, a man named Lewis Pugh boarded a boat near his hometown in Northwest Wales to sail for what was then called, “The New World.” The journey was long and grueling. Many people didn’t survive. But the ones that did held on by a combination of luck and faith. Faith that the land that they were headed towards would help them prosper. He landed in Virginia, likely as an indentured servant. Several years later, he met and married a woman named Anne. The couple purchased land in Richmond County. They built a home, had seven kids, and many more grandchildren. Two of their great-grandchildren, the brothers Jesse and Lewis Pugh, decided to move south to Alabama at the start of the 19th century. The first thing they had to do was to get land. And to achieve that, they had to overcome one major obstacle. Chris: Well, it's important to remember that whites wanted Indian land from the moment they first stepped into the Americas. And so Indians have been removed since 1492, of course. This is Chris Haveman.Chris: Let me just talk briefly about terminology and the use of the word “Indian.” I’ve interviewed dozens and dozens of Native people throughout my career, and prior to talking to them, I always asked how they would prefer to be identified, and almost universally they say “Indian” or “American Indian.” Now, these folks tended to be a bit older, and as the younger generations come of age, the term seems to be falling out of favor, and when it does, historians including myself will adapt and adjust accordingly.He’s an author of two books on the removal of Indigenous peoples from Alabama and Georgia to present-day Oklahoma, and a professor at the University of West Alabama.I’ve come to Professor Haveman to help me get a lay of the land in 19th century Alabama, when Jesse and Lewis Pugh arrived in the state around 1810.When the brothers got to Alabama, they were in Muscogee territory. The Muscogee were a loose union of multiple Indigenous groups, and they had millions of acres. Tribal leaders also use the name “Muscogee Nation.”Chris: Really, the story begins after the War of 1812, when whites decided that they really wanted that, that nice, nutrient rich soil in central Alabama. Over the years, throughout the 17 and early 1800s, this land was whittled away through treaties.The federal government started sending commissioners down to remove the Muscogee – and to do this, they had to coerce them into signing treaties first. This was done all over the American South and the rest of the country – and by the time the removal really got going, the Muscogee nation had already lost a large part of their land. But they were resisting. Chris: Commissioners were sent out, and Indians did not want to give up their land. And so a lot of times they resorted to threats, they resorted to some other shady tactics. And you had whites streaming into the Creek Land and they would, you know, just establish their farmstead illegally in the Creek Nation. Sometimes it would just overrun a Creek homestead and kick the family out and commandeer their crops for their, as their own. A lot of times they would get Creeks hooked on alcohol and uh, sell them merchandise on credit, get them indebted to them, and then they’d force them to give up their property as collateral. And things get really, really bad. Lee: What was the philosophy that was used to justify that? Chris: Conquest. The whites wanted it, and they were gonna take it regardless. There was no real justification, moral justification for it other than whites had the racist premise that they were civilized and the Indians were “savages” and that the whites could make better use of the land than Indians.Jesse and Lewis Pugh became landowners, both running plantations. They founded a church in Troy, Alabama, called Beulah Primitive Baptist Church. It still stands today. In my research, I found an article honoring the church. The paper hailed the brothers as “those daring ones, who braving the perils of the wilderness, came here and reclaimed this fair land from the planted savage.” The “planted savage,” I now know, refers to the Indigenous people who lived on the lands across the American South and beyond.Professor Haveman told me that on top of forced removal, there was a great deal of Muscogee land ceded by the tribe, but the conditions of these transactions make it hard to say how voluntary these handovers actually were. Chris: In 1832, the federal government gives a proposition to the Creek Indians, and they say, ‘Look, if you cede the rest of your land to us, we will allow each head of family to take 320-acre plots of land.’ And this is where everything really goes downhill for the Creek Indians, because they gave up their sovereignty, uh, in exchange for a title or a deed. But what it does is basically, and I think you have to ask, it was so one-sided in favor of the federal government. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why would the Creek Indians agree to this?’ And I think that they agreed to this because whites had illegally trespassed on their land so much between 1827 and 1832 that they realized that you know, whites usually liked a deed or a, you know, a title to their land, a piece of paper, something you could say, “This is my land.” And I think the Creeks tried to adopt that in order to stave off this encroachment that whites were giving on their land.So they, they had this deed and this title, and they thought that that would prevent whites from streaming onto their land, but it didn't. It actually, it just opened up massive amounts of fraud for them. And so you had 5 million acres of land in the Creek Nation in 1832. When this was ceded, all 5 million acres of land went to the federal government, and then parcels of 320 acres were then given to each Creek family. If you add up the over 6,000 families times 320 acres, it only comes out to like 2.1 million acres. And so almost 3 million acres of land will now be opened up for white settlement. And so the thing that they were trying to prevent – whites from encroaching on their land – is now gonna become legal.[music]On a January evening in 1837, Lewis Pugh was in his plantation fields in Alabama with his overseer. By this point, he owned land and enslaved people. That night, a man quietly snuck onto the roof of a house that overlooked the Pugh family cemetery on the plantation. The man fired a rifle from the top of the house, killing the overseer. Immediately afterwards, a swarm of 60 Muscogee swooped down on the plantation field. They killed Lewis, one of his sons, and an enslaved baby, who was in his mother’s arms. Four enslaved men tried to defend themselves, the women, and the plantation. The Muscogee killed them too. The story captured the country. Lee: It was in every major newspaper across the country, uh, that Lewis Pugh, a prominent white settler, had been killed, um, and murdered by the Creek Indians. Why do you think it was so important that it be framed in that way? Chris: It made national news because the thing whites feared the most was an Indian uprising. And it's one of the reasons that whites who, um, had no means to become large-scale cotton planters still wanted the Indians gone because they were constantly terrified that Indians would rise up and attack them. Uh, and they had, you know, somewhat of a legitimate reason to be scared because whites treated the Indians so terribly and stole their land and, you know, created all these problems for them.It’s clear that the Muscogee didn’t just fold and concede their land. They retaliated, determined to defend it. And I can’t help but think about it from the perspective of those enslaved people who died, fighting alongside their enslaver, to protect his life and his land – that’s how closely their lives were intertwined. I’m still very curious about them, because they, too, might’ve been my relatives. Not long after I took that DNA test and first found out about the Pughs, I found a last will and testament belonging to Jesse Pugh, the brother of Lewis Pugh, the man who was murdered by the Muscogee in Alabama. In the will, it stated that Jesse enslaved a young girl named Charity, who was kept in bondage by the family into her adult years. Not long before Emancipation, she gave birth to a biracial son who she named Isaac Pugh. That was the white-looking man whose photo I saw on the mantel at great-Uncle Ike’s house. Isaac Pugh, my great-grandfather. Doing my DNA test couldn’t have been any simpler. I went online and ordered the $100 test, and the next day, I got a small box in the mail. Inside, I found a vial, and returned my saliva sample the following day. In just a few weeks, I got an email with my DNA results. It shows you who your cousins are, from first, all the way to distant. I had pages and pages of cousins, including many who were very, very white. I’m talking blond with blue eyes. There were a lot of Pughs in there. I was stunned by the sheer volume. One genealogist told me he had never seen anybody with so many pages of cousins who had also taken DNA tests. At that point, I had more than 216 fourth cousins or closer. One of the descendants was a man in his late 80s named Lloyd Pugh. We both descend from Ann and Lewis Pugh, but our relation wasn’t close enough to show up on my DNA chart.Lloyd lives in Petersburg, Virginia, and last year I went to his house to meet him with my producer, Kyana. You’ll sometimes hear her in the background throughout the interview.Lee: It's a nice, quaint neighborhood with a lot of brick homes in a colonial-style design typical of Virginia, I think. I met Lloyd through a man named Jim Pugh, another newly discovered cousin, but coincidentally, I’ve known Jim for 30 years through my early work as a journalist, back in Wisconsin. He was a PR guy for the state chamber of commerce. Every month, I called him for a comment on the employment rates. I wouldn’t say we were friends back then, but we definitely liked each other. And then, through an odd twist of fate, I found out that we were related. Jim: When you reached out to me and say, “I think we’re cousins,” I was like, “What?!” Let's do a call.I’d always noted that he had the same last name as my Grandma Opie, but it was only through an exchange on Facebook after I’d taken the DNA test, that Jim and I compared notes and figured out that we were both tied to the Pughs of Wales. Once Jim and I reconnected, he told me he had an elder cousin who was a family historian of sorts. That person was Lloyd Pugh.Lee: Oh, he has, okay, an American flag on his house and one on his car. [laughs] And here we are. [seat belts unbuckling] Let's go get started. Lloyd has worked on this long before genealogy exploded in the mainstream. His research is in the archives of the Library of Virginia. He has binders full of information he’s gathered over the years on the Pughs. Lloyd: That book right there is one that's on the early, early Pughs. Lloyd is 88 years old. He’s a tall, lean, active guy, full of warmth and southern charm. He was born and raised in Petersburg, a city known for being the site of a nine-month siege back beginning in 1864 that ended up costing the Confederacy the Civil War. Lloyd is absolutely fascinated with the Civil War, especially the Confederate side. He has tons of relics in his home, everything from swords and rifles to cannons, decommissioned bomb heads, and bullets. He also has a huge painting of General Robert E. Lee, hanging right above his couch. Lee: Why do you have a picture of General Lee in your front room? Lloyd: Because it's a part of my heritage. It has nothing to do with being anti-Black or slavery. It's just part of my heritage in that I had three grandfathers that served under Lee. [music starts]Lloyd and I couldn’t be more polar opposite in our views about the Confederacy. But I didn’t go to Virginia to condemn or to convert him. I went to his house to talk to him about history, our shared history. And he was interested in talking about it too. So he and his daughters invited Jim and I over, and we had a conversation that helped me understand how the white Pughs would come to shape the Black side of my family for generations. [music]Lee: Well, thank you everybody. Um, the man of the hour is Lloyd. Because Lloyd has done a tremendous amount of work around the Pugh family history. And really, I want to thank you, Lloyd, for opening up your home and showing us this museum of incredible Civil War history that you have, and also helping me gain a better understanding of my own history.Um, it's, uh, it's bittersweet to understand how we're connected, but it's also, the power of it is that I wouldn't know this history if we hadn't worked together to understand it and to identify it, and part of my goal in doing this work is to inspire other people across racial lines to do this work. Um, and it is hard, but we both love it, right? Lloyd: Right. Lee: Okay, so, uh, you've done a tremendous amount of work on the Civil War, and we'll get into that, but you've also done a lot around the Pugh family, and I think it's important to talk first about how the Pugh family got to America.Lloyd: There were actually three migrations. One migration of Pughs went to Norfolk, and from Norfolk, they went down through North Carolina, South Carolina, on into Alabama, and in that direction. Lee: That's my line. Lloyd: That's his line. Our line of Pughs landed at, uh, Richmond County, which is the upper neck over on the, uh, near the, on the east, west side of the Chesapeake Bay, and they migrated on down through, uh, came this way, Chesterfield, on to Amelia County, and eventually they end up on the, uh, east side of the Appalachian Mountains.And the third group came in, in New York, and they migrated down the west side of the Appalachian Mountains into Tennessee and Kentucky on down in that direction. So there are three distinct lines of Pughs, and I was happened to be the one that migrated down through the Chesapeake Bay into Richmond County.Lee: What did the Pughs do here initially? Lloyd: Farmers. Tobacco was king in Virginia. They raised other crops. They had to raise, uh, food crops, but the money crop was tobacco. Tobacco was critical to the expansion of the slavery economy in America, so it doesn’t surprise me that the White Pughs were involved in the tobacco trade. But through talking to Lloyd, I learned more about their interactions with Black people, specifically through a man named John Boyd Pugh. He’s Lloyd’s great-grandfather, and he fought on the Confederate side of the war. In fact, he was so committed to the Confederacy and the slavery it represented, he refused for months – after being captured and imprisoned near the end of the war – to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. It blew me away to learn how deeply committed people I share heritage with were to white supremacy – John Boyd Pugh and others believed devoutly in it. They practiced it, and were willing to die for it. And after the war, he became an overseer for a prominent family named the Baylors.Lloyd: And the Baylor family, signers of the Declaration of Independence, founders of Baylor University, some kind of way found out about my grandfather, John Boyd Pugh, and they offered him the oversee of New Market Plantation, which is in Milford, Virginia.His salary was one fourth of all the crops, plus $50 a month salary. And so he took the job, and he moved from Albemarle County with his family up to Milford to New Market Plantation. And he was the overseer of that plantation, right there at Bowling Green, Virginia. When I heard that, my mind went back to all the books I’ve read in my research, including The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward Baptist, which clearly outlined the role of overseers as the drivers of productivity on plantations, many using whipping and other torture techniques to get the most out of enslaved Black people. Baptist explained that on many plantations, overseers held the enslaved to strict quotas. They’d weigh the crops and assess the work at the end of the day, and if the quota wasn’t met, the person would be whipped in front of all the other enslaved people, to make an example out of them.Hearing that I not only share heritage with enslavers, but also overseers, I was absolutely stunned. I began to see how far back the whip could be traced in my family.Lloyd stipulated that because John Boyd Pugh did his overseer work after Emancipation, he believes he probably wasn’t involved in whipping. Lloyd: When John Boyd went to Newmarket, this was after the Civil War. So they had to have hired labor. And I think, I doubt that there were the whippings and the lashing and so forth when you have hired workers because they could say, “I'm leaving,” and just walk off the farm, so, yeah. To be fair, it’s possible that Lloyd is right – maybe John Boyd Pugh was one of the few exceptions; an overseer who never resorted to violence. But I doubt it, and here’s why: in my research, I found the archive to be packed with proof that whipping continued to be a foundational aspect of overseer duties for decades after Emancipation into Jim Crow.Lee: This is the hard part, you know, for me, because, you know, I think when I first talked with you, Jim, you were telling me that your great – great-great- grandfather was an overseer. And I didn't know – or you didn't know – what an overseer was, and when I looked at, you know, a lot of these movies that you see, the overseers are the guys that drove the production of the, of the plantation. Um, and that, for me, is just, that's inextricably tied with the capitalistic, sort of, reality of building America and how so much of the productivity was driven at the plantation level. How did you feel when I explained, especially the part that whipping was a big part of overseer work? How did you feel about that?Jim: Well, you know, you don't really know what you don't know until you find out. And that's when you learn about it, you know, ’cause you don't, you think of, um, overseeing, uh, like a agricultural operation today, you wouldn't have that ’cause you have machines, you know? So, um, but yeah, that was pretty, pretty shocking to find out about that, but it's also the reality of what, the way the world was at that time, you know. [music starts]My mind went back to that interview with my Uncle Ike in 1991, when he told us about Grandma Charity. He told us that when he was a kid working on his father, Isaac Pugh Senior’s farm, she would beat the kids if she felt they weren’t being productive enough. This, from a woman who was enslaved by Jesse Pugh, a cousin of John Boyd Pugh. It’s almost as if, once she became emancipated and the family got its own farm, she became the overseer, and her grandchildren, the free labor. Lee: I've been always fascinated by the way, when we built our country, just how deeply rooted it was, not just in slavery, but also in the establishment of the land, how people got their land, you know, um, particularly from, from the Indigenous people.And I think that the problem, just in my opinion, is that everything is so controversial that people have decided they don't even want to even begin to study this work. And there, of course, are many, many academics who write powerfully beautiful detailed accounts of all of this history. Um, Doug Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name, um, Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told.And in a lot of this stuff, they give really detailed accounts of the economy of slavery and also the Civil War, and the way all of the different range of realities that were at stake as our country was starting to form itself into what we now know today. Um, when you study the Civil War and the Confederate side of it, what, how do you relate to that history in terms of your un– do you know anything about John Boyd Pugh or was the, the oral history lost?Lloyd: I knew absolutely nothing. No one in the family shared anything, ever shared anything with me. And what was learned, learned through my research. Clearly, family secrets are preserved on the white sides of the family, too. Dark secrets like the violent role of overseers, the fact that land was stolen, and the identity of white men who fathered Black children, were not often openly discussed. And those lies of omission make it harder for future generations of whites to acknowledge the causes of generational disparities and trauma – through ignorance or cognitive dissonance. But this work – especially the DNA testing – exposes the lies, and people doing it have to prepare themselves for unsettling discoveries. This work isn’t about agreeing on everything. It’s about opening up the family bibles and records to access information that neither side would have without the other. So it requires a rare form of tolerance, and a spirit of unity as opposed to division on the issue of genealogy. The truth is that I feel like I was blessed. I was fortunate to stumble on a white guy who I’d known for 30 years, and we discovered we were cousins. We already had trust between us, and he opened up the door for me to meet Lloyd. And the timing was perfect. Lee: I think for me, and especially the fact that, that you're basically a Republican dude [laughs] who, uh, you know, really like, and deeply rooted in the Republican party, um, and, and that you're a Republican dude who took me through to make this introduction so I could meet Lloyd so that we could study this together, to me, defies all of the conventional wisdom, which is that we're all divided and we're all, um, to be, you know, enemies on the other side of the issue.Jim: Well, Lee messaged me. I had posted about the, the trip where we did, we followed Lee's retreat back to Battle of White Oak Road. I think that was our last stop, and then we came home. And Lee, he said, ‘I, I see your, I think we're related.’ And I said, I messaged him back and, and I'm thinking, ‘I don't want to put a bunch of this stuff in writing,’ right? ’Cause I'm being like, it's not, this is sensitive stuff. I mean, we're dealing with race, and this is a war –Lee: You knew the political, the political – Jim: Yeah, I’m working in operatives, and he was working for the Wall Street Journal! And I’m thinking, ‘This is gonna be, this is not, this is gonna end bad,’ right? So I, I said, “Lee…” He's like, “I think we're related.” He goes, ‘I've been doing family research. There's Willoughby and Spotsworth –.’ And I said, ‘Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. That sounds about right.’ He said, ‘Can we do a call?’ ’Cause I'm thinking, I want to, I want to turn off the typewriter. There's nothing good that’s gonna come [Lee laughs] from this if it's typed forever and ever.And we did a call, and he's like, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Well, how do you know?’ He said, ‘I did 23andMe. And my DNA goes back to Wales,’ and I said, ‘Well, you know, welcome to the family.’ [laughter]Lee: And then I said, ‘I want my reparation.’ Jim: Yeah.[laughter]And as the conversation continued, we drilled down deeper into the undeniable proof of our ancestors being enslavers, and Lloyd plainly stated the facts: Lloyd: Okay, let me, let me confirm that. I'm looking at the will of John Pugh in December 1827. His will, one negro hired by the name of Harry, worth $300. One woman, Judy, worth $200. One young man named Abram, $400. This is actually in the will, so that goes directly in our line, so there's, I mean, that's the proof of our line owning slaves.Lee: Do you feel guilty about it? Lloyd: No. Lee: Tell me what you think about it.Lloyd: It was a, it was a time. It's just like the Confederate statues in Richmond. It was history in a time, and you can't destroy it. Even though they've taken them down, they're still there in the minds of people, and they are people who are gonna keep them alive.Jim: But we're not white supremacists. Lloyd: No. Jim: We're not white supremacists, and that's the thing people need to understand. It's so easy to just shortcut from, ‘You're a conservative Republican or you're a libertarian or whatever’ to, ‘You’re a white supremacist,’ and that's just not the case. I don’t hold white people of today responsible for slavery and the actions of their ancestors. We’re not responsible for the sins of our forefathers. But we should take responsibility for the present and the future by being transparent and honest about history. I know I joked with Jim about reparations, but that discussion isn't just between the white and Black families tied to slavery; it's between Black American descendants of slavery and the U.S. government, which includes states that enforced racist laws. Contrary to what many assume or imply, reparations wouldn’t be about individual white citizens personally compensating Black people; it would be government obligation, funded by taxpayers like any other public expense – infrastructure, education, or foreign aid. Taxpayers don't get to opt out of funding highways they don't use, just as those from families who didn’t own slaves can't opt out either. Slavery fueled America’s economic rise – on the backs of Black people, largely on stolen land – a legacy from which today’s Americans still benefit, no matter when they came here. [music starts]All in all, I spent two days with Lloyd, his daughters, and Jim. We had dinner and we talked a lot. He told me more about his life, like how he spent most of his career as an educator and superintendent, even helping oversee the desegregation of schools. I realized our families share many common values despite all our differences.Lee: When you hold all these documents and all the binders you've made, thinking of all the Pugh history, what do you feel?Lloyd: First of all, I feel thankful that I'm the result of all of that, that I'm able to carry on the family line. I just look at the Pugh family across the years as just good, sound, solid business people who did what they were supposed to do, and stayed out of jail, and paid their taxes, and didn't beat their families, and just good old southern Christian families is the way I look at it. The information I received from Lloyd deepened my understanding of why so many slavery-era customs appeared in my childhood. It helped me with my quest to begin to trace the whip back to the very plantation where it started. For me, that’s part of where the healing comes from – not from any kind of validation I’d seek from Lloyd and Jim, but from the information that’s allowed me to draw my own conclusions and undertake my own healing work. The Pugh family history is intertwined with America's story, from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War and into the Jim Crow era. Lloyd and I come from the same family, but our experiences reflect opposite sides of the American history it's rooted in. Meeting Lloyd helped me piece together our family history. It also triggered a need in me to uncover the story of how the white Pughs in America treated the most disenfranchised and exploited person in this saga, my great-great-grandmother, Charity, the matriarch of my family.That’s on the next What Happened In Alabama.[outro music]CREDITSWhat Happened In Alabama is a production of American Public Media. It’s written, produced and hosted by me, Lee Hawkins.Our executive producer is Erica Kraus. Our senior producer is Kyana Moghadam.Our story editor is Martina Abrahams Ilunga. Our lead writer is Jessica Kariisa.Our producers are Marcel Malekebu and Jessica Kariisa. This episode was sound designed and mixed by Marcel Malekebu. Our technical director is Derek Ramirez. Our soundtrack was composed by Ronen Lando. Our fact checker is Erika Janik.And Nick Ryan is our director of operations.Special thanks to the O’Brien Fellowship for Public Service Journalism at Marquette University; Dave Umhoefer, John Leuzzi, Andrew Amouzou and Ziyang Fu. And also thanks to our producer in Alabama, Cody Short. The executives in charge at APM are Joanne Griffith and Chandra Kavati.You can follow us on our website, whathappenedinalabama.org or on Instagram at APM Studios.Thank you for listening.
EP 6: The Slave Codes
Jun 12 2024
EP 6: The Slave Codes
Rules were a major part of Lee’s household growing up. But it wasn’t until he started to dig into his family’s history that he began to realize that the rules that he was expected to follow had a long, dark history. In this episode, Lee speaks with historian Dr. Daina Ramey Berry to better understand the life of Lee’s great-great-grandmother Charity, an enslaved woman, and learn about how the slave codes and Black codes shaped her life, and the lives of her descendants. Later Lee speaks with Professor Sally Hadden to learn about the origins of the slave codes, and how they’ve influenced the rules that govern our modern society.TranscriptWe wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes talk of abuse, and acts of violence. You can find resources on our website, WhatHappenedInAlabama.org - listener discretion is advised.Hi - this is Lee Hawkins and thanks for joining me for episode six of What Happened In Alabama. In this episode we dive into the slave codes and Black codes - what they were, and how they show up in our current day to day. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to go back and listen to the prologue first. That’ll give you some context for putting the whole series in perspective. Do that, and then join us back here. Thank you so much. INTROEven when we don’t realize it, life is governed by rules. We often say we “should” do things a certain way without knowing why. The truth is, many actions have root causes that trace back to how we were raised and what we were socialized to believe – both by our families and the societies we live in.In dictionaries, rules are described as explicit or understood regulations governing conduct. We see these guidelines in everything from the order and cadence of the written and spoken word, to how we move from A to B on the roads, or the ways different sports are played - the “rules of the game.”But “rule” also means to have control or dominion over people or places.This was the way of colonialism around the world for centuries. And this control manifests as laws and codes that yes, create order, but can also have the power to suppress freedoms - and instill fear to ensure compliance. In past episodes you’ve heard me talk about the rules of my household growing up in Maplewood, Minnesota, and the many layers of history that get to the root of those rules. Talking with my father and other family members who lived under Jim Crow apartheid provided one piece of understanding. Learning of my white ancestry from Wales dating back to the 1600s offered another. But we have to revisit my ancestors on both sides of enslavement, white and Black – back to the physical AND mental trauma that was experienced to really connect the dots to the tough rules that governed the household, and why my parents and some other relatives felt they needed to whip their children. Also, why so many other racial stereotypes were both imposed on us by society, and often internalized by some within our Black families and communities. For that, we have to dig deeper into the story of my Grandma Charity, her experiences as a Black girl born enslaved and kept in bondage well into adulthood, and the rules that governed her life, both during her time of captivity and after that, under Jim Crow apartheid. This is What Happened in Alabama: The Slave Codes. [music up, and a beat]I can't tell you how many thousands of hours I’ve spent digging through genealogy reports, archives and police records looking for documentation about my family. Sometimes I can do the work from my computer at home, other times, for the really specific details around my dad’s family, I’ve had to make the trip back to Alabama, to gather oral history, go to courthouses, walk through cemeteries, and drive around. [sifting through papers] It can be slow and tedious work. Sometimes you think you’ve found a lead that’s going to take you somewhere that you could have never imagined - but then you realize it’s a dead end. Sometimes, you get a huge rush of endorphins when you make a discovery that blows open the doors that once seemed forever closed.One night, in 2015, I’d recently received my DNA results showing a strong connection to the white side of the Pugh family. I was sitting in my dark living room, looking into the illuminated screen of my computer at two in the morning. I’d just found the last will and testament of Jesse Pugh, a white ancestor who genealogists surmise is my great great great grandfather, from Pike County, Alabama. We met Jesse Pugh in the last episode. The will was dated March 24, 1852. Jesse Pugh died two years later. To his wife and children, he left hundreds of acres of land, household furnitures, plantation tools, farming animals, bushels of corn, and a number of enslaved people – all listed as “Negroes.”As I pored over the details of the will, I came across a name I’d heard before: Charity. I read it over again. “Second, I give and bequeath to my son Mastin B. a Negro Girl, Charity…” Fixating on those words,“a Negro girl, Charity” my eyes welled up. She was left to Jesse Pugh’s son, Mastin B. Pugh. Charity was the grandmother Uncle Ike told me and my father about on our trip to Alabama back in 1991. I remember Uncle Ike telling us about how, when Charity's son, his own father Isaac Pugh Sr., acquired his own farm, mean ol’ Grandma Charity would constantly beat Uncle Ike, my Grandma Opie, and their other siblings, right there in the field, usually because she thought they weren’t working fast enough. Rosa: Now I'll tell you the exact word he told me, he said "that was the meanest old heifer I ever seen." That’s my cousin, Rosa Lee Pugh-Moore, Uncle Ike’s daughter. She has few memories of her father talking about his grandmother Charity. But she says whenever he did talk about her, he always had one thing to say. Rosa: He hated his grandma, said she was just really mean. And that's all he talked about. How mean she was and how people tried to get over on her doing things she didn't like them to do, and she would fight.I’d heard so much about Cousin Rosa - a real Pugh matriarch. In 2018 I headed to Birmingham, Alabama to meet my sweet cousin for what I thought would be a conversation with just the two of us. I didn’t realize it was her birthday, and when I arrived, it was cousin Rosa, plus about 30 other relatives - her grandchildren, great grandchildren and even a newly born great-great grandchild. Stepping into the home, I was surrounded by generations of family members - and they were just as excited as I was to hear what Cousin Rosa had to say. There was so much they hadn’t heard about her life - from walking for miles as part of the Montgomery bus boycott, to leaving the country in Georgiana for the big city in Birmingham, all the way back to the stories she’d heard about Grandma Charity.Before I settled in, I kissed her cheek and sat in a chair next to her to hear as many of the stories of her life and our family as I could. That’s what some of the elders who weren’t reluctant to share stories used to do, she told me. Rosa: And at night sit up and they tell us about the families and stuff like that. Pots of peanuts and sweet potatoes, stuff like that.With the rest of the family close by, still celebrating her birthday, I can feel those stories passing through her childhood memories into my recorder. I feel so blessed to be here. And I realize she’s my gateway to the family in Alabama, because she’s called family members all over the country, and pushed them to talk with me. She was brave, never afraid to talk about Alabama, the good and the bad. And her knowledge went all the way back to Grandma Charity. Lee Hawkins:So when, how old were you when you learned when you first learned about Grandma Charity? Rosa: I guess. Oh, good gracious. I was about nine or ten like that. Something like that.Cousin Rosa and I remember Uncle Ike saying that she hated white peopleUncle Ike: She hated white folk... And uh, and uh one time my daddy was fifteen and one of them told them get out or something and someone knocked them down and Grandma kicked them and she did all three of them yeah. This is a recording of Uncle Ike from 1991, when my Dad and I sat down with him at his home in Georgiana, Alabama. It’s hard to hear, but he’s telling us about how a group of white men showed up at their house one day and tried to pull Grandma Charity out of the house to whip her, until she came out fighting. Rosa: Yeah, that kind of stuff he told us. I don't know that whole story. I don't remember the whole story. Rosa: So then she had that boy. That boy is Isaac Pugh Sr. Uncle Ike’s father, Rosa’s grandfather, and my great grandfatherRosa: And daddy say he was too light for Black people like him, and he was too dark for white people to like him. So he's kind of a loner.As I listen to Cousin Rosa talk about Grandma Charity, I can’t help but think about the most obvious fact about her that eluded me for so much of my life – Grandma Charity was born enslaved. No one had ever told me that! No one had mentioned it. I only learned this that early morning in 2015, when I found Jesse Pugh's will.As Cousin Rosa said, Uncle Ike hated his grandmother. But understanding that she was enslaved for the early part of her life - around 20 years - added a dimension to this supposedly “mean ol” woman. Just how learning more about my father’s experiences under Jim Crow added nuance to him as a man in my eyes. They both went through Alabama’s version of hell on earth. We model what we see and many of us adopt the rules and customs of the country we’re born into. America, before anything else, was founded on violence.Knowing that, I felt skeptical about the way Grandma Charity was characterized for all those years in the family history. And once I discovered Jesse Pugh’s will I realized that she’d been simply pathologized – even by her own family– and that, like me with my father, my ancestors and elders didn’t know enough about the atrocities she’d experienced to be able to explain why she sometimes thought the way she did, and was the way she was. For the benefit of this project, for my family, and most of all, for Grandma Charity, I knew I had to learn more about what life was like for an enslaved Black woman in the mid-1800s, to add meaningful context to her story. So, what did Grandma Charity endure? What laws and codes governed her life? To learn more, I started with a conversation with Daina Ramey Berry.Dr.Berry: I am the Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts and a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I call myself a scholar of the enslaved. Most of my time in the academy has been in archives, conducting research, and trying to find and tell stories like people like your Great Great Grandmother Charity.Dr.Berry: A number of historians are skeptical about making connections between the past and the present. But if we trace the past decade by decade, year by year, we can see connections to contemporary America, and if you look at history as a foundation, the foundations that were laid are still what have built our houses, and we need to, we need to dismantle the parts of our history that need to be rewritten to be more inclusive, right?I reached out to Daina Ramey Berry after I found records and research on Grandma Charity and her mother Laner. It was all words and numbers on a page and I needed more context. I don’t remember how I found her - I was knee deep in books and papers and articles at the time. But I wanted to understand more about what life was like for enslaved Black women. LEE: What don't we know about Black women during history? What haven't people been able to pay attention to or, as I would believe, haven't always wanted to pay attention to? Dr.Berry: I think the latter is really where I'd like to start because there are conferences over the years that I've attended with historians, my colleagues, and oftentimes scholars will say, well, Yes, Black women were exploited during slavery, but not that much.Dr.Berry: And my question always is, have you tried to calculate it? How do you know it's not that much? What is not that much? When I look at narratives, I've looked at court records, I've looked at letters and diaries and all kinds of different documents, where enslaved girls and women are talking about sexual exploitation and abuse, physical and sexual abuse.Dr.Berry: Mothers were teaching their daughters how to quote unquote protect their principal at a very young age. Young girls did not want their enslavers to know that they had their first menstrual cycle. And on the flip side, some women even bound their breasts up so that they didn't look like they were developing and they were maturing, um, into adulthood.Dr.Berry: So there's a number of things that enslaved women and girls did to try to protect themselves from puberty and from signs of showing evidence of puberty, because they knew what that meant. On the flip side, enslavers were often hyper focused on women's menstrual cycle, and you might ask, well, why something so personal would they be so concerned with?Dr.Berry: That often was because enslaved people were expensive to purchase. To purchase in the auction, you had to be quite wealthy, and the values of enslaved people were high. So if you could quote unquote grow your own enslaved people, or if natural reproduction, forced reproduction, i. e. rape, then you're gonna, you're gonna grow your plantation workforce without having to purchase somebody.This practice of growing your own free labor is in my bloodline - and repeated for generations. Grandma Laner - Charity’s mother - was raped while enslaved. Grandma Charity - who was described as a light skinned woman - is the product. Grandma Charity was also raped by a white man while she was held captive under enslavement, and Isaac Pugh Sr is the result. This is the so-called “white man” I saw as an image on Uncle Ike’s mantle when I visited in 1991. If I had just seen his picture without the history, I would never have known his mother was Black. Dr.Berry: So enslaved women's bodies, their reproductive capabilities, their fertility was one of the most important aspects of what maintained and grew through the 19th century the institution of chattel slavery in the United States. LEE: Which is inextricably tied to capitalism. Dr.Berry: Yes. LEE: Yes, and one of the most painful things that I've experienced in the course of doing this research was a conversation that I had with a genealogist who said, well, you know, um, how do we know that she was raped?LEE: Maybe she was a mistress? Dr.Berry: No. Like other enslaved women, Grandmas Laner and Charity had no legal right to refuse sexual advances from their male enslavers - because they were property, nowhere near a relationship of equals. They were also often young girls.The sexual abuse of young girls is shocking, yet this is a key part of maintaining the power dynamic during slavery. Ripping enslaved families apart made it easier for white slave owners and other men to prey on young girls. When she was about 14 years old, Grandma Charity was separated from her mother, Laner. Just a child, she had to adjust to a different plantation and community, and a new enslaver, alone. Dr.Berry: Family separation was one of the most traumatic experiences that enslaved people went through. And it's something that they lived in day to day fear of, of being separated from their, from their parents, from their siblings, from any, any kin that they had, um, on their, in their proximity.Dr.Berry: We've seen it from the perspective of a child remembering the wailing of their mother as they were pulled off and put on a wagon and the child is remaining and they hear their wailing cries of their mothers up until like a mile later or just until they can't hear it anymore.Dr.Berry: There's extreme examples of, babies, infants being ripped from the mother's breast and being sold, literally, uh, breastfeeding mothers. There are also examples of fathers and sons standing on the auction block holding hands, you know, and just silently tears coming down their face because they know that after that day, after that moment, they won't, they most likely won't ever see each other again.Dr.Berry: Um, there's other stories of mothers knowing that this, this stranger that's come to the, the property has asked me to put my son in his Sunday best and I, I've said this before, it's like that child was a child and didn't have really any clothes but a smock and their first set of clothings that they received was the clothing that they were going to put for the auction.Dr.Berry: Another mother talked about braiding her daughter's hair for the last time and putting a ribbon in it, knowing. that she was preparing her for the auction and that she would no longer see her again. These were traumatic experiences and we find that the closeness of the families and the desire to be connected to a family was a survival mechanism for Black people.Dr.Berry: And that even if you look at the evidence we have now in information wanted ads,and these advertisements are powerful testimony to Black genealogy from the perspective of the enslaved and formerly enslaved people searching for, I haven't seen my mother since I was two. I'm 40 years old now. You know, I remember her name was Laura. Her hair was shoulder length. She was wearing an apron and a, and a, and a long dress.Dr.Berry: You know, those kinds of testimonies just show the strength and the impact of the desire to connect to your family, but the impact of separation still did not push them away from trying to locate and connect with their blood relatives or kin. In trying to connect my family tree, I found so many sources of loss. There’s the parental loss Grandma Laner experienced with Charity, knowing almost certainly the physical brutality her daughter would face once separated from her. Two generations later, Charity’s granddaughter, and my grandmother Opie, experienced the loss of her father at age nine, after seeing him blood splattered and slumped over his horse. And then my father - Opie’s son and Charity’s great grandson - lost his mother to health inequality when he was just 12 years old. These are the building blocks of a cycle of generational loss. So when I hear Daina Ramey Berry talk about the desire to connect to your family and the impact of separation, I get it. Genealogy is like a giant DNA puzzle that stretches across time. Until you dig, you don’t learn these things. Geneticists have data that shows that Black Americans have on average 24 percent European blood in their veins. Yet, there's a denial or an unwillingness to acknowledge how prevalent and pervasive rape was. And some of this is embedded in the laws and the codes of slavery…Dr.Berry: We need context to understand, like you said, the contemporary connections to our current bloodlines.Dr.Berry: And that we are, that slavery was an intimate institution. We are interlaced. We are connected whether we want to be or not, but we are connected. LEE: Thank you so much. Thank you for this magnificent work you're doing.Dr.Berry: Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it.[MUSIC BEAT]Learning more about what enslaved Black women lived through deepened my love for my strong, brave matriarch, Grandma Charity. And to think she then had to live through Jim Crow apartheid.But I wanted to drill down even more into the specific rules that she – in Greenville in the 1800s - had to live under and follow. For that, I dug up the Alabama Slave Codes of 1852, which governed every facet of Black lives. Under the slave codes, enslaved people were property, not people. The codes were used to regulate the behavior of enslaved people and ensure their subjugation by curtailing many aspects of their lives. Note that I didn’t say that these codes only restricted the enslaved, but ALL Black people. I discovered that one widespread myth is that the Black people who weren't in bondage were FREE. Under the slave codes, enslaved people were property, not people. After the abolition of slavery the Black codes picked up where the slave codes ended, and restricted the freedoms of the “free”And then there were the restrictions of Jim Crow policies. In states like Alabama– and the many states in the North that had their own Jim Crow rules – ALL Black people lived under laws and codes, at the country, state or national level, that curtailed their physical and emotional freedom in the United States. As Daina Ramey Berry mentioned in our conversation some of these rules still hold us in invisible bondage and shape how we live and how for some - we parent. For more on “the rules” I spoke with Sally Hadden, a professor at Western Michigan University…Prof.Hadden: I'm a specialist in legal and constitutional history, particularly of early America. My first book was entitled, “Slave Patrols, Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas”. And that book tracked the development of slave patrols as a legal institution from the 1600s to the 1870s.I told Professor Hadden about my family, my white European ancestry, and the enslavement of Grandma Charity and other family members. By then, I’d studied the Slave Codes, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow, and realized that the slave codes that governed Grandma Charity’s life informed how she raised her children and grandchildren. And in many ways, the rules my dad learned while growing up under Jim Crow apartheid governed the way my parents raised me.The whip used to punish Slave Code and Black Code violations, became the belt I often faced in the living room. But it was more than the physical. The fear of disobeying the rules added to the mental toll. Those codes also helped shape how many others– both in my family and beyond– expected me to act..it shaped the idea that I needed to stay in my place, or be punished. Prof.Hadden: People parent the way that they experienced being a child with their own parents. It's very hard to break that cycle of parent to child. And I, I’m not a parent myself, I don’t have kids. But I see this with my brother’s children, and my sister’s children, who are all now in their 40s and have kids of their own. And it's remarkable how, to use an old phrase, how close the apple drops from the tree. LEE: So you get it. And, and the academic term is intergenerational trauma. But I like the way you put it because, um, this is my, this was my way to show some level of graciousness to my dad when I got this history. And then for him to show me the grace of being able to go through the journey and study it with me and to say, Hey, you know what?LEE: This should stop in our bloodline.LEE: But one way to heal is certainly, the best way to heal, I think, is to confront it. And that's why the work that you've done is so important, because history just holds so many powerful clues, um, into how, you know, how we got to the way we are. But very few people understand the role of violence and, but the necessity in the context of the capitalism and the, you know, the system of capitalism and what we were trying to accomplish as a nation.Prof.Hadden: A lot of people think that when they discuss slavery, what they think of is, they think of a two party relationship, a master and an enslaved person. And what I was trying to write about was, there's always a third party, and the third party is always government. It's always the state, and whether it's the, uh, at the national level, the state level, or the county level, there's this, third party.Prof.Hadden: And the state is always the backer up of this because the state creates the laws that make it, that, that within the society of that time, legitimated the institution of slavery. Prof.Hadden: So for the purposes of our discussion about the law, we're interested in the common law and how slave patrols were developed as legal institutions. South Carolina had the first laws on the books about, um, slave patrols and, uh, attempts by the state to control enslaved people.LEE: So what did patrols do? Prof.Hadden: Patrols were required by their government, either the, the local or state government or the militia, to perform surveillance and to use violence towards enslaved people. That was their job. They were responsible for going into slave cabins, to see who was there, to make sure there were no runaways.Prof.Hadden: They looked for uh, goods that they thought slaves shouldn't have, they hunted, uh, nighttime music to its source, uh, to look for, uh, dancing groups or for religious meetings where African Americans might be in attendance.Prof.Hadden: Their job was to effectively enforce a curfew. that would have kept every enslaved person on the farm of the master who owned them. They were effectively the government's backstop to a master to make sure that the slaves were where they were supposed to be. So they were a type of government group that used white on Black violence to achieve their ends.The slave patrols enforced the slave codes - created by a colonial or state legislature. Walking into the interview with Professor Hadden, I knew the Slave Codes restricted Black people’s movement, requiring written passes for travel. They forbade assembly without a white person present. It was often illegal for Black people to read or write, or for a white person to teach them to do so. Marriage and family rights were non-existent, allowing enslavers to separate families at will. Enslaved people could not testify in court against white people; their testimonies were generally inadmissible. They were also barred from owning property, entering into contracts, or earning wages, with any income typically claimed by their enslavers. Whipping was often the punishment. In Greenville, it was usually 39 to 100 lashes for an offense. And in the case of a rebellion or insurrection, the penalty could be death.And what was most devastating, was that I knew that some of our white family members – mainly Mastin Pugh, the man who inherited Grandma Charity from his father, Jesse – was also in charge of the enforcement of the Alabama Slave Code across Butler County. Him holding that power would have been brutal for Grandma Charity. And eventually, generations later, for me. It made sense that my parents would be overly cautious about us kids not doing anything wrong. They policed us so the law - or those who felt empowered to police us, even without authority - wouldn’t. It all goes back to the codes and patrols. Prof.Hadden: The very earliest laws put a requirement on ordinary individuals, uh, to have them be responsible for enforcing slave laws. The idea here was that all whites theoretically would understand that it was in their best interest to keep slaves controlled.Prof.Hadden: Now, this kind of enforcement didn't necessarily work terribly well to ask just everybody walking around in society who's white to keep an eye on everybody who's, um, enslaved. And so, gradually, colonial legislatures switched to other systems of using patrols to say, you people are designated as individuals.Prof.Hadden: Uh, to control slave behavior and so legislatures, um, either required the militia to carve out groups of patrollers and have them do the work or county courts turned to their tax lists and used tax lists to nominate people to serve as patrollers for three months or six months. And, and Alabama's solution was to use the militia, to have the militia be the substitute and say the militia will choose patrollers to work in rotation.Prof.Hadden: So, the militia were ordinary people who were supposed to be self arming. That is to say, you're supposed to show up with your own, uh, rifle, your own gun, uh, with ammunition and enough shot to, um, uh, carry out orders issued by a superior commander. Um, and to do what was necessary to protect your community. Something to highlight here: Patrolling and policing was EVERYWHERE. There was no option for Black people to escape the patroller’s whip and gun, and white men were EXPECTED to patrol - they were governmentally required to do so. There was a financial consequence if they didn’t. This was the culture and the law. And while it may not be explicit now, we see the ways this culture of being policed versus feeling empowered to patrol plays out along racial lines. There are countless news reports of white people calling the police on gatherings of Black people at cookouts or for watering a neighbor’s lawn. Or questioning a Black person’s right to be in a gated community - when they live there. That’s patrolling - the power of oversight. And then you have some Black parents who continue to have “the talk” with their children, warning them of the ways to address police officers if stopped. Or telling them not to stay out after dark. Or not to gather in large groups in case it draws the wrong kind of attention. That’s self policing for preservation and to avoid white oversight. Even though slave patrols came to an end - in theory - with the abolition of slavery, the culture remained.Prof.Hadden: After the Civil War ends, white Southerners are afraid. There's a lot of fear about, um, the African Americans who live around them, who live in their communities, and if patrols no longer exist, um, just like slavery no longer exists, then from the perspective of white lawmakers, Who is supposed to keep African Americans in line? Who is supposed to supervise them if there are no more slave masters? What would be done to stop crime, what would be done to control African Americans?Prof.Hadden: Southern whites in the 1860s were terrified of the possibility of race war, and they lived with that. They talked about that race war was likely to happen, and without patrols, they were sure that they would they had no way to prevent one. So the work done by patrols was divided, you could say. The work that they had done that was about surveillance, that was about stopping crime, became part of the work of police forces. Some southern cities had had police forces, but others had not, in the world when slavery still existed.Prof.Hadden: But the other thing that happens with patrol work after 1865 is that some of the work that patrollers had done, intimidation work, becomes, uh, the, the central feature of the Ku Klux Klan, that, that's, um, that their legacy of intimidation, of, uh, race based violence, uh, very much becomes, um, part and parcel of the Klan's, um, operating uh daily operational activities. Um, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to scare African Americans in the Reconstruction South into doing what the white community wanted. They wanted African Americans to only do agricultural work, not to have schools, not to have guns, not to vote, not to organize, not to demand um, appropriate wages, and the Klan used violence or the threat of violence to get African Americans to do what they want, what they wanted, which was all of those things.This form of control remains, but as we’ve talked about throughout the series, it’s fear based. The whip controlled the enslaved. Scare tactics and violence were used by the Ku Klux Klan. And today, corporal punishment - the threat and the practice - is still perceived by some as a way to keep children safe. LEE: Can you tell us about the differences and similarities between the violence of the slave patrols and corporal punishment that we see in modern times in homes and schools? Prof.Hadden: Well, the, the use of violence usually has one object in mind to get obedience, to get control. And so there's, there's the root of the similarity is if, if corporal punishment or violence has an objective of to get to control, then they spring from the same kinds of beginnings. Now, there are some key differences, obviously. Um, control as a parent might be for an immediate and a transient reason.Prof.Hadden: Um, you know, a mother spanks a child to reinforce the idea in the child's mind that it's a bad idea to go out and chase a ball onto a road where there are lots of cars. Um, I speak on, from personal experience on that one, Lee. Um, having been on the receiving end of my mother's hand when I chased a ball out into the street.Prof.Hadden: I think she probably lost a few years off of her life watching that happen, but she wanted to make sure that I got the message as a preschooler that I shouldn't do that again. Believe me, I remember it firmly. But control can also be about long term domination. And that's different. Um, an abusive parent that beats a child every weekend for no reason, just to reinforce the idea that the parent is bigger, um, badder, a bully, an abuser.Prof.Hadden: Um, you know, the very threat of violence can almost be as intimidating as the actual use of violence in that sort of situation. Um, an abusive father. puts his hand on his belt and the child doesn't have to see anything more because the connection between the belt and its use on them is there. as an instrument of corporal punishment is very live.Prof.Hadden: It's nearly as terrifying that the belt itself is almost as terrifying as, as seeing it in use. Now, of course, there are several large differences between what patrols did and the kind of, corporal punishment or violence one might experience in a home or in a school. One of the biggest is that when a patroller used, um, a rod or a whip against an enslaved person, they could be strangers to each other.Prof.Hadden: That is to say, they might be, the patrol member might not know who the enslaved person was. The enslaved person might never have laid eyes on that patroller before that night. Um, uh, a second difference obviously is, is the racial one. That is to say, patroller is white and the enslaved person is Black. And within the family or within a school, that sort of distinction, both of those distinctions are missing.Prof.Hadden: They're not strangers to each other. They're maybe share the same race as each other. And there are also differences of expectation. Um, we expect, or at least society teaches us to expect, kindness from our family members, from our teachers, that we're going to be nurtured or supported by them. But that may or may not be the case.Prof.Hadden: Whereas, I don't think enslaved people ever thought that they'd see the milk of human kindness coming from a patroller. So they're bearing those differences in mind. There are some similarities, and one of the similarities is the use of an instrument of violence. whether it be a belt or a whip or a rod, um, certainly the instrument by which punishment is inflicted might look very much the same.LEE: Yeah. And you touched on kindness and the expectation of kindness. When I was a kid, I didn't expect kindness from my parents, and the reason was, I did receive kindness from my parents, but I also received the brutality of violence, and in my community, it was stressed to me that violence was kindness, because we're protecting you from the evils of the world, we're protecting you, we're scaring you so that when you go out, you know how to act right, When you're at the mall with your friends so you don't get killed by the police or accused of stealing something you didn't steal or decide to steal something and get arrested and in the process of getting arrested, get killed or join a gang because you're, you're not being disciplined and then get killed on the streets. LEE: And so we're doing this because we have to do this, because the society will kill you if we don't do this, if we don't instill this fear in you. And so it was a very mentally, it was a very, um, hard thing to process as a kid, because I just fundamentally did have that understanding that as a Black kid, there were a different set of rules for me.We talked alot about how concepts and ideas are handed down through generations. Prof.Hadden: But I can tell you that in the early 20th century, um, there was tremendous fear. Again, we're back to a period of fear in American society and fear motivates people to do very strange and dangerous things. And one of the things they were afraid of was the massive influx of immigrants that were coming to America from Southern Europe.Prof.Hadden: Um, this was a time when, um, immigration numbers were going through the roof, nationally, and there's a backlash to that. And for some people, that backlash takes the form of joining, um, uh, political organizations, and sometimes it takes the form of joining a group like the Klan, uh, to demonstrate white supremacy against these perceived outsiders. But it's also just as much about in the 20s, you begin to see the migration, the out migration, of a large number of African Americans from the South to other parts of the country. Um, this is something that had, obviously started in the 1860s and 70s, but it accelerates in the early 20th century, and, um, people moving to Detroit, people moving to Cleveland, people moving to, um, uh, St. Louis, moving to loads of cities where there were industrial opportunities. Prof.Hadden: Um, many of those individuals, African American individuals, moved during, uh, World War I in the late 19 teens. And what this did, it changed the, uh, population complexion of a lot of previous cities that had previously had, um, very large, uh, white, um, populations to being ones that were more racially mixed, where before more than three quarters of the African American population lived in the American South.Prof.Hadden: When you move into the 20th century, this outward migration of African Americans to other parts of the United States meant that, in other communities, a lot of whites begin to experience fear, fear of the unknown.