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February 25, 1911 – Sarah Rector
GM – FBF – ” I was told that the papers will leave us alone if I signed the papers to let Mr. T.J. Porter be Sarah’s parent.” – Joseph Rector
Remember – ” I don’t know the difference between one dollar nor a million dollars but they say I am rich” – Sarah Rector
Today in our History – February 25,1911 – Some say that Sarah Rector NOT Madam C.J. Walker is the first Black Female Self Made Millionaire. Sarah Rector received international attention at the age of eleven when The Kansas City Star in 1913 publicized the headline, “Millions to a Negro Girl.” From that moment Rector’s life became a cauldron of misinformation, legal and financial maneuvering, and public speculation.
Rector was born to Joseph and Rose Rector on March 3, 1902, in a two-room cabin near Twine, Oklahoma on Muscogee Creek Indian allotment land. Both Joseph and Rose had enslaved Creek ancestry, and both of their fathers fought with the Union Army during the Civil War. When Oklahoma statehood became imminent in 1907, the Dawes Allotment Act divided Creek lands among the Creeks and their former slaves with a termination date of 1906. Rector’s parents, Sarah Rector herself, her brother, Joe, Jr., and sister Rebecca all received land. Lands granted to former slaves were usually the rocky lands of poorer agricultural quality. Rector’s allotment of 160 acres was valued at $556.50.
Primarily to generate enough revenue to pay the $30 annual tax bill, on February 25,1911 Rector’s father leased her allotment to the Devonian Oil Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1913, however, her fortunes changed when wildcat oil driller B.B. Jones produced a “gusher” that brought in 2500 barrels a day. Rector now received an income of $300.00 per day. Once this wealth was made known, Rector’s guardianship was switched from her parents to a white man named T.J. Porter, an individual personally known to the Rectors. Multiple new wells were also productive, and Rector’s allotment subsequently became part of the famed Cushing-Drumright Field in Oklahoma. In the month of October 1913 Rector received $11,567.
Once her identity became public, Rector received numerous requests for loans, money gifts, and even marriage proposals from four Germans even though she was 12. In 1914 The Chicago Defender published an article claiming that her estate was being mismanaged by grafters and her “ignorant” parents, and that she was uneducated, dressed in rags, and lived in an unsanitary shanty. National African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois became concerned about her welfare. None of the allegations were true. Rector and her siblings went to school in Taft, an all-black town closer than Twine, they lived in a modern five-room cottage, and they owned an automobile. That same year, Rector enrolled in the Children’s House, a boarding school for teenagers at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
When Rector turned eighteen on March 3, 1920, she left Tuskegee and her entire family moved with her to Kansas City, Missouri. By this point Rector, who now owned stocks and bonds, a boarding house and bakery and the Busy Bee Café in Muskogee, Oklahoma, as well as 2,000 acres of prime river bottomland, was a millionaire.
The family moved into what would be known as the Rector Mansion. Legal wrangling over Rector’s estate and some mismanagement continued until she was twenty. That year Rector married Kenneth Campbell, and the couple had three sons, Kenneth, Jr., Leonard, and Clarence. Much was publicized about her “extravagant” spending on luxuries. Her marriage to Campbell ended in 1930, and in 1934 she married William Crawford.
When Rector died at age 65 on July 22, 1967, her wealth was diminished, but she still had some working oil wells and real estate holdings. Sarah Rector was buried in Taft Cemetery, Oklahoma. One of the saddest stories in our history, share with your babies and make it a champion day!
February 23, 1868 – William Edward Burghardt
GM – FBF – “Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody’s slavery.” W. E. B. Du Bois
Remember – “Education is the development of power and ideal.” W. E. B. Du Bois
Today in our History – February 23, 1868 – Throughout his career as a sociologist, historian, educator, and sociopolitical activist, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois argued for immediate racial equality for African-Americans. His emergence as an African-American leader paralleled the rise of Jim Crow laws of the South and the Progressive Era.
One of Du Bois’ most famous quotes encapsulates his philosophy, “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season.
It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”
Major Nonfiction Works:
The Study of the Negro Problems (1898)
The Philadelphia Negro (1899)
The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
The Talented Tenth, second chapter of The Negro Problem, a collection of articles by African Americans (September 1903).
Voice of the Negro II (September 1905)
Atlanta University’s Studies of the Negro Problem (1897-1910)
The Negro (1915)
The Gift of Black Folk (1924)
Africa, Its Geography, People and Products (1930)
Africa: Its Place in Modern History (1930)
Black Reconstruction in America (1935)
Black Folk, Then and Now (1939)
The Encyclopedia of the Negro (1946)
Africa in Battle Against Colonialism, Racialism, Imperialism (1960)
Early Life and Education:
Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Mass on February 23, 1868. Throughout his childhood, he excelled in school and upon his graduation from high school, members of the community awarded Du Bois with a scholarship to attend Fisk University. While at Fisk, Du Bois experienced racism and poverty that was very different to his experiences in Great Barrington.
As a result, Du Bois decided that he would dedicate his life to ending racism and uplifting African-Americans.
In 1888, Du Bois graduated from Fisk and was accepted to Harvard University where he earned a master’s degree, a doctorate and a fellowship to study for two years at the University of Berlin in Germany. Following his studies in Berlin, Du Bois argued that through racial inequality and injustice could be exposed through scientific research. However, after observing the remaining body parts of a man who was lynched, Du Bois was convinced that scientific research was not enough.
“Souls of Black Folk”: Opposition to Booker T.
Initially, Du Bois agreed with the philosophy of Booker T. Washington , the preeminent leader of African-Americans during the Progressive Era. Washington argued that African-Americans should become skilled in industrial and vocational trades so that they could open businesses and become self-reliant.
Du Bois, however, greatly disagreed and outlined his arguments in his collection of essays, Souls of Black Folk published in 1903. In this text, Du Bois argued that white Americans needed to take responsibility for their contributions to the problem of racial inequality, proved the flaws in Washington’s argument, argued that African-Americans must also take better advantage of educational opportunities to uplift their race.
Organizing for Racial Equality:
In July of 1905, Du Bois organized the Niagara Movement with William Monroe Trotter. The purpose of the Niagara Movement was to have a more militant approach to fighting racial inequality. Its chapters throughout the United States fought local acts of discrimination and the national organization published a newspaper, Voice of the Negro.
The Niagara Movement dismantled in 1909 but Du Bois, along with several other members joined with white Americans to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Du Bois was appointed director of research and also served as the editor of the NAACP’s magazine Crisis from 1910 to 1934. In addition to urging African-American readers to become socially and politically active, the publication also showcased literature and visual artistry of the Harlem Renaissance.
Throughout Du Bois’ career, he worked tirelessly to end racial inequality. Through his membership and later leadership of the American Negro Academy, Du Bois developed the idea of the “Talented Tenth,” arguing that educated African-Americans could lead the fight for racial equality in the United States.
Du Bois’ ideas about the importance of education would be present again during the Harlem Renaissance. During the Harlem Renaissance, Du Bois argued that racial equality could be gained through the arts. Using his influence as editor of the Crisis, Du Bois promoted the work of many African-American visual artists and writers.
Du Bois also concerned with people of African descent throughout the world. Leading the Pan-African movement, Du Bois organized conferences for the Pan-African Congress for many years. Leaders from Africa and the Americas assembled to discuss racism and oppression–issues that people of African descent faced all over the world. Research more about this great American and share with your babies. Du Bois died on August 27, 1963 at the age of 95. Make it a champion Day!
February 24, 1818 – Elizabeth Keckley
GM – FBF – I was born a slave-was the child of slave parents-therefore I came upon the earth free in God-like thought, but fettered in action. – Elizabeth Keckley
Remember – When I heard the words, I felt as if the blood had been frozen in my veins, and that my lungs must collapse for the want of air. Mr. Lincoln shot! – Elizabeth Keckley
Today in our History – February 24, 1818 – (If you thought that Lee Daniels’ The Butler – The life of Eugene Allen in the White House as a butler which Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey co – stared) Read this story which happened 100 years before that. – There’s a nighttime scene in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in which the president tells an African-American woman about his uncertainty over what freedom will bring emancipated slaves after the Civil War.
The woman, whom he addresses as “Mrs. Keckley,” makes brief but
puzzling appearances throughout the film: outside the Lincoln bedroom in the
White House, in the gallery of the House of Representatives beside Mary Todd
Lincoln and as the sole companion of the Lincolns at an opera. In this
conversation, Keckley asks Lincoln pointedly for his personal feelings toward
her race. “I don’t know you, Mrs. Keckley,” he begins. And neither does the
viewer, who is left to ponder how this woman could have come to address the
president so candidly, and what may have moved Lincoln to speak so frankly to
her about his misgivings.
But this dramatization is deceiving. Abraham Lincoln knew Elizabeth Keckley well, both as his wife’s most intimate friend and as a leader among free black women in the North. In just five years she rose from slavery in St. Louis to intimacy with the first family in Washington. Her remarkable life story and accomplishments ranked with those of contemporaries Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. But unlike them, her name faded into the shadows of history, much like her shadowy presence in the movie. And so the question remains: Who was Mrs. Keckley?
Elizabeth Keckley (sometimes spelled Keckly) was born on the plantation of Armistead and Mary Burwell outside Petersburg, Va., in February 1818. She never knew her precise birth date, a detail too trifling for entry into slave records. But her birth engaged more than the passing interest of Armistead Burwell, who was both her master and her father. Elizabeth’s mother was Agnes Hobbs, a literate slave and the Burwell family seamstress.
Liaisons between masters and female slaves were common and usually forced. As slaves were mere property, Southern society did not regard this as rape or adultery. But wives of philandering slaveholders had little regard for the offspring of such illicit encounters, particularly when the children bore a resemblance to their fathers—as did light-skinned “Lizzie” Hobbs. Mary Burwell put Lizzie to work at age 4 watching over the Burwells’ baby daughter. The responsibility was too great for a child. One day Lizzie accidentally rocked the cradle too hard, spilling the infant to the floor. Perplexed and frightened, Lizzie tried to scoop the baby back into the cradle with a fireplace shovel just as Mary Burwell entered the room. Infuriated, Mrs. Burwell ordered the overseer to beat Lizzie. “The blows were not administered with a light hand, and doubtless the severity of the lashing has made me remember the incident so well,” Keckley later recalled. “This was the first time I was punished in this cruel way, but not the last.”
Elizabeth Hobbs lived a turbulent early life, with both the anguish common to slavery and privileges denied most slaves. Her mother taught her to sew, and somehow, probably with the Burwells’ permission, she learned to read and write. In 1836 Armistead Burwell loaned Elizabeth and her mother to his eldest son Robert, a Presbyterian minister living in Hillsborough, N.C. Robert Burwell’s wife considered Elizabeth too strong-willed for a slave and sent her to William J. Bingham, the village schoolmaster known for his cruelty, to have the pride beaten out of her. Calling Elizabeth into his study, Bingham grabbed a lash and told her to strip naked. Elizabeth refused. “Recollect, I was eighteen years of age, was a woman fully developed, and yet this man coolly bade me take down my dress.” Bingham overpowered her, and she staggered home covered with bloody welts and deep bruises. After beating her a second time, Bingham broke down and begged her forgiveness. After Bingham faltered, the Reverend Burwell himself beat Elizabeth, striking her so hard with a chair leg that his wife begged him to desist from further punishments.
No sooner did the beatings end than a white neighbor named Alexander Kirkland raped Elizabeth. He used her for four years. In 1840 Elizabeth gave birth to a boy, whom she named George Kirkland. Although three-quarters white, he was a slave like his mother.
After these ordeals, Elizabeth’s fortunes improved. She and her son returned to Petersburg as the property of Armistead Burwell’s daughter Anne Garland and her husband Hugh. Anne treated her illegitimate half-sister kindly and encouraged her progress as a seamstress and dressmaker.
Garland’s business went bankrupt in 1847. He moved his family to St. Louis and opened a law practice, which also foundered. Elizabeth and her mother helped support the Garlands by making dresses for white socialites. In exchange, the Garlands permitted Elizabeth to mingle with the large free black population of St. Louis. In 1855 they agreed to manumit her and young George for $1,200, which Elizabeth borrowed from a sympathetic white client.
That November, Elizabeth married James Keckley. She prospered as a dressmaker and sent her son to the recently founded Wilberforce University in Ohio. But her marriage broke down after Elizabeth learned her husband, who had represented himself as a free black man, was in fact a “dissolute and debased” slave who proved nothing but a “source of trouble and a burden” to her. In early 1860, Elizabeth Keckley left her husband and moved to Baltimore, hoping to teach dressmaking to young black women. Her plan failed, and “with scarcely enough to pay my fare to Washington,” Elizabeth traveled to the nation’s capital in search of new opportunities.
It was a life-changing decision. Elizabeth found work in October 1860 as a seamstress for a “polite and kind” shop-owner whose customers included the leading ladies of Washington. He offered her a generous commission. Elizabeth’s clients delighted in her designs, and her popularity grew. She rented an apartment in a middle-class black neighborhood and soon counted Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, wife of Colonel Robert E. Lee, and Varina Davis, wife of Senator Jefferson Davis, among her clients.
During the secession winter of 1860-61, Elizabeth went to the Davis residence daily to make clothing for Varina and her children and frequently overheard Senator Davis’ political discussions with Southern colleagues. When the Davises left Washington in late January 1861, Varina asked Elizabeth to come South with the family, warning that in the event of war Northerners would blame blacks for the conflict and “in their exasperation treat you harshly.” Elizabeth politely declined, and they parted on good terms.
But Elizabeth was not long without a distinguished “patroness.” With ambition equal to her talent, she sought work in the White House. “To accomplish this end, I was ready to make almost any sacrifice consistent with propriety.” As it turned out, all she needed to do to gain an interview with the new first lady was to make a gown on short notice for Margaret McClean, daughter of future Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner and a mutual friend of Varina Davis and Mary Todd Lincoln.
Elizabeth called on the first lady on March 5, 1861, the day after President Lincoln’s inauguration. The interview was short; learning Elizabeth had worked for Varina Davis, whose wardrobe was widely admired, Mary Lincoln hired her on the spot, asking only that Elizabeth keep her rates reasonable because the Lincolns were “just arrived from the West and poor.” Mary made no friends in Washington society, but the dresses Elizabeth created for her caused quite a stir. The wives of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles became regular customers, and Elizabeth made mourning gowns for the widow of Senator Stephen A. Douglas. But most of her income came from working on Mary Lincoln’s expanding wardrobe. With her earnings, Elizabeth opened a shop and hired several assistants. Mary preferred to go to Elizabeth’s rooms for her fittings, as did Mary Jane Welles and Ellen Stanton. Elizabeth disapproved of their visits, saying later, “I always thought that it would be more consistent with their dignity to send for me instead of their coming to me.”
Meanwhile, her son had managed to pass himself off as white to enlist in the Union Army at the outbreak of the war. His time in the service was short; George Kirkland died August 10, 1861, at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mo. Mary Lincoln heard the news while vacationing in New York and sent Elizabeth a “kind womanly letter” of condolence, a mark of the growing intimacy between them.
That the spoiled daughter of a Kentucky slave owner would form a close bond with an ex-slave was less surprising than it appeared. Mary was a friendless outsider in Washington. Fair-skinned, always immaculately dressed, literate and “courteous to the Nth degree,” a White House housekeeper observed, Elizabeth was “the only person in Washington who could get along with Mrs. Lincoln when she became mad with anyone for talking about her and criticizing her husband.” Thirty-seven years of bondage had taught Elizabeth to accept fits of temper and irrational outbursts far more severe than Mary Lincoln’s.
The death of the Lincolns’ 11-year-old son Willie in February 1862 drew Mary closer to Elizabeth. Suffering from paroxysms of grief beyond her husband’s capacity to endure, Mary found refuge in her dressmaker’s calm and steady presence. A pattern emerged that would characterize the next three years of Elizabeth’s life. She spent much of her time at the White House, often returning home only to sleep or give brief instructions to her employees. She cared for the Lincolns’ youngest son Tad, who was often ill, ministered to Mary during her frequent bouts of headaches and nervous exhaustion, and earned the respect of President Lincoln, who addressed her as “Madame Elizabeth.”
When slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia in April 1862, a New York Post correspondent introduced the nation to “Lizzie, a stately, stylish woman,” in an article about successful free blacks in Washington. “Her features are perfectly regular, her eyes dark and winning; hair straight, black, shining. A smile half-sorrowful and wholly sweet makes you love her face as soon as you look on it. It is a face strong with intellect and heart. It is Lizzie who fashions those splendid costumes of Mrs. Lincoln, whose artistic elegance have been so highly praised. Stately carriages stand before [Keckley’s] door, whose haughty owners sit before Lizzie docile as lambs while she tells them what to wear. Lizzie is an artist, and has such a genius for making women look pretty, that not one thinks of disputing her decrees.”
Lincoln spoke freely in Elizabeth Keckley’s presence. One
afternoon while she was dressing Mary Lincoln for a reception, the president entered
the room. Glancing onto the lawn where Tad played with two goats, he turned
to Elizabeth and asked, “Madame Elizabeth, you are fond of pets, are
you not?” “Oh yes, sir,” she answered. “Well, come here and look at my two goats. I believe they are the kindest and best goats in the world. See how they skip and play in the sunshine.” After one sprang into the air, Lincoln asked Elizabeth if she had ever seen “such an active goat.” Musing a moment, he continued, “He feeds on my bounty and jumps with joy. Do you think we should call him a bounty-jumper? But I flatter the bounty jumper. My goat is far above him. I would rather wear his horns and hairy coat than demean myself to the level of the man who plunders the national treasury in the name of patriotism.” “Come, ’Lizabeth,” Mary scolded. “If I get ready to go down this evening I must finish dressing myself, or you must stop staring at those silly goats.”
“Mrs. Lincoln was not fond of pets, and she could not understand how Mr. Lincoln could take so much delight in his goats,” Keckley remembered. “After Willie’s death, she could not bear the sight of anything he loved, not even a flower.”
Mary buried her unrelenting anguish in lavish spending on clothing and jewelry. Elizabeth accompanied her on shopping trips to New York and Boston, remaining behind in the cities for days at a time to settle orders with merchants. Despite the demands of being the first lady’s companion, she carved out a place as a leader among the capital’s free black community. A chance stroll past a charitable event for wounded soldiers in August 1862 suggested an idea. Forty thousand ex-slaves freed by advancing Union armies thronged the capital, where they lived in squalor. “If the white people can give festivals to raise funds for the relief of suffering soldiers,” she mused, “why should not the well-to-do colored people go to work to do something for the benefit of suffering blacks?” Two weeks later the Contra-band Relief Association was born, with Elizabeth as president. Mary Lincoln was first to subscribe with a $200 donation. President Lincoln also contributed. Northern abolitionists raised funds and contributed clothing and blankets. Frederick Douglass lectured on the association’s behalf and obtained contributions from anti-slavery societies in Great Britain.
Under Elizabeth’s leadership the association distributed food, clothing and other essentials to freedmen, sheltered them and brought teachers to schools built for them. Fundraisers attracted prominent speakers such as Douglass and Wendell Phillips. The organization also hosted Christmas dinners for sick and wounded soldiers of both races.
“Some of the freedmen and freedwomen had exaggerated ideas of liberty. To them it was a beautiful vision, a land of sunshine, rest, and glorious promise,” she wrote. “Since their extravagant hopes were not realized, it was but natural that many of them should feel bitterly their disappointment. Thousands of the disappointed huddled together in camps, fretted and pined like children for the ‘good old times.’ In visiting them they would crowd around me with pitiful stories of distress. Often I heard them declare that they would rather go back to slavery in the South and be with their old masters than to enjoy the freedom of the North. I believe they were sincere, because dependence had become a part of their second nature, and independence brought with it the cares and vexations of poverty.”
As the war dragged on and her husband had neither the time nor patience to indulge her roller-coaster emotions, Mary Lincoln grew increasingly dependent on Elizabeth, withholding little. When it appeared Lincoln might lose the 1864 election, she tearfully revealed her crushing financial burden. “The president glances at my rich dresses and is happy to believe that the few hundred dollars that I obtain from him supply all my wants,” she said. “If he is elected, I can keep him in ignorance of my affairs, but if he is defeated, then the bills will be sent.”
Lincoln’s re-election eased her worry. After Richmond fell in April 1865, Mary invited Elizabeth to accompany her and the president on a visit to City Point, Va., aboard the River Queen. From there they traveled to Richmond, where Elizabeth visited the vacant Confederate Senate chamber and sat in the chair Jefferson Davis sometimes occupied. When the presidential party moved on to Petersburg, Elizabeth searched for childhood acquaintances while the president inspected the troops. She found a few, but was sorry she had come. “The scenes suggested painful memories, and I was not sorry to turn my back again upon the city,” she confessed.
Greater pain awaited, and soon. On the evening of April 11, Elizabeth peered out a White House window at the president, who stood on an open balcony a short distance away. Lincoln had just begun to speak to a large crowd about his plans for Reconstruc-tion. In one hand he held his speech, in the other a candle. Its flickering shadow obscured the words, and Lincoln passed the candle to a journalist behind him. As the candlelight fell full on the president, Elizabeth shivered. “What an easy matter it would be to kill the president as he stands there,” she whispered to a companion. “He could be shot down from the crowd, and no one be able to tell who fired the shot.”
The next morning Elizabeth shared her fear with Mary, who answered sadly, “Yes, yes, Mr. Lincoln’s life is always exposed. No one knows what it is to live in constant dread of some fearful tragedy. I have a presentiment that he will meet with a sudden and violent end. I pray to God to protect my beloved husband from the hands of the assassin.”
Three nights later the president lay dying in the Petersen House across the street from Ford’s Theatre. Mary ordered messengers to bring Elizabeth to her, but they all got lost in the tumult outside the theater. The next morning Elizabeth came to the White House. She found the first lady prostrate with grief and in desperate need of her companionship. For the next six weeks she remained with Mary, sleeping in her room and, as Mary said, “watching faithfully by my side.”
After Lincoln’s assassination, Mary’s debts came due. From Chicago, where she had moved with Robert Todd Lincoln, she hectored Elizabeth with sorrowful letters of her financial plight. In September 1867, she enlisted Elizabeth in a scheme to sell her clothing and jewelry in New York City. Together they visited merchants, Mary traveling heavily veiled and incognito as Mrs. Clark of Chicago. Sales were few, and she was found out. The press pilloried her as insane, “a mercenary prostitute” who dishonored her late husband’s memory. Retreating to Chicago, she left Elizabeth to negotiate with her creditors. The letters from Chicago resumed, each begging Elizabeth to stay in New York until she settled Mary’s affairs. Elizabeth agreed, shutting down her Washington business and taking in sewing to make ends meet. While Elizabeth labored on her behalf in New York, Mary inherited $36,000 in bonds from her late husband’s probated estate. She had promised Elizabeth a tidy sum for their joint venture, but sent her nothing.
With her own livelihood imperiled and her reputation sullied by
the “Old Clothes” affair, Elizabeth decided to write her memoir in
collaboration with James Redpath, a book promoter and white friend of Frederick
In the spring of 1868 the prominent New York publisher Carleton and Company released Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Elizabeth’s avowed purpose was to “place Mrs. Lincoln in a better light before the world” by showing the innocent “motives that actuated us” in the “New York fiasco” and also protect her own good name. “To defend myself I must defend the lady I served,” she wrote boldly in the introduction.
Instead, Elizabeth destroyed herself. Her frank revelations of Mary Lincoln’s erratic behavior and spendthrift ways while in the White House violated Victorian standards of friendship and privacy and of race relations. Without Elizabeth’s permission, Redpath had inserted as an appendix Mary’s correspondence with Elizabeth about her New York scheme, letters that showed Mary at her unstable worst. Robert Lincoln denounced the book and may have tried to suppress sales. A New York book critic wondered if American literary taste had fallen “so low grade as to tolerate the backstairs gossip of Negro servant girls.” Washington newspapers warned white families not to confide in their black housekeepers. Someone penned a cruel parody titled Behind the Seams; by a Nigger Woman who Took Work in From Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Davis and Signed with an “X,” the Mark of “Betsey Kickley” (Nigger). Mary Lincoln dissolved her friendship with the “colored historian,” as she now referred to Elizabeth Keckley.
Mary, born the same year as Elizabeth, died in 1882. Elizabeth outlived her by 25 unhappy years. Behind the Scenes cost Elizabeth her white clientele. She scraped by teaching young black seamstresses, and in 1890 sold her cherished collection of Lincoln mementos for a paltry $250. Friends arranged Elizabeth’s appointment to the faculty of Wilberforce University in 1892 as head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Service, but she taught only briefly before a mild stroke ended her working life. Elizabeth spent her final years in the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children, founded during the Civil War in part with funds from her Contraband Relief Association. She never recovered from her falling-out with Mary Lincoln. She hung Mary’s portrait over her bed and made a quilt from pieces of her dresses. Like Mary, she suffered constant headaches and frequent crying spells. In 1907, at the age of 89, Elizabeth Keckley died alone and nearly forgotten. She deserved better. During the Civil War, she had lifted much of the weight of Mary Lincoln’s grief and instability from the president’s shoulders. For that alone, Elizabeth Keckley merits the gratitude of history. I am a Lincoln follower and could not wait til it was time to share this with you. Resaech about this great American and share with your babies. Make it a champion day!
February 22, 1915 – Robert Smalls
GM – FBF- “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.” (US Congress – R – S.C.) Robert Smalls
Remember – “The Party of Lincoln which unshackled the necks of four million human beings.” – (US Congress – R – S.C.) Robert Smalls
Today in our History – February 22, 1915 -Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on April 5, 1839 and worked as a house slave until the age of 12. At that point his owner, John K. McKee, sent him to Charleston to work as a waiter, ship rigger, and sailor, with all earnings going to McKee. This arrangement continued until Smalls was 18 when he negotiated to keep all but $15 of his monthly pay, a deal which allowed Smalls to begin saving money. The savings that he accumulated were later used to purchase his wife and daughter from their owner for a sum of $800. Their son was born a few years later.
In 1861 Smalls was hired as a deckhand on the Confederate transport steamer Planter captained by General Roswell Ripley, the commander of the Second Military District of South Carolina. The Planter was assigned the job of delivering armaments to the Confederate forts. On May 13, 1862, the crew of the Planter went ashore for the evening, leaving Smalls to guard the ship and its contents. Smalls loaded the ship with his wife, children and 12 other slaves from the city and sailed it to the area of the harbor where Union ships had formed their blockade. This trip led the ship past five forts, all of which required the correct whistle signal to indicate they were a Confederate ship. Smalls eventually presented the Planter before Onward, a Union blockade ship and raised the white flag of surrender. He later turned over all charts, a Confederate naval code book, and armaments, as well as the Planter itself, over to the Union Navy.
Smalls’s feat is partly credited with persuading a reluctant President Abraham Lincoln to now consider allowing African Americans into the Union Army. Smalls went on a speaking tour across the North to describe the episode and to recruit black soldiers for the war effort. By late 1863 he returned to the war zone to pilot the Planter, now a Union war vessel. In December 1863 he was promoted to Captain of the vessel, becoming the first African American to hold that rank in the history of the United States Navy.
After the Civil War Smalls entered politics as a Republican. He was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives and later to the South Carolina Senate. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives first from South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District and later from South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. Smalls served in Congress between 1868 and 1889.
When his last term ended Smalls moved back to Beaufort, South Carolina to become the United States Collector of Customs. He also purchased and resided in the house in which he had once been a slave. Robert Smalls died in Beaufort on February 22, 1915 and is buried there with his family. Research more about this great American and others who were in the Civil War and share with your babies. I won’t be able to respond to any posts – speaking at George Walton Academy in Monroe, GA. Make it a champion day!