Monday, March 01, 2004

Family History

I spent the past 8 hours or so inputting data from my family tree. I'm trying to re-create a virtual community of my Descended From Families and their neighbors and allies in western Louisiana and eastern Texas in the 1830s through the 1840s. They were a very interesting group of mixed-blood people who left South Carolina for a lot of different reasons around 1803.

Something unique happened to them between 1790 and 1860, they became an identifiable subgroup who came to be known as Redbones. They were mostly isolated from the dominant culture, and facing increasingly discriminatory laws that even denied them the right to legally marry their neighbors who saw them as being insignificantly different than themselves. On three and maybe four occasions the conflicts between my family and the White culture ended in shoot-outs. We didn't take to marginalization quietly. We had guns, plenty of young men who saw themselves equal to any man. Don Marler, author of Redbones of Louisiana, thinks we developed a culture perceived by the dominant society as violent in part to show our unsuitability for slavery, a condition not exclusively confined to African-Americans, but easily included Indians and people of mixed Indian and/or African blood. There is no denying that we were not full-blooded White. We're dark. We claim we're a mixture of American Indian and Whites. We're even willing to concede that there may be some Black blood. No big deal. Well, it was a big deal in 1836 in Texas where we were called Black for the first time. In Louisiana, we were called Mulatto, but nothing inferred by it other than the likelihood that one or both parents had a parent that was Black or Indian. You might say we eventually won. The U.S. census was still listing us a Mulatto until they discontinued use of the term, putting us in the White column from whence we came (we began as White in the 1790 census). Interesting, huh?

We have been considered Whites in Texas and Louisiana since the end of the Civil War for purposes of Jim Crow laws. Throughout the 1800s, there were a couple of dozen cases of members of my family being prosecuted for marrying across racial lines, always White. Extreme racism towards Blacks has been the rule in my family until recent generations, making it unlikely that there were any additional marriages with Blacks. End of story?

Not quite. Texas continues to write its history based on the assumption that since we were accused of having Black blood, therefore we were African-American identified then and we present day descendants of those Ashworths are just in denial for having Black ancestry. This is what the Online Handbook of Texas History has to say about my ancestor, William Ashworth. What they don't say is that in 1800, he is counted in the White column of the South Carolina census, but by the 1810 census, the United States began arbitrarily assigning people into racial categories, first FPC, then later, Mulatto. You can see, the Texas Handbook doesn't see William as being mixed-Blood, but represents him to be a Black-identified African-American. They even use socially acceptable terms rather than those old racist terms from the 19th century, like Mulatto.

A few years ago, I did a Google search of my ancestor's name and discovered a drawing of four of the sons of Keziah Dial and James Ashworth, William, Moses, Aaron and James, as Black men. The author, Dr. David Williams, never bothered to say that the drawings were an artist's conjecture, but even more deceitfully claimed the drawings to be part of a "collection" of the Texas African American Heritage Organization, or TAAHO. Dr. Williams declined to answer any of my several questions and will not be interviewed for the book.

We have never told our own story. I think it's time for us to tell the world who we are. Our name is our story. My other blog, Colored, Outside the Lines is where I work on that project. I know Mr. Steven Spielberg will want to do an epic movie of my family's struggles with Texas, if I can just have ten minutes to pitch it to him... (If anyone knows him well enough for an introduction, please call me me.)

The long and short of it, it's taking me dozens of hours to create a database that will allow me to create a virtual community of this time period. I think I once mentioned that I have 84 first cousins. Square that by a few generations, and you get an idea of how many cousins comprise my database.

My book, like myself, is a work in progress.