Archives for posts with tag: integration

In a pandemic where people are supposed to stay home, a lot of things have happened, haven’t they? I hesitated to write this entry because my intention is always to bring us together, to illustrate common interests and characteristics we share and it’s hard to ignore the divisiveness of current America. Where I stand politically isn’t hard to identify if you follow my blog or read my books. I try to listen to other points of view but sometimes there’s just one right perspective. George Floyd’s death can’t be “interpreted” as other than what it was: murder. I protested George Floyd’s murder on the streets of Richmond but I refused to chant certain statements. All police are not (insert profanity) and I won’t say “(profanity) the police” because law enforcement includes good and bad officers.  I support the right to feel and voice those feelings but it made me uncomfortable to hear that, especially with children protesting among us. Likewise, I can relate to  both sides of the issue of Richmond’s Confederate statues. I grew up seeing them and accepting them as part of our scenery which is why I can understand how hurtful they are to people of color. Have you ever been shocked to have someone tell you that one of your actions or words you said in innocence has hurt someone you care about? I think that’s how a lot of white America feels these days. I’ve been fortunate because I have African-American friends who will tell me honestly when I’ve misspoken or when someone else has. Many white people don’t have that benefit and I’m sure I’ve still said and done things that have been insulting or uncomfortable for others. I can never know what it’s like to be black in America. I’m a white 68-year-old woman. I’ve also felt a little ambivalence about the statues because my experience is a little unusual. I have photographs my great-grandfather took of those monuments a century ago because they were news, because he was present and they were part of the documentation of Harry Stilson’s world. Here’s what I mean…

Stonewall Jackson monument

I wondered why Harry took this photograph of the Stonewall Jackson statue dedication until Bob Krick, Chimborazo Museum historian, explained. Seems that when the dignitary who was unveiling the statue pulled the rope, it got tangled and the ceremony was delayed while someone climbed up and untangled ropes. Ironically, when the statue was being removed last week, there was another issue (involving horse hoofs and a kind of sawzall)  which caused a delay. And then there’s this…

French general use

This is the Robert E. Lee statue with a French general, I believe Marshall Ferdinand Foch, laying a wreath on his visit to Richmond after World War I. It’s worth noting that Robert E. Lee opposed the idea of a statue to him. It’s also significant that other events occurred at the monument in addition to the French general’s visit. It was the starting point for a women’s march that I participated in a few years ago as well as background in other parades. About those other parades…

confederate parade

This is what Harry labeled “Confederate Parade” on Monument Avenue. He photographed every parade he witnessed, in Richmond, Michigan, Yorktown. This parade was also included in his movies but not because of Harry’s Confederate pride. He was born in Michigan. To him, it was simply a parade. WWI  soldiers, cadets, and a band (Elks, I think) were in the parade, too. Richmond loved parades and never missed an opportunity to hold one. Even a “Confederate Parade,” promoting attitudes and times that our African-American residents could not forget because they were so  painful.

Confederate statues need to come down because they negatively impact many of our citizens but history isn’t eliminated by their removal. My Virginia history school books never mentioned many facts about black history (one reason I bought Black history cards for my grandkids) but that doesn’t erase those events from our past. I’ve always been in favor of adding context to the monuments. I was thrilled when Arthur Ashe’s statue was placed on Monument Avenue and have bragged on him often, reminding people that as a telephone installer, I worked on his aunt’s phone and she shared stories of him practicing on nearby Northside tennis courts. Our history includes both good and bad and should all be preserved. We can’t learn from the past if we are unaware of it.

Confederate statues were erected to promote white supremacy in the days of Jim Crow but there were other voices in the early 1900s offering other perspectives. One voice was that of Harry Stilson, documented in a 1907 speech he gave to a Michigan women’s literary club while visiting his home state. I’ve shared this before but it bears repeating. I’ve even printed it and carried it on protest signs over the years. I have Harry Stilson’s handwritten speech, entitled “Our Tinted Population.” I also have the rejection letter Harry received when he submitted the speech to a New York magazine in which he was told “We have no use for anything like this.” Well, we do have need of these words, now more than ever.

“We are black, brown, red, yellow and white. We are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jew, spiritualist, atheist, or whatnot. If they be of different types, at variance in color, religion or nationality, or all three, I am constrained to believe, being optimistic, it is so much better for the world. I believe that the true test is one of character or moral worth, and that the best education is the one that develops that character without regard to color of skin or condition of society. I also think that the best way to remove that “pride of tint” is by honorable familiarity with the adverse color, religion or nationality. In no place can this honorable familiarity be better brought about than in our common schools and public churches. I would abolish all private schools…(so) that they should become more familiar with and less suspicious of those of different tint, and thus become better citizens of this great nation, having more respect for each other.”

0151 Tinted Population bk

The word “integration” may not have been in our vocabulary in 1907 but that’s what Harry Stilson was advocating. We assure ourselves that our nation is integrated now but, if that were truly the case, the racism of today wouldn’t be possible. It’s such a simple concept: become more familiar with people of other races and religions and you will have more respect for each other. Why is that so hard to implement?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Stilson, Richmond streetcar driver and photographer in the early 1900s, lived in a segregated world. What people often do not realize is that “segregated” is a relative term. In Richmond’s Jackson Ward, Jewish immigrants lived beside African-American families and some churches had mixed congregations, although seating was usually separate. Harry Stilson, however, seemed to move between black and white worlds in an uncommon way. His journal records visits to Sam and Mary Sparrow’s home at 602 Elizabeth Street (across from Maggie Walker Governor’s School) and other interactions with Richmond’s African American community. He took photographs of the Sparrow house for them to share with relatives in Philadelphia and joked with Mrs. Sparrow and her friend Mrs. Taylor about bathing attire. He and his conductor, Mr. Epperson, went to Bessie Shiflett’s home to retrieve his “picture knife” when she “returned it not.” And he took portraits for black customers as well as hundreds of photographs of Richmond’s black community at work and play. These images offer a glimpse into lives not well-documented and provide insight into Harry Stilson’s attitude on race.

0058 Sparrow & taylor                                                  Sam & Mary Sparrow & Mary Taylor

Harry showed respect to African Americans in various ways. He labeled a child’s picture “Miss Rubin Lea Moore” and his journal often listed his black customers by title even as he identified them as “colored” which I assume was to help in sorting all his work. He mentioned photographing African-American doctors but with thousands of images,  there’s no way to match a photograph with Dr. Jones and Dr. Rigler.  One common theme in Stilson’s collection is that of black and white together. Photographs like this of two boys in a carriage, one white, one black, likely in Jackson Ward. Was he making a point? I don’t know.

094 awhite & black kid in carriage 090 icemen

Probably my favorite picture of all is that of his son, Don, with a friend in the backyard on Gilbert Street. I’ve tried to identify Don’s friend by notes on envelopes of negatives but census records leave gaps. Notes mention Dippy Bennett, Bozy, Denny Robinson but this kid could be anyone. I’d love to trace that little boy because I have several photos of him playing with my great-uncle and the family cat.

0153 Don & DennyDenny or Henry

I’ve shared Harry Stilson’s speech given in 1907 before but it bears repeating. He was invited to speak to the Ladies Literary Club in Michigan and I have the handwritten speech he gave, entitled “Our Tinted Population.” I also have the rejection letter Harry received when he submitted the speech as an article in a New York magazine in which he was told “We have no use for anything like this.” Well, we do have need of these words, now more than ever.

0151 Tinted Population bk

“We are black, brown, red, yellow and white. We are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jew, spiritualist, atheist, or whatnot. If they be of different types, at variance in color, religion or nationality, or all three, I am constrained to believe, being optimistic, it is so much better for the world. I believe that the true test is one of character or moral worth, and that the best education is the one that develops that character without regard to color of skin or condition of society. I also think that the best way to remove that “pride of tint” is by honorable familiarity with the adverse color, religion or nationality. In no place can this honorable familiarity be better brought about than in our common schools and public churches. I would abolish all private schools…(so) that they should become more familiar with and less suspicious of those of different tint, and thus become better citizens of this great nation, having more respect for each other.”

0009 African American older man,cigar bk 005 sisters 0060 Bessie Watson, colored

The word “integration” may not have been in our vocabulary in 1907 but that’s what Harry Stilson was advocating. We assure ourselves that our nation is integrated now but, if that were truly the case, the racism of today wouldn’t be possible. It’s such a simple concept: become more familiar with people of other races and religions and you will have more respect for each other. Why is it so hard to implement?

Celebrating Martin Luther King Day this year seems even more significant than usual. In this divisive time, I hope today is more than a day off work. For me, it brings a flood of memories: I was in Sing Out South, Central Virginia’s first integrated young people’s group. We were denied service in restaurants because of our black cast members. Our director, Inez Thurston, had eight crosses burned in her yard. I remember the cold fear in my heart as we ran on stage where we’d sing “What Color is God’s Skin?” while the KKK met in the basement below. I will always be proud of what Sing Out South did to promote racial relationships in the 60s.

I also remember encountering a Klan parade in Heathsville as a child.  Daddy had to explain what it was. My mom recalls the men “being so big. They were just so scary.” We drove through that display of hatred and I recall the silence inside our vehicle. Five kids and not a sound. My mother’s face said it all. I was blessed to be raised in a family that opposed segregation without really discussing it. When I asked if my Sing Out friend Cynthia “Ducky” Moore could spend the weekend, Mom said sure. It was years later that I realized my black friend in our white church on Sunday morning might have caused my parents trouble. They never said a word.  Thank God I had parents like that.

0094 laundry wagon

That kind of thinking isn’t new in my family line. A century ago, my great-grandfather Harry Stilson’s streetcar route was Jackson Ward, a predominantly black neighborhood and his camera rode beside him. He lifted it thousands of times on Richmond’s streets and those photographs are a precious legacy of the people he knew. His notations on some of the surviving pictures and his journal entries confirm what the images show. He knew those people. He visited their homes. He liked those folks. Not behavior common between a middle-aged white guy and black Richmonders in the early 1900s. The people on his streetcar route were friends. His journal documented that. After his son was killed in France during World War I, Harry first ventured from his home to visit Galeski Photo and Miss Day who sold him photographic supplies. Then he went to the Elizabeth Street home of a black railroad porter and his wife.  “Sat 12/7/18 I feel some better…took 2 times X of RF&P Station grounds…went on W Clay car and to Sam Sparrow’s.”

0058 Sparrow & taylor

 

Sam and Mary Sparrow lived across the street from where Maggie Walker Governor’s School stands today. Harry took pictures of them and Mary Taylor but he also visited  their home. His journal describes a visit with the two ladies in which he showed photographs and includes an off-color joke by Mrs. Taylor. “Tue 11/19/18 Took “proofs” to Mrs. Sparrow and Mrs. Taylor. Showed them “bathing suits”. Mrs. Sparrow said Mrs. Taylor wants you to take her_ _ _. Sparrow wants them taken again.”

He mentioned taking photos of their house for them to show relatives in Philadelphia and other photo shoots but they either didn’t survive or are not labeled. “Sun 11/17/18, Took pictures of Sam Sparrow’s house self and wife, John Taylor & wife all colored 602 Elizabeth St. Tried to make “Flash” also failed of picture. Forgot slide.” That part of Elizabeth is gone now so I can’t be sure which house was theirs in his extensive collection but Harry was a part of their lives. The Sparrows were friends.

So was this young woman. I believe she may be curtsying behind Moore Street School, although posing in front of an outhouse is odd, but what is significant is Harry’s description: “A colored friend behind the school.”

0077 girl curtsy

He was also friends with Bessie Watson and took a series of pictures of her family, including her daughter. This hand-tinted photograph of her daughter is stunning and I wish I could find that family to share it.

0060 Bessie Watson, colored

 

Confirming timelines in Harry’s life is tricky but this I know. He came to Richmond in 1909 after two years in Orange, Virginia so the images above are after 1909 but his ideas on race and religion were already determined. In 1907 he was invited back to his home town in Michigan to speak before the Ladie’s Literary Society. I have his hand-written speech from that presentation. In it, he declares:  “We are black, brown, red, yellow and white. We are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jew, spiritualist, atheist, or whatnot. If they be of different types, at variance in color, religion or nationality, or all three, I am constrained to believe, being optimistic, it is so much better for the world. I believe that the true test is one of character or moral worth, and that the best education is the one that develops that character without regard to color of skin or condition of society. I also think that the best way to remove that “pride of tint” is by honorable familiarity with the adverse color, religion or nationality. In no place can this honorable familiarity be better brought about than in our common schools and public churches. I would abolish all private schools…(so) that they should become more familiar with and less suspicious of those of different tint, and thus become better citizens of this great nation, having more respect for each other.”

0151 Tinted Population bk

He was describing integration. Radical words in 1907, asserting that skin color or religion did not determine the person’s worth, but I am grateful that Harry held those convictions. Because he did, he was in the right place at the right time to record people and places on the West Clay line. We have made progress since Harry’s time but right now it doesn’t feel like it. Becoming better citizens of this great nation? Having more respect for each other? That sounds like Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech from decades ago, like a hope for the future instead of a reality today. How can that be?  Could we make another New Year’s resolution? To “become more familiar with and less suspicious of those of different tint, and thus become better citizens of this great nation, having more respect for each other?” And all God’s children said, “Amen.”

139 Don & Denny

Above: one of my favorite pictures. Harry’s son, Don, and his friend, whose name may be Denny Robinson, by Harry’s pigeon coop. My great-grandmother had labeled the photo: “Two orphans.”

Did you think “New Age Thinking” was new? Books and seminars proposing the power of attitude and holistic practices surround us so you might not realize that these ideas were around in the early 1900s, when my great-grandfather Harris Stilson was driving streetcars and photographing Richmond. In his journal, he embraced radical philosophies and his book collection, which survived, is illuminating. Books like the seven volume collection “The Secret of the Ages” by Robert Collier printed in 1926 which describes how a person can have dominion over his body, environment, and health by realizing his God-power within. Collier dedicated his efforts to educating a portion of the American population whose plight is as relevant today as in the 1920s. The first volume’s foreward could have been taken from President Obama’s State of the Union speech as Collier describes a young couple not getting help that “would spell H-E-A-V-E-N to that tiny family. But do they get it? Not often! And the reason? Because they are not poor enough for charity. They are not rich enough to afford it themselves. They belong to that great “Middle Class” which has to bear the burdens of both the poor and the rich-and take what is left for itself.” Sound like the “Middle Class Economics” debates of today? Sure does.

The Secret of the Ages” sounds  like pop culture but it wasn’t only self-empowerment that intrigued Harry Stilson. He also studied hypnosis. Popular around the turn of the century, the idea of mind control was the subject of everything from scientific studies to drawing room performances. This booklet, also in Harry’s collection, is an example of his interest in the subject.

hypnosis

On Martin Luther King Day, I gave a presentation at the Maggie Walker National Historic Site and quoted from Harris Stilson’s 1907 speech entitled “Our Tinted Population” which I found. He gave that speech to a Women’s Literary Club in Michigan and his ideas were radical. Harry promoted what we call integration, a term probably not even invented back then, and I’m proud of his conviction. What is also interesting is his description of the population of America.

Quoting from Harry’s speech: “We are black, brown, red, yellow, and white. We are Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jew, spiritualist, atheist, or whatnot. If they be of different types, at variance in color, religion or nationality, or all three, I am constrained to believe, being optimistic, it is so much better for the world. I believe that the true test is one of or moral worth, and that the best education is the one that develops that character without regard to color of skin or condition of society. I also think that the best way to remove that “pride of tint” is by honorable familiarity with the adverse color, religion or nationality.

In no place can this honorable familiarity be better brought about than in our common schools and public churches. I would abolish all private schools…(so) that they should become more familiar with and less suspicious of those of different tint, and thus become better citizens of this great nation, having more respect for each other.”

074e Tinted Population

Did you catch spiritualist in his list? Right up there with recognized religions so I am assuming that these philosophies were in the news and part of the culture of the early 1900s.

Harry Stilson must have been fascinated with the notion that we could recreate or improve ourselves because I found his photograph of this class. He hand-wrote “Self Improvement Class” on the building window. We can’t identify the building or any of the members of the group so help in locating this building would be appreciated. I also found other books and pamphlets about spiritual growth and mind-control, not exactly normal reading material for a white middle-aged Christian living in Richmond, Virginia, in the 1920s.

self improvement class

Basically, what I’m saying is that the old adages “Nothing is new under the sun” or “What goes around comes around” are true. Decades from now, another President may dedicate himself to those “too poor for charity” and “not rich enough” to afford for themselves, “the Great Middle Class.” A century from now, hypnosis, spirituralism, “self-improvement classes”, or other holistic doctrines or ideologies might just be selling books like the ones I found in my aunt’s basement. I do hope, however, that Harry’s desire for “respect” between races and religions, has been achieved and that we will be “better citizens of this great nation.”