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Too Many Died For Freedom
2/26/2014 4:20:31 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

As we prepare to wrap up the official month of Black History, let’s remember that Blacks are making history every day. This month, one very important milestone that happened in Charleston is the unveiling of the Denmark Vesey Monument in Hampton Park.

There is an encapsulated history on the monument but if you don’t know the story of Vesey’s heroic but failed attempt to liberate his people from slavery, read your history before visiting the monument and it will give you a deeper appreciation for his revolt.

One important take away from the Vesey story is he was a “free” man. He did not have to do what he did but he did so because he knew slavery was wrong.

Each of us has a responsibility to look wrong in the eye and do something about it. It is impossible to free others when we ourselves are not yet free.

Freedom comes first from within. You have to free your mind. If your mind is all twisted and tangled up so are your actions. It’s like the slaves who thwarted the Vesey revolt by ratting him and his lieutenants out to the authorities. We still have “rats” among us who sit in on our meetings and run back to the authorities and spill their guts for a little piece of cheese.

Yet these same rats keep their mouth shut when they witness a crime in their neighborhoods. The moral of ratting is you have to know when to eat the cheese because you could get caught in your own trap. A very special shout-out goes to Councilman Henry Darby for not giving up on his dream.

There was also another revolt that took place on the Stono River led by Jemmy. According to the Wikipedia, Jemmy, no surname given, was a literate slave of Angolan descent. He along with about 20 African cohorts gathered along the Stono River on Sunday, September 9, 1739.

They were Catholic and they chose that date because it was the Catholic celebration of the Virgin Mary nativity. Jemmy didn’t just pick a day out of a hat for the revolt. The date was significant in that he wanted to connect the past with the present and it was also planned for a Sunday, a day of worship where most of the slaveholders would be in church and unarmed. Jemmy led the march carrying a banner that read “liberty” while he and the other slaves chanted “liberty”.

They stopped at Hutchenson’s store along the Stono River, killed two shopkeepers and seized weapons and ammunition.

As they continued their march on towards Spanish Florida, because Spanish Florida was known at the time as a refuge for escapees, they gathered some 80 recruits; some went along reluctantly. Along the way, they burned seven plantations and killed some 20-25 whites. As fate would have it, Lt. Governor William Bull and several of his friends encountered the group while out horseback riding. They left to warn other slaveholders and a militia was formed.

The militia went to confront Jemmy and his followers and caught up with them at the Edisto River. A fight ensued and 20 whites and 44 slaves were killed. Although the slaves lost, they killed more whites proportionately than was the case in later rebellions.

As in other rebellions, the slaves were beheaded and their heads mounted on stakes along major roadways to serve as a warning for other slaves who might contemplate similar uprisings.

The Lieutenant Governor hired Chickasaw and Catawba Indians and other slaves to hunt down the slaves who had escaped the encounter. A week later the escapees fought a battle with the militia approximately 30 miles from the first battle scene and who weren’t killed were sold off to the markets of the West Indies.” Because of this revolt, the Security Act of 1739 was passed requiring all white males to carry arms even to church on Sundays to prevent such uprisings. Perhaps our governor is headed in the same direction with such lax gun laws in the state and showcasing her Christmas present from hubby.

Even as we celebrate Black History Month of achievements, there is still much work to be done. There are still those among us who say, blacks should have never been freed while others still treat blacks as inferior or second class citizens.

Every time I wait in a doctor’s office and the young clerk barely out of high school calls me Beverly, I think back on the times they called my mother Lucille out of pure disrespect but my mother never responded until they called her by her surname. I think about the times my father’s supervisor called him “boy” and how he had to just suck it up and go about his work with distinction with his head held up and responding “yes sir”.

I still reflect on the times my grandparents who were sizeable landowners went into the small town of Walterboro to purchase supplies for the farm how they were overcharged for the same items that whites purchased for a fraction of the price or how they could not get a loan to purchase farm equipment or to get them through tough times when the heat or drought destroyed their crops.

When I put on one of those fancy dresses on Sundays, I often think about the times that my grandmother wore her handmade dresses out of flour sacks to church and sat proudly as a peacock on the front pew. And, when I am out eating biscuits at one of those fancy restaurants, I can just envision her in the summertime slaving over a hot wood burning stove making some of the finest lightest biscuits you ever tasted. Then her bedtime snack would consist of biscuits or cornbread with hot tea or clabber. For all y’all young bucks that don’t know what clabber is, it’s sour milk that has thickened. It might sound grotesque but it was a way of life for the poor.

I often think of the time when I returned from up north and sat down on the front seat of the bus between two whites. The little old white lady who could barely reach the strap to hold onto got up because she did not want to sit next to me. Did my Evening in Marysville Perfume offend her? At first I did not know what was going on because we rode anywhere up north. I didn’t give it a second thought until I looked towards the back of the bus and saw everyone in the back was black.

So y’all this Black exclusion experience is real. Brush up on your history and exercise your rights. Stop allowing folks to treat you like second class citizens. Too many have died for freedom for you to live in fright. If you haven’t done anything to advance the cause of freedom, get busy. There is still much to be done.

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