Hendrix Post 2

I enjoyed looking through the Orange County Tax List and was surprised how much information could be gleaned from a seemingly routine document used for book-keeping.

Skimming through the entire document allows me to estimate that roughly 30% of individuals in Durham between the ages of 21 and 50 were black, while around 70% were white. It first struck me as odd that races were distinguished in this tax document – the poll tax was $1.20 for both white and black individuals, so why would one create separate columns in a spreadsheet that was meant to keep track of taxes? This allows us to look at this document like a census sheet and a finance sheet instead of only the latter. After I read the Southern Crossing chapters, particularly Chapter Five “In Black and White,” this decision made sense in light of the race relations of the day.

I thought the marks made for the poll tax were tallies, because I could only find 1s, until on page 138 I came across a 2 in the white polls column. The name looks like Rawls and contains 4 letters after it that appear to be L C S A. They have no town lots, land, or animals, but they own stocks in merchandise and have highly valued personal property. This could potentially be a company.

In class, we looked at Washington Duke’s tax records. I wanted to see what I could learn about Pauli Murray’s family. Although she was born in 1910 in Baltimore, she moved in with her grandparents in Durham at the age of 3, so I hoped to find information on Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald. However, I could not find their names. The Fitzgeralds had lived in the Durham-Chapel Hill area since 1869, but they may have been listed under Goldsboro or Hillsborough for taxes. As I continued to search through the document, I found a woman named Mildred Cameron who had a land evaluation at a staggering $7500. She was the daughter of Duncan Cameron, who was a lawyer who gained a fortune while investing heavily in land and buying stock in banks. After his death, she likely inherited much of her father’s land.

I am curious how much of the transcription process could be automated. There have been advances in handwriting recognition through optical character recognition programs, but cursive has always proved a challenge – particularly the style seen in this document. If not the names of individuals, the writing in other columns could potentially be read by a computer, as the numbers are extremely clear. However, the occasional spots of ink throughout the document (and places where a 1 is crossed out with a dash) might prove to be a problem.

One Reply to “Hendrix Post 2”

  1. Sarah, you make a strong observations about the document while connecting them to the historical patterns. As you demonstrate, following individual stories in depth is useful for working with archival materials. You observations, like the multiple functions of a historical tax document, would be helpful for your further research, especially in a dialogue with other archival materials over race and gender issues.

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