Post #8 – Walltown Entries

On the surface, transcribing appears to be easy work. It is not. Difficulty exists, at times, in reading the handwritten information recorded by the enumerator. Beyond the handwriting, the names are not always familiar because some of them or very contemporary with their entry period, as well as the fact that names can be spelled in a variety of ways. Accuracy is also a concern. As we transcribe and transfer the entries, we have to be very careful to enter the correct information on the correct line. If our entries are off then we are responsible for providing inaccurate information for researchers who use our database as a resource.

One question I might ask, given the data, is what circumstances led to certain women being listed as head of household. Were these women widows? Had they been deserted by their husbands? Were they divorced? How were they accepted in the community? What type of living were they able to earn as female heads of household?

The pattern which I found most interesting was the common practice of grownup children with their spouses, living in their parents homes. This is so different from the way American families live today, in separate homes, separate towns, even separate regions of the county.


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The Cemetery and the Courthouse

Sounds funny, but Julie Beauvais and I had a grand time wandering through Maplewood Cemetery, in search of Durham’s history. Thanks to the Durham County Register of Deeds office (Sharon Davis) for showing me how to look up land deals involving Richard B. Fitzgerald. Also thanks to the kind folks in the Estate Division in the Courthouse who assisted me in locating Fitzgerald’s will. He left $50,000 in real estate and personal property, which amounts to nearly $800,000 in today’s money. Wow!

For this week’s reading, Bird by Bird was a great read, especially for writers. Lamott’s style is both instructive and humorous. I love the way she writes. Very useful and entertaining.

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Post #6 – Heritage: Fortune and Misfortune

Two main points impress me when reading Pauli Murray’s Proud Shoes. One impression: before and after the Civil War, the luck of having already been born free in the North, granted freedom in the South or born into an aristocratic Southern family made all of the difference for Black families and their future. The Fitzgerald family displays these mechanics of freedom and status and every way. While Harriet would certainly consider her plight one of misfortune, in the Smith family scandal, it of course led to good fortune for her descendants, like Cornelia.

I’m also impressed by how fortunate and wise the Fitzgeralds were in positioning themselves as people of business. They had no debt. Thomas Fitzgerald lived by the “no-debt” code and taught the same to his offspring. The Fitzgeralds were also literate, a rare characteristic for anyone during this period and they also skilled trades. The stars aligned well for the Fitzgeralds and they capitalized on their good fortune with hard work, smarts and entrepenurial spirit.

The whole Smith family saga and Cornelia’s loyalty is a topic unto itself, which I’m sure we’ll discuss in class.


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Post 5 – A Working Past

Some of Charlotte’s early business practices still work today. One thing we can see from Hanchett’s Sorting Out the New South City, is that Charlotte was actually ahead of her time, in some respects. “Mixed Use” of land is a business practice which some cities are only recently embracing, while the Queen City long embraced this business concept during Reconstruction. And how about the “Big Box” concept? Looks like Charlotte, for better or worse, incorporated that manner of retail development, well before other municipalities. Another continued business application, locating central businesses downtown, like the banking industry and the area’s professional sports franchises. Another interesting thing I noted was how open Charlotte’s aristocracy was in labeling poor whites as a threat to tradition, more so than newly freed African Americans. While wealthy white leaders in most cities may have held poor whites in the same low regard, they didn’t voice it as publicly. Interesting messages.

Now, for an update on searching. I did some research this week at the N.C. State Archives in downtown Raleigh, where I sorted through records from the North Carolina Department of Corrections, looking for anything I could find on Richard Fitzgerald’s contract to make four million bricks to build the state penitentiary. The staff was very helpful. I did find some information in the commission minutes, but what I found raised some new questions, while answering others. This seems to be the eternal pattern of research. I hope to complete my look through microfilm of Robert Fitzgerald’s Diary, Sunday at UNC’s Wilson Library. As for secondary sources, I feel that I’ve found some solid sources, but would like at least one more that is less than three years old. Oh, one last thing, I missed something right underneath my nose. Thanks to our Census lesson in class last week, it dawned on me to add the Fitzgerald family stats from the 1880 Census to my collection of information, for possible use in my final paper. All of the Fitzgeralds are listed, right there. The moral: Don’t forget the obvious while tracking down the more elusive.  Melody

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Post #4 – Searching: So Far, So Good

The search for secondary sources to support my paper on Richard Fitzgerald and his particular ability to succeed as a black man in the New South, immediately after Reconstruction, has been interesting and fruitful. Primary sources are a bit more elusive.

Fitzgerald Brothers

Secondary resources include materials on the culture of free persons of color and overall societal views of free persons and specifically mulattos or blacks who more resembled whites in facial features and skin tone. I’ll list those momentarily. There is first the search for materials specifically referencing R.B. Fitzgerald and his role in building Durham and Durham’s elite black class. My top three secondary sources in this pursuit are: 1) Leslie Brown’s The Upbuilding of Black Durham: Gender Class and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South, 2) Jean Bradley Anderson’s Durham County: A History of Durham County, and 3) Robert Kenzer’s Enterprising Southerners.

Richard Fitzgerald is a key figure in Brown’s work. Her prologue centers around the Fitzgerald family. Brown asks if freeborn blacks and blacks with white blood line were given special allowances by whites and thereby given greater odds at success? What political and business dogma motivate powerful white leaders in Durham to support blacks like Fitzgerald? What roles do Carr and Duke specifically play in building a black elite class, if any? Concerning sources used by Brown; what sources does she not use? Brown’s research is thorough and her observation on what other researchers have surmised is thoughtful. Her primary sources include Carr’s papers, Duke’s papers, Shepard’s papers, Pearson’s papers, Hunter’s Papers, Durham Morning Herald news articles, articles written by W.E.B DuBois and Booker T. Washington, personal interviews with educators, union members and others. Her secondary sources include Weare’s Black Business in the New South (which I have – makes me feel I’m on the right track), Woodward’s Strange Career of Jim Crow, Ayers’ The Promise of the New South, Wells’ “The Southern Middle Class” and Frazier’s “Durham: The Capital of the Black Middle Class.”

Kenzer uses many of the some of the same primary and secondary sources as Brown. However in addition to his analytical offerings, Kenzer uses a great deal of data, census and other numbers to create a fact-based outlook on the topic. Kenzer asks what were the demographics? What were the numbers? How did these demographic figures help or hurt black success in Durham? What other factors besides hard cold numbers may have played a part in the journey of Durham’s black elite? He has taken painstaking time and care to research, analyze and record empirical data.

Anderson was the first source to give me much-needed bearing on Durham’s history and the major historical players, including Fitzgerald. This is an essential primary source which uses and leads to other primary sources. Again, many of these sources are also used in Brown’s book. Anderson is asking what did Durham look like before the Civil War? How did it change and prosper after? Who prospered and how? What were the resulting social and cultural and social tensions? How were these tensions handled, if at all? How did Carr and Duke figure into the picture for whites and blacks in Durham?

As for secondary sources, beyond searches specifically about Fitzgerald and Durham’s black elite class, I decided to search terms like “manumission,” ‘free blacks/coloreds/negroes,” “mulatto,” “freeborn,” “freedman and slaves,” and “wills and property and free slaves.” These searches have led to numerous secondary sources which can help formulate my suggestion, as others have suggested, that being freeborn and/or mulatto likely assisted Fitzgerald (along with hard work and character) with climbing to a high degree of status in Durham, during a time when few blacks had the opportunity to do so.

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Post 3 – Why It’s ‘Special’ Collections

To actually touch letters written by someone in the 1700’s or 1800’s is special and goes beyond reading about the letter in a book. Also each item has the chance to spark or support an idea. On Monday night, in Special Collections, I began by sifting through items in the Asa and Elna Spaulding materials. I didn’t find anything which assisted with the two topics I’m proposing or anything which suggested an interesting topic. I moved on to the Durham County Tax List from 1875. I love looking at this list. Interesting how a ledger, with only a few words of information about each person, can offer so much to the imagination. Why does this person, listed as ‘colored’, have more than 200 acres of land? How is that possible? Did he migrate here from the north? If a former slave, was he granted the land by his former owner? Related to the plantation owner? I’m particularly focused on these rare number of African Americans who managed to amass large amounts of land so shortly after Emancipation. Time in the reading room passed quickly once I started looking through the tax list. The edges of some of the pages are brittle and brown. Maybe it’s nerdy, but I like the way it feels when I have to carefully turn these aging pages.

I also enjoyed listening to my classmates when they found something interesting and shared it with me. Julie showed me something from the William A Couch items (Durham Co. plantation owner) which made me think of considering another topic all together. It was called the “Colored Race Book.” Sort of a propaganda book on how black folk should behave. Intriguing (to me) that it existed and equally intriguing that this white plantation owner kept this with his items.

Searching takes time. It can be tedious, but you never know when you’re going to come upon a hidden treasure in one of those boxes Will Hansen passes through the window.


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Post 1 – Ayers and Ownby

The common theme shared by Ayers and Ownby is the power and influence of the general stores and the railroads on the lives of all Southerners. According to both writers, the general store dictated: 1) what you might see of the world through the products offered, and 2) whether or not you can afford to save to buy and depending on how much you owe the store. The absence of a railroad station often determined if a town or village would be developed. I was surprised at just how much influence the railroad industry had, including the creation of the four U.S. time zones.

Ayers suggests the factors which changed the South after Reconstruction were: 1) the rapid spread of the railroads, 2) proliferation and influence of general stores, 3) migration of black and white southerners within and out of the south, and 4) the rise and fall of certain industries, including cotton, textile factories, lumber/sawmills and coal mining.

There were several things which grabbed my attention:

  • The amount of blacks who did become landowners and where those land-owning opportunities came about; Upper South, coastal regions where cotton crops were lowest and where the population was predominately white  (Ayers, 35).
  • Also interesting that the black landowners had to be careful how they displayed any success. Their success and
    ambition were often looked upon with displeasure by whites. Blacks in the South
    during this area definitely were caught in a Catch 22 dilemma.
  • The quote about the separation of classes among blacks and the importance of this development as a positive sign (Ayers, 13) for any group in a society. “’The
    best sign for the Negroes of our land,’ a sympathetic white woman observed, ‘is
    that they are fast separating into classes, a fact to which their white
    fellow-citizens often fail to attach the importance it deserves.’ Black
    Southerners increasingly differed among themselves in quite self-conscious
    ways. ‘Few modern groups sow a greater internal differentiation of social
    conditions than the Negro American, and the failure to realize this is the
    cause of much confusion,’ W.E.B DuBois pointed out.” Why would this be true?
  • In the same vein, I found interesting what I call the “nouveau free” attitude of some blacks, as Ayers pointed out. The old guard black gentility of New Orleans and Charleston (antebellum free blacks and mulattoes) barely accepting the growing upper class of black businessmen in places like Durham. Again, this speaks to classcism, but on a different level than mentioned in the bullet above.
  • Cotton became such a crippling crop. I guess this surprises me because I’ve always thought of it as such a stable cash crop of great value. I grew up in a county which prized cotton and still grows cotton. We have a Cotton Festival each
  • I was surprised at the number of black coal miners, or indeed any black coal
    miners at all. (Ayers, 63)
  • I was surprised to see that some blacks moved from the Upper South to the Deep
    South, but being informed, now, about the influences of available jobs and
    land, I understand. (Ayers, 17)
  • I never imagined general stores and town would be these rowdy and nasty places.


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Post 2 Ayers Ch 4-7: Farmers, Frustrations and Fears

Ayers overall message about this time during Southern transition is the amount of frustration with the lack of progress and prosperity for the majority of southerners, both black and white. The large percentage of black and white voters were controlled by intimidation and Jim Crow laws (in the case of blacks) or tenant rules,  industry and merchant might and plays on their fears of blacks (in the case of whites). Under these circumstances, it also became clear to most groups that change was needed for any type of economic prosperity, and for a specific group, that change was needed in the realm of racial equality. Politics became the defining mechanism to address either of these challenges. Politics further complicated a social structure, defined by a broken economy and increasing racial tensions.

Here are a few of the themes which most interested me or even surprised me, in some cases:

  • The overall capricious nature of life and fortune during the time period is staggering. Farmers, most of them not owning their own land were at the mercy of merchants and ultimately the railroads. Blacks, regardless of their success and ambition were at the whims of all whites, regardless of class. If we take for example the incidents which occurred in the first class railcars, where blacks with first class tickets could be assaulted by whites for simply being there, or being well-dressed or well-spoken. This inability to predict personal safety or economic stability left the majority of whites and blacks unable to make decisions about their own lives or bigger political/social issues without extreme fear of what might happen next. What a horrible way to live daily, with no prospects of what the future might bring. I am surprised by the brevity individuals displayed who dared to speak up or act out in the face or arbitrary retribution, being from lynch mobs, made railcar passengers or the vengeful merchant or landowner.
  • Farmers were such a necessary group, yet had been alienated from any type of real power. Like Blacks, farmers, as a group with power of numbers, had to be systemically alienated from power. The formation of the Farmers Alliance and the power the group wielded, albeit temporarily, is very intriguing and certainly makes clear both the dissatisfactions and desires of farmers. Unfortunately this era also shows how little cohesion existed among people with the same overall goals. While farmers wanted to be treated fairly and have some say in the economy, as opposed to their economic forces being controlled by merchants and the railroad, many of the white farmers (landowning and tenant) were opposed to supporting black farmers in a meaningful way. So, while there was a common goal, there also existed this fear of making another group powerful. It seems the big industries played on those fears .
  • Fine lines were walked in politics, most especially on issues of race and issues of currency. Black votes were needed and courted, but politicians had to be careful not to publically support black issues. Blacks had to be wary and distrustful or all parties. You would have to be an adept interpreter to read between the lines of political campaigning during this era.
  • I found it so difficult to read about the prevalence of lynching during this time period. It seems the practice was rampant and required no real proof of any crime. One only need to be accused of a certain crime (most especially rape) or a black could even just show too much “smarts” or ambition and thereby rile anger resulting in lynching. In particular I noticed the accusation of rape, with no proof, while clearly it seems the accusing group in fact were those who assaulted females of the other race and frequented prostitution houses of the other race. Definitely of time of conflicting realities.


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