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Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’

Review of “Emigration to Liberia” by Matthew F.K. McDaniel

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Georgia, Historicism, History, Humanities, Laws of Slavery, Politics, Scholarship, Slavery, Southern History, Southern Literary Review, The South, Writing on November 26, 2014 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This review originally appeared here at Southern Literary Review.

Emigration to Liberia is the story of the nearly 500 African-Americans who left Columbus, Georgia, and Eufaula, Alabama, from 1853 to 1903, to emigrate to Liberia, the West African nation that was founded in 1822 by United States colonization.

Matthew F.K. McDaniel marshals evidence from written correspondence and newspapers to piece together the first narrative treatment of those African-American emigrants from this specific region, which he calls the “Chattahoochee Valley.” He contends that the establishment of Liberia united many Northerners and Southerners for different reasons, namely, in the North, for the gradual abolition of slavery, and, in the South, for the stability of the slave system once freed African-Americans were removed from the purview of their brothers and sisters in bondage.

Liberian emigrants from the Chattahoochee Valley made up roughly ten percent of the total number of emigrants to Liberia from the entire United States; therefore, the story of the migration from this region reveals much about the overall characteristics of the entire emigrant movement and provides clues as to why many emigrants decided to leave in the first place.

“To blacks,” McDaniel explains, “the prospect of Liberia was escape, safety, and opportunity. They could own their own land in their own country and be governed by their own people. Liberia was a new start and a new future for families, far from the whites who had oppressed them.”

McDaniel supplies enough historiography to interest and benefit historians working in the field, but enough narrative to engage non-specialists. At only 64 pages, excluding the highly useful notes and bibliography, his book can be read in a single sitting. Its brevity has to do with the fact that it began as a 2007 master’s thesis in history at the Louisiana State University. Credit must be given to the editors at NewSouth Books for having the wisdom, faith, and generosity to take a chance on such a short but important work.

Settled by Europeans between 1816 and 1823, Eufaula fell into the hands of whites after the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta forced the Creek Indians off their ancestral land. Columbus was founded in 1828, six years after the founding of Liberia. The future of the African Americans who remained in Eufaula and Columbus turned out to be much different from that of the emigrants to Liberia, many of whom suffered or returned to America.

“Liberia was neither American or African,” McDaniel submits, “but a strange medley of the two worlds, and it disappointed many of the Chattahoochee Valley emigrants,” who became stuck “within a stringent social hierarchy” that was “similar to the one they had escaped from.” They were not used to the tropical climate and were not skilled in the work that was specific to the region; they discovered, too, that the native Liberian elite “mimicked the customs and styles of the whites who had once looked down upon them.”

An appendix rounds out McDaniel’s research by listing the names, ages, sexes, and, among other things, occupations of all the emigrants who sailed in either the 1867 or 1868 voyages to Liberia aboard the ship Golconda. To run your finger down the list, slowly, is to invite questions about who these people were, what they were like, what they did for entertainment, what their wishes and dreams were, what they were leaving behind and hoping to accomplish with their move to Africa, and what happened to them after they arrived there. Facts and data are limited, so, in many cases, we cannot know for sure.

McDaniel has done well with what information he had available to him. Let’s hope he’s inspired others to pick up where he left off. This is a story worth telling and knowing.


The 1965 Eagles

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Essays, Humanities on January 2, 2013 at 8:45 am

Mel Mendenhall was born and raised in Columbus, Georgia.  He lives in Atlanta and is the CEO CLVL Solutions, LLC

Mel Mendenhall

The following essay was composed in 2011, when Gary Levi announced that he had an inoperable brain tumor.  Gary Levi passed away in November 2012.

All of us have known someone who was a particularly good storyteller.  For me, that person was my Dad.  I guess growing up, as my dad did, in the country during the 1920s and early 1930s lent itself to that sort of entertainment: there was no TV, or even radio, back then.  It seemed all of his siblings inherited the storytelling trait, and as children my brothers, sisters, and I enjoyed listening to dad’s siblings’ stories about life on the farm, life in the military (eight brothers and one brother-in-law served in WWII), and life in general.

My Dad coached my first baseball team, the Eagles.  The Eagles I can easily recall are Sim Thomas, Rob Varner, Mac Turner, Johnny Jackson, Gary Levi, Jimmy Monfort, and Johnny Cooper.  In the history of eight-year-old baseball teams, our team, I’m certain, was the cream of the crop – the eight-year-old equivalent to the 1927 Yankees.  What follows is a quick biography of the players at age eight:

Sim Thomas – The star of the team; he did it all.  A true five star player: runs, throws, fields, hits, and hits for power.  He also was our most dominating pitcher, but susceptible to getting frustrated when the umpire’s vision was impaired and strikes were called balls, or so it seemed.  Pitched and played 1st base.

Rob Varner – a solid all around ball player who was reliable in all facets of eight-year-old baseball.  Rob and Sim were both upper classman, 3rd graders, whereas the rest of us were in the second grade.  Rob played third base and catcher.

Mac Turner – A solid second baseman and, like me, a coach’s son.  Mac was from a prominent family that, though wealthy, was very down-to-earth and inclusive.  Mac was always smiling and having a good time on the field and in the dugout.

Johnny Jackson – a really good athlete, muscular fireplug.  He could do it all.  He started out the season as a catcher, but moved to 3rd base after his mom felt – we all felt — that Johnny’s privates were getting a little too beat-up over the course of the season (Casey Stengel didn’t have these parental issues at the MLB level).

Gary Levi – Played left field and was easily our most outwardly enthusiastic player.  Gary woke up fired up and stoked those fires all day long until game time. He had a distinctive way of wearing his hat sideways on his head, with the bill facing left or right, but never straight.  He continuously pounded his glove with his fist while standing in his usual left field spot and giving himself a vehement pep-talk, or, depending on your perspective, “talking to.”

Jimmy Monfort – a very smooth shortstop for an eight-year-old.  He threw right-handed, but batted left-handed, a fact that I thought would look pretty cool on the back of a baseball card.  Jimmy was a sweet swinger who hadn’t yet mastered actual contact, but who looked very good swinging the bat.  There was no question but that he was a ballplayer in the making.

Johnny Cooper – “Cooper” is what we called him.  Did you ever know a kid who always smiled?  It didn’t matter what the circumstance, Cooper was smiling.  Unfortunately, Cooper’s five-year-old athleticism was captured inside an eight-year-old body that quite frankly had not caught up with his fellow 1927 Yankee eight-year-old teammates.  He stood in right field (one couldn’t claim he actually played right field).

The season began, and from the start it was apparent that the Eagles were a team of destiny.  Reporters from all around Columbus, and eventually the entire New York media, or so it seemed to us, followed the team as it plundered through the league beating the Foxes, the Bears, the Cubs, the Lions, and other collective critters.  Simply put, our pitching was dominant and our hitting and fielding were equally good.  Some among us, me included, had to learn to deal with periodic failures where insult was the occasional strike out, which was followed by immediate temper tantrums and tears.  One waiting to bat, or one sitting in the “open air” dugout, needed to stay alert because all of us, without fail, were prone to hurling our bat backwards, towards the dugout, whenever the ump ended our “at bat” with a strike three call.  All of us, of course, except “Cooper,” who always struck out with a smile on his face, and believe me, Cooper always struck out, were given to emotional instability when we ran out of strikes.

As the season went along, we continued to get better and better, and the kids playing on the other teams did as well.  Each team seemed to have a star player or two.  I recall being fascinated with each team’s colors: the Foxes wore red jerseys, the Bears green, the Cubs blue, the Lions a lighter shade of blue.  All teams’ jerseys and caps matched red for red, green for green, blue for blue – you get the picture.  The Eagles, on the other hand, wore the colors of a winner: navy blue with orange letters (like my beloved Auburn).  Would you believe me if I told you I can still smell in my mind’s nose what those jerseys smelled like—I can!—just as I can still smell the freshly mowed grass, or in the outfield, the stubble of weeds. Read the rest of this entry »

Outline and Summary of Diana Ramey Berry’s Swing the Sickle for the Harvest is Ripe: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007)

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Georgia, Nineteenth-Century America, Slavery on March 28, 2011 at 8:17 am

Allen Mendenhall

Book Theses

Quotation: Swing the Sickle seeks to break down binary opposites such as house labor equals skilled work and field labor equals unskilled work to explore more subtle dynamics that involve skill, talent, seniority, experience, personal relationships, and circumstance.  Building on recent scholarship on various aspects of slave labor from organizational structures to occupational hierarchies, this book examines the intricacies of enslaved labor, family, community, and economy.” (2)

Quotation: Swing the Sickle explores the ways different crops created a social hierarchy among the enslaved and the effect of such power dynamics within the quarters.” (3)


Southern planters generally divided labor by skill, not by sex.  Specialized labor crossed gender lines.  This book explores this fact while paying attention to the quotidian operations of enslaved persons and slaveholders in Georgia.  What constituted skilled labor differed from plantation to plantation and crop to crop.  Labor itself defined slave life and community.  For that reason, the author uses the term “working social” to refer to “public work environments where bondpeople labored to complete a task and used the balance of the evening for socializing” (3).  Examining working socials gives us insights into the private lives of slaves.  Slavery was not just about producing for masters; it was also a way of life.  Although labor was always connected to the public world of commerce, agriculture, and politics, it was first a private, family, familial, and familiar institution in which slaves were subject to exploitation.  This book focuses on two regions of Georgia: the upcountry and piedmont county of Wilkes, and the lowcountry and tidewater county of Glynn.  These counties are representative of the general development of open and closed systems of slavery.  Glynn County was marked by large plantation settings, and Wilkes County by farms and smaller slave-holding units. 

Quotation: “[S]tudying gender allows us to identify the numerous ways bondspeople experienced slavery in addition to regional variance. […] We cannot understand slavery until we know more about the work that men and women performed.” (8)       Read the rest of this entry »

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