Truth cloaked in “fiction”

May 28, 2010

While digging through the books in the county library, oh, probably 2 years ago, I ran across Blaxine, Halfbreed Girl, published by Garberville resident Margaret Cobb in 1910.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read the book, but here is the “gist”:

A young man, Stanley Carwood (I just double checked the name) moves to small, isolated Sargent Valley to board in the Sargent house and teach at the Sargent School.   Living in the house are Sargent’s young , sweet white wife and four “half-breed” children, that Sergeant claims as his .  The children have different Native mothers and Sargent and the white wife are raising them.  The mothers (except the one killed by another mother/squaw) live in a nearby Indian village and stay involved, to one degree or another, in their children’s and Sargent’s lives. 

“Carwood” predictably falls in love with one of Sargent’s daughters, drama ensues, and all eventually ends with… well, e-mail me if you want to know the ending, otherwise I’ll let you read it yourself.

The thing that struck me, though, and the point of this post, is that Cobb’s “fictional” story didn’t feel like fiction.   The multiple Indian mistresses/wives in the background, the innocent, lovable white wife… it all felt too real. And when I accidently ran across the census records for Alfred Sherwood, something clicked.  Sherwood “founded” Sherwood Valley, just northwest of Willits,  in the 1850s.   

 In 1860, Sherwood was living withhis son,  a 3 year old half-Native boy, Robert.  There is no woman in the house.

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Progress can be made

May 27, 2010

Alabama, 1963

I was taking a break from posting, but not history, I realized, as I read a book my son gave me called Coming of Age in Mississippi.  It is assigned reading for him as a Junior at Arcata High, and he thought I might find it interesting.   It is.   Appalling, actually.   I literally had to stop reading the other night, as I was in a public place and crying…

Anne Moody wrote this autobiography about growing up in the 40s and 50s in rural Mississippi, and coming of age during the birth of the civil rights movement.  The incident that brought me to tears was her experience at a lunch counter in Woolworth’s.  I remember the Woolworth’s in Eureka, and the lunch counter, though I don’t know that I ever ate there.  By the seventies there wouldn’t have been a “white” section,  but I wonder, was there ?

Anne participated in a “sit-in” at the Woolworth’s in Mississippi about fifty years ago, sitting in the white section instead of in the back with the other “negroes” as she called them.  She sat there all day, waiting for service that never came.  She sat there as fellow students and other sympathizers came and went. As she and her peers were mocked, and threatened, and one was thrown to the floor and repeatedly kicked in the head.  Through it all, her and her friends persisted, simply waiting to be recognized.

Later, local, white, high school students entered the store… and

“Some old man in the crowd ordered the students to take us off the stools. “Which one should I get first?” a big husky boy said.

“That white nigger,” the old man replied.

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Without censoring

May 26, 2010

I’ve been fortunate enough to be busy lately with client projects, but today I have a little time (and energy), and find myself turning once more to our local history.

Too many times I hear stories, or find information about what happened here during the settlement period and I don’t  know what to do with what I’ve found—if I have a right to share or if it should be shared at all.  It feels akin to spreading gossip and that’s wrong. Right?

I was talking to a new friend about this dilemma recently and my kind and patient listener responded with this,

“But if you don’t tell the stories, well, that’s a form of genocide, too, isn’t it?”

And it is.  There were things that happened here that were outside the normal realm of “acceptable” social behavior.  Actions and decisions and ways of living … I can play judge, but I can’t know what was right or wrong.  And since I can’t know, I won’t censor what I find.

So I guess my job will be to tell the stories, as I hear them, read them, find them.  And leave the judgment out of it.