Posts Tagged ‘slave narratives’


This past year I read quite a few slave narratives by African Americans who were interviewed in the late 1930s to document their childhood experiences and memories of slavery prior to the Civil War. These people, ranging in age from octogenarians to centenarians, were also asked about their feelings toward the people who had formerly owned them. The wide-range of responses highlight the complex relationships that developed between those who enslaved and those who were enslaved within an institutionalized system of slavery as it existed in the United States for well over two centuries.

The following words that I call Winter into Spring were inspired by one man’s memory of the tough times after the Civil War and his continuing close relationship with the family who had previously owned him. In broken English, he conveyed the depth of his feelings using visual metaphors. He spoke only of his personal experience, but I was moved by something that I felt was universal … how people experience grief whatever its source. And so I took this man’s words, tapped into my own personal experiences and observations of others to draft the following. It may be a work in progress …


Winter into Spring

I remember the day, both of their days,

the soil covering them like I no longer could.

What can I say except losing them was like being a tree in the winter wood. 


Every cold wind, so sharp, blowed my leaves and tore them loose.

They fell to the ground, crumbling to dust, as if to follow those two,

my master and mistress, into their graves below.

I was in a world so dark I could not see.

Naked and alone. Stripped bare like a tree soon to fall.

Then one day I felt whole.

It was a strange day. What day, do you say?

That day it was like Spring, and it come bringing light!

I could see.

Well I guess you could say that little tree it was me.

You asked me how it felt and now I’ve told you.

When they passed I felt done, but the day did come,

though I still sometimes wonder why,

when I finally felt alive again.


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the completed trough

Nope, that is not the opening to one of my fairly gentle political posts. Just breathe. Those are the words I repeat to myself the night before I attempt to set up my first installation for the exhibit Peace: Cutting through Turmoil. My contribution to the show I guess I can say is a three dimensional representation of my artistic and emotional experiences after chancing upon 1930’s Federal Writers’ Project slave narratives in the public library, and then later reading more narratives online. It was a short paragraph that set me on this path, a recount of childhood memories of eating from a trough with a mussel shell. Shells pulled from the branches …


What I am creating is ephemeral. Paper, prints, words produced to physically be on display for a little less than a month. A contribution that I think will be part of a powerful whole when viewed in the company of the works by the other participants who have esteemed careers in the arts. I feel a bit like the new kid on the block. A little scary but freeing too.


It will be an assemblage of pieces and parts, words and images, some culled from nature, some acquired collaboratively with the aid of friends. The least ephemeral of the whole is the trough. While he did let me hold a chisel or two, it was Steve who carved the trough for me using a fallen tree, and a pivotal tool, both shared by friends.



Shared by friends. No matter what happens with this project it has been a wonderful collaborative effort. I was even able to involve one of my littlest friends, aged 9 and going on 21, who agreed to hold a mussel shell for me.


Hmmm. What else is there to say? Before this night is done, I have a few more shells to drill holes in and string, and I still need to discuss with Steve how to hang … oops, I can’t tell you what I intend to hang or from what. At least not yet. Meanwhile, I just breathe. 🙂

Peace: Cutting through Turmoil

Brick Bottom Artists Gallery, Somerville, MA

Opening Reception Thursday June 8, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

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The most valuable qualification in an officer is common sense; contrary to general belief, it is the rarest element found in mankind.” — Major General Fox Conner (1874-1951)


He would have been less than ten years old, I think. In a 1930s interview, eighty-two year old former slave Ike Woodward remembered as a child it was his job to lead blind Bob Conner around. Conner had been blinded in a Civil War battle. Woodward’s master, also named Ike Woodward, had sold the services of his young slave to the Conner family. In his his interview for the Works Progress Administration, Woodward would go on to remark that Master Conner was the papa of Mr. Fox Conner, a big man now in the army. That statement led me to ask: who was Fox Conner? An impressive figure it turns out.


Conner to the left of Pershing (Source)

Conner would make his way from rural Mississippi to West Point and embark upon a stellar career in the military, serving in the Spanish American War, Pancho Villa Expedition and World War I. He earned military awards from the Purple Heart to the French Croix de Guerre. It was during World War I that he was selected by General Pershing to be a member of his operations section where one of Conner’s subordinates was George C. Marshall. A far-seeing strategist, he opposed the Treaty of Versailles seeing within it the seeds of a new world war with Germany.


During World War I Conner would become reacquainted with and develop an enduring friendship with an officer by the name of George S. Patton. Back in the States, in the early 1920s, Conner and his wife were the honored guests of a dinner party hosted by the Pattons. Invited to this dinner was a young officer named Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom Patton thought Conner should meet. According to one biographer, Russ Stayanoff, “In Eisenhower, Conner saw a likable, eager young officer available for the “next one;” an officer that he could groom. Conner undoubtedly needed an executive officer with whom he could get along, and Eisenhower fit the bill. The fruits of that February luncheon became apparent when Conner telephoned Ike later in the same week and asked him if he would like the assignment as his executive officer in Panama.


Today Conner is especially remembered for his mentoring of Eisenhower. As Executive Officer for Conner at Camp Gaillard in Panama, Eisenhower received an unparalleled education in military affairs that would be instrumental in his later success at the Command and General Staff School. Conner was a student of history. Whether personally with Eisenhower or through his later lectures at the Army War College, Conner influenced a generation of future leaders. He was a proponent of coalition building and the use of diplomacy in concert with strong leadership to bring about victory. His three axioms or principles of war for a democracy still discussed today: Never fight unless you have to; Never fight alone; and Never fight for long.

Thanks to the internet there appears to be an increasing amount of information available to the general public about Conner, as well as more detailed analyses of his teachings still relevant in this modern age.  A biography was published in 2011 about him and a new book more recently published in 2016. In much of the discourse about Conner that I saw there is reference to him being the son of a blind Confederate soldier. The only way I learned the little that I have of this man and of his enduring legacy was to read the remembrances of the slave “lent out” to help guide his father. Ike Woodward would work at the Conner place until the day Ike’s brother rode in by horseback and scooped him up, conveying that they were now free.

Sources & Additional Reading

Ike Woodward Slave Narrative


Major General Fox Conner: Soldier, Mentor, Enigma: Operations Chief (G-3) of the AEF by Russ Stayanoff, MA




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Hi, all. I’ve been struggling with writing this month’s update. Not sure if that’s because I’ve got too much going on or too little. In any case …

Ordinary Beauty

Lately, I’ve been enjoying photographing the mundane. The absolutely ordinary. The every day items surrounding me at home. Like a stamp or a ball of yarn. How beautiful it has been!

Upcoming Exhibits

  • Riverside Gallery @ the Cambridge Community Center: I”m honored to be exhibiting at the Cambridge Community Center, located in the historic Riverside neighborhood of Cambridge, MA. Gallery curators seek to use the space to serve and connect the community. Opening reception is Saturday, March 6 from 4:00-6:00 pm. More details to follow.
  • Somerville Open Studios 2010: Preparations for SOS 2010 are heating up. Organizers are seeking volunteers. If you’re interested, you can find out more information here.
  • I’m seriously contemplating submitting an application to ArtBeat 2010 which takes place in Davis Square, Somerville, MA in mid-July. The event theme is Water and if you’ve perused my website at all, you know how much I love water images. The deadline is end of the month, so I’ll let you know in April if I get the paperwork in on time. 😉

New Opportunities

Based on a young friend’s suggestion, I’ve created a Just Postcards section on my photo website. Fairly unique postcards available for purchase for just $2.25. As the title suggests, they are images only available as postcards. My goal is to continue adding new images to this section, approximately once a month.


Well, this past month I hunkered down and identified a bunch of online and print literary and consumer magazines open to freelance photography. I’ve sent off over a dozen new submissions and received only two rejections so far and one “maybe.” The list for March is just as long so … we’ll see. 😉

Write, Write, Write

I think it’s helped that it’s been so cold that I needed to stay inside. I’ve dusted off some old manuscripts and begun to rework them. I’ve pitched a few new article ideas to magazines and literary magazines. Most have to do with my family and close friends, aka the people who inspire and support me most.

My Current Inspirations are slave narratives, bookcases, kitchen tables, magazines I can’t really afford and cacti.  What’s inspiring you right now?

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I have  written about “the Painter of Light” before on this blog.  Joseph Mallord William Turner’s works have always drawn my eyes, but none moreso than this painting.  The Slave Ship chronicles an actual event in British history — when over 100 African slaves were tossed overboard with shackles on their limbs into shark-infested waters.  The people on that boat were herded into the sea like animals.

In 1803 in the waters of Dunbar Creek off St. Simons Island, SC a group of Africans also died in the ocean.  In an area now known as Ebo Landing, the story seems to be that after a failed slave rebellion,  a dozen or more Africans of the Igbo people decided to no longer be enslaved.  Their leader’s voice rang out:   “The water brought us and the water will take us away.”  And then, together, they walked into the sea.

That story and many others are captured in American slave narratives.  Here are just a few resources:

Virginia Slave Narratives


Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project


Oklahoma Slave Narratives


I hope you have a chance to read the words and hear the voices of these people long gone.  Their stories should not be forgotten.  If you know of other resources, please let me know.  I’d love to post additional recommendations.

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