A Raise in the South: Vintage Postcards

A road winding through the hilly farms of 1910 Greene County, Pennsylvania was likely to be pitted and ice pocked in late February.  Nevertheless, birthdays, particularly of beloved grandpas, required festive acknowledgements.  The Ruse family decided to let the mail do the travelling for Christopher’s seventy-third birthday, and, via USPS, invited young and old to shower the elderly carpenter with celebratory wishes.  Seven-year-old Donald Minor, my grandfather, received an invitation from Chris Ruse’s granddaughter, Helen E.

Dear Donald, We are having a surprise Postcard shower for Grandpa Ruse on March 13.  We want all of you to send a card and to tell everyone you see that knows him.

The adult who formed each cursive letter for Helen conveyed more than a mere request. On the front of the postcard greeting was a reproduction of an early twentieth century print, A Raise in the South.  In the scene, nine southern black men are gathered in a smoky, windowless room around a large table, mid-way through a hand of poker.  I suppose the cartoonish characters were meant to be child-appropriate and the title a clever play on the word “raise,” but a larger lesson was truly being dealt.

The Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction had become firmly lodged in the national psyche by 1910, guiding the country’s sectional reunion.  According to this historiography, the war was fought by valiant white men, Yankee and Rebel, for the cause of liberty.  Emancipation of slaves had not been a wise move; African-Americans needed –and desired–the paternal governance of the superior white race.  Tossed from memory were tales of black heroism and self-efficacy. What lingered were caricatures of idleness and incompetence, portraits of black men seeing raises within the context of a game, not within  the framework of gainful employment.

The birthday invitation from one child to another was an early lesson in the state of race relations within the country Don and Helen would inherit.  Insidiously, cartoon postcards planted doubt and fear, which in turn sprouted justifications for the South’s use of murder, segregation, and disenfranchisement of black Americans in the effort to re-establish a country of white men, governed by white men.

Far from comic,  A Raise in the South, is a chilling reminder of mass media’s influence on public memory.

Postcard. "A Raise in the South," From Helen E. Ruse to Donald C. Minor, 27 February 1910. Donald Minor Postcard Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Postcard. “A Raise in the South,” From Helen E. Ruse to Donald C. Minor, 27 February 1910. Donald Minor Postcard Collection, D. Kay Strickland Family History Library.

Leading Me On

This gate set out to conspire with the sun this morning, I swear, leading me on to believe that a warm front had moved in overnight.  Just beyond the shadows spring melt was sweetening the air.   Liar.  Fooler.  Twenty degrees still leaves my cheeks cold and my hands numb.  And the snow banks still smell like winter.

This gate set out to conspire with the sun this morning, I swear, leading me on to believe that a warm front had moved in overnight. “Just beyond the shadows, spring melt is sweetening the air!”  Liar. Fooler. Even sun kissed, twenty degree air leaves my cheeks cold, my hands numb. And the snow banks still smell like winter.

sun kissed

In Defense of Family History: Must Read of the Week

“Family history is a natural trespasser, barging through the hedges that mark the fields of academic study.”

Alison Light.  “In Defense of Family History,” The Guardian (London), online edition, 10 October 2014.

A bolstering read for those of  us who indulge.  An illuminating read, perhaps, for those who put up with us. ;)

The Minor Family Album–Provenance

 

The tooled leather volume resembles a family bible, ornamented by the addition of a bronze latch. The heavy cardstock pages are cut out in the middle allowing for two cabinet cards to be displayed, back to back.  A thick gold line frames each photograph.  Buckled into the Minor Album are twenty-eight portraits taken between 1860-1900.

JUST WHAT DO I HAVE HERE?

Minor Photo Album Title Page

THIS is the title page.  Gorgeous!!  Right?

MEH.  I want story.  Story comes from details.

Let’s start with the known.  The album was recovered by my mother from the attic of the farmhouse in which she grew up.  In which her father grew up. In which her grandfather and his father grew up.  From the attic of the Minor Home Farm on Ceylon Lane, purchased by John Pearson Minor circa 1830.  Just who, then, might have purchased the album and slipped the cabinet cards into place?

She did it.  

My mother’s father’s grandmother, Mary Jane Gwynne Minor.

Women of the Victorian era were associated with the collection of family memorabilia and its display; photograph albums were part of this creative work.  Mary Jane was the woman of Ceylon Lane, the mom of the Minor Home Farm, during the period that this album was filled.

This hypothesis has been strengthened by my work comparing other labeled photographs in my collection  with those that I am finding inside the album.  I have identified several images as members of the Mary Jane and Francis Marion Minor Family.

My sleuthing adventures begin with this hypothesis–the cabinet cards of the Minor Family Album belonged to Mary Jane and Marion Minor, and represent members of their immediate and extended family.

Next post–  Mr. Chin Whiskers is revealed.

 

 

Family Portrait taken by T W Rogers, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, circa 1874.  Standing: Sarah, John P., Olfred Minor.  Seated: Mary Jane Gwynn and Francis Marion Minor.  Standing front: Robert Minor (b. 1869) Photo recovered from Minor Home Farm circa 1965

Family Portrait taken by T W Rogers, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, circa 1874. Standing: Sarah, John P., Olfred Minor. Seated: Mary Jane Gwynn and Francis Marion Minor. Standing front: Robert Minor (b. 1869) Photo recovered from Minor Home Farm circa 1965

 

 

The River Is Floe-ing. Spring Is Coming.

Fort Jenkins Bridge Camera and binoculars bounce on my vest-padded chest as I leave footprints in week old snow.  I am headed to the river, to watch the ice floes flow.  Here at the bend, where West Pittston says hey to Pittston, the Susqhehanna is open, ice clinging in nooks and crannies.  A dozen Buffleheads ride the current toward Wilkes-Barre. Common Merganser and Mallard pairs gather to preen or forage where the river meets beach.  A lone Bufflehead floats mid-river, his glossy black-green head turning slowly right and left. Suddenly he tips tail to sky, and plunges beneath the icy water, with barely a ripple. I take slow, deep breaths, and smell what these birds know.

Down RiverWinter is leaving.  

Spring is coming.  

We have more mud than snow, more current than ice.  Insects are hatching, snails are moving, mussles are available, fish swim closer to the surface.  Life is on the move.  

The ice is floe-ing on.

Ice floe-ing