Points of View

DSC_1923I look through a viewfinder at least once a day.  Photography makes me practice seeing different points of view; the very act of framing the familiar often reveals a hidden detail that adds unexpected meaning, an “aha!” that leaves me changed.

Genealogy can be a framing exercise too, with questions serving as viewfinder. During research on my dad’s neighbors, the Crute family, I posed the question:  If the Crute’s provided regular part-time labor for the neighboring Strickland tobacco acres, did the Stricklands reciprocate and provide needed labor to the Crutes?  Looking for reciprocity opened up the space to confront the Jim Crow-era world that set the context for my father’s memories, and consequently the lore that was handed down to me.

Charles, Clarence, and Robert, along with their mom, Cora, figure prominently in Norman Strickland’s childhood.  The black family lived on the Boydton-Chase City Road, a bit west of the Dodson/Strickland farm in Mecklenburg County, Virginia from the 1920s through 1940, at least.  The family also included their father, Mathew (1883-1931) and siblings Willie Bee, Daisy, Alice, Angie, and Odie.

During that era of hardship my grandfather pulled out all the stops; he farmed on Oakview, invested in Chase City real estate, and purchased one school bus after another, contracting with the public school system to transport rural kids into Chase City’s schools.  I was told as a child, repeatedly, that George Strickland single-handedly shut down all the one-room schoolhouses in the area.

And he did it with the regular part-time help of Charles, Clarence, and Robert, according to my father.

Hunter's Lane, Mecklenburg County, VA 1932

The Dodson/Strickland farm was located between Route 46, or the Chase City-Boydton Road and the county road 679 also known as Hunter’s Lane, along Butcher’s Creek. It is thought the Crute farm was located along RT 46.

Mecklenburg County, VA 1932 Map Key

 

In the 1940 census, my uncles–Sidney, 17, Clifford, 15, and Paul, 14–were students in high school.  My dad,11, had just completed sixth grade.  Clarence Crute was 24 years old, farming on his own account, and evidently the primary support for his mother, Cora, and two sisters, Angie, 16, and Odie, 12, who were all listed as occupied in home housework.  Clarence had attained a seventh grade education, Angie a sixth grade education, and Odie a fifth grade education. The discrepancies in educational attainment and normal occupation are striking for the two families.

I once asked my father if George had used his buses to transport all the kids, or just the white kids.  Were all the one room schools shuttered or only the white schools?  Where did the Crute kids go to school?

Norman was stunned, I sensed, as he realized that he didn’t know where the Crutes went to school.  A conclusion is unavoidable:  George bought buses and transported white kids into better schools, into a system that went all the way through 11th grade.  But my grandfather didn’t buy buses to close all the black one room schools.  He didn’t even buy buses and hire the Crute men to drive the black kids who made it through the one room school curriculum into the local black high school, the Thyne Institute, founded on the outskirts of Chase City in 1877.

The explanations about the Crute contribution to the Oakview farm were woven as a story of reciprocity.  George needed help running the farm as his boys attended school and he gave the Crutes jobs and paid them with a fair share of the tobacco crop.  Granddaddy was a good and kind and fair employer, as the story went and the reality of the Crutes’ limited educational choices and work opportunities as a result were simply erased.

My family engaged in opportunity hoarding.

I don’t know where the members of this African American family landed after World War II.  From the records it appears that they, like my father’s family surged off the farms and into cities and towns with other work/life options.  But my father and his brothers had high school educations; Paul and my dad went on to college and into professional careers.  Sidney and Clifford held managerial positions for most of their lives.

What of the Crutes?  Did they migrate into the Bronx and Chicago and other destinations north?  What work did they find?  What dreams did they hold?

And what would their lives have been like, if instead of sitting atop a tractor or behind an team of oxen, they had sat on a bus?

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Reclaiming all the past

These thoughts are for all you white family historians out there.  Particularly the ones who are, like me, struggling to tell the unmentionable, the dishonorable chapters of our ancestors’ lives.  The plot lines of which extend into our own days, leaving us uncomfortable with our race.  Our whiteness.

I have been silent on this blog space, for what seems like a long time.  Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because what I have to say is so disconcerting to me.  I have hung out with my research for months, letting it rattle my bones.  Letting the names and the implications of the unnamed disturb my imagination, and disrupt my nostalgia of my southern past.

And humbled I return to this segregated space to confront the taboo against mixing race and family.  The taboo against talking straight up about how I can trace my status, my education, my opportunities right back to those of my Dodson forebears in 1772.

I want to reclaim all the past.  I want to braid stories of the Dodsons with the connections of the Crutes and dozens of unnamed African Americans who contributed to the Dodson legacy, yet seldom profited from it.

I hope you will return to learn how my dad’s scribbled note prompted my memory of something Norman said, which together led to the documentation of the Dodson Crute Connection.

Next up:  The Dodson Crute Connection

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Tip of the Day: Details Matter

I took another box of mixed media from the house, the house my father last lived in.  Most of the holiday cards I threw out, their messages meaningful only to Norman.  Many of the photographs were ones I had sent him, or copies of pictures he had snapped and sent to me years ago.  Several letters from my uncle I sent on to my cousin, sure that she would appreciate the insight into her father.  Letters from my grandmother, Florette, I saved for a rainy day read.

Methodically I sorted the box’s contents, pausing now and again to hold a memory tight.  And then, just as I thought there was really nothing new here, I came upon an envelope postmarked 1985.  Pearl Freeman had shared a few photographs with my father.  Without annotations or a note of explanation, I don’t know the relationship but apparently this stranger was sharing adolescent memories.

To date the photographs I pulled out a few key details that my father had shared about his high school years.

  • Norman, like his three brothers before him, attended Chase City High School, in Chase City, Virginia.
  • Chase City High School went up through eleventh grade.
  • Norman graduated in 1945.
  • My father began to smoke at the age of 17.
  • Chick, as my father was known by his pals, drove one of his father’s school bus routes.

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photo-normanstrickland-1945-01

Norman is front row, third from left. These teenagers appear posing in their best outfits, in front of a brick building that may be the high school, with adults milling around in the back. I suspect that this is the Class of 1945, posing after Chase City High School’s graduation ceremony.

Norman Strickland and friends

Here Norman sits on what appears to be a bus’ fender, reveling in female attention. His peak bus driving years were the mid-1940s.

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Norman relaxes.  The cigarette dates the photo as around the time he graduated, at 17. 

Norman Strickland, Car unidentified

I am still researching the make and model. Because this capture was included with the other photographs, I am betting that this smile is of teenage-driver Norman.

If Pearl Freeman, or a descendant/friend, is reading this post, I hope you will leave a memory in the comments!!!

 

 

Chase the Man. Chase the City.

Today’s NY Times Opinionator piece discusses the history between Abe Lincoln and Salmon P. Chase, an earnest, no nonsense man who was both a fabulous Secretary of the Treasury and Lincoln’s arch rival.

Why care about this troublemaker?

Because the dude had a fan club among the founders of a little town in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Christiansville was a backwater village when George Endley and John Boyd rode in, buying up land on the cheap in 1868-1874. They held big plans for this area, recruiting northern colonists and railroad lines (that never quite materialized) to build a grand town–and in 1873 they approached fellow Ohioan, great banker, former US Senator and Ohio Governor, Secretary of the Treasury and US Supreme Court Justice. Your Honor, may we use your name for our grand Southside town?

Thus was born little ol’ Chase City, home of my beloved father, Norman S. Strickland.

This article details Salmon Chase’s political aspirations and his personal idiosyncracies. Thankfully, the nation was able to profit from his zealous anti-slavery and radical reconstruction ideas–a federal banking system was created, including the greenback demand note which was the first federal currency. His system also made it possible to fund the war effort with government bonds.

Salmon Chase, though an excellent financial administrator, was a pugnacious political fighter, with no sense of humor or understanding of human nature.  He aspired to the presidency himself and used his cabinet post to his own advantage, accumulating favors, names and cash–a fact overlooked by Lincoln because Chase was so good at his job. Salmon Chase overplayed his hand, however. Posturing for a particular political outcome, the Secretary offered his resignation.  Lincoln, weary of the man, accepted the letter. A surprised and humbled Chase did not seek the presidency. That year.

Lincoln, however crazy Chase made him feel, recognized the man’s intellect and within a few months of the resignation appointed Salmon Chase to the Supreme Court.

During 1872-1873 George Endley and John Boyd led the Southside Board of Settlers’ effort to incorporate their growing town as “Chase City”.  In April 1873 a delegation met with the Chief Justice in Richmond, Virginia to formally advise him of the town’s name, and to invite him to be an honorary member of their board.  By all accounts, Salmon Chase cordially received this news.

Date: Friday, April 11, 1873   Paper: Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA)   Volume: LXXIV   Issue: 81   Page: 2; accessed from Genealogy Bank, genealogybank.com, (http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/doc/v2:109C88C3000E7338@GBNEWS-1311C15624D3B048@2405260-130F20A3672B8AC8@1-13C9BD412BA945A4@%22Chase+City.%22/?search_terms=christiansville%7Cchase&s_dlid=DL0114070315453127032&s_ecproduct=SUB-Y-6995-R.IO-30&s_ecprodtype=RENEW-A-R&s_trackval=&s_siteloc=&s_referrer=&s_subterm=Subscription%20until%3A%2004%2F21%2F2015&s_docsbal=%20&s_subexpires=04%2F21%2F2015&s_docstart=&s_docsleft=&s_docsread=&s_username=dkstrickland43@gmail.com&s_accountid=AC0110012820154827911&s_upgradeable=no) on July 3, 2014.

Date: Friday, April 11, 1873 Paper: Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA) Volume: LXXIV Issue: 81 Page: 2; accessed from  http://www.genealogybank.com,July 3, 2014.

I have always wondered whether Endley and Boyd knew Salmon Chase personally, or if they had ever contributed to one of his political campaigns, or been the recipient of his patronage.  No matter.  Their admiration for their Buckeye buddy lives on, in the little town of Chase City.

 

Update:  The original post of July 3, 2014 stated that Salmon Chase never sought political office after Lincoln accepted his June 1864 resignation as Secretary of the Treasury.  That setback only affected the ’64 election.   Chase attempted to win the nomination in 1868 and 1872, unsuccessful in both attempts.

 

I Miss My Mother

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birth, the first March 27th I haven’t made a call, or sent a card, or prepared a surprise.  Motherless.  No matter how complicated or difficult the relationship, the mother-daughter bond is irreplaceable.  Irreducible.

We are all just bits of love.”  ~~ Marilyn Minor Strickland

 

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