Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy 2015 From The US Slave Blog!!

This year let's resolve to make better bad decisions.

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"  --  Nancy Wilson
Written By Frank Loesser (1947)

Maybe its much too early in the game
Ah, but I thought Id ask you just the same
What are you doing New Years
New Years Eve?

Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When its exactly twelve oclock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Years Eve

Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
Id ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations
You receive
Ah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Years
New Years Eve?

Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
Id ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations
You receive

Ah, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Years
New Years Eve?

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Underground Railroad Network at the Great Dismal Swamp

From the US Fish and Wildlife  --  More than 150 years after the last slave escaped to freedom through the thick forest of what is now Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA, an Underground Railroad Education Pavilion has been opened on the refuge.

The Great Dismal Swamp Refuge was the first refuge named to the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program by the National Park Service in 2003. “It is our hope to host groups to learn about the runaway slaves that came through the swamp and lived here,” says refuge manager Chris Lowie.

Since the 17th century, the swamp has served as a place of safety and a route to freedom. For some, it was a stopping point on the way to cities further north. During the Civil War, Union regiments of the United States Colored Troops marched down the canal bank from Deep Creek, VA, to northeastern North Carolina to liberate and recruit enslaved African Americans. 

Some of those who hid in the swamp established “maroon” communities. “Maroon” is from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning fugitive or runaway. These maroon communities remain the subject of significant historical research. Different historians estimate that between 2,000 and 50,000 maroons lived in the swamp, originally about 10 times larger than its current 190 square miles. (source: US Fish and Wildlife)

Frederick Law Olmsted: Runaways and Slave Hunters in the Dismal Swamp

While driving in a chaise from Portsmouth to Deep-river, I picked up on the road a jaded looking negro, who proved to be a very intelligent and good-natured fellow. His account of the lumber business, and of the life of the lumbermen in the swamps, in answer to my questions, was clear and precise, and was afterwards verified by information obtained from his master.

He told me that his name was Joseph, that he belonged to a church in one of the inland counties, and that he was hired out by the trustees of the church to his present master. He expressed entire contentment with his lot, but showed great unwillingness to be sold to go on to a plantation. He liked to “mind himself,” as he did in the swamps. Whether he would still more prefer to be entirely his own master, I did not ask.

The Dismal Swamps are noted places of refuge for runaway negroes. They were formerly peopled in this way much more than at present; a systematic hunting of them with dogs and guns having been made by individuals who took it up as a business about ten years ago. Children were born, bred, lived and died here. Joseph Church told me he had seen skeletons, and had helped to bury bodies recently dead. There were people in the swamps still, he thought, that were the children of runaways, and who had been runaways themselves all their lives. What a life it must be; born outlaws; educated self-stealers; trained from infancy to be constantly in dread of the approach of a white man as a thing more fearful than wild-cats or serpents, or even starvation.

There can be but few, however, if any, of these “natives” left. They cannot obtain the means of supporting life without coming often either to the outskirts to steal from the plantations, or to the neighborhood of the camps of the lumbermen. They depend much upon the charity or the wages given them by the latter. The poorer white men, owning small tracts of the swamps, will sometimes employ them, and the negroes frequently. In the hands of either they are liable to be betrayed to the negrohunters. Joseph said that they had huts in “back places,” hidden by bushes, and difficult of access; he had, apparently, been himself quite intimate with them. When the shingle negroes employed them, he told me, they made them get up logs for them, and would give them enough to eat, and some clothes, and perhaps two dollars a month in money. But some, when they owed them money, would betray them, instead of paying them.

I asked if they were ever shot. “Oh, yes,” he said, “when the hunters saw a runaway, if he tried to get from them, they would call out to him, that if he did not stop they would shoot, and if he did not, they would shoot, and sometimes kill him.

“But some on ‘em would rather be shot than be took, sir,” he added, simply.

A farmer living near the swamp confirmed this account, and said he knew of three or four being shot in one day.

No particular breed of dogs is needed for hunting negroes: and one white man told me how they were trained for it, as if it were a common or notorious practice. They are shut up when puppies, and never allowed to see a negro except while training to catch him. A negro is made to run from them, and they are encouraged to follow him until he gets into a tree, when meat is given them. Afterwards they learn to follow any particular negro by scent, and then a shoe or a piece of clothing is taken off a negro, and they learn to find by scent who it belongs to, and to tree him, etc. I don’t think they are employed in the ordinary driving in the swamp, but only to overtake some particular slave, as soon as possible after it is discovered that he has fled from a plantation. Joseph said that it was easy for the drivers to tell a fugitive from a regularly employed slave in the swamps.
“How do they know them?”

“Oh, dey looks strange.”

“How do you mean?”

“Skeared like, you know, sir, and kind ‘o strange, cause dey hasn’t much to eat, and ain’t decent [not decently clothed], like we is.”

When the hunters take a negro who has not a pass, or “free papers,” and they don’t know whose slave he is, they confine him in jail, and advertise him. If no one claims him within a year he is sold to the highest bidder, at a public sale, and this sale gives title in law against any subsequent claimant ... [Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States: with Remarks on Their Economy (1856), pp. 160–162.]

"The Slave in the Dismal Swamp" By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poems on Slavery, and Voices of the Night; By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1842

The Slave in the Dismal Swamp 
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1842

In dark fens of the Dismal Swamp
The hunted Negro lay;
He saw the fire of the midnight camp,
And heard at times a horse's tramp
And a bloodhound's distant bay.

Where will-o'-the-wisps and glow-worms shine,
In bulrush and in brake;
Where waving mosses shroud the pine,
And the cedar grows, and the poisonous vine
Is spotted like the snake;

Where hardly a human foot could pass,
Or a human heart would dare,
On the quaking turf of the green morass
He crouched in the rank and tangled grass,
Like a wild beast in his lair.

A poor old slave, infirm and lame;
Great scars deformed his face;
On his forehead he bore the brand of shame,
And the rags, that hid his mangled frame,
Were the livery of disgrace.

All things above were bright and fair,
All things were glad and free;
Lithe squirrels darted here and there,
And wild birds filled the echoing air
With songs of Liberty!

On him alone was the doom of pain,
From the morning of his birth;
On him alone the curse of Cain
Fell, like a flail on the garnered grain,
And struck him to the earth!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
After publishing Poems on Slavery in 1842, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) supported Senator Charles Sumner’s legislative efforts to end slavery, communicated with like-minded friends and colleagues through his correspondence, clubs, and other social gatherings, and used his growing
influence and financial resources to quietly assist abolitionists and slaves seeking freedom. Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Charles Sumner, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lydia Maria Child, Susan Hillard, Lunsford Lane, Josiah Henson, and others shared Longfellow’s anguish about ending slavery in the United States. (source: The National Park Service)

Runaway Slave Life In The Swamps of Virginia

As reported by The New York Times Opinionator, "Life in the Swamp," by J. Brent Morris, on 19 October 2013 --  In early September 1863, a young Union soldier wrote a letter to his former professor back at Oberlin College, where he had studied before the war. The soldier, who identified himself only as “G,” had been tasked with taking a census of the freedmen on Craney Island, near Norfolk, Va. The African-American population of the area had been swelling since the arrival of Union forces the previous May, and soldiers like G were to provide the first step toward, among other things, organizing and recruiting black soldiers for the war effort.

As G related in his letter, the simple chore of tallying newcomers quickly transformed into a fascinating afternoon of storytelling when the soldier encountered two nondescript blacks, the 46-year-old Abraham Lester and his wife, Larinda.

After quickly noting his subjects’ names and ages, the student-soldier moved on to a more detailed set of queries, the answers of which, up until that point, had varied little among his respondents.

Abraham, however, piqued his interest with his answer to the first of these questions.

“How long have you been from home?,” the soldier asked. This was a variant on the question listed on G’s tally sheet, “How long have you been in our lines?” Other census takers had often encountered “contrabands” who did not fully understand what was meant by the question, and this simplified version assumed that their presence among Union troops dated from approximately the time they left “home” – that is, their former masters.

Without hesitation, Lester replied, “Four years.” This, however, predated the commencement of the war itself. G tried to clarify himself. “How long have you been with the Union Army?”

“Ever since they came to Suffolk,” Lester replied. “I was in the Dismal Swamp three years, and when I heard that the Army had come to Suffolk, I went to them, and have been with them ever since.”

Abraham Lester had understood the question perfectly, and only slowly did G realize that the couple before him were maroons, fugitives who had fled slavery and precariously settled within the dark recesses of the Great Dismal Swamp, a wasteland spanning the Virginia-North Carolina border where few masters dared follow their fleeing bondsmen.

Hailing as he did from Oberlin, the soldier would have undoubtedly read about these maroons in one of the antislavery publications that circulated freely in that hotbed of abolitionism. But firsthand accounts of maroon life were nearly unheard of. In fact, Abraham Lester’s story is one of only a handful of known primary glimpses into the life of a maroon in the Great Dismal Swamp. It is one of even fewer that captures the merger of Dismal Swamp maroons’ century’s old fight to survive in the very midst of a plantation society with the larger fight for emancipation that was the American Civil War.

The Great Dismal Swamp was historically one of the most inhospitable tracts of land along the east coast of North America. Originally covering more than 1.3 million acres, very little of the swamp was above water. Here and there, dry ridges rose from the muck, providing precious solid ground that became the territory of numerous wild cattle, bears, deer and wolves. From the outside looking in, early Americans swore that the gases rising from the swamp were highly poisonous, that buzzards would not even fly over the quagmire, and that only suicidal fools dared venture in. Speculators contemplated draining the swamp but were largely unsuccessful. To most, the swamp seemed truly dismal — an eyesore, an obstacle, a quagmire.

Yet all the reasons white society gave for eschewing the swamp made it the perfect refuge for fugitives from slavery. The first self-emancipating slaves who sought the protection of the swamp in the late 17th century probably joined the remnants of long-defeated Native American groups who had sought the protection of the swamp much earlier. By the beginning of the 18th century, maroons of African descent were serving as military leaders of some of the burgeoning outlaw communities in regular raids on nearby plantations.

The considerable numbers of maroons who used the swamp as a base for these attacks, as well as those who settled in the innermost communities of the deep swamp, were constant thorns in the side of plantation society, both militarily and ideologically. Through trade, appropriation and their own ingenuity, maroons obtained or made weapons and developed remarkable skills as guerrilla fighters. Just as important, however, was their symbolic variance from the ideological foundations of American slavery: the notion that African-Americans could not survive without benevolent white supervision, that they did not truly desire their freedom and that they were pathetically inferior to the “master race” in every way. Rather, they challenged white authority and stood for centuries, unsubdued, as a powerful rebuke to the Slave Power.

When larger conflicts arose outside their swamp, Great Dismal maroons merged their own campaigns with those who would also make war on the people that enslaved them. Maroons in the Revolution, already loosely organized into war bands, served as guerrilla foragers for the British and as regular soldiers in Lord Dunmore’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Their own struggle for freedom spanned generations at that point, and it was bravely maintained until Union gunboats arrived in 1862 and the centuries-old fight again merged with another war against slaveholders. While the mass of the Union Army fought in Northern Virginia, former slaves, maroons and white Unionists undertook a guerrilla war to disrupt Confederate power in areas surrounding the swamp.

Many maroons who left the swamp to fight did not become regulars in the Union Army, but rather maintained their status as guerillas in the region. Dismal Swamp guerillas helped provision Union forces with beef and corn obtained in their plantation raids. Perhaps as important, dozens of maroons emerged from the swamp and served as scouts necessary for passage through the swamp. Moreover, maroon fighters already busy “spread[ing] terror over the land,” in the words of a North Carolina woman, loosely joined forces with the Confederate deserter Jack Fairless and his “Wingfield Buffaloes.” From their base on the North Carolina edge of the Great Dismal, guerrilla bands set off on regular campaigns into northeastern North Carolina, both to plunder and make good on their explicit pledge to “clear the country of every slave.”

So successful, in fact, were the maroons and other Buffaloes in commandeering supplies and helping to liberate bondsmen in the region that by mid-1863, a hastily organized local white “home guard” made desperate attempts to destroy their increasingly fortified base, or at least hit the guerrillas where it might hurt them the worst. Suggesting that they were aware of the crucial link between the maroons of the swamp and the guerrilla fighters, the home guard braved a direct assault on a deep-swamp maroon community, surprising the noncombatant group and killing many swampers in the process. Their attempts on the Buffalo base camp on the Chowan River were less successful. After initial forays in March failed to eject the Buffaloes, a larger force of partisan and regulars the next month found that the Buffaloes had dispersed back into the depths of the swamp ahead of the attack. All that greeted the frustrated Confederates was simple note pinned to a tree: “A leetle too late.”

The Carolinians must have already felt the truth of that note. Besides missing their guerrilla targets, by the fall of 1863 the Confederates were also rapidly losing ground in the region to Unionists. For the most part, the home guard had done a miserable job protecting the nominally pro-Confederate home front from Union-allied guerrillas. Indeed, the incompetence of the home guard only served to provoke further maroon reprisals on the civilian population.

In December 1863 Gen. Edward A. Wild led a raid through the swamp against white communities in North Carolina in December, but already that fall local residents were already declaring 1863 the “year of the black flag.” The Dismal Swamp counties in North Carolina passed resolutions addressed to the Confederacy formally withdrawing their support for the home guard and demanding they be officially recalled. The Buffalo’s adversaries would thereafter be no more than a dwindling clutch of vigilantes lacking even the support of a sympathetic civilian population. The Civil War thus came to an early end in the region around the southern Great Dismal Swamp.

Though some Buffaloes soon joined the fight at the Richmond front, others, like Abraham Lester, a maroon fighter and never an army regular, paused to enjoy something new but uncertain: liberty and the freedom to venture outside the protection of the Great Dismal Swamp. Toward the end of G.’s interview, Abraham’s wife, Larinda (whom he had met and wed in the swamp), joined the conversation, and it became clear that the war was perhaps the least of the worries that would burden now-former maroons like them. Still a bit skittish at the sight of whites after so many years in hiding, they would have to wrestle with uncertainties besides the still-ambiguous meaning of freedom: how to deal with a child that had never seen a white face, how to retrain one’s feet to tread upon solid dry ground, how to live alongside those who had once sent snarling bloodhounds into the swamp after their trail.

In September 1863, life outside the swamp offered an uncertain new world. The only certainties were the marks recorded in the young soldier’s notebook before he continued on with his census of the island: “Abraham Lester and Larinda White, Dismal Swamp, freedmen.” (source: The New York Times)

Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia, by David Edward Cronin, 1888

As reported by the Washington Times Book Review, by James Scrodes, "BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832’," on 28 December 2014 -- Too many academic histories these days are marred by narrow topic focus, turgid writing, exhaustive (and exhausting) referencing and simply poor storytelling. And they are too often hideously expensive. This book, however, is a gem of such resonant historiography that you will find yourself begrudging neither its length nor its price. It's that good.

Alan Taylor, the Thomas Jefferson professor of history at the University of Virginia, already has won both Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes for books on early American history. He should be a contender for both again for this accessibly written examination of the fatal and violent dichotomy that haunted life in that largest slaveholding state of Virginia during the 60 years that spanned our own War for Independence and the start of the antebellum overtures to our Civil War.

Even though the time covered was long ago, there is a special timeliness today for those who are baffled by the wave of human beings willing to risk their lives to come from all parts of the world for their share of the American dream while we seem unable to close the racial divide among our own citizenry.

The short answer, which is graphically documented by Mr. Taylor, is that there is a flaw in our common human nature wherein even when we know what the right thing is to do, our own narrow self-interests to often prohibit us making the sacrifices that will result from changing our ways. Owning and driving enslaved human beings troubled the consciences of many Virginians of the day, but nearly all of them shrank from risking their prosperity by setting their bondsmen free.

Mr. Taylor rightly cites the most eloquent summary of the vexing crisis that slavery wrought on the Virginian elite of that time. It is by Thomas Jefferson, who shortly before his death in 1820 summed up, "But as it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is on one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

The book nicely walks the reader through personal stories of slaves and planters as individuals and paints a broader picture of the great events that kept Virginia in chaos for six decades. Two devastating wars with Great Britain raged through the region; there were sectional differences with New England that regularly threatened to break up the fragile alliance of Colonies; and indeed at one point it looked as if the newborn national experiment might fail. Virginia's economy and political culture were in constant turmoil as the dominant markets for its main export crops declined and the lure of free land in the unsettled west drew away much of the white working class.

But without doubt the darkest cloud that hung over all Virginians, black and white, was the seemingly insoluble dilemma posed by slavery. For the slaves themselves, their condition required a far more complicated negotiation than the simple, docile subservience that is a staple of the Hollywood version of those times. As Mr. Taylor graphically shows, subservience was no guarantee of safety from the lash or, far, far worse for many, the threat of being sold away to the harsher conditions of the Carolinas and Georgia and the severing of the family ties with spouses and children.

So each individual slave had to negotiate the changeable relationship with the owner and overseers as well as preserve some semblance of a normal life within the larger community of the enslaved on neighboring plantations. Indeed the precious nature of family ties and the deep resentment at laboring without recompense for another's profit were far more galling to the enslaved that the cruel physical punishments and endless toil they endured.

The conflicting attitudes and responses of the white planters of the Tidewater region showed how deeply aware the slave owners were of the immorality of slavery in general and of the deeply seething resentments boiled beneath the surface of the master-slave relationship. Many planters soothed their consciences by believing their human chattels were of another species and not entitled to a common humanity with themselves. Jefferson, for much of his life, considered the breeding and selling of slaves to be his most valuable crop.

But nearly all white slave owners were terrified that their property one day would rebel and wreak a terrible vengeance on them. Aside from the sporadic slave revolts that jarred equanimity, the recruitment of slaves by the British in the Revolution scared them witless even though the actual numbers were quite small.

But when the War of 1812 brought British warships into the Chesapeake, its commanders realized that recruiting African slaves served multiple purposes: It terrified the Virginians, who diverted militia to guard plantations, it provided the British with knowledgeable guides and scouts, and in 1815, there were enough runaways to constitute a unit of Marines who fought splendidly throughout the Tidewater and took part in the capture and burning of government buildings in Washington.

The epilogue of the story Mr. Taylor tells is somber. The British did honor promises and carried away thousands of loyal runaways and their families to distant places such as Nova Scotia and Trinidad. But the brunt of the backlash owners felt fell on those who remained behind. The regional battle lines over the whole slavery issue hardened and metastasized into the conflict over America's expansion into the territories that are now the Midwest. One can only conclude that our Civil War may have been inevitable, but the 60-year episode Mr. Taylor offers us surely added fuel to the fire when it ignited.  {source: The Washington Times; James Srodes' latest book is "On Dupont Circle: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Progressives Who Shaped Our World" (Counterpoint).]

The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 By Alan Taylor from Virginia Historical Society on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

#1 "We Need A Little Christmas" by Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis - "We Need A Little Christmas"

From Wikipedia, The Christmas song, "We Need a Little Christmas," is a showtune originating from Jerry Herman's Broadway musical, Mame, 1966 production.

In the musical, the song is performed after Mame has lost her fortune in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and decides that she, her young nephew Patrick, and her two household servants "need a little Christmas now" to cheer them up.[2] The original lyrics include the line, "But, Auntie Mame, it's one week past Thanksgiving Day now!" Since the time the song was written the phenomenon of Christmas creep has resulted in the normal holiday season beginning much earlier than it once did, which has led to more recent recordings changing the line to, "But, Auntie Mame, it's one week from Thanksgiving Day now!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

#2 "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" -- Mahalia Jackson 

Mahalia Jackson Sweet Little Jesus Boy

#3 "Oh Holy Night" 

According to Shepherd's Care Ministries, "The Amazing Story of 'O Holy Night'," by Ace Collins  -- Declared 'unfit for church services' in France and later embraced by U.S. abolitionists, the song continues to inspire.

The strange and fascinating story of "O Holy Night" began in France, yet eventually made its way around the world. This seemingly simple song, inspired by a request from a clergyman, would not only become one of the most beloved anthems of all time, it would mark a technological revolution that would forever change the way people were introduced to music. 
Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure

In 1847, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissionaire of wines in a small French town. Known more for his poetry than his church attendance, it probably shocked Placide when his parish priest asked the commissionaire to pen a poem for Christmas mass. Nevertheless, the poet was honored to share his talents with the church.

In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France's capital city, Placide Cappeau considered the priest's request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, "Cantique de Noel" had been completed.

Moved by his own work, Cappeau decided that his "Cantique de Noel" was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master musician's hand. Not musically inclined himself, the poet turned to one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help. 
Adolphe Charles Adams

The son of a well-known classical musician, Adolphe had studied in the Paris conservatoire. His talent and fame brought requests to write works for orchestras and ballets all over the world. Yet the lyrics that his friend Cappeau gave him must have challenged the composer in a fashion unlike anything he received from London, Berlin, or St. Petersburg.

As a man of Jewish ancestry, for Adolphe the words of "Cantique de Noel" represented a day he didn't celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. Nevertheless, Adams quickly went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau's beautiful words. Adams' finished work pleased both poet and priest. The song was performed just three weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 
John Sullivan Dwight

Initially, "Cantique de Noel" was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. But when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams was a Jew, the song--which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France--was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed "Cantique de Noel" as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and "total absence of the spirit of religion." Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it, and a decade later a reclusive American writer brought it to a whole new audience halfway around the world.

Not only did this American writer--John Sullivan Dwight--feel that this wonderful Christmas song needed to be introduced to America, he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: "Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease." The text supported Dwight's own view of slavery in the South. Published in his magazine, Dwight's English translation of "O Holy Night" quickly found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.

Back in France, even though the song had been banned from the church for almost two decades, many commoners still sang "Cantique de Noel" at home. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang, "Minuit, Chretiens, c'est l'heure solennelle ou L'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'a nous," the beginning of "Cantique de Noel."

After completing all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out his hiding place and answered with, "Vom Himmel noch, da komm' ich her. Ich bring' euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring' ich so viel, Davon ich sing'n und sagen will," the beginning of Martin Luther's robust "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come."

The story goes that the fighting stopped for the next twenty-four hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day. Perhaps this story had a part in the French church once again embracing "Cantique de Noel" in holiday services.
 Reginald Fessenden
Adams had been dead for many years and Cappeau and Dwight were old men when on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden--a 33-year-old university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison--did something long thought impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man's voice was broadcast over the airwaves: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed," he began in a clear, strong voice, hoping he was reaching across the distances he supposed he would.

Shocked radio operators on ships and astonished wireless owners at newspapers sat slack-jawed as their normal, coded impulses, heard over tiny speakers, were interrupted by a professor reading from the gospel of Luke. To the few who caught this broadcast, it must have seemed like a miracle--hearing a voice somehow transmitted to those far away. Some might have believed they were hearing the voice of an angel.

Fessenden was probably unaware of the sensation he was causing on ships and in offices; he couldn't have known that men and women were rushing to their wireless units to catch this Christmas Eve miracle. After finishing his recitation of the birth of Christ, Fessenden picked up his violin and played "O Holy Night," the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. When the carol ended, so did the broadcast--but not before music had found a new medium that would take it around the world.

Since that first rendition at a small Christmas mass in 1847, "O Holy Night" has been sung millions of times in churches in every corner of the world. And since the moment a handful of people first heard it played over the radio, the carol has gone on to become one of the entertainment industry's most recorded and played spiritual songs. This incredible work--requested by a forgotten parish priest, written by a poet who would later split from the church, given soaring music by a Jewish composer, and brought to Americans to serve as much as a tool to spotlight the sinful nature of slavery as tell the story of the birth of a Savior--has become one of the most beautiful, inspired pieces of music ever created.
Reprinted from "Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas" for educational purposes only, from Zondervan.
(source: Shepherd's Care Ministries)

Story Behind The Song: Oh Holy Night

Story Behind The Song: Oh Holy Night from Shelter Cove Community Church on Vimeo.

#4 "Go Tell It on the Mountain/Mary Had A Baby"

"Go Tell It on the Mountain" is an African-American spiritual song, compiled by John Wesley Work, Jr., dating back to at least 1865, that has been sung and recorded by many gospel and secular performers. It is considered a Christmas carol because its original lyrics celebrate the Nativity of Jesus:
“ Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born.

#5 "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" -- Harry Belafonte

The song, "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day," lyrics originate from a poem ‘Christmas Bells’ written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, during the American Civil War, in 1863. After the death of his wife and the severe wounding of his son, who was a United States soldier, in the Battle of New Hope Church (Virginia), Longfellow penned the poem, "Christmas Bells."

Longfellow's poem tells of the narrator's despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men". The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among men.

Johnny Marks, known for his song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", set Longfellow’s poem to music in the 1950s. Marks' version has been recorded by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Ed Ames, Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra, Sarah McLachlan, Pedro the Lion, Harry Belafonte, The Carpenters, Rockapella, and Bing Crosby. Marks' composition is now commonly used for modern recordings of the carol.

Harry Belafonte recorded "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day," on his "To Wish You a Merry Christmas" album recorded in May and June of 1958 in Hollywood. Conducted by Bob Corman. Millard Thomas and Laurindo Almeida, guitarists. Produced and directed by Ed Welker. (source: Wikipedia)

#6 "The First Noel" by BeBe & CeCe Winans

From the Christian Broadcast Network, "Christmas Devotion: The First Noel," by Kenneth W. Osbeck, from the Devotion Book, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions -- Although no Christmas season would be complete without the melodious singing of this tuneful carol, very little is known about its origin. It is believed to have had its rise in France during the fifteenth century. Noel is a French word originating from Latin meaning "birthday." The song is thought to have been brought across the channel to England before 1823 by the wandering troubadours. The carol under the English form, "Nowell," became a great favorite for Christmas Eve, especially in the west of England. This was when the entire village gathered for singing and celebrating the bringing in of the Yule log. At this time carols were thought of as popular religious songs meant to be sung outside the church rather than within. 
BeBe and CeCe Winans
"The First Noel" portrays in vivid narrative style the story of the birth of Christ. All six stanzas are needed to complete the entire event when the hymn is sung. The sixth stanza urges us to join together to sing praises to God for the marvels of His creation and for the salvation provided through Christ's shed blood. The repetition of the joyous "noel" in the refrain is equivalent to our singing out "happy birthday" to someone.

It is interesting to observe that the "King of Israel" was first announced to "certain poor shepherds" only, but in the final stanza the phrases "let us all" and "mankind hath brought" remind us that Christ came to redeem the whole world.  (source: Christian Broadcast Network)

BeBe & CeCe Winans - THE FIRST NOEL

#7 -- "White Christmas" by The Drifters
Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" sung by The Drifters

"White Christmas" is an Irving Berlin song reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. According to the Guinness World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.

Accounts vary as to when and where Berlin wrote the song.[4] One story is that he wrote it in 1940, in warm La Quinta, California (in the desert near Palm Springs, CA), while staying at the La Quinta Hotel, a frequent Hollywood retreat also favored by writer-director-producer Frank Capra, although the Arizona Biltmore also claims the song was written there.[5] He often stayed up all night writing — he told his secretary, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"

In 1954, The Drifters released a cover version of the song that showcased the talents of lead singer Clyde McPhatter and the bass vocals of Bill Pinkney. Their recording of the song peaked at number 2 on Billboard's Rhythm & Blues Records chart in December 1954 (it also returned to the same chart in the next two years). In December 1955, "White Christmas" became the Drifters' first of 34 singles to register on the mainstream Billboard Top 100 singles chart, reaching number 80.[27] For decades, the Drifters' version of the song was primarily heard on R&B radio stations, getting little exposure elsewhere. The song received a boost in the early 1990s,[citation needed] when it was prominently featured in the film Home Alone during a scene in which the lead character Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is applying his father's aftershave while mouthing the lyrics. Radio stations formats as diverse as oldies, adult contemporary, Top 40, and country began playing the Drifters' version of the song, which was also featured in the 1994 films Mixed Nuts and The Santa Clause. (source: Wikipedia)

#8 -- Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto James Brown

"Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto"  James Brown

Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Hitch up your reindeer, uh!
And go straight to the ghetto

Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Fill every stocking you find
The kids are gonna love you so, uh!

Leave a toy for Johnny
Leave a doll for Mary
Leave something pretty for Donnie
And don't forget about Gary

Santa Claus, uh, go straight to the ghetto
Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Tell him James Brown sent you, huh
And go straight to the ghetto

You know that I know what you will see

'Cause that was once me

Hit it! Hit it!
You see mothers
And soul brothers

Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Santa Claus, oh Lord, go straight to the ghetto

Fill every stocking you find
The kids are gonna love you so
Fill every stocking you find
You'll know that they need you so

I'm begging you Santa Claus
Go straight to the ghetto
If anyone wanna know
Tell him Hank Ballard told you so

Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Never thought I'd realize
I'd be singing a song with water in my eyes

Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Don't leave nothing for me
I've had my chance, you see?

Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Santa Claus, the soul brothers need you so
Santa Claus, tell him James Brown sent you

Monday, December 22, 2014

#9 -- Santa Claus Is A Black Man
Santa Claus Is A Black Man

"Santa Claus is a Black Man" is a Christmas song by record producer and songwriter Teddy Vann, performed by his 5 year old daughter Akim Vann (billed as Akim) and his Teddy Vann Production Company for a 1973 single. The song, described as "Vann's take on 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'", has been called a cult classic, and continues to receive Christmas airplay. (source: Wikipedia)

#10 -- This Christmas by Donny Hathaway (1970)
This Christmas by Donny Hathaway (1970)

Hang on the mistletoe
I'm gonna get to know you better
This Christmas
And as we trim the tree
How much fun it's gonna be together
This Christmas

Fireside is blazing bright
We're caroling through the night
And this Christmas will be
A very special Christmas for me

Presents and cards are here
My world is filled with cheer and you, this Christmas
And as I look around
Your eyes outshine the town they do this Christmas

Fireside is blazing bright
We're caroling through the night
And this Christmas will be
Very special Christmas for me, yeah

Shake a hand, shake a hand now

The fireside is blazing bright
We're caroling through the night
And this Christmas will be
Very special Christmas for me, yeah

Hang all the mistletoe
I'm gonna get to know you better, this Christmas
And as we trim the tree
How much fun it's gonna be together, this Christmas

The fireside is blazing bright
We're caroling through the night
And this Christmas will be
Very special Christmas for me

Merry Christmas
Shake a hand, shake a hand now
Wish your brother Merry Christmas
All over the land now, yeah

Merry Christmas

  • Vocals: Donny Hathaway
  • Writing: Hathaway (as "Donny Pitts"), Nadine McKinnor
  • Electric guitar: Phil Upchurch
  • Drums: Morris Jennings
  • Drums, bass drum, congas, sleigh bells: Ric Powell
  • Baritone saxophone: Willie Henderson
  • Trombones: Louis Satterfield
  • Keyboard bass: Hatha

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The US Injustice System Found The Youngest Person Executed In America, George Stinney Jr., Not Guilty 70 Years After Execution 
George Stinney, Jr.  (1929-1944)

As reported by Peace FM online, "SAD! Youngest Person Executed In US Cleared Of Murder - 70 Years After His Death," on 18 December 2014  --  A teenage boy convicted of murdering two young girls has been exonerated - 70 years after he was executed for the crime.

George Stinney Jr was just 14 when he was sentenced to death over the killing of two white girls, aged 11 and seven.

He became the youngest person in the 20th Century to be executed in the US.

But 70 years on a US judge in South Carolina has thrown out the black teen’s conviction on the basis he was wronged by the justice system.

The ruling has been welcomed by Stinney Jr’s family and civil rights activists who campaigned for years. However it has come too late for the teen, who would be 84 today.When he was executed in 1944, Stinney was so short he had to sit on a phone book so he would fit on the electric chair and one of the electrodes was too big for his leg.

The young lad was living with his family in Alcolu, South Carolina, when he was accused of murdering Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, seven, on March 23, 1944.The girls had vanished after going on a bike ride together and their bodies were found the next morning. Both of them had been violently beaten to death with a railroad spike.

Witnesses claimed to see Stinney Jr picking flowers with the young victims before they were found dead.

He admitted to the crime during interrogation by police after being separated from his parents.

He was found guilty by an all-male, all-white jury who deliberated for less than 10 minutes after a trial that lasted less than a day. He was later denied appeal.On Wednesday Judge Carmen Mullins based her ruling on how the justice system treated the boy and said he had not been properly defended by his attorney.

She also pointed out his confession to police was likely coerced and there was no physical evidence linking him to the double murder.
  A copy of a photo that ran June 8, 1944, in The Columba (S.C.) Record, showing Stinney, center right, and Bruce Hamilton, 21, center left, enter the death house in the state prison. Both were executed June 16, 1944. Jimmy Price/The Columbia Record/AP

She said: “From time to time we are called to look back to examine our still-recent history and correct injustice where possible.

“I can think of no greater injustice than a violation of one’s constitutional rights, which has been proven to me in this case by a preponderance of the evidence standard.”

She also labelled executing a 14-year-old boy as cruel and unusual punishment.

One of Stinney Jr’s two sisters Amie Ruffner, 78, said: “They took my brother away and I never saw my mother laugh again.”

Appealing his innocence, Stinney Jr’s brother testified he had spent the day with the teenager of the day the girls were murdered.  (source:

The US Civil War: Death By Freedom

As reported by The New York Times, in an article entitled, "Liberation as Death Sentence," by Jennifer Schuessler, on 10 June 2012 -- When Civil War History published a paper this spring raising the conflict’s military death toll to 750,000 from 620,000, that journal’s editors called it one of the most important pieces of scholarship ever to appear in its pages.

But to Jim Downs, an assistant professor of history at Connecticut College and the author of the new book “Sick From Freedom,” issued last month by Oxford University Press, that accounting of what he calls “the largest biological crisis of the 19th century” does not go nearly far enough.

To understand the war’s scale and impact truly, Professor Downs argues, historians have to look beyond military casualties and consider the public health crisis that faced the newly liberated slaves, who sickened and died in huge numbers in the years following Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

“We’re getting ready to celebrate 150 years of the movement from slavery to freedom,” he said in a recent interview at a cafe near his apartment in Chelsea. “But hundreds of thousands of people did not survive that movement.”

“Sick From Freedom,” at 178 pages (not counting 56 pages of tightly argued footnotes), may seem like a bantamweight in a field crowded with doorstops. But it’s already being greeted as an important challenge to our understanding of an event that scholars and laypeople alike have preferred to see as an uplifting story of newly liberated people vigorously claiming their long-denied rights.

“The freed people we want to see are the ones with all their belongings on the wagon, heading toward freedom,” said David W. Blight, a professor of history at Yale and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. “But the truth is, for every person making it there may have been one falling by the way.”

Professor Downs, 39, is part of a wave of scholars who are sketching out a new, darker history of emancipation, Professor Blight said, one that recognizes it as a moral watershed while acknowledging its often devastating immediate impact. And the statistics offered in “Sick from Freedom” are certainly sobering, if necessarily tentative.

At least one quarter of the four million former slaves got sick or died between 1862 and 1870, Professor Downs writes, including at least 60,000 (the actual number is probably two or three times higher, he argues) who perished in a smallpox epidemic that began in Washington and spread through the South as former slaves traveled in search of work — an epidemic that Professor Downs says he is the first to reconstruct as a national event.

Historians of the Civil War have long acknowledged that two-thirds of all military casualties came from disease rather than heroic battle. But they have been more reluctant to dwell on the high number of newly emancipated slaves that fell prey to disease, dismissing earlier accounts as propaganda generated by racist 19th-century doctors and early-20th-century scholars bent on arguing that blacks were biologically inferior and unsuited to full political rights.

Instead, historians who came of age during the civil rights movement emphasized ways in which the former slaves asserted their agency, playing as important a role in their own liberation as Lincoln or the Union army.

“For so long, people were afraid to talk about freed people’s health,” Professor Downs said. “They wanted to talk about agency. But if you have smallpox, you don’t have agency. You can’t even get out of bed.”

Professor Downs first became interested in the health of newly liberated slaves when he was a graduate student at Columbia University with a job as a research assistant in the papers of Harriet Jacobs, the author of the 1861 autobiography “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” and a vivid chronicler of the often abysmal conditions in the “contraband camps” where escaped slaves congregated during the war and in settlements of freed people more generally after it. The papers were full of heart-wrenching encounters with sick and dying freed people — references that he noticed were strikingly absent in recent scholarship.

As he developed the topic into his dissertation, Professor Downs recalls sparring with his adviser, Eric Foner, the author of the classic book “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Business, 1863-1877.”

“He would joke: ‘Look in my index. You don’t even see smallpox,’ ” Professor Downs said.

But as he sorted through the little-explored records of the medical division of the Freedmen’s Bureau and other archives, he found reams of statistical and anecdotal accounts of sick and dying freed people, whose suffering was seen by even some sympathetic Northern reformers as evidence that the race was doomed to extinction.

Meanwhile tallies of the smaller number of white smallpox victims were kept only lackadaisically and eventually crossed out all together — evidence, he argues, that officials were eager to see the outbreak as a “black epidemic” not worth bothering about. (By contrast a cholera outbreak in 1866 that mainly affected whites was vigorously combated, he notes.)

Professor Downs also found a medical system that was less concerned with healing the sick than with separating out healthy workers who could be sent back to the fields, and then closing the hospitals as quickly as possible.

In an e-mail Professor Foner praised “Sick From Freedom” as offering “a highly original perspective” that “deserves wide attention.” And Professor Downs makes no bones about wanting to place health issues at the center of multiple scholarly conversations about the war and its aftermath.

“I wanted to say, ‘You’re not allowed to do the history of labor or the history of the family or the history of citizenship unless you go through my book,’ ” he said. “I wanted to be able to tell a story about these people’s lives that wouldn’t get pushed aside as melodrama.”

He is also not shy about drawing out his work’s contemporary relevance. His dissertation included an epilogue about AIDS, another epidemic, he said, that broke out shortly after a moment of liberation (in this case of gay people), was blamed on the victims and was largely ignored by the federal government. (He dropped the point from the book, which instead ends with an epilogue showing how policies developed in the post-Civil War South were exported to the Western frontier, with similarly devastating health consequences for American Indians.) 
Sick From Freedom by Jim Downs

Professor Downs also sees parallels with the current health care debate. “Freed slaves,” he writes in the book, were “the first advocates of federal health care” — a statement that could be read from the left as an example of early black political activism, or from the right as an instance of newly liberated people immediately asking for a government handout.

That second reading was one he initially worried about, Professor Downs said. But he ultimately just let the historical chips fall where they may.

“I’ve been alone with these people in the archives,” he said. “I have a responsibility to tell their stories.” (source: The New York Times)


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