Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Du Bois and Snow in Northern Virginia

So what do Du Bois and snow have in common? Nothing except for I don't feel guilty about being sequestered in my home, watching the snow flurries, and reading Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880. This is a tome that has been on my reading list for years, and finally I got tired of reading historians citing Du Bois and decided to get Du Bois's work and read it for myself.

The book is helping to clarify a family narrative passed down to me from my mother. It is one about how one of my female relatives, perhaps my great great grandmother, searched for her children after slavery. My mother always said that carpetbaggers took my great great grandmother's children from her. However, in a conversation with Dr. Ahati N.N. Toure, he suggested that during Reconstruction an apprenticeship program was established that literally removed U.S. African children from their parents and homes, if the Europeans in the community deemed these children's parents unable or unwilling to provide for them. Hence, this was another form of slavery and a legal form of kidnapping, and might lend some insight into what happened to some of my relatives during Reconstruction.

In reading Du Bois, I am becoming more acquainted with this practice of alleged apprenticeship of U.S. African children, but I need to read a text that exclusively focuses on this painful part of U.S. African history during Reconstruction, for Du Bois does not deal with the apprenticeship of children with any depth. However, I am curious now how my foremother's children were taken from her. As the narrative goes, she spent some years walking from Alabama to Ohio looking for her children. I am uncertain if she ever found all of them. I am uncertain how she negotiated her safety. I know nothing about this narrative but the bit that my mother knew. But it is a fascinating and painful narrative passed down to me, nonetheless, that I intend to investigate.

In the meantime, since it's too cold outside to walk, and not enough snow to go skiing, I'm going to get back to my book. Hey, I tried to talk to my neighbors this morning at the local Starbucks, but when one has a choice between communing with Du Bois or talking to neighbors about the Dallas Cowboys, I'd rather commune with Du Bois. But I am trying to be more socially engaged!


E. said...


We have stories like that in my family too. Contradictory details though....needs investigation as well.

One thing that your post shed some light on was my childhood.

I'll never forget those horrific scenes of DSS workers dragging us out of my mother's house to place in temporary shack motels or abusive foster homes.

One time, I went to sleep and when I woke up...I was living with another family. It was surreal. And my jealous new-sibling immediately took to knives and chasing me. Our foster parents weren't much better.....

I always felt, even as a child, that the state had no right to judge us.

More than anyone...I think the legacy of this nation's history echoes in our lives in such aggressive ways.

M. L. Simms said...

E, yes it does, and there is a history of removing our children from their parents. I have to tell you about a court case in the 1980s with which I assisted a lawyer. It involves a mother who became ill while swimming in a hotel pool with her child while on vacation in Georgia. The hotel staff believed that the mother was attempting to drown the child, and despite the fact that the child's father was in the hotel room, the police took the child from the parents and placed the child in foster care. The mother was arrested, jailed and subsequently placed in a psychiatric hospital (and placed on psychotropic drugs with neither hers nor her husband's permission), even though a physician had determined that she had hypoglycemia and perhaps had passed out. This was in Georgia, and I had to assist the attorney in Michigan in drafting pleadings to argue Michigan's jurisdiction over the matter. When we finally got the mother transferred to a "jail" in Michigan, we had to get a writ of habeas corpus to get a hearing before a Wayne County Circuit Court judge. The judge immediately dismissed the case and ordered the woman released. However, it took us many months to get the child returned to the mother from the state of Georgia. It wasn't until after the attorney filed kidnapping charges against the constable, police officer, hotel manager, and foster care provider in Georgia when the child was eventually returned to the state of Michigan. As I recall, the attorney and I spent a lot of hours on this woman's case, and we both did it pro bono because she was a nurse and her husband was a laborer, who would have had to second mortgage their home to pay our fees. But I was astounded about the entire ordeal. Both the circuit court judge and the state's attorney in Michigan could not believe the behavior of the officials in Georgia. This was in 1985 or 1986; and, I have never forgotten how easily our children are taken from us. I have another case involving two of my girlfriends here in Virginia that I'll have to share with you one day. One girlfriend actually had to flee Fairfax County in Virginia because of a threat to take her youngest daughter from her because she disagreed with an emergency room physician's medical diagnosis and she refused to submit her then infant daughter to immediate surgery. The physician characterized my girlfriend's daughter's condition as life threatening. My girlfriend's daughter is 12 years old today, has not had the surgery, and is very much alive and thriving. But my girlfriend battled child protective services for many months. I know there are instances when children need protecting; but there is also a history of snatching our children from us that is very, very real in our existence in this country.

E. said...

That blows my mind Michele.

That case not only echoes so many real life experiences that I have encountered, but it also reminds of how close we are in time (1980's) and geography (the deep south) to these issues.

Blows my mind...

Because, it also works in reverse.

My mother once went to the hospital for her kidneys.

She came home.

The social worker at the hospital deemed her "a danger to herself" and security forces stormed into my mother's house and incarcerated her in the hospital WITHOUT the family's permission.

They sent her to NORTHVILLE to be in a mental hospital where most people were so drugged up they could barely muster the strength to beg for you to get them out.

It took us over a year to get her out of there.

Years later, she was in hospice and I left her one morning. I came back that afternoon....SHE WAS GONE.

NO ONE knew where she was. I had to track down social workers who weren't even close to her case.

FINALLY, I found my mother at a hospital in NORTHVILLE. (surreal) She was in shock when she saw me and told me that the doctor had HIT HER.

I knew legal action at the time would be tedious and likely ineffective.

So I demanded the let my mother leave with me immediately. They refused.

When I told the doctor that I knew what he did to my mom and that I was going to beat HIM right then...

they let her go.

We brought her home.

And the social worker claimed confusion and miscommunication.

I was so mad. And her care was more important to me than running around in court with these people. I was working and going to school full-time.

I am SO GLAD that you fought for those people. So often, all we get is a bunch of I'm sorrys...

Still, the stories make me shudder and wonder how long I should wait to have a kid.