Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Salem in Black and White

As a young man I was confused about the black and white (racial issues) in our Salem. I was of the impression that our community was at one time white and that somehow the black (African American) population exploded when manufacturing drew them here as cheap labor following the Civil War. Is that your perception? That may be correct in some manner but in reality it is not. The truth is that our community was red and that we whites were the intruders and we brought the black population along with us and they did not show up of their own accord. This is quite a different perception from my childhood perception.

Over the years as my hair grays I come to a better understanding of reality. Several occurrences have drastically changed my perspective. The first was being accused, undeservingly by many leaders in the community, as “racist”. This caused me to take a serious look at myself, my thoughts, perceptions, my actions and the root of those actions. It was a drastic wake up call for me as to how ones very proper actions can be perceived by others, based on their perspective, as something totally different from your intent or reality.

My father’s parents and my parents took great pains for me and my siblings to grow up to accept people as equals no matter the color of their skin. We were taught to judge people by there actions not by their actual or perceived position in society. You might not be able to accept this, but several of the men I looked up to as a child and teenager were black men I grew up working beside of. One of these men in particular I respected as much, if not more than my father or grandfathers. I learned as much about my future profession and how I should live my life from him as anyone else. Billy, you know who you are! I can say, with all honesty, that my grandparents and parents achieved their goal.

Cooleemee Plantation
I think that white society, purposely or not, creates a false perception in white children about black society. White society does not wish to be recognized as the descendants of masters of a slave society. Imagine my shock to discovery that most of my early ancestors and those of my spouse owned slaves. This came about by two things, one my interest in family genealogy and in slavery itself. Unlike many studying their genealogy I have not only researched the census but included a study of the slave census prior to the Civil War. Our local community and the south as a whole were largely agrarian. Think of it like this could you farm today without a tractor? Well, there were no tractors then. The slaves were the tractors and much like today if you farmed, you had at least one in your shed. More than likely you had several and large plantations in our vicinity had hundreds each. The Hairston family alone, with numerous plantations within 75 miles of our Salem, may have had as many as 10,000 slaves working their plantations. This family was one, if not, the largest owner of slaves in this country. This wasn’t somewhere else in the south, it was here! Know any one named Hairston around here? Are they most likely black? These forced labors were a very large percentage of the total population in this area prior to the Civil War. You are most likely aware of Cooleemee Plantation south of Mocksville but may not be aware of its parent the 10,000 acre Sauratown Plantation north east of Walnut Cove. These were both Hairston Plantations surrounded by numerous satellite plantations. Peter Hairston lived at Sauratown with his wife and daughter and almost 300 slaves.This was only ONE family! Imagine my shock on researching the local slave census of all of the families.

The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and WhiteFollowing much research and study my new reality about racism is this. By sheer numbers, blood, sweet and tears invested in this place where we live the black populations claim on this place trumps mine and that of most white folk. They feed the growing population; worked in the mills and factories and built with their hands the early homes and buildings we admire and claim with such pride. Do a little more research and you will find that many of us, irrelevant of the color of our skin, have the blood of shared ancestry running through our very veins. We are not black and white we are very likely cousins! An interesting observation by a European touring the south on visiting our local Sauratown Plantation; Many of the slaves working the fields could pass as white! Imagine that! Need I explain? Would our world be much different if we considered ourselves cousins rather than other races? Mine is! We are not black or white; we are various shades of brown.

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