HEY AMERICA #WEBUILTIT …AND DON”T FORGET IT! This tweet sponsored by a GOVERNMENT PROGRAM called #EMANCIPATION http://t.co/KioO1iLU — KosherSoul (@KosherSoul)
On April 9, 1865, in Appomattox, Virginia my great-great Grandfather Elijah Mitchell was standing with his brother when he witnessed the surrender of Lee to Grant…and this is how he found out that he was free…as copied from a family history file left to my Father:
“Appomattox County is a historical place in the commonwealth of Virginia. This is the place where General Lee surrendured to General Grant in 1865. Grandpa Elijah was a house slave and his brother, was a field slave. Grandpa at the age of 16 stood by the side of the road and saw the two generals come out of the McClean House and read the papers stating the end of the war. Grandpa never forgot this moment because he and his brother knew that at last they were free and everybody was free. They fell into each other’s arms and wept. Grandpa’s former master later gave them 30 acres of land and this is recorded i the records at Appomattox County, Virginia….”
Great Feature over at Eatocracy Please check it out and share it. And remember only 6 days left to help donate to the Cooking Gene Projectand there are many great gifts still left to be claimed. Enjoy AND SHARE AND SHARE AND SHARE AND SHARE—- 6 days until our campaign ends–even if you can’t give a cent—SHARE SHARE SHARE SHARE Thank you! http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2012/04/30/food-and-slavery/
Disclaimer: While the blogosphere has pumped up the Tennessee Tea Party’s mandate to advocate for changes to Tennessee’s American history textbooks-much like the folks in Texas wanted to change the history books, the story is really a year old. The point here is that there is a reason for this project and others efforts to educate people about slavery and its effects in American society and culture. —MWT
Before we go much further here is the quote from a member of the Tennessee Tea Party on American history textbooks in the state:
“Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”
Translation: We are angry that multiculturalism is now a well integrated approach to the way we study history and culture in this country. The emphasis of our history prior to the poison of Civil Rights and the late 20th century was just fine. The books were perfect—white male and might make America right– and that’s just a fact. This is not a country for the “others,” its ours. People of color, women, sexual minorities, know your place and shut up.
and this gem:
“No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Keywords–”actually occurred,” “Founding Fathers,” “majority of its citizens,” “…including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Translation: Racial chattel slavery as perpetuated against people of African descent and the annihilation and removal of Native Americans, are no reason to violate postulate 1: white male and might make America right…We wish to absolve American society as a whole even though those directly unconnected benefited from these practices. In addition to the Founding Fathers, we would like to include all great men of European American heritage who made this country work for them and them alone and we would like to de-emphasize the role that enslaved Africans and African Americans and Native Americans played as Founding Fathers and Mothers themselves….
Bigger Translation: your ancestors don’t count, your stories don’t count, your history doesn’t count…you…don’t count…
So if you’re asking why we’re doing this project—we are giving a face and a name to a small subset of these groups who really lived and breathed and were effected by the complex internal struggles of the Founding Fathers and the “majority,” who obviously struggled with not only slavery and “Indian Removal,” but with their own complex emotions about their relationships with people of color. How do you eat with people, play with people, grow up with them, have sex with them, laugh at their jokes, imitate their dances, their words, EAT THEIR FOOD and develop a taste for their tastes and yet have a society that is legally dedicated to their permanent and indefinite submission and subjugation. That’s extremely complex and its a story that was going on all across the Americas, and would eventually play out in the century of colonization in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
I am leading this small team of Black, White and Latino searchers because I don’t want to hate anybody. I don’t want to hold a grudge against anyone…I don’t want to get in the face of the people who owned my family and cuss them out. I want to know if the Table of Brotherhood is real. I want to know if reconciliation is real. I want to know if healing is real. I’m doing this for my ancestors. They need to know their lives meant something more than just the money they helped make but never saw. Their lives were more than a sideshow, entertainment, scapegoat experiences. I don’t want to promote hate–and the best way to make sure that happens is to tell the truth and fight ignorance like the words of these arrogant, idiotic, hateful apologists for the cultural genocide of my people. I don’t hate them–I just want to love them with the truth.
A few years ago a Virginia legislator angrily suggested that Virginia need not express regret for slavery and the Commonwealth bore no legacy from the institution. Virginia did express regret, but this person….felt no need to apologize, express regret or otherwise except responsibility. I am the descendant of enslaved Virginians—and hearing what he said was akin to Holocaust denial. You cannot be in peace, reconciliation and wholeness when you deny the truth.
Our foodways are the one thing we can’t deny. They didn’t get here out of thin air—they were created by specific people in a specific institution and in specific place. This is the truth. We’re putting a face on an aspect of enslaved people’s culture and lives that can be comprehended, that lets us into their interior world, and forces us to connect the enslaved with the lives we live today–not only in what we eat but the lived experienced of all people–all Americans who eat what they eat partly out of their rootedness in the Old Country as well as the American and global culinary experience. This project is about giving access to a world that if the Tea Party members in Tennessee would have it–would disappear from our cultural memory.
I teach about the Holocaust in my Hebrew school. How interesting huh, an African American Jew teaching about the Holocaust–genocide and orchestrated hatred–what it means for people to have complex issues with a group that lead to acts of oppression…and yet those people resisted, joined forces with others for freedom, and constantly and consistently denied the alternative reality of their oppressors. As we make our way through Elie Wiesel’s Night, I remind my students that power is in the story as much as in the survival expressed in those pages. Many of the survivors of the Shoah wear a “Zakhor” pendant in Hebrew on their lapels. Zakhor means “to remember” or “memory.” Without that memory we are doomed to a recycled oppression. To me what goes on our plates is zakhor in edible form.
It has been two days and I’ve gotten four hours of sleep. No rest for the weary. The Ancestors are working me overtime.
Our Indiegogo Campaign launches on Wednesday, February 1, 2012. Yes, the first day of African American Heritage Month. We are posting the link and blogging the page here and at http://www.Afroculinaria. We are asking in advance that even the chance visitors to this site among you would take the opportunity to post our link to your Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media networks you belong to and consider emailing or texting our link to others you know that may be interested in our project. The five of us are really super excited and can’t believe that we all got drawn into this project from such diverse directions–history, cooking, genealogy, spiritual work, visual arts, photography, performing arts, social justice work and all points between.
We look forward to bringing The Cooking Gene-Southern Discomfort Tour to you and we’re excited to see how this campaign on Indiegogo.com shapes up so that we can make it happen. This is the first journey/project of its type and we are proud to say that a multicultural team is bringing it to life through food, writing, photographs, video and hopefully communities transformed through dialogue, action and food. Feel free to re-blog our posts and see the project blog for the many ways you can help. I am glad to say that people along the route are just starting to contact us about when we are coming to town. Please help us get the word out, please note if people in your network can help us get this off the ground, and contact us if you have a connect we need to explore in order to make this a rich culinary journey through family history.
Love and Peace
Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi.—Twi Proverb
(It isn’t wrong to go back and get what you have forgotten.)
Food is incredibly political and so is history. Politics doesn’t feed, but activism does. That’s why we’re doing this. We’re inspired to use knowledge to make change even as we seek to preserve our traditions and our heritage. To date there is no national effort among African Americans to promote the ownership, maintenance and transfer of our folk culture in its roots in the transfer from Africa to America and the era of colonial and antebellum slavery. What this means for our food culture is that we are losing valuable cultural knowledge/culinary knowledge that can lead to a better future for people of all backgrounds. Our nutrition, health, cultural pride, economic stability, community infrastructure, self-reliance, spiritual integrity and relationship with the planet all hinge on our ability to reconcile ourselves with history’s horrors and embrace its unintended blessings.
You cannot talk about inequities and imbalances in access to food and food deserts without referring to class and racial divisions going back to the beginning of American history. Clearly one of the most salient aspects that drove class and racial division was the presence and perpetuation of racial chattel slavery. To confront food injustices and to reverse some of the detriments that the industrialization of food production, agriculture, fishing and food distribution have brought on is to go back to the source and revisit the past to find out what we can recover to rescue us from ourselves. In the Akan cultures of Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, this idea is called Sankofa, and it is represented by a bird that looks backwards while its feet are positioned forwards, or the shape of a heart. Sankofa, an idea that has inspired many people of African descent–is often loosely translated as, “Go back and fetch it.” I was pleasantly surprised to find a Wikipedia page on the concept of Sankofa and the writer of that page so eloquently stated, “It symbolizes one taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge.”
I am not a chef. I am (often) a colonial and antebellum (African American) cook. I think and create in the terms of the past but my feet are firmly planted in the 21st century. My 1774 or 1860 self (aided and abetted by my grandparents and parent’s legacy) has taught my 2012 self some valuable lessons. The first is appreciate what you have…and make use of everything you have to sustain yourself. That’s the spirit I bring to this blog and Afroculinaria, and the spirit my team works with. We don’t have a lot, but we believe in doing it ourselves and using that spirit of self-reliance handed down from the generations before us from our Ancestors. Planting a big garden is not a hobby, it is practicing the cultivation of my family traditions. The heirlooms I grow are a living link to our past and proof that human beings are interdependent with nature and each other. Every time I plant a seed its like I’m reincarnating their wisdom in the soil–the seasons are the dictator here–not just of what goes in or what goes out of the soil, but the very moments of life one finds oneself in as they plant.
Honoring that past in my personal journey is not however, activism. Passing these stories that I gather on to the next generation gives them narratives that they can tweak and pass on. Growing food with young people in urban communities helps “cultivate,” the values of self-reliance, exercise, healthier eating and the craft of preparing and savoring your own food and celebrating that creation. Activism is making sure our elders know that we care about their lives and stories and get them talking and active which in turns gives them more life. The elders give us the truth and the wisdom they have to offer and we can make the choice to share that information among ourselves and build community around the sum total of our experiences. The accumulation of knowledge–from the ancestors, the elders, the youth, and the rest of us added to what we need to survive in today’s world is impossibly important. That accumulated knowledge gives us a base on which to stand and have dialogue with other cultures confident in the awareness that we are just as good, just as wise and just as whole. One of the many fruits of our kind of activism–from the mouth to mind to soul–is cultural integrity and intercultural connections that can bring about understanding across arbitrary boundaries that keep us from being whole as a human race.
This dialogue over what our food has meant to us and what it means to how we define ourselves and our neighbors is an important part of the story. We have to engage with race through food–we have to engage with slavery through food–that’s where we find the answers to some of our questions about how we got here and how we plan to get out of this mess laid down by history’s hurts. Our right to quality food experiences–as people of color, or as people of disadvantaged class, or young people without the same options as the prosperous generations before us–is inviolable. Who better to teach us how to survive and create the whole and sumptuous out of broken parts than people who got through nearly 340 years of bondage? African Americans are not the only people who need to sit at the table–and that is another reason why this project is important.
We want to bring people together but we want it to mean something. I don’t want my team and I eating with the descendants of my family’s former owners–some of whom I am related to by blood—and just chomp away because I want them to really understand and comprehend how monumental it is for us to have that kind of experience and be able to represent our ancestors in the spirit of healing. Even the elephant in the room–race–can be moved by a vehicle as simple as food–if we are willing to tell the truth. We can tell new stories of our place in this saga or we can tell stories that are old but have never been told before. There is incredible power for the sake of the future when we learn to give honor to the past’s dishonored. The push to bury the enslaved in a sea of amnesia and denial and even suggesting that the Old South states have “nothing to do with slavery,” will not lead to any good for any of us—Southern or not. As an American issue–slavery continues to cast its shadow on many of our lives whether we know it or not.
In 1852-1853, according to my Uncle’s research, my great-great-grandfather and his brother and mother were sold at the Richmond, Virginia slave market to Alabama. This painting from Richmond during the same era depicts the kind of indignities that my great-great grandfather and great-great-great grandmother would have faced.
If Black farmers and cooks cannot survive and Black America doesn’t have a food system that takes them out of food desserts—slavery won. If people of different cultures can’t come to some understanding of what is past and what can be in the future–slavery won. If better nutrition does not take over, education and longevity cannot flourish and slavery has won. If we raise a generation that is helpless in feeding itself from gardens, home-raised stock and the wild–slavery has won. If we keep allowing all the little negative things to peck at our family structure and destroy our homes, slavery has won. If we ignore our history and dishonor our ancestors through disrespect for one another, our own lives, and our communities, slavery has won. If we do not have thanks for what is on our plates and don’t honor the earth and the people who worked it to get the food on that plate–slavery has won.
The Auction Block, Green Hill Plantation, Campbell County, Virginia
We don’t want slavery to win. On the other side of ignorance is an incredible well we can draw and drink from and share. That is our activism in a nutshell. We are going back to the Old South to do Sankofa work. We promise we will return to the South of today with something that will ensure that the Old South will stay gone, but its lessons will always be in hearts. Memory is sacred, recipes are sacred. Sankofa.