Friday, November 15, 2013

Blog Talk Radio Show: The African American Genealogy Blogger

Join host, guest host Angela Walton-Raji for a dynamic discussion of the African American Genealogy Bloggers reaction to the new PBS series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross – Episode One – Soul Food and Grandma's Spam Soup

There were many things covered in episode one of The African Americans:  Many Rivers to Cross, in which I am inspired to write about.  In this posting, I will discuss my thoughts about the conversation about food and food traditions between Professor Henry Louis Gates and Culinary Historian Michael Twitty.

Episode One:  The Black Atlantic (1500-1800)

I loved watching this segment which opened with Professor Gates and Mr. Twitty walking towards the garden as Mr. Twitty began the conversation saying that the garden “signifies crops that enslaved African Americans would have grown.”  Professor Gates’ response that “the most enduring expressions of any culture is food” and about people being able “to access the world of ancestors by tasting it” perked my interest and I began to think about food and cooking traditions in my own family.  In my immediate family (my three sisters and I), food and cooking traditions were primarily passed down to us from our maternal grandmother.  Although the time period for episode one of Many Rivers to Cross was from 1500-1800, my thoughts about food traditions and cooking focused on what this meant to me during my lifetime.

Grandma’s Cooking
Emma Johnson Thornton, my maternal grandmother
In 2011, when my grandmother Emma died, I wanted her funeral program to include more information about her beyond vital facts about birth, marriage, or death.  One of the things I did as I prepared to write her funeral program was to talk to three generations of my family about their memories of her.  This included her children (my aunt and uncle), my sisters and first cousins, and some of the great-grandchildren of my grandmother.  The common theme and memories from all three generations was about the foods she cooked.  As a result, I included this statement in the narrative of her funeral program.

She will be remembered for her cooking of homemade biscuits, crackling corn bread, butter fish, chicken and rice, collard greens, stewed tomatoes, raisin cookies, and lemon meringue pies.

One of my favorite memories of my grandmother’s cooking is her homemade biscuits.  (click here for that story)

Grandma’s Spam Soup
In another part of the food conversation, Michael Twitty mentioned to Professor Gates that he had found a reference which quoted the wife of a former Virginia governor to have said “No one bakes a ham better than a big, fat negro Mammy”.  Rather than taking offense to this, Mr. Twitty and Professor Gates put the comment in a positive and complimentary perspective as they stood near the stalk of sorghum.

Twitty:  But somehow we got our hands in the sugarcane.
Gates:  And our ancestors blackified it:
Twitty:  We blackified it--we took everything and made it better, made it more soulful…

This part of the conversation about putting the “blackified” or “soul” touch on food ignited my memories about my grandmother’s creative cooking methods and her spam soup.  Grandma’s family was poor and she also grew up during the Great Depression so I’m sure she learned some of this cooking creativity from her mother and other ancestors.  I remember one cold winter when food in the house was low and Grandma made a large pot of homemade soup.  Typically she included some type of meat in her soup such as chicken, turkey, or beef.  However, she did not have any meat in the house and no money to even buy meat from the store.  The closest thing she had to meat was a can of spam which someone had given her.  So along with her blending various types of fresh and canned vegetables to make the soup, Grandma cut the spam into chunks and threw them in the pot.  Talk about delicious!  

In episode one, Professor Gates talked about slave cooks “crafting a distinct African American cuisine.”  Well, I must say that my grandmother’s spam soup, biscuits, and other meals were definitely “distinct African American cuisines.”  In the Bible, Jesus performed a miracle when he used two fish and five loaves of bread to feed a large crowd of over five thousand people.  During my lifetime, I witnessed my grandmother working quite a few meal miracles as she took what little she had to make a tasty meal.

My Cooking and Eating Practices Today
In the last two years, I have had to radically change my cooking and eating practices to improve my health.  Although my cooking methods are drastically different from my grandmother and other ancestors, I have learned through studying various recipes and by trial and error how to get some of the tastes of the past without the high salt, sugar, or fat that would have been used by my ancestors to “craft their distinct African American cuisines.

For more information about Culinary Historian Michael Twitty:

  • African American Foodways with Michael W. Twitty
  • Interview of Michael Twitty by Bernice Alexander Bennett of Research at the National Archives and Beyond Blog Talk Radio Show

Monday, October 28, 2013

The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross Series

In July 2013, while vising St. Louis, Missouri, I took a comfortable boat ride across the Mississippi River.
If the Mississippi River could talk, what stories would it tell?
I am excited to be a member of the African-American Genealogy and History Blogging Circle.  This team of outstanding African-American bloggers and I will be watching the six-part series "The African Americans:  Many Rivers to Crosswhich began on PBS Tuesday, October 22, 2013.  The African-American Genealogy and History Blogging Circle and I will be blogging about our own genealogical and historical research and family sagas in relation to the time periods reflected in each episode.  Our goal is to put our own historical and genealogical spin on the story as well. We have therefore created a blogging circle in which we will share our own family saga in relation to the time periods reflected in each episode.

The Many Rivers to Cross Series
This six part series covers 500 year of African American history and explores “the risks they took and the mountains they scaled.”  African American history, literature, and music are full of references to “rivers” and other bodies of water.  In some of these references, “rivers” are a barrier in between slavery and freedom.  Whether traveling on foot, by wagon or boat, reaching the other side of the river is often symbolic with success and victory.

Episodes and Time Periods of Many Rivers to Cross
  • Episode 1: The Black Atlantic (1500-1800)
  • Episode 2: The Age of Slavery (1800 - 1860)
  • Episode 3: Into the Fire (1861 - 1896)
  • Episode 4: Making a Way Out of No Way (1897-1940)
  • Episode: 5 Rise! (1940 - 1968)
  • Episode 6: It's Nation Time (1968 - 2013)

My Initial Thoughts About the Many Rivers to Cross Series
When I first learned about the “Many Rivers to Cross” series, I first thought about my African ancestors who survived the long voyage from Africa to American.  Many did not survive the journey, but although I do not know their names, I know that my ancestors survived.  The proof of their survival is ME!  After thinking about my African ancestors for a bit, my mind drifted back to more recent history—that is, my ancestors who migrated from small towns in Virginia and North Carolina in the early 20th century to larger cities in the North and South.  They too crossed a “many rivers” in order to move to new lands for a better life.

The African-Americans Many Rivers to Cross Trailer

African-American Genealogy and History Blogging Circle

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Juneteenth Jubilee!

Juneteenth Jubilee!  Mrs. Bullock's class learns about the history of Juneteenth.
On Friday, June 21, 2013, I took genealogy to the stage with my production of Juneteenth Jubilee!  I was blessed with a cast of young people, ages 8 - 27, who performed this piece which I wrote and directed.  Set in a classroom, Juneteenth Jubilee! was a blend of fact and fiction.  Through this production, I was able to teach the audience about the history of Juneteenth, Civil War, and Slavery.  I also added drama through the fictional character, Tracy "T-MAC" McMurray, a 17-year-old high school student who is in and out of detention.  As a writer, it was quite exciting for me to hear and see my play performed.  Even more exciting for me was that the audience laughed at the parts of the script which I intended to be funny.

Stayed tuned for more about this awesome experience of taking genealogy to the stage.

Flyer for Juneteenth Jubilee!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Juneteenth Jubilee Production

I am pleased to report that next month, I will be taking genealogy and history to the big stage! Looking forward to using the theater to bring history alive. This is a new "outside of the box" venture and I am thankful that God has given me all the resources I need for this new endeavor.

Stage of the Ella Fitzgerald Theater
Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center, Newport News, VA

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday Crowns Program

My "Sunday Crowns" Program began as an idea for Black History and Women's History months for 2012. The response to the program exceeded my expectations and now it is becoming an annual event.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteeth (June 19th) is a celebration of the day that Texas slaves were informed that they were free from slavery. On June 19, 1865, General Order No. 3, which informed the slaves of their freedom, was read at the Ashton Villa in Galveston, TX by Union Army General Gordon Granger. To commemorate this day, former slaves in Texas began having celebrations the following year. Since then, African-Americans in Texas and numerous states around the United States annually celebrate “Juneteenth” with picnics, parades, programs, and other community event.

TIPHC - Juneteenth - Part 1

TIPHC - Juneteenth - Part 2

TIPHC - Juneteenth - Part 3

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What is Juneteenth?

Learn about Juneteenth, the African-American holiday which celebrates freedom from slavery.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Library Thing - Online Book Catalog and Social Media Website

Stack of Books
I was a virtual attendee of Roots Tech this year and learned so much from the presentations which were live streamed.  From the presentation by Laura Prescott, entitled “GenealogyResearch Online:  Sites and StrategiesThat May Surprise You,” I learned about the online book cataloging and social media site, Library Thing,”  I never knew that such a site existed.

My Book Collection History
I have been a book worm all of my life and my family and school mates can attest to this fact.  My book collection includes textbooks from courses I've taken and taught, and books on the topics of genealogy, history, computers, Microsoft Office software packages, writing, crafts, Bible/spiritual, inspirational, nonfiction, novels, and God knows what else. 

I got my undergraduate degree in 1985 and a master’s in 1990, and yes, I still have a few of my textbooks in which I have used as references throughout the years.  A few of the textbooks purchased during my undergraduate college years (1981-1985) even still have the price tag on them.  LOL.  I know that the concepts from these books can now be easily found on the Internet, but I’m not yet ready to get rid of these personal heirlooms. SMH.

Marketing Book and Price Tag
I took a Marketing course during the Spring semester of 1983 at Virginia Union University, Richmond, VA.  I can't seem to let go of this textbook which still has the price tag for $20.95 on it. 

My book collection is in various formats:  paper, cassette tape, CD, e-books, and digital.  Occasionally, I do a purge in which I usually donate books to my local libraries, and now it’s time for another major purge.

My First Day of Using Library Thing
Library Thing Logo

So yesterday morning, I began adding a few of my books to the Library Thing online catalog.  I love the fact that you do not have to create a new login, but can use either your Facebook or Twitter account logins.

Books can be added by typing in the title, author’s name, ISBN, etc.  Tags can be added to help organize each book.  The default collection folder is named “Your Library,” but other collection names can be added by the user such as the one that I named “Library Check-Out.”  Book data can be searched from 700 available catalogs such as the “Library of Congress” or “”  If a book in your collection does not have an ISBN or can’t be found in any of the online catalogs, you can manually type in the information.

Adding Books Options in Library Thing
Adding Books Options in Library Thing

Once each book is added, you  could see how many other Library Thing users have the same book.  I connected my account to Twitter and Facebook and could see which of my friends on these sites used Library Thing.  Another major selling point for me about Library Thing is that you can import a book list or export it to various formats such as .CSV which can be opened in Microsoft Excel.  Click here, to view current entries in my Library Thing book catalog. 

Library Trip
With the Library Thing site, you can access your book catalog from anywhere you have Internet access.  Yesterday afternoon, I went to the public library to research books related to African Americans During the Civil War.  Earlier, I had set up a “Library Check-Out” collection folder in my Library Thing account.  Using my Kindle Fire HD, it was so easy to type in the ISBNs in the Library Thing catalog of the books I browsed at the library and the ones I checked out.  Now, as I continue my research, I have a record of books on this research topic.

Taking It One Step at a Time
Since purchasing a NOOK e-reader last May, I have begun purchasing digital books.  In November of last year, I purchased a Kindle Fire HD.  My current format preference for most book topics is digital, but for computer software books, I still prefer the hard copy. I anticipate that my book purge will be a long journey, but using a site like Library Thing will be a tremendous help for me in taking the first step in this journey, which is to determine what I have in my book collection. 

Thanks for this invaluable tip in your presentation, Laura Prescott. And thanks to the Roots Tech organizers for making some of the presentations available to the virtual audience.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Excerpts from Flight to Freedom Program

Ajena Rogers, a descendant of James A. Fields and I will be presenting “Flight to Freedom” for the College of William and Mary's Lemon Project on Friday, March 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM. The event will be held at the Bruton Heights School in Williamsburg, VA. Here are some clips from the performance we did at Fort Monroe last August. We have another performance coming up in May at Fort Monroe and one at the Hanover County, VA Tavern. We are extremely excited particularly about the tavern engagement because her ancestor Martha Fields worked there as a Cook when she was enslaved by the Winston family.