Thursday, January 06, 2005

LV Hayes has commented (scroll to bottom of page)on a couple of my posts. His comments are very important to the discussion about who and what is a Redbone. This is what LV has to say:

Your commentary ignores some crucial historical facts. In 1888, DeQuincy, Starks, Lunita, and DeRidder DID NOT EXIST (I'm not sure about Singer, but think it probably also didn't yet exist). All of these communities came into existence because of the railroad coming through the area in the mid 1890s. The shift from "mulatto" to "white" also took place at different times in different parishes. In 1840, the distinction is made in Rapides Parish, but in 1850, it disappears. In 1870, it's made in Cameron Parish, but in 1880, all the "redbones" are "white". It is sometimes hard to do, but the historical facts must be sought out and identified for what they were. There was never a "redbone" homeland in Louisiana (and probably also no where else) except in transition.

LV Hayes
Hereditary High Chief of the Sacred Mugwumps
He's just joshing us with the hereditary chief title. Our people don't have hereditary titles.

There are two points being made in his comment. The first, regarding the founding of the towns of Singer, DeQuincy, DeRidder, and Starks. I referred to them as Redbone homelands in a post. In doing so, I took romantic license. Those present day towns did not exist in the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century. Our ancestors were there, however, even before the beginning of the 19th century. For two hundred years they have lived in that general area. That is the heartland of our stories, our genealogy, our cemeteries. The towns are Redbone towns, because they were founded by Redbones as towns, not as Redbone towns, but towns.

I consider myself a Redbone. I do not consider it to be a racial term, but rather a code word for a collection of experiences unique to my ancestors with a racial factor.

There is no argument but that our ancestral families were considered non-White by the dominant society upon their arrival in Louisiana between 1787 and 1810. Although the brothers James and Moses were considered White in the 1800 census in South Carolina, in 1810 they and their families were considered FMC (Free Men of Color). We've always pointed to that fact to demonstrate the arbitrariness of the racial classifications. I think it's obvious that we considered ourselves White. Look at the many incidents of our people marrying outside of our group. In every instance we know about, Redbones married Whites. I have not seen a single instance where a Redbone married a nonWhite who was not also a Redbone. I think its obvious that most of our White neighbors also considered us White, dark white, but White. Letitia Stewart and Henderson Ashworth no doubt fought for their marriage to be recognized because they were in disbelief. We were successful in Texas in large part because we accumulated wealth during a time when there were no racial constraints on our competition with everyone else. The Mexicans considered us Americans and treated us like they treated all Americans. There was no point in law about Whites coming first.

As Texas rebelled against Mexico, 0ur ancestors lined up with the other American colonists to resist the Mexicans. When those Ashworth and Thomas boys were refused by the militia, it was a precursor of the grief that was to come from the Texans and they began adopting the Color Codes like the rest of the slave owning Southern states. After 1836, we clashed repeatedly with a dominant White society that insisted our families were Free Black. We didn't agree to it then, just as we don't agree with it now. We have never accepted without dispute the notion that we have any Black blood.

LV would quibble with me about the timing of our ancestral families change in racial classification. He mentions Cameron Parish, but avoids Beauregard and Calcasieu. In 1880, my great-great-grandfather, Thompson Lorraine Ashworth, and his family continued to be listed as Mulatto in the U.S. census. We know race continued to be an issue of contention in 1891 when my great-grandpa Amos Owen Ashworth, his brother Austin, Josh Perkins and others were in a gunfight with some White guys supposedly because the Whites called them all a "bunch of Redbones." The headline REDBONES RAMPANT on the front page of the Lake Charles paper makes the strongest case for how the dominant White society looked at our people.

I don't think any of my ancestors ever thought of themselves as anything but White. I think they told the story about being Portuguese because they believed it. We also have the Indian grandmother myth, leading me to believe in an Indian grandmother somewhere back there. We don't have an African grandmother myth, and because we have so many sources into our family, the mathematical probability of the African grandmother is great, but not absolute. She may well be in the tree, but there's little to show for it. Certainly not as much as the Whites in 19th century America made of it. It is offensive to me that even today the Whites in Texas are discounting our own story by appending our unique history to that of African-Americans. Our struggle was not the struggle of Blacks in America. Ours was the struggle of being non-White in America.

I like to compare our families' histories with that of the Cane River Creoles of Color who in 1810 were rich, educated, slave owners. To the Whites they were just a bunch of high falutin' French-niggers. Our Ashworths and Perkins were just arriving in Louisiana. We do not know why our families left South Carolina. Were they escaping increased racial animosity? Perhaps they were political refugees, since there is evidence that two men by the name of James Ashworth and of the approximate age of our ancestors, father and son, served in pro-British militia units in the American Revolution? Maybe they came to Louisiana because it had a more sophisticated appreciation of the degrees of color based on the French Code Noir which gave people of color more legal rights than did South Carolina. How much more attractive Texas must have seemed to them where they could compete without any color restrictions.

Fast forward the tape two hundred years. The Cane River Creoles are no longer rich, are no longer the rich literate culture of its slave-culture heyday. They're just Black. The present day Redbones are accepted as White by all of Louisiana's cultural groups. Why did the Cane River Creoles lose their position and get reclassified with Blacks, racially and economically? The only difference I can see is that we never agreed that we were anything but White. It took us about a hundred years of determined resistance to being marginalized into a subracial category, but we did it.