Thursday, March 31, 2005

Re-Reading Marler on Redbones

I used to think Don Marler was the most knowledgeable person I knew on the subject of Redbones. A cousin, LV Hayes, is the most knowledgeable person I know in terms of our interconnectedness. He knows how we're all related. LV has been very stingy with his opinion about who he thinks is or is not a Redbone, in part, I believe, because he does not like the word Redbone and thinks people distantly related to its real meaning who find some sort of misguided pride in the idea to be idiots. I agree with him in part.

Don's book is the only one written about our families, thus far, and it was self-published, which means it was never vetted by anyone with critical knowledge about the subject. The Redbone Heritage Foundation is Don's baby. The main problem with Don's book is that he's willing to call anyone with an Indian grandmother tradition in Louisiana a Redbone. We Redbones know better.

It is noted that none of the present members of the Redbone Heritage Foundation have made any attempts at connecting with their dark, but distant cousins in Starks and Singer. Those Redbones would be my cousins.

Back to Don's book. There are a couple of areas that I thought inconclusive and felt that he made more of an issue than I thought was there. The connection between the "Redbones" of South Carolina and the "Redbones" of Louisiana was very weak. The only connection I saw was the similarity of circumstance and choice of word used by Whites.

My next issue is similar. He would make the Melungeon connection more than it is. Rhoda Mosely and Drury Bunch are thought be from Kentucky because of a census wherein they said that's where they were from. They were considered by the census taker to be not-White. Were they Melungeon? Were Melungeons a self-identified sub-group in 1840? Probably, but not conclusively. Their daughters, Anna and Mary, went on to be grandmothers of large and powerful clans. That did not make their dozens of grandchildren Melungeon. No more than Keziah make her dozens of grandchildren Indian.

My theory? If you can call it that. Their self-identify evolved just as the racial codification intensified. It took at least two generations for them to think of similarly situated people as kindred spirits. The social-anthropological question is how many generations of a group being separate is required to make the group a "people." They began as a group from many areas with many different experiences. Some had supported the American Revolution, some apparently didn't. There may be a pattern showing how they cooperated as a group and not just as cousins, but it hasn't manifested itself to me, yet. We are not a people united by a culture, we're just a borderline racial mix who continue to identify with cousins, just as their ancestors did 200 years ago. There may be an acknowledgement as between two people who identify an ill-defined kinship, but there is no value given that similarity of circumstance.

I think Marler wants to make their interactions more than they were. What Don would call "Redbones" I would call "similarly situated, mixed-race people who were White-identified, but who obviously were dark complexioned and therefore not accepted as White." "Redbone" is a more efficient word. They did not, in my opinion, ever identify with each other because of the particularness of their circumstance. I don't think the girls in Starks thought of the girls in Pitkin as members of the same tribe, just different high schools. Anyone with experience here, just weigh in.

Okay, you idiots at the Redbone Heritage Foundation, read my lips here. I'm saying outloud what others are saying about you. I just happen to have a pulpit. You can continue to ignore me and call me names amongst yourselves. That just proves you're a bunch of idiots. You still don't have any Redbones in your group, so you need to figure out a way to reach out to actual Redbones. Why is that so difficult for you to grasp?

You people are a bunch of idiots. Sorry, but you're going to need to start over.

My problem with the word "Redbone" is that it is an offensive word to many in that community. It was never our choice of descriptive adjectives. It was a word used by Whites to describe us. We never used the word in a positive way before about 1980. When my cousins and I used it, we did not use it in front of our parents. Even today, if you called my mother a Redbone, she'd slap you.

Maybe we do need to reclaim the word, but it's not for a bunch of "Wannabes" to tell those of us who are still dark anything.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm celebrating our Two Hundredth Anniversary of being in Texas and Louisiana. We are kick ass people!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

My Bones are Red, the book by Patricia Ann Waak

The best I can say about it, is that it has a great title. The worst I can say about it is that she mixes her own brand of religion and spirituality into genealogy and uncritically accepts myths that support her conclusions.

Although she would be only about 1/8th Redbone if Redbone was a racially determined identity, she claims a larger spiritual identity with Redbones, or at least with her father's family, decendants of Leonard Perkins, the son of Old Josh Perkins. Also, she paints our Perkins ancestors with as black a brush she can. Maybe it's to express solidarity with her grandchildren whose fathers are African-American. I'm not sure we Redbones are all that willing to embrace our Blackness just yet. If I say there's nothing in the record that would prove our Blackness that would be accepted in a court of law today, I'd be accused of being in denial about it. But if we Perkins and Ashworths have so much Black in us, how come it doesn't pop up occasionally? Indian pops up a lot. White pops up a lot. Black hasn't popped up to my knowledge, unless it was reintroduced. Maybe you've seen otherwise, but I sure haven't seen anything that convinced me beyond a reasonable doubt.

Me, personally? I don't care. I'm more interested in their stories. Heinegg is a lot more accomplished a researcher than I and is probably a lot smarter, so maybe that's why he concluded Esther Perkins' baby was by a Black slave because she later named a child Dorcas and the guy who paid her fine owned a slave by the name of Dorcas. Could have happened that way. But if it did, the next several generations had better start marrying Indians because all the Perkins I know look a lot more Red than Yellow, if you catch my drift. Here's something I know from observation. The children of White and Black parents, DO NOT LOOK INDIAN.

I know this isn't scientific, but just look at us (those of us that are still dark, anyway). We do not look Black. We either look White or we look Indian. So tell me this much, Pat, if Old Josh married a White Scottish woman, a fact you accept in your book, why are their grandchildren being called Indians in the Texas census? Don't you think if your grandmother looked like a White-Black mulatto, that census taker would have marked the box Mulatto and not Indian?

I'm probably a lot more accepting of the idea of Black roots that almost every Redbone I know. The ones that say it don't matter are liars. Yeah, that's right. I called you a bunch of liars. Prove me wrong. Go to the First Pentecostal Church in either Starks or Singer and stand up and testify about how proud you are of your Black blood.

We Redbones are amongst the fiercest anti-Black racists I've ever encountered. Maybe that's what we were running from in North and South Carolina. I just want to know why the African disappeared so quickly from the blood. We certainly intermarried enough for it to pop up on a pretty regular basis.

Like I said, though. I'm alright with the theorhetical idea of an African ancestor. I'd just like to see the proof. I love Heinegg's conclusions regarding Esther Perkins. That's one of the grandmothers of my line. In fact, I think she's my grandmother about three or four different times. Is that possible? I know that James and Keziah are my ggggggrandparents twice. Lord, I'm probably my own third cousin, twice.

Heinegg had every librarian in the South helping him. I'm willing to accept many of his conclusions, but in theory. He showed me nothing that said Esther's sperm donor was African. And since her grandchildren and great-grandchildren sure as hell look Indian and not Black, if he was a slave, he must have been an Indian slave.

I could probably be shot down right now by someone very familiar with the Perkins Defamation suit in Tennessee. The people that gave depositions against J.F. Perkins were so blatantly racist that they tried their best to describe the Perkins as a bunch of Negroes. The thing is, all those White people who had married a Perkins sure as hell didn't think they looked Black.

My Ashworths are all dark, but then again, all my Ashworths are also Perkins. The record suggests they started out dark, the Ashworths I mean. That reference in the book about the South Carolina Regulators said that he was dark haired and had swarthy skin. Did that mean a good tan? There's so many unknown factors there that any conclusion is just guessing. Each day we learn more. That's very exciting.

If I'm in denial about it, then I stand in solidarity with my ancestors who for 250 years have struggled not to be unfairly burdened with a racial epithet not of their own choosing. If I have eight great-grandparents and one of them is rumored to be Black, three are rumored to be Indian, and four are White. What am I? In 1836 Texas I would be Black. It would be up to me to prove the non-existence of the Black and Indian great-grandparents. Anybody who's done any genealogy knows how difficult it is to prove anything in the 17th and 18th century, must less disprove something. It's my theory that we're more likely to be Indian mix because available Black women belonged to someone who didn't go around farming out their women to recent immigrants from England. Heinegg's theory about Esther's children notwithstanding, but please, Paul, show us more proof than just conjecture and conclusion.

The race discussion is central and germaine to any discussion about Redbones. It is the camel in our tent. I do know if you bring up the Black angle with most of my cousins in Louisiana, you're going to lose them as an audience. They're going to tune you out completely, if they don't slug you for suggesting they're part Black. Pat even goes so far as to suggest that our cattle instincts are from Africa. She short shrifts the obvious Indian in our genes and jumps to make us Fulani or Masai because we were cattle herders. Even though her sperm donor didn't leave us a name, he did manage to give his cattle herding instincts to his Indian-looking children.

That makes two books out about Redbones to my knowledge. Don Marler's Louisiana Redbones is still the most definitive thus far. I'm hoping for a few more in the future. The part of the story that most fascinates me and about which I would like to write someday, is the early Texas experience. The more books about Redbones, Perkins, Goins, Ashworths, etc., the better my foundation for writing about our families' experiences in Texas.

We're not in competition with each other to get these stories out. If ten of us line up and tell our story, there will be ten different stories.

Now a side note. Lucille Perkins Robinson has just published a book about her family. It's called The Descendents of Chester Allen Perkins & Ora Lee Johnson. The Perkins connection is obvious, the less obvious is that Ora Lee Johnson is the granddaughter of Winna Droddy and William "Red" Strother, and the great-granddaughter of Adna Samuel Droddy, Sr., my great-great-grandfather. I can't recommend it highly enough. She has captured the flavor of Chester and Ora Lee's legacy in the stories of their children and grand-children. She mixes old obituaries with pictures of the next generation of this family.

Lucille is an incredible woman in the greatest tradition of Redbone women. I am honored to call her cousin. She lives in Rayne, Louisiana. If you Wannabes and Usetobes want to actually meet real Redbones when you're meeting in Alexandria, go visit Lucille, and buy her book while you're there. It may not tell you anything you don't already know, but it'll show you some pictures of some of your Redbone cousins who are still Redbones.