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.


8 comments:

rbg77 said...

I've looked through your slideshow and yes, I do see black or African features in your family. Just because theyd don't come out with kinky hair or wide nostrils doesn't mean that they do not have black features. One part of my family's tree is creole and they consider themselves (at least partly) black. They have straight dark hair and the "indian" features that your family does. A lot of them can even pass for white. Most of them have mothers and fathers that are not dark, but they now that dark skinned people can produce light skinned babies. So saying that they do not have african features isn't the best defense. Besides, you came up with 12% african ancestry, right? I'm just saying, you can't deny it.

Houston said...

What a remarkable ability you have, to be able to "see" color in someone. Wow!

You have misstated the sub-Saharan African in my ancestry. It is not 12%, but 3%, which is considered statistically irrelevant. In subsequent tests, no sub-Saharan African was detected in my DNA.

I'm quite willing to embrace the possibility of African in my ancestry, but I do demand that those who would paint me Black to show the same proof that is required to paint me native American. "Probably" and "Possibly" are not scientific measures.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

rbg77 said...

I'm sorry about the 12 vs. 3%. I thought I saw you posted that it was 12..
As you stated in many of your posts, you, yourself say you don't see African features in your relatives. Yet, you say that I can "see" color. Yes, just as you "can't see" it in them. No one is trying to paint you anything. I'm just weirded out by the fact that so many people are so quick to deny it. Just like the relatives I mentioned in my above post.. to me they can't dismiss the obvious multi-ethnic cultures they have (both Asian and Black or Africans well as Caucasion), however they consider themselves to be Black. That's fine for a nice neat label, but it just seems that they are dismissing the other cultures in their blood. For simplicities sake, they say, they are all almost forced to pick a "side" or a race to be. But I disagree with that. (I wonder why you got two different results from your DNA tests. I understand no test is 100%, but I was just curious. ) I also found it a bit disturbing that someone would be so upset as to hit someone for suggesting that they have African in them. I think I read in one of your posts that your cousins (I may be wrong) would possibly put a beating on someone who would suggest that? Wow, that's some deep seated issues! I've never heard of that. Even my relatives who say they are black but to me may look on the lighter side would never get violent with someone who doesn't get their ethnicity right. Wow, is it that disgusting to them? The thought of it. Well, I'm going to keep reading. I'm obviously new to your blog. I find it very interesting though and also I'm finding some things about my heritage that I didn't know. I'm glad I found it and hope I'm not rufflin feathers....I just have questions and comments!

Anonymous said...

did ashworths start out black?i thought they were English.my dads an ashworth.

Houston said...

No, the Ashworths who are Redbones located in Louisiana and Texas, did not start out Black.

naparedhead said...

I just wanted to say Thank you for writing this book as I am part of this very interesting family. My grandmother was a Perkins and recently my daughter and I started researching our family roots. My grandmother had this book and used to share the stories with my mother and I.

Anonymous said...

Now WHERE do we get Aunt Lucille's book? I'm a Perkins, too, in Baytown, TX, and would love to read more about us! Kathy

Sandi Dreer said...

My 5th great-father was Nimrod Perkins, one of Dorcas Perkins children.

It's only been recently that I discovered the Perkins connection.