It’s still April and #NationalPoetryMonth! So for hungry, quarantined readers who are stuck at home sheltering from #COVID19, it’s time to look deeper into your kitchen. That’s where you will find food poems by top African-American and Caribbean writers who can satisfy your cravings. Food is their metaphor and main ingredient. Continue reading “Top 5 Black Poets on Food”→
#JimCrowed is when Black people are exploited by old, racist Jim Crow laws today. If you are Black and your land was stolen, you were #JimCrowed. If you are Black and your right to the truth is denied, you’ve been #JimCrowed. In honor of Black History Month, this special edition looks at an instance of Jim Crow and Black land ownership. Guest writer William T. Butler Jr., talks about challenges to his family’s North Carolina land.
Jim Crowed, By William T. Butler Jr.
We have all experienced at least one “Jim Crow” incident in our lives, one that left us thinking: “This is what our fore parents had to put up with.” One of those moments, happened to me recently when the Columbus County North Carolina Office of Taxation, decided to give away my grandparent’s rural homestead. Located in a part of coastal North Carolina, Ransom Township, the relatively small parcel of land had no liens, no unpaid taxes, and was not for sale. One day in 2018, it mysteriously disappeared off the books of Columbus County North Carolina Office of Taxation.
After the Great Depression
It might surprise you to learn how or why this could happen. First, let me tell you something about my late father, William T. Butler Sr. aka “Bud,” a family man and patriot living in the rural Cape Fear Region, by Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina in the late 1930s. After the Great Depression, he dropped out of North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University to work at the local lumber mill to help support his parents and younger siblings. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the Army to earn more money.
During his tour of duty, he served in combat with distinction in every major theater of battle from the Normandy Invasion to the liberation of Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe. Before leaving home, he had promised his siblings and parents to keep them safe and fed at home. Back again from Europe, my grandfather urged my father, to move up North, for the safety of his young family, wife, Vivian, and their first child, David, my older brother. When my father was a child, one of his mother’s nephews had been lynched by a white mob in their hometown. After returning home from the war, wearing his uniform decorated with valor medals, another cousin was lynched. The KKK White Supremacists had declared war on Black veterans!
Never missed a payment
So, my father settled in Brooklyn, New York in 1950 where I was born followed by my younger sisters, Valarie, and Aliya. My father continued to financially support his sisters, until they were each married and his parents until their deaths, all while he lived far from them in Brooklyn. Among the many things that my father drilled into our heads was his mantra: “Always pay your property taxes! It’s key to owning your land.” So, 53 years later, when named, Executor of his estate in 2003, I automatically and religiously paid the annual taxes on all our North Carolina properties. I never missed a payment.
It took me nearly ten years to settle the books before I could begin to focus on the old family homestead. One day I had the idea to find pictures of the old homestead online at Terraserver.com. I called the Columbus County North Carolina Office of Taxation because this required some very specific information: 1.) Associated Coordinates X (easting) and Y (northing); 2.) Location (RANSOM TWSP); 3.) Land Parcel Property No. (27875); 4.) Account No. (15-08080); and 5.) Patience. Handling local real estate transactions and paying Columbus County tax bills, I spoke with office staffers at least twice every year for the past for 17 years. Some of the personnel would recognize me and comment on my “out of town” voice.
Deed in my hand
When I called recently, I held a copy of our old homestead deed in my hand. The person on the other end of the phone said: “There’s no deed on file matching your inquiry.” I responded: “There must be a mistake. I have the deed in my hand. Better check again.” After a long hold, the representative came back to inform me that deed is now listed as owned by a couple living on Silverspoon Road, Tatum Township, North Carolina. Shocked, I had three questions: 1. How and when did they get ownership of my land? 2. What are the rules regarding conflicting tax collection? 3. What about refunds with compounded interest and penalties?
I exhaled for one moment
After another long hold, the voice on the other end of the phone said: “We’ve found the original deed registered by your grandparent’s in 1922.” I exhaled for one moment. But there were some problems, of course: 1. The original parcel demarcation is no longer discernible. An accurate calculation cannot be made. 2. I must submit newly updated deed at my expense. A new deed registry requires: a. Land Survey to calibrate exact property line coordinates. b. I will need to complete a new filing of an up-to-date deed with Columbus County Office of Taxation, and c. registration requires hiring a North Carolina licensed real estate law firm. The proposed alternative solution was to close the existing tax account. No refund was allowed.
Black farmers and landowners
I took my complaint to the North Carolina Land Loss Prevention Project (LLPP) and they agreed to represent my case. Founded in 1982 by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, this organization provides legal support and assistance to financially distressed and limited resource Black farmers and landowners in North Carolina.
Why share this story with you? Maybe you know something about my family, this part of North Carolina, and how land was measured and demarcated in the old days. If so, you may be able to help. Please share your collective old family memories, memorabilia, source materials, photos, and old stories. Your old photographs, letters or treasured memories may contain a missing piece to this family puzzle. I am asking you to help us save our land. Talk with the family elders, tell them what we are trying to accomplish. Get the word out across the country to family members, friends, neighbors, and allies.
Large family network
My initial target audience for this story was my large family network, especially those descended from one Jane Webb, born free in colonial era Northampton County Virginia in 1699. She was the first person of color to take a slave owner to court in an effort to free her family. Actual court records tell a fascinating story of this woman who took on the slavery system in colonial courts for ten years until finally reaching Virginia’s Supreme Court. She stood defiant, even public lashings, harassment, humiliations, and threat of death didn’t deter her. I believe my story should be important to everyone. This is a focus on hard-earned Black land ownership and how we have lost untold acres of land over the last century through tricky rules. Perhaps this happened to you! I want people to know, to feel, to believe that this land theft is happening now in 2019!
A Huckleberry Finn movie
Back in the old days, homes in rural America really didn’t have addresses. Perhaps this is hard to believe but I witnessed this personally as a child. Anyone that says different just doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. I can remember when there were no streetlights, signs, paved roads, and house numbers. Most children ran around barefoot all summer. For me, it was like visiting a Huckleberry Finn movie every summer. Rural and urban people live very different lives. I once asked why there were no street signs or house numbers and the simple answer was: “Everybody knows where everybody lives.” Land demarcations and measurements simply identified deed title. That old pre-computerize recording system made possible what has happened in my case and has been used to rob lands from countless other people.
Needle in a haystack
In North Carolina, our land is a relatively small parcel surrounded in every direction by thousands of miles of vast lands both wooded and rural within a huge state. The difficulty of finding it is greater than searching for a needle in a haystack. The archaic recording process makes it even harder. I believe this is by design, no accident. Over time thousands of small parcels began to comprise vast large parcels in the hands of large land developers. Today, the old Klan methods of violence are wasteful and inefficient. Control of information is the more powerful way Jim Crow laws are employed–silent, cost-effective and far more permanent.
The really crazy thing
I don’t know how those names got on a new deed for my property. The Land Loss Prevention Project will handle it. I know I didn’t sell any land to those people. I think my unexpected call prematurely threw a wrench into their game. The calm way I responded was unexpected. I will not say that the whole town was in on it. But everyone knows that this has gone on for generations. The really crazy thing is everyone born and raised in this part of North Carolina are all related to each other whether they are Black, Indigenous, or White! One way or another all these people have their neighbor’s blood on their hands and running through their veins. And the lynchings that have been documented will never equal those that are still unknown.
For you genealogists out there
Think about this story if you are descendants of Jane Webb who are spread near and far across this country and around the world. For you genealogists out there, the family names are: Willie Moseley, Ellen J. Moseley, Christian Webb, Henry Butler, Mary L. Butler (direct descendent of Jane Webb), Walter Mosley, and John Knowles. If you recognize any of these name(s) from your own family history research, please share. I can talk to you about my grandparents and their farm, as I regularly visited them for over sixty years. My deed description states “chain and stakes” measurements. I’m looking for equivalency of 1922 measurement to measurements used today.
This has truly been a learning experience for me. My lovely niece, Atiya Butler, my late brother David’s daughter, is our family historian and genealogist. Her dedication and insights fueled my deeper journey into our family history. My ancestors brought me thus far and likely the reason that I have no fear or doubt of a positive outcome. We can prove that it is possible to unite for the good of all. Let’s deny wrongful takers what they would take. Once this case is resolved, I’d like to invite everyone to stand with us by a plaque on our land that states simply: “The hardest challenges are the simple ones only you can accomplish.”
About the author: William T. Butler Jr. aka, Tommie, is a Brooklyn writer, gardener and stage production guru living in Atlanta, Ga.
Black families, Who’s minding your land down South? Do you know anyone whose land was sold from under them, without their knowledge? Please share your comments.
Memorial Day weekend is when I wake up my garden on the roof. That’s where I channel my farming ancestors. I plant vegetable seedlings that germinated in my kitchen. I decorate my home with flowers fresh from the local farmer’s market. I meditate. I am at peace with memories of my military father, brother, family and friends long gone. But we are not at peace. The world is at war. The fallen is rarely remembered. We need love and peace. Maybe there’s a special tea for that. Maybe gingko memory tea can help. Memorial Day is a mixed bag of facts. What are the roots? Over 20 states claim they started it. Major credit has been given over to ‘fake news’ and whitewashed memories. I have written about Memorial Day several times over the years. This year I’m offering just my favorite Top 3 facts.
Top 3 Memorial Day Facts
The earliest war memorial events have ancient roots. “Events weren’t held in the United States until the late 19th century, the practice of honoring those who have fallen in battle dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans held annual days of remembrance for loved ones (including soldiers) each year, festooning their graves with flowers and holding public festivals and feasts in their honor.”
To read more amazing Memorial Day facts, click here.
Formerly enslaved African Americans in South Carolina started it in America. I wrote about the holiday’s African American origins in a past blog post. Here is an excerpt.
“Thank you South Carolina Sisters and Brothers! Like most Civil War topics, this holiday has a lot to do with memories lost and whitewashed. Even on mainstream websites, false credit is given to women’s history—that Memorial Day was somehow an idea created by a military officer’s wife.”
“Officially, as a national holiday, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans organization, called on all former northern soldiers and their communities to conduct ceremonies and decorate graves of their dead comrades.”
Auntyland affirms and honors Black, Indigenous, and People of Color aunt narratives, artists, and businesses through our annual holiday – Real Aunties Day. Because of COVID19, we shifted all activities online. We believe in scholarship and community. We aim to disrupt stereotypes about aunts and mature women of color with events, programs, and a new holiday called ‘Real Aunties Day’ set on March 8.
Decolonize Women’s History Month
“In our world, the word ‘Auntie’ and the ‘aunt’ role present complex historical and cultural meanings. Today, in 2021, colonialism and racism still impact our lives. Auntyland is an intersectional place where race, gender, and age meet. With ‘Real Aunties Day’ on March 8, we want to bring together some realness, to decolonize some national holidays starting with Women’s History Month,” said Sylvia Wong Lewis, Auntyland founder, and proud auntie.
Aunt stories will take center stage for the first time. Mothers and grandmothers have been studied and celebrated for eons. But few understand the world of aunts. That’s where we come in. We will bring more creativity, scholarship, and rigor to teach about the aunt world.
Why Auntyland? Because aunts are pronoun-defying superheroes, who have been overlooked too long! Aunts are chosen kinfolks, sometimes biological relations, second mothers, grandmothers, Godmothers, and more. Aunties play pivotal roles in strengthening Black, Brown, and Tan families and communities. We are especially reaching out to African American, Caribbean, African, and Asia women and siblings to document unique and resilient families and community traditions. This is the first time ‘real auntie’ stories will be collected and archived dynamically.
Activism, Social Justice
Auntyland is also a whimsical place full of joyful and amazing women. We are passionate about life and love. AND activism and social justice are our biggest concerns. Did you see us keeping vigil for the caged children at the borderlands? Do you see us marching and protesting daily for equality everywhere? Didn’t we save American Democracy at an Alabama election? Today more than ever, we need to disrupt the race, gender, and age bias– and take control of our narratives. Our voices and images are too often dismissed and stereotyped. No more!
“When I think about my ‘aunties,’ I am filled with awe and gratitude. My mother’s friends and my parent’s siblings intervened in my life and the lives of my peers in pivotal ways. We hope to bring back some of that positive ‘auntie’ energy. “Where Sisterhood lives, Aunties Rule!’ is our motto. We aim to be a motivational and community-building space. Through our digital platform, events, and e-store, we hope to inspire, educate, and entertain,” Lewis added.
Have you ever been called ‘Auntie’ or ‘Titi’? Do you call anyone Auntie or Titi? These are cultural terms of endearment and respect titles for Caribbean, Latina, African, Asian, African American women, and siblings. But the word and the role can present different meanings depending on the circumstances. Let’s explore Auntyland!
Share your stories
Let’s schedule your interview to be featured on our website, podcasts, or videos. Talk about ‘aunties’ of all kinds. Honor an Auntie by sharing her story for our archives. Share what’s happening in your world! Do you have aunties–related, chosen, or found in genealogy? Are you an aunt or grand aunt? Are you taking care of a niece, nephew, young or old? Are you living with an Auntie?
‘Real Aunties Day’: Our public programs and events, including films, sports, arts, workshops, panels, and festivals, will cover topics and issues for and about aunties and mature women of color. Details to come soon.
Photography/Artists: We are reaching out to mature women writers, artists, and creatives of all kinds: photos, artwork, illustrations, multimedia to be featured in our public programs.
Funding: We are community-based in New York City and independently funded via grants through our fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas. To make a tax-deductible donation, click the direct link here. https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/auntyland.
Contact: If interested, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.