minority

  • Hidden History: Slavery Struggle in the North & Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

    Sure, we get a day off from work today- but we must learn to remember to focus on the reason. My guess is the most Americans take the day off for granted without acknowledging what the significance is of this particular national holiday for freedom and human rights. Today is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and by pure coincidence, this week’s episode of the “ArchaeoVenturers Project” is about Brooklyn Heights and the Underground Railroad. The Abolitionist Movement was a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement, headed by Dr. King and an inspiration and platform for millions in America. 


    I wanted to have an episode about slavery in Brooklyn because just down the street from where I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, now known for its scenic and private views of Manhattan, is Plymouth Church, which is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register for Historic Places. According to the National Park Service, Plymouth Church, founded in 1847, was considered “one of the nation’s foremost centers of antislavery sentiment” in the late 19th century. I went there several times as a child on field trips, exploring the basement used in the Underground Railroad, seeing where Lincoln sat in the church pew, and I distinctly recall seeing a freedom ring that was given to a enslaved child (Plymouth’s website enlightens that the child’s name was ‘Pinky’ and the ring was given to her when her freedom was purchased by the congregation- Henry Ward Beecher declared “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom”). Also, as a result of visiting Plymouth church, I learned about Sojourner Truth, as she had been one of the famous abolitionist speakers featured. She was born into slavery, freed when New York State abolished slavery in 1827, and became an outspoken antislavery abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights. Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech (recounted below) brought tears to my eyes as a child and although I can’t remember what grade, I performed her monologue several times in one year and ended up writing several middle school papers on women’s rights as a result of her influence.

    (As recounted by Frances Dana Gage, in 1863) Ain’t I a Woman?
    Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
    That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
    Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
    Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
    If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
    Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

    Everybody thinks that because the North was against slavery, that everyone in the North was by default against slavery, but that wasn’t the case at all. Although New York citizens were legally obligated to manumit their slaves in 1827, many people found ways around the law, even by sending them back to plantations in the South, as many Brooklyn businesses had dealings invested in them. Also, despite the abolished slavery law, it was still illegal to harbor fugitives, hence the prominence but secrecy of the Underground Railroad. Brooklyn’s own harbor was used on the Railroad, as runaway slaves hiding on cargo ships made their way into Brooklyn, often through Plymouth Church, which was called “the Grand Depot” on the Underground Railroad. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and founding preacher of Plymouth Church, was a tireless abolitionist, despite hate and featured such prominent speakers like Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass as part of his antislavery efforts at Plymouth. He was even outed as being a leader on the Brooklyn Underground Railroad by The Brooklyn Eagle in 1872, along with many others in his congregation. One of the most memorable actions of Beecher’s was that he would hold mock auctions at the churchyard, showcasing the horrifying aspects of slavery while he simultaneously urged parishioners to bid for the freedom of escaped slaves. President Lincoln himself worshipped at the church, just a day before his infamous speech declaring his antislavery ambitions that is said to have won him the nomination for the Republican presidential bid. 


    It’s quite cliche to state the obvious, but we must make a concentrated effort to not only engage in topics that make us squeamish as a nation on days where it’s appropriate, like today for example. We need to make it part of the national everyday conversation because there can be no healing or catharsis from ignorance and secrecy. The new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture will ideally be a platform for these ongoing conversations, and be a safe place for reflection and interpretation. There is a new exhibition called “Brooklyn Abolitionists: In Pursuit of Freedom” at the Brooklyn Historical Society (running through winter 2018 so GO!) which explores a dark chapter in my home borough. There is so much to say about slavery in Brooklyn, and I hope to have more opportunities to highlight the courage and efforts of those involved in its abolition at future opportunities. 
    Highly recommended for further reading 
    – “Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era: A Ministry of Freedom” by Frank Decker
    – Plymouth Church Website (http://bit.ly/15qOogg)
    – 10 Stops on the Underground Railroad in NYC (http://bit.ly/1CHAMIs)
    – Slavery in Brooklyn (http://bit.ly/14YoaB7)
    – The King Center (http://bit.ly/19AAcCv)
    – Donate or Become a Member of the New Smithsonian Institution African American History and Culture (http://bit.ly/1DUT8cQ)
  • International Archaeology Day 2014

         International Archaeology Day is the perfect way for archaeological and cultural heritage academics to give back to their respective local communities. I have become a huge supporter over the last few years of archaeologists taking the time to become involved in public archaeology, community archaeology, local capacity building, and investing in young kids who love exploration and history/science. Education and public engagement are in most, if not all, professional archaeological societies’ ethical or standard professional codes (examples include AIA, SHA, SAA) and it is high time that professionals in the field, make more of a concerted effort to incorporate these principles into their fieldwork and research practices.

         Started in 2011, International Archaeology Day is described by the Archaeological Institute of America as:

    “International Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organizations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Whether it is a family-friendly archaeology fair, a guided tour of a local archaeological site, a simulated dig, a lecture or a classroom visit from an archaeologist, the interactive, hands-on International Archaeology Day programs provide the chance to indulge your inner Indiana Jones.”

         This year, ArchaeoVenturers and Youth Diving With a Purpose co-participated with Archaeology in the Community for their IAD event at the Georgetown Library. Run by Dr. Alexandra Jones, Archaeology in the Community organizes events and activities all year round in the DC/MD/VA region (for anyone reading who might be interested in participating or volunteering). We had several interested children from the neighborhood join us for the activities, such as reconstructing broken ceramics (courtesy of DC SHPO office, organized by Ruth Trucolli) or rolling clay pots with Sara Ayers-Rigsby (all the way up from CRM work in FL) to trying on scuba equipment (which is always a favorite as kids love playing dress up). The number one question, behind the inevitable shark questions, is ‘when can I learn to dive?’ which always makes me quite giddy knowing that, in a few years (you can technically start with PADI at only 10 years old!), we could have a new crop of intelligent and inquisitive young kids becoming divers and scientists one day!

       Also on IAD, I was fortunate enough to be extended an invitation to participate in “History, Heroes, and Treasures” organized by the National Archives and Records Administration- which is literally “Night at the Museum”- I wish I had these kinds of opportunities available when I was a kid! The #ArchivesSleepover is described by the Archives Foundation as:

    “Throughout the night, young explorers investigate – through music, chats with historical figures, games, and more – some of the greatest adventures of all time. Campers will discover mysterious shipwrecks, venture into outer space, explore the wild West, and trek through the rugged Arctic as they explore the National Archives Museum’s treasured records.”

         All the while, these lucky kids and their parents get to SLEEP NEXT TO THE ORIGINAL CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA- a truly once in a lifetime opportunity-they will hopefully be regaling tales of this night to their children and grandchildren!

         I worked with David Gadsby of NPS to teach the young explorers how to document artifacts on a shipwreck map (the sitemap of the shipwreck America)- to which they exceeded all expectations. Following that, I was asked to play the part of the Underwater Explorer/Archaeologist (modern day) alongside historical characters Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark exploration fame) and Matthew Hensen (1st African American polar explorer). I donned my full scuba kit for my costume- luckily, I wore a child’s size tank, since we were standing up there under those bright lights for an hour! We were set up on stage, in tv interview format, so that all 100 kids in the audience were allowed to ask us questions. I assume I can speak for my fellow explorers when I say that being on stage answering their queries and helping to educate them about archaeology (not Indiana Jones archaeology), was an inspirational moment for me, knowing how genuinely interested these students and parents were in science and history.

         Overall, it was an outstanding year for International Archaeology Day and for getting young kids interested in maritime archaeology – I cannot wait to be invited back next year!


  • Youth Diving With a Purpose: Maritime Archaeology Camp with National Park Service

    These past two weeks have been what I commonly refer to as a ‘fieldwork bubble’ where the rest of the world falls out of my purview and my only focus is the project at hand. I have been down in the Florida Keys with a group called Diving With a Purpose (DWP) (referred to in this post) and the National Park Service Submerged Resources Center

    In 2011, I met the Founder of DWP, Ken Stewart, on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean side of Cape Town, looking for a shipwreck with the Slave Wrecks Project. DWP is a maritime archaeological advocacy course. We annually take a team of lay divers to document shipwrecks for the National Park Service (usually in Florida) where I am a DWP Maritime Archaeologist and Head of the DWP Research team. When Ken and I met, we immediately discovered our mutual goals of bringing the knowledge and preservation of underwater cultural resources to young people, so we helped create Youth Diving With a Purpose (YDWP), and had our inaugural session last July 2013. 

    Biscayne National Park, 2013

    YDWP is aimed at students who come from diverse communities but have been fortunate enough to learn how to scuba dive (either in school or from the help of some of our mentors). Our students represent an array of diverse communities from around the States and globally. The program is constructed to supply the young lay-diver (high school age) with knowledge to become underwater advocates for conservation and preservation through the pursuit of maritime archaeology. YDWP is a weeklong program teaching the basic skills of maritime archaeology in the Biscayne National Park, with the option for three-year renewal to become a DWP instructor in the adult course (two sessions in Florida and third session in Mozambique, Africa). The development of our youth component is a way for DWP to inspire the next generation of youth divers and give them solid maritime leads for their higher education and career goals.

    YDWP offers what other similar youth outreach programs cannot- that is a chance to take diving youth from diverse communities and actually get them in the water consecutively for years to come. Not only have our students fine-tuned their scuba skills, but they have been immersed in the fairly new scholarly pursuit of maritime archaeology. Maritime archaeology is only just becoming well known amongst the broader community of terrestrial archaeologists. As such, diversity is under-represented in this professional sphere, and YDWP aims to change those figures by teaching our students the necessary skills to become successful candidates for university programs and professional fellowships in maritime archaeology or similar subjects. Already our older students are off to pursue marine majors at universities around the United States this coming fall (Texas A&M, University of Miami, PennState, etc..). Our record of accomplishment as professionals, divers and mentors, all of whom are unpaid dedicated volunteers, are helping inspire the next generation of divers and scientists and giving them concrete ways to get there. Through YDWP mentorship, the students will develop their goals for their futures, gain a greater appreciation for the oceanic environment and the cultural heritage that is threatened on a daily basis. They will take this knowledge with them into their communities at home, at school, and when they enter the workforce.

    So for the last few weeks, I have been spending my time with this fantastic and successful group of high school and young college students. The course is divided up by different teaching focuses on the tenets of maritime archaeology. The first day is full day of presentations about the NPS, the Slave Wrecks Project, and the skills/wreck that we will be working on for the project. This is followed by an intensive afternoon of setting up a mock shipwreck and working on the skills we have just gone over. The next two days are typically boat days, where we are on the wreck doing a full survey, setting up the baseline, doing offset points, doing trilateration mapping, and in-situ drawings of artifacts/features on the site. Then we normally have a day back on land to reflect and discover any measurements or drawings that need to be retaken/redrawn. This year we had the boat three days in a row however, so we didn’t get to do as much on land mapping to create a composite site map (usually the final product), because we had a community service project up in Delray Beach, Fl. The community service aspect is an important part of our YDWP outreach, to engage local kids to becoming more interested in underwater cultural resources but also in the big blue ocean that is in their backyards. 

    Every time I see our group of students, which for some is often throughout the year, I become more proud and in awe of their accomplishments and motivations to overcome their individual challenges. It sounds incredibly cliché to say all of these things but I have become all the more motivated for my own professional and personal goals, just by spending time with them. The connection that the mentors and mentees have at YDWP is one that I find unmatched in most other situations that I find myself working, and I am sure that can be said for most in the program. In my experience, it isn’t typical for an archaeological project to have such a real world impact on young people’s lives, so for me, this goes far and above typical fieldwork experience and I greatly look forward to many years as a YDWP mentor and friend. 

  • ‘Youth Diving With a Purpose’ Maritime Archaeology Camp Article via The Miami Herald

    The Miami Herald

    Youth diving group recruiting new members for important work in waters of Biscayne National Park

     
A member of Youth Diving with a Purpose takes measurements on the wreck of an unidentified 18th century sailing vessel in Biscayne National Park.
    Yasmeen Smalley / Courtesy photo
    A member of Youth Diving with a Purpose takes measurements on the wreck of an unidentified 18th century sailing vessel in Biscayne National Park.
    Over several days in July, more than a dozen teens and 20-somethings from around the United States and Africa worked as volunteer marine researchers in the clear, calm waters of Biscayne National Park.

    Scuba-diving 20 feet deep to the wreck of an early 18th century sailing vessel of unknown origin, they took measurements, placed small flags on outlying artifacts and made scale drawings to create an overall site plan. They relished the project — and so did the National Park Service.

    “The more documentation we have, the more we can inform the public,” park superintendent Brian Carlstrom said.
    Said volunteer diver Rachel Stewart, 18, a recent high school graduate from Nashville: “It’s fun working the wrecks. You get to work on a lot of skills that all come together with the diving thing. I like the archaeology, but I like the biology, as well.”

    Stewart and her fellow divers were recruited by the nonprofit group Youth Diving with a Purpose headed by retired Nashville business executive Kenneth Stewart, no relation to Rachel. Stewart, 69, has been bringing adult volunteer divers to Biscayne for the past 10 years to help the park’s cultural resources staff document scores of archaeological sites. But this is only the second year that Stewart has brought young people, supported by grants and donations. He says it’s up to them to keep the project going.

    “Most Diving with a Purpose members are 50 and older,” he said. “If we don’t do something quick, we’ll be Geriatric Diving with a Purpose. We need young people to continue this legacy.”

    Gabriel Taliaferrow didn’t take much convincing. The 19-year-old student at SUNY Stony Brook in New York had been researching careers that involved scuba-diving when Stewart told him about the program. A marine biology major, Taliaferrow loves underwater archaeology.

    “We’re writing history by going underwater and mapping different shipwreck sites,” he said. “I really like history. Maybe it could be a career choice after college.”

    The students worked in buddy teams, with one person taking measurements and the other recording data on waterproof paper. Around them, hogfish grazed in the sandy fringes of the shipwreck while lobsters peeked out from beneath coral heads that have grown over the old timbers.

    After two summers of underwater work in the park, Rachel Stewart said she has noticed a decline in the health of coral reefs. Her experience has piqued her interest in studying environmental engineering as an incoming freshman at Tennessee Tech.
    “I want to do water resources,” she said. “I want to work on the water since it’s all coming together in one place.”

    Two summers of conducting underwater mapping in South Florida is about to provide the young people with an even greater opportunity: performing groundbreaking research on the wrecks of slave ships off Mozambique in Southeast Africa next summer.

    Youth Diving with a Purpose has teamed with maritime archeologist Justine Benanty of the “Slave Wrecks Project” — a collaborative research program on the transatlantic slave trade from the 17th through 19th centuries with George Washington University, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Park Service and the government of South Africa.

    Benanty said the project will be the first to archaeologically document ships that wrecked with slaves on board. Other slave ship documentation, she said, was performed after the vessels were converted and reused for another purpose.

    “This is no game,” Benanty said. “It’s meaningful work that will help future generations preserve underwater resources.”

    Kudzi Victorino can’t wait. The 33-year old Mozambique native — her country’s first female scuba diving instructor — has been training with Benanty and Stewart’s group since last summer to become among the first to survey the wrecks of slave ships off the African coast.

    “People say there are a lot of them, but nobody knows where they are,” Victorino said. “For me, it’s important because it’s history that is lost so our kids that didn’t know about this, we can share their stories with everyone.”

    Carlstrom, Biscayne’s superintendent, is happy to have the young divers working in his park. “A very cool program,” Carlstrom said. “What better way to get kids interested in the park than have them learn underwater archaeology? We engage the next generation of stewards so they understand and appreciate and want to take care of the park themselves.”

    © 2014 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
    http://www.miamiherald.com


    Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/08/06/v-print/4275735/youth-diving-group-recruiting.html#storylink=cpy