Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

Nassau Thanksgiving 1979


Wrote a long letter about the trip and leaving the kids with new friends. The beach cut short by a downpour. We ran for cover. It was a quiet time to paint two large watercolors on Crescent board. This winter we will use them to prove we were here.


We went to Le Cabaret and found a long line. Many of the group played the slots while waiting for the doors to open.

We were seated randomly by the Maitre d’.Front row table at the stage. Randomly worked in such a way that all of those seated were the only Blacks in the room other than the employees.  One couple was a retired security officer at the casino and his wife. He explained that the Bahamians who worked in the casinos were not permitted to spend their money there.

Also wages were so low that few could come there anyway. The other couples were African-Americans on vacation. It was a long but interesting show.

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Palm leaf broom

Palm leaf broom

Nassau 1979 Part 3


We plan to go on the glass bottom boat in the morning and swim in the afternoon. The day starts off overcast but warm. It is not clear where to get the boat. After we eat our breakfast in an outdoor restaurant, we head for the bus. (Hotel help are busy sweeping with a palm leaf broom!)

The first bus is not going to ‘the ferry’ but some tourists were going our way. They said it was only a short walk. It turns out, they are lost and depending on us for directions. After taking more directions that are fruitless, we take a cab.

The ferrys and the glass bottom boat are the same – old wooden boats that crisscross the bay to Nassau on a very flexible schedule. They leave from the Paradise Beach stop on the bus. Once on the boat a couple gets off by mistake and has to be chased down before we can leave.

The tour passes homes of Richard Harris and Americans. One author’s house is surrounded by water. There seemed to be much feeling about the Americans expressed by the boat-boy. He pointed out the Yoga Retreat which seems to have a pyramid built on the grounds. He has a sense of humor. Later John thought he may be Haitian, as his accent was so difficult to understand. We pass  the Club Med and see the people exercising, playing tennis and having sail surfing lessons. Paradise Beach is said to be the best beach but I could not see it from the boat. We pass a large house under construction which belonged to a Casino operator.

The guide said the Shah had stayed behind the Cloister when he sought refuge in the Bahamas (May 1979). He must have stayed at the Ocean Hotel where we got on off the bus yesterday.

Our boat meets another ferry with a couple, his mother and a small child. The captains move the boats so that we can take them aboard. The floor boards are removed so we can see the fish, coral, and sponges on the bottom.  We are told there is a $1000 fine for fishing. Food is thrown overboard but the fish are not hungry.


We decide not to go swimming but to go into Nassau. The guide asks if we enjoyed the trip and that he will collect money. But the captain told him not to ask for money and to sit down. Those going to Nassau pay another $1. We get off at the Straw Market. Most of the workers are women and young girls. They are very industrious and make items while trying to get the tourists to buy. Two of the women get into an argument and talk fiercely, not to each other but to men standing inside a building. It is hard to understand what they are saying except the bad language. There is little difference in the straw work but bags and hats can be personalized. The workers closest to a small park seem to have the most imaginative work.

Teen boys chisel logs while sitting on the ground. They sometimes sing while they work. Some sell shells as the conch and starfish are plentiful. We pass these up while touring the small shops. Shoes are cheap. I see a pair like my green ones which I may get. You must pay a $4 cash head tax when you leave the Bahamas so we must not spend all of our money. A small art gallery is over a clothing store with prints by Maxwell Taylor. We had seen these at the home of President Walter Leonard. Original paintings range from $400 to $1200. Prints are $140 unframed.

Most interesting were the ceramics of the Straw Market women and police women! They are about the size of a coffee mug and cost $20.There is no duty on original art nor antiques if 100 years old. You must have the authentication. The Nassau Art Gallery is about the size of a fishing shack seen on the wharf. It has originals and prints by Elyse, who designed the Bahama stamps. Her prints sell for $7.50 colored, $5 black and white. Another shop had her colored prints for $5 but I could not find it again.


Edited from my journal. (To be continued)

Note: Trip, at the invitation of Board President, Fisk University, to John S. Harwell, who, at a critical time, brought skills in managing University student loans (used as comptroller, Harvard University) to put Fisk in a solvency position.

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The child is the future and hope.

The child is the future and hope.


The theories about successful aging include keeping one’s mind active. This seems especially important to early retirees and elderly seniors. A whole generation of nearly 62 year olds has either stepped off the merry-go-round or been let go from employment.

The flow of life is a series of ups and downs. Who says the postwar 50s were a lull? Now, I feel for the people who have jobs and can no longer count on employment. Recently, a friend said her 10-year-old niece needed to interview someone who had lived in the 30s. Looking around the table, I was IT. I did not do the interview, but it made me think.

What were the adjustments made in my family to the depression? My father had provided a comfortable, even privileged life for us. He employed at least 5 people to keep our house running. He helped his brothers and their children. He played golf! And then, like many others (and fewer African Americans), he lost his money and his health. My stepmother and a friend made handpainted silk ties. They were sold to friends who still had money. This helped but could not support the family for long.

We were sent to live in another state. My aunt and uncle had three children, an ill mother and assorted relatives and friends on hard times. They had come from the South and were qualified teachers. My uncle worked with red-hot ingots for the automotive industry. My aunt worked for the government. [Three of those years were in Washington, DC.]

They fell back on frugal ways learned in an earlier time. He bought land with his army pension. From 1919 to 1936, veterans had waited for a check. We grew food, fished and collected old fields of berries. We worked boxing raspberries @5 cents. We canned and made jellies. A cold cellar kept potatoes. and rhutabagas.  My uncle got unused dough from a bakery to feed a few hogs and a few dozen donuts for us.

Sundays we ate in the diningroom. Each person had the same piece of chicken. Being the youngest and the last I got the drumstick. We went to church on Sunday and pulled the shades when playing a game with cards. The neighbors must not think we were gambling.

The truck took us back and forth the 40 miles to the farm. One child could sit in front with the adults. The rest of us huddled and hung on. I don’t remember a return when a tire did not blow. And then we drove home on the rim.

One year they hired a man to stay at the farm in the winter. He could not read or write but he could count. He knew money. One year he asked to spend Thanksgiving with his family. My brother next to me was told to take his place for the weekend. We had no phones. Over the weekend, the old man died. Snow blanketed the farm. They took some time to find a replacement and to bring my brother home! I know he did not have money. Where could he have spent it? My allowance was only 10 cents. Five cents to tithe and five cents to spend.

The food and wood ran low. The water in the well froze. I cannot imagine the isolation and fear that he experienced: 50 acres more of snow, miles from anyone else! Today, I would say that experience was Character-building.

My aunt got free government pamphlets, many written by George Washington Carver. They told her how to grow vegetables in water. How to conserve waste. How to can. What to eat healthy. We bought or were given a baby chick warmer. We raised white rabbits in the garage but they were pets. We had turkeys at the farm but they were determined to drink rain….a dangerous thing to do. I learned to use a bucket brigade which came in use later.
My cousin and I had hand-me-down clothes. She sewed beautifully. Bolts of material and a few dresses were gifts from another aunt. One pair of shoes a year regardless of need.

For fun? A lot of laughing. A toboggan for all but one in the family. A lot of games with everybody playing. And always, that other world of school. For my brothers and I, we had each other and the expectation of leaving. We had memories that there could be an easier life with hard work, school and luck.

The more I have paid attention to others lives, the more common experiences there are. So many people have suffered things I never dreamed of. And the good and the difficult all create us. We can lie down and stay defeated or we can make our dream and walk in.

Happy Holidays.

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Women Series

Iola (Ida B. Wells)
Oil by Bettye W. Harwell

Lynching is the act of hanging an individual by a group.

I may not post this because this is my personal opinion.  I want to write this for my own clarity. Lynching was never something I came into personal contact with. Living in the North with southern-raised relatives, children were protected from scary things. Still there were the conversations in the corners which made us fearful.

As I became an adult, I came to know about the practice of killing Black men for any reason. These were spontaneously organized by groups of men. No judge, no jury. We are familiar with the Ku Klux Clan formed after the Civil War. By wearing a covering of white, each person remained anonymous. Burning crosses, shooting into homes, culminating with hanging spectacles terrorized communities across the country.

Earlier, the Wild West set the template of justice. Those early hangings, viewed by women and children, were public events. The Law and Order of an earlier day was horrible but at least the hangings were equal opportunity. Lynching became racial and intimidation events. Officials were not acting in their authority but were part of the mob.

These unexpected and unsanctioned attacks deprived families of breadwinners, caused loss of property. They were used to ensure that others knew their ‘place.’ It also caused displacement: Blacks fled their homes looking for safe shelter far away from the dangers. (Finding dangers of another kind?)

Long before Emmit Till, part of my family left the south in small  groups. A great uncle, age 20 and looking white, was being chased for talking to a white woman. The sister was separated from her brother. His former slave mother spent her last years without his comfort. The doctor husband remained in a nearby southern state. What resulted from this new normal?

Finally, the practice of lynching was curtailed by federal laws.

But now we have a new version of lawlessness. Our children are killing each other. In this form, it is also an equal opportunity event. Children of color, with guns, kill those closest to themselves. It is the lawlessness of the Wild West and no one is safe.

By my definition the New Lynchings are encouraged by our laws. It is an individual ‘being the MAN’ event. When there is no accountability for taking a life, our children have no expectation of living a long time. The model is ‘give me respect’, or, with my gun, you lose your life. How sad. Parents live in anguish when cast as polite, understanding people; cast into the TV limelight due to the killing of their child. What effort to face the public with the approved image only to curse the dark when alone.

And if you have other children, yours or your neighbors?  What court? What jury? What comfort for their safety? What price for raising good kids? And if not so good, would that make a killing justified?

In the celebration of Black History Month, we look away from the bad past and the bad today. Will we remember that within some of our lifetimes, in Florida, Blacks had a curfew, could not walk on the sidewalk, and could be arrested without a ‘passport.’ Not slavery times, not too long ago. Will we see the signs on water fountains because some people buy into being separate means safety?

Who knew?

I used to say (facetiously) that you had lived a good life if your son did not ring the doorbell and shoot you. (That happened in our town.) Now you may have to live to bury your child. This is my opinion, but it does not change anything today. Perhaps tomorrow.

Painting: Ida Wells became a civil right leader after learning of the lynching  of three Black men in TN.

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Encaustic wax on Paper

Out of the Dark is Light
by Bettye W. Harwell

In art, as in life, the darkest dark forms the brightest light. A painter sets aside a painting that does not ‘work’. Imperfect  Impulses with Aaron (wordpress.com) is a website demonstrating journaling techniques. A recent post, no video, describes a failed technique. When he attempted something new, it did not get the hoped for results.

I wanted to contact him and say, keep working on it. Put on more layers. In a scrape-off technique, some residue and texture remain. Continue to add, sand, add, scrape to create unexpected glow and depth. Then find the dark that will reveal the light. (A later post uses that page successfully.)

A result will present itself totally unplanned. Then the work will be done. I use a mat to find the best part to save. (Harder to select on canvas. Works on paper can be cut or torn to show the strongest composition.)

If after reworking, you still feel it is hopeless, you have not failed. It was a teachable experience. Start over and apply what was learned. Keep the failure. It may show more promise later.

Why the light in life?
I wondered how long it would take before the reputation of Nelson Mandela, first Black President of South Africa, would be attacked. His services are to cover ten days. World dignitaries and regular people will show their respect for an amazing life. Any death is an opportunity for self-reflection. Are we living our best life?

I wondered if it would take the full ten days before the knives came out. No. Not even two. The words used in the past by people, who themselves were protective of terrible atrocities, dredged up names he was called long ago. Questions have been raised. When did Mandela become a man of peace? When did he stop being a rebel? Was he a communist? And more.

The dark terrible history of the people of South Africa, both Black and white, forced the brightest light. It shaped the man. It shaped a government.

Lessons are learned from both the bad and the good. Some are influenced to emulate the political successes of Mandela, the leader. Others have taken on the resistance skills of the apartheid government. Is America using tactics which limit the apirations of all its citizens? Will we be the model for other governments?

Why compare one leader to anyone but his (or her) own self? Obama/Mandela or Washington/Mandela? Mandela paid his dues after personally enduring his country’s power. Obama has lived a very different life.

Mandela was not chosen to form an army and fight a revolution. He did not form another country, as Washington did. He used freedom and the rights of citizenship for all to make the country of his birth better. Washington and the Founding Fathers used an army and a new government to defeat the British. They accepted a constitution and government calling a large part of the population 2/3 of a man, had no universal right to vote and no recognition of women as full citizens. Mandela used his election to include all citizens fairly.

Who knew?
No man is better or has a higher station than any other.

Newt Gingrich and Senator Cruz are getting a backlash for speaking about the loss of a leader, Nelson Mandela.

Written December 8, 2103

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"by B. W. Harwell"

“by B. W. Harwell”

Bartering is not new.

The recent post “Four Oldest Events in Money” (HankeringForHistory.wordpress.com) reminds me of my grandfather. My family was always living in different places after the Civil War. By 1920 almost everyone had spread out North and West. Except my grandfather, my mother’s father.

William Henry Strickland, born in Mississippi in 1860, as the War was beginning. His parents had been slaves of Biddy Stricklin (husband?) and her son, H.M. I find them in Hardeman County, TN. They were allowed to marry. Kesiah may have been under a different master as she was on a different plantation. H.M. did place her with her children in Hermosa (DeSoto) MS when they moved from TN. The Stricklins and Cainon went to Red Bank (Marshall).

My grandfather wrote a brief account of his youth stating that his father would run away to see his wife, but always returned. H.M. decided to stop beating him, and brought the family together in Red Bank. He also freed Cainon (many spellings on the census records).

William was an early student. His father worked to bring teachers and schools to Red Bank. William was an early graduate from Rust College and married my grandmother, also a graduate. The family moved to AR while he attended Meharry Medical School. Once a doctor, he travelled between Little Rock and Oxford, MS on horseback.

My family found stability in the conclaves of women. My grandmother, a teacher and college professor, travelled to teaching jobs with her mother, her two daughters and baby son. When she had to leave the south due to a family urgency, she established the family, minus my mother, in Detroit. She bought two houses, a school supply store and vacation land in Idlewild, MI.

When my grandfather retired and came to Detroit to live with my aunt, my brothers and I were still living there. He brought with him the ledger books of his years as a doctor in and around Oxford, MS. He would sit at the dining room table after dinner and let my cousin and me read aloud the entries. He had the most beautiful handwriting!

Mr. So And So ……date…..rheumatis……..$1….date……1 chicken
Miss Mary So And So….date….dropse…..$.50…..date….1/4 bushel potatoes

We were 12 or so, and it did not take much to make us histerical. “Dropsy-dropsy” we sang out, squealing, dropping to the floor dramatically. So many illnesses with funny names, so many babies born, so long before payment, so little real money.

You might think these people were cheating my grandfather. They were very proud, hard working people. We knew this just by the fact that the bill was always paid. A chicken was shared from the best they had, at the expense of their family’s plates. They respected and loved him.

Who knew?
I learned far too long after his death that he had lived and practiced medicine in the undertaker’s establishment. His best friends were the undertaker and the preacher. The preacher’s widow told me they were the only ‘really educated men’ in the African American community most of those years.

Bartering is coming back better than ever because of hard times. Is the government taxing these transactions as earned income? What is your skill to barter?

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Where am I?

That was the question I woke up with this morning. Of course, it covers a range of possibilities. The first was opening my eyes at first light. The room looked familiar and strange at the same time. A few blinks and the reality focused: I was in the guest room of my daughter’s home. And why? She will receive an award for community service, and I will witness yet another of her achievements.

A flight of under three hours may seem the usual until you overhear a cellphone conversation. A couple settled down to phone their son. “Had a nice visit. First time ever flying, and gone well. Hoping return would go as well. Yes, they had figured out the wheelchair service. See you again soon.”

These travellers were senior citizens. And yet they had never flown on an airplane. I wondered how tech-savy they are. Does having a cellphone imply having a computer? An iPad? Blog or twitter account? We have our feet planted in the past and future by living in houses years old, modern stainless steel kitchen appliances, drive cars that talk back to us.

And yet there are still people who have not or will not fly. Children who may never ride a horse, milk a cow or ride a train. Our grandchildren ask what it was like in the olden days.

Friday Specials
My aunt was 82 in 1982. I remember asking how she had handled the changes from walking, horse and buggy to air and highspeed rail. How she had stayed optimistic after wars and little peace. I had bought her a tape recorder to tell her stories. For her youth, she said it was too painful to revisit. She lived in the present. She braved surgery to correct surgery that had blinded her. She taught herself to write again. She was introduced to color television’s beauty and read the New York Times again.

The tape recorder was never turned on.

Where does all that knowledge go if not passed on? Piecing toether from online clues, she was
..born in Meridian, MS to former slaves
..her father was in the USCT army at Vicksburg
..he was a railway mail carrier and may have died in a train wreck
..she lived a few years in a boarding school in VA where her mother worked as a domestic
..she lived with a brother and finished high school in Chicago
..she was among the few Black Yeomanettes working for the Navy in DC during WW I
which gave her veteran benefits for life
..she was a life-time member of the NAACP and women’s groups
..she put her age up and race aside to work for the State of NY for 35 years
..she had no children but helped educate her nieces, nephews and grands.
..she travelled widely and enjoyed many interests.

Who knew?
So where am I? also means, where am I in a long line of achievers? And where are we all?

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