Thursday, October 12, 2017

White Angst - Black Protest

When black athletes sit, kneel or stand in protest, they are quickly shouted down by the angry white masses. This is nothing new in this country. Every time people of color take to the streets or protest inequality in anyway, it seems to ruffle the feathers of white privilege and the age-old Establishment (a primarily Anglo-Saxon fraternal order). It's like a sudden eruption of white-hot angst from just below the surface that bubbles over in the form of hate, outrage and bigotry. In recent weeks, it was the protest of a handful of black athletes that caused the volcano to let loose it's vitriolic magma.

Interesting, isn't it? When a black man, no matter his socio-economic status, rises up to shout down inequality and injustice, a dozen whites stand to shout him down, as if to say, "Know your place, negro!" First, they taunt him and label him a spoiled, crybaby who is ungrateful for the hand up that sports provided him and, thereby, democracy. Then, they want him fired from his job for using the platform that we've given him to speak (how dare he use his celebrity status to speak up for what's right and give a voice to those who have no platform!). They somehow twist and reshape the narrative to fit their own racist ideology and self-serving agenda. In this case, they've attempted (and failed, mind you) to make this a debate about patriotism, nationalism and our flag. "How dare they disrespect our flag!"

Well, let's humor that rewritten narrative for a minute and turn the tables on the angry white folks. I often ask my white, nationalist brothers, "Is your sense of patriotism THAT fragile, that someone kneeling during the anthem can shatter it to pieces?"

Despite the fact that hundreds of war veterans have come out in droves to support the freedoms they so valiantly fought for, you still have angry whites making this about veterans and disrespect. Pretty sure the liberties that so many laid down their lives in defense of extend to our brothers of color, or is that, again, a white privilege??? It certainly was a white man's privilege in 1789 when the Bill of Rights was written. But haven't we progressed from the 18th century?

I think what spurs so many whites in counter-protest is not their patriotism, but their white privilege and white angst. For a closer look at white angst, I refer to this blog post or this article about "the primal scream of white America," which echoes what I wrote last March. It's an attack on their sense of superiority, plain and simple, and they don't like it.


So twist and turn the narrative all you like, the fact that black people are supposed to keep their opinions to themselves and off the playing field and television is the opinion of a majority in white America (at least the vocal majority). It harkens back to the days of slave ships, chains and muzzles. And while that may seem sensational to my white brethren, I remind them, "How many of your ancestors were brought over in iron chains and muzzles?"


The failure here is of white people to empathize and to understand. Not one of the counter-protesters has taken a millisecond to walk in another man's shoes. 
They don't WANT to understand, they just want their privileged status to remain unchecked. They want their NFL to remain mindless entertainment with no political or real social value other than fodder for Monday morning water-cooler banter.

The black conscience bears the scars of centuries-old oppression and outright torture. Don't tell them when and where they can speak or what they are protesting. You've never even tried to listen or to hear their cries or to walk a halfstep in their well-worn shoes.



Stop the hate. And stop hiding behind your white privilege! For once, I implore you to listen...to try to understand. The flag that waves over this country hasn't always represented freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone who stands beneath it.

#takeaknee



Monday, October 09, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness Month...an awful reminder

Breast cancer awareness is the theme of the month of October...as if I needed the reminder. Ever since 2015, the month of November and, specifically, Thanksgiving Weekend are constant reminders of breast cancer and the devastation it can cause. I really didn't need the prompt one month earlier to begin missing my late mother, a victim of women's cancer, or my grandmother who died 25 years earlier.

Breast cancer, in particular, wasn't foreign to me. I believe it was 1989 when my maternal grandmother was first diagnosed. Her siblings and childhood friends from "Frisco" called her simply Kate, the abbreviated version of her middle name. I called her Grandma Wright. She lived in the town where I was born and where my parents grew up, near her childhood home. When we moved away in 1974, I was still in kindergarten. I can remember driving the U-Haul over to her house--maybe we spent our last night in Princeton there, I don't recall--to say our goodbyes. And even though we moved three hours away to the big city, I always remained close to her.

In those earliest, formative years it was my grandmothers who helped to raise me in our small, farming town. Dad's mom, Grandma Doyle, lived down the hill in the same subdivision as Grandma Wright and because the latter worked a day job, it was the former who picked me up from nursery school, across the highway from her house, fed me lunch, read to me and laid me down for a nap. But Dad's parents were near retirement age, with plans to move to South Florida once Grandpa Doyle gave his notice to the utility he helped to manage. They left town the year before us and I barely saw them after that.

That left Grandma Wright, a fairly new mother, herself, to help raise me. My Uncle Greg was born in March 1964 when she was a middle-aged woman. She worked for a manufacturing outfit on the outskirts of town. Mom worked for a beauty salon downtown. By the time I started kindergarten, we lived within walking distance of my school and mom had moved her "chair" to a salon around the corner from home and school. I don't remember after school then like I did the afternoons at Grandma Doyle's, but I assume I either walked home or to mom's work.

My world shrunk by one matriarch in 1973, leaving me two women who looked after me, the subjects of this blog post. The Vietnam War was drawing to it's sluggish end and my dad had been spared the harsh realities of war by ONE DAY (subject for another blog post). He had enlisted in the Indiana National Guard when I was just a babe, so his weekends once a month were spent on Guard Duty. He had to miss my first birthday while out at Camp Lewis, WA, in basic training. This is another reason my grandmothers were so intricately involved in my upbringing. Also, dad worked on the road as a travelling bank examiner for the state. But with one grandmother gone to Florida, who would pass when I was a 9-year-old boy, it left that responsibility to Grandma Wright, to whom I grew very close.

Even after we moved three hours away to Indianapolis--a drive that seemed to take forever as a kid--I remained very connected to my mom's family. For one, they were the nearest and most involved grandparents I had and, secondly, my uncle, only four years my senior, was revered as an older sibling. As the oldest in my fold, I didn't have a big brother, so Uncle Greg became that for me. I always looked forward to those weekend and holiday trips when I'd get to see them. One summer during middle school, mom allowed me an entire week at grandma's house, just me. It's one of my favorite childhood memories.

When I was older and my parent's would take a trip, usually for dad's work, Grandma Wright would drive up in her boat of a Cadillac and stay with us, so she remained a mother figure for me until I was a teenager. I loved my grandmother with all my heart. By then, she was the only one I had left.

We didn't see her much after moving to Florida in 1986 for dad's job. I was fresh out of high school and didn't need my grandmother's love and attention as much. Still, I missed being three hours away from her. I missed the solace of her basement and my uncle's man cave. I missed her embrace and her sloppy wet kisses.

In 1989, when she was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, my mom got the call and she must have felt so helpless being her only daughter and some 10 hours away. I know that feeling all too well, now. It was the summer of 2014 when I got that fateful call from my own mother, who was living 13 hours away in Noblesville, IN. It's the most devastating call, aside from the death of a child (I would assume), that one can receive. I then knew the helpless feeling my mom had felt all those years earlier.

Mom, too, was diagnosed with breast cancer. What took less than a year to metastasize and eventually take my grandma, took 17 months with my mom. Those are 17 months that I will always cherish.

I wasn't present for my grandma's final days. Her death hit me particularly hard, not just because she was a mother figure in my life, but also because we lived so far apart--her in the town of my birth and me in Florida. I was able to attend her funeral, the saddest day of my life up to that point. We laid her to rest in the town where she grew up, aka "Frisco," in February 1990. My mom had been at her bedside throughout most of her battle with cancer.

When mom passed on the final day of Thanksgiving Weekend 2015, it felt as if I had been at her bedside, her death bed. In fact, she was already gone when I went in to kiss her clammy forehead early that Sunday morning. It was so surreal. The girls and I were departing on a 13-hour drive home to Tallahassee after the holiday weekend. Here is what I blogged the morning after (30 Nov 2015):
I got up around 4:30 and showered. Got my girls moving and had them wake up Dad before our departure. We said our goodbyes and around 5 a.m., I went in to kiss Mom on the forehead. It didn't feel right under my lips. No warmth. Concerned, I told Dad to check on her and hugged his neck one more time. The girls and I left. I figured if something was wrong, he'd call me back into the house immediately. Nothing. Fifteen minutes later, I'm pulling into a Speedway station in Noblesville to fillup before hitting I-69. I look down and see the text from Dad.
Dad's text read, "Chris, I can't get mom to respond. I just called Hospice."

In a near panic, I drove 50 mph or more through the sleepy town of Noblesville at 5:30 on a Sunday morning, nary a car on the road. I made it back to dad's house in Cicero in what seemed like seconds, but in slow motion. I found mom in the same position in her bed as when I left, one leg flopped over the side. My niece, Ireland, who had spent the last night there with us was still sleeping in the guest bedroom. We didn't dare wake her to this horrible news about her Grammy, but eventually we had to. My sister Keely was there almost immediately. You can read my immediate reactions in the blog posts I've linked above and here.

Suffice to say, I am KEENLY aware of breast cancer and it's devastating effects. I am a victim, myself. Though I've never suffered from the affliction in my own body, I might as well have. It ripped the two most beloved women of my youth from me as an adult, nearly ripping my heart out with each passing. The matriarchs of my family--gone forever. So I really don't need a month dedicated to breast cancer awareness. I am fully aware. But I do take this month to reflect and to speak out. I've made my Facebook profile picture a pink ribbon which I intend to keep up for the entire month of October...in their honor.

November will be worse. This Thanksgiving will mark the 2nd anniversary since mom's passing. And I'm glad we were there, me and my girls. It left an indelible imprint on all of us.

We miss you, Mom...Grammy. And I miss you, too, Grandma. My life will never be the same without either of you. Rest in peace.

This blog is dedicated to the memories of Alice Kathryn "Kate" Wright (1920-1990) and Kathy Doyle (1949-2015).

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Really, anti-gun folks?


In 1789, when the Bill of Rights was written, the woman in this photo really had no first amendment rights. Those were extended to white men, not to women of color. So when you circulate second Amendment memes on social media of musketball rifles and minutemen, consider the context.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The second amendment simply states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Those first four words have been hotly debated, but few can argue with the last four, "shall not be infringed."

In context, we know that minutemen carried musketball rifles to fend off their British enemies. No one is being threatened today by a musketball-wielding redcoat. We have fully militarized police forces with assault rifles and tanks. So if you're going to argue the amendment on merit, you have to bring it forward from 1789 to 2017.

While the photo of the female protester above is used to emphasize a point, it is a valid comparison. If we're going to argue that the Bill of Rights was written a long time ago and we apply the logic of 1789 thinking, then this woman wouldn't have the right to protest. As both a female and an African American, she really wasn't protected under the Bill of Rights, maybe in theory, but certainly not in practice. So you can't apply that same backwards logic to the second amendment either.

That said, we certainly need stricter gun laws, not deregulation. Congress should use Vegas as the impetus to reverse course and tell the NRA to stick their millions up their collective asses. My only beef was with the ridiculous memes circulating about the second amendment protecting only antiquated weaponry.

Monday, October 02, 2017

F#CK TALLAHASSEE

I cannot tell if this place is a God-forsaken hellhole or shithole. I think both descriptions fit Tallahassee.

I moved away in December 2006 and never intended to move back. Forced against my will, I made the move in February 2014. I have maintained that since 2012, when my daughters were moved back here by their mom, the only three redeeming qualities about this shithole town are FSU and my two daughters, but not in that order.

Since moving back 3.5 years ago, I've watched it deteriorate (leadership and law enforcement, specifically) and been treated to the same ol' "suthun hospitality" I'd grown accustomed to for 20 years, 1986-2006. That hospitality and the goodness of people here is an absolute myth. They hold onto some idyllic version of their past like it's their God-given right. It's not. And they wouldn't know true hospitality if it bit them in the ass!

When I moved here in 1986 with my parents--some 120 years post-Civil War--people still "jokingly" referred to me as a "damn yankee" or "carpetbagger." It wasn't funny. It made me wonder why they hadn't gotten over what they still call "The War of Northern Aggression." This and the inherent racism that sort of thinking breeds is part of what led me to move north in 2006. I didn't really want to raise a biracial daughter in this environment.

Nestled in the armpit of Florida, too far from the coast to feel a seabreeze but much too close during hurricane season, Tallahassee is in the worst possible spot. We just had a near miss from monster storm Irma. When that happens in other parts of Florida, further south, you breathe a big sigh of relief and continue enjoying paradise. Not here in good ol' Tally-hassee. Had we taken a direct hit, this town would have been left decimated. I breathed a sigh of relief, then realized Tallahassee is still here.

Hot and sticky, like today. It's nearly October and it's 94 out as I write this and probably 70% humidity (or worse). The swamp-like heat will remain until Halloween. But the climate and location are far from the worst things about this hellhole.

The people, by and far, are the worst, most disingenuous people you'll ever encounter. If you stay for any length of time, you'll experience their true colors--their two-facedness, their ignorance, their selfishness and their untrustworthiness (to name a few). I already mentioned the inherent racism. That doesn't apply to everyone who was born and raised here, but it is still pervasive.

I can't even begin the count the number of times I was bold-face lied to. I've been let down, beat down, trampled and left for dead on numerous occasions. And the people who I thought were "ride or die" friends were just run-of-the-mill, I'll help you if it's convenient friends. All the rest can go to hell in a handbasket. In a word, they suck!

I only worked about four jobs in Indianapolis and the rest of my work experience has been in this hellhole town. My three worst bosses were all here (only one had lived here for most of her life). None of them had my best interest--or any of their employees interest--at heart and all of them were do as I say, not as I do-type "leaders." They weren't really leaders at all. They certainly weren't people I wanted to follow. They are typical of the kinds of people who are put into those positions in Tallahassee.

It has led this "fine city" to become the most crime-ridden in the state of Florida. Yes, more violent crimes than freakin' Miami!!! In fact, last week, I read where our campus, FSU, is the most violent, as well. And all you'll hear people say is what a great place this is to raise a family. Um, really? This town has become scary. Even in the SouthWood bubble where I live, a non-gated golf course community, there has been a rash of break-ins, auto and home burglaries. As I was writing this, a Sheriff's helicopter was hovering over the bubble. Interesting.

The lack of leadership is pervasive, from government down to non-profits, and I've worked for both. It even has found it's way into the church, here. It makes for an unlivable situation. I'm having trouble coping here.

Had I not promised my daughters to stay until they graduate, I'd be headed back to the beach! In another six years I will be. On that day, I'll shake the dust from my feet and say, "F#CK TALLAHASSEE!"

Friday, September 01, 2017

Christian With Humanist Leanings

My Christianity has been leaning more left, if you will, since about 2005 after I got disenfranchised with the Pentecostal movement that seemed to be getting wackier by the day. By wacky, I mean the kind of name-it-claim-it, prosperity gospel sort of extremism that is prevalent in some mega churches today (Joel Osteen's comes to mind).

Up until then, I brandished a fairly fundamental, Protestant worldview. This world was going to hell in a handbasket and Jesus was our only hope. And by Jesus, I meant the white version hanging on the wall in many American homes, who was by no means a brown-skinned Middle Eastern, much less a Jewish Rabbi or Mystic. No the Americanized Jesus that hung on the wall of my parents house was California Surfer Jesus with windblown, brown hair, bronze skin and a big "hey dude" smile. Now, my parents were baby-boomers who graduated high school in the height of the hippie movement. They were, by no means, hippies, but the Jesus Movement influence was very real in my house.

We attended a summer Jesus festival in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania when I was 8. We listened to Keith Green and the Archers on the turntable console...when we weren't spinning dad's Beatles or Beach Boys albums. We were Middle America, Catholic charismatics turned Protestant, then Pentecostal.

Growing up Catholic, then Baptist and then non-denominational Pentecostal, I thought, gave me a well-rounded view of Christianity. But a common fundamentalist thread ran through all of those variants of the same faith--the world was going to hell unless it repented and accepted Jesus as the only means of salvation. Not only that, but multiple baptisms were required. I was poured, dunked and/or prayed over (for the gift of tongues) at every turn. I was neck-deep in a very narrow view of my religion and the world around us.

Only in 2005, after buying my first house, adopting two children, navigating a failing marriage and experiencing burnout at church, did I begin to consider any alternative. I learned of this movement called Emergent Christianity, which was sort of a fad after we entered the new millennium. In the discussions I had with "emergent" people of faith, I had to consider what Orthodox, non-Western and even Universalists saw in the Scripture. I saw that these people were just as devout about Christianity as I was, even if their faith seemed much different in practice and application of Scripture.

I stopped going to my church of almost 20 years.

My ex-wife and I, still married then, decided to join forces with other young families--four or five in all--and host regular get-togethers, including a big monthly meal, where we'd pool all our resources. Whoever the host family was that month was in charge of "the offering." They were tasked with finding creative ways to serve God by meeting a need in the community. It was the beginning of our home church...or so I thought. It didn't last long.

You see, with any gathering of humans around a common cause, politics and people's strong opinions always get in the way of doing good. I've found church politics to be some of the nastiest. It's part of what tainted my view of traditional church. I thought we'd found an answer. Keep the group small; be single-minded in focus and in action. It wasn't sustainable.

Shortly after that venture failed, I found myself in the midst of a real midlife crisis. I had a long-distance affair with a woman I'd met online from my home state. It nearly ended my marriage and certainly signaled it's doom. We decided to leave Tallahassee behind and swore we'd never return. Lesson there is, "Never say never."

So my world completely shaken, I broke free of the bonds of fundamentalism and fanaticism. I began looking at the core of my beliefs and re-evaluating them. I spent many years outside of church, only going sporadically while living in Indiana. Moved back to Florida and befriended the Baptist pastors at my local, beach church. Began seeing something in them that was different from most Christians I'd ever encountered in my life. They began to restore some semblance of hope.

Slowly, I returned to church, but I was a changed Christian. No longer a religious person, I'd let my convictions and questions guide me. I made a promise to my mom, on her deathbed in 2015, that I'd take my daughters to church. My youngest and I began attending Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Tallahassee last year.

A radical change in my thinking and worldview made me a different kind of Christian. I'm now one who seeks inclusion, acceptance, social justice, love and to vanquish inequality, hate and hypocrisy. I have little use for the Church outside of it's ability to bring people together to help one another. It's the value and power of human beings working in concert that affects real change. That's where I tend to lean a little more humanist than religious. I'll share more on this later, but this is a good recount of how I became a different kind of person...a more Humanist Christian.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Understanding White Privilege

DISCLAIMER: I do not suffer from "white guilt." I do not write from a place of utter guilt for the way my black brothers have been treated throughout history. I only write to seek understanding for my white brothers. I seek to unearth a newfound empathy and to implore my white brothers to try, to the best of their ability, to look beyond their own experience and walk in another man's shoes, just until they get it.

WHITE PRIVILEGE

It's a term that came into existence, as best as I can tell, in the 1960's during the American Civil Rights Movement, but only recently gained widespread acceptance. It's understood by most to be some unspoken right bestowed upon whites at birth that's never really spoken about in order to maintain the status quo (i.e. keep minorities in their place). Some sociologists call it a way for those in the privileged class to "mask racial inequality."

I'm of that privileged class, not because I earned a college degree or made X amount of dollars or reached some vaunted rung on the social ladder. I am privileged in society only because I was born to white parents.

Now for disclaimer number two: My own daughter, who is adopted, was not born into that class. She was born to an African-American mother and an Irish (white) father. She's been raised since birth in a white, middle class home. She has two cousins, also adopted into my family (my sister's kids), who are full-blooded African-American. I love these children dearly. So I do not write from a place of total ignorance, nor do I write from a place of non-bias. I would lay down my life for any one of them. And if ever faced with the threat of violence from a racist (of any sort, and we'll discuss that momentarily), I'd return violence with violence. I would defend them and their honor to my death.

Glad we have that out of the way.

Now, to the idea of racism. And this blog post was instigated by several recent conversations on social media sparked by the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. That hate crime, a terrorist attack by a homegrown terrorist--let's call a spade a spade, here--has rekindled the debate about racism in America. That crime, carried out by an unmasked, unashamed racist, is an example of racism out in the open--like the KKK unmasked. But it has brought to light the seedier, not-so-out-in-the-open racism of so many others, who don't even believe they are racist.

These people are the one's who might argue that there is no such thing as white privilege. Let me be clear, these people are in the majority! They need to be unmasked and re-educated. They are either willfully ignorant, as so many in white America are, or they are just plain ignorant. This blog post is meant to help them get a clue.

Like me, they, too, were born into a family of privilege just because their parents were both white.

Privilege, in this case, doesn't speak to your socio-economic status. It says nothing about your immigrant heritage or how your branch of the white global family came to this country. It says nothing of how your parents were raised, how much money they had, what community you were born into--gated country club or white ghetto, it makes no difference. Privilege, in the sense we are talking about, relates only to your skin tone, your ethnic heritage and nothing else. It's something that predates you by eons and even your earliest American ancestor.

ROOTS, the Anglo-Saxon mini-series...

We don't have to go back to the dawn of time or even the earliest civilizations. Let's just start at zero. The point in time where "Before Common Era/Christ" became "CE/AD." Yes, during the first years of our Lord, when the Roman Empire was in it's infancy. Think about the early spread of Christianity and how the Bible came into existence, into social pre-eminence as a foundational document for Western civilization. This happened when the Romans co-opted a cultic, Middle Eastern religion and made it, for lack of a better term, "worldwide." Yes, I mean Christianity. It began to morph from something peculiar to Middle Easterners, specifically Jews and a few converted Gentiles in that region, to a global, mostly white religion. The Bible and the Roman church's interpretation (or we should say canonization) of it became the basis for modern society in the West.

Yes, Christianity broke into a thousand subsets thanks to the Reformation, the Greeks, the Brits and a whole host of others. Prior to that, however, the Holy Roman Empire set the stage for our modern-day problem. Now whether your family was Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, they were somehow influenced by this empire which ruled all of Christendom for about 10 centuries (800-1806, roughly). Nearly every white person who came to America, whether religious or not, was influenced by the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. These were white rulers lording their "God-given superiority" in their white religion to subject the masses. (My interpretation of history, anyway).

That wasn't the beginning of white power, to be sure. I believe white privilege goes much further back to the beginning of recorded history, but I'm focusing on how it took root in Western civilization and was essential in the formation of our country.

Our forefathers, by-and-large, were white, European Christians, though some were merely deists who still believed in one Almighty. That's why we have all the symbols and slogans we do in America, like on the dollar bill. And it was under that guise, that we subjected all other races, in particular, those of African descent. (I'm going to throw in a quick reminder that this isn't a lesson in white guilt).

Our country perpetuated and profited from the African slave trade. In my opinion, we adulterated our religion in the name of Christ. And all along the way, we felt justified just because of our God-given whiteness. Sure, we wised up during the 1860's under the leadership of one of our greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, and even fought a bloody war over it, but that didn't end white privilege.

This sense of superiority wasn't taught to us in school, nor were we inherently racist. We just benefited from the way the system had been rigged for all of history, certainly the history of Western civilization dating back to the Roman Empire. We are of the privileged white class for no other reason than we were born to white parents. Civilization was rigged to favor us over other races. Our society is rigged because we are of the majority and have been since this country was founded.

SO NOW WHAT?

Does any of that make it right? No more than our denial of it makes it not true. White privilege exists. It's inherent in our country's makeup and in the empires from which we evolved--Roman and British, primarily.

I think it takes someone with real empathy to be able to step outside of themselves and "get it." Maybe you weren't raised by empathetic parents who instilled in you a sense of fairness and social justice. Maybe they were just products of their environment. My parents were children of the 60's. I think it shaped their perspective on the world. It certainly shaped their Christianity. Thereby, it shaped me.

I'm fortunate enough to come from a family that is now more racially diverse than any generation before me, on either side, though Mom's side did boast some Native American (trace amounts). That, as well as my upbringing, have given me that empathy, I believe, that many of my white brethren lack. It's as if they can't get past THEIR American experience to see that everyone else's America doesn't look just like theirs.

Take this white woman's testimony. I watched her 11-minute video tonight and was moved by her sudden realization and newfound empathy for her African-American sisters. Or read this Southern man's story of coming to terms with his privileged status. Should we all be granted an "Aha! moment" like that!

White privilege exists.

We can't continue in our ignorance as if it doesn't. We can't be part of the dulled masses who continues the campaign of denial out of pure ignorance. White people need to wake up. Others need to be convinced that their continued denial is likened to "flat Earthers" or those who deny climate change. Their denial isn't going to make it any less true. History says otherwise.

Should we feel guilty about it? I don't think that's a productive reaction, unless that guilt moves you to a place of positivity, empathy or social action. We just need to be aware. I hope that it would make us all a little more compassionate and empathetic. Not everyone's American experience mirrors our own. Day-to-day life in this country can vary wildly whether you were granted this "birthright" or were born into a minority family. Take time to consider their vantage point. Try to walk in their shoes an inch (it doesn't even take a mile). Empathy can tear down many of the barriers between us.

Now, more than ever, we need a little more empathy, compassion and understanding.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ezekiel Stanford Farmer (1843-1923)

Like many pioneering Indiana farm families, the Farmers came north for the promise of new, uncultivated lands in the emerging Indiana Territory. When Fleming Farmer, born 20 November 1807 in South Carolina, was just a small boy, his father Ezekiel moved the family to Indiana Territory. At that time, southern Indiana was a wilderness roamed by buffalo and Native Americans, where white settlers built log fortresses, called block houses, where they could seek refuge from attack. This was the wilderness where Ezekiel Farmer, grandfather of this subject, made his home in the woods between Princeton and Columbia City (later Oakland City). I don't know what brought them north other than the prospect of rich farmlands watered by the creeks that emptied into the nearby Patoka River. The precise date is unknown, but we can assume it was before Indiana's statehood in 1816. This was the area that would become Gibson County.

Elia Wilkinson Peattie, an American historian, wrote a bio of this subject in 1897. Her contemporary and Princeton newspaper man, Gil R. Stormont, mentions the family in his history of the county, published in 1914. Stormont mentions Fleming Farmer as an early settler of the area north of Francisco, IN, in the 1850's. Of course, Francisco was not yet platted, nor was Center Township, at that early date. Francisco became a town when the Eerie & Wabash Canal came through the center of Gibson County in the 1850's. Center Township would be carved out of eastern Patoka and western Columbia Townships in 1880. From U.S. Census records, we know that Fleming was counted among the male farmers of then Columbia Township in 1840. That area between what would become Francisco and the Patoka River, to the north, is where Fleming would marry and raise a family. The first Mrs. Fleming Farmer was my 5th Great Aunt Polly Stapleton (1810-1879), a native of Tennessee, who's father was engaged in the Battle of Tippecanoe and was also an early Gibson County settler from the south. Polly was born 7 May 1810 in Robertson County, TN, and brought to Indiana Territory in the first decade of the 19th century. Father Joshua Stapleton was also engaged as a private in the War of 1812 against the British. He began farming 160 acres 5 miles east of Princeton, according to Peattie. The families were located within 2 miles of each other, practically neighbors in wilderness times. Polly and Fleming were married 17 Dec 1832 in Gibson County. They had at least one son, and possibly a daughter, but their marriage did not last and she was not the mother of this subject. 

Fleming Farmer married a second time to Louvisa Woolsey-Clifford (1808-1879) of Edmonson County, KY, the daughter of William Hopkins Woolsey, of said county, and widow of AC Clifford, of Indiana. The Farmer-Clifford wedding occurred 1 May 1842 in nearby Pike County, IN (the county that borders Gibson to the northeast). To their union was born five children, including two sons. The youngest of their sons was the subject of this post, Ezekiel Stanford Farmer.

Born in central Gibson County 10 October 1843 and named for his paternal grandfather, young Ezekiel would join the Union Army before his 20's. As Peattie writes:
He had not yet attained his majority when responded to the President’s call for troops and joined the First Indiana Infantry under Colonel Baker. The regiment was attached to the command of General Steele and mustered in at Indianapolis. He first met the enemy at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and continued in active service in the southwest until honorably discharged at the close of the war at Duvall’s Bluff, Arkansas. He was four times wounded and still carries a rebel ball in his shoulder. Mr. Farmer arrived home July 4, 1865, and at once resumed agricultural pursuits, which he has since carried on in connection with stock dealing. For the past ten years he has been extensively engaged in shipping fat stock, and has made this a profitable source of income. He owns two farms near Francisco, aggregating three hundred and ninety-two acres, and a glance at these possessions will convince one of the industrious care of the owner. Mr. Farmer was married in August 1867 to Rosie B., daughter of William Stewart, of Fayette County, Indiana, and their home is blessed with the following children—Charles C., Fred S., Bertha C., William F., Oliver M. and Stewart. The family is one of prominence in the community, and the members of the household occupy a high position in social circles. (“History of Gibson County” as excerpted from a larger volume History of the United States, Indiana, and Gibson County, by Elia Wilkinson Peattie, 1897, Cook & McDowell Publications, pp. 120-21).

Ezekiel took to farming and stock raising in the same area of Gibson County where his father, Fleming, had established the family farm. We know from the 1881 Atlas of Gibson County, one of the first to layout the farms of newly created Center Township, that Ezekiel had two farms, one just west of Keg Creek near Patoka River northeast of Francisco. It sat right next to Thomas M. Harbison's farm. Ezekiel also had an 80-acre farm due north of Francisco in Section 18. On his farms he raised livestock and was a prominent Gibson County farmer, according to Peattie. She mentioned the "rebel ball" in his shoulder, well Ezekiel is listed on the Pensioners Roll for 1883, receiving $8/month for a gunshot wound to the shoulder (since September 1870). I also found mention that he served the town of Francisco as a medical doctor. His residence and office were on the east side of Main Cross Street behind the public school.

Ezekiel Stanford Farmer was united in marriage to Rousabell  Stewart (aka Rosa Bell, 1847-1902) on 14 August 1867 in Gibson County. She bore five sons--Charles, Fred, William, Oliver and Stewart--and one daughter, Bertha. The children were raised on the farm north of "Frisco." In 1888, just two years after the last child, Stewart, was born, Ezekiel was named Trustee of Center Township. He'd lose Rausabell in May 1902 to dysentery. She had been suffering from cancer and was buried in nearby Mead(e) Cemetery.

Two years later, he married the ex-wife of my 4th Great Uncle, Fannie King-Mills, who was also my 1st cousin (explained in notes below). Fannie married Ezekiel 9 June 1904 in Vanderburgh County, IN. Ezekiel was 61, Fannie was 45. The couple had no children together and the five children from her first marriage were all grown, the youngest being 20.

Ezekiel was a highly esteemed Mason and a staunch Republican. He died, aged 79, on 14 August 1923 (which would have been the day of his 56-year wedding anniversary to his first wife had she survived). He was laid to rest at Mead(e) Cemetery, located between his two farms in northeast Center Township. His widow, Fannie, filed for a widow's pension 23 August 1923. She died nine years later and was buried in Princeton's Odd Fellows Cemetery, the only Farmer to be buried there.

Upon Ezekiel's death, he split his vast acreage in Center Township between three surviving children--Bertha Taylor, Charles and Stewart Farmer--and three granddaughters (survivors of son Fred, who died in 1910), making allowance for his widow, Fannie, to remain on their 80-acre farm just north of Francisco.
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Notes on my relation to second wife Frances Adelia "Fannie" King (1858-1932):
She was the daughter of my 4th Great Aunt and Uncle, Adelia (Mills) and Charles Daniel King, making her my first cousin, several times removed.