Respect and Honor: Black History Month recognizes contributions

By: 
JACKIE KOCH

The Anderson-Beardsley House, a Greek revival style home on the northwest corner of West Chicago Boulevard and Union Street, was a location on the Underground Railroad in Tecumseh, where escaped slaves were ensconced in hidden rooms and traveled in underground tunnels on a path to freedom in Canada. Photo by Jackie Koch.

Black History Month is a celebration of achievements by African Americans. Tecumseh resident Clarissa Maves would like to see more people learn about the important role of blacks in U.S. history.

In 1915, a half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded an organization to promote achievements by black Americans and other people of African descent. The group sponsored Negro History week to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, an African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. According to history.com, since 1976 every U.S. president has designated the month of February as Black History Month.

Inquiries at the Tecumseh Historical Museum and the Tecumseh District Library’s Clara Waldron Historical Room found little information on African American residents. Those mentioned in Clara Waldron’s “One Hundred Years a Country Town” published in 1968 included an unnamed man who had been trained to work in clay and who made the brick to build the Elwood Comfort home, which led to the Comfort Brick and Tile Yards. That his name was not known was a common practice of utilizing the skills of African Americans with little recognition given for their efforts. Black History Month aims to remedy that practice.

Another Tecumseh resident in the late 1800s was John Brown, whose March 1, 1877 obituary, quoted in Waldron’s book, read, “Twenty-one years ago the deceased came to this village. Through the years, by his frank disposition and good habits, he won the esteem of this community. Brother Brown was highly respected in the community and was looked up to as the leader of the colored people here.”

The third person mentioned in Waldron’s account was George Washington, who “was to become the best-known and best-liked member of his race in Tecumseh.” Born in 1842 when his mother, a fugitive slave, was passing through Ann Arbor. As a child he lived in Tecumseh with his grandmother. He worked in a stave factory that produced the strips of wood that compose the sides of barrels, and at the Hayden Mill. Later in life he worked as a steward at the Tecumseh Club. He never married, but he built a home on the hill west of the Hayden Mill, which was from then on known as “Mount Vernon.”

A story published in The Herald in February 2013, written by Mary Kay McPartlin, told of the Underground Railroad in Lenawee County before and during the Civil War. “Despite laws that insisted slaves were property and not humans with a free-will, certain groups of people worked hard to change the perception of slavery as well as to assist slaves find a new life in the north,” she wrote. “Moving north up from states in the deep South, many fugitives found Lenawee County a perfect stopping place. They were assisted with work, food and clothing.”

Maves, who owns Maves Fashion Faves in Clinton with her husband, Bryan, would like to see more people educate themselves on African American history, and said this month is a good time to start.

Maves said that growing up in the Detroit area gave her a larger awareness of issues important to African Americans. One day she and her husband went on a date to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. “There was so much stuff for him that was eye-opening or that he’d never heard of, and for me, I started learning about things of this nature in about fifth grade,” she said.

“In all honesty, black slaves built America. There is so much around us, the railroad tracks, the White House, there is so much in America that was built on the backs of slave labor, on the backs of blacks that were brought to America in the 1800s,” she said. “It was free labor that this country was built on, and I feel like there are so many people, especially these days, that are proud Americans, but are you proud and are you appreciative of all of the black people that are in this country whose ancestors built this country? If it is just one month of the year, what are you doing to further your knowledge of those that have actually physically built this country?

“It’s a part of our history, and there are so many things that happened in American history that we don’t just let go, that we don’t just forget about,” she said, mentioning Pearl Harbor and 9.11 and the commemorative events surrounding those dates. “We have a whole month dedicated to black history and I can walk around town and not see anywhere downtown any businesses talking about it or promoting it. You won’t see this unless it’s in predominantly black areas in which we grew up with all of this.”

She and her husband were pleased to hear that their oldest son, who is 11, will be going on a field trip with his class to the Charles H. Wright Museum in May. “I feel like that’s a huge cultural shift from what we’re used to here, and I feel it will be very beneficial, especially for that age group where they can kind of start to comprehend the severity of the situation and be able to hopefully absorb that,” Maves said.

She hopes to see more understanding of the diverse population through education, especially of younger children who can learn to respect others and their differences. “That appreciation of everybody’s differences will cut down greatly on bullying in school, will cut down greatly on the large amount of youth suicide rates and things of that nature,” said Maves.
 

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Tecumseh Herald

 

110 E. Logan St.
P.O. Box 218
Tecumseh, MI 49286
517-423-2174
800-832-6443

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