Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees, Internments, and History Lessons...

Today and tomorrow mark a week since the Lebanon and Paris attacks, respectively.

Syrian refugees have been fleeing their homeland for the better part of four years now though many people just recently started paying attention to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and now that they are paying attention, the idiot ideas are flying.

One of the most atrocious ideas to be proposed is that we round up the Syrians and put them away in internment camps like we did Japanese-Americans during WII. The letter essentially suggests that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right when we did that.  I suppose this mayor of Roanoke, VA doesn't quite understand that pretty much everyone views that decision to lock up American citizens who happened to look like the same people who attacked Pearl Harbor as a reprehensible and overall bad idea. (Granted, the idea was supported at the time, but hindsight is 20/20.)

I guess he missed that day in History class.

I guess the mayor and others like him don't recall or remember that another bad decision by our illustrious FDR was to deny entrance to the 900 Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis. FDR wasn't alone in this. No country they attempted to enter allowed them entry. More than 250 of them were later killed by the Nazis.

I guess they missed that day in History class too.

I guess the mayor and others like him also weren't paying attention back in 2007 and haven't been paying attention to the re-emergence of the news stories about the fact that Anne Frank and her family were denied asylum status in the U.S. A status that very likely would've spared their lives.

But I guess they missed that day in History and English classes too.

I guess the mayor and others like him haven't been paying attention to the historical parallels to what we're watching unfold before our eyes. Terrorist groups who would try to tear down societies we've built are happy to have us hating the people they've targeted. It works for ISIL's agenda for us to hate the people who are fleeing them. If we hate the Syrians, Muslims, or any "brown people" who might speak something that sorta sounds like it could be Arabic, or pretty much anyone who doesn't look and sound like apple-pie Americans, the enemy wins. Just like America's collective suspicions of Jewish people in the 1930s allowed FDR to deny the SS St. Louis without too much public outcry and in the same way the intensified suspicions of anyone looking Japanese after December 7, 1941 allowed the public to support the internment camps. Giving in to similar ideas as the groups we claim we are fighting, even if only to "protect ourselves" from the "unknown unknowns," allows them to win.

I guess they missed those days in History, Civics, and Humanities classes too.

I guess the mayor and others like them haven't been paying attention to history, news, or anything in their thinking that we can bomb away an ideology. We've been at war in this country more years than not. In fact, in our entire history, we've only NOT been at war for 21 years. Most recently, we've been at war against terror damn near since right after Sept. 11, 2001 happened. What terror ideas have we eradicated? What ideologies have we squashed in their infancy? Shoot truth be told, WWII didn't even entire eradicate Nazism, so tell me again how war stops ideology.

I guess they missed those days in History, Geography, Sociology, Psychology, Law... all the classes too.

But here's the thing...
They probably didn't miss those days in History class. Was any of this stuff even covered in any legitimate way? Was the information even presented from a factually, unbiased perspective so that they can learn the lessons of the pass so we don't repeat them in the future? Are students taught anything more than "American rocks!" Is this ugly side to our past even presented? Probably not.

Considering textbooks now would prefer if we call slaves "workers" and "immigrants" (by the way, the Syrians fleeing their homes are refugees, not immigrants!) and highlight the mythical "exceptionalism" of America and downplay the naughty bits, this horrifying response to the boat of Jewish refugees, the deplorably treatment of Japanese Americans, and a whole bunch of other evil shit likely wasn't covered. Were it not for a genuine interest in History that was sparked and encouraged by my parents and enhanced by the interesting but ugly bits taught by my teachers, I wouldn't now pursue this knowldge for myself. It was my own pursuit of this knowledge that led me to discover that Russia (well, Soviet Union as it was known then) lost more people and actually won WWII before Truman ever decided (arguably, unnecessarily) to use the A-bomb. I wouldn't have this passion if it wasn't nurtured.

Each semester, I'm more horrified by what my students don't know about history. And I'm sure they always look at me--the Composition/Prof. Writing teacher--with puzzlement, wondering, "why are you talking about history? That's not what this class is supposed to be."  But yes, it is. My job is to help you learn to analyze the world we live in and develop arguments for how to build the better world we want to live in. We can't do that if we ignore everything that has come before us. Just like a writer or debater has to join the conversation so they must know what ideas came before them to be able to add their two cents to the current conversation. We as global citizens MUST know what came before so we can properly situate ourselves in today and prepare ourselves for tomorrow.

And as I see now that the Texas Board of Ed is hellbent on making sure the students in that state are working with a different set of facts that aren't being fact-checked by experts, I don't know what will pass for "history" education in the future. We'll likely see another humanitarian crisis in the future, a future where people will likely be even more concerned about the potential baddie who looks and talks different. A future where we all walk around with bullet-proof vests and bury our heads in the sand.

But this is not the now or the future I want. I don't want to allow the actual evil people of the world to win because we're so blinded by fear of what may happen and haven't learned our lessons of the past. I demand better from our leaders, and you should too. But demanding better of our leaders means knowing who were good leaders in the past and being able to discern the difference between an actual good one today and one who just bloviates a lot of nonsense that sounds like good ideas. It means knowing that bad choices that seemed like good policy in the past should not be repeated as good policy today.  But that begins by KNOWING the past.

Knowledge is power. Cliché, yes. But this cannot be stressed enough. Knowing history is so much more important than schools and students treat it. It's not studying numbers, dates, and names of the distant pass--names, dates, and situations that seem to have to bearing on today. It cannot be just rote memorization. It has actual, tangible value in the here and now.  Knowledge of yesterday determines your knowledge and outcomes today.

Pay attention to the past and today.
Be informed.
Be kind.
Take care of those who need our help.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Celebrate! It's Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month! I intend to celebrate as best I can, by doing what I do--writing and discussing.

My celebration of history and knowledge began in earnest last month in my attempt to celebrate and Remember the Past in a series of blog posts about the lives and contributions of Black Americans to the growth of this nation. (Click the links to the right under February 2015 for the posts.) I intended to write a post a day, but life got in the way. As much as I wanted to write daily and share my knowledge about history, esp. Black History, there are just so many hours in the day and job, kids, husband, grading, sleeping, decompressing from life usurped my extra writing time.

So, instead of attempting to blog daily, I'll just do what I can. This month I turn to women contributions. Rather than focusing solely on history, I'll focus on women in general and the stories, the history, the contributions, the issues... all of it. But also note that in light of Patricia Arquette's statement that it's time for men, people of color, and LGBT people to fight for women, know that these discussions will definitely include the marginalization, outlier-status, and necessity of women of color (any color), trans-women, LGBT women, etc. to force our way into the discussion. Arquette's statement on-stage acceptance speech was spot on, but her after-the-show elaboration is what shoved her foot in her mouth. Her post-show statement in essence suggests and assumes that "women" is defined as white women as a default and that white women have always fought for the rights of people of color and LGBT (and others), which has sometimes been the case historically, but not always. (Know your shit, Patricia, before you speak! Thanks for bringing attention, but you're not a scholar. This is often what happens when celebrities with little knowledge of topics beyond acting go "off script.")

I am proudly a feminist, proudly a nerd, proudly a lover of history, proudly a person who pays attention to history, life, culture, social happenings, and activism. I try to take part as best I can. I try to help others be informed so they can help take part too. I encourage you to do the same.


My first post will be about Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand and others who face similar accusations of not being woman, or woman enough to compete.

What are the implications of saying a woman is NOT a woman when she knows she is, has been raised as such, and lives her life as such? Do discussions like these mean we've entered another phase of feminism, wherein feminists of all genders are not only fighting for equality for women (and everything that that means) and the right of women to live, work, choose as we please, but even the right for society to shed its (obsolete and archaic) ideas of what makes a woman a woman and who and what gets to determine when and if someone is indeed a woman.Oh, there's so much to say on this. Stay tuned to my blog for the full discussion.

For right now, I'll just remind you to...

Pay attention.
Be informed.
Take part.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Remember the Past: The Assassination in the Ballroom

The stage after the assassination. The circles are bullet holes.
Fifty years ago today, Brother Minister Malcolm X stood before a crowded room in the Audubon Theatre and Ballroom to speak. Some time after he began speaking, someone yelled, "Nigger, get your hand out my pocket." A ruckus began, the bodyguards moved towards the commotion and in the distraction and confusion, several assassins approached the podium and shot down Brother Minister Malcolm X.


In my plans to blog about lesser known Black Americans and their contributions, Malcolm X doesn't quite fit squarely into that category. He's well known. People know his name even if they aren't really sure what he stood for. There's a movie about his life. He's often held up in contrast to Dr. Martin L. King. Although he's not considered a "safe negro" like the other blacks who are discussed ad naseum year after year in attempts to "honor" February and Black History Month, he is discussed to some degree.

I choose to discuss him today because today marks the 50th anniversary of his death, and I fear not many people know or care.

Just like Dr. King has been turned into a saint and boiled down to a few quotes and ideas that are easy to remember and repeat, Brother Minister Malcolm has been held up in contrast as the "by any means necessary" leader who viewed all whites as "blue-eyed, blond haired devils" and the man who said "chickens coming home to roost never made me sad; they made me glad" about JFK being assassinated (which was viewed quite negatively). He was more than that.
Just as Dr. King was much more than only promoting non-violent, civil disobedience to get things accomplished and gain equality, and his planned speeches for the days after his assassination were a huge shift in tone and rhetoric (esp. with regard to the Vietnam War), too many people forget that in the many months before his death, Malcolm X's pilgrimage to Mecca had altered his view of Islam as he had been taught in the Nation of Islam. Too many forget that after he'd witnessed Muslims of ALL shades while in Mecca, he began to see that racial integration and tolerance was actually feasible in the States. In essence, he began to change his views and rhetoric. But 21 bullets from assassins stopped that before we got to know the more tolerant Brother Minister, before we would ever know what a Malcolm X preaching integration was like.

But much like the many forgotten leaders of the past--some names we remember, some we forget--we don't always view the whole person. We boil them down into easily digestible bits. We forget they were people and not merely historical figures for us to extract the parts we like and ignore the parts we don't.
They lived.
They breathed.
They had opinions.
Sometimes those opinions changed.
They died.
Sometimes they were killed.

Malcolm Little: thief, drug-abuser, conk and zoot-suit wearer, convict.

Malcolm X: leader, rhetorician, Muslim, father, husband, friend, servant. assassinated... this day... fifty years ago.

We owe it to the people of history to gain better understandings of who they were.
We owe it to ourselves to learn more about those we don't know.
We owe it to ourselves to remember and help the next generations remember.

Pay attention.
Remember the past.
Share it with the future.

Remember the Past: A Personal Reflection

Recently, I read an article that claimed that Alberta King (Dr. Martin Luther King's mother) was assassinated too. She was shot by a mentally unstable person while playing the organ at her church. While this information is incorrect (yes, she was murdered but not assassinated), the larger point of the article was that despite the author's parents purposely ensuring that he was well acquainted with Black Historical figures, by and large, the activists were men and the women were mostly artists--writers, poets, playwrights, singers, etc.

In working on this series of Remember the Past posts, I'm recalling all sorts of history lessons I was fortunate to receive throughout my youth. As I read that article, I realized that my lessons were not painted in that way so that the activists and fighters were mostly men and the women were in essence, the artsy supporting roles. From age 6 until 15 (with a few years absence), I was fortunate enough to participate in a play at my church wherein I was exposed to more than the typical "safe negroes" (Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and occasionally, for sciency-reasons George Washington Carver) that schools trot out during February. I was introduced to the likes of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Constance Motley Baker, Shirley Chisholm, and Barbara Jordan. (Each of these will have a spotlight soon.) In hindsight, it's quite possible that because the writer and director of the play was female that she either actively highlighted the contributions of fighter women or that these were merely her role models, and she felt it important that the play included these women.

Whatever the circumstance, I'm glad that my education on Black History did not end with the "safe negroes" I learned about in school. However, I've also come to realize that my lessons were indeed unique and not everyone received these lessons. I've come to understand that me being able to rattle off the accomplishments of Wells-Barnett and Constance Motley Baker is an anomaly. It's an anomaly that needs to no longer be an anomaly. For not only do women of color who fought for rights need to be recognized, but more Blacks in general need to be recognized for their places in history. Now, this isn't to minimize the contributions of people like Phyllis Wheatley, Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and others, but it's to say that yes, their contributions mattered, but so do so many forgotten people, esp. the women warriors.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Remember the Past: The Men who were called Boy

I recently watched this video of Samuel L. Jackson describing his childhood in Chattanooga, TN.

In this video, Jackson recalls going to work with his grandfather as a child and his grandfather being called "boy" by the white men who worked in the real estate office his grandfather cleaned. His grandfather called them "Mr" So-and-so, but they called his grandfather "boy." His grandfather also scolded Jackson about looking the men in their eyes when he talked with them and frequently asking them questions.  Conversing with and asking questions of whites wasn't something blacks were allowed to do. Even as a child, Jackson realized there was something odd about the dynamic between the two sets of men. The white men were called "mister" by his grandfather (and other blacks) while the white men were allowed to call the black men "boy."

Boy.

Mister.

I've heard my own tales of the word "boy" my whole life. My own father often recounted the tale of hearing his grandfather being called "boy" by shop owners and of being told they couldn't drink Coke or Pepsi because those drinks weren't for blacks. Whenever my dad told me about these things, he expressed anger over the confusion he felt then because as a child his grandfather was the biggest, tallest, best man there was, but before white males, he was nothing more than a "boy."

There has been so much power and control behind such a simple word.

So many strong, intelligent, loving men belittled and made to feel inferior in front of their young sons and grandsons because of the power dynamic of the past. It hurt my dad to witness his grandfather being called a boy, but the pain and anguish that that word imposed has been lost on generations today.

In the video, Kelly Ripa is riveted and experiences chills while hearing this story from Sam Jackson, but he (just as I) shrugged it off because as he said, "it is what it is." That was life for blacks, esp. black men back in the day. Through my dad, I've heard these stories before, so I nodded while watching this. I know these stories well. It's how it was. I've been taught this by my family.

But for people who don't know, never heard these stories, it's amazing, riveting, chill-inducing stories.

Boy.

Mister.

To all the men--strong, powerful, hard-working, loving men who were made to feel less than, made to feel inferior, made to watch your father, uncle, grandfather feel less than which in turn made you feel less than, I thank you for enduring. Thank you for showing that a word, such a small but powerful word in that context did not truly make you who you are. Your actions made you who you are.

We have forgotten stories like this. We no longer pass them along. How easy it is to forget that we are but one, maybe one and a half generation removed from men being called boys, being treated as less than, being belittled.  We mustn't forget. We must remember.

To the men who were called boys: thank you for being strong and teaching us how to become misters.

Pay attention the past.
Study history.


I dedicate this to my dad and the many other teachers I've had along the way.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Remember the Past: The Unwitting Mother of Immortal Cells

Family illnesses and life falling down around me has delayed my posts. Goodness have I got to catch up!  In the meantime, allow this next Remember the Past post to introduce you to


Henrietta Lacks: The Unwitting Mother of Immortal Cells



Thanks to efforts of writers, some scientists, some doctors, and Mrs. Lacks family after they found out, Henrietta Lacks now receives the proper acknowledgement that she deserves.

In life, Lacks was sadly not much different from other people of her era--lots of siblings, married young, produced lots of babies, died of illness at a young age.


However, in death, although completely unknown to her family for TWENTY years after her death, Lacks' cells (taken from her without her knowledge or permission by George Otto Gey) would become the first human immortal cell line for medical research: HeLa Cells.


Lacks grew up in the shadows of slavery in Virginia. After her mother died in 1924, her father parceled Lacks and her nine other siblings out to family members for them to raise. Lacks ended up in the care of her grandfather; he lived in former slave quarters on the plantation that had been owned by Lacks' white great-grandfather and his brother. Also living in that house was Lacks' first cousin, David "Day" Lacks--he would later become her husband and father of her children.

While still living in Virginia, both Henrietta and Day remained in the shadow of slavery--working in the tobacco fields of the area. Henrietta gave birth to her first child at age 14; it was 1935. She had another child in 1939. In 1941, Henrietta and Day married. Towards the end of 1941, a relative convinced them to leave the area and to find work elsewhere. They moved to Baltimore, Maryland. In Baltimore, they had three more children.

With the fifth pregnancy, Lacks had noticed a knot in her stomach. After giving birth to the fifth child, she began to bleed profusely. She ultimately ended up at Johns Hopkins hospital. She was diagnosed as having cervical cancer and was treated with radiation.  While this process was happening, two samples of her cervical tissue was removed--without her knowledge and permission.

Even after the radiation treatment, Lacks remained in pain.  On August 8, 1951, she returned to the hospital for her next treatment, but instead asked to be admitted. She never left the hospital alive again. Henrietta Lacks remained in hospital until her death on October 4, 1951, at the age of 31.

She died in October 1951, but her cells, known scientifically as the HeLa Cells, live on today.


What's interesting is that HeLa Cells are one of the few things I remember hearing about in my many science classes in high school.  It's weird how things stick with you in a subject you weren't particularly fond of, and you can't remember why that stuck with you. I'm glad that I remembered that phrase because when I discovered the truth of the HeLa Cells a few years back, I had a connective memory to go off of.

Truthfully, Lacks didn't live much of a remarkable life--no different from other people like her during that era. And sadly, her remarkable contribution to science remained unacknowledged for twenty years after her death. In fact, it wasn't until researchers began to contact the family in the 1970s to ask them for further blood samples that they even became aware and suspicious of the odd requests.  (The fact that scientists thought they could continue to request biological material from this family smacks of arrogance and lack of ethical considerations, but perhaps some of the scientists truly didn't realize the Lacks family had not granted permission all those years ago.)

And what's sadder still is that even as recent as 2013, scientists have used the HeLa cells in research without seeking permission from the family.  And even sadder, in August 2013, the National Institute of Health has finally given the Lacks' family some control and oversight over the Lacks' genome and family acknowledgement in scientific papers. Yeah, some oversight.

So, what made her cells so special?
When Dr. Gey received Lacks' cells, he realized that unlike any other human cells before, Lacks' cells could be kept alive and grow. Prior to the HeLa cells, cells only stayed alive a few days and then died. Essentially, her cells could be continuously multiplied and so they were. Her cells were used to help develop the vaccine for polio, were the first human cells to be cloned, and have been used in research for AIDS, cancer, gene mapping, checking the effects of radiation, and innumerable other scientific experiments. All without her family's knowledge or permission. It is estimated that scientists have grown 20 tons (yes, tons) of her cells over the decades.

Sadly, in 1990, a California Supreme Court even ruled that discarded tissue can be commercialized and sold, which the HeLa cells have been time and time again. But were they truly discarded? Seems to me they were taken, stolen without permission, then discarded--not by the owner, but by a scientist. Legally, if someone discards something, it can be picked up by others and used, repurposed as the finder deems fit, but Lacks didn't discard her own cells.

We will never know how the situation might've turned out differently if Henrietta Lacks had been asked for her cells. Maybe she would've consented. Maybe not. I am, however, quite sure that the doctors and scientists would NOT have explained the full situation to her honestly, as evidenced by so many other situations in the U.S. in the past where blacks were used as experiments with or without their permission (Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment comes to mind, but so does the horrifying work of gynecologist J. Marion Sims), and as evidenced by how Lacks' family continued to be lied to and given the runaround as recent as the 1970s, 1980s, and then screwed over legally by the CA Supreme Court in the 1990s.

This situation goes so much deeper than Lacks and her HeLa Cells. It speaks of the theft of black bodies and black health for far too many years in this country. It speaks of the lack of disclosure and honesty about our health. It speaks to the assumption that "well, they're too stupid to truly understand what's happening with their bodies, so we'll just tell partial truths or outright lie." (Sort of makes me draw a clear line from this type of thinking to the current political thinking that "women don't truly understand their bodies, so we need to write lies to protect them from themselves." But I digress.) There are probably more situations like this than we could ever know about, but thanks to documentaries, scientific reports about this atrocity, many articles, books, a Law and Order episode, and even CDs and movies, at least Henrietta Lacks' contribution to science, health and medicine is now more well-known.

There are so many things that converged to screw over Lacks and her family were the HeLa Cells are concerned. We owe it to them not to forget. Take the situation of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa Cells as encouragement to me informed and aware of your personal health and aware of history.

Pay Attention to History!



Sources:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/opinion/sunday/the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks-the-sequel.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henrietta_Lacks
http://www.biography.com/people/henrietta-lacks-21366671#hela-cells

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Remember the Past: Les Gens de Couleur Libres

Yes, I'm a day behind, but here's to it...
I dedicate this post to my wonderful, brilliant niece who might be taking a new interest in history, and that makes me even prouder on so many levels.

Today, I'll introduce you to Les Gens de Couleur Libres (The Free People of Color).

Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants in a Landscape
Painting by Agostino Brunias

Some years back, a cousin asked had I seen the film Feast of All Saints. I had not. She proceeded to tell me of the plot of the movie wherein the Les Gens de Couleur Libres--the Free People of Color-- living in New Orleans were an entire class of people living in the slave state of Louisiana before the Civil War ended.  My mind was blown. I'd never heard of these people. I was mad that I had not, but I instantly wanted to know all I could.

Growing up, I always knew there were Blacks scattered throughout the country prior to 1863 and 1865 who were free through various means--buying their freedom, born free, marriage making them free, etc. Typically though, the further a person went North, the easier it was to find free Blacks. But free blacks living in the South? Not just the South, but in New Orleans--literally, the bottom of the Mississippi River, which was a major waterway of slavery.

So, I instantly ordered Feast of All Saints. It was interesting. It was a B-rate film with some very well respected, well known actors (Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Pam Grier, Forrest Whitaker, James Earl Jones, Eartha Kitt, Ben Vereen and others) but also some lesser known but quality actors (Robert Ri'chard, Bianca Lawson, Jason Olive).  From what I've read about the Les Gens, the film describes their social standing (a sort of in-between status) pretty well and the drama is pretty decent. But more importantly, it continued to feed my need for knowledge about this class of people.

The Free People of Color of New Orleans (frequently called Les Gens) existed in a sort of in-between status between the French Creoles and Spanish people of the area (the whites) and the blacks who were enslaved. They were in essence, a second tier of citizens: not enslaved and forced to endure the horrendous atrocities of slavery, but also not fully free to do exactly as they pleased in society, and certainly not beyond New Orleans or other places where Free People of Color lived in large groups. They apprenticed, some of the men had been educated in Europe (esp. France), had property, etc. But they were still second class people caught in between fully free and fully slaved. As the Les Gens increased in population over time, their rights and freedoms (apprenticing, reading/writing) began to be restricted. As the civil war ended and all slaves were freed, the Les Gens sort of lost their second class place in society. Though some cities acknowledged a difference between newly freed slaves and Les Gens, after awhile, that eroded away.

But before all of that, there was plaçage.

To maintain their place in society, the older women of the society held something like coming out parties wherein the younger free ladies could meet and "connect" with the French Creole, German, and Spanish men of the area. During this time period, many men sowed their oats and worked to establish themselves before marrying at older ages. While the men were sowing, they would need mistresses or placées to keep them satiated, so the older women would often make deals with the men who were interested in their young ladies to secure the young ladies' futures. In essence, the white men of society would agree to take care of their mistress and any offsprings produced from their "union"--frequently, these agreements meant property for the women, formal education for their offsprings (esp. males), money, etc.  The placées were the acknowledged women on the side. In many ways, this was a comfortable opportunity for free women of color, but in other ways, it was a tragic situation. In reality, they were agreeing to be mistresses for life: playing house when their man came home, but otherwise, sitting at home, raising the kids, tending to the property (and likely servants of the property), and possibly longing for the next time their man returned.

But let's not focus on the negativity.

The Free People of Color of New Orleans are important to remember because Blacks in America up until 1863 and after the Civil War are often painted in broad strokes: Blacks were either slaves who tolled from sun-up till sun-down until they died OR blacks were free somehow (usually because they ran away) and attempted to work in the white world, sometimes doing so successfully but sometimes not.  Blacks in America prior to the Civil War were more than this. Les Gens de Couleur Libres shows that there was an entire class of people in the South who worked, lived, thrived, and were free. Yes, they were limited. No, they weren't completely free, but they were free from ever knowing the bonds of slavery.  The chains of society bound them, but they never knew what it was to toil in a field, have someone whip you, or maim you, or sell you away from your family. It wasn't a perfect society, but I have to believe it was better than the horrors of slavery.

Now, bear in mind, New Orleans wasn't the only place where Les Gens lived. They were also in many Caribbean countries and cities, but I'm trying to keep a focus on Black History in America for now. Maybe I'll branch out later.

Also note: my description here barely scratches the surface of the complexities of the lives and society of Les Gens. And as with any of my Remember the Past posts here, I hope my facts of history spark an interest in you to explore the topic more on your own.

Pay attention to history.