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By BRENT STAPLES - New York Times' Editorial Observer
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Those of us who write about our families inevitably engage in conversations with the dead. The two specters who take up most of my time these days were black, slave-era founders of the Staples family line. My great-grandfather John Wesley Staples, of whom I have often written, was conceived in the waning days of the Civil War, narrowly missed being born a slave and died just 11 years before my birth. His mother, Somerville Staples, was enslaved in the home of a prominent Virginia doctor when she became pregnant with John Wesley, her last child and the first freeborn member of the Staples clan.

My great-grandfather and his mother were barely visible against the backdrop of the 19th-century South when I first started to focus on them about 15 years ago. Since then, the outlines of their lives have become steadily clearer, thanks to remembrances from elderly relatives and documents that have recently turned up in the public record. It will take years, perhaps even decades, to flesh them out fully. But it is already clear that their 21st-century descendants stand heavily in their debt and that my career as a writer would have been much less likely - and perhaps even impossible - without them.

My older uncles, some of whom practically grew up in John Wesley's house, regaled me with tales of his wealth and his taste for fancy cars - and the fierceness with which he responded to white Southerners who crossed him. But the most crucial fact about my great-grandfather, it seems to me, was that he could read, write and calculate fairly well - even though he was born in 1865, when, thanks to the policies of enslavement, fewer than 1 in 10 black Southerners could read.

Literate black people were not immune to the mob violence and intensifying racism that greeted all African-Americans after the Civil War. Nevertheless, the ability to read and write gave them a vantage point on their circumstances and protected them from swindlers who regularly stripped illiterate people of land and other assets. For these families, literacy was a form of social capital that could be passed from one generation to the next. By contrast, nonliterate families were disproportionately vulnerable to the Jim Crow policies and social exploitation that often locked them out of the American mainstream for generations on end.
    The connection between black literacy in the 19th century and present-day professional success is a touchy subject, as is the entire issue of class distinctions among black Americans. Even so, the advantages that accrued to the early literate classes would be clearly evident during the 20th century. In the 1940's, for example, the sociologist E. Horace Fitchett surveyed students at Howard University, then the seat of the black elite. Half of his respondents claimed to be descended from that small part of the black population that was free before Emancipation, which typically had greater access to education. Similarly, in 1963, the sociologist Horace Mann Bond wrote: "I have ... been astonished to discover how largely the 10 percent of Negroes who were free in 1860 have dominated the production of Negro professionals (and intellectuals) up to the present day." The black intellectual and professional classes have grown significantly since then. But studies of those groups today would probably show a strong relationship between early emancipation and membership in the present-day black elite.
Not all of the 20th-century intellectuals Bond encountered had come from the free classes, however. Some were descendants of well-situated house slaves who had experienced close contact with the white elites of the day and who had had early opportunities to be educated. As a slave serving in the home of a doctor, John Wesley's mother, Somerville, would have been among those black women who had access to books and the conversation of cultured whites, and who knew that literacy marked the crucial distinction between the free and the enslaved. John Wesley might have attended an early school. But he could just as easily have learned to read and write in the household where his mother had been enslaved and where she continued to live for several years after Emancipation.

Thus prepared, my great-grandfather and his wife, Eliza, moved the family swiftly from the shadows of slavery into the educated, landholding classes. By the 1890's, John Wesley had quit a job at a railroad and was running a successful farm that grew tomatoes for a nearby cannery. By the turn of the 20th century, he had joined with two neighbors to hire a teacher and build the one-room school where their children were educated. Soon afterward he bought his flashy Model T Ford and began to amass the pot of cash that he would leave behind when he died.

Enamored of the patriarch, my uncles absorbed his swagger and his aphoristic style of speech - and later passed them on to my generation. My uncle Paul also recalled the vanity that John Wesley displayed when he sat down to write. He penned even grocery notes with a flourish, pausing often to lick the pencil point. His gestures said: When you remember me to people, tell them I could read and write.
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Both my parents 'paused to lick the pencil point' when they wrote, and for them writing was a labor.

I disagree with the writer when he said '...literacy marked the crucial distinction between the free and the enslaved.'...Staples

The crucial difference between free and enslaved was freedom. I understand the point he was trying to make. Literacy was a critical difference in society. It still is.

The literacy in a family does indeed extend into the present-day circumstance of many families.

The literacy assets itself as a determining factor in all families as it is acquired, and will always matter.

PEACE

Jim Chester
Your point Little Fella?

Please provide your link to TODAY?

Are you saying that White racists today would rather see illiterate Black folks?

My position is that WHAT THEY THINK ON THIS POINT IS IRRELVANT. Today there are no White folks buring books that Black folks have in our possession.

When are you, Kevin and others going to stop OUTSOURCING a responsibility that FALLS BACK ON THE BLACK COMMUNITY where the GOVERNMENT has failed you?

quote:
Nevertheless, the ability to read and write gave them a vantage point on their circumstances and protected them from swindlers who regularly stripped illiterate people of land and other assets.........By contrast, nonliterate families were disproportionately vulnerable to the Jim Crow policies and social exploitation that often locked them out of the American mainstream for generations on end.


This is a very interesting charge!!!

As a person who has CONSCIOUSNESS that is different than YOUR's I see a close parallel to the attacks that I am likely to receive from the Black Quasi-Socialist Progressive Fundamentalist. The BQPF is SILENT on attacking IGNORANT BLACKS who are poor or victims of racism.

They go all out, however to attack Blacks who are poltiically literate and have an ideological position that is contrary to the power holders.

At the basic human level there is little difference between some of you and the fundamentalist racists who gave Blacks so much hell. Same human tactics, different subjects that they are applied to.
This is a good piece. Today it is not so much illiteracy that allows men and women to be taken advantage of; it is their ignorance and economic status that allows others to swindle them. Today it is easy to say of the poor that their pathologies is the cause of their condition albeit these same pathologies are not blamed for the rich condition even if they engage in said pathologies at a higher rate than the poor. You can take something as simple as the Girls Gone Wild Videos where these white college vacationers and trust fund babies engage in lascivious acts in front a video camera that are no different than what one might have seen at Freak Nik or Myrtle Beach today and yet the actions of the participants of these events are seen through different lenses.

James, The only mistake the writer made in the sentence you disagreed with him on is that he used "the" instead of "a". That which was the biggest distinction between the Free Black man and woman and the enslaved Black man and woman is many; I believe literacy was one of the biggest distinction based on the qualifier the author provided and other reasons as well. The author qualified his belief that "illiteracy was the biggest distinction" by saying literate Black folk were less susceptible to being swindled and having their land taken from them than were illiterate Black folk. Today a similar juxtaposition can be made when we compare the number of literate Black men and women in prison to that of the illiterate Black men and women in prison. Literacy is important and can save those with it from being sucked into a life of crime that makes them susceptible to white machinations.
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Your point Little Fella?
Dude, you have a serious mental imbalance... SEEK HELP!

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Please provide your link to TODAY?
ENGLISH dumbass!!! LEARN TO READ!

Hmmm.... Common, standard ENGLISH Reading Comprehension shows the CLEAR LINK TO TODAY as the author details how both the material and the organic KNOWLEDGE WEALTH of the patriarch of his family laid the foundation that he and his family benefitted from in so many ways.

quote:
Are you saying that White racists today would rather see illiterate Black folks?
C'mon WHITE BOY... You can do better than that.

Hmmm... I post an article. Your PUNK ASS jumps-to-some-DUMB.ASS-conclusion. Not only that, but I've told your WHITE ASS (along with a number of WHITE BOYS) about trying to FRAME things with weak ass ('This Is Causing Me Psychic Pain' via COGNITIVE DISSONANCE), silly and pointless LEADING/LOADED Questions.

MOTHERFUCKA!! I said what I said. Which, given how I merely quoted an article, there was no statement by me for you to even begin to ask some dumb ass "Are you saying...?"

WTF is that? sck

Unlike the slanted, twisted and just plain FUCKED UP opinion pieces your like to post, this article is a straightforward, historically accurate account, even an anecdotal account for how knowledge and wealth was privileged by class/station. The piece simply makes a Statement of Fact which is very different from the twisted interpretations and opinions listed in the things you post.

So it's rather funny that YOUR WHITE ASS wants there to be some ulterior motive or a particular message I was trying to get across by posting this article.

PUNK-Feed, the first thing you need to learn is how flawed you are in assuming that there is, how do you say, a Consensus: That your motives, the way you operate, your feeble attempts to "make your point" are somehow shared and that others operate out of that same PUNK ASS mindset you do.

Dude... Back Away From the FALSE CONSENSUS and speak ENGLISH for a change.

quote:
This is a very interesting charge!!!
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??
What was the "charge"??

quote:
As a person who has CONSCIOUSNESS that is different than YOUR's I see a close parallel to the attacks that I am likely to receive from the Black Quasi-Socialist Progressive Fundamentalist. The BQPF is SILENT on attacking IGNORANT BLACKS who are poor or victims of racism.
ENGLISH motherf@cka! ENGLISH!!!
What are the parallels? What the HELL are you talking about?

There was NO ATTACK mentioned in the article. So what in the world are you talking about, CONVOLUTED Feedback?
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They go all out, however to attack Blacks who are poltiically literate and have an ideological position that is contrary to the power holders.
DUMBASS!!! You are the dumbest m@therf@cka here. There are plenty of people here more politically and academically literate than you can ever hope to be. So find another WHITE BOY METHOD. That one is fucked on its face.

NEXT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
quote:
Originally posted by Constructive Feedback:
When are you, Kevin and others going to stop OUTSOURCING a responsibility that FALLS BACK ON THE BLACK COMMUNITY where the GOVERNMENT has failed you?


I don't know what you and others may have against one another, but this rife between you all is becoming a problem. No matter what the topic, one single argument seems to consistently infiltrate nearly every discussion in this forum. This article simply tells the story of one person's insistence on making learning to read and write a primary importance. What is wrong with that? Why must we turn every discussion into a Whites against Blacks thing?

quote:
Today there are no White folks buring books that Black folks have in our possession.


Had it ever occurred to you that reading historical pieces like this one could actually inspire Black youngsters to develop a stronger interest in reading? Perhaps reading about how African people of the past took incredible pride in knowing how to read and write can serve as a positive influence on Black children. More importantly, perhaps if more stories like this one describing POSITIVE things about Black people compared to all of the NEGATIVE things that we hear about Blacks were told more often, then you would get the results that you are desire to see in the Black community.
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I don't know what you and others may have against one another, but this rife between you all is becoming a problem. No matter what the topic, one single argument seems to consistently infiltrate nearly every discussion in the forum.
CON-Feed just cries out for any attention he can get, especially negative attention. Nevertheless, none of that (the back-and-forth between him and whomever) has to take away from what your extract from and add to a discussion, particularly here.

See...? Instead of coming back with a response on the article itself, you're engaging CON-Feed, knowing he's FULL OF SHIT even while pretending that you want no parts of his(our) sh*t.

It's pretty silly to me to talk about things off-topic, infiltrating discussions when, after having read the article here and promising, basically, that you would comment ON THE ARTICLE... and then turn around and comment in manner other than what you originally set out to do.

Now, as for me... I was going to say (whenever you commented ON THE ARTICLE) that I see an intersection both in terms of things alluded to in your thread (lower class parents without the financial means/stability to be at home to read to their kids) and what I linked to while I was kickin' CON-Feed's ass.

See... I can do mine at the same time. Business and Signifying Pleasure.

Instead of even commenting on CON-Feed... you could have did as you promised to do: Took some time to think about the article then posted your thoughtful response ON THE ARTICLE. But you didn't. For whatever reason, you (against all pretenses to the contrary) found it easier or more desirable, apparently, to address CON-Feed.

Now, you can completely disregard everything I've just said and go ahead and post in the manner you intially promised or wanted to - registering your thoughts on the article thereby laying the groundwork for eliciting the type of discussion you prefer on this thread.
Yep Rowe....I really know that CF is a pussy and I do not have too much to say to him since he is in the bitch mode of making little comments (see his signature) and running from direct questions at the same time.....in terms of my name usage, I guess that is some weird azz bitch form of admiration that he is trying to get out of his system...he's going to f-k with the wrong type of person one day and they are going to come for his azz...me i'm not trippin at all...I could give a damn less about him or about talking to him from this point forward...I hate fucking pussy azz cowards...I really do.........
More directly... for my thoughts on the article, you can review my thoughts on my Accumulated Wealth.... of Knowledge thread. I believe the author's story and historical references, both to his family and the general class history of African-Americans and their access and AVAILability to a [privileged,] learning culture/enviroment, are indicative of that idea.

Contrary to CON-Feedisms... (aka WHITE-isms), the article did not attempt to EXCUSE anything. It did, however, EXPLAIN what accounts for, at least in part, the author's ability to "succeed" (the elements included in his family history of success and how it was passed down from generation to generation, etc.) as well as the ultimate MYTH BUSTING of the idea of the American Meritocracy. Clearly, the author relayed how certain things, certain advantages are, in some respects, class based.

House Slave vs. Field Slave. Obviously, there was not only a Knowledge Inheritance that was passed on but, as you alluded to, a confidence factor there as well.

Also, I would point out (in MYTH BUSTING fashion) how socio-economic status is, generally, class-bound - i.e. how, generally, there is NOT much class/social mobility.

American Idle
From Generation to Generation, Chances for Economic Advancement Aren't Improving Much
    "...A substantial body of research finds that at least 45% of parents' advantage in income is passed along to their children, and perhaps as much as 60%. With the higher estimate, it's not only how much money your parents have that matters-even your great-great-grandfather's wealth might give you a noticeable edge today."




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