Sunday, June 11, 2006

Megan's "Reconstructing Memories" (Web Assignment #1)

After reading selections from the interviews of James Reeves and Frank Wise I was surprised that it wasn't what they said that was the most significant part of the interview but how it was said and what was not said. For instance, it was clear that the family unit held importance to them. Mr. Reeves and Wise recounted the names and kin of their immediate families. It is noteworthy that the whereabouts of many family members were unknown. The slaves led lives where family members simply vanished without a trace and that was that. It is hard to imagine living like that. The people and land were entwined as the former slaves knew whose plantation their family and relatives lived on and how it affected the family. As significant the family was to these two men, they did not voice any emotion in regards to how angry it made them when the white men would beat up and kill family members like their mothers and grandmothers. This strikes me as peculiar as I would expect to hear a passionate verse or two expressing hatred towards those that wronged their family. I question how they have been conditioned to regard one another as property rather than people. It was a hard time and it was clear that the family unit suffered from slavery.

Aside from the brief summary each gave on their family background, the bulk of the interview was spent discussing the way of life for these men as slaves and as newly freedmen. The Ku Klux Klan were very prominent threat to these men and their families. They would terrorize them at night, keeping them away from voting and keeping their working conditions poor.

The widespread lawlessness of the West was clear. The brutal whippings and beatings of the slaves was commonplace. Reeves grandmother had lost her eyesight to particularly gruesome treatment. His mother's wounds stayed with her to the grave which again speaks of the ruthless treatment of women. Noted by Reeves, "She never did like to tell the details. But the scars were awful." It is understandable that the slaves, disrespected time and time again by whites, were never forthcoming with tales of violence. It was a way of life. However, this code of "don't ask don't tell" is instrumental in studying the history of the slaves for it is nearly impossible to know exactly what went on. People might have only been able to handle what they were going through and did not want to hear the troubles of others. This is a possibility of why the big picture of slavery could be less than wholly accurate and reliable.

To gauge what these men placed importance upon in their lives, the interviewer could have just asked "Tell me about your life" or some broad prompt. Instead, the interviewer went by a checklist-like barrage of statements which the men then responded to. I thought this could take the time away from what they would have wanted to talk more about - like how they felt about these atrocities their families had suffered.

Power and participation is prevalent in the lives of these men. The whites are in, what they believe, a constant power struggle. This leads to the patrollers, voting laws, violence, and anti-black organizations. They feel that the blacks are taking what is not rightfully theirs -- such as land, education, money, respect, and most importantly, power in government.


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