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Levi Jordan
Plantation

I heard it through the Grapevine: Oral Tradition in a Rural African American Community in Brazoria, Texas

by Cheryl Wright

Transcript of a meeting held at the plantation in the summer of 1994 between members of the plantation's descendant communities (African American and European American) and Ken Brown, Cheryl Wright, Carol McDavid, and a few archaeology students. This transcript was included in the appendix of Cheryl Wright's thesis; some of the meeting wasn't included here, because it was inaudible on the tape.

Note from Carol McDavid:

As I read this now (in late 1998) I realize that most of the talking during this meeting was done by the researchers, although my recollection is that there was a very positive atmosphere after the meeting was over. I suspect that my remembrance is influenced by the "headiness" of the occasion – it was the very first time most of the researchers, other than Cheryl, had met any of the African-American descendants. Also, the meeting was held in the main living room of the plantation, so the symbolic aspects of the occasion weren't lost on anyone present. None of these descendants had ever set foot in the building before, and the sheer fact of their presence was pretty important in itself.

Since this was the first time that researchers had had an opportunity to share their motivations and agendas, perhaps it is not innappropriate that our statements seem to overshadow the input we received from the other descendants that day. We needed to make our points of view known, and to begin to develop some trust in them, before anyone would really speak to us. Subsequent interactions built, in part, on this first meeting – and continued with the organization of the Levi Jordan Plantation Historical Society. The meeting recounted below was one of our first attempts to build a collaboration, and in the long run I believe that it was more important than the transcript reveals.

 

First there was a slide show presentation of artifacts recovered at the Levi Jordan Plantation, conducted by Ken Brown

DISCUSSION FOLLOWING SLIDE SHOW:

Topic- What should happen with artifacts and information gathered about the Jordan Plantation?

KEN BROWN: Using this site, or some other site, to do that with. Where’s Cheryl?

CHERYL WRIGHT: Here I am.

KEN BROWN: Where’s Carol? [raises hand]

KEN BROWN: Cheryl has been out trying to collect oral history because of our belief that there’s an awful lot that we don’t have in the archaeological record that we would very much like to. Carol is going to be doing a Master’s Thesis on what, if anything, we’re going to do with this house, and property, and site – in terms of trying to interpret the history of slavery and tenancy to people who may want to do that history. But what we do is up to everybody around here in the entire community. What’s going to be here, if anything.

AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: You should just let it stay here.

KEN BROWN: What do you mean by let it stay here?

AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: It’s really more valuable to the local people around here.

CHERYL WRIGHT: As far as the information? To have something here on this site that would educate the people not only of this area but also of possibly other people coming in. Like – is that what you think?

CAROL MC DAVID: So whatever happens, you feel like the material should stay here?

KEN BROWN: To respond to that – other than what has been sent to the Smithsonian for their use until 1997, all of it is staying here and that material is coming back here.

CHERYL WRIGHT: Hey, ya’ll wake up! I told them ya’ll were going to give them your opinions. Do you think it ought to be like some type of museum here, do you think it should be some type of living, working something that goes through the daily process of reconstructing the history or what do you think?

AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: I think it should be the very best thing out of all of those. The very best choosing. Whatever’s the very best thing to have.

CHERYL WRIGHT: Do you think only the material culture should be represented or do you think that stories should be told about families because almost everybody in this room is related to the people whose stuff we’re talking about. So do you think we should talk about the families on a personal basis, or just show the material stuff or what do you think?. Mrs. _____, what do you think? You as everyone in here has a vested interest in this. Would you want to see the story of __________ (African American family) told or do think it should be left as collective?

Do you think that we should...what do you think should happen to this information? Should it be anonymous or do you think we should talk about the people that were here? Like would you want to hear the story of __________ or would you want your family history to be preserved for only you and your immediate family?

AFRICAN AMERICAN DESCENDANT: I think the immediate family. What would other people want with it? It would depend on what is being told.

CHERYL WRIGHT: So as far as the stuff I talked about with everybody, is like everyday life stuff. Would that be O.K. to be presented as a collective knowledge of how the people survived in this community, but just not talk about actual family members’ names? Would that be agreeable.?

[general murmured assent]

PERSONAL ARGUMENTS FOR FUTURE INTERPRETIVE PROJECT

CAROL MC DAVID: So ya’ll have to think about this a little bit?

KEN BROWN: Let me just say that the reason that we are doing this is because – I have (I’ll make this personal since I’m running the damn thing). I have a desire to know how a group of people survived two extremely oppressive systems: one slavery – and one tenancy. They did so in very interesting fashions. They combined alot of things, they redefined alot of things. That’s what we’re getting back there. I think telling the history as we can from that material – The adaptation of the people to slavery and tenancy is to me what’s important, not which family did anything. I can’t put anybody’s names to anything we have. I can’t do it. And I don’t want to do it. But I do think that history’s important and people have to know it.

CAROL MC DAVID: When I was brought up, I may get personal too – When I was brought up, and I’m 40, I was in school in the 50’s and 60’s. So much of what I learned about American history – I just didn’t learn very much about African American history. It wasn’t in the books. I don’t know if it wasn’t in the books because they were written mostly by White people or what. I didn’t learn much. When I got older and started learning more about African American history, and like Dr. Brown says, the ways that people survived really awful things in an oppressive system – Then I wanted to know more because it made me understand how people dealt with their surroundings. Creatively and beautifully. The things here are beautiful in my mind. I guess it seems to me that people might want to know. That’s one of the reasons we’re asking you what you think. These are your families’ histories. Other people may have been interested. I would have been.

ANGLO DESCENDANT: It’s obvious that if the Smithsonian Institute wants some of these pieces out of this collection that other people are really interested in this. I don’t think they’re going to be showing things that people don’t have an interest in.

CAROL MC DAVID: The exhibition that the Smithsonian is borrowing the stuff for is called "Before Freedom Came." It was on display already in three museums and they had record attendance in all three museums. But the attendance was monumental by all races of people who came to see the show that that’s why they’re having this traveling exhibition and they’re going to be going all over the country to tell people of all races in our country what it was like to be a slave or what it was like to be a tenant in America in our history. I’m guessing people are pretty interested. In order to do it justice, the people who are directly involved, like ya’ll, need to have real solid input into what happens. It’s not just something we’re asking just to ask to make us feel good. You may want to think about it later and call Cheryl up and tell her you’ve got an opinion about it. That would be helpful. It concerns you and your families. Whatever is done needs to be with your advice, your counsel, your ideas because ya’ll are the ones that matter.

CHERYL WRIGHT: Unfortunately, I don’t think the history books are any better now than they were back in the 60’s. We’re still lacking very much in the area of Black history in all phases from the beginning of time in this country on up. This is our chance to try to educate people. Because the things that have been written – I mean in some of the work I’ve done – It’s been real hard pressed to look through some of these books that are written with these and know that there’s another side. Because I’ve been down here. I’ve talked with people and I know that there’s another side. It makes me angry that side’s not being represented. That’s why I have the passion and "scariness" I do about me because I feel that this is something I feel like really needs to be done for everybody.

CAROL MC DAVID: I think I’d be a different person today if I had grown up learning about the history of all the people in my country. Now that I’m middle-aged I can try to make up for lost time. And then I can help other kids learn. We do alot of work with kids here, I don’t know how much Cheryl’s told ya’ll. We bring alot of kids here to not only learn about Archaeology, but to learn about African American history and history of the South. History of the __________ and the __________ too. (Anglo families) We’re trying to look at it as a group of people ----- the _____, the _____ (Anglo families) and the people who lived back in the quarters and the people who lived in the house we haven’t been able to find yet. A group of people that lived together, and they figured out a way to do it. Maybe it wasn’t great alot of the time, but I wish I had known that history.

 

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Carol McDavid 1998

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