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tv   Tiya Miles All That She Carried  CSPAN  November 23, 2021 5:17am-6:20am EST

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>> welcome to the museum. i am the executive director. i want to thank all of you for watching the programs thank you to our cosponsors and now
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it is my pleasure to introduce the royal house and slave quarters director who will introduce tonight's guest. >> thank you tom i have the absolute honor and privilege to introduce one of the most renowned and prolific historians of african-american and native american history today. don't take my word for it. the recipient of the macarthur foundation award. born and raised in cincinnati ohio the nab afro-american studies from harvard university, and a women's studies for memory phd american studies university of minnesota. currently a professor of history at harvard also the director of the charles lawrence center for studies of american history. i'm not kidding when i say
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doctor miles is prolific author of six books, her first but ties that bind from the organization of american historians and american study association and the house on diamond hill one public history and the american society for ethnic history book prices. her novel was an award finalist. also public lecture series won the award for social history and the history of race relations from the organization of american and historians. but then the legacy award of nonfiction an american book award and the frederick douglass prize. we are all here to learn all that she carries which
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receives an outpouring of faith some of that comes from the back of the book and then to confront the staggering atrocity of american slavery and the beauty of the lie street chronicles with the brilliant and tenderness i can attest of where she approaches history. setting off to do research she told me she was more interested in what i could do with five documents than 500. at the time i did not quite understand she was preparing me to confront the reality that the stories of the very people who were compelled to this nation would be left out of the archives but we must tell their stories anyway.
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her words remind me the work of a great historian and storyteller is to demolish a limitation and then think creatively and expansively how we can ask new questions and utilize new sources to paint a portrait of black women's lives. and those that of the fullness. and devotion to the ancestors lives in history. with black studies in women's studies and then to be more defiant in the stories that we tell snow i would like to while on - - welcome doctor miles.
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>> that was so generous and so wonderful. thank you. so i could go to bed right now healthy with what it is you just said. what a pleasure it is. and to have you in my life it is really gratifying to be here and i am grateful to the museum for inviting me because they are critical to the interpretation for the public for the homes and the
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caretakers for those that we are talking about tonight. really could not be happier to come before you. i am actually away from my home right now. i am on nantucket island doing research on another museum with american history which is centered on historic sites built by the black community hill on - - here going back to the 19th century. >> so i have about 15 or 20 minutes for the framework.
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this is where i started when i was inspired and it has surprisingly impactful life.
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although it looks on the surface to be white plane. and then on the fact and finish in the following way and with that fabrication. height 29 feet. eleven by 16 so with this example that came in the 18
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forties with the invention of the sewing machine. double locking strips and then to feel strong enough to hold heavy cotton. and then that was the work as well as her partner and then some of those from the artifact. so until this past march the smithsonian museum and african-american museum for history and culture. but it is a national historic landmark but with the
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plantation but the foundation is the owner of the fact into the smithsonian. and then to visit charleston international african-american. this has taken so many twists and turns in the pivotal movement and acceptable moment looking through bins in tennessee and to come across. and then for $20.
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and then to be discovered is not at all what it seems. because in fact even more compelling have enslaved women's lives or craftwork or black families or inheritances. things are passed down it is a common family practice and one i have been fortunate enough to engage in as well so books
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and photographs from parents and grandparents. but with that condition it is that difference that we feel very familiar that draws our focus to see the wealth because in this case a black mother with no financial assets of the enslaved woman
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in charleston in the 18 fifties so in that moment that we can scarcely imagine that there is a variety of items. and then at nine -year-old little girl named ashley. when she learned she was to be sold away from her she got on her feet and she made a may have been the final judgment
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call. what is required to keep one alive? and then to answer that question address, becomes and a mother's love. today those except her love so with all she carried i tried to think about and open up a discussion of a means for us
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to travel to the past four enslaved black women and to think about the larger stories of black family history and even larger stories of emergency if i can be done or what must be done when the world is collapsing in on a person. on a family come on a community and on a nation? i think address and a way to keep her closed and the shield from slave traders but also as
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a escape in disguise. so it could function like that representation of a mother herself. and because that is our dna it could've symbolized it was for us to get our hands on and from down in south carolina but to go further west and
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another area and starting from last texas and mexico. so it turns out to be incredibly nutritious and then to stave off hunger but then love is the biggest and boldest thing that day. and for ashley to end her suffering. >> and then half of these
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items after passing it down to her granddaughter and then a free woman from the first wave of the great migration and then there was a story that i just told you. a black mother's eternal love. my great-grandmother rose. so she was sold at age nine in south carolina.
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and she never saw her again. ashley is my grandmother. 1921. >> this story separation and loss is common for slavery and is common in the experience and yet breathtaking to this mother and daughter with the specificity we pair of the whole repair of the fact that that fact of that story but
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despite that atrocity. and also to give a hand how they could survive. and then to identify and that to generously provide. and that hierarchy of human needs. and although that may seem like a bit of a stretch. . . . .
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belonging to a community. belonging to a family. belonging to a group. this was no ordinary object. it was survival. evidence and emergency survival at the face of disaster. it is one-of-a-kind. it can perhaps be a model
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entities. this is hope for her daughters perseverance once realized. it came to pass. her daughter rosaura and her daughter ruth. so, the book said it in motion. a single black woman, rose, a seemingly modest act was where the story ended. a family's perseverance against the odds. the book offers a cautionary tale about the personal team at the collective price, the society values. in this case, a single girl.
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this story rooted in the archives of written records and also the intimacy of the heart. we can grasp for and reach for. the inhumane world. the treasures, traumas and capacity that we all inherit and carry. thank you. >> professor, thank you so much for that moving presentation and this wonderful book which i cannot recommend highly enough to our viewers. it is so racially textured. we want to do it justice.
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i really encourage our readers and viewers to get the book. similar to how you ended it, it is an honor to be here with you this evening. some hesitation because it really feels like a sacred item. rose rendering them sacred. a mother's enduring love. so deeply poignant, again, in that moment of grief when it was passed. i was just wondering if you would, on that and what it has been like to work these past years with artifact and the emotions it has evoked in you. >> yes. this is an important question. it really goes to the center of the process. many of us work on history,
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enslavement and abuse experience first, to the word sacred which you picked up on in the book. i did not use this word lightly. because, as an academic, as a scholar, we have been trained to understand the lives between different kinds of methods and between different ways of knowing and understanding before us. i am not a theologian. not what i study.
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not what i am trained to try to understand. scholars of the american past and other nations past tend to try to separate themselves from questions unless they are particularly studying those topics. but, when i first saw, the first thing that i experienced was an intense feeling of shock and sadness and disbelief. how could this happen. a way that it compels us to give back what we already know. i thought and felt all of these things that i immediately felt. this is such a special artifact.
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such a special thing. it is not like a document. i then had to caution myself and remind myself even though i am responding immediately and emotionally to this very powerful object, -- that is sort of what we are supposed to do as scholars, as historians. we promise. with colleagues, with readers, with students, we will put on our hats, gather all of the evidence that we can, and card about what we find in the interpretations that are found. i tell myself, yes, this feels like something a different realms.
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it feels different. my job was to look at it from many different angles. to do the work of trying to take it apart and put it back together again. once i had gone through that reckoning, i realized, to be true, the artifact itself will also have to come back around full-circle to that space of emotion. this is the centerpiece of the thing. love is the center. the center of this. in the end, i came back wanting to give spirituality a place in the book.
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even if i could not understand it completely or describe it concretely. to put it at the center of the book. >> there are chapters, i thought we would just very briefly go over the three principal figures. you asked what do we know about rose? not one record described as the martin family describes rose or the life that she lives. staying behind a wall. saying, we know at least that rose refused to submit to a lie that she had no right, instead she claimed her child and provided an environment.
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a radical stance for the archives revealed to us a potential force of human will against the odds. a sketch of the story of rose and why rose and ashley were separated. >> the story of rose is also the story of the search for rose in the section that you read. because we just don't have the records that we want, the records that we need to tell about the people because they were not their own record keepers, for the most part. they are not important in the eyes of whom did have the wherewithal to keep records. i think that we will never get
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as close to her as we may wish to. never be able to say concretely what she was thinking, how she was feeling or even what she did the items that we have about roses life is on that. to me that is both frustrating and also beautiful. it is beautiful because this fact was obtained by black women, past down by black women. i think that we can assume it was patched by black women in that family. it was cared for by black women. it was attended by black women. that is the kind of lineage that uplifts their experiences. it uplifts their voices. it forces us to look beyond our
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past. archives are wonderful thing. traveling and doing research. and yet they are limited and they are flawed. what we do know about rose is derived from very muted archival it was first done by an anthropologist. he pieced together bits and pieces about her life looking at south carolina records. i did the same, independently and with some help. what we found weird that mark had found, which is very helpful because it gives us a greater
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sense of confidence that what we think we know about rose and ashley is probably what took place. and what the story now is is that rose was a young woman enslaved by a man in charleston. a wealthy man, but not —-dash reaping into the upper of the south carolina elites. he did that probably by marrying his wife. herself the daughter of a man who enslaved black people. robert martin, he was sort of a grocery at first. when he became a cotton factory, he handled richer people's money
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he really seemed to have thought that he made it when he was able to acquire his own plantation in the western part of the state of south carolina. around the same time robert martin began reselling in the 1830s and 1840s. i speculate that rose may have come into his hands at the same period. there are records of him selling and acquiring other black people a number of enslaved lack people with the plantation that he bought in south carolina. martin became really rich. and then this was in 1852.
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we know from the study that when the slaveholder, when they die, all sort of terrible things happen to the people that they own. those people lives, black people's lives, americans who were enslaved were attached to the lives of their enslavers. it was not uncommon for people to be sold when their owners died. robert martin died and soon after ashley was sold. i think it is also the case that after rose died, although i cannot say that for sure. once ashley is sold, we don't have records about her. if it was not for the fact we
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may think that she had not survived. ruth being that carry right of that story and having the commitment, the creativity to sow it down. >> how she says that she is my grandmother, ashley is my grandmother. you assume that ashley was alive you cannot know for sure, because you assumed that she was alive. >> that is right. so much that i tried to do is draw out whatever might be present in those few sentences and then open them up. into interpretation. this is one of those moments that you just refer to, tom.
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it says that ashley is my grandmother. to my mind, there used to be present to suggest that they knew one another. >> you right beautifully. so many african-american ancestors seem to vanish. behind what genealogists sometimes call the wall of slavery. ashley was just nine years old. what could this meant for real living child? nearly impossible for many of us to fathom. it skips a generation. we will talk in a minute about ruth. ruth had a mother and you are able to discover some things about the generation between ashley and ruth.
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maybe you can tell us. >> yes. there is a gap in the history. more than one gap in the history. one that appears quite surprisingly in the later. so there is a bit of information about rose, information about ashley, ashley then seems -- and then we have ruth. the granddaughter. of course, there is someone in between. there granddaughter in the grandmother and that person is the mother. i find it very interesting and inconclusive that the mother is not mentioned. we do not know why ruth chose not to include her own mother in the story. her own mother was most likely a woman named rosa. that is what the census records
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tell us. this would make perfect sense. it is a tradition. a. for people to name children and grandchildren back to their ancestors. another one of those ways of obtaining the connection. even when the slavery system and tends to bury these very important connections. rosa grew up and lived her life out in south carolina. working as a domestic which was an occupation for most black women in the early 20th century. >> and then you talked about the significance of ruth's decision to capture the story. she could have written it down
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on paper. she chose embroidery. we have our first question from the audience. it looks almost like a poem. talk a little bit about your thoughts of the importance of embroidery and how it was actually laid out or how the words are. >> yes. i agree with the person that asked that question. so many in it. i think it does look like a poem. it reads like a poem. some of the elements of the haiku form. at times i think of it as being like a recipe. like a list of things that one needs to make something. make life. it is a story. it also has the look of a
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document. it is the case that embroiderer 's were typically women at the middle classes. often white. some of the reasons at the bottom of some of their handiwork. that is not unusual for someone that does embroidery. at the same time, could this embroidered text, next to a written document which will also have the name and the date and the format looks very similar. these kinds of connections makes me think my goodness, how creative, how brilliant, how innovative two layer the single record of a family story with all of these different suggestions of various forms.
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questions about embroidery, i sat with this for a wild. i found it curious and interesting. i found it challenging because i am working with written texts and especially narratives written by black women that had been enslaved and managed to escape it either wrote their stories down themselves or tracked their stories to someone else. so, i, of course, wondered. it seems like it would be easier to let it down. and maybe she did. i cannot assume she did not write it down just because we don't have that piece of paper. perhaps she wrote down for her own purposes to save for her own
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family. perhaps she wrote it down as a way of sketching out what she would do for the embroidery. but she did take another step. she took the step of selling the story which as i began to think about this as i was reading about embroidery, really seems to indicate that ruth was for her own status, for her own dignity. because while minority women, for the most part, that kind of work was reserved for white women for elite women and the middle class. so, for ruth who came from a long line of black women who had been domestic through an slavery
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, for total, the very limited set of black women she took it apart from that kind of labor. associated herself with a middle-class style of respectability, femininity, adornment and i think that i ended up thinking, i think, you know, to this moment, that this is a political aspect. i am here. i can do this. during her time within her
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society. this particular piece of african-american women has a certain vibrancy to it. taking some action. tell us what you mean by that. i am thinking about the fact as a thing, it hurts by two different inputs. how i felt when i saw the fact. being drawn into something that
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was not an animate object. it had its own vibrancy on life. i think other people have that experience. this astronomy. this mix for me. i think more people experience that as well. they don't tend to have that impact. they will not have an impact on me that way. it seems to exist. it seems to have a sense of life around them.
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talking about academic work. i think this is the love. this embroidery tells us. that is one input. the other input is an academic conversation around objects and things and the difference between those two terms. interchangeably because it is more efficient. it suggests an object during that period and so that whole
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matter of thinking is exposed to me as well. trying to articulate this. not just an ordinary thing. >> have you located any descendents, any living descendents of ruth? >> i have not located any. i have tried. >> in my previous projects i have some. i do not think that there is been one thing that i have published that has been out therefore, you know, a handful of months.
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it is really exciting when it happens. >> speaking of contemporary times, early on in the books, margaret and how they also connect to material culture and your family, i thought you could briefly tell us that story. >> it seems sort of special. people who see it often describe being called into a more intense
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space of their own memory of loved ones. other people, for instance mention these children, for example. i know that it is very sad. very sad. when it does that, it brings forward those very difficult painful memories. also for people to read the story. think about how on wielding grief seems to be. and then see that ashley survived. .... ....
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>> but they had lots of cows
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and the land and they were doing very well but they lost their land because they were tricked or pushed or threatened into signing a waiver with those x marks because he cannot read or write so at that moment they were thrown into poverty. they were thrown into poverty and basically had to claw their way back up to any type of cyst subsistence living some another went north and
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then thinking back always to that moment in mississippi it was recurring and she told that many many times. the hero of the story as she told it even though the family was cheated, tricked into give up their livestock and their things and their land but margaret szabo is happening and ran out the back door and got one of their cows and walked over to their neighbors house so she saved that one cow which was incredible and how they would've been lost without that one cow because i'm so fortunate to have
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because of the story of resilience. >> you write i never met her or even saw a picture of her but i have seen in touch and admire the work of her hands is just as colorful. the fabric from the blankets and dignity preserved and help in dire times so this comes to the end of our time and asking you questions earlier of calling you to action i thought you might talk a little bit more the burden of relations but also contains
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model for repurposed thing and regenerating relationships as they engage in workup shared purpose. there are a number of times that i found quite inspiring with the notion of the challenges that others face and notify read into it or if that was your intent we can you comment on that quick. >> that is an important thing that i see in the story. but actually this year in our nations history we have been
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divided already many ways with affiliation but things became much more vitriolic and intense than 2016. it seems like they are only getting worse. this process actually helps me to deal with all the vitriol strife and division because what if ashley thinks the separation not one is insurmountable to make a mark on their defendant on - - their descendents forever but with that connection through love that women enabled ashley
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to know her worth and stay connected to her mother and her grandmother's. i hesitate to say this because they feel sometimes we overuse these words but i am heartened to realize that at times like this i am right back to the source i think love is the answer that we have also been emergency and crisis and separation. >> asserting i didn't ask you
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wanted to share? >> yes i have a few thoughts here. there is a line in the book i've heard people repeat back to me so i want to share them here. and it's the line that says we're our descendents ancestors. it's important because it underscores that we have to act to care for them to come after us. >> i'm surprised because that's the quote that i chose
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i will fit into context was there is three short quotations the quiet restriction of life liberty and beauty leave and for those at the bottom and in an eloquent defense of our country's ideals by indicting failures can we commit our imaginations like ashley and ruth once did to stitching the story cost of tomorrow there is no safe place the walls of the world are closing and we have to get out of here in a hurry and out of these frames of mind that elevates mastery over compassion and division over connection and greed over care separating us from one another the state of political and planetary emergency are to
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die not trying we are the ancestors of our descendents era generation with the radical hope of survival thank you so much for joining us this evening and thank you for n
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