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Walter Rhett 

"A Glory Over 

History's Invisible Veil 

Conversations about the Faith and Acts 
of Charleston's Families 

A Conversation 

About Faith and Obstacles, Family and Triumph 

For the 1 47 th Jubilee of African-Americans. 

Invisible Veil 

*A Glory Over 

History's Invisible Veil 

"Beloved, let us love one another, 
because love is of Cod. " 
"Remember your word to your servant, 
In which you have made me hope. " 

For Damali Marie Chou 


The Women of My Twitter Community 

Everybody Cone 

"A Glory Over Everything" 

History's Invisible Veil 

A Southern Perlo 

Griot Source Book 


Book One 

'But whenever he entered the Lord's presence to speak 
with him, he removed the veil until he came out." 

Exodus 34:34 

Hilton Head, South Carolina Celebration; 
4 th of July, 1936. 

"A Glory Over Everything' 

"Summon your power, O God, 

the power, O God, by which you have worked for us. 

Psalm 68:28 

"Lord, give them better," goes the powerful prayer of a 
South Carolina woman, recorded on Hilton Head Island, South 
Carolina in 1 932 by linguist Lorenzo Turner and found in the 
Library of Congress archives. Lost in the broad annals of American 
slavery and its aftermath are the many prayers and individual acts 
of courage whose invisible silence is used today to shut down the 
struggle for better. But behind that veil is a surviving mystic, a 
knowledge of time outside of its silence. A belief achieved by faith 
that bears fruit in a bramble of thorns. It lies there, behind the 
invisible divide, resting, waiting in the silence of the old ways. 
Silent now, it was once the muscle that made the way. 

Ann Romney is one absorbed by the deceptions that spring from 
this silence. She voids its unspoken acts of courage and is blind to 
its mystic. She can not clearly articulate the difference between 
wealth and privilege, and poverty and the dependency and 
submission demanded of the poor. She does not know their prayer. 
Her failure to know its significance and tension, her incoherence 
and mangled syntax; her non-existent sense of justice shows her 
lack of experience with and isolation from mainstream lives and 
history. Like Zora Neale Hurston said, "None of them knew." 

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"A Glory Over Everything' 

That absence of reference belies her struggle. She knows facts, but 
not unspoken truth, not inner reflection. She is unable to establish 
an ethic of knowledge about the obstacles and soaring possibilities 
of women's lives. One commenter thoughtfully explained: 

Ann Romney's choice to stay at home is not the same kind of 
choice that women of ordinary means have to make. For 
them, the choice is often a balancing act between being 
involved in their children's lives or going out and earning 
enough money to survive. Hilary Rosen meant that Ann 
Romney didn't have to face that kind of choice. Ann Romney 
will never have to worry about paying for medical care, 
food, clothing, and tuition. She'll never have to explain to 
her kids why they can't have the things that other kids have. 
When Ann Romney says that raising five boys was work, 
many mothers will say, yes it is. Try doing it on a part-time 
salary at Wal-Mart with no health benefit. 

It's a disgrace that the media failed to find the real story in 
Rosen's comment, the one in which people of extraordinary 
wealth are unlikely to fully understand the plight of the poor 
and the middle class. The wealthy confuse being poor with 
being broke, considering it a temporary situation that will be 
resolved when the trust fund kicks in. 

Women are a majority but still a marginalized population. They are 
under attack. Without a recognition of the dangers and distress 
women face, untempered cheerfulness, though well mannered, 
sounds like ingratitude. 

Trying to be authentic, Ann Romney authors confusion. She misses 
the hazards and anchors women use to hold their place when she 

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says, "I love it when women have to work." Rather than 
understanding women, she is looking at her own safe place. 

That old South Carolina woman knew there was little to love about 
being poor or field work, yet she offered a prayer bright with hope. 
She doesn't want to fit in, doesn't have to pretend to anyone what 
living has taught her and her three word prayer rises far beyond 
petition. It is a beatific prayer. In her full submission, she is 
directing God, commanding his will for her highest purpose. It is 
her commandment to him, and she fully expects him to follow. Her 
prayer is rooted in the calling of their same shared love; lay the 
burdens down: give them better. 

Ann Romney fumbles. But the elder prays and addresses the 
wrongs she witnessed and knows, the needs she sees and feels, 
the status and opportunities of the children that shall come after 
her and the world they will make and find. She knows it's not the 
work or tasks that women do that speaks for them, but the silent 

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innate ability to transform, to change the world one breath at a 
time even when you can't catch your breath, or can't breathe from 
worry or all the faces or the crushing load; the long journey or the 
tight turns and demands waiting on you ahead. 

On this ability to transform Toni Morrison has Sula take flight at 
the end of her novel, why she says the secret is to ride the air; it's 
embedded in the myth, "The People Who Could Fly," repeated 
during slavery, told again and again in the quarters. People knew 
people who had seen folk lay down hoes and baskets of sheaves 
and lift themselves straight into the air. It's the source of the 
welcome meeting with the band of angels, the sly knowledge of the 
chariot's power over the carriage of privilege. The elder knows 
storms have defining fury. She knows battered shores. She is a 
vested rebel; she shook the bedrock each day she walked and lay 
anchor in prayer. She expects God to deliver on his promise. 

Would Ann Romney of cheerful manners speak these simple, clear 
words to her husband, her life partner who seeks our nation's 
highest position of service? Is there a higher, more succinct calling 
then these three words the old woman places before God? Is there 
any doubt about what she means? 

Powerful clarity takes courage. Courage rises with the same ease as 
prayer when it is elevates not desire but love. In the dark era of 
slavery, couples whose love was a light of courage influenced the 
nation's course and gave us better. The women in these families 

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faced more than ridicule or mockery. Daily they walked in 
circumstances a step away from death. They raised children whose 
education was illegal and whose bodies were sold. They loved their 
god but mostly hated their choices, but found the courage to act. 
Their voices and prayers rest in, but also anchor, our history. A 
poet said "what leaves their lips has its source in their hearts." 

Catherine Springs, a free woman of color and financial means, the 
leading merchant of women's fashion in my southern hometown 
(Summerville, SC) before and after the Civil War, she left a legacy of 
love and courage. A large property owner, Miss Kitty donated land 
and helped fund a hospital, school, and church for the community. 

She spread confidence through the leading edge of fashion. Her 
home trunk shows, staged from her "single buggy piled with boxes 
for the ladies to make their selections," delighted the children, 
adults, and neighbors who mingled as Ms. Kitty revealed the 
season's latest from the buyers in New York. She knew the joys and 
budgets of her women and they trusted her guiding hand. 

Miss Kitty knew how to hail the attention of a town; her visits were 
events of dazzling excitement and memories. But she also knew 
how to get Cod to take notice. For the way you live, the way you 
connect what you know through your steps and words is the way 
you get God's ear and live in the giant steps of life's footprint. Even 
as a merchant, Miss Kitty knew better meant not living for worldly 
goods and prizes, but in accord with the question asked and 

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answered by her favorite Bible verse: "And what does the Lord 
require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly 
with your God." 

<^ EB ^ 

^<%> sa ^ 

Like Katherine Springs, Nancy Weston's prayers and verses for the 
nation and her children are unknown, her words in time's invisible 
veil. She, as Ms. Kitty, was a Charleston seamstress. Although 
enslaved, she worked to support herself and lived in a small house 
on St. Philip Street. The two women, Kitty Springs and Nancy 
Weston, shared an era, the crossing divide between slavery and 
freedom; they operated businesses in the same town. Both came 
from prominent families. Both knew the companionship and 
devotion of men of a different race. 

Ms. Kitty was a member of the freed Dibble family from Camden, 

SC. Decades later, a Dibble family member would take in a young 

1 4 year old girl who kept house for the chance to go to Mather 

Academy, the missionary supported boarding school across the 

street in Camden from the Dibble home. That young student was 

the mother of James Clyburn, the first elected African-American 

member of the US House of Representatives from South Carolina 

since Reconstruction and House Whip, its third ranking member, 

under Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

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Nancy Weston 

Nancy Weston was member of a noted family of craft and trades 
workers tied to Georgetown planter Plowden Weston. Hers was a 
large extended family of blended European, African, and Native 
American descent who were slave and free. In the mid-1 840s, a 
prominent young Charleston lawyer began a relationship with 
Nancy Weston after the death of his wife. His father was the Chief 
Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, a slaveholder with 1 4 
children. Two of his two sisters became famous abolitionists, Sarah 

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and Angelina Grimke. The fifth and youngest son, Henry Grimke, 
was the widowed lawyer smitten with Nancy Weston, a slave. 

As had his sisters before, he and Nancy soon left the city, but love 
drove him more than the politics of freedom. He resigned his law 
practice and moved her with him to a family rice plantation, Cane 
Acres, near Walterboro in the country. He built Nancy a small 
house and fathered her three sons. Small intimate details of their 
relationship survive in his letters to his older adult children in 
Charleston, whose mother Nancy had nursed through illness. 

Footprints: Words That Mark Our Way 

The difficulties of insight that plagued Ann Romney were also a 
part of the historic abolitionist and women's suffrage 
movements. In an July 23, 1 837 letter excerpt (following) to 
Catherine Beecher, (the activist sister of writer Harriet Beecher 
Stowe), Angelina Grimke looks at the deeper meaning and public 
impact implied by the types of views held by Romney and others. 
Views that demand terms of "convenience" for those who hold 

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DEAR FRIEND: Thou sayest, 'the best way to make a person 
like a thing which is disagreeable, is to try in some way to 
make it agreeable.' So, then, instead of convincing a person 
by sound argument and pointed rebuke that sin is sin, we 
are to disguise the opposite virtue in such a way as to make 
him like that, in preference to the sin he had so dearly loved. 
We are to cheat a sinner out of his sin, rather than to compel 
him, under the stings of conviction, to give it up from deep- 
rooted principle. . . 

Thou sayest, 'if a certain class of persons is the subject of 
unreasonable prejudice, the peaceful and Christian way of 
removing it would be to endeavor to render the unfortunate 
persons who compose this class, so useful, so humble, so 
unassuming, &c. that prejudice would be supplanted by 
complacency in their goodness, and pity and sympathy for 
their disabilities.' 'If the friends of the blacks had quietly set 
themselves to work to increase their intelligence, their 
usefulness, &c, and then had appealed to the pity and 
benevolence of their fellow citizens, a very different result 
would have appeared.' 

[cont'd next page] 

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Or in other words, if one person is guilty of a sin against 
another person, I am to let the sinner go entirely unreproved, 
but to persuade the injured party to bear with humility and 
patience all the outrages that are inflicted upon him, and thus 
try to soothe the sinner 'into complacency with their goodness' 
in 'bearing all things, and enduring all things.' Well, suppose I 
succeed:— is that sinner won from the evil of his ways by 
principle? No! 

Has he the principle of love implanted in his breast? No! 
Instead of being in love with the virtue exhibited by the 
individual, because it is virtue, he is delighted with the 
personal convenience he experiences from the exercise of that 
virtue. He feels kindly toward the individual, because he is an 
instrument of his enjoyment, a mere means to promote his 
wishes. There is no reformation there at all. 

I suppose the friends of the colored man were just as guilty as 
was the great Apostle, who, by the angry, and excited, and 
prejudiced Jews, was accused of being 'a pestilent fellow and a 
mover of sedition,' be cause he declared himself called to 
preach the everlasting gospel to the Gentiles, whom they 
considered as 'dogs,' and utterly unworthy of being placed on 
the same platform of human rights and a glorious immortality. 

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At Cane Acres, Nancy carried authority. She overruled the 
plantation's overseer, forbidding him to work the enslaved in the 
fields on Sunday and bring embarrassment to the family for 
violating the Sabbath; Henry backed her decision. She attacked 
Henry once in a domestic dispute and knocked him down. Mainly 
she tended her chickens and flowers. Her oldest child, Archibald, 
was given Henry as his middle name. But fate offered its twist; 
Henry the father died suddenly when the boys were young. 

Unlike women freed by "dead hands," (manumitted by a will) after 
Henry's death, Nancy's status remained unchanged. Nancy was 
given a small pension and returned to Charleston. She educated 
the boys, often making them recite aloud long passages as she 
listened. Just before the Civil War began, one of the older siblings 
claimed the brothers as his property, ignoring Nancy's assertion 
not to, as they were his brothers. Her sons were beaten, ran away, 
and one was purchased by a naval officer stationed in Charleston 
as a body servant. (One, the youngest, has been lost to time.) 

After the war, two brothers reunited and enrolled in Lincoln 
University in Pennsylvania. Notice in a Boston paper of a Grimke 
winning an oratorical contest caught the eye of one of their aunts. 
On the strength of the last name, she wrote to him, offering her 
praise, asking if he were one of the children of their family's 
servants. He wrote back informing her, he and his brother were her 
nephews. "Restore the Grimke name to its greatness," she urged. 

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Archibald Henry Grimke 

Archibald Henry Grimke went to Harvard Law (its second black 
graduate in 1874) long before Mitt Romney showed up, knowing 
nothing of the love and courage that trumped privilege and wealth 
to bring about this historic step. Archibald edited a newspaper and 
wrote several biographies. Archibald was a founder of the NAACP, 
served as president of the Washington, DC chapter, won the 
organization's prestigious Spingarn award. He vigorously opposed 
Woodrow Wilson's policy of racial segregation in the federal 
government and fought to maintain voting rights. He served as a 
US consul to the Dominican Republic. 

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Francis Grimke 

His brother, Francis James Grimke went on to Princeton Seminary 
and then ministered the 1 5 th Street Presbyterian Church in 
Washington, DC for 60 years. He was a trustee of Howard 
University and an outspoken voice for justice, addressing 
Presidents in his sermons. Washington, DC named a public school 
for him. His wife, Charlotte Forten, taught school in Port Royal, 
(Hilton Head) SC during the civil war. Her grandfather was a 
wealthy sail maker from Philadelphia. Her grandfather, James 
Forten, had served as a power boy in the Revolutionary War on 
board a patriot privateer, The Royal Louis. 

James Forten's life is another miracle of the troubled waters. At age 
nine, he went to work as a chimney sweep— his mother insisted he 

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Charlotte Forten 

stay in school for at two more years when he wanted to go to work 
to help the family at seven. After the Revolutionary War, he 
returned to his apprentice as a sail maker, becoming the shop's 
foreman. Forten bought the business when his employer retired. 
His innovative sail designs were enormous successes and in 
demand; he used his wealth for his family— and in the cause of 
human rights under the banner of American liberty. 

In Philadelphia, James Forten knew well Morris Brown and other 
Charleston expatriates and worked closely with them to end 
slavery. Morris Brown, a tall, handsome unlettered cobbler (the 
Atlanta college is named for him) was an African Methodist 
Episcopal (AME) preacher and later bishop who after leaving 
Charleston organized AME churches in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, 

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Wisconsin, and Canada. He was Paul to AME's founder Richard 
Allen's Peter. Before leaving Charleston, Brown organized the 
South's oldest AME congregation when he lead a protest of 4,630 
blacks away from Methodist services on a single Sunday in 1 81 8. 
Maintaining good relations with civil and church authorities after 
the breach, Brown soon had 5,000 urban enslaved regularly 
attending night services at a Nassau Street meeting house for his 
Bethel congregation, sometimes until after midnight. 

Morris Brown 

Warned by the mayor, Morris Brown fled Charleston secretly in 
1 822, in the wake of the largest planned armed revolt against 
slavery in America's history. The uprising, stopped days before its 
plan unfurled, was organized by Denmark Vesey, a former 

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Methodist lay leader, but a Presbyterian in good standing until the 
day he was hanged. Vesey, Ned and Rolla Bennett, Peter Poyas, 
Cullahjack Pritchard, and 30 others were tried, hanged and buried 
in unmarked graves. 

Francis, Archibald, and John Grimke 

Archibald Grimke wrote a small book about Denmark Vesey, in 
which he said of Vesey: "All things considered, he was truly an 
extraordinary man. It is impossible to say where he was born, or 
who were his parents. He was, alas! as far as my knowledge of his 
personal history goes, a man without a past." Denmark Vesey 
arrived at Santo Domingo by way of Africa, as one of cargo of 390 
Africans destined for slavery. Grimke writes, "Of the 389 others, we 
know absolutely nothing. Not an incident, nor a token, not even a 
name has floated to us across the intervening years, from all that 

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multitudinous misery, from such an unspeakable tragedy, except 
that the ship reached its destination, and the slaves were sold. Like 
boats that pass at sea, that slave vessel loomed for a lurid instant 
on the horizon, and was gone for ever — all but Denmark Vesey." 
"On that voyage Captain Vesey was strongly attracted by the 
"beauty, intelligence, and alertness" of one of the slaves on board." 

A sailor and carpenter, Vesey spoke nine languages. 

He purchased his freedom with the winnings from a Charleston 
lottery. His favorite Bible verse, Joshua 4:21, was a station of his 
faith, and for him, the way forward: And he spoke unto the children 
of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time 
to come, saying, What mean these stones? In this verse, about the 
twelve stones Cod commands to be placed in the river's waters to 
mark and remember safe passage, Joshua asks their meaning. In 
these stones, Denmark Vesey saw sign and glory: God's benefits 
condemn the wicked; his blessings call to heart his mercies, and 
secretly revive all who remember them and who are thankful even 
for the generations to come. Freedom is a stone of thanksgiving. 

His plan for the liberation of Charleston's slaves involved 
organizing the enslaved by ethnic group, led by their own 
traditional leaders. His plan unraveled at the last minute as men, 
questioned and threatened, confessed, and pointed to Vesey's 
leadership. He was arrested, tried, and hanged July 2, 1 822. 

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Kip, m, - Viifl ■]■:■ I'MlubBBteoi&JiL uwliilfi lillmlrti, 

P* W', — Yutid^ri>lut]iranni:iiting]ik*t Cb|i -CiukI. 

IHg. L5L — O fori suglni Jo ChiriMlaiMtbsfv, *u da BioutJIflne, 

Slave Forts on the West African Coast 

Footprints: Words That Mark Our Way 

"Negro Plot. The Official Account of the Late Intended 
Resurrection Among A Portion of the Blacks of the City of 
Charleston," published in Boston in 1 822, represents the official 
version of Vesey's plan for liberation. Excerpts of the account, 
witness testimony, and sentencings are presented here. 

An excerpt from an Archibald Grimke 1 920 speech, "The Shame 
of America," delivered around the country at age 71 , follows. 

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From the Account: 

At 8 o'clock on this evening, the intendant received a visit from 
a gentleman who is advantageously known in this community 
for his worth and respectability. 

This gentleman, with an anxiety, which the occasion was well 
calculated to beget, stated to the intendant, that, having the 
most unbounded confidence in a faithful slave belonging to his 
family, who was distinguished alike for his uncommon 
intelligence and integrity, he was induced to inform him, that 
rumours were abroad of an intended insurrection of the blacks, 
and that it was said, that this movement had been traced to 
some of the coloured members of Dr. Palmer's church, in which 
he was known to be a class leader. On being strongly enjoined 
to conceal nothing, he, the next day, Friday the 14th, came to 
his master, and informed him, that the fact was really so, that a 
publick disturbance was contemplated by the blacks, and not a 
moment should be lost in informing the constituted authorities, 
as the succeeding Sunday, the 1 6th, at 1 2 o'clock, at night, was 
the period fixed for the rising, which, if not prevented, would 
inevitably occur at that hour. 

This slave, it appears, was in no degree connected with the plot, 
but he had an intimate friend, A — (one of his class) who had 
been trusted by the conspirators with the secret, and had been 
solicited by them to join their association; to this A — first 
appeared to consent, but, on no period, absolutely sent in his 
adhesion. According to the statement which he afterwards 

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made himself to the court, it would seem that it was a subject of 
great regret and contrition with him, that he had ever appeared 
to lend his approbation to a scheme so wicked and atrocious, 
and that he sought occasion to make atonement, by divulging 
the plot, which on the 1 4th he did, to the slave of the gentleman 
in question, his class leader. 

This gentleman, therefore, mentioned, that his servant had 
informed him, that A — had stated, that about three months 
ago, Rolla, belonging to governour Bennett, had communicated 
to him the intelligence of the intended insurrection, and had 
asked him to join — "That he remarked, in the event of their 
rising, they would not be without help, as the people from San 
Domingo and Africa would assist them in obtaining their liberty, 
if they only made the motion first themselves. That if A — 
wished to know more, he had better attend their meetings, 
where all would be disclosed." 

After this, at another interview, Rolla informed A — , that "the 
plan was matured, and that on Sunday night, the 16th June, a 
force would cross from James's Island and land on South Bay, 
march up and seize the arsenal and guardhouse, that another 

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body at the same time would seize the arsenal on the neck, and 
a third would rendezvous in the vicinity of his master's mills. 
They would then sweep the town with fire and sword, not 
permitting a single white soul to escape." 

As this account was remarkably coincident with the one given by 
William, (Mr. Paul's slave,) as the witnesses could have had no 
possible communication, or the story have been the result of 
preconcert and combination, the sum of this intelligence was 
laid before the governour by 9 o'clock, and by 1 o'clock the 
commanding officers of the regiments of the city militia 
convened by his excellency's order, at the residence of the 

Witness Statement: 

Vesey told the meeting the people was to rise up and fight the 
white people for their liberty; . . I belong to the African 
congregation; on Saturday the 1 5th June, a man was to be sent 
into the country to bring down the people, and Rolla was to 
command the country people from Ashley river at the bridge; 
Ned Bennett and John Horry to meet at Mr. Horry's corner, and 
Batteau to come down with Vesey's party. 

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Judge's Sentencing Statement for Gullah Jack 

JACK PRITCHARD — [commonly called Gullah Jack; he was from 
Angola and was considered a meta-physician, a practitioner of 
spiritual arts, conjuring or root. He had said those who ate 
parched corn and placed a crab claw in their mouth would be 
invincible except from treason-which was the cause for the 
plot's collapse, /wr] 

The Court after deliberately considering all the circumstances 
of your case, are perfectly satisfied of your guilt. In the 
prosecution of your wicked designs, you were not satisfied 
with resorting to natural and ordinary means, but endeavoured 
to enlist on your behalf, all the powers of darkness, and 
employed for the purpose, the most disgusting mummery and 
superstition. You represented yourself as invulnerable; that 
you could neither be taken nor destroyed, and that all who 
fought under your banners would be invincible. 

While such wretched expedients are calculated to inspire the 
confidence, or to alarm the fears of the ignorant and 
credulous, they excite no other emotion in the mind of the 
intelligent and enlightened, but contempt and disgust. Your 
boasted charms have not preserved yourself, and of course 
could not protect others. "Your altars and your gods have sunk 
together in the dust." The airy spectres, conjured by you, have 
been chased away by the special light of truth, and you stand 

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exposed, the miserable and deluded victim of offended justice. 
Your days are literally numbered. You will shortly be consigned 
to the cold and silent grave, and all the powers of darkness 
cannot rescue you from your approaching fate! 

Let me then, conjure you to devote the remnant of your 
miserable existence, in fleeing from the "wrath to come." This 
can only be done by a full disclosure of the truth. The court are 
willing to afford you all the aid in their power, and to permit any 
minister of the gospel, whom you may select to have free access 
to you. To him you may unburden your guilty conscience. 
Neglect not the opportunity, or there is "no device nor art 
beyond the tomb," to which you must shortly be consigned. 

A French Illustration of a West African Battle, 1 890. 

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Archibald H. Grimke, "The Shame of America," 1920. 

"The author of the Declaration of Independence said once that 
he trembled for his country when he remembered that God 
was just. And he did well to do so. But while he was about it he 
might have quaked a little for himself. For he was certainly 
guilty of the same crime against humanity, which had aroused 
in his philosophic and patriotic mind such lively sensations of 
anxiety and alarm in respect to the Nation. 

Said Jefferson on paper: "We hold these truths to be self 
evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed 
by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among 
these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," while on 
his plantation he was holding some men as slaves, and 
continued to hold them as such for fifty years thereafter, and 
died at the end of a long and brilliant life, a Virginia 

And yet Thomas Jefferson was sincere, or fancied that he was, 
when he uttered those sublime sentiments about the rights of 
man, and when he declared that he trembled for his country 
when he remembered that God was just. This inconsistency 
between the man's magnificence in profession and his 
smallness in practice, between the grandeur of what he 
promised and the meanness of what he performed, taken in 
conjunction with his cool unconsciousness of the discrepancy, 
is essentially and emphatically an American trait, a national 
idiosyncrasy. " 

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Did Vesey's hanging reveal divine disapproval of his grand plan for 
resistance? Had his dream failed? Slavery was the law, the historical 
natural order. Many thousands died before and after the auction 
block; the ill-gotten price of America's wealth. The bones of the 
many thousand lay in the waters or ground, lost, like those 
shipped with Vesey, without review. Vesey's death was an act of 
sacrifice on their behalf, a remembered thanksgiving. Peter Poyas 
touched and joined in their unnamed silence when he counseled all 
those sentenced to hang. Grimke records his words: "Do not open 
your lips! Die silent as you shall see me do." 

Grimke concludes his account of Vesey's plan for liberation with a 

"Right forever on the scaffold, 
Wrong forever on the Throne, 
Yet that scaffold sways the future, 
And, behind the dim unknown, 
Standeth God within the shadow, 
Keeping watch above His own. " 

^ ^ ^ ^ 

Howard Thurman, the Dean of the Chapel at Boston University, was 
a mentor to Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had Dr. 
Thurman's book in his briefcase the afternoon he was shot and 
killed in Memphis. Howard Thurman was raised by his 
grandmother, a jubilee (former slave) woman who always told 

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Howard Thurman he was "a child of Cod." Thurman as a Baptist 
minister and Quaker mystic focused on the choices of the living 
rather than the questions of salvation as a function of faith judged 
in an afterlife. Simply put, Thurman knew what we term good and 
evil will not have the "last word about the meaning of life or the 
nature of existence." Thurman knew "God expects us to not only to 
choose our actions but our reactions." Both are combined in the 
elder's prayer. 

When the stone was turned, the women expressed not dread, but 
joy. That evidence was all Thurman needed to know. And Ann 
Romney is covered by the same mystic, despite her struggles in 
understanding the choices and tensions facing women with 
different incomes and social standing trying to meet the demands 
of raising families. The prayer for better includes not only 
resilience but also the gateway to wisdom. 

Despite the potential threat, Charleston authorities would not 
break up a religious meeting. So when the enslaved entered their 
own sanctuary, inside they were free of fear, reprisals, or the 
demands of obedience and the threatened and real punishments of 
the Sugar House, the wheels and whips that broke their spirit. In 
worship, the institution of religion extended the hand of freedom; 
by their prayers, they had shaken the chains off. Not for good, but 
long enough to know in the depth of their souls the bounty of 
Zion: "For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet 
from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life." 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


m "^H 




lf i§ii 

Francis Cardozo 

Washington, DC was also home to another son of Charleston, 
Francis Cordozo, born to an free mother and Jewish father. Francis, 
educated at Scotland's Glasgow University; a Congregational 
minister in New Haven, Connecticut, returned to become the 
founding principal of Charleston's Avery Institute, a private, 
mission supported training school of high standards for black 
teachers. Cordozo became the first black to win election to 
statewide office in the US, elected as South Carolina's Secretary of 
State in 1 868 and its state treasurer in 1 872. A Washington, DC 
high school where he was later principal is named for him. His 
grandaughter, Eslande Goode, married Paul Robeson. His brother, 
Thomas Cardozo, was elected Superintendent of Education in 
Mississippi in 1871 and is credited as the father of free universal 

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"A Glory Over Everything' 


education (public education) in Mississippi for all students, black 

and white. 

Thomas Cardozo 

Lewis and Thomas Cardozo's mother was Lydia Weston — no doubt 
kin to Nancy, but the relationship lies unverified with no more than 
the powerful connection of a legacy name tied to a large 
prosperous clan of business owners, teachers, crafts persons, 
skilled mechanics that enjoyed unparalleled privilege and shared 
membership in the circle of Charleston urban blacks, enslaved and 
free who were trusted and familiar with the lives of privilege and 

The key to love is what it creates. In a letter written to white 
Methodists protesting the proposed use of a African burial site as a 
carriage barn, black Methodist members called the dead "the core 
of their hearts." Lydia and Nancy's sons created the dreams of their 
mothers. Their mothers courage to stand for a truth not bent by 

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"A Glory Over Everything' 


fear or political aims, to raise a family, challenged society. They 
faced the pressures of hate, rigid social barriers, and law, but 
found fierce courage in love. They forged a vision of a greater love 
that guided the lives of their boys. 

Their extended Weston family included Jacob and John Furman 
Weston, who married the daughters of black Charleston's finest 
ante-bellum teacher, Thomas Bonneau (he taught Daniel A. Payne, 
appointed an AME bishop by Morris Brown, and the first African- 
American college president at Wilberforce University in Ohio). It 
extends to legendary teacher Frances Rollin (Charleston's first 
black teacher hired after the war), teachers William Weston and 
Mary Weston Fordham (Booker T. Washington wrote the forward to 
Magnolia Leaves, her book of poetry). All taught at Avery. 

!^R ; 

Avery Institute 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


Book Two 

I will tear off your veils and save my people from your 
hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. 

Ezekiel 13:21 

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"A Glory Over Everything' 


Indeed, we live beneath the sky, . . . 

That great smooth Hand of God, stretched out 

On all His children fatherly, 

To bless them from the fear and doubt, 

Which would be, if, from this low place, 

All opened straight up to His face 

Into the grand eternity. 

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


Take millstones and grind flour; take off your veil. Lift up 
your skirts, bare your legs, and wade through the streams. 

Isaiah 47:2 

Robert Purvis, too, was another Philadelphia resident born in 
Charleston. Purvis, known as the "President of the Underground 
Railroad," helped over 9,000 enslaved gain freedom, his 
Philadelphia home was a well known "safe house." His mother born 
in Charleston to ajewish father and a mother from Morocco 
married an older Englishman, a wealthy cotton factor who 
relocated the family to Philadelphia. Upon his death, he left his 
fortune to his sons, and Purvis who had dropped out of Amherst, 
used his sizeable inheritance to support his family and abolitionist 
causes. Purvis' wife, Harriet, was Charlotte Forten's aunt, and 
Charlotte lived with the Purvis family for a period. 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


Robert Purvis (2) 

As he hated slavery, Purvis loved democracy, for he saw its unique 
and true potential: "It is the safeguard of the strongest to live 
under a government which is obliged to respect the voice of the 
weakest." He, like the Grimke sisters fought against "the double 
curse of race and sex," and labored for the right of women to vote. 

Three Charleston men, a constitutional delegate, a 
slave broker, and Purvis, a mixed race abolitionist, 
tempered the American legacy. Charles Pinckney, the 
colonial planter and Constitution signer, elevated 
slavery beyond a southern institution to an American 
pillar when he helped place the three-fifths 
compromise in the Constitution, in order to count the enslaved in 
the political census for representation. Henry Laurens, the slave 
broker, by the internal force of his views, expanded the American 
character in ways still veiled. He acknowledges and heightens the 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 

Footprints: Words That Mark Our Path 

Charleston's Henry Lauren's was America's largest slave broker; 
his commission from sales made him one of the colonial 
America's wealthiest men and the most prominent market 
maker in human beings. His 1 9 volumes of letters are the best 
day to day record of the American trade, and includes prices, 
locations, conditions, and reports of those enslaved. 

Henry Laurens was the fourth president of the Continental 
Congress and peace commissioner for the American revolution 
(along with Ben Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams). He once 
received a letter from Angola suggesting a partnership to 
enslave the English! Imprisoned in England, at the end of the 
Revolutionary war, he was swapped for Gen. Cornwallis. He was 
the first European to be cremated in America, by the slaves on 
his plantation, now in trust to Trappist monks. He owed the 
desk on which the Declaration of Independence was signed. 

Henry in a great (many say impossible) irony, recognizes the 
enslaved as human beings, with dignity, character, and divinity. 
He compartmentalizes and petitions his sale of human beings, 
holding up the English law of property, but he sees well the 

tension in slavery when he recognized the humanity of the Africans 

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"A Glory Over Everything' 

"I found the Christian religion and slavery growing under the 
same authority and cultivation. I nevertheless disliked it. In 
former days there was no combating the prejudices of men 
supported by interest; the day I hope is approaching when, from 
principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will strive to 
be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the golden 

I am not one of those "who arrogate the peculiar care of 
Providence in each fortunate event, nor one of those who dare 
trust in Providence for defence and security of their own liberty 
while they enslave and wish to continue in slavery thousands 
who are as well entitled to freedom as themselves." 

he sells and trades, refusing to turn them into caricatures. His is 
the ultimate contradiction and paradox, but it makes possible the 
path to freedom by its refusal to deny the veiled humanity of those 
the law permitted to be sold on the auction block (or at private 
sale, individually or in lots), chained, and forced to work. 

Robert Purvis wrestles with the American legacy of slavery and its 
contradictions head on. By birth and cause, he breaks the bounds 
of race. He expands dissent into an organized underground of 
resistance; he extends the meaning of freedom to those placed 
beyond its reach. He takes Pinckney's three-fifths and incorporates 
into its raw numbers Lauren's implied humanity to make explicit to 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 

the country the flesh and bone of why the enslaved are to be free, 
now, by any action necessary, law and practice to the contrary. 
Purvis' view of government overtly, radically extends American 

Purvis, Morris Brown, James Forten, Sarah and Angelina Grimke all 
knew each other. They were members of William Lloyd Garrison's 
American Anti-Slavery Society; the sisters were members of the 
Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society which Purvis co-founded and 
served as President. They commiserated over the burning of 
Pennsylvania Hall three days after it was built and opened, this 
magnificent building, a monument to freedom praised in a letter 
from John Quincy Adams as a "place wherein liberty and equality of 
civil rights can be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery 
fearlessly portrayed." The abolitionists were blamed for the fire and 
ensuing riot, accused of inciting violence by "race mixing." 
Philadelphia's firemen stood by and watched the new building burn 
to the ground. The women of these families led lives in the midst 
of storms and tumult. They were devoted to justice in the simple 
act of raising children who fulfilled the destiny whispered in a 
prayer in the 1930s, on Hilton Head — the hallowed ground of 
America's first emancipation celebration. At midnight, January 1 , 
1 864. Thursday, New Year's Day. 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


Book Four 

I will tear off your veils and save my people from your 
hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. 

Ezekiel 13:21 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 

Francis Grimke's wife, Charlotte Forten, was there that night. She 
had written to John Greenleaf Whittier, requesting he write a hymn 
to be sung for the occasion, performed by her "scholars from St. 
Helena." In her published journal, Charlotte Forten describes 
boarding the Flora with an crowd of guests and being ferried 
across the sound from St. Helena Island to attend the celebration 
at Camp Saxton. She described it as "the most glorious day this 
nation has ever seen." Reports numbered the crowd at 5,000, [the 
number fed with the loaves and fishes; that journeyed through the 
parted seas; that were filled inside and out on the day of Pentecost, 
the Jewish festival honoring the giving of the law]. 

Susan Taylor King served as a laundress, nurse, secretary and 
teacher for the Army and was also among the 5,000 present that 
night. Her grandmother had her educated secretly in Savannah; she 
quickly learned to read and write. An excellent student, she 
volunteered with the Army at the age of 1 4. At camp she quickly 
began to act as secretary to the camp's officers and correspondent 
for the men writing letters to families and girl friends. She taught 
the jubilee (freed men and women) and soldiers how to read and 
write. She served as a nurse with Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, 
and Charlotte Purvis for the scores of wounded. In her 1 902 
memoir she recalls the grand night: "It was a glorious day for us 
all, and we enjoyed every minute of it, and as a fitting close and 
the crowning event of this occasion we had a grand barbecue." 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


Susan King Taylor 

But months later, camped on Morris Island, the site of the battle 
portrayed in the movie, "Glory," with Denzel Washington, about the 
black troops of the Massachusetts 54 th Regiment and the South 
Carolina 33 rd Regiment, USCT, storming the island's Fort Wagner, 
Susan King Taylor offers this elegy: 

Outside of the fort were many skulls lying about; I have often 
moved them one side out of the path. The comrades and I 
would have quite a debate as to which side the men fought 
on. Some thought they were the skulls of our boys; others 
thought they were the enemy's; but as there was no definite 
way to know, it was never decided which could lay claim to 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 

them. They were a gruesome sight, those fleshless heads 
and grinning jaws, but by this time I had become 
accustomed to worse things and did not feel as I might have 
earlier in my camp life. 

It seems strange how our aversion to seeing suffering is 
overcome in war, — how we are able to see the most 
sickening sights, such as men with their limbs blown off and 
mangled by the deadly shells, without a shudder; and 
instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist in alleviating 
their pain, bind up their wounds, and press the cool water to 
their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy and pity. 

Francis Grimke was somewhere in Charleston, a city under wartime 
siege the night of the emancipation. The SC troops his wife taught 
and tended brought freedom to his city the next year. Years later, 
this mission of high faith, the realization of freedom and suffering 
at the heart of the elder's prayer, the order of faith in Miss Kitty's 
favorite verse, the silent examples of the lived lives of women and 
their children, the courage of teachers transforming the lives of 
their students, his wife's calling; her presence in freedom during 
its first moments while he was still enslaved is proclaimed in a 
sermon in 1 902: 

"God is not dead — nor is he an indifferent onlooker at what 
is going on in this world. One day he will make restitution 
for blood; He will call the oppressors to account. Justice may 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 

sleep, but it never dies. The individual, race, or nation which 
does wrong, which sets at defiance Cod's great law, 
especially God's great law of love, of brotherhood, will be 
sure, sooner or late, to pay the penalty. We reap as we sow. 
With that measure we mete, it shall be measured to us 

Harriet Tubman was at Hilton Head that night, too. Years earlier 
when she first escaped slavery, she, too, described the signs of 
freedom's answered prayers: "There was such a glory over 
everything, the sun comes like gold through the frees." She 
reminds us to see in the world around us Cod's abiding spirit, his 
strength for the journey. The elder's prayer for better is itself a sign 
of grace for a new world built by abundant, overflowing measures 
of love. 

She is the deepest reflection of American freedom; unbroken and 
unbent by limits; steadfast in dignity; creating without labels to 
express the profound responsibility of birth, life, family; living. 
Like a mother smoothing a child's hair, she took the ugly ruffles of 
America, spoke in quiet promise to its bullies, and offered an 
endless measure of her gifts as visions of freedom beyond labels 
to grant the gathered peace that shines within. 

St. Augustine observed: "Faith is to believe what you do not see; 
the reward of this faith is to see what you believe." So the elder 
included sacrifice and misery as she expanded the context of her 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


prayer to see behind the veil. The elder recalled the voices lost in 
the silence of time and the Middle Passage. The silence is never 
finished. Zora Neale said, "No hour is ever eternity, but it has its 
right to weep." In the weeping time, each of us must find a way to 
share the deeper meaning of death beyond our grief and fear. 

So the elder remembered those sinking and tossed in the tempests 
who took flight in the sea. Those dehydrated by the passage's 
crowned conditions, infected by sanitation, robbed of breath and 
sight, then with jaw clenched silent, tossed and drowned in the 
sea, their shark-picked bones settling; gliding into the deep, into 
the darkness of the trailing waters like stones. 

They are not forgotten in her prayer. Those here and gone she 
raises above the storm. Their lives, their silent message and 
prayers, are a metaphor she enlarges and brings into life itself. 
That she can and knows how, is a part of the glory of everything. 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 


Here is the whole of the line Lorenzo Turner records: 

"For those who take your hand for drowning 
comfort," she says. "Give them better." 

History's Invisible Veil 

"A Glory Over Everything' 



The Hymn sung by Charlotte Forten's student choir for the 
emancipation celebration: 

Oh none in all the world before 
Were ever glad as we. 
We're free on Carolina's shore, 
We're all at home and free. 

thou friend and helper of the poor, 
Who suffered for our sake. 
To open every prison door, 
And every yoke to break. 

Look down, oh, Saviour sweet, and smile, 
And help us sing and pray; 
The hands that blessed the little child, 
upon our foreheads lay. 

History's Invisible Veil 

Author's Note 

Thank you for reading! I am a writer and book maker who 
researches traditions and community history and shares the 
experiences and insights in digital formats and print. 

The ideas and experiences here are mainly from the 
1 9 th century families. They recall both oral, print, 
and community histories. The work also relies upon 
the spirituals as a main source of insight about 
African-American life within the context of 
American slavery and freedom. The spirituals record 
the most important reality in slavery — the response 
of the enslaved themselves. The central reality in 
slavery is not the conditions, but the enslaved, 
whose skills and responses, whose attitudes and 
beliefs and values (both group and individual) 
shape, influence, and often triumph the slavery experience, 
despite its cruel and inhumane conditions; yet, except as escape 
narratives, the daily secrets of how to affirm humanity while 
confronting enslavement remain untold. 

I reflect the eras before and after freedom in the 

story telling and book design. Nineteenth 

century book making coincided with the US 

having the largest literate population in the 

world and included the mass reproduction of 

images. The text, headings, and imaged I 

selected and created reflect these milestones. I 

have also included the work of Sarah Whitman 

Wyman, the Boston pioneer artist-designer for 

books whose work echoed the Arts and Crafts Movement which 

viewed art and life as inseparable. Wyman wrote, "all forms of 

labor are beautiful and sacred because. all has the stamp of 

nobility, being essential to the world's need." She was the first 
artist-designer to give mass-produced book covers a sense of 
simple elegance through line, color, and lettering." I adapted her 
work and a range of ideas for digital print and screen display. The 
colors, also custom designed, reflect the earlier century. 

The record of African-American history is incomplete, esp. within 
families. Some documentation is deliberately inserted or omitted, 
to duplicate the way families discovered and assembled missing 
pieces of their stories and their era's history. For the readers, you 
can easily recover or check sources by putting key words or 
phrases into search engines for more detail. Other clues lie within 
the book itself. 

I write in the voices that speak to me. That includes the voices of 
the people I am writing about. The voices of any article or book 
lets you know when you are a trusted friend; the words come 
through you as a vessel; it is the writer's highest experience, and 
each one of us who writes experiences it differently, but we know 
it by the way readers respond. I hope these words speak to you! 

Lastly, faith was woven into community conversations during the 
century, but its omni-presence is largely missing from articles and 
books about the last two hundred years. I try to remedy its 
absence by commenting throughout the text in the same way 
community members have commented to me over the years. It's a 
tradition worthy of understanding and living worth keeping alive. 

All of the ideas here have been cross-checked against the 

spirituals. That includes these two verses for Book One: 

Don't know what my mother wants to stay here fuh, 

Dis ole world ain't been no friend to huh. 

Oh, stand the storm, it won't be long, we'll anchor by and by." 

I hope you recognize something of yourself in this work. It really 
belongs to all of us. The irony is that the light of glory could only 
be seen behind the veil, but its signs mark the passage of the 

living. Howard Thurman— and Harriet Tubman taught me it is 
everywhere. As the griot, it's my office to gather and preserve 
tradition, mark its presence and pass it along; to dust off its 
footprints aimlemind us to watch our steps. I tell the stories; the 
leaning is y$Bs alone, but belongs with all of us. 

Careful little 
Mind how yo 
Your foot mig 

And your soulvSmlost 

And finally, fo 

Ik on the cros$. 
lip J/" 

Dr. King's Dream. Hill House, Mississippi 

July 4, 1936 

(Photograph by Dorothea Lange) 

blatter fliett 

[your page] 

Image Notes 

Many images by American artists and photographers are available 
in the public domain from libraries and museums. 

The Hilton Head 4 th of July picnic and the image below are by 
Marion Wolcott Post; the farm portraits by Dorothea Lange, the 
creator of documentary photography, from the Library of Congress 
FSA collection. The collage of the "separating line" includes the 
illustration "Autum" by Homer Winslow, from the Boston Museum. 
The flowers are from designs works by the pioneer book designer- 
artist Sarah Witman Wyman, from the Boston Museum. Illustrations 
are from Harper's Weekly, Leslie's Weekly, and French book 
editions from the Bibliotheque Nationale of France. All images and 
collections online. 

Comments about Walter Rhett's writings from New York Times 

(Ml) . . . your beautiful last words fills a bit of a gap. Again 
Walter, THANK YOU! 

(CA) Very beautifully written, WalterlThank you. 

(VA) So, too, the lines of your poetic prose carry on the 
soaring tradition of the best possibilities in each of us- your 
ongoing dreamsposts enliven . . while we grasp and weep . . 
at the breath of the inner vision . . . 

(CA)You always write with grace. 

A Glory Over 

The Invisible Veil 

Walter Rhett