Monday, January 19, 2009

The Bleaching of History’s Tapestry

Contrary to today’s popular & media understanding, history is not always “politically correct.” I believe political correctness is birthed many times out of cowardice & selfish ambition of one’s reputation in order to cover perceived flaws. Simply put…many love to rewrite history or neglect it… hoping it will fade away.

Nevertheless, history is not always pretty; yet, it weaves a beautiful tapestry. As beautiful or ugly as it may seem, it is our entire story.

Looking back in history may be part of the cure of repeating past mistakes. Though some may revel in our mistakes in order that they may have something to gossip about or publish again. For those who wish to hide their head in the sand, read no further.

A little over a 100 years ago, on July 17th, 1908, The Baxter Bulletin ran a front page story that was amazing for its’ time. When I was writing Looking Back in History articles for The Baxter Bulletin, they choose to delete this article due to racial sensitivity. I believe it was to their loss. In order for it not to be lost for us, I give the small article omitted that was once proudly placed on the front page of The Baxter Bulletin as follows.

White Ladies Prepare “Old Mammy” in Grave.
The only negro family in Baxter County is that of Sam Mason, who lives in Cotter. The family consists of Sam Mason, his wife Alice and one child, Charlie, 18 years old. On Friday, Alice Mason, after eating a hearty breakfast, was washing dishes when she dropped dead from heart failure. There being no negro people in town, the white ladies went in prepared the body for burial. There was no hesitancy on the part of the white ladies, several prominent too, in doing all they could do in rendering assistance. Sam Mason and his wife were born in slavery in Izard County and were well known. Alice Mason was about 53 years old. All the children were her pets and they all loved her.

My Historical Respective
Again, this article was on the front page of an 8 page newspaper. All other obituaries were on following pages. However, Mary "Alice" Mason was on the front page. I believe this is a historical milestone that has been over looked for that time in the Ozarks.

Was there segregation? Yes.

Was there prejudice in that era? Yes.

As a society, we do not the use of the term of “Old Mammy” today. Yet, in this 1908 article, it was used as a term of endearment and not a racial slur. Furthermore, this was a hallmark of benevolence that transcended racial & cultural norms. We find people here in Baxter County, crossing cultural norms and expressing genuine affection and sympathy.

According to 1900 U. S. Census, Sam Mason was born June, 1852, in Georgia, Alice Mason was born July, 1856, in Tennessee. Both were taken as young children to Izard County, Arkansas, as slaves. During this time period, Baxter County did not exist, and this area was known as Izard County and then Marion County. Their son George was born February, 1890, in Arkansas. After Alice's death, Sam and Charlie moved to Oklahoma.

Today, there is a tombstone at the Cotter Cemetery that bears her name; it too should make headlines. To my knowledge, she is the only former slave buried in the Cotter Cemetery. At the time of her burial, it was a white only cemetery. Thanks to the Arkansas Gravestones Project, her grave stone can be seen here at Mary "Alice" Mason.

After her death, it was an integrated cemetery. Furthermore, we see death as the great equalizer of us all, from the elite to the pauper.

After 1908, racial lines were blurred at death of a former slave in Baxter County, Arkansas.

History was embraced through the compassion displayed by the people living in Baxter County. May their noble deeds inspire us to accept their acts as well as their inadequacies.

Unfortunately, there are those today who would rather blur our true history…looking backward.

Shiras, Tom “White Ladies Prepare 'Old Mammy' in Grave.” The Baxter Bulletin 17 July 1908, Volume 7, Number 27 ed.: 1A1-1.

No comments: