Skivlen left Georgia as soon as he was old enough to strike out on his own. To hear the oral stories in the family, he left home at 14 years old. He was heard to have said our (family) skin is light but those closest to white were more favored than those who were just light skin (in the family).You see, his mother was full Cherokee Indian and his father was mulatto. He first went to Jacksonville, Fl. His older brother Dudley was there. Dudley was in World War I. After the war Dudley migrated to Jacksonville where with help from his two brothers, Skivlen and Sam, he bought land for growing oranges. Skivlen met Daisy and married her. They had a son Skivlen Jr. The marriage fell apart and Skivlen left Florida for Pittsburgh.
His brother Buddy lived in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was a steel mill town in those days. There were mills up and down the three rivers. There was plenty of work to be had in 1918. Buddy lived in East Liberty/ Homewood area of Pittsburgh. Skivlen got a job right away in the Steel Mill in Braddock. He met his next wife during this time, Eleanor.
Eleanor’s family lived next door to Buddy and his family. So, here we have the preverbal girl next door romance. Skivlen was 29 years old divorced man and Eleanor was 19 years old and living with her adopted mother who happen to be her mother’s best friend. Eleanor’s mother died when she was 3 years old. As Eleanor’s mother lay dying she asks her best friend to raise her daughter and she also took in Eleanor’s brother, Richard who was 6 years old. Eleanor and Richard had a baby brother Harold, 6 months old, who was raised by their maternal grandmother.
Once married, Skivlen and Eleanor lived in Pittsburgh for 5 years. Their first son was born in Pittsburgh. Then Skivlen took a position in Beech Bottom, WV, with Pittsburgh – Wheeling Steel Corporation. The area was rural right off route 2 if you blinked you would miss it if not for the steel mill sitting on the Ohio River side of the highway. Community of Beech Bottom stop 45 (bus stop 45) consisted of about 200 white families and 3 Black families. A lot of folks white and Black had migrated to the area for jobs. A lot of the white families had migrated from Alabama. Skivlen left the caste system of Georgia to end up living along side a white family from Alabama. God likes a good joke!
There Skivlen and Eleanor raised 7 children and few grandchildren who all scattered to big cities like Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and beyond. Both are buried in Beech Bottom’s 49 hill.
I have read articles about the life of Blacks in the late 19th century and early 20th century. I have always hungered to know my history simply because it was purposely being kept from me. I usually find out a piece of myself by reading what others thought of my forefathers or uncovering documents that reveal my ancestor but also a little piece of me. Whether someone felt it was important or not everyone should know their true history. Some of us were slaves before the civil war but after the civil war we systematically found ourselves placed in a caste system of servitude in the south.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself a Black 14 year old boy in the 1916 south. Your grandparents were born and lived and died in slavery. And, your parents were born and lived in slavery but now are shackled to sharecropping on the very plantation where they were once slaves. They never left. Matter of fact, you know a lot of families like yours. But, you want more from life. You want to be able to go to the store in town for an ice cream and be served. Instead you are required to move away from the counter when a white person appears and they are served first. When you are being joked about by white men standing around, you learn through fear to be quiet and quickly leave.
It’s a struggle getting through the day. I’m afraid to make the smallest mistake because that could cost me my life. Whites of my generation have no ties to us. We were once their forefather’s slaves and had value where they would care about our well being and safety as an asset. This generation is crueler. They hate me because I’m free. What can I do to save myself from the cruelty spit out daily by the white south? What can I do not to be lynched or burned to death?
Quietly leave …
After the emancipation proclamation and the civil war began the Reconstruction Era. Reconstruction Era began in 1865 and lasted to 1877. The Freedmen Bureau was created in 1865 as a U S government agency to assist the recently freed slaves. And, the Freedmen Bureau lasted as long as the Reconstruction Era did. The Union Army took over southern state government and took away the right to vote from leading whites and allowed Negroes to hold state office. So there was the reconstruction of state government and reconstruction of the life of the ex-slave.
At the beginning of the civil war was the capture of South Carolina. Freedmen Bureau was very helpful in providing food, housing, helped bring families together, and medical aid. The Freedman Bureau first job in South Carolina was dispersing of the abandon land by some of the Planters. The Planters owed taxes and the U S Treasury confiscated the lands and auctioned them off. Can you imagine the ex-slaves able to buy the land that they once worked? The ex-slave hurriedly to have land by any means necessary whether they squatted on the land, piecemeal purchased or through other ventures.
All through the south whites were bitter by the loss of their slaves and lands. The Union Army took control of state government and leading whites were not allowed to vote but ex-slaves were. Consequently, a lot of Blacks were elected into state government as well as the House of Representatives and the Senate. But even with the federal government and the Republican Party on the side of the ex-slave, there was nothing to rid their lives of brutality and degradation they suffered. Enraged whites soon gave birth to Klu Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups.
Every waking moment for the Negro was full of fear. From the time he woke in the morning until he laid his head down at night life was the fear of offending a white person in the pettiest way. Fear of not jumping off the sidewalk in time for a white person to pass, not tipping one’s hat enough, any little break of what is expected could cost a Negro his life. By the 1870’s reconstruction started to fail and the Freedmen Bureau retreated. Unfortunately, the gains that had been made by the Negro were reversed and life was made more difficult.
Southern Democrats regained power by 1877 through widespread corruption and violence. This marked the end of the Federal government’s reconstruction era. The Solid South was the term used for the Democratic Party allegiance from southern states. The politicians in state government were democrats and so were the federal representatives from these states. Eventually, the government returned some of the Planters’ land that was taken through General Sherman’s field order number 15. The North had abandoned the ex-slaves to the whims of the white south. Jim Crow laws were put in place in the 1890’s and lasted until 1960. So, the American Negro had a little more than 10 years of the government’s help now they were worst off than before but free.
In 1896, the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson dealt the final blow to their hopes for equality for almost a century. The Court ruled that the Constitution cannot make people color-blind and gave approval to the separate but equal concept. Only one justice dissented. Justice John Harlan wrote, “Our Constitution is color blind.” His words fell on deaf ears. A flood of Jim Crow laws followed. In the words of orator Frederick Douglass, the Blacks under Jim Crow was not the slave of “the individual master, but the slave of society.”
The answer to that question lies in the emancipation proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln that took effect January 1, 1863 that gave Black folks their freedom during the civil war. The civil war was from 1861 to 1865. They were no longer held in slavery but free. But, it didn’t mean much in the South because then they became a different kind of slave called a “sharecropper.”
Sharecropping is a tenant farmer working someone’s land for a percentage of the revenue generated minus expenses. The sharecropper would receive credit for seed, tools, a place to live and food. On the other hand, sharecropping for Blacks subjected them to working at the same plantation with no pay because of the debt they would incurred and the unfair labor contracts they were forced to sign. Economically, the ex-slaves were no better off than before the emancipation proclamation of 1863. In December of 1865 slavery was made illegal every where by the 13th amendment.
This is my favorite month. February is designated as Black History Month. This is the month that I might found out something new about my history. Unfortunately, some of our Black history is not written down anywhere because the oppressor does not want to be reminder of their cruel behavior. So there are those who hunt and peck through historic documents and other elements to find our history. Yes it is intertwined with America’s history.
So, over the next month I will be blogging about the Great Migration that happened during 1910 to 1970. What is the Great Migration? The Great Migration is the decisive move of 6 million Blacks from the caste system of the South to opportunities in the North for citizenry.