What is: Abandoned Buildings, MLK and Yazoo Avenue area, Clarksdale, MS

What was: The neighborhood was known as the New World from the beginning of the twentieth Century.  A breeding ground for ragtime, blues and jazz.

Clarksdale was a prosperous Cotton town.  African American slaves cultivated and processed cotton, worked as artisans, and cultivated and processed produce and livestock on the plantations. They built the wealth of “King Cotton” in the state. The 1860 U.S. Census data shows Coahoma County, where Clarksdale is located, had a population of 1,521 whites and 5,085 slaves.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Clarksdale was known as the “Golden Buckle in the Cotton Belt”  — a home to a multi-cultural mixture of Lebanese, Italian, Chinese and Jewish immigrant merchants along with African-Americans farm laborers and white plantation owners. Brothels attracted black and white clientele. On Saturday’s the sharecroppers filled the streets shopping, socializing, drinking in the jukes and listening to blues.  On Sunday’s a sabbath calm prevailed with everyone filling local churches.

In 1944, the first commercial, machinery produced, cotton crop was produced near here on 28 acres owned by the Hopson Planting Company of Clarksdale. The machinery took over everything from planting to baling, changing the demand for labor and more.

What is: George and Polly Gilmore’s farm, Montpelier, Virginia.

What was: This was George and Polly Gilmore’s farm in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Both George and Polly were born into slavery at James Madison’s Montpelier. The Gilmore family lived here until the 1930’s.  The cabin is representative of not just the Gilmore family’s early years of freedom, but countless other newly freed African Americans in the Piedmont region of Virginia during Reconstruction.

President Madison died in 1836. When Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844, George Gilmore and his future wife Polly conveyed with the property. They were married in 1850 and were freed in 1865 when Federal troops occupied Orange County.  Excavation units in the yard allowed historians to uncover what appears to be the remains of a Confederate encampment.

Like millions of African Americans throughout the South, many emancipated slaves worked on the same plantations where they once labored. After emancipation, Gilmore stayed at Montpelier, and is listed in census records as having worked as a saddle maker and as a tenant farmer. In 1873 the Gilmores built this cabin, and in 1901 purchased the 16 acres of land from Dr. James A. Madison, the great-nephew of President Madison. Members of the family lived on the farm until the early 1930s.

What is: Abandoned House in the fields on the way to Nat Turner’s Cave. Southampton County, Virginia

What was: In 1831, a slave rebellion was led by Nat Turner.  The slaves went from farm to farm in Southampton County killing the white slave owners.  Scores of blacks were murdered in reprisals throughout the South.

The legacy of the biggest slave revolt in U.S. history still hangs over the sandy soil, blackwater cypress swamps and abandoned homes of the county. Kids grow up in rural Southampton County hearing that the mist creeping across the fields might be something unearthly. Old folks warn them not to sneak into abandoned houses, where rotting floors and walls are said to be stained with blood. This is a haunted landscape. (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/the-haunted-houses-legacy-of-nat-turners-slave-rebellion-lingers-but-reminders-are-disappearing/2019/04/29/d267d814-5d68-11e9-842d-7d3ed7eb3957_story.html

Attacking farmhouses in the darkness and picking up supporters along the way, Turner and his rebels killed some 55 white men, women, and children over two days. They were eventually scattered by militia infantry, and some were rounded up and killed or put on trial. Turner escaped and hid out for two months mostly in a crude “cave” — a hole dug under a pile of wood — before surrendering on Oct. 30, 1831.

Lonnie Bunch, then director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, said, “The Nat Turner rebellion is probably the most significant uprising in American history.”

What is: The parish house of Grace Episcopal Church, Bremo Bluff, Virginia

What was: The Bremo Plantation estate covers more than 1,500 acres in Fluvanna County, Virginia. Overlooking the James River, it is a rare property of its era, still owned by the family that built it in 1745.   The chapel was built in 1835 for the slaves as part of the vast plantation of General John Hartwell Cocke.

It is the state’s only known slave chapel and represents Cocke’s deep concern for the religious and moral edification of slaves. He had his slaves taught to read and decided that it was his Christian duty to provide them with religious instruction. Cocke was determined that his slaves should have their own house of worship and thus had the board-and-batten structure built on what became know as Chapel Field.

In total 246 people were enslaved here from 1781 – the earliest date on record – until 1865.  However, enslaved men also cleared the land and built a structure (which still stands) to claim the land grant in 1725. Bremo Plantation required numerous hands to keep the plantation running, and nearly all of this work fell onto the enslaved.

Despite the Cocke’s interest in education and religion for the slaves, according to Fluvanna Historical Society Representative Tricia Johnson, “The last few years before his death, Cocke wrote that enslavement was the natural order of things and it wouldn’t be possible to end the practice.”

Cocke’s need to make Bremo Plantation as self-supporting as possible forced his slaves to do almost all of the work in keeping Cocke’s idea of self-supporting. When the enslaved failed to do so they had to endure physical punishments such as whippings and starvation. He had no qualms against separating families if it meant his plantation was more efficient.

 

What is: Tobacco Farm Barns near Simsbury, CT

What was: In June 1944, trains carrying 185 students from Morehouse College in Atlanta arrived in a northern Connecticut town of Simsbury.  The students had arrived to work in the tobacco fields and harvest shade tobacco, then one of Connecticut’s biggest cash crops. These fields and barns are where Martin Luther King spent time working as a 15-year-old.  He would spend 2 summers working in the fields around Simsbury.

More than just a job, this was his first exposure to the Northeast and to a society that was not formally segregated.  He attended Simsbury churches, sang with the choir, enjoyed drugstore milkshakes and attended movies at Eno Hall. He made weekend visits to the “big city” of Hartford. In a letter to his mother in June 1944 he remarked that he had eaten in “one of the finest restaurants in Hartford” and that he had “never thought” that people of different races “could eat anywhere” together.

He wrote a week earlier of going to the same church in Simsbury as white people. His new calling as a religious leader was emerging, too.  “I have to speak on some text every Sunday to 107 boys. We really have good meetings,” he wrote.  MLK later credited that time with helping him decide to enter the clergy, which, in turn, led him to join the civil rights movement. Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/nyregion/martin-luther-king-in-connecticut-closer-to-a-promised-land.html

https://www.mlkinct.com/

Probably the most significant uprising (after Jan 6? ) in American history. Lots of legends and stories here…

What is: Corner of Bride Street and High Street, Courtland, Virginia, Population 1295

What was: In 1831, a slave rebellion was led by Nat Turner. The slaves went from farm to farm in Southhampton County killing the white slave owners. Scores of blacks were murdered in reprisals throughout the South. The legacy of the biggest slave revolt in U.S. history still hangs over the sandy soil, blackwater cypress swamps and abandoned homes of the county. Kids grow up in rural Southampton County hearing that the mist creeping across the fields might be something unearthly. Old folks warn them not to sneak into abandoned houses, where rotting floors and walls are said to be stained with blood. This is a haunted landscape. (Source for some of this and a great story here.

Attacking farmhouses in the darkness and picking up supporters along the way, Turner and his rebels killed some 55-65 white men, women, and children over two days. They were eventually scattered by militia infantry, and some were rounded up and killed or put on trial. Turner escaped and hid out for two months mostly in a crude “cave” — a hole dug under a pile of wood — before surrendering on Oct. 30, 1831.

Turner was hung from a tree on Bride Street in what is now Courtland, VA. A short distance away, around the corner on High Street, is the ditch where Turner’s torso was said to have been tossed after he was decapitated (pictured here). Human remains have been found here. At some point, the county hopes to excavate. In the meantime, the spot is marked by tiny wire flags stuck in the weeds, the sort that might designate a property line or a cable route.

Many Black people who had not participated were also persecuted in the frenzy. Months after the insurrection, the Virginia legislature narrowly rejected a measure for gradual emancipation that would have followed the lead of the North. Instead, pointing to Turner’s intelligence and education as a major cause of the revolt, measures were passed in Virginia and other states in the South that made it unlawful to teach enslaved people and free African Americans how to read or write.

Lonnie Bunch, previously director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, said, “The Nat Turner rebellion is probably the most significant uprising in American history.”

Among one of the most important sacred sites to Native Americans. The tribal village would have been along the shore, with the community leaders, temples and civic buildings further at the back of the site.
What is: Werowocomoco. It is today United States Government Property. No Trespassing. In 2016, Werowocomoco was permanently protected by the National Park Service and is administered by the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
What was: Werowocomoco (wayr-uh-wah-koh-muh-koh) is believed to have been a place of leadership and spiritual importance to American Indians as early as circa AD 1200.  The village served as the headquarters of Chief Powhatan, a Virginia Algonquian political and spiritual leader when the English founded Jamestown in 1607. The name Werowocomoco comes from the Powhatan werowans, meaning “leader” in English; and komakah, “settlement”.
When Englishman Captain John Smith explored the Bay in 1608, he documented hundreds of American Indian communities. Today, sites on his map are archeological treasures and sacred sites for tribal citizens. At Werowocomoco, Powhatan, the leader of many Algonquian tribes, lived and subsequently met on several occasions with Captain John Smith in 1607 in the earliest recorded meetings between a Native leader and the English. On one visit in 1609, the English forced Powhatan to bow so they could crown him as a ruler in Virginia.
The Native Americans were increasingly unwilling to trade and wary of English intentions. Attempts at cooperation steadily led to conflict, and Powhatan moved his headquarters farther inland. Werowocomoco soon fell silent. The land at Werowocomoco was cultivated for crops and timber from the early days of colonial Virginia, either by a single family or small cluster of neighbors. There is no indication that they maintained any direct association of the land with Werowocomoco or its importance to native and colonial history.
Nothing above ground remains of the Indian community that lived here. The rural landscape is largely intact. However, clues to the past still lie in the earth. Fields and forests at the site surround a private, single-family home, situated at the end of a long gravel road with a view of Purtan Bay and the York River beyond. Indians moved away from Werowocomoco in 1609. In the centuries that followed, Indian heritage was both neglected and suppressed. Source: National Parks Service.

 

 

 

 

What is: the original signage at the Lorraine hotel before it became the motel. During the creation of the National Civil Rights Museum in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the original hotel building was renovated to include reminders of what the hotel looked like before being transformed into the the motor court in the 1950s/60s.

What was: The signage on the Mulberry Street-Huling Avenue side promises steaks, shrimp and fish. It still entices some visitors who don’t realize at first that it’s part of the museum, not a restaurant.

Walter and Loree Bailey bought what had been the Marquette Hotel in 1945. The Baileys renamed the hotel the Lorraine for Loree Bailey and the Nat King Cole song “Sweet Lorraine.”

In the era of racial segregation, an African-American traveling for any reason had few hotels to stay at and couldn’t go to just any restaurant in the immediate vicinity. So the Bailey’s added a restaurant. The kitchen is where Loree Bailey prepared food for the motel’s guests.

Figures like Cab Calloway and Count Basie, along with Stax Records musicians used the Lorraine as a creative oasis of sorts. The Lorraine hosted doctors, lawyers, salesmen, businessmen, families on vacation, and those traveling America after World War II who were determined to change the segregated society they returned to after fighting for their country.

Isaac Hayes reminisced, “We’d go down to the Lorraine Motel and we’d lay by the pool and Mr. Bailey would bring us fried chicken and we’d eat ice cream. . . . We’d just frolic until the sun goes down and [then] we’d go back to work.”

Two famous songs, “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood,” were written at the motel.

More here

 

What is: A mound on Pamunkey Neck, described as the gravesite of Powhatan.

What was: Powhatan, was the leader of many Algonquian tribes and met on several occasions with Captain John Smith in 1607 in the earliest recorded meetings between a Native leader and the English. On one visit in 1609, the English forced Powhatan to bow so they could crown him as a ruler in Virginia.

He died around 1618, and the ceremony for the “taking up” of his bones was a signal for the uprising that initiated the Second Anglo-Powhatan War in 1622. Colonists did not know the details of Powhatan’s death or burial, so the written records do not document the location of his grave.

His bones may have been placed in a mat and kept in the Uttamusak temple complex, rather than interred in the ground. Whether or not Powhatan’s remains ended up on what is today the Pamunkey reservation, no one knows for sure.  However, it highlights the association with the paramount chief and father of Pocahontas and gives the Pamunkey tribe special status today.

The railroad tracks running across the Powhatan mound were first laid in 1855, across 22 acres of the Pamunkey reservation, without permission from the Pamunkey and with no compensation to the Pamunkey for this unsolicited and unwanted use of their land.

In 1975 the Pamunkey began a suit against the Southern Railroad Company which in 1979 resulted in reparations of $100,000 being paid to the Pamunkey for the location of these tracks. The terms of their settlement also required that the railroad continue regular rent payments for use of that land in the future, and determined that if the railroad should at any point discontinue use of the tracks, the land will be returned to Pamunkey use.

It’s a seed shed in Mississippi….on private property and often written out of the Emmett Till story. But, Imagine the screams of a 14 year old. And Willie, who saw things and heard things, had to evacuated after testimony at trial and then had a mental breakdown…..

What is: Sunflower County Seed Barn, Sunflower County, MS

What was: This barn is the location where Emmett Till was beaten and, most likely, murdered. The barn is on what was then Leslie Milam’s (the brother of J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant) plantation.

According to the testimonies of Willie Reed, his grandfather Add Reed, and Mandy Bradley during the murder trial, this barn was where Emmett Till was taken the night that he was kidnapped.

Willie Reed testified to seeing a white pickup with four white men and three black men–one on the floor and two sitting on the rails beside him–pull up to the barn. Soon after, he heard what sounded like a person being badly beaten inside of the barn. Willie Reed then saw J.W. Milam come out of the barn, get a drink of water, and return to the barn. (1) Add Reed supported Willie Reed’s testimony, claiming to have seen J.W. Milam and the white truck. Mandy Bradley testified that she saw the men going in and out of the barn around 6:30-7:00am. She saw the men back the truck into the shed, then drive away. (2)

The testimonies of Willie Reed, Add Reed, and Mandy Bradley had the potential to upset the Emmett Till murder trial, as their testimony revealed that the murder actually occurred in Sunflower County, not in Tallahatchie County, which would shift the jurisdiction of the courts. However, the trial remained in Tallahatchie County.

Following their testimony, Willie Reed, Add Reed, and Mandy Bradley all had to flee Mississippi. Willie was under police protection for several months. He then had a mental breakdown but went on to live in Chicago under a different name — first in secrecy and later in relative obscurity. For decades, he worked as a hospital orderly. He died in 2013. His wife said that she didnt know about his role in the Till case for seven or eight years into their marriage. Memories burdened him until the end of his life. Sometimes, she said, he would wake up from his sleep “moaning and turning.” In the FBI investigation of the Till murder in the early 2000s, Willie made a final trip to Mississippi to help investigators identify this site and part of the seed shed associated with the Lynching. https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/ddfe67e0-f2e5-11e2…

This site has often been written out of the Emmett Till narrative due to William Bradford Huie’s article in LOOK Magazine. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam could not be tried again for Emmett Till’s murder due to double jeopardy laws, but the other people involved in the murder, namely Leslie Milam who owned the barn where the murder took place, could still be prosecuted. Huie needed signed consent forms from each person involved in the murder to publish the article, so Huie re-wrote the story of the murder to involve only Milam and Bryant, changing the location of the murder to a barn near Glendora, MS in Tallahatchie County. As Dave Tell et al. note, “Although it is wrong, Huie’s story has been so influential that every single map published on the Till murder between the publication of LOOK’s article in January 1956 and 2005 left the Milam Plantation off the map entirely.” (3)

The barn is now under private ownership.

Footnotes 1. Devery Anderson, Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement, University Press of Mississippi, 2015, pp. 128-9.

2. ibid, p. 133.
3. Dave Tell, Davis Houck, Pablo Correa & the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, “Seed Barn, Milam Plantation,” Emmett Till Memory Project, 2021, https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/4.