A tribute to the Lydia Judah, teacher, Freedmen’s Bureau

While delving into the Freedmen’s Bureau records for a client, I came across the “Teacher’s Monthly School Report” for June of 1867 in Richmond, Virginia. The locations of the schools caught my eye: “16th st. near to creek,” “cor 3rd And Leigh,” and “All[e]y bet Clay & Marshall.” The roster named each teacher, sometimes a married couple, the date the school opened, the ethnicity of the teacher (most were “colored”), the number of students, and other data telling the student’s progress. Two hundred and seventy-seven students were tallied on the page.

Teacher’s Monthly School Report, Freedmen’s Bureau, Richmond, Virginia, June 1867

Third and Leigh street, Google informed me, now hosted a bus stop. Google street view came through, including the bus.

Third and Leigh Streets, Richmond, Virginia

Lydia Judah of Richmond taught at the school that opened at Third and Leigh street in October of 1866.[1] She had ten male students and 21 female. Lydia reported that 12 students were early readers and 12 were advanced.

Lydia Judah, the daughter of Benjamin W. Judah, and was born free in Virginia in about 1838.[2]

Richmond City Court Minutes

Benjamin was a shoemaker. Lydia grew up in a large family.[3]

Benjamin Judah household, 1850 US Census, Richmond, Virginia
Benjamin Judah household, 1860 Census, Richmond, Virginia

Lydia Judah died of consumption in Philadelphia in August of 1868.[4]

Lydia B. Judah death, 10 August 1868

Lydia and the other schoolteachers of the Freedmen’s Bureau contributed to the cause of freedom.


[1] “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D1L7-94X : accessed 25 June 2022); “Teacher’s Monthly School Report,” June 1867, Richmond,  Virginia; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, roll 168.

“United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9TH-KS4T-1 : accessed 27 June 2022); “Monthly Education Report, Virginia,” 20 February 1868, page 5; citing NARA microfilm publication M803, roll 32.

[2] “Richmond City, Virginia, Hustings Court Minutes, No. 14, 1840-1842,” 14 June 1841, page 354, regarding children of Benjamin W. Judah; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C374-V9R5-X: accessed 27 June 2022), Film #008574656; citing County Clerk

[3] 1850 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Richmond, page 383 (stamped facing page), dwelling 671, family 778, Ben. W. Judah household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:53HT-DC33-832 : accessed 27 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 951.

1860 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Richmond Second Ward, page 195 (penned), dwelling 1047, family 1187, Benj. W. Judah household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.ora/ark:/61903/3:1:3357-8BF2.9L1 : accessed 27 June 2022); citing NARA microfilm publication M653,roll 1352

[4] Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate, Lydia B. Judah, Philadelphia, 10 August 1868; database with images, “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1903,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6SZ7-HZW : accessed 27 June 2022); citing Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society.

A letter from 1867 arrives in 2022

Hawkins Wilson wrote a letter to the Freedmen’s Bureau searching for the family he was separated from as a 6-year-old. It was May of 1867. He described his mother, uncle, and siblings and their location in Virginia before his enslaver took him away to Galveston, Texas.

Watch the story of how his letter achieved its goal in 2022 in the exquisite video “A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson.”

Well done, Ancestry, and thank you Anthony Anderson, Dr Henry Louis Gates, and Nicka Sewell-Smith for sharing this touching story.

Unlearning

For most of my education, American History started with the Pilgrims and ended sometime around World War II. History books largely ignored contributions of women, impacts on Indigenous people, the horrific middle passage of enslaved Africans, slavery, and ongoing inequities experienced by anyone considered “the other.” In 8th grade our history book contained an image that upended the paper pilgrim hats, George Washington’s cherry tree, and Lincoln’s log cabin.

The image of the slave ship Brookes haunted me: black figures, lying chained together in the hold of a ship, layers of unwilling human cargo. Considered one of the most important infographics of all time, English abolitionists posted it on walls of taverns and published it in newspapers and pamphlets.[1] It contributed to the passage of laws abolishing the slave trade throughout the British empire in 1808.[2] On seeing the image in 1974, I began to doubt the history of the just and righteous founding fathers. Three years later, the miniseries Roots caught the attention of the nation and demonstrated that memories of capture, the harrowing trip across the ocean, and enslavement survived the passage of time. Alex Haley based his novel on stories his grandmother told of his seventh great-grandfather stolen from Gambia.[3]

By 1998, the publication of Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball[4] invited Americans to look at the past. He wrote:

No one among the Balls talked about how slavery had helped us, but whether we acknowledged it or not, the powers of our ancestors were still in hand. Although our social franchise had shrunk, it had nevertheless survived. If we did not inherit money, or land, we received a great fund of cultural capital, including prestige, a chance at education, self-esteem, a sense of place, mobility, even (in some cases) a flair for giving orders. And it was not only “us,” the families of former slave owners, who carried the baggage of the plantations. By skewing things so violently in the past, we had made sure that our cultural riches would benefit all white Americans.

Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), p. 13-14.

I am committed to unlearning, “to discard or put aside certain knowledge as being false or binding.”[5] The history I learned in school denied reality. My unlearning has taken on new urgency as the world continues to struggle to address racism. A new wave of book censorship threatens our ability to unlearn.[6] I believe my grandchildren deserve history lessons that face the past. It is only then that we can create a better future.

Here’s a few books to consider:

Thomas Norman DeWolf, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Larges Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History

Tom De Wolf, one of the founders of Coming to the Table, recounts his family’s journey to understand their ancestors’ role in slavery by retracing the slave trade route.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Judge and others were denied freedom while living in a free state by the Washingtons’ practice of sending enslaved people back to a slave-holding state just as they became eligible for emancipation. George Washington misused his power during attempts to return her to slavery. New Englanders sympathetic to Judge blocked Washington’s efforts and helped Judge maintain her freedom.

Henry Louis Gates, 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro

In this surprising book, Henry Louis Gates revises an ambitious and not totally factual book of the same name first published in 1934. The original author, Joel Augustus Rogers, introduced many African Americans to their history during the Jim Crow era. Henry Louis Gates corrects Roger’s misunderstandings and creates a fascinating look at the many ways African Americans shaped world history.

Adam Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening

Adam Goodheart carefully catalogs the events leading up to the Civil War on a personal and national scale. For those of us who learned the Civil War was about “states rights,” this book provides overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, born in 1813 in North Carolina, recounts the years she was enslaved, sexual abuse by an enslaver, and years hiding in an attic before her escape to New York. The book was first published in January 1861 and you can read it online.

Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

Kendi’s own journey into antiracism forms the backbone of his book. He deftly walks the reader through racist thinking and how it shapes policies and systems.

Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Brown, editors, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Brown brought together ninety authors, each writing about a 5-year period in American history beginning in 1619 with the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown. Using short story, biography, poetry, essays, and calls-to-action, the authors provide connections to current issues.

DeRay McKesson, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope

DeRay tells of his life of activism, including his involvement in the founding of Black Lives Matter movement with fellow activists.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

As founder of the Equal Justice initiative, Bryan Stevenson fights daily for the rights of people unjustly charged with crimes. His book recounts story after story of last-minute legal maneuvering to save people’s lives. His organization documents the history of racial injustice.

Dorothy Wickendam, The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights

Dorothy Wickendam chronicles the lives of Harriet Tubman, Martha Wright, and Frances Seward who each fought for abolition and women’s rights, sometimes together, and sometimes with differences of opinion.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Harrowing experiences of racism in the south led each of the three people profiled in the Warmth of Other Suns to distinct locations: to the north, the midwest, and the west. Isabel Wilkerson’s comprehensive research, interviewing acumen, and storytelling demonstrate how racism followed each to their destination and continues to impact people today.

David Zucchino, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

The death of the promise of reconstruction is recounted in Zucchino’s book about the massacre of African Americans who had risen to elected office and prominence in business in Wilmington.


[1] Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, (London: publisher not given, 1808); digital image and description, British Library https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/diagram-of-the-brookes-slave-ship(: accessed 4 May 2022).

[2] Michael Sandberg, “DataViz History: The Slave-Ship Chart That Kindled The Abolitionist Movement, 1788,” DataVizBlog.com (https://datavizblog.com/2013/03/09/dataviz-history-the-slave-ship-chart-that-kindled-the-abolitionist-movement-1788/ : accessed 4 May 2022).

[3] “Biography: Alex Murray Palmer Haley, August 11, 1921 – February 10, 1992” AlexHaley.com (https://alexhaley.com/biography/ : accessed 4 May 2022).

[4] Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998).

[5] “Unlearn,” Dictionary.com (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/unlearn : accessed 4 May 2022).

[6] Annie Gowen, “Censorship battles’ new frontier: Your public library,” 17 April 2022, The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/04/17/public-libraries-books-censorship/ : accessed 4 May 2022).

That Sinking Feeling

A couple of months ago I was researching my 5x great-grandfather and came across a Deed of Gift in the courthouse records in Rockingham County, North Carolina.[1] My ancestor, John Barnett, gave his nine grandchildren (including my 3x-great grandfather) a present on 6 March 1823. The Deed of Gift began innocently enough:

“To all people to whom these presents shall
come. _ I John Barnett of Rockingham
County & State of North Carolina send greetings
Know ye that I the said John Barnett for
and in consideration of the natural love
and affection which I have and bear unto
my beloved grand children, namely, James
Walker, John Walker, David Walker, William
Walker, Thomas Walker, Samuel Walker, Lucy
Walker, Martha Walker & Henry Walker, chil-
dren of my Daughter Ann who intermarried
with Adam Walker…”

John Barnett’s Deed of Gift, 6 March 1823

At this point, my genealogist brain said “excellent, I now have an original document with primary information directly linking Ann Barnett to her father, her husband, and all of her children in Rockingham County, North Carolina in 1823.” These generational links form the foundation of a well-documented family tree.

As I read on, the sinking feeling began as the gift was described:

“…one Negro Boy na-
mely Jacob 14 years old, one ditto name-
ly Charles eight years old, one Negro wo-
man Nancy twenty years old, one other
Negro Woman Dafney seventeen years old
one waggon & five pair of Giere [geese?] 1 Black Horse
8 years old, 1 Do [ditto] 15 years old, one Bay horse
9 years old 1 Sorrel Mare 12 or 15 years old
four feather Beds and furniture, one Sugar
chest, also seven hundred dollars,
with all the Increase of said property…”

John Barnett’s Deed of Gift, 6 March 1823, continued.

My ancestor gave Jacob, Charles, Nancy, and Dafney to his grandchildren as chattel. He also gave any of their children away as chattel. My ancestor destroyed the desires, dreams, and relationships of these four people by owning them and selling them. This gift took place prior to the Adam Walker family’s relocation to Perry County, Tennessee, and likely tore families apart. My ancestor’s actions are part of the multigenerational transmission of harm to African Americans. This harm, or historical trauma, carries a legacy of “beliefs, ideas, myths, prejudices, biases and behaviors that are disseminated and then inherited by and/or about differing groups.”[2] The aftermath of this legacy is the systematic and structural racism that persists in North America.

I have known for over thirty years that some of my ancestors were enslavers. I found my ancestors in the slave schedules of the 1850 and 1860 censuses with the lists of unnamed people they held in bondage. My mother discovered a scrap of paper in the Benton County, Tennessee, Historical Society records describing the sale of Mary Jane from one ancestor to another.[3] Although never far from my mind, this information had become far from my heart. John Barnett’s Deed of Gift brought it back into my heart.

My response to this knowledge has changed. Instead of logging it away in my genealogy program and citing the sources faithfully, I have begun the process of “Transforming Historical Harms” as recommended by Hooker and Czajkowski:

Facing History
Making Connections
Healing Wounds
Taking Action

I am finding my own way forward to face history, make connections, heal wounds, and take action. It is a small thing compared to the harm so many African Americans experienced and continue to experience. I share these early steps in my journey with the hope of encouraging you on your own.

In the past two years I have focused on learning about racism and the American history that I was not taught in school. This education will continue for the rest of my life. As a citizen of two countries (the United States and Canada), facing history is both a societal imperative and specific to my family. Reading and learning about systematic and structural racism led me to Coming to the Table (CTTT), a non-profit with a core of genealogical research dedicated to facing history and healing racial wounds created by slavery and its impact. I participate in the Linked Descendants group. With support from Coming to the Table, I became a Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience practitioner, and I am learning and practicing ways to address historical trauma. I’ve joined the U.S. Black Heritage Exchange program WikiTree project and wrote about that experience in a guest blog for Research Like a Pro. I am entering the records of enslavers and those that were enslaved into WikiTree in hopes of helping others discover their family history. As a citizen and a health care professional, I will continue to take action, speak out, donate time and resources, and be part of the long process of righting the historical harms written into history, like John Barnett’s Deed of Gift.

The story of Jacob, Charles, Nancy, and Dafney reminds all of us of the debt owed to the people who built the wealth of the North American continent. How can we individually and collectively face history, make connections, heal wounds, and take action? What’s next for you?


[1] Rockingham County, North Carolina, “Deed Book X,” pages 230-232, John Barnett to his grandchildren James  Walker, John Walker, David Walker, William Walker, Thomas Walker, Samuel Walker, Lucy Walker, Martha Walker and Henry Walker, Deed of Gift, 6 March 1823; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L98Q-3QYR : accessed 5 November 2021), FHL Film #007517701; citing North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Raleigh.

[2] David Anderson Hooker and Amy Potter Czajkowski, “Transforming Historical Harms,” Eastern Mennonite University (https://emu.edu/cjp/docs/transforming-historical-harms.pdf : accessed 13 February 2022), page 15.

[3] Benton County, Tennessee, “Deed Book F, Jan 1857-Apr 1860,” page 291-292, Thomas Walker  to H. Kee, Negro girl named Mary Jane, 6 August 1857; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS5H-9SYD-W and https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS5H-9SYN-C : accessed 21 November 2021); citing Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.