Traveler’s Rest

John Overton’s great great grandfather was a member of British Parliament. He did not come from humble beginnings. That being said he was not content to rest on the laurels of others and he spent his life as a mover and shaker in the founding of Nashville, one of the American South’s major cities.IMG_2090

Overton built his two story home in 1799. Well, he didn’t really build it, he had other people build it for him. By people, I mean slaves.

When we arrived at the plantation the woman in the gift shop told us they had an award winning exhibition on the slaves who lived at Traveler’s Rest. We bought our tickets.IMG_2064

The grounds are relatively well tended though not seriously landscaped. There is a white picket fence around the property enclosing in a series of buildings. The main house is a hodge-podge of wings added over time. Behind that are two smaller buildings, a smokehouse and building for spinning. The slavery display was on the second floor of the spinning shed.IMG_2066

The exhibit was mostly the names and approximate ages of the black people who are normally ignored at such places. It was very meaningful in that there has been an effort to get names and relationships recorded and displayed. But reading those names was sort of “meh” and even more it was sort of discouraging. I was reading about the slaves but I wasn’t standing in the buildings in which they lived. Those buildings are gone. The homes of black people are gone, but the smokehouse and spinning shed are still there and I was looking through a window at a giant house that these black people built.IMG_2087

The pamphlet explains that right before the battle of Nashville General Nathan Bedford Forrest slept in this house. The text made note of him as a confederate general, not as the founder of the KKK. But his name was  recorded and that was who he was.

The Overtons hung on to Traveler’s rest, and a surprising amount of their fortune, after the civil war and the location became well known for their stable of Arabian horses. the stables are no longer there. They came down after the family and the horses moved to California. When the location became a historical sight they did not rebuild the stables or the slave quarters. They did however build a large “barn” to host weddings and events.IMG_2089

 

Leave a comment

Filed under history, places

So Apparently Nashville is a Place

No, I don’t watch the TV show Nashville so forgive me for not knowing things, and shame on you if you think watching that show means you know things, but I was unprepared for Nashville. To say I was unenthused when I boarded the plane is being kind.

And then we landed.

IMG_1932

I expected some good BBQ and a bunch of twangy singers who wear the hats and boots but have never ridden a horse. What I got was a strident city that didn’t seem to be attempting coolness but was rather exerting its own coolness onto the world. Now admittedly Nashville’s brand of coolness was not exactly mine, if it could be argued that I have any at all, but I appreciate what it was doing. I see what ya did there Nashville.IMG_2103

Everywhere in Nashville is a honky tonk, and by honky tonk I mean a venue for aspiring musicians. The lobby of my hotel at 7am, the second floor dining room of a mostly abandoned bar at noon on a Tuesday, and the convention center ballroom on Thursday night, all venues for live music by people I have never heard of that sound better to me than anyone I ignore on American Idol.

I appreciate that.

IMG_1981

IMG_1979

IMG_1925

Then there was food. Upscale and down. Everywhere.IMG_2098

IMG_1934

IMG_2015

I did find it amusing, and eventually sort of unsettling, that while sitting in a sidewalk dining area in the Gulch for three hours on a Saturday afternoon, we counted no less than six separate bridal parties, each group wearing their own matching outfits, be it pastel green t shirts or black and gold tanks. It felt like a sorority event, but it was weddings. It was a thing.

Also, this was a thing:

IMG_2031

IMG_2042

And so was this:

IMG_1992

IMG_1947

Leave a comment

Filed under places

The History of Spring Break: I am an old man

For college kids spring break  is synonymous with sun baked debauchery. For parents of school aged children it is either an opportunity to take the kids and escape the cold, or the torturous task of a weeks worth of rearranged schedules and event planning. To what or to whom do we owe thanks?

Colgate University’s swim team.pool

 

In 1936 the Colgate swim team’s coach took his boys down to Fort Lauderdale to get a jump start on training in the Olympic sized Casino Pool. Now mind you back in those days Colgate was an all men’s, somewhat elite, possibly elitist school and that was a time when for the most part college was meant to prepare rich white kids to become rich white adults.

Part of becoming a rich white adult is meeting others likewise destined. Within a couple years this  Florida trip wasn’t a practice it was a meet (there is a pun in there).IMG_1661

This Florida swim meet/party became so notorious that one year a professor tagged along, wrote a book about it, and that book became the movie “Where the Boys are”. Twenty Five years later MTV was broadcasting unseemly things live from Daytona.

Ahh the decline and fall of the American empire.IMG_1677

I have my own tales of spring breaks passed, but none of them involve debauchery. They mostly involve taking the kids to the beach or Chuck E’ Cheese… but there was that one road trip to Rosarito.IMG_6077

2 Comments

Filed under history

White Shoes and Picasso

Most people don’t realize that Picasso really knew how to paint. He is known for being the chief inspiration of people worldwide saying “My five year old could paint that”, but what these critics don’t know, or rather one of the many things they don’t know, is that those squashed square faces with yes on the sides of their heads were painted that way for a reason other than lack of skill. They were intentional. That is the right word, intentional.picasso

I was given a white pair of shoes for Christmas. They were, or rather are, great; no logo, all leather lace ups with a cap toe. So I wore them, on Christmas. I wore them again in January and again in February all the way up through March. I’m not wearing them today; not right now. Right now I’m wearing brown shoes with my navy suit because I’m not wearing a tie. Had I on a tie I would be wearing black shoes.IMG_1072

I’m in no way a Picasso but I know a little bit about how to paint. When it comes to painting I know what sort of images I like and I know the limits of my abilities. With some more work and training I could probably further my abilities, and with more money I could definitely further my collection, but for now I’m alright. For now I have no problem wearing white shoes in the winter. Mostly I’m okay with this because right now I live in Southern California.

I know the rule that you aren’t supposed to wear white shoes, or pants or whatever after Labor Day or before Memorial Day. I get it. I’m all for seasonal dressing and it makes perfect sense if you live in a place that actually has seasons. Most rules grew out of reason and in my mind keeping or breaking the rules should be based in those same reasons, not in simple obedience. Not that I am off hand against obedience; not at all. But I have seen how obedience to trends and norms and magazines and television has led to giant big box stores and people in LA wearing pea coats in February.

I love pea coats. LOVE them. But I don’t love them when it is sunny, dry, no wind, and it is 75 degrees. Where I live now it is almost always 75 degrees and because of this, though I love my pea coat, I mostly miss it. I also miss snow pants. In the office I miss gym shorts and while at the gym I miss my blazer. At the beach I miss tweed and in snowstorms I miss linen.IMG_9317 (18)

I see it most pronounced when I venture to the mall (an evil suburban necessity). I see trends and groups much more than I see people. This is normal. All people, no matter how individualistic, follow some sort of group pattern or norm, I’m okay with this. What I am less okay with is that prevailing norms appear dictated by some odd unnamed other who is obviously somewhere else who appears to be dictating what everyone should be wearing. Tight clothes, loose clothes, warm clothes, cool clothes, collar up or collar down, all worn without regard to situation, unless of course that situation is defined narrowly by magazine ads, box store mannequins, and TMZ.

Mannequins and advertisements trump body type and climate. We should all learn a little bit more, how to paint. For instance the wearing of stripes and or tights (which are not pants) may best be determined by body type than celebrity imitation. Sportswear and accompanying gear may best be determined by activity rather than brand popularity. Color, composition, and form, should come before cubism or pop art exposition.IMG_3507

And while I live in a year round sunny desert clime, I will wear white… and do a lot of laundry because I will also eat salsa.

1 Comment

Filed under style

1st to College: Black History Month

Back in the 1700’s hardly anyone went to college. Those who did certainly weren’t going there to learn a skill or get a job. They were there to study the classics and become generally versed in history, literature, and science. They were there to become acculturated, spending time with gentrified peers, mixed with some academic luxuriating. College was more or less somewhere to send young, rich, white,  boys.

Then there was John Chavis.15preacher

Chavis, born in North Carolina, was a free black man who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary war. After the war he was tutored by John Witherspoon (who would become the president of Princeton) and then in 1794 Chavis enrolled in the Liberty Hall Academy (which would later become Washington &Lee University). Chavis, a black man, went to college back when most people, no matter their color, did not.

Chavis went on to be ordained a Presbyterian minister and founded a school near Raleigh North Carolina. His school, which taught both black and white, though not at the same time, was regarded as one of the best in the state. It all came to a screeching halt in 1831, when due to white fears of slave rebellions, all black people were barred from teaching, and or preaching.

Chavis’s story serves as a reminder that history is not a straight ascending line. Empires rise and fall, racism ebbs and flows. Chavis was a remarkable man who achieved remarkable things long before the emancipation proclamation or the Civil Rights Movement. Yet because history is not a straight line, Chavis did not really blaze a trail for others to follow. His tracks were swept over by fearful slavers, de-reconstructionists, and time.

Remember that gains can, and have in the past, been lost.

Leave a comment

Filed under history, people

To Persist and Prosper: Black History Month

Studying the history of Black people in America will uncover two tales, one of surprisingly persistent and cruel oppression, and the simultaneous triumph of persistence and spirit. Black history is an illustration of how the human spirit can defy the odds.

Because the odds have been stacked against Black folk, intentionally so, since America’s founding. Despite this; despite slavery and Jim Crow, despite terrorism and destruction, people keep slipping through and succeeding. tumblr_nj5wjwpsHQ1qksd21o1_1280

There is a laundry list of Black people who have done the remarkable when they really shouldn’t have. They shouldn’t have because there were people and a whole system of government set up to stop them.

There was Richard Allen who was kicked out of church in 1786 for being Black. He responded by founding a denomination that is still thriving today.

Alexander Twilight, a Black man who graduated from college in 1823, a time when almost no one studied past grade school. Not only that, but many of those who had been to college were forwarding arguments that Black people weren’t fully human.tumblr_n0drz1kQ0c1qksd21o1_1280

There was Biddy Mason, a woman brought to California as a slave in 1850. Upon discovering that slavery was illegal in California Biddy sued for her freedom and won. She took to freedom well founding schools, a church, and invested in property. She amassed a fortune.

There have been so many examples of exemplary individuals that we could easily forget the opposition over which such success stories triumph.

Should we be proud of Hank Aaron or ashamed of how White Americans treated him?

Proud of MLK’s anti-violence or ashamed that he was murdered?

The answer is in all cases yes, because this is our American history. It is who we are.tumblr_o1ink0tMlo1qksd21o1_1280

2 Comments

Filed under history

The Great Migration: Black History Month

I call this the “You are okay but ya’ll are not” principle…

When slavery ended, and especially when reconstruction ended, a series of laws were passed, mostly at the state level but later upheld by federal courts, meant to preserve the racial caste system and the money it provided business owners. For example in Alabama it was illegal for a Black person to be unemployed. It was also illegal for a Black person to quit their current job without permission from their employer. Anyone breaking these two laws would be sent to jail (after a trial in which it was illegal for a Black person to testify against a White person).chicago

It was common practice for the state to rent out inmates to steel companies and railroads. These “inmates” are in large part the labor force that rebuilt the South’s destroyed infrastructure.

One thing that wasn’t illegal was leaving town, though this was a one way ticket since it was illegal to quit your job. Black people chose to leave and did so in large numbers. They went to places like New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Later, in a subsequent waves, they went to places like Oakland, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

At this same time America was growing into a world power. It was spreading out to the West coast and people flocked to the land of opportunity from places like Ireland and Italy. These immigrants went to places like New York, Chicago, and Detroit. The same places southern Black folk were going. It started getting kinda crowded.

Without the experience of an historical precedence of sustaining a large Black population, most of these cities scrambled to maintain White superiority. New housing codes, labor unions, and public policy sprung up to make sure Black people didn’t get jobs that White people wanted, live in neighborhoods near White people, or essentially “Ruin things”. Throughout the 1900’s, all the way up through the 60’s, there were race riots and lynchings in nearly every American city where there grew a sizable Black population.

Mob running with bricks during Chicago Race Riots of 1919

Members of a white mob run with bricks in hand, during the Chicago race riot of July and August, 1919.

The North and West which had previously accepted the occasional Black person, realized they definitely did not want a whole slew of them. So basically, “you are okay, but not ya’ll.”

Leave a comment

Filed under history