Archive for the ‘history’ Category

By Dahleen Glanton and Stacy St. Clair

GEORGETOWN, S.C. — Tiny wooden cabins line the dirt road once known as Slave Street as it winds through Friendfield Plantation.

More than 200 slaves lived in the whitewashed shacks in the early 1800s, and some of their descendants remained for more than 100 years after the Civil War. The last tenants abandoned the hovels about 30 years ago, and even they would have struggled to imagine a distant daughter of the plantation one day calling the White House home.

But a historical line can be drawn from these Low Country cabins to Michelle Obama, charting an American family’s improbable journey through slavery, segregation, the civil-rights movement and a historic presidential election.

Their documented passage begins with Jim Robinson, Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather, who was born about 1850 and lived as a slave, at least until the Civil War, on the sprawling rice plantation. Records show he remained on the estate after the war, working as a sharecropper and living in the old slave quarters with his wife, Louiser, and their children. He could neither read nor write, according to the 1880 census.

Robinson would be the last illiterate branch of Michelle Obama’s family tree.

Census records show each generation of Robinsons became more educated than the last, with Michelle Obama eventually earning degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. Her older brother, Craig, also earned an Ivy League education.

Barack Obama’s campaign hired genealogists to research the family’s roots at the onset of his presidential bid, but aides largely have kept the findings secret. Genealogists at Lowcountry Africana, a research center at the University of South Florida in Tampa, scoured documents to put together a 120-page report, said project director Toni Carrier. She said the center signed a confidentiality agreement and is not allowed to disclose the findings publicly.

However, in his now-famous speech on race during the primary, Barack Obama, whose father was from Kenya, stated he was “married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners.”

Obama aides refused to discuss the report or allow Michelle Obama to be interviewed about her ancestry. She has said she knew little about her family tree before the campaign, but census reports, property records and other historical documents show her paternal ancestors bore witness to one of the most shameful chapters in U.S. history.

In January, when the Obamas move into the White House — a mansion built partially by slaves — as the country’s first African-American first family, Michelle Obama will embark upon a life her great-great-grandfather never could have envisioned.

Living in slave shacks

Little is known about Jim Robinson’s life at the Friendfield Plantation, beyond that he worked in the riverfront rice fields after the Civil War. Local historians don’t know how or when he came to Friendfield, but census records indicate both his parents were born in South Carolina. The coastal Carolina city often is referred to as the African-American Ellis Island because of the many slave ships that docked along its shores.

A map from the early 1870s, when Robinson was living on the plantation, shows three parallel rows of slave cabins, each with 10 to 13 buildings along Slave Street. By 1911, only 14 were standing.

Five single cabins remain today. With their massive fireplaces and wood-plank walls, each tells a story about slave life on the plantation.

The small shacks, only 19 feet deep, housed several families at once, said Ed Carter, who oversees the property. Large stone fireplaces were used for cooking and heating. Attic space beneath the gable roof offered a place for extra people to sleep.

The plantation’s former owner, Francis Withers, built a “meeting house” for slaves on the estate before 1841, and the South Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church assigned a preacher there. A fire destroyed the church in 1940.

By the time Withers died in 1847, the family had expanded Friendfield to include six plantations and more than 500 slaves. At the height of the rice trade, Friendfield was one of the most lucrative plantations in the area, Carter said.

In his will, Withers, educated at Harvard University, provided for the care of his slaves, including the upkeep of the church and a salary for the preacher. He also requested his slaves be treated with “great kindness and be fed and clothed.”

He left $10,000 to purchase more slaves to work the plantation and provided financial incentives for his surviving relatives to retain his “Friendfield gang of slaves” as a group and not break up families.

Respect for learning

The plantation’s prosperity faded after the Civil War, and the family began selling off the property in 1879, according to land records. Jim Robinson, like many former slaves, continued to live on the farm.

It’s unclear when he died, but local historians think he is buried in an unmarked grave in a slave cemetery that overlooks the old rice fields on the edges of Whites Creek.

Among Jim Robinson’s surviving children was Fraser Robinson, Michelle Obama’s great-grandfather. Born in 1884, he went to work as a houseboy for a local family before his 16th birthday. Census records show he was illiterate as a teen but had learned to read and write by the time he had children.

As an adult, he worked as a lumber-mill laborer, shoe repairman and newspaper salesman. He registered for the draft during World War I but was turned down because he had lost his left arm, military records show.

Fraser Robinson married a local woman named Rose Ella Cohen and had at least six children. Described by a family friend as an intelligent man who wanted his children to be well-read, he always brought home his extra copies of the “Palmetto Leader and Grit,” a black newspaper that was popular in rural communities across the country.

“He used to make his children read those newspapers,” said Margretta Dunmore Knox, who still lives in Georgetown and attended the same church as the Robinsons. “Maybe that’s how they became so smart.”

His eldest son, Fraser Jr., was born in 1912 and graduated from high school. Census records from 1930 show that 18-year-old Fraser Jr. was living at home and working at a sawmill after earning his diploma.

At the time, Georgetown, a coastal town about an hour’s drive north of Charleston and the state’s third-oldest city, was split along racial lines. Basic human rights that blacks had known after the Reconstruction era disappeared as the Deep South sank into the Depression and segregationist ways.

The power of “Enough”

As Georgetown’s economy crumbled, Fraser Jr. headed north to Chicago in search of employment. There, he met and married LaVaughn Johnson. Their son Fraser Robinson III — Michelle Obama’s father — was born in 1935.

Although they never attended college, Fraser III and his wife, Marian, made education a top priority for their two children. Both would attend Princeton and earn postgraduate degrees from prestigious universities.

Fraser and LaVaughn Robinson lived on the South Side of Chicago for part of Michelle’s childhood, before retiring and moving south. After returning to Georgetown, the couple joined the AME Bethel Church, founded by freed slaves in 1865 and the oldest black church in the city. The couple sang in the choir and built a large circle of friends, Knox said.

Michelle Obama returned to the same church in January while campaigning for her husband in the South Carolina presidential primary. Addressing a packed audience that included at least 30 descendants of Jim Robinson, Obama talked about the need for change in the confident voice of a distant daughter of slavery.

“Things get better when regular folks take action to make change happen from the bottom up,” she said. “Every major historical moment in our time, it has been made by folks who said, ‘Enough,’ and they banded together to move this country forward — and now is one of those times.”


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Google Predicted 1964


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The earliest civilizations were not a product of favorable conditions but rather a last resort in the face of dramatic shifts in the weather, a climate scientist said on Thursday.

Flying in the face of accepted theory that settled societies emerged from the development of static farming in good climatic conditions that produced food surpluses and allowed specialization, Nick Brooks said the opposite was true.

“Civilization did not arise as the result of a benign environment which allowed humanity to indulge a preference for living in complex, urban civilized societies,” he told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

“On the contrary, what we tend to think of today as civilization was an accidental by-product of unplanned adaptation to catastrophic climate change. Civilization was a last resort,” he added.

Brooks said he based his theory on close observation of archaeological remains of the Garamantian civilization in the Fezzan region of south-western Libya allied with evidence of changing rainfall patterns 3,000-5,000 years ago.

But he said the pattern could also be found in societies as diverse as South Asia, South America and China.

As the climate became steadily drier formerly nomadic people were forced to come together for mutual support and to eke out the dwindling natural resources.

But not all of the consequences of this merging movement were beneficial — social inequality arose as did organized violence, there was no increase in life expectancy and autocratic governments emerged, Brooks said.

When climate conditions improved again there was no return to the former order.

“Once the cat is out of the bag, it doesn’t go back. You can’t uninvent technology,” Brooks said.

And he warned against drawing comparisons with the global warming that is predicted to raise average temperatures by around three degrees this century, noting that the temperature rise was well above that which forced the societal change 5,000 years ago.

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Tandy’s TRS-80 Model I lacked the pizzazz of the Apple II, but it was the first computer to be truly marketed to the masses: Over 200,000 of the monochromatic little machines were sold by Radio Shack, an electronics retailer with thousands of locations in an age when almost nobody had ever heard of a computer store.

For $600, the first iteration of the TRS-80 gave you a measly 4KB of RAM and a rudimentary version of the BASIC language, and it stored programs on sluggish, flaky audiocassette tapes. As with other early PCs, the best way to get it to do something was to write a program from scratch. “There was an almost indescribable joy to be had the first time a program that you wrote yourself actually worked,” remembers early owner Craig Landrum.

Over time the Model I gained more memory, disk drives, networking, and other enhancements; acquired a library of thousands of programs; and saw the debut of progeny such as the TRS-80 Model 100 portable (number 8 on our list). TRS-80 computers were the first to be the subject of magazines devoted entirely to one company’s PCs; today, they’re impressively documented at Ira Goldklang’s TRS-80.com.

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Athens fell because a plague swept the empire. But scientists have debated what illness was responsible.

A new DNA analysis of teeth from an ancient Greek burial pit indicates typhoid fever caused the epidemic.

The plague began in Ethiopia and passed through Egypt and Libya to Greece in 430-426 B.C. It changed the balance of power between Athens and Sparta, ending the Golden Age of Pericles and Athenian dominance in the ancient world.

An estimated one-third of Athenians died, including Pericles, their leader.

Knowledge of the epidemic had come largely from an account by the Greek historian Thucydides, who was taken ill with the plague but recovered. Despite Thucydides’ description, researchers could only narrow the possibilities down to a range that included the bubonic plague, smallpox, anthrax and measles.

The new study, led by Manolis Papagrigorakis of the University of Athens, found DNA sequences similar to those of the modern day Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi, the organism that causes typhoid fever. The work is detailed online by the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Typhoid fever is transmitted by contaminated food or water. It is most common today in developing countries.

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The Metis

Métis – pronounced “MAY tee”, in French [me’tis] or [me’tsɪs]

During the 1500’s, early French explorers claimed eastern Canada for France. The French were interested mainly in establishing trade with the Indians, and the two groups had relatively good relations. Some French traders married Native American women. Their descendants–that is, people of French and Indian ancestry–became known as metis.

During the 1600’s, English colonists began to move into eastern Canada. They claimed the land for England, and conflicts broke out between the English and the French. Between 1689 and 1763, the French and English fought four wars for control of North America. During these wars, some tribes sided with the French and others with the English. The wars ended with British victories, and as a result, Native American tribes came under British control. The British government set aside lands for the Indians. In the 1800’s, it assigned groups of Indians to reserves. The British Canadians and the Indians generally lived separately, but differences still arose between them. After settlers nearly killed off the buffalo on the Canadian plains, many Indians were left without their chief source of food and clothing. The death of the buffalo and disputes over land claims helped lead to two metis rebellions. They were the Red River Rebellion (1869-1870) and the North West Rebellion (1885), which is sometimes called the Louis Riel Rebellion.

In 1867, Britain passed the British North America Act (now called the Constitution Act of 1867), which created the Dominion of Canada. The new government of Canada continued the earlier policy of confining Indians to reserves. The superintendent general of Indian affairs was placed in charge of the reserves and of government dealings with the Indians. Through the years, superintendents negotiated a number of treaties for western Indian lands.

The Canadian government focused on assimilating (integrating) Indians into mainstream Canadian society. Parliament passed legislation calling for elected tribal governments to replace traditional hereditary leadership. Other laws allowed the government to order Indian children to be sent to boarding schools, where they could be taught white customs away from the influence of their families. Laws of the late 1800’s banned certain Indian religious practices, including the sun dance.

The Indian Act of 1876 summarized laws concerning who could legally be considered an Indian. People who met the legal definition of Indians were known as status Indians. They did not have to pay taxes on reserve property and had certain other privileges. But they could not vote in provincial and federal elections and were denied many other civil rights held by Canadian citizens.

The Indian Act also furthered the government’s policy of enfranchisement. This policy involved the voluntary rejection by male status Indians of their tribal identity. In choosing to become enfranchised, Indian men gained the right to vote and other privileges held by non-Indians. On the other hand, enfranchised Indians lost their legal and treaty rights as Indians as well as their right to live on a reserve. An Indian woman became enfranchised if she married a non-Indian man. Many Indians opposed enfranchisement, seeing it as a threat to their traditional way of life and their tribal identity. Through the years, relatively few Indians chose to become enfranchised.

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Humans were born to run and evolved from ape-like creatures into the way they look today probably because of the need to cover long distances and compete for food, scientists said on Wednesday.From tendons and ligaments in the legs and feet that act like springs and skull features that help prevent overheating, to well-defined buttocks that stabilize the body, the human anatomy is shaped for running.

“We do it because we are good at it. We enjoy it and we have all kinds of specializations that permit us to run well,” said Daniel Lieberman, a professor of anthropology at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

“There are all kinds of features that we see in the human body that are critical for running,” he said.

Lieberman and Dennis Bramble, a biology professor at the University of Utah, studied more than two dozen traits that increase humans’ ability to run. Their research is reported in the science journal Nature.

They suspect modern humans evolved from their ape-like ancestors about 2 million years ago so they could hunt and scavenge for food over large distances.

But the development of physical features that enabled humans to run entailed a trade off — the loss of traits that were useful for being a tree-climber.

“We are very confident that strong selection for running — which came at the expense of the historical ability to live in trees — was instrumental in the origin of the modern human body form,” Bramble said in a statement.

Against the grain
The conventional theory is that running was a by-product of bipedalism, or the ability to walk upright on two legs, that evolved in ape-like human ancestors called Australopithecus at least 4.5 million years ago.

But Lieberman and Bramble argue that it took a few million more years for the running physique to evolve, so the ability to walk cannot explain the transition.

“There were 2.5 million to 3 million years of bipedal walking without ever looking like a human, so is walking going to be what suddenly transforms the hominid body?” said Bramble.

“We’re saying ‘no, walking won’t do that, but running will.'”

If natural selection did not favour running, the scientists believe humans would still look a lot like apes.

“Running has substantially shaped human evolution. Running made us human — at least in the anatomical sense,” Bramble added.

Among the features that set humans apart from apes to make them good runners are longer legs to take longer strides, shorter forearms to enable the upper body to counterbalance the lower half during running and larger disks which allow for better shock absorption.

Big buttocks are also important.

“Have you ever looked at an ape? They have no buns,” said Bramble.

Humans lean forward when they run and the buttocks “keep you from pitching over on your nose each time a foot hits the ground,” he added.

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