Tag Archives: slavery

History Behind the Curtains

Book Review ~ The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry Available for less than $10.00

LincolnHistory. The record of human experience recorded by imperfect humans. Sometimes reinterpreted for reasons great and small, pure and not so pure. This time of year reminds me of such things. We as humans love our legends. They are created, passed on, embellished, and polished until the root of the event is lost in the mists of time. All meaning of the original struggle is erased. As an amateur anthropologist, this process is understood and has its own tale to tell. As an amateur historian, it is often a travesty. I believe that we cannot draw meaningful lessons from history unless we are brave enough to explore the real events, motivations and results to the best of our ability. Steve Berry is an author of fiction that combines history and action to bring out possibilities in historical legends. The Lincoln Myth, in my opinion, is a masterpiece. It is also very apropos of current events.

I have quietly argued for years that the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves. Yes. I’m serious. It was not. It was fought due to conflicting interpretations of a concept that was paramount in the formation of our country, state’s rights. In the story written by Berry those rights centered on one very specific issue, the right to secession.

Secession is a hot topic just now. I’m afraid the reasons that most people express for such a move seem rather callow to me. I honestly see no meat in many of the shoutings and rantings present in social media and the media in general. Mostly this is the case because everyone is talking over everyone’s head and few take the time to research the facts before they jump on the favored bandwagon. In addition, few proponents of either side of the issue take the time to analyze the repercussions, the consequences of such an undertaking. It’s exhausting. Berry, in today’s climate, was a breath of fresh air.

The story begins with a scene dated September 10, 1861. The White House visit of General John Fremont’s wife, Jesse, is historical. What occurred can only be surmised. Berry begins with this point and fast forwards to the current day. He articulates rather clearly what the problems of the moment were and are. In 1861, if the Southern states left the union, the North would lose substantial amounts of funding from the port tariffs in place at the time. The raison d’etre of the conflict – the South wanted to run their own ports because they were very busy selling cotton to Britain and Europe and the North could not let them leave or it would go bankrupt. Lincoln himself made very clear that slavery was not an issue. He would free every slave, keep some or none; as long as he could win the war.

Lincoln also made it clear before his presidency that as a lawyer he supported the right of secession. A quote:

“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.” Abraham Lincoln, January 12, 1848.

The Revolutionary War was a war of secession: America was not of the mind to overthrow the government of Britain. Why would those who fought that war lock the door for others to leave a union if they so desired?

Interesting, eh? Something else of interest? Lincoln had no power to end slavery. Slavery was enshrined in the Constitution. A president does not have the authority to change the Constitution. Slavery was not abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment. The Senate passed the bill in 1864, the House on January 31, 1865. The states ratified the amendment by December of 1865. Then, and only then, was slavery legally abolished.

These are the issues that Berry explores in his fast-paced action novel with historical roots. His characters also explore what it would mean for various and sundry parts of the union to go their separate ways.

I can tell you that the legal and political links between the Canadian provinces are far less entangled than those of the states and yet Quebec has been unable to gain the political and public will to break away. It’s not all that easy. There are consequences and not all of them are pretty.

If I have any advice for those I know and care for who are struggling against one aspect or another of our current government? Think carefully. Understand the consequences of your choices and work to strengthen, not destroy, what was once a great country.



Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

Finding the History in the Legend

History.  A call I can never seem to ignore, a need to see the wisdom and the folly of the past to better understand the shape of the present.  One of the things I most respect in the telling of a piece of history, wherever in the world the stage may form, is the care of the storyteller to see the participants as real people.  People with real needs, real trials, and real accomplishments.  My friend Edward Frank is such a person.

As he will tell you, Edward is a passionate caver.  He spends much of his time working toward a more balanced and sustainable treatment of the globe on which we live.  From his work as a geologist to his work with the Native Tree Society, he is focused on issues and on the human impact of our decisions now and in the future.  It was with great pleasure that I saw him take on this new task.  I sincerely believe he can bring the stories of these past men to life.  This is the story of men who suffered the ignominy of being “property,” and yet excelled in the tasks set before them.   These men were explorers and conquerors in their own right and their story should be told.

Please welcome my guest this week, Edward Frank.


headerThe Black Guides of Mammoth Cave:  A Documentary

My name is Edward Frank and I am developing a documentary video about the Black Guides of Mammoth Cave.  My partners in the effort are filmmaker Phoebe Frear and award winning, bestselling author and screen writer Steven Barnes.   I am a geologist by training and have been a caver for over thirty years (with numerous publications), a web designer, and filmmaker.  Phoebe Frear is a talented young filmmaker who has produced short documentary and theatrical videos with her production company Elephant Trunk Films.  Steven Barnes is an award winning science fiction writer, a NY Times bestselling author, and a screen writer with his work appearing on numerous television series.

The genesis of this project really took place several years ago.  On a visit to the park I took the short walk down the Heritage Trail to the “Old Guide’s Cemetery” to visit the grave of Stephen Bishop.   Stephen Bishop was a slave who was taken to Mammoth Cave in 1838, along with fellow slaves Materson Bransford and Nick Bransford.  They were to serve as guides for tourists who wanted to visit the cave.  In addition to his service as a guide Stephen began exploring the cave.  He was the first to cross the Bottomless Pit and to see the miles of cave beyond.  He was the first to see Gorin’s Dome, the first to see the Echo River, and first to discover the blind, white, troglobitic cave fish dwelling there.  His exploits are legendary.  As the first great American cave explorer, he is an iconic and almost mythological figure within the present day caver community.

After a short walk I arrived at the “Old Guide’s Cemetery.”    There were two signs flanking the viewing area.   On the left side of one sign was an image of Stephen Bishop, Dr. Croghan, the Mammoth Cave Hotel, and a hut from the ill-fated tuberculosis hospital briefly located within the cave. The right side of this sign showed an image of Stephen Bishop’s tombstone.

The second sign was devoted to African American Heritage at the park.  It showed a large photo of Ed Bishop who is Stephen Bishop’s great-nephew.   I had never really thought about Stephen Bishop’s family and had not known he had a brother, let alone a great nephew.  Three photos flanked the right side of the sign.  The first showed guide William Garvin and his wife Hannah at a small farmstead they owned.  The second showed students at the segregated Mammoth Cave School, circa 1910.  The third photo showed a mixed group of both black and white cave guides who worked at the cave in the 1930’s, prior to the cave property becoming a National Park.

Who were these men?  What were their stories?  What of their families?  It bothered me that while I recognized the name Stephen Bishop and could recount some of his exploits, I knew virtually nothing about the other guides who worked in the cave.  In actuality I knew very little about Stephen Bishop himself beyond the popular caricature presented to the general public.

My resolve to learn more about these men was crystallized only a few minutes later inside the park’s Visitor’s Center.  I was examining some of the early photographs from the cave posted as part of a display when I met a guide working there.  His name was Jerry Bransford.

photosmJerry Bransford is the great-great-grandson of Mat Bransford, one of the original slave guides at the cave.  He was the fifth generation of Bransfords to have been a guide at the cave, and the first to lead tours in 66 years.  His uncle Louis Bransford left the guide service when the National Park was established.  His story brought home to me how little I knew about these men.

This is a piece of history that deserved to be told and had to be told. This was the genesis of this documentary project.   I will strive to create a balanced presentation that both deals with the men’s tribulations first as slaves and later free men in the face of segregation and discrimination, and their accomplishments as cave explorers.  I want to put a human face on these men as individuals and acknowledge the roles they, their descendants, and other African Americans have had in the history of the cave and the surrounding communities.

The website at http://blackguidesofmammothcave.wordpress.com/ outlines the basic structure.  The documentary would be approximately 50 minutes in length and done in the style of the History Channel’s “History’s Mysteries” and “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC.  On January 10, 2014 an Indiegogo crowd funding effort will begin.  If you are interested in the project please donate at that time.  I have also created a Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/blackguidesofmammothcave?ref=hl and a Twitter Account: @blackcaveguides for the project.

Thank you Edward.  I am looking forward to watching the progress of the project and to see the finished product!



Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era