New Year’s Day

So, this weekend, I was talking to E. about my trip to the city archives on Friday and just how heavy-hearted it left me and how part of the problem with the past is that you are born complicit in some shitty things with no way to extract yourself–I’m not in love with the idea of drinking water that flows through pipes put in the ground by a 14 year old boy whose back was already “much scarred with the whip” by the time he got to Nashville, but here we are. I’ve drank a lot of water through these pipes and will continue to. Sorry, Allen.

But the other part–and it goes hand-in-hand with why you can’t even extract yourself from complicity–is that we don’t know our history and we don’t know what we don’t know. So, I brought up, as a for-instance, people touting how the owner of Nottoway Plantation (from the Ani DiFranco mess) having a meal with his slaves on New Year’s Day as an example of what a fine master he was, when, really, to force the people you keep enslaved to eat with you on New Year’s Day? Total dick move. A total dick move that makes sense–if ever there was going to be a moment of rebellion, it’s when you know which family members you’re going to lose tomorrow, but haven’t yet lost them.

She’d never heard that New Year’s Day was the day when slaves were rented to other plantations for the year or sold (slaves were sold year round, obviously, but, if you faced, say, a glut of 10-12 year old girls on your farm, or if you had a bunch of men fit for cotton but had decided to switch to sugarcane, New Year’s Day was, for lack of a better term, the traditional day for bulk sales of people). In some places, it was called Hiring Day (that’s how Harriet Jacobs knew it.) and it’s speculated that this is one of the reasons early emancipation celebrations centered around New Year’s Day–the first tangible difference that most people knew between being a slave and not being one was that, come January 1st, nothing happened. No one came to your door to tell you who was going away. It was a radical change.

So, yes, January 1st was the day you found out who you were going to lose and January 2nd was the day you lost them. Throwing a barbecue for your slaves and hanging out with them all evening on the 1st doesn’t make you a decent person. It makes you a wise person who knows from what circumstances trouble comes.

But E. had never heard of this. Which, of course, is why Nottoway can pass the January 1st story off as a good one instead of evidence of what a shitty person Randolph was. That bit of history is well-known in the circles it’s well-known in and passes unmentioned, untaught, in the wider world.

Anyway, just putting it out there so that it can be more widely known.


One thought on “New Year’s Day

  1. It can be really, really hard to learn information that conflicts with what you already think you know. Even if one is acting and learning in good faith and not just rejecting anything new out of hand, it’s hard, because the new information has no peg to hang on in one’s old world-view — there’s no piece of knowledge already there to connect it to. So when we’re not taught about the details of USian slavery, understanding a single piece of information that refers to the details of slavery is awfully hard to process. A lot of folks just don’t bother.

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