Tuesday, June 14, 2022

What Miss Washington (1897) Wants You to Know

1850, From New Haven Negroes: A Social History

Free Coloreds of Meriden, New Haven, CT

Miss Florence Washington born, 18 Feb 1897 in Meriden, CT has found herself in a 2022 play. She's not the star, but she is a part of America's History. Her short appearance allows Americans to rethink their stereotypes, and the molding of America. 

Miss Washington's mulatto family were free coloreds. Her maternal side had lived in New Haven, CT at least since 1811. Miss Washington wasn't from an ex-slave family from the south, neither were her parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents. 

Amistad Slaves, 1839
This is not to say Connecticut did not have slaves. Matter of fact, the last acquired slaves taken to New Haven, CT were from the Amistad  in 1 Jul 1839. These Africans only spoke their native African tongue. Read more about the Amistad Case

It has been proven that the treatment of norther slaves, too, was harsh and inhumane. But, Miss Washington's family of Meriden, CT were free coloreds at least since 1811, the year the first school for African Americans attended school at The Goffe Street Special School.  Many of her family members were skilled laborers: (i.e. tailors). Unfortunately, due to a divorce in the 1940's she fell on hard times. 

This Washington family had never reportedly traveled to the south. They would not meet the stereotype embedded in biased history books of a southern slave. She would not have a reason to speak with a southern drawl. 

Miss Washington was raised and attended high school year in Meriden, CT. She and  family  would not have had the draw or cadence of a southerner.  In 1940 - 1950, the Washington's did live in the area of Meriden, Connecticut carved out for the African Americans. Florence Washington died in 1951.  
3 Things Miss Washington Wants You to Know?
Goffe Street Special School for Colored Children. Courtesy New Haven Museum

1) Blackvoice and blackface are equally offensive.
Although black communities may speak with an audible accents, they all don't speak with the same accent. Read about language and influences.  So know that mocking your stereotype blaccent, a blackvoice, is as offensive as blackface. In genealogy we must be careful to understand not just the era, but the place, the social and community culture. 

2) Free-coloreds and Slaves.
All black people were not slaves from the south, Matter of fact there really were free coloreds. We have historical documents to prove it. Even the ancestors of the free-colored Morris-Griffin family were landowners in Rutherford NC, in 1811.  Read about the Morris-Griffin family.  So even your southern slaves may not meet your stereotypes. Miss Washington wants to remind you slaves did not inherently adapt a southern draw. Ask yourself, where would they have learned such cadence?

3) Diaspora
Thank goodness for Federal Census records to verify such things. In 1990 Meriden, 4.3% of the population was black. That increased from1850 when it was recorded the blacks made up 2.1% of the population. So, how many African Americans flooded the city of Meriden, CT.  Not many!  There was not an influx of southern ex-slaves, or black people to change the black culture of Meriden between 1850-1950. (See Demographics) However, we do know that many of the Connecticut free-coloreds travelled south after the Civil War, to educate and support the recently freed slaves.  

Other Readings:
Connecticut's African American History
Ready for a Linguistic Controversy? Say 'Mmhmm'
City of Meriden, Plan of conservation & Development Update: Demographics and Population Trends

Thanks to Florence Washington and he ancestors. 

   Be Historically Correct

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate Accessible Answers

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