Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #3: Humber Bridge, Wilberforce House and Rudston Monolith

Humber Bridge

Frank and I have now made our way to the North Sea Coast, thanks to our able companion and guide, Heidi’s husband, Gareth Schachtschneider-Williams.

Our first stop Saturday was to see the port city of Hull’s Humber Bridge, said to be the fifth largest single-span suspension bridge in the world. 

If you’re also interested in the great bridges of the world, Greensboro Public Library’s holdings include the recent Bridges:  The Science and Art of the World’s Most Inspiring Structures (2010).


Later, in the old part of the city, we visited the William Wilberforce house and museum.  Wilberforce was of course the English politician who fought relentlessly to abolish slavery in England during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

His efforts were the subject of the recent film Amazing Grace, and the library also has an excellent biography of Wilberforce by William Hague called William Wilberforce:  The Life of the Great Anti-slave Trade Campaigner (2007).

Rudston Monolith

After Hull, we proceeded north up the coast, but took time to visit the parish church of the tiny village of Rudston where one can see a giant neolithic monolith (26 feet high) that was erected over 4000 years ago.  Our stop in Rudston also included an excellent lunch at a local tavern where the barman regaled us with amusing stories.        

If you’d like to read about megalithic monuments like the one at Rudston, try  Bronze Age Britain by Michael Parker Pearson (2005) or Great Stone Circles:  Fables, Fictions, Facts by Aubrey Burl (1999).  

By evening we had just made it to the splendid seaside village of Robin Hood’s Bay, which is quite simply one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever had the good fortune to see.  But more about that in our next post.


African American Burial Ground Center Opens in Manhattan

Last Thursday’s New York Times included an interesting article by Edward Rothstein about a new African American Burial Ground Center which opened in Lower Manhattan on Saturday.

The story of the Center begins back in 1991 when human remains were discovered  during construction of the Ted Weiss Federal Building.  Researchers soon identified the site with a “Negros Burial Ground,” which appears on an 18th century map of New York City.  Over 400 bodies were eventually disinterred by archaeologists, and these are just a fraction of the estimated 10-20,000 believed to have been buried here before the cemetery was closed in the 1790s.  Many, if not virtually all of them, were African slaves.

While, as Rothstein points out, some of the Center’s exhibits are controversial, they nonetheless cast a revealing light upon the brutality of African slavery in America during the 17th and 18th centuries.  Wear marks on some of the bones unearthed, for example, are believed to show evidence of the harsh, repetitive tasks forced upon slave laborers.       

Greensboro Public Library has plenty of books on African slavery, if you’d like to do some research yourself.  Recent titles include:  A Shadow on the Household:  One Enslaved Family’s Incredible Struggle for Freedom by Bryan Prince; Liberty or Death:  The Surprising Story of Runaway Slaves Who Sided with the British During the American Revolution by Margaret Whitman Blair; Slavery’s Constitution:  From Revolution to Ratification by David Waldstreicher; Douglass and Lincoln:  How a Revolutionary Black Leader and a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery and Save the Union by Paul Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick; Ten Hills Farm:  The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North by C.S. Manegold; The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom by Steven Hahn; Lincoln on Race & Slavery, edited and introduced by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. , coedited by Donald Yacovone; Deliver Us from Evil:  The Slavery Question in the Old South by Lacy K. Ford; An American Trilogy:  Death, Slavery, and Dominion on the banks of the Cape Fear River by Steven M. Wise; The Odyssey of an African Slave by Sitiki, edited by Patricia C. Griffin; “What Shall We Do with the Negro?”:  Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America by Paul D. Escott; Dreams of Africa in Alabama:  The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America by Sylviane A. Diouf; and Passages to Freedom: the Underground Railroad in History and Memory, edited by David W. Blight.

We also have one juvenile work specifically on New York’s slave burial ground called Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence:  The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground by Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan.

African-Americans & the White House

The highly anticipated inauguration of America’s first black president, Mr. Barack Obama, will no doubt be accompanied by a tremendous amount of media coverage from a whole host of perspectives.      

This very good article, from MSNBC, traces the long historical association of African-Americans and the White House, recalling that “slaves not only helped build the White House, but also for decades men and women in bondage served America’s presidents and first families as butlers, cooks and maids.”

I especially liked the fact that the MSNBC article linked to an electronic edition of  A Colored Man’s Reminisences, written by Paul Jennings, a slave of our fourth president, James Madison, and available through Documenting the American South, a project sponsored by the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  UNC-CH is one of America’s most important repositories of rare and valuable imprints — books, pamphlets, broadsides, etc.  — associated with the American South.  Through this project, literally 100s of titles from the University’s North Carolina Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Rare Book Collection and Davis Library, all associated with various themes of Southern history, are now available for free on the web.  If you’re not familiar with Documenting the American South, check it out sometime.

The MSNBC article also mentions that an African-American baby was born in the White House in 1806, daughter of two slaves of then president Thomas Jefferson. 

This reminded me of the Sally Hemings controversy — the theory, now born out by DNA evidence, that Thomas Jefferson or a close relative fathered children by Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings.  The library has several books on this subject, as well Thomas Jefferson’s slaves in general, which would no doubt shed light upon the domestic relations of slaves and our presidents.  These include:  The Hemingses of Monticello:  An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed; The Jefferson-Hemings Myth:  An American Travesty, presented by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society and edited by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.; Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings:  An American Controversy by Annette Gordon-Reed; The Slave Families of Thomas Jefferson:  A Pictorial Study Book with an Interpretation of His Farm Book in Genealogy Charts, in 2 vols., written and compiled by B. Bernetiae Reed. 

The author of the last mentioned work is a native of Greensboro.  It is a sumptuously illustrated and painstaking study of over 600 of Jefferson’s slaves.