Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska and Chicago, Illinois, I am used to frequent ribbing about the Midwestern “foreign land.” It was while I was attending Clark College (now CAU, a HBCU) in Atlanta, Georgia, that I first became the subject of great humor about my Midwestern upbringing. It helped that my maiden surname is “Wead” (pronounced “Weed”) and for many of my Southern classmates, very little was known about the Black folk who lived in the Great Plains.
African Americans were integral to the forging of new territories in the great West. My family and hundreds of thousand of African American still live in every region west of the United States’ Mississippi River.
Branching out with new e-book series
African American foragers used their nature instinctive skills to survive their tough homestead ventures during post-Civil War’s harsh Reconstruction period. Mark Owen and I, are Midwestern natives. As the authors of a new book series that highlights our our self-publishing book site, Lulu.com. https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/ann-wead-kimbrough-and-mark-owen/august-first-is-the-first-black-holiday-for-black-people/ebook/product-zv5pgd.html?page=1&pageSize=4.
One of the book chapters is about Nicodemus, Kansas, the first Black and only existing town west of the Mississippi that was settled by African American homesteaders who trekked from Kentucky during Reconstruction to establish a new life. It was tough and they were gritty. If it weren’t for the Native Americans sharing their food and other nearby townspeople doing the same, and the new homesteaders utilizing their foraging abilities to pull honey from trees and find berries in bushes, the first settlers would have starved. I also wrote about Nicodemus and other forgotten Black towns in the West in my other blog. See Blog #25.
I love this NYT piece because it provides excellent sources who speak on the often neglected topics of everything from slaves’ inherent knowledge of wilderness to today’s harrassing and ignorant facts regarding those of us who will stop along the side of a road if we see a special bush that may be a healthy product when properly picked and cooked. There were a couple of stories over the last year that showcased the little-known relationships African Americans have with nature. There are African American outdoors enthusiasts who are hoping to break down barriers that exist about hikng, for instance.
While hiking in Indiana and in New York’s Central Park, violent and harassing incidents captured global headlines based on ignorance from the inflictors.
I especially appreciated the NYT references to the enslaved ancestors locating honey from trees and harvesting all sorts of berries and other healthy products from trees, limbs, bushes and from the earth.
Camp Lessons for Life
I was an early African American forager. I grew up as the only one in my household who went to every available that featured the great outdoors camp that my parents could afford. I recall taking our daily showers in stalls that allowed for the minor snakes and other creatures to share in the rustic settings. The campfire stores, especially the ones with scary outcomes in the stars-lit skies, were my favorites. I remember the silly and yet lasting chants such as those for catching ones’ elbows on the large dining hall’s long wooden tables. Here’s the chant:
"Ann ... Ann ... strong and able ... get your elbows off the table. This is not a horse's stall, but a first-class dining hall! 'Round the tables you must go, you must go, you must go. 'Round the tables you must go, you were naughty."
It was all in good fun and I learned valuable lessonson how to live with kids from diverse backgroounds. We celebrated our differences by sharing in all sorts of activities. It was the early “rope courses” and other skils and trust-building experiences I had as an adult member of teams ranging from the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee to Harvard University’s Graduate Education certificate program
Black Girl in the Black Hills
I also recall riding the horses along the ridges of the South Dakota Black Hills, however, this wonderful path is no longer open to the public. It was probably not safe when I was riding on it in the late 1960s, yet it was worth it. It was beautiful to see all views of the Black Hills along the former horse trails.
Homework: Utilize the NYT article and my blog as motivation to research your family’s ancestries about the early foragers. Happy trails!