Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guestpost: Sabra Waldfogel author of Slave and Sister

On the Front Line for Freedom: Albert Morgan and Carolyn Highgate

 As I researched my novel Slave and Sister, about Jews and their slaves in antebellum Georgia, I found some real people whose lives were as fascinating as anything I could imagine. This is one such story.

On August 3, 1870, two people got married Jackson, Mississippi. The ceremony was held privately at the bride’s lodgings. The newlyweds proceeded to the train station at midnight, hoping to start their wedding trip quietly. At the station, they were “nearly mobbed” by a hostile crowd, and the news of their wedding traveled with them. They were reviled in the papers of Jackson, Vicksburg, New Orleans, and even in the groom’s home town of Fox Lake, Wisconsin.

The groom, Colonel Albert Talmon Morgan, was a Union veteran, a Radical Republican legislator from Yazoo County, and a staunch defender of the rights of freed slaves. The bride, Carolyn Victoria Highgate, was a lifelong Abolitionist from Syracuse, New York, who taught ex-slave children at the Jackson Methodist Mission.

He was white. She was black.

In Reconstruction Mississippi, interracial marriage was more than an act of love and more than an act of faith. It was an act of great courage. Who were these people on the front line for freedom, and what drew them together?

Immersed in Abolition
Albert was born in upstate New York in 1842 and raised in Wisconsin. His mother was a Quaker, who imparted to him an inner quiet and a hatred for slavery. Like four of his brothers and one of his sisters, Albert attended Oberlin College, one of the few 19th-century American colleges to admit black and female students. In the 1850s it was a hotbed of Abolitionist sentiment and activism.

Like her future husband, Carolyn was an upstate New Yorker. Her father was born free in Pennsylvania, but her mother was from Virginia and may have been a fugitive slave. Carolyn was born in Albany, but her family moved to Syracuse when the Highgate children were refused admission to the Albany district school.

Syracuse was a place of Abolitionist ferment. The family arrived in Syracuse one year after the Jerry Rescue, one of the decade’s most sensational acts in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act. Local Abolitionists commemorated the event every year and kept its memory fresh until the Civil War broke out. The Highgates joined the People’s AME Zion Church, whose minister, Jermain Loguen, was a fugitive slave and a well-known conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Both Carolyn and her older sister Edmonia graduated from high school, the equivalent of a college degree today. On the eve of the Civil War, Edmonia was the principal of a black school in Binghamton, and Carolyn was prepared for a career as a teacher.

Soldiers against Slavery
When the Civil War broke out, Albert dropped his studies at Oberlin and rushed home to enlist. He saw action at the historic battles of Bull Run and Gettysburg and was wounded at both, rising from the rank of private to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel. After he mustered out on July 14, 1865, he had his photograph taken. On his face was the look of dislocation and shock that the 19th century called “soldier’s heart.”

Carolyn’s war started in 1864, when her older sister Edmonia, sponsored by the American Missionary Association, went South to teach the children of freed slaves. Carolyn joined her a year later. Before the war ended she taught in war-torn Virginia, and after the war she moved to New Orleans, roiled by racial violence, and later to Mississippi, eventually running her own school in Jackson.

Teaching was dangerous. AMA teachers were threatened, their students were beaten, and their schoolhouses were vandalized. Several teachers in Mississippi were murdered. The woman who opened the schoolhouse door and taught in defiance of Klan intimidation was as brave as the man who had picked up a rifle for the Union. Like Albert, Carolyn had been a soldier.

Kindred Souls
They met in Jackson. After the war, Albert had bought a distressed plantation in Yazoo County, where he built a sawmill. He employed former slaves, paying them weekly wages and starting a school for their children. The local planters hated him for it. His sawmill was repossessed in 1867.

Later that year, he ran for election as Yazoo County’s representative to the Mississippi State Legislature. The black voters of the county, who far outnumbered the white ones, supported the party of President Lincoln to elect Albert to the legislative seat. His white neighbors were so outraged by his victory that they jeered at him when he left for Jackson: “Polecat! Polecat!”

He visited Carolyn’s school in 1869, recalling the meeting in his memoir. Her little scholars sang “John Brown’s Body”, and she approached him with the “grace of a country girl” and the “dignity of a queen.” He didn’t care that the blood of Africa ran in her veins. He told his brother Charles that “She is the grandest woman living.” He fell “head over heels in love with her” and they were soon engaged.

He idealized her. He admitted to Charles that “Her breath smells like spring violets,” adding “…guess a fellow can kiss his girl after they’ve been engaged as long as we have.” It was tender, idealistic, and respectful. It was a perfectly ordinary Victorian courtship, except for its extraordinary disregard for race. Their love, like their activism, put them on the front line for freedom.

The best source for Albert Morgan’s life in Mississippi, including his courtship of Carolyn Highgate, is his memoir Yazoo: or On the Picket Line of Freedom in Mississippi (University of South Carolina, 2000).

Sabra Waldfogel grew up in Minneapolis and received her Ph.D. in American History from the University of Minnesota. Her short fiction has recently appeared in Sixfold. Slave and Sister is her first novel. 

Visit her website for more information about her and the book.

 Adelaide Mannheim and her slave Rachel share a shameful secret. Adelaide’s father, a Jewish planter in Cass County, Georgia, is Rachel’s father, too. Adelaide marries neighboring planter Henry Kaltenbach, a Jew deeply troubled by slavery, and watches with a wary eye as her husband treats all of his slaves—including Rachel—with kindness. As the country’s conflict over slavery looms ever larger, Henry and Rachel fall in love, and as the United States is rent by the Civil War, the lives of mistress and slave are torn apart. When the war brings destruction and Emancipation, can these two women, made kin by slavery, free themselves of the past to truly become sisters?

Powerfully evoking an era of slavery and war, Slave and Sister is a story of love, betrayal, forgiveness, and freedom.

Slave and Sister Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, October 27
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, October 28
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes
Wednesday, October 29
Review & Giveaway at Forever Ashley
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, October 30
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Monday, November 3
Review at Book Babe
Tuesday, November 4
Spotlight at I’d Rather Be Reading
Wednesday, November 5
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Thursday, November 6
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, November 7
Interview at Mina’s Bookshelf
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter

1 comment:

  1. I just added this one to my TBR earlier today. It sounds so good!