Adonis Diaries

Archive for July 1st, 2015

 

How a letter written in 1855 gave Kyra Gaunt a whole new perspective on slavery.

White Americans aren’t the only ones who don’t like to remember slavery and its history.

According to the Office of Minority Health, in 2012 there were 43.1 million people who identify as African-American.

I could lay money that, next year, fewer than 1 percent will publicly celebrate the 150th anniversary of June 19th, or what we call “Juneteenth” — also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day — even though the holiday is recognized in 43 of our so-called United States.

It was on this day in 1865 that, two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the state of Texas freed the last enslaved Africans in America.

Many African-Americans don’t have detailed stories about our enslaved ancestors or their escape. At least, my family didn’t.

When I grew up, no one in our community talked about slaves. Slaves were objects in public debates, always referred to in some generalized manner. The talk was always “we come from slaves” (not enslaved African people).

We were property, not human beings whose culture and nationality was stripped with every stroke of a slavemaster’s whip.

So I was struck to my core with tears when I recently read a copy of a letter written by my great-great-grandfather in 1855. He’d recently escaped slavery in Portsmouth, Virginia, on the Underground Railroad.

When he reached Philadelphia, he sent this note to a friend, entreating him to help his (first) wife and children, who were in jail — left behind as a casualty of his emancipation.

Here is the letter, unedited and in full:

LETTER FROM SHERIDAN FORD, IN DISTRESS.

BOSTON, MASS., Feb. 15th, 1855.

No. 2, Change Avenue.

MY DEAR FRIEND:—Allow me to take the liberty of addressing you and at the same time appearing troublesomes you all friend, but subject is so very important that i can not but ask not in my name but in the name of the Lord and humanity to do something for my Poor Wife and children who lays in Norfolk Jail and have Been there for three month

i Would open myself in that frank and hones manner. Which should convince you of my cencerity of Purpoest don’t shut your ears to the cry’s of the Widow and the orphant & i can but ask in the name of humanity and God for he knows the heart of all men.

Please ask the friends humanity to do something for her and her two lettle ones i cant do any thing Place as i am for i have to lay low Please lay this before the churches of Philadelphaise beg them in name of the Lord to do something for him i love my freedom and if it would do her and her two children any good i mean to change with her but cant be done for she is Jail and you most no she suffer for the jail in the South are not like yours for any thing is good enough for negros the Slave hunters Says

& may God interpose in behalf of the demonstrative Race of Africa Whom i claim desendent i am sorry to say that friendship is only a name here but i truss it is not so in Philada i would not have taken this liberty had i not considered you a friend for you treaty as such

Please do all you can and Please ask the Anti Slavery friends to do all they can and God will Reward them for it i am shure for the earth is the Lords and the fullness there of as this note leaves me not very well but hope when it comes to hand it may find you and family enjoying all the Pleasure life Please answer this and Pardon me if the necessary sum can be required i will find out from my brotherinlaw i am with respectful consideration.

SHERIDAN W. FORD.

Yesterday is the fust time i have heard from home Sence i left and i have not got any thing yet i have a tear yet for my fellow man and it is in my eyes now for God knows it is tha truth i sue for your Pity and all and may God open their hearts to Pity a poor Woman and two children.

The Sum is i believe 14 hundred Dollars Please write to day for me and see if the cant do something for humanity.

I wept deeply when I read this letter and an accompanying account of a merciless whipping before his escape. His writing spoke of options I never, even as a professor, realized a slave could have.

Here was a literate man well versed in writing by 1855, who clearly articulates the value of his freedom, five years after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act from the Compromise of 1850 — which ended Reconstruction and led to the discriminatory, second-class-ranking Jim Crow laws.

He could have been snatched back to Virginia if ever found in Boston by his lawful captors.

This is more than any memory passed down orally and better than any autobiography published in a book. It was evidence of a liberated truth.

It was a local knowledge penned by a formerly enslaved man’s full grasp of a belief in God, in his humanity and in the justice of being newly free.

It seemed like a miracle to read the words of someone I am related to, someone I could trace to my bloodline instead of some generalized story about slavery. Reading the handwritten words of my grandfather’s grandfather changed something in me.

It turns out that we were more than anything I had ever learned — more literate, more compassionate, more enlightened — and contemporary youth must be remembered to this kind of inscribed evidence of our cultural evolution.

Evidence of owning not just one’s liberty but one’s own literacy. I can now claim my descendence from the Race of Africa from the words of my own kin, from within my immediate family, and not from some televised fiction.

The cherry-picked popular slave narratives or mediated memories from Alex Haley’s miniseries Roots are like secondhand clothes, mediated scripts of third-world stories. They carry no local knowledge or memory at all: they are broken memories of forced migrations thrown overboard.

When we do get to the real memories, we try to tell “the right” story, the “grotesque” how-could-they-do-this-to-us story, or the capitalism-was-built-on-the-back-of-the-debt-paid-with-our-free-labor-and-forced-sex story.

There’s Toni Morrison’s beloved story of a mother killing her children rather than let them live as chattel slaves. Non-blacks aren’t the only ones who resist remembering slavery.

My great-great-grandfather lives first-hand: “i love my freedom.”

We know slaves taught themselves to read and write. In this exchange of ideas written in 1855, Sheridan Ford speaks to not just valuing but owning his own freedom in ways no Hollywood script by Spielberg or Tarantino could ever aptly capture. Now I can’t wait to tell about his second wife, my great-great-grandmother Clarissa Davis, who escaped to freedom dressed as a man.

Ethnomusicologist and Baruch College-CUNY professor Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D,. is a 2009 TED Fellow. Her scholarship focuses on black girlhood, with special attention to their offline musical play and online content creation.

She’s the author of The Games Black Girls Play.

Patsy Z  shared this link

150 years ago today, the state of Texas freed the last slaves in America.‪#‎Juneteenth‬

How a letter written in 1855 gave Kyra Gaunt a whole new perspective on slavery.
T.TED.COM

The Solar System and Beyond is Awash in Water

April 7, 2015

As NASA missions explore our solar system and search for new worlds, they are finding water in surprising places. Water is but one piece of our search for habitable planets and life beyond Earth, yet it links many seemingly unrelated worlds in surprising ways.

“NASA science activities have provided a wave of amazing findings related to water in recent years that inspire us to continue investigating our origins and the fascinating possibilities for other worlds, and life, in the universe,” said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for the agency. “In our lifetime, we may very well finally answer whether we are alone in the solar system and beyond.”

This illustration depicts the best-known candidates in our search for life in the solar system
Earth isn’t the only ocean world in our solar system.
Oceans could exist in diverse forms on moons and dwarf planets, offering clues in the quest to discover life beyond our home planet.
This illustration depicts the best known candidates in our search for life in the solar system.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The chemical elements in water, hydrogen and oxygen, are some of the most abundant elements in the universe. Astronomers see the signature of water in giant molecular clouds between the stars, in disks of material that represent newborn planetary systems, and in the atmospheres of giant planets orbiting other stars.

There are several worlds thought to possess liquid water beneath their surfaces, and many more that have water in the form of ice or vapor.

Water is found in primitive bodies like comets and asteroids, and dwarf planets like Ceres.

The atmospheres and interiors of the four giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — are thought to contain enormous quantities of the wet stuff, and their moons and rings have substantial water ice.

Perhaps the most surprising water worlds are the 5 icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn that show strong evidence of oceans beneath their surfaces: Ganymede, Europa and Callisto at Jupiter, and Enceladus and Titan at Saturn.

Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently provided powerful evidence that Ganymede has a saltwater, sub-surface ocean, likely sandwiched between two layers of ice.

Europa and Enceladus are thought to have an ocean of liquid water beneath their surface in contact with mineral-rich rock, and may have the 3 ingredients needed for life as we know it: liquid water, essential chemical elements for biological processes, and sources of energy that could be used by living things.

NASA’s Cassini mission has revealed Enceladus as an active world of icy geysers. Recent research suggests it may have hydrothermal activity on its ocean floor, an environment potentially suitable for living organisms.

NASA spacecraft have also found signs of water in permanently shadowed craters on Mercury and our moon, which hold a record of icy impacts across the ages like cryogenic keepsakes.

While our solar system may seem drenched in some places, others seem to have lost large amounts of water.

On Mars, NASA spacecraft have found clear evidence that the Red Planet had water on its surface for long periods in the distant past. NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover discovered an ancient streambed that existed amidst conditions favorable for life as we know it.

More recently, NASA scientists using ground-based telescopes were able to estimate the amount of water Mars has lost over the eons. They concluded the planet once had enough liquid water to form an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere, in some regions reaching depths greater than a mile (1.6 kilometers).

But where did the water go?

It’s clear some of it is in the Martian polar ice caps and below the surface. We also think much of Mars’ early atmosphere was stripped away by the wind of charged particles that streams from the sun, causing the planet to dry out. NASA’s MAVEN mission is hard at work following this lead from its orbit around Mars.

The story of how Mars dried out is intimately connected to how the Red Planet’s atmosphere interacts with the solar wind. Data from the agency’s solar missions — including STEREO,

Solar Dynamics Observatory and the planned Solar Probe Plus — are vital to helping us better understand what happened.

Understanding the distribution of water in our solar system tells us a great deal about how the planets, moons, comets and other bodies formed 4.5 billion years ago from the disk of gas and dust that surrounded our sun.

The space closer to the sun was hotter and drier than the space farther from the sun, which was cold enough for water to condense. The dividing line, called the “frost line,” sat around Jupiter’s present-day orbit.

Even today, this is the approximate distance from the sun at which the ice on most comets begins to melt and become “active.” Their brilliant spray releases water ice, vapor, dust and other chemicals, which are thought to form the bedrock of most worlds of the frigid outer solar system.

Scientists think it was too hot in the solar system’s early days for water to condense into liquid or ice on the inner planets, so it had to be delivered — possibly by comets and water-bearing asteroids.

NASA’s Dawn mission is currently studying Ceres, which is the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Researchers think Ceres might have a water-rich composition similar to some of the bodies that brought water to the three rocky, inner planets, including Earth.

The amount of water in the giant planet Jupiter holds a critical missing piece to the puzzle of our solar system’s formation. Jupiter was likely the first planet to form, and it contains most of the material that wasn’t incorporated into the sun.

The leading theories about its formation rest on the amount of water the planet soaked up. To help solve this mystery, NASA’s Juno mission will measure this important quantity beginning in mid-2016.

Looking further afield, observing other planetary systems as they form is like getting a glimpse of our own solar system’s baby pictures, and water is a big part of that story.

For example, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has observed signs of a hail of water-rich comets raining down on a young solar system, much like the bombardment planets in our solar system endured in their youth.

With the study of exoplanets — planets that orbit other stars — we are closer than ever to finding out if other water-rich worlds like ours exist. In fact, our basic concept of what makes planets suitable for life is closely tied to water: Every star has a habitable zone, or a range of distances around it in which temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist.

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission was designed with this in mind. Kepler looks for planets in the habitable zone around many types of stars.

Recently verifying its thousandth exoplanet, Kepler data confirm that the most common planet sizes are worlds just slightly larger than Earth.

Astronomers think many of those worlds could be entirely covered by deep oceans. Kepler’s successor, K2, continues to watch for dips in starlight to uncover new worlds.

The agency’s upcoming TESS mission will search nearby, bright stars in the solar neighborhood for Earth- and super-Earth-sized exoplanets. Some of the planets TESS discovers may have water, and NASA’s next great space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, will examine the atmospheres of those special worlds in great detail.

It’s easy to forget that the story of Earth’s water, from gentle rains to raging rivers, is intimately connected to the larger story of our solar system and beyond.

But our water came from somewhere — every world in our solar system got its water from the same shared source. So it’s worth considering that the next glass of water you drink could easily have been part of a comet, or an ocean moon, or a long-vanished sea on the surface of Mars.

And note that the night sky may be full of exoplanets formed by similar processes to our home world, where gentle waves wash against the shores of alien seas.

Patsy Z shared this link

Liquid water is almost impossible to find in the rest of the solar system. So why does Earth have so much of it?
(via TED-Ed)

The ancient origins of water on Earth.
t.ted.com

For more information about NASA’s exploration of the solar system and beyond, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov


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