Black Ancestors : Orindatus Simon Bolivar Walls: A Legacy White-washed

Discussion in 'Honoring Black Ancestors' started by cherryblossom, Dec 3, 2012.

  1. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    [​IMG]
    Orindatus Simon Bolivar Wall


    A hero of African-American history whose story is forgotten because his descendants decided they were white.

    By Daniel J. Sharfstein|Posted Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011,

    His very name hovered on the line between slavery and freedom: Orindatus Simon Bolivar Wall. Orindatus was a slave's name, through and through. It had a Latinate grandiosity that many masters favored for their chattel when Wall was born on a North Carolina plantation in the 1820s, the son of his owner and a slave woman. All his life, people got the name wrong. They called him Oliver. They called him Odatis. Eventually, he went by his initials: O.S.B. Wall.

    As much as Orindatus signaled slavery, his middle names suggested the opposite: Simon Bolivar, the great liberator of Latin America, a man who had decreed freedom for slaves and led a popular movement he described as "closer to a blend of Africa and America than an emanation from Europe." Perhaps this was Wall's father's attempt at irony, an ultimate affirmation of his mastery. But perhaps the name represented other ideas and aspirations that Stephen Wall harbored for his son. In 1838, he freed O.S.B. Wall and sent him to southern Ohio, to be raised and educated by Quaker abolitionists. His mother stayed behind.
    By any measure, O.S.B. Wall soon became a hero of African-American history, the kind of man Black History Month was created to celebrate. But today he is forgotten. The story of his rise to prominence and fall into obscurity reveals one of the great hidden narratives of the American experience. While O.S.B. Wall spent a lifetime fighting for civil rights, his children grew up to become white people....

    ...http://www.slate.com/articles/news_...son/2011/02/orindatus_simon_bolivar_wall.html


     
  2. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    ....In 1858, Wall was indicted under the Fugitive Slave Act for helping a vigilante mob rescue a man from Kentucky slave catchers. (Asked in federal court if he "knew the colors by which people of color were classified," he answered bluntly: "There were black, blacker, blackest.") During the Civil War, the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth and other black regiments were filled with hundreds of soldiers that Wall recruited for the fight. In 1865, he became the first African-American to be regularly commissioned a captain in the Union Army. Arriving in South Carolina just before Lee's surrender, he joined the Freedmen's Bureau and helped shape the end of slavery and the dawn of a new era.
    In 1867, Wall moved to Washington, D.C., where he integrated the First Congregational Church, recruited the first students to attend Howard University, and graduated in the second class of Howard's law school. While his wife Amanda taught freedpeople in their home and marched for voting rights for women, Wall served as a police magistrate and justice of the peace, responsible for small civil cases and petty crimes. For many newly freed African-Americans in the District, he was the law, and they called him Squire Wall. He was elected to two terms in the territorial legislature, representing a majority white district. After his death in 1891, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery....

    ....http://www.slate.com/articles/news_...son/2011/02/orindatus_simon_bolivar_wall.html
     
  3. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    .....But most importantly, Wall had no family to claim and remember him. He and his wife had five children who survived to adulthood. They attended Oberlin, took government positions, and became active in black Republican circles in Washington. Within a few years of their father's death, however, they began to cut their ties to the black community and identify as white. By 1910, no one was left who wanted to keep the memory of O.S.B. Wall alive.....

    ....Because of its secrecy, "passing for white" has long been the province of literature, not history. Over the last 200 years, dozens of novels,plays, and movies have imagined African-Americans who become white, as well as whites who discover a trace of black ancestry. Most have treated passing as a tragic masquerade: Becoming white means abandoning family, moving far from home, changing names and identities, and living in constant fear that the secret will be betrayed. This conventional narrative has made it easy to regard the history of migration across the color line as something outside of African-American history—marginal to the black experience, almost its negation. When histories of race mention people assimilating into white communities, such accounts hardly ever follow them past the point of becoming white. These individuals fade out of existence.
    But with the rise of DNA testing and the proliferation of searchable history and genealogy databases on the Internet, many Americans are discovering that they have African-American ancestry, and it is becoming easier to track individual journeys from black to white. Starting with probate records and comments that living descendants left in ancestry chat rooms, I was able to follow O.S.B. Wall's descendents all the way to the present. And the story of Wall's children suggests that becoming white deserves a place in black history and in the larger history of race in the United States...

    .....http://www.slate.com/articles/news_...n/2011/02/orindatus_simon_bolivar_wall.2.html
     
  4. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=22769
    O.S.B. Wall

    Birth: Aug. 12, 1825
    Death: Apr. 26, 1891

    [​IMG]
    Union Army officer. Born Orindatus Simon Bolivar Wall in Richmond County, North Carolina, the son of planter, Stephen Wall, and his slave, Pricilla. He and four of his siblings were manumitted in 1837 when their father sent them to the Harveysburg Black School in present day Ohio. He attended Oberlin College before establishing a boot and shoemaking business.

    In 1854 he married Amanda Thomas, the couple had eight children. He read law under John M. Langston. At the onset of the Civil War, he and Langston raised recruits for the first black regiment of volunteers which would become the 104th Colored Infantry Volunteers. In March 1865, he became the first black man ever commissioned as captain in the Regular Army. He was detailed to Charleston, South Carolina as provost marshal and served until the end of the war receiving an honorable discharge in February 1865.

    He established a law practice in Washington, DC and held offices such as magistrate of police precinct, representative in District legislature, notary public, and justice of the peace. In April 1890, he suffered an apparent stroke while in court and was carried to his home where he died some two weeks later. Originally interred at Graceland Cemetery, he was re-interred at the National Cemetery at Arlington in September 1895. (bio by: Iola)


    Search Amazon for O.S.B. Wall



    Burial:
    Arlington National Cemetery
    Arlington
    Arlington County
    Virginia, USA
    Plot: Section#1, lot 124, map grid G/33


    [​IMG]
     
  5. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    Escape into Whiteness



    Brent Staples


    The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White
    [​IMG]

    by Daniel J. Sharfstein
    Penguin, 396 pp., $27.95

    ....the Wall house on Howard Hill was still a place of elegant dinner parties with music and stimulating conversation. Among the guests were such political luminaries as Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. O.S.B. regaled them by candlelight with stories of his younger self and “hairbreadth escapes when he was conveying slaves to freedom by the Underground Railroad.” But the good life, financed with growing debt, was limited to the evening hours. Come morning, he trudged off to the dingy world of the police court, where he hustled among small-time thieves for clients who could barely pay his five-dollar fee. O.S.B. Wall suffered a stroke in court and died in the spring of 1891.

    Sharfstein writes that O.S.B. and Amanda’s five children drew an obvious lesson from all this. The steady encroachment of Jim Crow into the life of the capital, combined with the experience of watching their father publicly diminished, clearly influenced their decisions to drop their black identities and move into the white world. By the time of Amanda’s death in 1902, Stephen’s brother Edward had married a French woman and moved to Canada, where he worked as a sleeping car conductor on the Canadian Pacific Railway—a position that would be closed to blacks for another fifty years. Two of the three Wall sisters had already crossed over and the third did so shortly after Amanda’s funeral.
    Stephen’s sister, Bel, had moved to New York and become Mrs. Gotthold Otto Elterich, the wife of a German engineer who built railroads in the America West. Her husband’s name and occupation brought a powerful presumption of whiteness that carried the day for Bel even in Washington, where people knew better. In 1907, Elterich died in a boating accident abroad while in the company of another woman. The Washington Post, which had written scores of articles about O.S.B. during his lifetime, made no mention of race, but described the grieving widow as the former “Miss Isabel Irene Wall,” the daughter of “a successful lawyer,” who was “well known in diplomatic and social circles.”
    None of this would have been lost on O.S.B.’s son Stephen. At the time of Elterich’s death, Stephen was longing for relief from the discrimination that had battered him during his nearly three decades at the Government Printing Office. He had narrowly survived “mass purges of skilled black printers” but had nonetheless been fired on two occasions, each time for a five-year period, by new Democratic administrations. He had listed himself as “colored” in his second request for reinstatement and thought his father’s service among the colored troops in the Civil War had helped him get the job. Still, the ties that bound him to the world of the colored elite were slackening. Light enough to pass, he improved his image as a white man when he marred Lillie Slee, a white woman raised in Massachusetts by a Canadian mother.
    The couple built a house in Washington’s white Brookland neighborhood and might have lived there without trouble had the Wall name been less well known. In due course, stories about Stephen’s colored past started to circulate, and the Wall’s daughter Isabel was rejected from the local school for being of Negro blood. “Her teachers were stunned,” Sharfstein writes. “None of them even suspected that she had colored blood,” one of them said.
    When Stephen appealed the decision to the school board, and then filed suit to force them to readmit Isabel, he argued that the state was required to produce evidence to prove its charge. This was a losing tactic at a time when one could be declared a Negro simply by being “known” to be one. Predictably, police officers testified that Stephen’s father, O.S.B., was “regarded as a colored man” and that his mother, Amanda, was “yellow in appearance.” The mortician who had prepared her body for burial resorted to the sensory prejudice that had by then become part of the Jim Crow cast of mind. He had assumed Amanda’s body was colored, he said, because it emanated the “offensive” odor that was characteristic of Negroes.
    In the end, the court conceded that Isabel had “no physical characteristic which afforded ocular evidence suggestive of aught but the Caucasian” but noted that “her father presents to the eye racial characteristics which identify him of Negro blood.” The board voted 8–1 to declare the child colored. The lone holdout was Mary Church Terrell. She’d had a long association with the Walls and had no doubt done all she could in a failed attempt to sway the panel in Isabel’s favor.
    The publicity associated with the case was disastrous for Stephen, who was again laid off from the Government Printing Office. Nonetheless, as Sharfstein writes, “The courts could not keep them from becoming white, but affected only how they did so.” By the turn of the 1920s, Stephen had regained his job at the printing office—without using his considerable connections in the black elite. This time he worked the night shift, from which he could presumably come and go without attracting much notice. By then, Stephen and Lillie had sold their house in Brookland, changed both their first and last names, and slipped across the color line.
    The value of newly acquired whiteness is often measured in dollars and cents. Historians of the Jefferson Hemings family, for example, have found distinct differences between the fortunes of children and grandchildren of Madison Hemings, who remained black, and the offspring of his younger brother, Eston, who turned white. Madison’s progeny were mainly storekeepers, small farmers, laborers, caterers, or servants. Eston’s included doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and military officers. But their economic success was counterbalanced by a persistent anxiety associated with hiding the past and a considerable fear of being found out.6
    Stephen inherited the anxiety and paranoia that came with passing but none of its material benefits. He had become white on the verge of retirement, too late to leverage his new identity into a new career. He had also developed the costly habit of packing up and moving whenever black families appeared in the steady succession of new neighborhoods to which he had moved to avoid them. This taxed the family’s meager resources and damaged his children, who later showed the scars of having had to lie about who they were while living a scattered, itinerant life.
    One suspects that the young Walls would have fared far better—and been given a setting for their lives—had the family embraced its ancestry and sheltered among colored elites like the Terrells, from whom Stephen had rented a house along the way to his final escape into whiteness. But Stephen was beyond retreat by the turn of the 1920s. By then he had abandoned the Wall name and turned his back finally on the colored ancestral past.
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/nov/24/escape-whiteness/?pagination=false
     
  6. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    Orindatus S. B. Wall
    Captain, United States Army [​IMG]
    His private memorial in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery simply says:
    104th Colored Infantry Volunteers
    Born: Rockingham, Richmond County, North Carolina, August 12, 1825
    Died: Washington, D.C., April 26, 1891
    His wife, Amanda Ann Thomas Wall (1837-1902) is buried with him.


    http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/osbwall.htm
     
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