October 13, 2017 - Vol. 1, Issue 6
Dear Subscribing Institutions, Friends and Supporters:

Welcome to this week's edition of The HistoryMakers Digital Archive Newsletter . For last week's feature, we highlighted the complex legacy of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a civil rights group which emerged in response to the Ku Klux Klan's racial violence in Louisiana in the 1960s.

For this issue, join us as we explore the particular role of red clay dirt in southern African American folklore tradition.
African American Folk Healing: Red Clay Dirt
Clay in Zanzibar 12
Regina Harris Baiocchi
James Causey
The Honorable Michael A. Battle
C. T. King-Miller
Arlene Maclin
Melvin E. Banks
“I think one of the earliest memories I have as a child is being in Rutherford, Tennessee, in the town where my mother was born. We used to eat this beautiful red clay that had a really sweet taste. And I just remember that it was almost a ritual,” 1 [Regina Harris Baiocchi, THMDA 1.1.4] reminisces music composer and HistoryMaker Regina Harris Baiocchi. Rich, red dirt clay has significant folkloric resonance woven into the tales passed down generation to generation within the southern African American community. Geophagy, or the practice of eating earth, also referred to as a type of pica, or the consumption of nonfood substances, has particular roots to the black cultural diaspora. Terry G. Jordan-Bychkov notes in The Human Mosaic: A Thematic Introduction to Cultural Geography, “Clay eating is a widespread folk custom in Africa, especially in the West African region where many of the slaves brought to America originated. Some…feel that the clay is an effective treatment for certain diseases and parasites, while others believe it provides needed nutrients for pregnant women and growing children. Some consume clay as a part of religious ceremonies.” Jordan-Bychkov later notes that the practice, “Survived in spite of persistent attempts to abolish it. In slavery times, some white masters put mouthlocks on African Americans to prevent geophagy.” 2

Although originating in the southern states, the ritual spread during the Great Migration, as Stephanie Mitchem explains in African American Folk Healing, “As people traveled, black cultural referents, including folk healing, were carried from one environment to another.” 3 Journalist James Causey recalls his father visiting his ancestor's home in Gloster, Mississippi, and bringing back red clay dirt north to Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “ When my father goes to the South, there’s some people that believe this red dirt has healing principles. And so they give him empty gallon buckets and they tell him to bring back some of that red dirt…a lot of people believe it has a lot of healing principles to it. And some of these people they eat the dirt. There’s a lot of people up here that still believe in that…they hear the stories and they try things over the counter and prescribed drugs and they feel that this stuff isn’t working. So if it worked for their parents and their parents’ parents, then I think people get to the point where like, why not try it?” 4 [James Causey, THMDA 1.2.4] .  Theologian and HistoryMaker Dr. Michael A. Battle likewise remembers the reverence for red clay dirt in his father, Jesse Battle’s home of Bothwell, Mississippi: “The red clay dirt in Mississippi. Actually, people used to eat that red clay dirt, and I had from time to time growing up. There, that was the old story that it was medicinal, that people would eat that red clay dirt and it would cure everything under the sun. Whether it cured anything or not is subject to question” 5 [The Honorable Michael A. Battle, THMDA 1.1.6]. Marina C. Barnett et al.’s article, “Use of CAM in Local African-American Communities,” speaks to the fostering of these practices in the United States: “During centuries of oppression and poverty, African Americans were often isolated from even rudimentary medical care and therefore developed their own healing traditions using easily accessible herbs, foodstuffs, and other substances.” 6

As for red clay dirt’s external applications, in Craving Earth: Understanding Pica: The Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk, Sera Young explains, “The second major application of clays in modern medicine is for wound healing.” 7 Archivist, activist and HistoryMaker C. T. King-Miller recalls the usage of red clay dirt to heal wounds in Birmingham, Alabama: “Birmingham is known for the red clay dirt…one of the things we used to do is go and get red dirt, put vinegar in it—if you had a sprained ankle, that was the thing for anything, the red clay dirt of Alabama.” 8 [C. T. King-Miller, THMDA 1.2.1] . Similarly, physicist and HistoryMaker Arelene Maclin remembers her mother Alice Maclin’s utilization of red clay dirt’s healing properties while growing up in rural Virginia : “She would take a fig leaf, and she would put red clay and vinegar and she’d make a pad, for example, boils. And they would come to a head. She had all of these magnificent things that she did and I have no idea where she learned them. But it was just indigenous knowledge that she had” 9 [Arlene Maclin, THMDA 1.2.5] .

Founder of Urban Ministries, Inc. and HistoryMaker Melvin E. Banks, whose maternal grandmother, Clement Ellis, used to send him to find red clay for her to eat in Birmingham, Alabama, cites other sources of the geophagy folk tradition: “My guess is it was like a snack. I’m not sure if there was any medicinal value to the red dirt, and I don’t know where it sprang from--whether it’s something that the people there came up with, or whether it was handed down from some previous generations. But I guess the very fact that you don’t find red dirt everywhere, red clay, suggests that it probably originated in that area. But of course, perhaps even because of the poverty of the area, people would tend to look for things that could fill the stomach. And it is conceivable that that’s the origin of it” 10 [Melvin E. Banks, THMDA 1.1.9]. Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Coneè Omelas concur, citing in The Cambridge World History of Food, Volume 1 that beyond purported health-giving properties and satisfaction, “Reasons cited by southern women reflect folk beliefs about the medicinal qualities of earth eating, while also indicating its character as an addiction.” They later go on to conclude, “Perhaps the best approach to understanding the phenomenon of geophagy involves the merging of nutritional, cultural and economic explanations.” 11
"I Had to Honor My Truth"

In honor of  National Coming Out Day this past Wednesday, October 11th , we would like to share a story from Emil Wilbekin , founder of Vibe magazine and former managing editor of , about his struggle coming out to his parents:
“I would call my parents every Sunday from wherever I was in the world, and I was having conversation with my mother and she said, ‘You know, that model Tyra Banks, she's single; why don't you try to date her?’ And I literally was like, ‘I can't do this anymore’… and I can remember it like it was yesterday. I probably didn't do it the best because of my maturity level at the time, but I did it over the phone. It didn't go over well, and I just remember my mother quoting Bible verses and screaming and crying. But it was interesting because my father said, ‘I had a feeling.’ I mean it helped, but it was a very, very rough time, and what really got me through it was that my brother--and I told him before I told my parents, he said, ‘Whatever you do, you have to make me the promise that you will educate mom and dad about what it's like to be a gay man, and that you will not forsake them.’ And so I've done that; and it has not been easy, but I've done that.…It's an ongoing journey, a conversation, but it is one that is easier now” 13   [Emil Wilbekin, THMDA 1.2.9] . Last year, Wibekin created and hosted the first Native Son Awards, which aims to broaden the recognition and conversation about the contributions of African Americans in the LGBT community. Says Wilbekin about being open about his sexuality, I had to be true to myself, I had to honor my truth, and I also wanted to inspire other people who were gay, or knew people who were gay, to know that it's okay to be who you are and to stand up for yourself" 14 [Emil Wilbekin, THMDA 1.5.9].

This week, 15 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
Faye Beverly Bryant

Association chief executive and school superintendent Faye Beverly Bryant (1937 - ) was the twenty-first International President of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and served as an assistant superintendent in the Houston Independent School District.
Ann Walker

Civil rights activist Ann Walker (1928 - ) participated in the Freedom Rides and the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Her husband, Reverend Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, was Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s chief of staff.
Marlene Randall

City government administrator Marlene Randall (1934 - ) served as an elementary school principal and city council member in the community of Portsmouth, Virginia.
Myrtle Davis

Pharmacist and city council member Myrtle Davis (1931 - ) was an Atlanta City Councilwoman, and campaigned for the city's mayoralty in 1993. Davis also served as the City of Atlanta's Water Utility Manager.
William Lucy

Civil rights activist, labor activist, and union leader William Lucy (1933 - ) was the first African American president of Public Services International. He co-founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and served as the secretary-treasurer of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Dr. Carlton A. West

 Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Carlton A. West (1943 - 2016 ) owned a private practice in Chicago for forty years, and also worked at Michael Reese Hospital . His patients included Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer, Evel Knievel, Muhammad Ali and Sammy Davis, Jr.
H. B. Barnum

Music producer H. B. Barnum (1936 - ) has arranged music for many notable jazz, R & B and pop musicians, including Aretha Franklin. He also acted on radio programs like Amos 'n' Andy as a child.
Ludie Jones

Dancer and dance instructor Ludie Jones (1916 - ) was a tap dance legend who tapped for over seventy years. Once a member of The Lang Sisters and The Three Poms, she later performed in Shades of Harlem and taught the Tapping Seniors at the Kennedy Center.
Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly

Sculptor Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly (1937 - 2012 ) was a tenured professor of ceramics at Chicago State University. She was recognized as one of the Top Ten Emerging Black Chicago Artists of 1986, and her works were exhibited widely.
Anthony "Tony" Preston Burroughs

Genealogist Anthony "Tony" Preston Burroughs (1948 - ) specialized in the tracing of African American family histories. He taught genealogy courses at Chicago State University.
Michele Coleman Mayes

Corporate lawyer Michele Coleman Mayes (1949 - ) was appointed as vice president and general counsel of The Allstate Corporation, and senior vice president and general counsel for the Allstate Insurance Company.
The Honorable Frankie Freeman

Civil rights lawyer and municipal court judge The Honorable Frankie Freeman (1916 - ) was the first female member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the lead attorney for the NAACP case of Davis v. St. Louis Housing Authority.
Teri McClure

Corporate executive Teri McClure (1963 - ) served as an officer of UPS from 1999, and as a board member of numerous charitable and professional organizations.
Reverend France A. Davis

Civil rights activist and pastor Reverend France A. Davis (1946 - ) was the pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was instrumental in declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official holiday in Utah. Davis also taught at the University of Utah and published two books.
Robert H. Jordan, Jr.

Television news anchor Robert H. Jordan, Jr. (1943 - ) was an anchor and reporter for WGN-TV News in Chicago, Illinois. He founded a video production company and wrote two screenplays.

1.       Regina Harris Baiocchi (The HistoryMakers A2000.002), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, May 31, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 4, Regina Baiocchi remembers childhood visits in Tennessee
2.       Terry G. Jordan-Bychkov, “The Human Mosiac: A Thematic Introduction to Cultural Geography.” Pearson Education, 1976
3.       Stephanie Mitchem, “African American Folk Healing.” NYU Press, 2007.
4.       James Causey (The HistoryMakers A2008.132), interviewed by Larry Crowe, November 17, 2008, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, James Causey describes alternative medicine practices of Mississippi
5.       The Honorable Michael A. Battle (The HistoryMakers A2004.032), interviewed by Jodi Merriday, March 22, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 6, Michael Battle talks about his own childhood and that of his father, who had to leave school in third grade
6.       Marina C. Barnett; Margaret Cotroneo; Joseph Purnell; Danielle Martin; Elizabeth Mackenzie; Alfred Fishman, “Use of CAM in Local African-American Communities: Community Partnered Research,” Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 95, No. 10, October 2003.  Can be found:
7.        Craving Earth: Understanding Pica: The Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk . By Sera Young. New York: Columbia University Press
8.       C. T. King-Miller (The HistoryMakers A2011.009), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 8, 2011, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, C.T. King-Miller describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood
9.       Arlene Maclin (The HistoryMakers A2013.001), interviewed by Larry Crowe, January 14, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 5, Arlene Maclin describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up
10.    Melvin E. Banks (The HistoryMakers A2004.156), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 2, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 9, Melvin E. Banks discusses a few of the unique dietary practices in the southern United States
11.    Kenneth F. Kiple, Kriemhild Coneè Omelas, “The Cambridge World History of Food, Volume 1.” Cambridge University Press, 2000.
12.    Sera Young, “Clay ripe for eating from Zanzibar.” Can be found at: in Rachel Nuwer’s article, “Clay Craving and Dirt Dining: Eating Earth May Be Good for Us.”
13.     Emil Wilbekin (The HistoryMakers A2014.204), interviewed by Harriette Cole, June 16, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 9, Emil Wilbekin describes coming out to his parents
14.     Emil Wilbekin (The HistoryMakers A2014.204), interviewed by Harriette Cole, June 16, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 9, Emil Wilbekin talks about his involvement with HIV/AIDS literacy organizations and LGBT media

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