Archive for November, 2009

Thanksgiving Come From?



Prior to the mid-1800s, Thanksgiving had nothing to do with the 1621 harvest celebration, Pilgrims or Native People. Thanksgiving started as a traditional New England holiday that celebrated family and community. It descended from Puritan days of fasting and festive rejoicing. The governor of each colony or state declared a day of thanksgiving each autumn, to give thanks for general blessings. As New Englanders moved west in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they took their holiday with them. After the harvest, governors across the country proclaimed individual Thanksgivings, and families traveled back to their original homes for family reunions, church services and large meals.

The Pilgrims, Wampanoag and Thanksgiving were first linked together in 1841, when historian Alexander Young rediscovered Edward Winslow’s account of the 1621 harvest celebration. The account was part of the text of a letter to a friend in England, later published in Mourt’s Relation (1622). Young isolated the description of the harvest celebration, and identified it as the precedent for the New England Thanksgiving. At this point, Young’s claim had little impact on the popular concept of Thanksgiving, however.

In the 1800s, battles between pioneers and Native People trying to hold onto their land colored images of Thanksgiving. Images of Natives and colonists sharing a meal did not fit with contemporary scenes of violence between pioneers and Natives in the west. While there were a couple of images showing a “First Thanksgiving” with Pilgrims and Natives together, such scenes were not common until after the end of the “Indian Wars” in the 1890s. The association between Pilgrims, Natives and Thanksgiving became stronger after 1890, when the census revealed the western frontier to be closed, and the “Indian Wars” ended.

By the late 1800s, America was changing, and the image of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving became useful history. Starting in the 1880s, immigration increased dramatically. The new immigrants came from Eastern and Southern Europe, with different languages, religions and customs than the old-stock Yankees. Combined with other dramatic changes like growing industry and movement to cities, the large numbers of immigrants began to pose a threat to many Americans’ way of life. How could these newcomers be taught how to become good Americans? As in any time of crisis, people looked to the past for answers. By the early 20th century, the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving became a tool to teach immigrants and schoolchildren about America.

(from Karin Goldstein, Curator of Original Collections)


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Digital History 101

In older photographic histories of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, one comes across parallel shots – a shot in one direction, and another to either the left or right of the first.  Sometimes these will be displayed in a book with the first shot on one page, and the second on the opposite page.  Sometimes one shot will be in one book or archive, and another somewhere else.

Where one has access to both adjacent images in digital form, and some familiarity with digital manipulation, the result can be dramatic.

atlsmallThis is a rather familiar picture of Atlanta circa 1864, after Union occupation, and showing the office of the Atlanta Intelligencer  Office.  A train and troops can be seen in the back ground.

However, there is an additional photograph made by George Barnard, which was made slightly to the left of the same scene at the same time.

When these two photographs are merged, and adjusted for perspective, the resulting imagery provides an expanded sense of place (be sure to click on image to enlarge):

Click here

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The 1915 lynching of Leo Frank in Marietta, Ga. had a Vinings Connection.  Jim Conley, the janitor many believed was responsible for the rape and murder of 13 year old Mary Phagen, quietly lived out his days in “Logtown” on the side of Vinings Mt.  With a twist….


The PBS documentary “People vs Leo Frank,” which airs Monday night, will bear out again one of the worse miscarriages of Southern  justice in post Civil War Georgia.  Conviction and sentenced to life imprisonment, the Jewish-northern-capitalist-desercrationist attribution attached to Frank was everything the “Lost Cause” South failed to defend against in war 50 years previously. Everything that perceptively advantaged the South since the war economically, and worse of all, rape of  “Southern” virginal innocency and death, cut to the core failure of protective Southern manhood. 

The greater symbolisms rose far above the forensic evidences, even beyond the common and likely conclusion of lynching a Black man for the crime.  An accused “Southern” black man was always considered guilty of such a crime, and a resulted lynching would pretty much have occurred – legally or not.  However,  the influencing indignation mileage would have been far less, and never a national platform. 

The Leo Frank Trial dis-centigraded into a trial against Northern aggression, the Jewish faith, and rape of Southern innocence, for which a verdict of life was insufficient to quell the perceived justice required. The mob hanging of Leo Frank, became a prismatic  moment, which several months later ignited, along with the release of “Birth of a Nation”, the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan with the symbolic burning of a cross on Stone Mountain.  The case of Leo Frank became “The Perfect Storm” for a national racist cause.

Meanwhile Jim Conley, having retreated well below the public radar, married, and his children played on the grounds of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Vinings on Sunday, where years later, a certain Atlanta Baptist minister would sometimes come out to preach. His young son often with him,  playing with the Conley kids and others after church on the side of the mountain*. A small story, but that young man went on to stand for, and have a dream of Civil Rights, which would be one day be snuffed out by the symbolic intentions of that Leo Frank mob.

His name was Martin Luther King, Jr.

What diametric influences the “lesser accused” Phegan murderer Jim Conley, standing in the summer shadows of Vining’s Mt. Sinai Baptist Church watching his kids play, would have in common with the young Martin Luther running past him after an errand baseball – neither would ever know.

One can still stand silently in the nearby Vining’s cemetery where Conley is buried and wonder.

*documented by Vining’s resident at the time Joe Brown.  Note: The crossing of this inferred circumstance is borne out of historic research, and is only fictionalized in partial timing, while Conley’s involvement in the Phegan murder remains obvious, but deferred. The symbolisms are considered valid.  Anthony Doyle, 09′

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