My art is influenced by the courage and bravery of a population of Blacks who lived free in this country amidst pre-Civil War slavery.
Like most people, I was taught what it meant to be Black in the pre-Civil War South from textbooks and teachers. I learned the South was populated by enslaved Blacks and free Whites only.
A decade ago, I heard about “free Blacks” living in the pre-Civil War South. I’d never heard of them living in the South before and did some research. One of my first finds was that free Blacks were recorded on the first federal census of South Carolina in 1790.
Shocked, I began researching free Blacks and found further startling evidence that contradicted what I’d been taught. There were records of free Blacks challenging the judicial system to uphold their rights, and of free Blacks petitioning courts about being overtaxed. The deeper I looked, the more evidence I found. For instance, there’s evidence that free Blacks preferred to live in the South over the North because they felt the opportunities to own businesses and provide for their families were better in the South.
My core beliefs about the south once centered around all Blacks being enslaved. Now I endeavor to increase people’s awareness of the fact that free Blacks have always lived there, and to give the truth of their existence a voice through my art.