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My Name Is Beatrice My Friends

My name is Beatrice, my friends call me B. I’m a typical millennial teenager from New Jersey and I’m African American. For my 18th birthday my mom gave me the most valuable gift ever, “it’s your great grandmother’s diary where she wrote down all the history of our family she knew from her mother”, my mom said. The first story was about my great-great-grandfather, Emmett, who was a North Carolinian freedman after the Civil War ended in March 1865. As a slave, he was married, had five children and worked as a carpenter to pay his master enough money so he wouldn’t sell his children who worked in the house and plantation.

After the Civil War Emmett was freed and his master was kind enough to give him a small part of the plantation land to build a house and farm it in return of an annual payment. He was so happy to “own” a home but that was only by agreement as he had no right to own anything at that time. The children who were between twelve and eighteen years old worked in farming the land and sometimes helping their father. On December 6, 1865 the Congress ratified the thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which legally eliminated slavery in the United States and freed the rest of black slaves. Shortly after, not very far away from Emmett’s happy home, the terror was born; a group of veterans of the Confederate Army in Tennessee decided to organize a social club titled Ku Klux Klan in late December 1865. Their meetings were secret just like their identities. The Klan’s members camouflaged themselves with a costume usually made up of a white sheet to cover their bodies, fanciful masks to hide their faces, and high-pointed headgear that heightened their physique to show higher status among others. Intimidating former black slaves was the Klan’s daily activity. During the night they would put their costumes on and march to terrorize their victims. Their ideas about white supremacy attracted attention and spread in nearly every southern state where members formed local organizations that adopted the same Ku Klux Klan name and methods. Emmett was terrified and wouldn’t let any of his family be outside the house an hour before sunset. He would sleep by the window to make sure their surroundings were safe. For years the Ku Klux Klan dedicated themselves to a campaign of violence against blacks and carpetbaggers, they destructed properties, bullied, assaulted, threatened, and murdered thousands of people.

In July 1868, the Congress indorsed the fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which granted citizenship to everyone born or naturalized including freed slaves. That was an important step in the reconstruction of the United States after the Civil war. By considering freed slaves to be citizens they were given more privileges and rights. The amendment also granted all citizens “equal protection of the laws.” Emmett and his family were now African American citizens of equal rights to all other Americans despite their race, color, gender, and religion. However, those were only laws and African Americans in real life were far separated from white Americans under the colored sections in every aspect of life. Segregation was in all public facilities, including railroad cars, restaurants, hospitals, schools and more importantly the attacks of the Ku Klux Klan. During that time the government consisted of all white men who couldn’t care less about African Americans and without the help of white republicans none of the amendments would have passed. That lasted until the Congress realized their power through legislation and took a lot of actions towards protecting African American citizens.

In February 1870, the fifteenth Amendment stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Enforcement Act of 1870 was also endorsed. It restricted the Klan and banned the use of terror or bribery to prevent African Americans from voting in the first section. The second section stated that people who prevent others from voting would be fined or sentenced to jail for a period of time. The third section, also known as the Ku Klux Act of 1871, empowered the President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant to call the army to put down any rebellions to the Enforcement Act. The fourth and fifth sections suspended habeas corpus and banned courts jurors from being allegiant to any group and swear on that. All these amendments, laws and events had a large impact on Emmett and his family’s lives. Throughout the years they heard of stories of people getting hung on trees, whipped and murdered by the Klan’s members but they hadn’t dealt with any of them due to their continuous cautiousness. However, they witnessed a couple of Klan’s members in their neighborhood right before they set the trees on fire and left a big wooden cross by the front door. Emmett wanted to take his family and move north where the Klan were less in number but it was hard to leave the house and the farm and go north owing nothing. They learned to survive being targeted by avoiding being outside at night, not voting or talking about it with anyone and secretly reporting Klan’s members to the authorities hoping they would arrest them; especially after the Ku Klux Act.

It was the murder of Emmett’s twin sons what made him leave everything behind and move to the north. The twin brothers were walking down the street when a white woman called them slaves to which they replied that they are American citizens just like her. When Emmett found out about the incident he ordered the boys not to go outside for a week for their safety. They disobeyed Emmett’s words and went outside to the farm and got caught by two Klan’s members for harassing and assaulting a white woman. They were hung on a tree and whipped for hours where nobody, even Emmett, was able to save them from the slow death. The family buried the young boys and moved secretly to Pennsylvania to escape the Ku Klux Klan army that took over the southern states.

African Americans weren’t a minority in Pennsylvania and that was one of the main reasons for moving there. Emmett also had a relative called Wesley who escaped a long time ago from slavery and was comfortably living there with his family. Wesley helped Emmett and his family to find a place to live, a job for Emmett and a school for his two other sons who by order taught their younger sister. Emmett also wanted to join a school to learn reading, writing and be educated like his children. He taught his children their rights and how to protect them as the north was safer and more liberal than the south for African Americans. The two sons finished their school and worked in different places. They all got married and got children that Emmett was able to see before he died a week after his beloved wife. In his will, Emmett asked his sons and daughter to send their kids to school, teach them politics and good manners, defend everyone’s rights, call for equality in the south, and never forget that racism is a destructive disease to societies and how it killed their brothers.

After reading his story, I am thankful for not living in this era, happy knowing about my family and their struggles, yet, shocked that racism is that old and deep into American history. I promised my mom to do my great-great-grandfather’s will like his children and pass down this diary to my children.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.