Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Foreword

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pp. xi-xiv

A quiet determination governed the life of Willis M. Carter. Born into Virginia slavery in 1852, Carter possessed a keen sense of family history , an exceedingly rare phenomenon in the days of slavery. In his newly discovered memoir, he recorded that he had been born “in the county of Albemarle the 3rd of September in the year 1852—the first of eleven children of Rhoda Carter the wife of Samuel Carter. My lot being that of a slave.” Not even Frederick Douglass knew his own birth...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xx

This book would not have been possible without the collaboration of a number of people we can only begin to thank in these pages.
We must begin by crediting Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who showed faith in this project from the day he learned about Carter’s journal and understood that this was a story that must be told, and Linden Havemeyer Wise, who introduced Professor Gates to Willis McGlascoe Carter....

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Introduction

Robert Heinrich

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pp. 1-3

During the 1980s Cuesta Benberry of St. Louis, an authority on African American history and noted expert on the subject of American quilting, purchased from a midwestern antiques dealer a slim volume containing the undated memoir of Willis McGlascoe Carter. Its handwritten pages told a fascinating story of a man born into slavery in Virginia who, at the onset of freedom, attended school, began a successful career as a teacher, started a family, and edited a newspaper....

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1. My Lot Being That of a Slave

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pp. 4-22

Willis McGlascoe Carter wrote his brief memoir, “A Sketch of my Life and our family record,” during the 1890s. In his introduction Carter immediately reveals that he lived a life very different from that of most slaves, as he knew his date and place of birth: “I was born at Locust Dale Virginia in the county of Albemarle the 3rd of September in the year 1852—the first of eleven children of Rhoda Carter the wife of Samuel Carter. My lot being that of a slave.” He follows with a direct...

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2. Desired Glories

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pp. 23-42

“I was then in my thirteenth year,” Carter writes of the end of the war, “and was seized with a greater desire to improve my mind, which spirit had shown itself from early childhood.” With this goal in mind he entered freedom with hope and optimism for the future, recalling, “I was like one who had wandered in a wilderness of darkness with a hope of seeing the bright beams of the Heavenly sun—arrayed in...

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3. Opened School

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pp. 43-58

To begin his teaching career, Carter traveled to the town where his mother had bought her home. He writes that in 1881 he “returned to Waynesboro Va. on the 18th Sept., on the 20th was examined for a public school teacher, received certificate of Supt. Grattan in Staunton.” Each county had a superintendent, typically a white man, who held the authority to issue teaching certificates. In Augusta County in 1881 the superintendent was Charles Grattan, a wealthy...

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4. One of the Best Known Citizens of Virginia

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pp. 59-82

Willis Carter’s success as a teacher and principal thrust him into politics, and he took on leadership roles at the community and state levels. Carter helped organize Staunton blacks in response to a fateful race riot in Danville in 1883. He led efforts by blacks to memorialize the Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War and to document the death of slavery and the birth of freedom. He edited a newspaper, participated in statewide conferences that addressed how African...

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Conclusion: A Vacancy and a Shadow

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pp. 83-87

The authors of the new Virginia constitution sought to disfranchise African Americans while remaining within the boundaries of the Fifteenth Amendment. Their plan unfolded in two phases. Until 1904 Virginians could vote if they or their fathers had served in the Confederate army during the Civil War, if they had paid a property tax of one dollar during the preceding year, or if they could read and explain the new constitution. Alternately, if they could not read, they could still vote if they could demonstrate their understanding of a passage...

APPENDIX 1: “A Sketch of my Life and our family record” by Willis M. Carter, transcribed by Deborah Harding

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pp. 88-109

APPENDIX 2: Transcript of Handwritten Tribute to Willis M. Carter from the Teachers at Public School No. 2 in Staunton

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pp. 110-111

APPENDIX 3: “COLORED MEN TO PROTEST: Paper That Will Be Presented to the Constitutional Convention,” Richmond Dispatch, June 20, 1901

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pp. 112-115

NOTES

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pp. 116-129

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 130-143

INDEX

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pp. 144-160