Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hopkins on The Making of a Middle Class Family, 1841 to 1967

African American history is told through the story of one family in The Hills of Hanover County, Virginia: 1841 to 1967, the Making of a Middle Class Family, just posted by Muriel Beth Hopkins, Wake Forest College.  Here's the abstract:
Although the Commonwealth of Virginia passed laws authenticating slavery in 1661, and harsh laws followed curtailing the slave’s freedom of movement, Samuel Hill, Sr. (1841-1914) became a free black, married twice, fathered twenty three children, and laid the foundation for successive generations to flourish. In 1886 Samuel Hill, Sr., a farmer, purchased sixty – eight acres of land for $129. This land became the basis for survival for a succeeding generation. One of his sons Elijah Hill (1892-1967) who barely completed the eighth grade became a prominent minister in the rural community of Hanover County, Virginia and led his family through The Depression by walking sometimes forty miles a day round trip to work in Richmond Virginia to learn the trade of the plaster business.

This article chronicles the struggles of the Elijah Hill family before and after the depression (when his family of eight often had blackberries for dinner), the relevance of property ownership to southern farmers, and the Hill family’s slow climb into the black middle class America. In spite of the nineteenth century laws discouraging teaching blacks to read and write, black family groups banded together and exchanged the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic. Therefore, education and religion were intertwined in the Hill household and were the principal factors in lifting the family out of the residual effects of The Depression. Elijah became a well- respected member of the Richmond, Virginia construction business by the early 1960s, and his sense of honesty and integrity overshadowed his stubborn approach to the changing social dynamics and his concept of harsh discipline for those who broke the rules. After Elijah died, his sons reshaped their father’s business and generated one million dollars in revenue in the construction industry. The compelling story of this family illustrates how vision and hard work can lead to a generation of prosperity.