Posts Tagged ‘American South’
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Civil War era image of USS Cairo
The answer is the USS Cairo, which is actually pronounced “kare-o”. It was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In January, 1862, during the Civil War, it was commissioned by the North as a way to gain control over the lower Mississippi – part of a plan to split the South in two. Unfortunately, the USS Cairo had a short life and was the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo on December 12, 1862. Two explosions ripped open the hull of the ship causing it to sink 35 feet into the river in only 12 minutes – amazingly with no loss of life.Time passed with no way of retrieving the USS Cairo, which remained at the bottom of the river. Over the years, the story was forgotten and locals weren’t really sure what happened—if members of the crew had died, or even of the gunboat’s exact location.
In 1956, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader Ed Bearss, started analyzing contemporary documents and maps. As Historian at the Vicksburg National Military Park, he and his companions Don Jacks and Warren Grabau made it their goal to uncover the gunboat, which was now buried under almost one hundred years of silt and mud. While they believed they had found the site of the ship, it wasn’t until three years later that Cairo’s armored port covers were brought to the surface, confirming the find.
It took several additional years to gain public interest and funding, and then there was the issue of actually raising an ironclad gunboat from the bottom of a river. After securing funding, the decision was made to split the USS Cairo into three parts in order to lift them to the surface. The entire ship was finally raised on December 12, 1964—exactly 102 years after it sank. After a long preservation process, it is now on display at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
The USS Cairo Gunboat today, Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service
Which Civil War locations have you visited? Share Below.
Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
The Lowcountry areas of South Carolina and Georgia are known for many things: good music, excellent food, and continuing southern traditions. But there are no communities in the South that have preserved their history, culture and language quite like the Gullah people.
The Gullah, who originated as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries and eventually created their own communities, have preserved their language, which is based on English with strong influences from West and Central African languages such as Mandinka, Fula, Mende, Vai, Akan, Ewe, Kongo, and Kimbundu. There are an estimated 250,000 people who still speak the Gullah language today. One of the most famous speakers is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who grew up in the coastal region of Georgia.
Their storytelling traditions have successfully blended not only their African traditions, but their historical experiences in America as well. The result is a collection of trickster tales that teach youngsters moral lessons while celebrating ancestor tales of clever and self-assertive slaves, the most well-known being Br’er Rabbit.
The Gullah language was originally believed to be a showing of low socio-economic status and corrupted African Americans from learning proper English, but in the 1930’s and 1940’s a linguist named Lorenzo Dow Turner did a study of the language based on field research in the coastal areas. He identified over 300 loanwords from African languages and found people in remote seaside communities who could recite songs, stories, and count in the Mende, Vai, and Fulani languages of West Africa. Today, the Gullah Festival in Beaufort, South Carolina celebrates these longstanding cultural traditions.
Have you been to the Gullah Festival? Share Below.
If you haven’t been to the Gullah Festival, check out The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum Presents: Word, Shout, and Song: Experiencing South Carolina’s Gullah Traditions and join the celebration!