American Smoke – A Narrative and Film Documentary About Closet Smokers

Photo courtesy of The Daily Reflector - Image of the Imperial Tobacco Company - Women sorting tobacco

Photo courtesy of The Daily Reflector – Image of the Imperial Tobacco Company – Women sorting tobacco

The Imperial Tobacco Company in Greenville, North Carolina burned down a few years ago. I no longer lived in Greenville at that time but understand that the owners were thinking about redevelopment. I wonder about the potential since I live not quite ten minutes away from the redeveloped American Tobacco complex in Durham.

According to my father (whom I often interrogate), African-Americans were only hired to work in tobacco manufacturing jobs if there was another African-American already employed who would vouch for the person’s character. His mother (my grandmother) was hired, when Mr. Ed Huggins (my father’s father) said, “hire that lady right there with the bow legs.” Note: He had never seen her prior to that moment.

Pitt County was a farming community, and as I’ve gathered more and more information about my family history, I often find evidence of their relationships to tobacco farming and manufacturing. And of course, there were also the family members who smoked, chewed, and dipped tobacco products…needless to say, I’ve purchased my fair share of these products from the various corner stores for my family members. You could do that as a child back then, and no one went to jail for it.

Some family members and family connections not quite fully established:

  • Lucile Morris, daughter of Laura Huggins - laborer – tobacco factory (Note: this was listed on her death certificate. She was age 14 when she died of typhoid fever in 1919)
  • Willie Washington, Hanger Tobacco Factory
  • Ed Huggins, Esther Randolph Huggins, and Louise Randolph Telfair, Greenville Tobacco Company
  • Farilla Randolph, Person Garrett Tobacco Company (sp?)
  • Ed Huggins, Jr., Carolina Leaf and farmer
  • James Randolph, Person Garrett Tobacco Company (sp?)
  • Howard Huggins, farmer
  • Harriet Randolph, Greenville Tobacco Company
  • Nathan Huggins, born around 1816, listed his occupation as a farmer in the 1880 Census.

My father doesn’t remember any of his family members working at Imperial.

American Smoke is a narrative and film documentary about closet smokers, their stories not mine. I’m collecting written stories (no names needed, just stories, so you can stay hidden if you wish) and looking for people willing to participate in a video. The video can be problematic for people not ready to share their secret smoking stories. Part of American Smoke will serve as my final project for my Certificate in Documentary Arts from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Feel free to email me at smokethedocumentary@gmail.com if you are interested.

 

The South In Black And White – A Documentary Studies Course

From the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Tim Tyson - Courtesy of The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Tim Tyson – Courtesy of The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Through the lens of documentary traditions in the American South, this course will engage in a call and response between black and white cultures in a region where democracy has been envisioned and embattled with global consequences. The course will cover history and culture as documented in spirituals, gospel, blues, and rock and roll; civil rights photography; southern literature; and historical and autobiographical writing. Readings will include work by historians such as W.E.B. Du Bois, C. Vann Woodward, John Hope Franklin, as well as the literary achievements of Richard Wright, Zora Neal Hurston, and Ernest Gaines along with white counterparts William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Lillian Smith, among others. Classes will include lectures, music, poetry, film clips, discussion, and visitors. (38 hours)

Timothy B. Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name and other award-winning books, is a senior research scholar at CDS and Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture in the Divinity School at Duke. Blood Done Sign My Name, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the Christopher Award and the North Caroliniana Book Award, was the 2005 selection of the Carolina Summer Reading Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, assigned to all new undergraduate students. Tyson’s previous book, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (UNC Press, 1999) won the James Rawley Prize and was co-winner of the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize, both from the Organization of American Historians. He also co-edited, with David S. Cecelski, Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (UNC Press, 1998), which won the 1999 Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America. Tyson was a John Hope Franklin Senior Fellow at the National Humanities Center in 2004–05. He is a North Carolina native and a graduate of Duke (M.A. ’91, Ph.D. ’94).

I can’t remember why I didn’t sign up for this last spring. I may have been offered at the same time as another course I was taking. Anyway…I’m looking forward to it.

What The Day After Christmas Looked Like

I took a nap. I’m getting really good at taking naps. I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. With the Christmas parties, the pies I started making at 4:45 am Christmas morning, and the three hours on the road, I was just done. Apparently, I’m no spring chicken anymore.

The eleven-year old hit the streets with her dad hoping to find a Kindle Fire HD. Luck took them to Staples on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Did I mention that I had to make numerous calls to nearby stores (from the bed) to find that for them. Eventually, though, I made my way out to Best Buy that evening to pick up a post-Christmas gift for myself.

My Nikon SLR now has a friend…a Canon 60D DSLR with two lenses. Boy am I going to have fun interrogating family members now. Genealogy research will have a whole different look and feel to it. Can’t wait. I also plan to use it for my non-family member documentary work. 2013 is looking so awesome right now.

In the meantime, here’s a story I’ll share from this year. The eleven-year old had been begging (yes, begging) for horseback riding lessons for years. She  had developed an idea of what it would be like…too many books read about horses, pictures of horses downloaded from the internet, and a club membership for horse paraphenelia will do that I suppose. Well this summer, she got her wish…a week long summer camp of horseback riding. Of course all did not go as planned.

  1. Her horse was blind. I don’t think the eleven-year old had ever even considered the possibility that there was such a thing.
  2. Her horse stepped on her foot. According to the eleven-year old, this really hurt.
  3. She sprained her arm the second or third day and had to wear an arm brace for the rest of the week. Hmmm.

She’s not interested in going back, but she added even more pictures of horses to her bedroom wall. Here are a few pictures of her adventures thanks to Katherine C. House. Oh and guess who will not be taking horseback riding lessons next summer. I need to find a way to write this little story down while it’s still fresh.

horseback riding Aug 2012 14

horseback riding Aug 2012 04

horseback riding Aug 2012 07

I’m Pretty Sure This Video Is Going To Give Me Bad Dreams Tonight

I’m pretty sure this video is going to give me bad dreams tonight.

Push play if you dare…

Now if I could just write something describing what I saw.

Using Dead People As Muses For Storytelling

I’m approximately 75% finished with a short story called The Covet. And since I so much enjoy adding history, especially personal history to my stories, The Covet also follows this format.

My great-grandmother  lived to be 99 years old. During that time, she outlived three husbands. The third one was the one I grew up knowing, the one I can still picture in my mind out in their yard with the chickens. What I can’t see are images of his first wife, my great-grandmother’s sister. It turns out that my great-grandmother’s sister was diagnosed with a terminal illness some time after their marriage. She requested that my great-grandmother come stay with them, which she did. It is my understanding (through various family stories) that her sister/my great-great aunt wanted my great-grandmother to care for her husband after her death, which she also did. And that (if you are actually able to follow it) is the story I chose to build on…except in the short story both women wind up dead, and the husband has to explain what happened.

Pearls and a Blue Car – great-grandma

You like the pearls, right. And the pin, placed high up on the shoulder, we just don’t do that anymore. I wish I had a better picture of the car. Maybe I can add the car to the story.

One man…many names

Now that I’ve written that I’m 75% done, I’ll set a goal to have The Covet published by September. Besides, it’s only a short story. I really should be able to accomplish that. Yes?

 

Three Free Short Stories Today

I’m always amazed when I have a sale. My expectations about which short story will sell the most copies during or after the sale is never met. So, I’m going to stop trying to read a crystal ball that I don’t have. Birdfall, Game of Strings, and Blackout are free today.

BLACKOUT

Something comes to visit when the lights go out. Short fiction from The Dead Songs Short Story collection.  14 Pages.

Get your free copy from Amazon here.

GAME OF STRINGS

Instead of living the game of life, a mother finds that lives are controlled instead by strings. A Dead Songs Short Story. 14 Pages.

Get your free copy from Amazon here.

BIRDFALL
The death of birds sends the world spinning toward societal meltdown. A Dead Songs Short Story. 12 Pages.
Get your free copy from Amazon here.

The Hunt For The Family Is On

 The hunt is on. Correction…the hunt never ended, it just took a break. It takes frequent breaks, especially when the days seem like they’re really only twenty or so hours, and things seem to take longer than expected. So, now I’m back in the game.

In between writing and taking pictures and everything else, I have managed to fit in a bit of genealogy research, a military registration card for the husband of my great, great-aunt. I suppose it’s something else I could include in a story. Imagine that…some sort of horror or science fiction story built around a found military registration card. Sounds good to me. I could set it at the Tidewater Hotel where my great, great-aunt’s husband worked as a barber. Maybe the story could start a little like this.

The bald man sat down in Benjamin’s chair. He unfolded his newspaper and started reading right away. He didn’t speak a single word to Benjamin, never even looked at him, really. No. He just acted like it made all the sense in the world that a bald man would take a seat in a barber chair when the only hairs on his head were his eyelashes and his eyebrows.

Sarah Florence Norris was born in North Carolina and lived in North Carolina for a while and maybe even Georgia. At some point in time, she moved to Newport News, Virginia. I think she was married to Benjamin Normant by that time. I’m still checking on that one. But they did have a son, Benjamin Normant, Jr. I think he may have died in March of 1981. It would be great to see his death certificate. Virginia can be a little funny about those sorts of things, though.

When A Free Life Is A Death Sentence From Jim Downs

This is the next book I’m going to read.

From the New York Times, Monday, June 11, 2012, under the title, “Liberation as Death Sentence:”

“Professor Downs, 39, is part of a wave of scholars who are sketching out a new, darker history of emancipation…one that recognizes it as a moral watershed while acknowledging its often devastating immediate impact.

At least one-quarter of the four million former slaves got sick or died between 1862 and 1870, Professor Downs writes, including at least 60,000 (the actual number is probably two or three times higher, he argues) who perished in a smallpox epidemic that began in Washington and spread through the South as former slaves traveled in search of work – an epidemic that Professor Downs says he is the first to reconstruct as a national event.

‘For so long, people were afraid to talk bout freed people’s health,’ Professor Downs said. ‘They wanted to talk about agency. But if you have smallpox, you don’t have agency. You can’t even get out of bed.’”

Digging graves in Fredericksburg, Va., in 1864. A million ex-slaves are said to have become sick or died after 1862.
Library of Congress. Timothy H. O’Sullivan. From the NYT.

My novella, Howling Rail, takes places during the Civil War…werewolves hunting runaway slaves. Howling Rail II: Slabtown takes place at a contraband camp in Virginia. I had read that these were not real places of comfort. And just so you know, I’m only about a third/half of the way through writing Slabtown (been there for months even though I know how the story unfolds). But here’s an excerpt from Chapter One. I had already put in plenty of sickness before hearing about Downs’ book. and just wait to you get to the men crawling around on the ground. Unfortunately, that’s after Chapter 1.

From Howling Rail II: Slabtown

Chapter 1

In the five years that had passed since Gideon had led Amaleen from her life of slavery to the life they now shared, they had gone from having nothing, to having less than nothing and back to having nothing again. The war started one morning in April of 1861, halting their journey north to freedom. They settled in a contraband camp near the outskirts of Fort Monroe in Virginia, where they starved with thousands of other former slaves and even whites as the war ravaged through the states.

In their first winter at the camp, Amaleen lost two toes when she awoke from a night’s sleep to find the largest ones on both feet frozen and colored a darkness she had never before seen on the whole of her body. A nurse held her down while a man from inside the fort proclaiming to be a doctor cut off Amaleen’s toes. When they were done, they wrapped her feet like she used to wrap crops with burlap when the early winter came too soon to Mr. Johnson’s farm. Gideon had stood outside the tent as they butchered her, suffering her screams in silence.

The second winter she lost a baby, their first together. They had married after finding out that such a thing was possible at the camp, by then known as Slabtown. Amaleen and Gideon and a long line of others stood together at one time to become husband and wife. One man, though, stood alone, his wife-to-be having died that morning from a disease that had become a regular visitor at the camp and killed more people than the war some days.

All of Amaleen became swollen in a matter of days once she carried the child, not just her stomach. Her legs and ankles carried more weight in them than they should have. Her nose and lips filled her face, and her head grew large and round, almost too big for her body to hold up. When her body grew sick of it all, it pushed the baby out before it was time and then all the rest that had held up in her too. The baby came out dead. Then came the blood and the rest of it for days.

They had thought she would most surely die. But she did not. She held on like old folks sometimes do, not wanting to let go for reasons that no one else knew. But she was young and proved that the young could be just as stubborn as the old. And so she held on for weeks while Gideon cried to himself every night as he went to sleep.

When she finally crossed back over from the almost dead to the almost living, the name she called out was not that of Gideon.

“Sally.”

I’ve Added A Genealogy Page To My Blog…Starting With This

In 1982 and 1984, I participated in North Carolina’s History Day District Contest. I even received a Certificate of Achievement for participating and an award of excellent. That should have been a sign to me, but I was a teenager. What did I know? Who would have thought that one of those awards, which was based on an interview with an older family member, would foretell the many family interviews to come.

Following the Trail from Jacksonville, NC to Kinston, NC to Greenville, NC

My father had often told me that his father came from around Jacksonville, North Carolina. At some point, he made his way to Kinston (and that’s the short version) and then to Greenville. Mostly, though, I had focused on his maternal side, I suppose because I’d found relatives still living who’d been more than willing to talk. This year I gave in…seduced, I should say by the prospect of the 1940 census being released. Last month, some of that work came together rather quickly. Click below to see the descendant tree I put together.

Descendant Tree of Nathan Huggins

Of course, it was not as easy as the tree makes it look…not when birth years don’t match, the names aren’t always spelled the same way, and how was I to know that Willie was my father’s aunt and not his uncle. Things got very interesting, and I stayed up past my bedtime on several occasions. Anyone who has done any genealogical research will agree that once you get in the zone, you stay there unless you are pulled back out.

Huggins Family Pictures

My uncle Ed Jr. was not always forthcoming with details. He’d say things like “all of the Randolphs were related, black and white.” I can’t say that I never got the chance to ask him about the Huggins side. It would be more correct to say that I never made the time. The picture is dated 1999. Like the crops growing next door? Me too. What I didn’t like so much was the outhouse behind the house. I made certain to use the bathroom before we went to visit. The little boy is my nephew.

As we hung out on the front porch, people drove by. I think it was Old Belvoir Highway. They honked. We waved. You can’t tell me you don’t love country living and hanging out on the front porch with family.

My great-grandma Nora Norris is shown here with two of her grandchildren, my father on the left and his brother on the right. My father says that his grandmother was a stern woman. Somehow I can see that in the way she’s sitting and the look on her face.

Missed The Sale? How You Can Still Get My Latest Stories For Free.

Oops. Did you miss the 2-day free promotion? Well, if you are a member of Amazon Prime, you can still enjoy Howling Rail, the werewolf novella, and my three new short stories for free through the Kindle Lending Library. Your choices are below.

Something comes to visit when the lights go out. Short fiction from The Dead Songs Short Story collection.  14 Pages.

Get your free copy from Amazon here.

Instead of living the game of life, a mother finds that lives are controlled instead by strings. A Dead Songs Short Story. 14 Pages.

Get your free copy from Amazon here.

The death of birds sends the world spinning toward societal meltdown. A Dead Songs Short Story. 12 Pages.
Get your free copy from Amazon here.
To get your free copy of Howling Rail, click the book cover image on the right.
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