March 18, 2013

Tracing green thumbs from slavery to freedom


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Jacqueline “Jackie” Madison learned how to tend growing things while a child summering with her maternal grandparents in Darlington, S.C.

She claims she is not as prolific as her forebears, who had a farm that she now jointly owns with family members.

“I do tomatoes, peppers, onions and things we use a lot of,” said Madison, who lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Calvin, and daughters, Jaquenette and Calexandria Madison.

This marks her sixth year growing Concord grapes in the North Country.

“I had a huge crop when we had that rainy summer three or four years ago,” she said. “I realized grapes like a lot of water.”

She gifts extended-family members with grape jam at Christmastime.

“My sister-in-law’s been collecting jars to send back to me.”

Madison, a very busy woman, makes the time for canning while serving as the director of the Mooers Free Library and president of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association.

She and her husband are both U.S. Army veterans. She is also a former chair of the Girls Scouts of the North Country and retired as principal-information analyst at Pfizer.

It wasn’t until she became a founding-board member of the association that she looked at her own family history through a different lens.

She will be speaking on that topic in “From Slavery to Citizenship: One family’s story of the impact of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama on ordinary African Americans” at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Peru Free Library.

“Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had a big effect on slaves at that time,” she said. “I’m telling how that impacted my great-grandmother.”

Dinah Mack was born enslaved in about 1855 in Darlington, which is 45 minutes west of Myrtle Beach.

“She was owned by the Parrotts. They were fairly wealthy. Two brothers came from Ireland or Scotland. They acquired slaves in the Virginia and North Carolina area and went to South Carolina in the Darlington area, where they purchased their property. At one time, they pretty much owned much of the Darlington County area.”

Tobacco and cotton were the main crops.

“Dinah worked in the big house, what they called the owner’s house. She started working when she was young, working with the mistress. We suspect her father was the owner. As far as I know, what I can find, her mother was also named Dinah. It’s a family trait up until my generation.”

Lincoln’s proclamation freed enslaved blacks in the Confederacy on Jan. 1, 1863.

“Dinah pretty much stayed where she was at,” Madison said. “Everybody was running north. She was a child. Her mother, I don’t think, they were adventurous. Compared to the field slaves, she was much better off.”

Mack was a mistress to a Parrott and birthed five children. Madison’s grandfather, Eugene Mack, was born in 1887 or 1888.

“Two of his brothers went down to the Florida area, and we never saw them. They would send us boxes of oranges and grapefruit. The other two went north.”

Mr. Mack had a very light complexion, was of average height and had brown hair and brown eyes. It was his farm that Madison was sent to as a child.

“Where the story gets very interesting, he stayed there (Darlington) and was a favorite of his father. When he was old enough to get married, he rented part of the plantation that we own. When he was able to, there is a deed, he purchased 70 acres from his father. The interesting thing is the land was in the white side of town. He was next door to where the Parrotts lived. He could vote. He could move around the community because he was so light and because his father had a lot of influence in the community.”

Eugene Mack wed Lizzie Barker of Darlington.

“They had 10 children, one died. My mother was the 9th child, Lula Mack. She married John McLeod of North Carolina. She went to Fayetteville, along with some other of her sisters and brothers who moved from South Carolina to North Carolina.

Madison recalls nothing extravagant about her grandfather’s four-room farmhouse home.

“It had one of those player pianos and a latrine with a basin for washing. We had to work the farm. Tobacco leaves stained our hands with nicotine. He cured tobacco and sold it at the auctions. He grew cotton, corn, watermelons, peanuts and a variety of things.”

Mrs. Mack maintained a large vegetable garden — peas, green beans, carrots and tomatoes.

“She canned a lot. We had to help shell peas, butter beans and corn. The late summer and early fall was big canning season. At Christmas, my grandfather killed hogs. He had a couple of horses for awhile, then they passed away. He had chickens. They had ducks and cows. It was a prosperous farm at that time.”

Madison hoed beneath the blazing South Carolina sun.

“At least the tobacco grows 7 ft. and 8 ft. tall. It could shade you. I hated tobacco worms. They look like little caterpillars, like big tomato worms.”

While working in the cotton fields, there was no shade.

“You were literally out in the sun. I got in trouble a couple of times for drinking all the water from everybody else because it was so hot out there.”

Raised in North Carolina, Madison spent a three-month summer sojourn and big holidays at her grandparents.

“I had to do butter in the old churns. We had fresh milk and eggs. I had to get the eggs. One time, I stuck my hand in, and there was a snake.”

Mrs. Mack also had a large flower garden that Madison had to weed also.

“Roses, gladiolas, petunias — she had a huge variety. I remember seeing humming birds in her flowers. It was amazing to watch them.”

In Darlington’s downtown, slaves were once auctioned off in the public square.

“It’s still in a circle just like it was when I was going there with my grandparents.”

Mr. Mack died the year after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

It was a historic moment for Madison, her sisters, daughters and a grandniece when they attended President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

These descendants of enslaved people of color witnessed the swearing in of the first commander-in-chief of African descent.

“I don’t think this is a typical story,” said Madison of her family history. “I’m still trying to do some research on that.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "From Slavery to Citizenship: One family's story of the impact of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama on ordinary African Americans" presented by Jacqueline Madison. WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday WHERE: Peru Free Library, 3024 Rt. 22 Peru, NY. ADMISSION: Free INFO: Phone the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association at 834-5180. WEB SITE: