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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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Facing the Hard Part of History with Descendant of Anthony Crawford

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Abbeville Courthouse, 2013, Robin Foster


Some of those who embark upon researching family history have a dark cloud that constantly looms overhead waiting to burst open unexpectedly at first and expected thereafter.  Sometimes my own heart has become faint from the hard parts of history that I must trudge through in the discovery of my African American heritage. Those are the times I must pause to find the courage to keep going.



Descendant of Anthony Crawford

I have often contemplated upon my ancestors' lives within the context of those who were contemporaries to them.  Some stayed and braved out difficult circumstances.  Others fled in hope of something better while some were slain. Such is the case of Anthony Crawford, one of the richest African Americans in the state of South Carolina, who was lynched in 1916.  I had the rare opportunity recently to interview the great grandson of Anthony Crawford, Sgt. Phillip Crawford of Abbeville. 

Portrait image of lynching victim
Anthony Crawford, lynched in
Abbeville, SC, 1916.
Image was taken around 1910 (LOC).
After pouring over the propaganda that gets published in books and historic newspaper articles surrounding such events, I felt fortunate to be able to glean from the personal perspective of Sgt. Crawford and to gain further insights into the experiences of my own ancestors who were emancipated in Abbeville County.  I am blessed to have a couple of Senate testimonies of my 2nd great grandfather, Beverley Vance as well as a few mentions of him in books such as One More Day's Journey, and Freedom's Lawmakers.  I do not however, have any history that details the reason why so much of my family vacated this area near the turn of the century.

Anthony Crawford, the man

I am coming to understand from scholarly publications the violence and brutally suffered by African Americans especially if they enjoyed a higher measure of financial success or were seen as pillars of their community.  Anthony Crawford was just such a man.  He was totally self-sufficient having a school on his land and the ability to produce all his family needed.  He was a large landowner as opposed to being a tenant farmer like so many others who still worked the land on which they had been enslaved.

It was important to understand that the underlying resentment to symbols of economic success incited mobs to riot and murder people they targeted like Anthony Crawford who were not free from the daily acts of retaliation of folks who were bitter at the perceived freedoms enjoyed by a people who were considered by ex-slavers as inferior.  Sgt. Crawford explained that Anthony Crawford was the strength that held his family together, and there were those that believed that if you cut the head everything else would fall apart.

Roots of violence and oppression

African Americans would try to avoid altercations because they knew that one incident between them and the agitators would bring unwarranted consequences upon the whole community through random acts of violence and oppression that could last for days. African Americans were not push overs though.  They defended themselves, their families, and other white sympathizers.

 According to Sgt. Crawford, his ancestor went to town on October 16, 1916 to sell his cotton because on the following day the prices were going to drop.  They tried to force him out of line to allow others to be able to cash in before an African American.  I appreciated learning about the circumstances that led to the altercation which lead to things getting completely out of control.

Living history

I will meet to interview Sgt. Crawford again to understand this history from the perspective of someone who lived.  For that reason, I am not interested right now in others who have told the story.  I learned that many of the descendants of Anthony Crawford migrated to leave after the lynching when mob rule forced all African American businesses to close in Abbeville and lands of family members were confiscated.  Sgt. Crawford spoke of his cousin, Doria Johnson, who researched to discover her ancestor, Anthony Crawford, and reconnected to family in Abbeville.  Many descendants migrated to Evanston, Illinois.

I was pleased to see descendants of Anthony Crawford actively keeping his memory alive. See Evanston's Living History.  In 2005, the descendants of Anthony Crawford were present for Resolution 39 passed by the 109th Congress of the United States Senate which apologized for Congress not passing any form of anti-lynching legislation. 

If you have questions that you would like me to ask of Sgt. Crawford when I interview him again, please send them to robin.savingstories@gmail.com.

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