An introduction: years ago I wrote a short children's fictional story about a little black girl named Ivy. It was prophetic. Unknown to me then, we have family through my gGrandmother Wise's side who are known as the Iveys who are sometimes listed as white, sometimes Mulatto, though probably with a little Indian thrown in. I pulled a name out of a hat for the fictional white family for whom they did laundry," the Logans." Also, unknown to me then was that this is the Illinois State Attorney who prior to the Civil War indicted the most free blacks including the Iveys. They were always acquitted though hauled into court for charges like larceny, riot, assault and battery, even assault with intent to commit murder. They had to sell their farm and move from the state to avoid further charges. To tell their story, I will use this same little girl in...
Her mama hollered, "Shoo, dog! Git before you get dirt on Mrs. Logan's clothes, and then we all be mad. I don't need no stinking dog smell after they come off the line smelling so fresh and sweet. Now, scoot, Scoot!"
When Patience's mother was perturbed, nobody, not even their dog Scoot, better mess with her. He slunk away with his tail tucked as she snapped a dish cloth his way.
Patience wished her mama didn't have to work so hard. Sighing, she sang to her doll babies, wooden clothespins wrapped in quilt squares lad in a black cast iron corn pone pan cradle. She was their little mother with a house made under the big pine. Her floor was swept clean of needles. Acorn cap and
saucers were neatly set on a flat rock table. Her housekeeping had been a pleasure. The only worry was getting the black iron pan back in the house before Mama missed it. Last night it was corn bread and beans for supper. Tonight was biscuits with coon stew, so her little babies could sleep a little longer.
Patience knitted her brows pondering why housekeeping was so hard for grownups. Her mama kept their house clean, cooked up their meals, grew a large garden, wove, dyed, and sowed their clothes and washed them every Saturday so they would have clean clothes on their freshly washed bodies for Sunday-go-to-meeting. It was up to Patience to keep her simple dress clean the rest of the week or she wouldn't get the swat. The child's mouth puckered working out her perplexities. "It must be because Mrs. Logan has Mama help with her washing," she told her babies. Then she puzzled, "But why doesn't Mrs. Logan help Mama do hers though?" It was not enough to cloud the girl's thoughts for long as she returned to the sunshine task of tending her wooden babies.
While Mary the oldest weeded the garden, the next-biggest sister Eliza Jane tended her baby brother Robert back in the cabin. Mama always said that she dedicated her one and only son to serve the Lord. She felt in her heart that he would be a fine preacher some day because he had a lot of practice growing his voice with all his hollering. Then she would laugh and show the soft beauty shining forth from under the burdens she normally carried in the lines of her face. Lucinda Ivey Sessions was radiant at such times as beams of happiness broke through the drudgery of her days.
"Patience, child, where are you? At least, thank the Lord, you've kept out from under foot better than that meddling dog."
"Be right there, Mama." Patience kissed her babies each one in their quilt blanket then ran to her mother.
"Are you feeling big and strong, girl? I sure could use you to help me carry a basket of these clothes up to the Logan's place."
The child brightened. "Yes, Mama. I feel particularly strong today." Her imagination allowed her play world and her mother's real world to get happily mixed up. But by the time the pair reached the back door of the Logan's with their burden, Patience's thin arms and short legs were feeling very real.
Mrs.Logan's young daughter opened the door at their knock. Instead of answering their polite greetings, the girl looked at them blankly and bellowed, "Mother, the laundry is here."
Patience hardly noticed her rudeness. All she could see was the large china doll the girl was holding. It was prettier than her mother's one cracked dish of flowered china, the one no one could touch. The doll had painted on pale pink cheeks over pure white skin with blond curls and glass eyes of blue. The eyebrows were like fine feathers.
Evidently the girl did not like Patience's eyes on her doll and glared back. She tightened her hold as if to say, "Don't touch it. Don't even look at it." Suddenly Patience realized that her wooden clothespin babies would never grow up to be anything but clothespins. Would she ever hold such a beauty? It was the first time the laundry woman's daughter lost a little of her child life, her innocence. To wonder was no longer just a flight of fancy, but a glimpse into the real world to question what she had never seen before. She did not know there were people who would not like her, who thought she was different, not as good as them. Patience looked down at her arms realizing they would never be snow white like that china doll. The little girl was quiet all the way home as she walked along beside her tight-lipped mama.
While Mama fixed supper, her older sister Eliza Jane kept Patience busy painting with the left over dyes their mother had made from plants and berries. Her mother had given her an old newspaper to paint on. As she dipped her feather for another stroke across the page, suddenly too much water pooled, and the bright colors all ran together into a muddy brown. She let out a cry of dismay.
"My stars, what's the matter, child? You gave me a start."
Patience was crying harder now, more than a ruined picture's worth of tears. Her mother handed over her stirring spoon to Mary and came and pulled her youngest daughter onto her lap cradling her curly head against her heart. "Shh, shh. You never cry, Patience. What is this about? Uh huh,. Is it about that rude Logan girl you saw today?" Patience nodded gulping down her sobs.
"You don't pay her no mind. They may have nicer things than we do in our little cabin, but my girls have better manners and sweeter dispositions than that girl. I wouldn't trade Mrs. Logan any of my gals for that chit any day of the week."
"Mama, how come I don't have the same color of skin as she does?? We all have different shades of skin in our house. Baby Robert is the lightest. Did you run out of dark by the time you had him?"
"Mary, pull that pot off the stove. Your daddy will be home late from plowing the far field tonight anyway. Gather around, girls. Your mama is going to tell her little lambs about the Iveys. The girls all sat around her on the bed as she began a story they had never heard.
Before I married your daddy, I was Lucinda Ivey. The Iveys came from England before the Revolutionary War, before George Washington was our first President. They settled over Virginia way. George Ivey had a plantation with many slaves. Some say they made their money in the slave trade. However, one of his family fell in love with a person of color. Mr. Ivey was brave enough to petition the government to allow for a white person to marry someone of a different color, but it was denied. They couldn't make a law against love, so they got married as best they could and eventually some of the Iveys of mixed blood moved to North Carolina. Down there were the Lumbee tribe and Tuscarora Indians. Some of them were also mulatto like us. We thought we Iveys could fit right in."
"What's a mulatto, Mama?" Patience had heard the word, but did not know what it meant.
"It usually means a person of color and a white person had a child of mixed race. But they aren't too particular in its use around here. It could mean Indian blood too. We have all three in our family. That's why each of us is a little different shade of brown. Sometimes some of us Iveys are listed "White" on the census, while others of us are listed as "Free Mulatto" or even "Free Negro." We have been free persons of color for as many generations as it takes to get back to that George Ivey, but some folks don't like people because of the color of their skin."
"Like that Logan girl?"
"Yes, Miss Patience, like her. You can't blame her too much though, honey. It's just how she's been raised."
"Why did the Iveys leave North Carolina?" asked Eliza Jane.
"Well, back in the South, there were a lot of folks who didn't like having a Free Mulatto living by them. They thought every person of color should be a slave. They figured out that if they tied their mule to one of our trees or let their cows graze on our land, that they could charge us with theft, and the court would go along with it. Then they could indenture us to work for them to pay it off. Some just went on killing sprees to take our land."
"That's not right! They were liars and thieves and murderers!" Eliza Jane shouted.
"That's why my folks and the Locklears moved up to Illinois to avoid those troubles. But there are prejudiced people in every state. Even in Illinois some white men pick fights just to cause trouble and blame the people of color. They have accused our kin of riot and even assault with intent to commit murder. They were acquitted-that means found "not guilty-on every account, but my folks sold our farm and moved away before more trouble could find us."
"Will they do that to Daddy?" Patience worried aloud.
"Now, don't you borrow trouble, child. He is listed as a white man on the census, though he is part Creek Indian. Nobody's going to lock him up. Your Aunt Sally and Uncle Conrad Shearod got arrested though along with the Dunkard minister who married them."
"Why?" Mary exclaimed.
"It is still against the law for someone of color to marry a white person. The court found them not guilty even though Conrad is listed as a white man and your Aunt Sally is listed as a Free Mulatto or Negro. I think the judge just took a look at her, and she didn't look any different than other tanned farm wives who worked out in their gardens. Our kinfolk Amos married a white woman and Joseph married Betsy Locklear who were our neighbors in Illinois and in North Carolina. Like us, they have some white, some Indian, and some mulatto. When I married your daddy, since we both had Indian blood, we got rounded up and sent out here to Arkansas where you all have been born . Many did not survive that terrible trip when our homes were taken and we were forced to move. It was worse for the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears who had to move to Oklahoma in the middle of winter."
"That's awful!" Eliza Jane cried with tears in her eyes.
"Yes, it is. I'm afraid that things are so heated that some say a war is coming, the North against the South over slavery. Unfortunately, many Iveys owned slaves themselves, even the mulatto and Lumbee Indian Iveys. But, God can't be pleased when His children treat each other like this. Someday, it will cost bloodshed, I'm afraid, to rid this world of the evil of slavery. I don't expect that we will ever truly be free of prejudice though this side of heaven. Until then, young ladies, we will hold our heads up high as the daughters of the King!"
"But look at my picture, Mama. All the pretty colors ran together and made mud. That's what made me cry. Do I look like mud?"
"Miss Patience Sessions, let me tell you something. Do you remember what the Bible says about the rainbow?"
"It is God's promise that He will never destroy the earth with a flood again."
"Yes, it is God's bow of gorgeous colors, His promise of love to His children. But you know what happens when all those colors run together: they make brown. Brown is the color of all God's promises put together. Brown is beautiful. You are beautiful!"
"So are you Mama, especially when you smile like that. You are prettier than a china doll. I can hold you, and you won't break. I love you," she said as she hugged her mother.
"I love you too, Patience, and all the shades of my children's skin, even my pale preacher boy baby Robert. The Bible says, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.' (Ephesians 3:8) Remember that, and never forget that's the Iveys are one big family of all colors poured into love."
1850 Scott County, Arkansas census:
James A. Sessions, white; Lucinda Ivey Sessions, Mulatto; Mary E. Sessions, Mulatto; Eliza Jane Sessions, Mulatto; Patience P. Sessions, Mulatto; *Robert E. Sessions, Mulatto. *Robert did grow up to become a minister as well as serving in the State Legislature.
*None of the pictures are of the Ivey family.