The Genesis of Mass Culture: Show Business Live in America, 1840 to 1940

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A Bible from the family of John Armfield. He had six plantations and slaves.

Most slave traders at that time were considered common and uncouth, with no social graces. Uncle Isaac was different. He had the equivalent of an eighth-grade education.

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He was not ignorant. He could write a letter. But bad habits concerning sex were rampant among some of those men. You know they took advantage of the black women, and there were no repercussions there. Before he married, Isaac had companions, some willing, some unwilling. That was just part of life. And here, someone close to the memory of it says much the same.

In , at age 50, he married a woman named Adelicia Hayes, age 22, the daughter of a Nashville attorney. It is possible, of course, that Isaac Franklin sold his daughter. It would have been the easiest thing to do. How does a person inside the family measure the inheritance of slave trading?

Thomson takes a half-second. It was a part of life in those days. Take the Bible. Many things in the Old Testament are pretty barbaric, but they are part of our evolution. Thomson warms up, shifts in his seat. I mean, people who do not understand the old lifestyles—their standpoint on life, and their education, are what today we consider limited.

That applies to Southern history, to slave history. They are great people. When I grew up, we were servanted. All the servants were black.

We had a nurse, a woman who used to be called a mammy. We had a cook, a black man. We had a maid, and we had a yard man. We had a guy that doubled as a driver and supervised the warehouse. And we had all these servants till they died. There were free blacks in the South that owned slaves. And there were lots of them. Thomson emphasizes these last sentences. It is a refrain among Southern whites who remain emotionally attached to the plantation days—that one in 1, slaveholders who were black vindicates in some fashion who were not.

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We are not accountable for what happened then. We are only accountable if it is repeated.

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I never heard of any mistreatment. You see, blacks were better off coming to this country.

It is a fact that the ones over here are far ahead of the ones over there in Africa. And you know that the first legal slaveholder in the United States was a black man? You need to look that up. I think slavery developed here primarily because of the ignorance of the blacks. They first came over here as indentured servants, as did the whites. But because of their background and lack of education, they just sort of slid into slavery. I grew up in the Deep South, and I am familiar with such ideas, shared by many whites in Mr. I do not believe that black people were responsible for their own enslavement, or that African-Americans should be grateful for slavery because they are better off than West Africans, or that a black man was author of the slave system.

But I recognize the melody, and let the song pass. Kenneth Thomson brings out some daguerreotypes of the Franklins and others in his family tree. The pictures are beautiful.

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The people in them are well-dressed. They give the impression of perfect manners. To get rid of their attitudes. Ben Key was a slave to Isaac Franklin at Fairvue. He was born in in Virginia. Franklin probably bought him there and brought him to Tennessee in the early s. For reasons unknown, Franklin did not send Key through the burning gates of the Slave Trail, but made him stay in Tennessee.

At Fairvue, Key found a partner in a woman named Hannah. Their children included a son named Jack Key, who was freed at the end of the Civil War, at age Florence Hall Blair, born and raised in Nashville, is 73, a retired nurse. She lives 25 miles from Gallatin, in a pretty brick, ranch-style house with white shutters. After 15 years at various Tennessee hospitals, and after 15 years selling makeup for Mary Kay Cosmetics and driving a pink Cadillac, because she moved a ton of mascara , she now occupies herself with family history.

A lot of black people, she said, do not want to know about their ancestry. You see the names. Some names in the lists are familiar.

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You find them repeatedly. He was a minister. It must be in the genes, because I have a brother who is a minister, and a cousin who is a minister, and another relative. And in Gallatin there is a church named after one of the Key family preachers. And that includes about Isaac Franklin.

I think Franklin was a cruel individual, but he was human. His humanity was not always visible, but it was there.

Time kind of mellows you out. The older I get, the more tolerant I become. It was like that. He did it, but it is what it is. If you carry hatred or strong dislike for people, all you are doing is hurting yourself.

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She laughs, surprisingly. Oh, no. Now I have five adult children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. I am married to a man with four children. Put them all together, we are like a big sports team. On holidays it is something, we have to rent a community center. As autumn gathered in , the caravan that John Armfield handed over left Tennessee, bound for Natchez. Records of that part of the journey do not survive, nor do records about the individual slaves in the coffle. Like other Franklin gangs, the probably got on flatboats in the Cumberland River and floated three days down to the Ohio River, and then drifted down another day to reach the Mississippi.

A flatboat could float down the Mississippi to Natchez in two weeks. There—and this is conjecture, based on what happened to other gangs—half of the big gang might have been sold.

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As for the other half, they were probably herded onto steamboats and churned miles south to New Orleans, where Isaac Franklin or one of his agents sold them, one or three or five at a time. And then they were gone—out to plantations in northern Louisiana, or central Mississippi, or southern Alabama. In Knoxville, in October , Waller readied his gang of 20 or more for the second half of their journey.

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