michaelharriot @michaelharriot Senior Writer at theroot.com/, poet, Wypipologist, master race-baiter. His pen is mightier than your sword. Wakanda✈️Zamunda Oct. 17, 2019 11 min read

Thread: When talking about reparations, the cruelty of slavery and how people resisted, we only talk about revolts and rebellions and rarely mention black women's place in history:

Well this is the story of resistance that exists to this day:: A slick motherfucker named Earvin.

One of the most brutal places that a slave could live was South Carolina. One day I'll tell you the story of one particularly brutal place called Edgefield but for now, all you need to know is that Alabama & Mississippi didn't have SHIT on SC when it came to mean white folks

Part of this was because white folks in SC were scared AF. By 1820, there were more enslaved Africans in SC than free white people and white people used brutal methods because they were outnumbered...

And evil.
(But we're just gonna stick with the outnumbered part right now.)

It is commonly thought that it was illegal for the enslaved to read and write but that is a common misconception... KINDA. The first anti-literacy law for slavery was passed in SC in 1740 but it only made it illegal for slaves to WRITE. They could read if their masters allowed it

Why is this important?

Well, Christianity is one way white people controlled the slave population. Slavemasters would let their property read the bible because it taught the enslaved to obey their masters

Again, one day I'll show yall the "Slave Bible" that Christian Missionaries passed out with all the parts about Moses and the Egyptians removed.)

You can go see this bible in DC right now. (Or, you can read what I wrote about it here:  https://www.theroot.com/slave-bible-converted-slaves-to-christianity-by-omittin-1830982707  )

In fact, Nat Turner was allowed to go to different plantations and preach. (The guy I'm about to tell you about did that too, but he was WAAAY slicker)

Anyway, I'm just trying to show yall that reading wasn't necessarily outlawed... YET.

While we're talking about Nat Turner, there's something else I should mention: In some cases, enslaved people were allowed to travel by themselves. While we think of enslaved people picking cotton, some had special skills that would earn their master's money.

And that's how Earvin started his harebrained scheme teaching enslaved people to read and write.

By every account, Earvin was smart AF. He was even smarter than his master and his master knew it. But Earvin had one problem:

He was always starting shit.

Earvin belonged to John Bradley, a rich farmer who owned dozens of enslaved Africans in Sumter and Clarendon County. No one knows how he learned, or who taught him, but some dumb motherfucker, not only taught Earvin to read and write, but he taught Earvin how to blacksmith

Why was this important? Well, back in those days, there were very few Walmarts, so you couldn't just run to Wally World and pick up a gallon of milk, a plow and horseshoes.

And Earvin just didn't know blacksmithing, he could repair cotton gins and MAKE guns from scratch.

Of course, this made Earvin very valuable. John would let Earvin go to other plantations, fix stuff and bring the money back to his master. Of course, this made Earvin valuable, too.

But being the shit-starter that he was, Earvin STAYED in trouble.

He would sometimes keep money for himself. He would talk back to white folks and worst of all, he would TEACH SLAVES to read.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like Earv was a
benevolent revolutionary, because, from all accounts, he would make enslaved people PAY him to learn.

It was his side hustle. But it made him very popular among his folks. They could read the bible, teach their kids and sometimes they used this to forge "passes" and run away.

This is why no one wanted slaves to write.

Let's take a break from Earv and learn about another story for a sec

Remember that 1740 anti-literacy law I told you about? Well, that law came about because of a slave revolt called the Stono Rebellion in Sept. 1739 where Africans marched down the SC coast killing white folks

The leader of that rebellion was a Kongolese named Jemmy who literally formed an army and started an uprising.

And Jemmy could read and write.

Well, in 1822, in Charleston, SC, a black man named Denmark Vessey tried to do the same thing. His rebellion was squashed, but it also scared the white population in SC. T

Denmark Vessey could read, too.
So could Nat Turner, in 1831.
A lot of people know about these revolts.

But, while most people think that Nat Turner's rebellion prompted states to enact laws against teaching the enslaved to read and write, it was only partially responsible.

You gotta hear about David Walker.

If there was ever a Black Twitter, then David Walker might be the first person to go viral. In 1829, Walker wrote a 76-page pamphlet called "An Appeal in Four Articles" that advocated for the violent overthrow of the institution of slavery.

He wrote: "Now, I ask you, had you not rather be killed than be a slave to a tyrant who takes the life of your mother wife and dear little children?"

I'm telling y'all: THIS MOTHERFUCKER HAD BARS!

And THAT'S why SC extended its anti-literacy law and made it illegal to teach black people to write in 1831.

But it was too late for Earvin. He already knew how to read and the Biblical book of Jay-Z, it clearly states: "You can't knock the hustle"

But, because white folks were scared, John kept a close eye on Earvin because he didn't want anyone to lynch his valuable property for reading or writing.

Plus, you must remember, it wasn't illegal for to read. It was illegal to TEACH ANY black person to read or write

JOHN was the one who could get in trouble, not Earv, (Aside from that whole lynching thing).

Everywhere Earv went, John would send someone with him to make sure he wasn't teaching anyone to read. But Earv's slick ass taught the motherfucker who was supposed to be watching HIM!

And then Earv helped that guy forge a pass (Or maybe Earv forged it himself) and helped his fellow enslaved brother try to escape!

John was getting too old to be watching Earv. So in 1839, John sat down to write his will and divided all of his property among his relatives.

I have read a copy of this document and it is astonishing to see how many enslaved people this dude had. I counted at least 60. John's will names each enslaved person by name and designates them to one of his relatives.

(I'm not done. Twitter just limits a thread to a certain number of tweets before you publish it.)

Anyway, because John didn't want his children or brothers to get in trouble because of Earvin's slick, slave-teaching ass, he did something incredible. It may have been even illegal

See, those laws in SC strictly forbade the manumission (freeing) of slaves unless you had permission from the state legislature. I can't find any record of John getting permission, nor do I know how common this was, but in order to save his family from Earvins rebelliousness...

In the last paragraph of his will, John wrote:

"My negro man Ervin is to have his own time so far as consistent with the laws of the State—he is not to be appraised when my estate is valued and no other services are to be required of him."

Ervin was so rebellious that he got himself set free!

Anyway, this wasn't all shits and giggles for Erv. Now he was basically exiled. No slavemaster in his right mind would let a free black man get close to his enslaved property.

Erv had nowhere to go, no family or nothing!

SHEEEEIIIIT! I'm just kidding. Earv had LOOT!

Apparently Earv had been stealing so much money that he bought a shed on a half acre between Sumter and Lee County and started his own blacksmith shop!

And then he bought another half acre. And another half acre.

Before you know it, Earv owned four acres of land! And by the time he reached his 30s, he eventually bought his dear wife's freedom!

He raised a family and prospered.

But white people started getting suspicious. How was Earv making all this money and where was he getting it from?

(You should hear some ominous "the-white-people-are-coming" music now.)

It turns out, Erv had been running a scam the whole time.

Erv and his son Ervin (no junior or nothing. There was just another Ervin) had been secretly going to plantations under the guise that they were repairing cotton gins etc and they were teaching these slaves to read!

But how were they getting paid?

Well, it turns out that these enslaved people were stealing small portions of their masters' crop and giving it to Erv. This motherfucker was making bank off bootleg tobacco!

Now you should know one other thing about these "slave laws." Back then, it was damn near illegal for a black man to be free in SC. A free black man had to pay a yearly $50 tax just to EXIST. This equals about $1200 in today's currency.

Erv was paying the equivalent of thousands of dollars just so he and his family could be free. But the genius part of this was that he wasn't really paying this money. The WHITE FOLKS were paying for Ervin to be free.

By now, Erv was getting old (for those times) and his sons were running things. When white people found out, they were FURIOUS!

So one day, Ervin number 2 went to the courthouse to sell tobacco. Some of it was grown on Erv's land but some was white folks tobacco.

By then, the white people had discovered Earv's scheme and had frozen them out of everything. They wouldn't sell them food. They wouldn't hire Erv's family. They really needed this money.

Erv Number 2 never made it back home.

Some people say he was killed on the courthouse steps but the records say he dropped dead from the heat. Ervin knew he and his family were next, so he packed up the entire family and left town.

Ervin 1 moved not far away, near Lee and Darlington County but he couldn't tell people he was a blacksmith or could read so he stayed on the low. His kids (Including Ervin #2's kid, Mingo) had a kid. Mingo desperately wanted to name his son after his dad but he couldn't

They were afraid that people might find out who they really were. Ervin even started telling people his name was "Irby."
So Mingo named his son Mingo (not even Mingo Jr. ). Mingo # 2 married Phyllis and in 1920, Mingo # 2 and Phyllis had a daughter named Marvell.

Marvell would listen to her granddaddy tell that story over and over again. They would pass down that rebelliousness and that love for reading. They would also pass down that love for history.

Marvell eventually married a man named James and built a home that was centered around books. They literally had a library in their home.

They also became one of the first black business owners in that town when they opened a black-owned taxi business in the NINETEEN FORTIES.

Why is that history important? Well imagine what that family could have right now if they had been allowed to build their generational wealth.

it is also important for another reason:

It is estimated that somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of every enslaved African in America came through SC. If we don't preserve this history, it will be lost forever.

In 1993 SC's governor started a council to preserve the state's African American heritage

Today, South Carolina's African American Heritage Commission is one of the models for preserving black history.

A black woman named Jannie was instrumental in getting the SC government to fund it funded and has served on that commission since day one.

That woman is largely the reason I was able to find out this story. It didn't come from a library. It came through her research, the things she preserved and the research of her sisters.

That woman is also the great, great grandaughter of Ervin Bradley.

A few months ago she received the highest honor a civilian in SC could receive —the Order of the Palmetto.  https://forum.savingplaces.org/blogs/lawana-holland-moore/2019/07/29/qa-jannie-harriot-african-american-heritage 

And you probably know Ervin Bradley's great, great, great grandson because he has a slick-ass word game just like his ancestor. That's because he grew up in that house reading all those goddamned books and hearing all those stories.

He isn't famous but his name might sound familiar.

It's Michael Harriot.

And that's how my family ended up in Darlington County, South Carolina.

(By the way, here's a pic are three generations of Ervin's descendants at that award ceremony.)

The youngest one?

Oh, that's my nephew Earvin.


You can follow @michaelharriot.



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