My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations

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My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations

“My Whole soul and body are for this ex-slave movement and are willing to sacrifice for it”
Callie House, 1899

Even after the slavery was abolished in 1865, the African-American struggle for basic human rights, civil rights, ‘equality’ and ‘acceptance’ per-say, continued. Much torture and many lynchings followed. Legal and educational equality finally came to fruition in the 20th century but racism continued and still continues to this day. During the Civil Rights Era, minorities fought for complete equality and years after, they succeeded. The fight for civil rights though, started long, long ago. It only took a couple of years for ex-slaves and their families to realize the abolishment of slavery did not mean equality. A few years after that, ex-slaves started to do something about it.

In fact, one forgotten woman valiantly spearheaded the Ex-Slave Reparations movement starting in 1894 and died in 1928, continuing to fight for the movement. She was not a coward nor quiet with her opinions. She obeyed the law but fought it tooth and nail. She was never swayed and she never gave up, even after imprisonment. This unflinching woman was Callie Guy House.

The story of this never-before-recognized woman, is now a published book by Mary Frances Berry, a native of Nashville, Tennessee. Berry’s My Face Is Black Is True is ridiculously detailed. In fact, it took her eight years of research before she began writing about this amazing woman who preceded the likes of Fannie Lou Hamer, Stokely Carmichael, and Martin Luther King Jr. Mary Frances Berry’s does a remarkable job accounting not only the life of Callie House but also the Ex-Slave Reparations movement. Mary Frances Berry’s purpose seems to be to provide the reader with an accurate, historical account, starting with a background on the civil war and the slaves’ role during the time, how the historical timeline parallels with Callie House’s life, as well as the Ex-Slave Reparations movement, even after the death of House. The historical and biographical account provides the reader with a piece of history that is not mentioned at all in history classes yet equally significant as everything that is learned. Her meticulously detailed narrative stands testament to her eight years spent researching the era and the woman that was so involved. BACKGROUND

Callie Guy, from Nashville, TN, was born into slavery in 1861. As a young girl, Callie Guy lived with her mother, her sister, and her sister’s husband, Charlie House. In 1883, she married William House and they had five children together. To support her family, House took in laundry from other African Americans, as well as white patrons. In the mid-1890s, Callie House and her family moved to south Nashville, where she later began her fight for reparations.

It was in south Nashville where House was first introduced to the Reparations movement. She came across a pamphlet that advertised several reparations movements. Of course, being the ambitious woman she was, she decided to organize her own movement, with help from a local reverend, Isaiah Dickerson. They began the organization: National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association (NESMRBP). The grassroots goal was to provide for sick and disabled ex-slaves and their families. The funding came from local chapters who had monthly dues.1 The goal was also to serve as a representative for ex-slaves in the national fight for reparations and pensions for black soldiers based on those offered to Union soldiers. In a brilliant and daring move, House targeted $68 million in taxes on seized rebel cotton and demanded it as repayment for centuries of unpaid labor. House tried relentlessly to receive reparations and came close a few times with the help of brave congressmen.

The National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association inspired thousands of African...
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