Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 60/Lula Russeau

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An ex-slave sits outside her plantation.
Overview[edit | edit source]

Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau was interviewed by Gertha Couric in association with the Federal Writers’ Project. The interview took place on December 15, 1938.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Aunt Granny Lula Russeau was a Native American born August 15th, 1861 in Eufaula, Alabama. Russeau was born in the first year of the Civil War, on a slave plantation, and that became her home for life. Her parents were both Native Americans. Her father, from South Carolina, died when she was young. Russeau’s mother, a Chickasaw Native, was born in Black Creek, Virginia. A midwife, also referred to as a granny, she taught Russeau how to do the job in her youth. Russeau was the slave of Andrew McKenzie and his wife Adelaide, and she resided on their property at 426 Washington Street, Eufaula long after her freedom was granted. Russeau was extremely proud of her heritage, getting mad at people who thought she was African-American. At the same time, she was extremely proud of her work as a midwife, birthing over 500 babies in her 50 year career and wielding a head full of cures for every haunt(or event that signifies bad luck) around. All in all, Russeau was an extremely strong woman who refused to shy from her beliefs, whether that be about “po’ white trash” or which gender a baby was going to be.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Reconstruction and "Redemption" in Alabama[edit | edit source]

A woman teaches two others how to feed babies.

Reconstruction in Alabama was the tale of an illusionary victory followed by great disappointment. Following the Civil War, slavery was abolished, and the United States set out to “reconstruct” the ruined South. This period is now seen in three phases, known as Presidential Reconstruction, Congressional Reconstruction, and “Redemption.1” The first of these phases, Presidential Reconstruction, followed the plan of President Andrew Johnson. Johnson allowed Confederates to decide how race relations were re-established, resulting in little advancement for the newly freed slaves. In 1867, congress took control of Reconstruction and brought new Civil Rights legislation, giving it the nickname of “Radical Reconstruction” or Military Reconstruction. During this period, The federal government worked to rewrite Alabama's constitution, freedmen founded political and workers' rights organizations such as the Union League.2” At the same time, unhappy Democrats fought back against legislation and “[t]he Ku Klux Klan and similar groups rose up during hard times out of the violent tradition of antebellum patrollers and wartime guerrillas.3” After this period of progress, in 1874, Democrat George S. Houston was elected governor, and he began overturning voting rights for freedpeople and lessened government interference. A number of racial issues then began that did not gain momentum until the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century.

Midwives on Slave Plantations[edit | edit source]

Midwives held an interesting position on slave plantations in the Antebellum American South. Firstly, midwives had an increased amount of contact with whites due to the amount of time spent in the home. At the same time as delivering children, midwives were responsible for being doctors on their plantations. They were known to make their own medicines4. Due to how essential they were to the success of the plantation, “slave‐midwifery ‘could bring status, independent income, [mobility] and even some personal latitude within the constraints of slavery’.5” Allowing them to find some form of autonomy. Due to their knowledge, midwives were also able to find work after the abolition of slavery.

Native Americans and Slavery[edit | edit source]

It is a popular belief that after the switch to Africans, Native Americans were no longer taken as slaves in the United States. In the words of Brown University associate professor Linford D. Fisher, it “is a piece of the history of slavery that has been glossed over.6” Further, “[b]etween 1492 and 1880, between 2 and 5.5 million Native Americans were enslaved in the Americas.7” These slaves were shipped to U.S. colonies, the Caribbean, or overseas to Europe. It is also believed that there were no more Native American slaves after King Philip’s War, but they instead how to surrender to slavery or painfully resist. In the long term, it is said that “[t]he shadow of native enslavement...extends into the 18th century and beyond.8” Native Americans were continuously forced into lifelong slavery, and there are barely any records of it happening. Despite that, enslavement disrupted the “lives, livelihoods and kinship networks of thousands of Indians” throughout the history of slavery9.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ↑Fitzgerald, "Reconstruction in Alabama"
  2. ↑Ibid
  3. ↑Noe, "Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South"
  4. ↑Tunc, "The Mistress, the Midwife, and the Medical Doctor: Pregnancy and Childbirth on the Plantations of the Antebellum American South, 1800-1860
  5. ↑Ibid
  6. ↑Kiley, "Colonial Enslavement of Native Americans Included Those Who Surrendered, Too"
  7. ↑Ibid
  8. ↑Ibid
  9. ↑Ibid

Bibliography[edit | edit source]