In Her book Crossing the Border, A Free Black Community in Canada, Sharon A. Roger Hepburn said there were "several" biracial couples in Buxton by 1861. Charles and Hester Meehan grew up and married in Buxton, a place with a high tolerance for mixed marriages.
Hepburn contrasts Buxton to Chatham when, in 1860, Reverend Thomas Pinckney, a black man, married Elizabeth King, a white woman. The reaction of Chatham's white citizens was so negative Rev. Pinckney and his wife were forced to resign from their missionary positions and flee the area.
Chatham was a mere fifteen miles southeast of Buxton. In 1857, Rev. R.R. Disney dubbed it "the colored man's Paris." Though many white residents welcomed black people fleeing enslavement, their line in the sand appears to have been "amalgamation." Marriages accepted in Buxton were scorned in Chatham.
Canada did not ban Interracial marriages, but everyone did not fully embrace them. When Charles and Hester married in 1875, white attitudes had not changed. By 1884, Charles worked as a stave maker. Area directories for that period suggest he may have worked at a factory in Chatham. One morning during that year, Charles was not well. It was payday, so he asked Hester to go to his job to retrieve his pay. Unfortunately for Hester, the trip turned violent when someone accosted her. Family lore does not reference injuries she may have sustained.
Whatever happened to Hester was race-based and serious enough that the Meehans were determined to leave their Canadian homeland and follow their lifelong friends and neighbors to Nebraska, where interracial marriage was against the law and punishable by a fine, time in prison, or both.
I often wonder if the paycheck incident gave birth to an audacious plan to hide in plain sight among the community of Canadians as they settled in their Nebraska home.
Harry Meehan, the third child of Charles and Hester, was a four-year-old toddler when the family left Canada for Nebraska. He grew to manhood in Overton and traveled to Cherry County in 1905 with the family. He soon left Cherry County to find work elsewhere, but he often communicated with his family, including his younger brother, Bill.
In 1909-10, my Uncle Harry Meehan was twenty-nine and working in Grand Island. His youngest brother, Bill, was twelve and still lived at home in DeWitty. Harry sent postcards to Bill. The words conveyed everyday messages about neighbors Albert Riley and “Bill” Crawford, dogs or the lack thereof, and plans to be home again. The postcards were simple but told of the love shared between a much older and considerably younger brother.
Three of Harry’s postcards to Dad have survived. Viewing them now, my focus is drawn not to the brotherly greeting on the back but to the images on the front. Juxtaposing the middle picture (above) against the bookend, velvet cowboys adorning the other two cards, I wonder if Harry was sending another message to Bill.
The white cowboys are decked out in red, white, and blue. Shirts of red velvet cover their hearts while rearing horses, and a six-shooter proclaims their domination of all they see. They command their world. One hundred years later, the red velvet is as plush and rich as the day the cards were mailed.
The third card, copyrighted in 1909, starkly contrasts the other two. It is a black-and-white card with shades of gray. It portrays a barefoot and ragged black man being kicked by a frightened, starving mule. The attack is witnessed by a blackbird sitting in a barren tree surrounded by trash and … a fence. Is that red, white, and blue cowboy on the other side of the wall? Near the tree, there is a hole in the fence. Perhaps the man is being kicked because he dared peer through the hole and dream … or he is just being kicked.
The caption warns that there is only “One Strike.” A century has passed, and the imagery of racism and Jim Crow America is as vivid today as the red velvet cowboy shirts.
Was Harry sending life messages to his little brother about the world? Perhaps the cards were the only ones available; a choice made my chance. But maybe the cards were intentionally chosen. Perhaps the images they portrayed sparked thoughts embedded in a mind molded by the duplicitous life so many people of African descent in America live(d).
This message decries the disparity between the lives of blacks and whites. Was it a warning to a young brother about what he should expect in and from the world? We will never know how Harry chose the postcards. Still, he likely recognized that life in early-1900s Nebraska wasn’t the racial utopia often associated with the early African-descended homesteaders. I have also wondered if, at least subconsciously, Harry saw these images as the inheritance from his parents – one black and one white.
“I do like Illinois very much but I also like Michigan. Fine as Illinois is, it is a difficult place for a mulatto. One has to be white to get the best chances just as anywhere else. But the next chances belong to real dark people. The mulatto is last unless he wants to treat both dark and white as though they were a little better. I won’t do that as I think all men are equal.
You see honey thousands here both black and white are recently from the south. Their numbers give them control, and that is the way they feel. There may be groups like that in Detroit but I noticed that mainly colored people were just colored people there and mulattoes were not frozen out.”
Mulatto and Black are used to designate Bill's race in birth, census, and other records. But when he worked as a chauffeur, he was white. In a world dictated by race and color, several children of Charles and Hester Meehan existed in an "in-between" world.
Death certificates for Charles and Hester Freeman Meehan held one final conflicting bit of misinformation regarding color and race.
Hester was classified as "white" and changed to "black." Charles was classified as "brown" but changed to "black." Ireland is listed as the birthplace of both of his parents.
DNA analysis provides a more accurate picture of their lineage - see DNA Stories on this website for more information.
Decades later, their love survived and lingers with their descendants.
"The use of race to inform clinical diagnoses and decision making may reinforce disproven notions of race as a biological construct and contribute to ongoing racial disparities in health and health care." Michelle Tong and Samantha Artiga
Healthcare is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, disparity in healthcare is baked into the system. The article linked below is one of many on the role of race in healthcare.
2016 THE DESCENDANTS OF
CHARLES AND HESTER MEEHAN
Charles Waddell Chesnutt, born in 1858, and Ocsar Micheaux, born in 1884, were American authors and filmmakers whose stories tackled race, politics, and social identity issues.
Charles Chesnutt was a teacher, lawyer, and author who wrote extensively about race.
Oscar Micheaux was a pioneering black filmmaker and South Dakota homesteader.
The House Behind the Cedars, published in 1900, was Charles W. Chesnutt's first published novel. It is a story about love, race, and identity in post-civil war America. In 1927, Oscar Micheaux adapted it into a silent film that the Virginia Censorship Board banned. Veiled Aristocrats was Mr. Micheaux's 1932 remake of the film.
Read the story of Oscar Micheaux as a South Dakota Homesteader at the National Park Service website.
Christine Jacobsen writes about discovering at age 65 that she is mixed race. Her book is available through Amazon.
Link here to her thought-provoking interview with Dr. Trish Varner.
These articles include links to subjects such as Placage, Slave Breeding, Enslaved Women's Resistance, and several other topics.
All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds?, npr's Code Sw!tch, August 25, 2016
One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life -- A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard
npr article and commentary on the book, Passing Strange by Martha A. Sandweiss.
A Peculiarly American Racial Tradition Approaches Irrelevance, contributed by Robert Fikes, December 30, 2014.
" Skin fractured our kinship."
The following link is to a 2011 Moth presentation by June Cross.
A Novel by Nella Larson
By F. James Davis
One Hundred Years Of Black Films In A White World
By Wil Haygood
Supreme Court rejects anit-interracial marriage laws
Those Audacious Meehans
All pictures used on this site are the property of Catherine Meehan Blount unless otherwise noted. Other images are used with permission.
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