Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Former Slave Recounts His Life during Reconstruction; T. Thomas Fortune's Book Tells of His Life in Jackson County, Jacksonville after the Civil War

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Former Slave Recounts His Life during Reconstruction; T. Thomas Fortune's Book Tells of His Life in Jackson County, Jacksonville after the Civil War

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Hoffman

AFTER WAR TIMES

AN AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD IN RECONSTRUCTION-ERA FLORIDA

Author: T. Thomas Fortune, edited by Daniel R. Weinfeld

Data: University of Alabama Press, 144 pages, $39.95

T. Thomas Fortune was an influential African-American public intellectual at the turn of the 20th century, a journalist, and the author of two books. His peers and colleagues included Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Alexander Crummell and Marcus Garvey. Fortune was born and raised in Florida and his "After War Times," which covers his youth during Reconstruction, was serialized in two black newspapers a year before his death in 1928.

He was born in 1856 into a slave family residing outside Marianna, the county seat of Jackson County, which was the western edge of the "Cotton Kingdom" in Florida. In his veins ran the blood of Africans, Irish, Jews and Seminoles. His father, Emanuel Fortune Sr., was a tanner and shoemaker and, as Fortune remembers, his mother was the most beautiful woman in the county. When emancipation came, Fortune Sr. seized the opportunities presented and soon operated a prosperous subsistence farm, became a lay leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and was respected by both blacks and whites as a natural leader.

The county's antebellum population was evenly divided between whites and black slaves. There was no Sherman to torch Jackson County and a single significant Union foray was repulsed by the home guard. After emancipation came, there immediately appeared both resentment and a growing resistance among many whites to the ongoing revolutionary social, political and economic changes of Reconstruction. Freedmen's Bureau agents sought to match the needs of white landowners for labor and the needs of freedmen for work, to protect the suffrage of freedmen, and to bring education to their children.

Despite Emanuel Fortune's willingness to cooperate across racial lines with men of good faith, even former Confederates, he became a potential target in the internecine conflict known as the Jackson County War that raged from 1869-71. This was a war of assassinations and arson, fought under the cover of darkness. Fortune Sr., who was elected to the Legislature in 1868, 1869 and 1870, always carried a firearm during those years when he left his house and tried to be home before dark. These were difficult times for the entire Fortune family, but most of all, Fortune says, for his beloved mother, who died in 1871.

Fortune Sr. moved his family to Jacksonville in 1870, where he made his mark during those brief decades when Jacksonville, according to James Weldon Johnson, was a good place for African-Americans. …

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