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Corinth Contraband Camp

During a recent trip to visit my family, I visited the Corinth Contraband Camp in Corinth, Mississippi. Corinth is about 45 minutes from hometown. We called it ‘Car-rent,’ and we traveled there on Saturdays for shopping. I had no idea of the camp’s history, even though it has always been in my backyard.

Let me give you a some history on the camp. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The news spread throughout the country, including plantations. During the Civil War, as Union troops traveled throughout the South slaves would flock to them in hopes of achieving freedom.

The Union forces defeated the Confederate Army at the Battle of Corinth. They seized the town, and as a result, hundreds and eventually thousands of slaves fled farms and plantations to find refugee and freedom there. African Americans were considered property during this time so term ‘contraband’ was given to identify them. Union General Grenville M. Dodge ordered that the camp be established to house them.

While there were several contraband camps during the Civil War, the one in Corinth was highly regarded. Less camp and more like a city, the Corinth Contraband Camp had two-room school, homes, church, and a hospital. The camp was located on Mary Phillip’s farm, which the Union army had seized. Contrabands worked the several hundreds of acres of the farm. They were fed from the crops of the farm and sold some of the vegetation in an open market. In May 1863, the U.S. government made $4,000 to $5,000 from the agricultural production of the camp. Unlike most camps, African Americans in Corinth were paid for their work. Union soldiers used them to help repair and rebuild railroads.

The site existed from November 1862 to December 1863. As many as 6,0000 African Americans lived there. Many of the men in the camp served in the Union army and formed the 55th United States Colored Troops. In December 1863, the camp moved to Memphis, Tennessee.

While I was at the camp, I sat on one of the benches and reflected on how I wish I had been taught this part of history when I was in grade school. I didn’t even know meaning of contraband as it relates to the Civil War. When I returned home and told my dad about the trip, he said he had never heard about this camp. This is a part of American history that needs to be told. We know that many African Americans sought freedom in the North and in Canada. But we don’t know that many of them sought freedom in Corinth. A town that know denotes itself as a retirement community.

In my view, the contraband camp is a bright spot in the dark history surrounding slavery and the U. S. Civil War. The camp may not have been paradise, but it was a place where many African Americans were able to experience freedom in some capacity for the first time. They learned how to read and to write. They were paid for their labor. They built houses that they lived in. They were able to marry without having to ask for their master’s permission. The road from slavery to freedom has been a long road with many exits and road stops. The Corinth Contraband Camp illustrates that part of the story.

The camp is off of the road a neighborhood and has a quarter-mile path. It’s definitely work a trip. The camp is managed by the National Park Service, and it’s free. I saw a couple of folks who were doing their morning exercise on the path. I appreciate the fact that the camp is a living monument were people are interacting with the site. It’s located right off the road of an ordinary neighborhood. You may even hear a train drive by. After you visit the camp, stop by the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, which is also a part of the National Park Service. It’s also free.

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Inspiring Young Poets

It was as a child that I fell in love with words. It began as a love affair of books. My father took me and my brother to the library weekly to check out new books. My favorites were the Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley Twins. Once a month, my Aunt Ann picked me and my little brother up, and we headed down Woodward Avenue to Red House Books. There, we explored the shelves of used paperbacks to add to our collection. I counted and cataloged my books. I read on the way home from school, at the dinner table and under my covers at night. Books were a free passport that allowed a little girl from a small town in Alabama to explore the world.

From reading grew a desire to create my own stories. I began writing my own versions of The Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew. I migrated from short stories to poetry. By the time I was a high schooler, I was writing for the Youth section of my daily newspaper.

Now, as an adult, I love going back to schools and organizations that serve children to lead writing workshops. Child have a vivid imagination and a curiosity for creativity. They are not held back by the many of the confines that restrict adult writers. The above picture is of a writing workshop I led with some girls from Zion Lutheran Church. They had been using my book How to Create a World to write poems. I came in to help them write poems to celebrate their mothers for Mother’s Day.

Children of various abilities and interests should be encouraged to tap into their writing abilities. You never know which child will become the next Maya Angelou or Langston Hughes. Creativity must be cultivated. If you are a teacher or a leader of an after school program, I would love to come and share poetry with your students. You can invite me to lead a writing workshop here. You can also order my book How to Create a World and use in your classroom, your kitchen or your community organization.

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Commemorating fallen soldiers

This past Memorial Day, I was invited to write and read an original poem commemorating the fallen soldiers of Elgin. This year marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. To create this poem, I watched video interviews of WWII soldiers. This allowed me to get a sense of what it felt like for the men who fought on that day. I also did some basic research about D-Day.

The commemoration was organized by the city of Elgin and Elgin’s Patriotic Memorial Association. It was held at the Bluff City Cemetery. Before the event, I visited the cemetery a couple of times to get a feel for the location. I gathered names of soldiers from tombstones and incorporated them in the poem.

It was an honor to a part of the artistic expression of the event’s festivities.

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The Invitation of Rejection

beautiful pink lotus in lotus swamp at “Talay-Noi” Pattalung province ,Thaialnd

Last month, I received an email that a poem I had submitted to a literary journal was not accepted. They admired my writing but felt it wasn’t a fit for their publication “at this time.” As a creative, hearing ‘no’ is a familiar tune. Rejection can be a bear to tussle with, especially if you have any amount of childhood trauma or have experienced rejection.

When I read the email, I was initially disappointed. But then, I considered how I could revise the poem and make it better. And lo & behold, I found a typo. I saw several lines that could be moved around to improve clarity. I also saw a handful of words that could be trimmed. Rather than viewing it as rejection, I viewed it as an invitation. An invitation to look at my work more closely and with greater wonder.

What if I changed the form? What if I moved a repeating line to a different place? Could I remove personal pronouns? As I pondered these questions, the idea came to me to further explore the poems I have written about my grandfathers and see if there is new content there. What started as a downer soon became a seed for creativity. The next time you hear ‘no’ or ‘not yet,’ see what it is inviting you to. Where is it beckoning you go?

If you view it as rejection, you’ll be paralyzed. You’ll stop. You’ll quit and we can’t have that. We need your voice. Your art in this world. So dust yourself off and get back to creating. Accept the invitation.