Monday, September 12, 2016

The Spears & East Cleveland's black miners

I've been working on scripts for the annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, and a project of the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. We'll be telling stories from Potter's Field, the large area in the southwest corner of the cemetery where those who could not afford a burial plot were interred between 1864 and the 1960s. And there are some fascinating stories to tell.

One belongs to Eliza Ann Carter, matriarch of Chariton's black community when she died in 1923 and quite likely Lucas County's oldest resident. Eliza wasn't quite as old as newspaper reports claimed, but she had indeed passed the century mark.

I'm going to save her story until then, but while working on it I visited some of the graves of her family and friends elsewhere in the cemetery, including that of her daughter, Emma --- the only one of 11 Carter children not born into slavery. Emma, who married Andrew Jackson Spears and died of tuberculosis on Aug. 17, 1918, is buried on the Spears family lot in the northwest corner of the cemetery, just off the driveway.

There are only three tombstones on the lot, one (top) marking the graves of Emma and her husband, generally known as Andy ...

... a homemade terracotta memorial for Andy's brother, Joseph J. Spears, who died during 1942 ...

... and a small stone for Ellen Alvira (Bollman) Spears, wife of another brother, Emanuel Spears, who died during 1927.

There actually are at least 10 people buried on the double lot, including the patriarch and matriarch of the Spears family, William and Georgianna (Green) Spears, their daughter, Georgia, and Ellen's husband, Emanuel, who died during 1962 and was the last family member buried here. At least two infants also are buried on the lot. William and Georgianna were born into slavery in Albemarle County, Virginia --- Emma's birthplace, after emancipation, too (note that Emma was born during 1867, not 1872, the birth year inscribed on her tombstone).

The Spears family, the Carter family and many other black families from Virginia arrived in Lucas County during the summer of 1883, recruited principally in Albemarle and perhaps other nearby counties by the Whitebreast Coal and Mining Co., then experiencing labor problems at its mines near the company town of Cleveland --- now vanished from the landscape but once located just east of Lucas.

The Virginia men --- including William Spears and his sons and Eliza Carter's sons and sons-in-law --- the older ones born into slavery, were promised good jobs in the mines, company housing and better lives for their families.

They were not told, however, that they would be taking the jobs of striking white miners or that their presence in Lucas County was intended as a warning to experienced miners considering future strikes that they could be replaced.

The black miners and their families arrived at Cleveland on special rail cars during June, July and August of 1883 and moved into housing constructed for them in an area east of Cleveland, closer to the mines, that came to be known as East Cleveland.

There was considerable anger among the white miners of Lucas and Cleveland, fears that violence would erupt, threats and other harsh words. But no violence occurred and black and white miners learned to work side by side in the mines.

From 1883 until about 1890, the two Clevelands --- white to the west and black to the east --- boomed side by side. If the 1890 federal census had not been destroyed, we would know how many people lived in East Cleveland during that year, just after its population peaked, but we don't.

The coal ran out in the Whitebreast fields about 1890 and the company moved its mining operations elsewhere. Many of the mining families, both black and white, followed the jobs to other mining operations in southern Iowa and beyond.

The Spears and extended Carter families, as well as others, began moving into Chariton from East Cleveland during 1889, however, greatly increasing Chariton's black population, established after the Civil War when several families moved north from Missouri.

Andy and Emma Spears still were among about 40 black miners and their families living in the remains of East Cleveland when the 1900 federal census was taken, but all of these people moved into Chariton or elsewhere soon thereafter and the Clevelands, both west and east, became ghost towns.

1 comment:

Tiarra Cooley said...

Thank you for that story, The Spears and the Carters were my family Joseph Spears was my grandfather, My father made his tombstone. Thank You Tiarra Cooley