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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas!

When I am not researching Civil War soldiers from Williamson County I am often researching other African American citizens of different eras.  Recently I helped put together an exhibit at the Williamson County Archives and Museum about the Experience of African Americans in Williamson County During World War I. As I was researching that era, I came across two pages of Letters to Santa in the Nashville Globe in 1918, an African American newspaper that was published in Nashville beginning in 1906.  These letters particularly caught my eye because so many of them were written by children from Williamson County.  After I did some more researching I realized that Letters to Santa were published in other years as well. Their letters give a wonderful glimpse into life at the time - the concerns of children about relatives serving in the War, their chores, and their fondness for childhood friends and teachers.  

At the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County, we decided to highlight these letters at our monthly Porch Talk on the first Friday of December and also to publish them.  We decorated the McLemore House Museum, put up the Christmas tree, brought in baskets of traditional nuts, oranges, apples and peppermints and Rachael Finch and I hosted a lecture to discuss with the public Christmas traditions in the African American community in Williamson County from slavery through World War I.  

I also began posting one letter each day in December beginning on December 1st.  My Flickr album with the letters - as well as some extras - can be accessed here.  The goal was to publish a letter each day until Christmas.  I also have tried to research the child behind the letters and post some background information where possible.  The local newspaper, the Williamson Herald picked up the story and published a lovely piece about our efforts.  Today Jesse Knutson with NewsChannel5 in Nashville came and interviewed Johnnie Patton Hamilton and her granddaughter Jendaya about Johnnie's grandmother, Henrietta Lee, the author of one of the letters to Santa Claus. It was such a privilege to get to hear from her about the woman that Henrietta grew up to be, from the sweet little girl that she was in 1918. Her family has an incredibly rich history that I was privileged to get to know better and to help share.
Henrietta Lee's Letter to Santa, published in the Nashville Globe
on Friday, December 20, 1918, page 7
After the story aired, I came home and was working on this blog post and look what I managed to find -- this was not Henrietta's first published Letter to Santa!

Henrietta Lee's Letter to Santa, published in the Nashville Globe on Friday December 21, 1917, page 8
Merry Christmas!  May the gifts keep coming to you as well this year!