Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Blogging Black History II

The Teddy Bear

Halfway through February . . . Valentine's Day . . . pitchers and catchers report this week to spring training . . . and we continue our GeneaBlogie observance of Black History Month with the untold story behind the "invention" of the Teddy Bear . . . .

Nearly everybody knows the Teddy bear was named for Theodore Roosevelt, soldier, hunter, adventurer, conservationist and 25th President of these United States. But few know the whole story. Roosevelt had gone hunting in the Mississippi Delta in 1902. His guide was a former slave named Holt Collier. Collier, born in Mississippi in 1848, was well-known as a hunter, expert marksman, and guide throughout the South. On Roosevelt's hunt, Collier chased a black bear to a watering hole near a stand where the President had been waiting. But when the bear got there, Roosevelt had gone for an early lunch. The cornered bear turned and began to attack one of Collier's best dogs. Collier literally took the matter into his own hands, overpowering and subduing the bear. He then tied the bear to a tree. When T.R. returned, he declined to shoot the captive animal. Word of the inciddent spread and became the subject of an editorial cartoon in the Washington Star. A toy manufacturer saw the cartoon and heard the story. He asked his wife to sew a cloth bear which became the original "Teddy" bear. And the rest is history . . . .

Of course, the part most often overlooked is the story of Holt Collier. He had served as a Confederate soldier. He was described by an interviewer for the Federal Writers' Project as "a remarkable colored citizen" who "did a great deal for the uplift of his race." Collier was quite a character whose most memorable hunt was not the Roosevelt trip. The stories about Collier's exploits are hand-down legends in Mississippi. Collier died in 1936 and is buried in Live Oak Cemetery in Greenville, Mississippi.

Less than a year after the Delta bear hunt, President Roosevelt founded the first federal refuge for wildlife at Pelican Island, Florida. Roosevelt went on to establish 52 refuges during his Presidency. Today, his legacy, the National Wildlife Refuge System, includes 545 refuges. The newest refuge was established by Congress in 2004. It's the Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge, near Darlove, Mississippi; the first and only federal refuge named for a black American.

More African-American Genealogy Links

Holt Collier's story--largely in his own words--can be found on the American Slave Narratives page of the New Deal Network. These slave narratives are excellent sources of genealogical information and also can be found on the Library of Congress Website; North American Slave Narratives on the University of North Carolina's Documenting the American South site, and many other university Websites.

I just came across Doll's Genealogy Site and what I think is her related blog, Rooted in Tuskegee. I really like both of them as excellent African-American sites.

Bennie McRae, Jr., has a data-rich site entitled United States Colored Troops. Another data-rich site is The AfriGeneas Library at AfriGeneas.com--a must-see venue!

An aspect of black history often overlooked even today is the connection between African-Americans and American Indians. Two good sites to learn more are The African and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes.


Queen Neetee said...
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Nita said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post! Now I need to go back and read past posts.

I just did a search on Afrigeneas to see if anyone was blogging. How wonderful to find your post, a treasure really.

I've got you bookmarked in my 'favorites'. It would be nice for more of the contributors at Afrigeneas to blog. It's another great way to share information.

Thank you.