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Category: Steele History 101

The Negros Can Now Vote in Virginia: The Power and Freedom of Voting

The Negros Can Now Vote in Virginia: The Power and Freedom of Voting

I am still attempting to wrap my mind around the #SuperTuesday results that’s occurred in 2016.  The country is divided, and I’m baffled that people are not exercising their right to vote.

I know it’s a choice for you to vote. I guess because I know my history I look at my right to vote as a privilege to do so.  The right to vote was not always accessible to my community, and the road was quite tumultuous getting there.  So, I’m sorry when you tell me that you decided not to vote I’m quickly throwing you the infamous **side eye.**

I’ve probably told you the story before about my grandfather, and how important it was that everyone connected to him exercised their voting rights.

I can remember being a little girl and my grandfather providing each grandchild that turned 18 with the paperwork so they could register to vote. My grandfather was very active in politics and a strong advocate for equal rights.

I would like to dedicate this post to those that strongly believe in exercising that right, and respect the legacy of those individuals that died for our right to vote.

Below you will find photos of the 7 page document of “Colored Negro Men” of Midlothian, Virginia and their Voter Registration Signatures in 1870.

Even though decades later there would be many obstacles to overcome in order for all of us to vote in this country.  I wanted to provide a snapshot of how it began for the Negro Men in Virginia shortly after emancipation.

Please be advised that the voting rights were for men of color, not women.  Women’s right to vote was not until 1920.  That’s right, fifty years after these signed documents were submitted in 1870.

That’s another lesson, for another day!

Negro Voter 1870 Negro Voter VA 1870

The Blueprint: The importance of HERstory. Stay Lit and March 4th!

The Blueprint: The importance of HERstory. Stay Lit and March 4th!

I love when this day comes around every year. Say it aloud, “March Forth.” Move forward. How does that statement resonate with you? For me, it motivates me to keep pushing to the next level of my dreams.

We are almost ninety (Yes 90) days into the new year and how are we doing with our goals for 2016? I’ve been reflecting on the goals I have on my vision board, and I’ve made progress. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot of work to do.

We went from Black History Month to Women’s History Month. Can we agree that last month was jam packed with greatness?! I know that this month will be no different. I mean Hello, March is the month for movement. It’s instructing us that everything we’ve worked for is requiring us to act on it.


This week I reflected on my interaction with Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson. She was the matriarch and activist behind the Civil Rights Movement and marches in Selma, Alabama.  When she was on tour last year (at 103 years old) I was given the opportunity to edit a video for her to be placed in her personal archives.

I thought about the strength of Ms. Amelia. She was in her fifties when she was apart of  the fight for equality in Alabama. When I listened to her speak in an intimate venue last year she repeated the one thing that continued to keep her going.


Faith without works is dead, right?  It all starts with faith. The faith that this thing is gonna happen. If it aligns with God’s will, it’s gotta work!

She was brutally attacked on March 7, 1965 (Bloody Sunday), in Selma during a march for voting rights in Alabama.  After the attack I’m sure that would have stopped the average person.  Ms. Amelia was far from average.  She was determined to keep the faith until things changed.

Have you seen the movie Selma, directed by Ava Duvernay?  Ms. Amelia is played by Lorraine Toussaint in the movie.  If you haven’t checked it out please do so this weekend.  Thank me later.  😉

On this day what will you do different to make a change in your life?  I’m holding myself accountable and taking notes from the blueprint that Ms. Amelia has left behind.


From Fist Pumpin to West Philly: Fresh Princess of Books!

From Fist Pumpin to West Philly: Fresh Princess of Books!

I think it’s safe to say after the last three weeks I am exhausted!  The pack/unpack cycle has concluded for at least a month, but I’m definitely grateful for the Historical Tours w/R.J. that were completed.

You know I love a good road trip.  Can you believe of my many road trips on the east coast I’ve NEVER been to Philadelphia?  I rode through Pennsylvania heading to Virginia but never visited any historical sites in the state.  Our nation’s first capital, and I finally made it!

It was chilling cold the first day in Philly so my friends and I decided to venture out on Sunday afternoon.  Our first stop was the Art Museum, and also the scene for the famous steps from the Rocky Movie.   You know we had to go to the top right?! Lol.  RockySteps2

The view from the top of the “Rocky Steps” was amazing.  We hung out at the top because it was the perfect photo op for anyone who conquered the stairs!

Rocky Stairs
Rocky Stairs (Philly Art Museum) – View from the Top

Of course this stop wouldn’t be complete without posing with the statue!

Rocky Pose

By the mid-afternoon we worked up quite an appetite marching around Philly, so we decided to go over to the Reading Terminal Market.  There was so much to choose from but how could we come to Philly without getting a cheesesteak.  Sure, my friends from the area told me to try Jim’s or Ishkabibble but Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagie and Cheesesteak was President Obama approved!  Since my former alias is Carmen Sandiego I was definitely down to try.  Placed my order, took my Ace of Spades card, and waited patiently for my order.

Yum.  Aces of Spade card for my order wearing one of my fave nail colors, Essie - Mint Candy Apple
Yum. Aces of Spade card for my order wearing one of my fave nail colors, Essie – Mint Candy Apple

No need to snap a picture of my food.  We were thoroughly satisfied.  I’ll check the other places out to compare the next time in Philly.

I saw a story on Facebook about one of the oldest African American bookstores in the country was located in West Philly, Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop.  I was excited to stop by, drop off my book, and patronize the business.  We met the late owner’s daughter, Ms. Yvonne Blake.  Her father, Mr. Dawud Hakim began selling books from the trunk in his car in 1959 before settling in it’s current location on 52nd Street.  Can you imagine the history that has been exchanged in that space for the last 40 years.You can honestly get lost in there with the collection of books that is offered in the store.  It is truly an amazing treasure to have in West Philly, and I wish more bookstores like that one existed all over the country.  When you are in Philly be sure to stop by Hakim’s and it’s possible you may see a familiar book(s) in there very soon!

Hakim's Bookstore



The Blueprint: There was NONE! Still standing over 150 years later…

The Blueprint: There was NONE! Still standing over 150 years later…

There’s something special about this time of year.  I can talk about history all day every day, but it’s extra special during the month of February.  The community comes together to celebrate black excellence in all areas of history.  It’s truly a beautiful thing.  If we could just keep the momentum going after February, can you imagine how amazing that would be?

Okay, so what’s a trip back to North Carolina without visiting my old stomping grounds.  I had a special companion with me (Flat Stanley), and I decided to turn the experience into a “Historical Tour with R.J.” I decided to revisit a place where I was an intern on and off site.

Historic Stagville was one of the largest slave plantations located in Durham, NC.  The plantations was owned by the Bennehen-Cameron family consisted of 900 slaves, and almost 30,000 acres of land.  Yes, you read that correctly, a lot of land and slaves.  I want to talk about the history of the slaves and their contribution to Stagville.

One question that I would receive when I conducted tours as an intern was, “So, the slave owners Mr. Cameron must have been nice because the slave homes are still standing, right?  I mean these are really nice compared to what I’ve ever seen.”

My response would always be, “Mr. Cameron knew how to protect his investment, his investment meaning his slaves.  I’m sure none of the slaves enjoyed being slaves.  The dwellings are a representation of what happens when you invest in your property, property meaning slaves.”

Slave Dwellings would house 4 families (5-7 people, one room per family) completed in the 1850s.
Slave Dwellings would house 4 families (5-7 people, one room per family) completed in the 1850s.

The slave dwellings are truly fascinating to experience in person.  The dwellings are still standing and when you visit the site you are able to go inside, and take plenty of pictures which is always nice!

You can’t leave the slave dwelling without knowing the history of the chimney.  North Carolina has red clay.  The bricks in the chimney are made from that clay.  The truly fascinating part is that some of the bricks were not completely formed or dry before assembly.  In a few of the bricks you will find fingerprints, and even a child’s footprint.

Fingerprint found in the chimney at Stagville.
Fingerprint found in the chimney at Stagville.
A child's footprint found in the bricks on the Stagville Slave Dwelling Chimney.
A child’s footprint found in the bricks on the Stagville Slave Dwelling Chimney.

The tour is not complete without having a tour of the Great Barn.  The Great Barn was completed in the Spring of 1860, and through all of the storms the barn is still standing.  The Great Barn was build without a BLUEPRINT.  The slaves that built the barn are believed to be from the coast.  The roof of the barn has the resemblance of an upside down boat.  Some of the original wooden beams and pegs are still intact and only with minor updates to the structure.  The barn housed the mules and other products that were used on the plantation.

One of the photos taken inside of the great barn.  Please see featured photo for an outside view of the barn.
One of the photos taken inside of the great barn. Please see featured photo for an outside view of the barn.

It is important to highlight African American architecture, which a lot of times goes unnoticed.  The dwellings and barn that are still in it’s original condition over 150 years later is absolutely remarkable.  The blood, sweat, tears, finger and footprints are an indication of our strength, culture,  and continuous excellence.

The path is not always straight or easy.  The journey often brings about uncertainty, but if we choose the right path it can lead to something truly amazing.

Historic Stagville Path

Thank you for being apart of this “Historical Tour with R.J.”  during Black History Month!



Steele Living My Life As Carmen…San Diego That Is!

Steele Living My Life As Carmen…San Diego That Is!

Okay…Let me explain the title.  My alias online used to be Carmen Sandiego.  In all honesty in some places I still use the handle.  I’m known to pop up anywhere.  When my friends check-in or snap a photo of me to post on social media the response is usually, “Ronnika was there!”  On top of that my favorite color has always been red.  So, in my head I’m really Carmen Sandiego, add melanin and stir!

My friend found $80 roundtrip plane tickets to San Diego, and I was IN! You read that correctly, ROUNDTRIP! ORD to San Diego on a Saturday evening, you can’t beat that.  Clear skies and the weather was lovely, not bad for my first time in Cali.

Seaport San Diego

We were located in a cute boutique hotel downtown San Diego, and not far from the Historic Gaslamp District.  You already know when I heard “Historic” I perked up.  The area which is on the national registry of historic places is known for its redevelopment past.  Since the 1800s the Gaslamp District and SeaPort has revitalized the area into a hub for quaint boutiques, tourist attractions, and a social atmosphere.  The Balboa Park houses the world famous San Diego Zoo, home to the USS Midway (aircraft turned museum), I mentioned the Seaport right?  You can tell that was one of my favorite places.

I didn’t appreciate growing up near water until I was an adult.  It reminded me how we can take some things for granted.

The Real Carmen


The Blueprint: How to Reach for the Moon…

The Blueprint: How to Reach for the Moon…

Dreams can sometimes seem impossible. Or does it only seem impossible because everyone says that it is? As I stated before I’ve heard others attempt to downplay my hopes and dreams but also had to realize you’re not able to share your deepest thoughts with everyone.

This morning I thought about Miss. Barbara Johns, a 16 year old girl from FarmVille, Virginia was the driving force behind the desegregation of the Moton School.  The Moton School was apart of the Brown vs. Board of Education case. I was able to visit the original Moton School in 2012,  but revisited the statue in Richmond to remind myself when things seem impossible, continue to reach for the moon!

Turning 32 on Monday, and clearly defining your dreams to yourself can be scary.  Sometimes you may doubt if what you’re doing is the right thing.  I often wondered if our ancestors felt the same way.  I’m sure there were times when they wanted to throw in the towel.  They didn’t receive the support they may have wanted from their peers.  Or, maybe they were putting themselves in danger to make a way for others, and contemplated if it was worth it.

I thank God for the examples of Barbara Johns, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth to name a few.  Along this journey of entrepreneurship I wanted to give up, and just say I’m going back to what I know.  Then I’m convicted because I know God put me in this position for a cause that is bigger than me.  I’m going to hang in there, because God is not finished with me yet!

The Little Black Book…Are we “Steele” family?

The Little Black Book…Are we “Steele” family?

Don’t get too freaked out, this post is rated PG – Past Generations. I know millennials aren’t carrying around books anymore let alone a little black book. Our little black book can be found on our clouds account or stored under nicknames in our phone, but those baby boomers that’s a different story.

Well, my parents are baby boomers so I’m still prone to writing everything down, except  for phone numbers and addresses. After losing many of my contacts in October because I didn’t save my contacts to the cloud I realized how important a little black book would be.

I’ve told you before (and on Periscope) that I’m in search of my paternal grandmother’s family. I honestly want to know where my “Steele” family resides, and learn more about my family history.

I’ve finally made it through the bulk of my dad’s papers, and I came across an address book. A little black book that had addresses stamped on the front. I was flippin through the pages and some of the handwriting resembled my granny’s but most was that of my father’s unique penmanship.

A light bulb 💡 illuminated in my head. It said, “Check under the S alphabet!” Only one person listed in the S section of the book. THE LAST NAME WAS “STEELE!”

Overcome with excitement I ran to my computer and did a Google search of the name and address of this person. I found a few descendants, and decided to go to Facebook. Same name and location in Birmingham, Alabama, but I froze. Would a random inbox or friend request from a stranger scare this person? I definitely couldn’t lead the message with “What up cuz? Is that you?” Lol.

I took a couple of days to figure out what I was going to say.  I finally sent the message along with a picture of the address so they would know that I wasn’t crazy!

I’m anxiously awaiting the response.  I decided to document this journey similar to my other missions. I’m going to hop on Periscope as soon as I receive a response, and of course keep you updated on the site.

I’m excited to share this journey with you and also inspire you to reconnect (or meet) with your family. I believe this little black book is the beginning of solving the missing links in my family history.

Until next time,

R.J. 🕵


The Mourning After…

The Mourning After…

I spent some wonderful summers in Richmond, VA as an intern.  I learned a great deal, featured in the local newspaper and news station.  It was truly an amazing experience.  #SteeleThankful for it.  I wanted to master the art of reading 19th Century manuscript before I departed my final summer in Virginia.  It wasn’t until I came across primary documents with black borders that I became more intrigued.  My good southern friends would refer to it as, “mourning” stationary/letter.

What is a mourning letter you ask?  A mourning letter in the 19th Century was stationary paper with black borders.  For example, the border would symbolize if the person writing the letter has experienced the loss of a  loved one.  The width of the border depended on the sender’s state of grief and/or the timeline of the passing.  Basically the  current emotional state of the sender.  The letter (featured photo) that was written by Mrs. Jefferson Davis (First Lady of the Confederacy) addressed in August of 1899 shows the presence of the black border.

From research I was reminded of the death of the President’s daughter, Varina “Winnie” Davis in 1898.   In true super sleuth, Archivist mode we are able to piece the story together of how Mrs. Davis was dealing with the grief internally from the width of the borders on her letters, and of course the letter itself.

(Sidenote: Have you thought about why its customary to wear black to funerals?)  There was documentation of a woman who wore black for years after her husband died.  Proof that she grieved for over five years!  Interesting, right?

After during research in the archives and losing my father in 2013, I found myself ironically wearing a lot of black clothing. Well, I still do, for other reasons. Lol.  It didn’t hit me until my  last year of school that I was not allowing myself to grieve.  Similar to the people that were writing with the black borders in the 19th century, and wearing black garments, I had to realize that the void of losing a loved one will always be present.  I must allow the borders of my own stationary paper to become narrow.  People have to go in order for us to grow.  I must continue to grow in strength.  Mind, body, and soul.

Why I’m not going to church tonight!

Why I’m not going to church tonight!

It’s the last day of 2015. This year has taught me so much about myself. I have everything within me to be great, and I need to step it up a notch in the new year.

It’s no secret that I grew up in the church, but I’m amazed at how much things have changed.  I’m not sure if we ever discussed where  “Watch Night Service,”  derives from.  Do you know?

Also known as “Freedom Eve,” happened for the first time on Wednesday, December 31, 1862. Slave and free blacks gathered at churches and homes anticipating the news that a law changing decision was around the corner by way of the Emancipation Proclamation. January 1, 1863, the law was passed but unfortunately that did not mean that slavery was over. What it did mean is that the black community came together and believed that their faith would get them through to the other side, freedom. From that New Year’s Eve going forward the Freedom Eve now known as Watch Night Service is still an annual tradition in the black community every year. The faith that God will bring closure to the past, and bring forth a prosperous and healthy new year.

Whether you decide to watch the ball drop, drop it low at the club, chill at home, or attend church, I am hoping that you, YES YOU, are surrounded with love and happiness as we close out 2015.

Oh what am I doing?  I’m not sure yet.  I thought about hanging with friends tomorrow night, instead of tonight because personally I want to go to a place where everyone is believing that their faith will take them to the next level.   I don’t want to say that I’m going to church because it sounds good.  I’m going because I know that I personally need to go.  In 2016, I’ll continue to be transparent, and unpack more of my story.  I can’t wait!  The mission for 2016 is to continue to bring awareness, educate, and encourage.  Are you with me?

It’s been an amazing year, and I’m looking forward to 2016!



Our Ancestors Footsteps…

Our Ancestors Footsteps…

For the last year in my 20’s I decided to take on an adventure every month until my 30th birthday.  The last weekend in my 20’s I decided to embark on a mini road trip from North Carolina to Maryland.  I didn’t care if I went by myself or with a group of friends.  I was determined to get to the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.

It was overwhelming from the beginning to the end.  That is definitely a museum that you need to visit more than once.  There was so much to see (and learn), and there was no way that I covered everything within one visit.  So, if you can catch my drift, I need to go back soon!

I attempted to get as many photos as I could.  I snapped this picture of, “Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Ancestors.”  That’s a powerful title/statement.  A few figures that are featured in the photo are Thurgood Marshall, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Mary Church Terrell, symbolizing education and justice, right?

Let’s take a look at the events that are going on around us.  There’s so many movements that are taking place.  The time is now to dedicate ourselves to strategically prepping our cultures for generations to come.  For example, Mary Church Terrell, being the first African American woman to receive a college degree, and a national activist for civil rights and the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  She used her activism to progress the lives of African Americans in the 19th and 20th Century, and now in the 21st century what are we doing as a people to follow in her footsteps.  How can we keep this train from going in reverse?  Everything that our ancestors died for shall not be in vain.  Let’s start with educating ourselves, and our children. #teachthebabies

Let’s revisit the practices of Ida B. Wells, and read with our children every night before bed.  Let’s teach our children how to be leaders, and to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors.  I am reminded of a quote by Thurgood Marshall, “Sometimes history takes things into its own hands.”  It’s all about action, no more talking!

How can we continue to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Working together on one accord for the future!