The Aug. 22 Past Times column “ Aunt Betsy and her bull, Joe, were Raleigh institutions” was offensive. An editor sensitive to the systemic racism still prevalent in North Carolina would have put this 1906 story into context and named its harmful objectification of an African-American woman.
Holmes was not a pre-war “faithful servant of the Boylan family.” She was their slave, even if 1906 readers preferred to think otherwise. The column’s patronizing language is directed against a woman who survived slavery, took care of her family and endured daily mockery.
Perhaps many N&O readers will see nothing wrong in a purportedly nostalgic piece, but I believe the descendants of North Carolina’s slaves deserve an apology for the amnesia your column displayed. Write about Holmes again, and next time tell her story as a survivor, a woman of strength who deserves accolades for all that she accomplished in a time and place that intended no good for her family.
The column insults her memory and assaults the truth of our history. Her descendents deserve reparations for the harm inflicted by her enslavement. I doubt she was paid anything for all those postcards printed with her image.