FILM: Retracing African Methodism

Allen Report

This documentary project retrieves the liberation legacy of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in three different locations united by common narratives related to struggles against enslavement and Apartheid. In retracing the connected stories of the AME in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Namibia, the documentary reveals the extraordinary legacy of African Methodism outside the United States and contributes to the excavation of the global circuits that historically bind Africa and the African Diaspora.

The AME Mother Bethel Church was founded by Rev. Richard Allen [shown above] in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1794, and was the first Protestant church ministered exclusively by former enslaved people. While the roots of the church in the United States have been well researched, the global—or Pan-African—story of the AME has so far received insufficient attention.

As well as providing a seminal academic contribution to the history of the AME church that presents original research, the Allen Report documentary will also serve as an educational tool. The documentary will help raise awareness amongst AME and wider constituencies regarding the relevance of Black liberation theology and its hermeneutics which are still vibrating globally and growing. Additionally, this film will emphasize the contributions of the AME traditional involvement in community education and health services in its multiple geographic sites.

View TRAILER: ALLEN REPORT. RETRACING TRANSNATIONAL AFRICAN METHODISM from Alanna Lockward on Vimeo.

via Forthcoming Film on Retracing Transnational African Methodism | Repeating Islands.

BOOK: Jones on The Métis of Senegal

Metis Cover

Hilary Jones. The Métis of Senegal: Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa. Indiana University Press, 2013.

via Indiana University Press:

The Métis of Senegal is a history of politics and society among an influential group of mixed-race people who settled in coastal Africa under French colonialism. Hilary Jones describes how the métis carved out a niche as middleman traders for European merchants. As the colonial presence spread, the métis entered into politics and began to assert their position as local elites and power brokers against French rule. Many of the descendants of these traders continue to wield influence in contemporary Senegal. Jones’s nuanced portrait of métis ascendency examines the influence of family connections, marriage negotiations, and inheritance laws from both male and female perspectives.

Congratulations to James H. Sweet, Winner of the 2012 Douglass Prize

James H. Sweet (University of Wisconsin)

James H. Sweet (University of Wisconsin)

From the Gilder Lerhman Center:

James Sweet, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for his book, Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (University of North Carolina Press). The Douglass Prize was jointly created by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. It is awarded annually by Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition. The $25,000 prize will be presented to Sweet at a reception sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute in New York City in February 2013.

In addition to Sweet, the other finalists for the prize were Robin Blackburn for The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (Verso Books); R. Blakeslee Gilpin for John Brown Still Lives!: America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change (University of North Carolina Press); and Carla L. Peterson for Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City (Yale University Press)….

Read the rest here.

(Belated!) congratulations to Sweet and to all of the finalists.

Domingos Alvares

BOOK: Soares on Slavery, Catholicism, and Urban Life in Eighteenth-Century Rio

Mariza de Carvalho Soares, People of Faith: Slavery and African Catholics in Eighteenth-Century Rio De Janeiro. Translated by Jerry D. Metz. Duke University Press Books, 2011.
Description (Duke University Press):

“In People of Faith, Mariza de Carvalho Soares reconstructs the everyday lives of Mina slaves transported in the eighteenth century to Rio de Janeiro from the western coast of Africa, particularly from modern-day Benin. She describes a Catholic lay brotherhood formed by the enslaved Mina congregants of a Rio church, and she situates the brotherhood in a panoramic setting encompassing the historical development of the Atlantic slave trade in West Africa and the ethnic composition of Mina slaves in eighteenth-century Rio. Although Africans from the Mina Coast constituted no more than ten percent of the slave population of Rio, they were a strong presence in urban life at the time. Soares analyzes the role that Catholicism, and particularly lay brotherhoods, played in Africans’ construction of identities under slavery in colonial Brazil. As in the rest of the Portuguese empire, black lay brotherhoods in Rio engaged in expressions of imperial pomp through elaborate festivals, processions, and funerals; the election of kings and queens; and the organization of royal courts. Drawing mainly on ecclesiastical documents, Soares reveals the value of church records for historical research.”

Soares was awarded the 2012 Roberto Reis BRASA Book Prize for People of Faith.  For more information on the prize click here.

ARTICLE: Paton on Obeah and Poison in Atlantic Slavery

“Burial 72, Newton Plantation Cemetery, Barbados,” Image Reference B72_extended, as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library: “View of extended skeleton on its back in situ; copper bracelets on each arm and pipe bowl on pelvic area are visible; possibly an Obeah man/medicine man.” (Click image for details)

Paton, Diana. “Witchcraft, Poison, Law, and Atlantic Slavery.” The William and Mary Quarterly 69, no. 2 (April 1, 2012): 235–264.

Abstract:

In response to Tacky’s Rebellion in 1760 in Jamaica, the colony’s House of Assembly passed a law naming a new crime, “obeah.” This important statute led the way in establishing obeah as a phenomenon understood by colonial authorities as a singular and dangerous problem. Investigating the Jamaica assembly’s decision within a wider Caribbean and Atlantic context and alongside the near-contemporaneous “Makandal conspiracy” in Saint Domingue, which was interpreted by French planters as a mass outbreak of poisoning, shows how similar practices came to be interpreted and constructed in different ways in different colonial cultures. The practices used by Tacky’s “obeah man” and Makandal’s followers were conceptually and practically similar, deriving from African understandings of medicine in which substances could be imbued with spiritual power. Why, then, did the French colonists emphasize poison while the British emphasized obeah (which they glossed with the term “witchcraft”)? In addition to the differences between developments in the colonies, an important context for understanding this distinction was the European experience of the decriminalization of witchcraft. In France decriminalization led to heightened anxiety about poison, while in England witchcraft decriminalization was not connected to poison but made the term and legal category of witchcraft a difficult one for planters to invoke.

ARTICLE: Bethencourt on Creolization and Kongo Agency

“Dutch Ambassadors Greeting the King of Kongo, late 17th cent.,” [Image Reference FER3] as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Francisco Bethencourt. “Creolization of the Atlantic World: The Portuguese and the Kongolese.” Portuguese Studies 27, no. 1 (2011): 56–69.

Abstract:
From

In the 1930s, Gilberto Freyre’s praise of mixed-race people in Brazil challenged the idea of white supremacy, contributing to the building of a new Brazilian identity. In the 1950s, Freyre projected the idea of openness and racial mixture onto the Portuguese empire, fuelling Salazar’s colonial propaganda. The idea of Lusotropicalism was contested by Marvin Harris and Charles Boxer, who demonstrated that there were very few mixed-race people in Angola and Mozambique, and exposed the long history of racism in the Portuguese colonies. However, the fashionable notions of hybridism and creolization have been putting Freyre back on the map. The article exposes the limits of Freyre’s approach of inter-ethnic relations, structured around the flexibility (or otherwise) of white colonists. It engages with the much more interesting but problematic approach suggested by Linda Heywood and John Thornton, who shifted to Kongo and African agency the creolization of the Atlantic. It suggests a reassessment of the real Christianization of Kongo and its complex chronology, drawing attention to the royal interests of conversion, the limits of conversion among the population, and the conditions for erosion of Christianity in the long run.

ESSAY: Gates and Ellis on Harriet Wilson, 19th Century Novelist and Spiritualist

Quite a late posting.  Many apologies on the hiatus.  ~JMJOHNSO

For more on Wilson as an entrepreneur see Gabrielle Foreman and Katherine Flynn’s 2009 Boston Globe piece here.

Gates, Henry Louis, and R. J. Ellis. “Harriet Wilson’s Sunday School.” TheRoot.com, January 10, 2011, sec. Views. http://www.theroot.com/views/harriet-wilson-s-sunday-school.

Excerpt:

As Gabrielle Foreman and Kathy Flynn have shown, between 1857 and 1861 Wilson became an enterprising producer and marketer of “Mrs. H.E. Wilson’s Hair Dressing,” a hair “regenerator,” which claimed to restore graying hair to its original color and was sold in smart green glass bottles that were advertised widely in newspapers throughout New England, New York and New Jersey, including theNew York Times.

But far more important than this curious and brief interlude in her long career, Wilson (who often called herself “Hattie”) also became a well-known and somewhat controversial “spirit guide” in Boston’s popular Spiritualist movement, as Foreman detected. According to our research, this new chapter in Wilson’s career began as early as 1867, just after the end of the Civil War.

Even here, Wilson’s entrepreneurial skills manifested themselves: We have discovered that, in addition to playing a leading role in fostering amateur dramatics among the Spiritualists, she founded her own school. And this venture would prove to be perhaps her most controversial project of all.

Early in 1883, Wilson announced the opening of a new Sunday school for the children of “the liberal minded” in the “Ladies Aid Parlors” in Boston. Though the very first black woman to teach in a white public school in that city, Elizabeth Smith, had begun teaching just a decade earlier, in 1872 a black woman teaching white children in a private school such as Wilson’s was still quite extraordinary, to say the least.

Spiritualists believed that certain individuals — “mediums” — possessed the power to communicate with those who had passed away but who still, in spirit form, moved among the living, overlooking their lives, and were able to be called upon to provide guidance by way of verbal communication through the medium, or even by assuming visible material forms. These communications could be dramatic and even disconcerting (the mediums, of course, maintained that they could not control the free spirits), so generally speaking, Spiritualists did not go into trances in their children’s lyceums.

But Wilson decided that this was an unnecessary precaution. To signify the difference between her school and others, she dropped the word “lyceum” (as Spiritualist schools were generally known) and named hers the “First Spiritual Progressive School.” And true to her claim, Wilson’s school was avowedly “progressive” and featured some quite radical ideas.

Read the rest @ TheRoot.com

BOOK: Young on Rituals of Resistance

Jason R. Young, Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry South in the Era of Slavery. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011.

From the Louisiana State University Press website:

In Rituals of Resistance Jason R. Young explores the religious and ritual practices that linked West-Central Africa with the Lowcountry region of Georgia and South Carolina during the era of slavery. The choice of these two sites mirrors the historical trajectory of the transatlantic slave trade which, for centuries, transplanted Kongolese captives to the Lowcountry through the ports of Charleston and Savannah. Analyzing the historical exigencies of slavery and the slave trade that sent not only men and women but also cultural meanings, signs, symbols, and patterns across the Atlantic, Young argues that religion operated as a central form of resistance against slavery and the ideological underpinnings that supported it.

Through a series of comparative chapters on Christianity, ritual medicine, burial practices, and transmigration, Young details the manner in which Kongolese people, along with their contemporaries and their progeny who were enslaved in the Americas, utilized religious practices to resist the savagery of the slave trade and slavery itself. When slaves acted outside accepted parameters–in transmigration, spirit possession, ritual internment, and conjure–Young explains, they attacked not only the condition of being a slave, but also the systems of modernity and scientific rationalism that supported slavery. In effect, he argues, slave spirituality played a crucial role in the resocialization of the slave body and behavior away from the oppressions and brutalities of the master class. Young’s work expands traditional scholarship on slavery to include both the extensive work done by African historians and current interdisciplinary debates in cultural studies, anthropology, and literature.

Drawing on a wide range of primary sources from both American and African archives, including slave autobiography, folktales, and material culture, Rituals of Resistance offers readers a nuanced understanding of the cultural and religious connections that linked blacks in Africa with their enslaved contemporaries in the Americas. Moreover, Young’s groundbreaking work gestures toward broader themes and connections, using the case of the Kongo and the Lowcountry to articulate the development of a much larger African Atlantic space that connected peoples, cultures, languages, and lives on and across the ocean’s waters.

Jason R. Young is assistant professor of history at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

BOOK: Morrow Long on Religion and Commerce Across the U.S. African Diaspora

Long, Carolyn Morrow. Spiritual Merchants: Religion Magic & Commerce. 1st ed. Univ Tennessee Press, 2001.

They can be found along the side streets of many American cities: herb or candle shops catering to practitioners of Voodoo, hoodoo, Santería, and similar beliefs. Here one can purchase ritual items and raw materials for the fabrication of traditional charms, plus a variety of soaps, powders, and aromatic goods known in the trade as “spiritual products.” For those seeking health or success, love or protection, these potions offer the power of the saints and the authority of the African gods.

In Spiritual Merchants, Carolyn Morrow Long provides an inside look at the followers of African-based belief systems and the retailers and manufacturers who supply them. Traveling from New Orleans to New York, from Charleston to Los Angeles, she takes readers on a tour of these shops, examines the origins of the products, and profiles the merchants who sell them.

Long describes the principles by which charms are thought to operate, how ingredients are chosen, and the uses to which they are put. She then explores the commodification of traditional charms and the evolution of the spiritual products industry–from small-scale mail order “doctors” and hoodoo drugstores to major manufacturers who market their products worldwide. She also offers an eye-opening look at how merchants who are not members of the culture entered the business through the manufacture of other goods such as toiletries, incense, and pharmaceuticals. Her narrative includes previously unpublished information on legendary Voodoo queens and hoodoo workers, as well as a case study of John the Conqueror root and its metamorphosis from spirit-embodying charm to commercial spiritual product.

No other book deals in such detail with both the history and current practices of African-based belief systems in the United States and the evolution of the spiritual products industry. For students of folklore or anyone intrigued by the world of charms and candle shops, Spiritual Merchants examines the confluence of African and European religion in the Americas and provides a colorful introduction to a vibrant aspect of contemporary culture.

via Amazon.com.