Free People of Color in Barbados

When a small group of free men of color gathered in 1838 to celebrate the end of apprenticeship in Barbados, they spoke of emancipation as the moment of freedom for all colored people, not just the former slaves. The fact that many of these men were former slave owners themselves gives a hollow ring to their lofty pronouncements. Yet in The Children of Africa in the Colonies, Melanie J. Newton demonstrates that simply dismissing these men as hypocrites ignores the complexity of their relationship to slavery. Exploring the role of free blacks in Barbados from 1790 to 1860, Newton demonstrates that the emancipation process transformed social relations between Afro-Barbadians and slaves and ex-slaves.

Free people of color in Barbados genuinely wanted slavery to end, Newton explains, a desire motivated in part by the realization that emancipation offered them significant political advantages. As a result, free people’s goals for the civil rights struggle that began in Barbados in the 1790s often diverged from those of the slaves, and the tensions that formed along class, education, and gender lines severely weakened the movement. While the populist masses viewed emancipation as an opportunity to form a united community among all people of color, wealthy free people viewed it as a chance to better their position relative to white Europeans.

To this end, free people of color refashioned their identities in relationship to Africa. Prior to the 1820s, Newton reveals, they downplayed their African descent, emphasizing instead their legal status as free people and their position as owners of property, including slaves. As the emancipation debate in the Atlantic world reached its zenith in the 1820s and 1830s, and whites grew increasingly hostile and inflexible, elite free people allied themselves with the politics of the working class and the slaves, relying for the first time on their African heritage and the association of their skin color with slavery to openly challenge white supremacy.

After emancipation, free people of color again redefined themselves, now as loyal British imperial subjects, casting themselves in the role of political protectors of their ex-slave brethren in an attempt to escape social and political disenfranchisement. While some wealthy men of color gained political influence as a result of emancipation, the absence of fundamental change in the distribution of land and wealth left most men and women of color with little hope of political independence or social mobility.

Mining a rich vein of primary and secondary sources, Newton’s unique study elegantly describes how class divisions and disagreements over labor and social policy among free and slave black Barbadians led to political unrest and devastated the hope for an entirely new social structure and a plebeian majority in the British Caribbean.

The introduction is available for free download on the publisher’s website.

Melanie J. Newton is an Associate Professor of history at the University of Toronto.  She gives a short interview on the New College at the University here.

Luso-Brazilian Review Special Issue: ReCapricorning the Atlantic

Volume 45, Issue 1 (2008) includes:

Hebe Mattos. ““Black Troops” and Hierarchies of Color in the Portuguese Atlantic World: The Case of Henrique Dias and His Black Regiment.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 6-29.

Walter Hawthorne. ““Being now, as it were, one family”: Shipmate bonding on the slave vessel Emilia, in Rio de Janeiro and throughout the Atlantic World.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 53-77.

Paulina Alberto. “Para africano ver: African-Bahian Exchanges in the Reinvention of Brazil’s Racial Democracy, 1961–63.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 78-117.

Ben Penglase. “The Bastard Child of the Dictatorship: The Comando Vermelho and the Birth of “Narco-culture” in Rio de Janeiro.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 118-145.

Thaïs Machado-Borges. “O antes e o depois: Feminilidade, classe e raça na revista Plástica e Beleza.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 146-163.

Isabel Ferreira Gould. “Decanting the Past: Africa, Colonialism, and the New Portuguese Novel.” Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 1 (2008): 182-197.

From the introduction by Peter M. Beattie.

The lead section of this LBR volume brings together four articles on the Lusophone South Atlantic by historians of Africa and Brazil originally presented to the Michigan State University and University of Michigan’s Atlantic History workshop “ReCapricorning the Atlantic: Luso-Brazilian and Luso-African Perspectives on the Atlantic World.”1 The workshop and this special volume’s title is a twist on Andre Gunder Frank’s ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) in which the renowned economic historian argued that Asia had been the hub of the global economy through the early modern period and that a Johnny-come-lately Europe “used its American money to buy itself a ticket on the Asian train” after 1800 to “temporarily” become the new hub of global trade (p. xxv). Frank’s interest in Asia’s role in the global economy was a significant departure from his earlier work which had focused on exploring Portuguese and Spanish America’s underdevelopment within the frameworks of dependency and world systems theory. “ReCapricorning the Atlantic” returns to the site of Frank’s earlier work to consider a similar reorientation based on perspectives centered around the Tropic of Capricorn within a body of scholarship that has come to be known as “Atlantic History.” The South Atlantic was the economic hub and arguably the most significant formative matrix of the early modern European colonial enterprise in Africa and the Americas. Yet to date, most Atlantic history has focused on the British and to a somewhat lesser extent, French Empires and their remnants in the Americas and Africa. This “North Atlantic-centrism” is reflected in many classic titles in Atlantic History that conceal their much more limited geographic emphases in terms of primary research (e.g., David Eltis, The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas; Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, or David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture). With these legacies in mind, workshop participants set out to “ReCapricorn the Atlantic” by assessing how new research on the Lusophone South Atlantic modifies, challenges, or confirms major trends and paradigms in the expanding scholarship on Atlantic History. Their approaches broaden the discussion of Atlantic History’s meanings and utility as a category of analysis and body of scholarship across imperial, geographic, chronological, and disciplinary boundaries. The four articles published here are indicative of the potential of South Atlantic research to shape broader debates in Atlantic History and other significant areas of historical inquiry.

Available at Project Muse and at your local library.  (Interesting sidenote:  Project Muse now has a Share on Facebook widget)

Puerto Rico and Public Space

Afro-Atlantic Religious Practice

Fragments of Bone discusses African religions as forms of resistance and survival in the face of Western cultural hegemony and imperialism. The collection is unique in presenting the voices of scholars primarily outside of the Western tradition, speaking on the issues they regard as important. Bellegarde-Smith, himself a priest in the Haitian Vodou religion, brings together thirteen contributors from different disciplines, genders, and nationalities.

Fragments of Bone draws on an impressive range of sources including research, fieldwork, personal interviews, and spiritual introspection to support the provocative thesis that the fragments of the ancestral traditions are fluidly interwoven in the New World African religions as creolized rituals, symbolic systems, and cultural identities.

Don’t Forget!!!!! African Diaspora, Ph.D. loves commentary!  If you’ve read a piece featured here and have commendation or condemnation for it, please leave it in the comments.  If you would like to submit something longer, a lá the infamous book review, or if you would like to suggest a work of African diaspora scholarship to be reviewed, just send us an email!

Contact Jessica at jmjohnso[at no spam please]umd.edu.  Graduate students especially welcome.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Wole Soyinka

In his ongoing video interview series, “The Vine with Henry Louis Gates Jr.” The Root Editor-in-Chief talks with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka about Sudan, Mugabe, slavery and, of course, Obama…

I have known Wole Soyinka for 35 years. We met at the University of Cambridge in 1973, when I was a first-year student in the English Department, and Soyinka became my professor. He was living in exile, having just published “The Man Died,” the memoir of his 27 months in prison during the Nigerian civil war and a searing indictment of the Nigerian government. In one-on-one tutorials, he introduced me to African literature and myth and, as editor of Transition magazine, published my first essay in literary criticism. He encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature and became the first director of my dissertation. Over the years, we have become friends and colleagues. We trade stories on everything from Euripides and Shakespeare to which red wines go best with spicy food to which laptop is lightest and fastest (Soyinka is a techie, like his patron god, Ogun).

Read the rest and watch the video interview here.

The Final Victims

From the University of South Carolina Press website:

With this detailed study of the importation of slaves to North America in the decades following the American Revolution, James A. McMillin tests long-standing assumptions about an enterprise thought to have waned in the wake of the United States’ successful revolution against Great Britain. Combing through previously untapped public and private sources, McMillin uncovers data that challenges entrenched beliefs about the slave trade and, as a result, has far-reaching implications for our understanding of American life in the early republic.

McMillin examines the volume and business of importing slaves from 1783 to 1810, the African origins of those captives, and their treatment by shippers and North American merchants. Tracing a shift in North American slaving commerce from New England to the lower South, McMillin tracks the vessels that imported slaves to America, particularly into Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans. McMillin suggests that previous scholars have underestimated the number of slave voyages and consequently the magnitude of American overseas slave trading during this era. He maintains the founding fathers did little to discourage the importation of slaves and asserts that—with the lengthening duration and distance of the notorious “middle passage”—conditions for African captives most likely worsened after the Revolution.


James A. McMillin holds a Ph.D. from Duke University. The associate director of Bridwell Library and an associate professor of American religious history at Southern Methodist University, McMillin was a contributor to Warm Ashes: Issues in Southern History at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century, published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2003. He lives in Dallas.

Readings in Black Geographies

Carl H. Nightingale.  “Before Race Mattered: Geographies of the Color Line in Early Colonial Madras and New York.” The American Historical Review 113, no. 1 (February 1, 2008): 48-71.

First paragraph:

By the 1710s, British authorities at both Madras, India, and New York City had made, by fits and starts, more than a half-century of progress in their efforts to increase their power over people they categorized as “black.” Yet the residential color lines they drew in these two cities contrasted sharply. In Madras, known today as Chennai, stout stone walls separated a privileged European neighborhood from the city’s Asian districts. Similar arrangements existed in other colonial cities in the Eastern Hemisphere, but Madras was the first place in world history to officially designate its two sections by color: “White Town” and “Black Town.” In New York, by contrast, a small part of town outside the city wall sometimes called the “negro lands” was dismantled, along with the wall itself. In a pattern that New Yorkers would scarcely recognize today, but which was common among slave-importing cities of the Atlantic world, authorities forced black slaves to live inside the households of whites, especially the wealthiest ones. There, the politics of domestic life settled further questions of color and space.

More on black geographies:

Katherine Mckittrick and Clyde Woods, eds. Black Geographies and the Politics of Place. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007.

Table of Contents:

1. “No One Knows the Mysteries at the Bottom of the Ocean”
Katherine McKittrick; Clyde Woods

2. Towards African Diaspora Citizenship: Politicizing an Existing Global Geography
Carole Boyce Davies & Babacar M’Bow

3. “Sittin’ on Top of the World”: The Challenges of Blues and Hip Hop Geography
Clyde Woods

4. Memories of Africville: Urban Renewal, Reparations, and the Africadian DiasporaAngel David Nieves

5. “Freedom Is a Secret”
Katherine McKittrick

6. Henry Box Brown, an International Fugitive: Slavery, Resistance, and Imperialism
Suzette A. Spencer

7. “A Realm of Monuments and Water”: Lorde-ian Erotics and Shange’s African Diaspora Cosmopolitanism
Kimberly N. Ruffin

8. “The Lost Tribe of a Lost Tribe”: Black British Columbia and the Poetics of Space
Peter James Hudson

9.  Deportable or Admissible: Black Women and the Space of “Removal”
Jenny Burman

10.  Mapping Black Atlantic Performance Geographies: From Slave Ship to Ghetto
Sonjah Stanley Niaah

11. Urban Revolutions and the Spaces of Black Radicalism
James A. Tyner

12. Homopoetics: Queer Space and the Black Queer Diaspora
Rinaldo Walcott

Appendix
Letter from the Rastafari Community of Shashamane to UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan, June 27, 2001.

Stephanie M. H. Camp. Closer to Freedom:  Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Press, 2004.

Black Atlantic Political Culture (Anglophone)

Van Gosse. “As a Nation, the English Are Our Friends: The Emergence of African American Politics in the British Atlantic World, 1772-1861.” The American Historical Review 113, no. 4 (October 1, 2008): 1003-1028.

First paragraph:

We know little about David Walker.
Yet in his day, he was the most notorious black man in the United
States. Probably born in 1796, a free emigrant from the lower South who
became a used clothes dealer in Boston, in 1829 and 1830 he published
three editions of his pamphlet Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World,
planning to smuggle it into the South via the black and white sailors
who were his customers. His hope was to confront slave owners, warning
them with apocalyptic arguments to repent, and the slaves themselves,
demanding that they renounce enslavement. If the masters refused their
just demands, he said, justice should come down in blood.

J. R. Kerr-RitchieRites of August First: Emancipation Day in the Black Atlantic World. (Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World.) Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007.

In his review, Barry Higman writes that:

“The principal contribution of J. R. Kerr-Ritchie’s valuable new book is
to draw together the experience of the British West Indies and the
United States, focusing on the period between the formal abolition of
slavery in the British colonies in 1834 and Abraham Lincoln’s
Emancipation Proclamation.”

Find the review in the October 2008 American Historical Review.  Buy the book here.

September 2008 African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is Up

From the site:

In September’s newsletter, we feature: articles and essays by E. Kofi Agorsah, Thomas Butler, Jane Eva Baxter, John D. Burton, John Ringquist, Marty Wild, and Zacharys Anger Gundu; a compiled list of recent dissertations in African diaspora archaeology and history; news reports and announcements; and book reviews by James G. Gibb, Christopher Espenshade, John Roby, and B. R. Fortenberry.

The African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is published quarterly and edited by Christopher C. Fennell, Assistant Professor of Archaeology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  It is free and available online.  Below is the TOC:

Articles, Essays, and Reports

News and Announcements

Conferences and Calls for Papers

Book ReviewsReview of “Subfloor Pits and the
Archaeology of Slavery in Colonial Virginia”
by James G. Gibb

Review of “The Potters of Buur Heybe, Somalia”
by Christopher Espenshade

Review of “Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles,
and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585-1660″
by John Roby

Review of “The Atlantic World: A History, 1400-1888”
by B. R. Fortenberry