The Public Archive recently interviewed Ada Ferrer about her latest book, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution (2014):
FERRER: “Among slaves and people of color you see something equivalent. Many scholars have argued that the Haitian Revolution –to quote Eugene Genovese—“propelled a revolution in consciousness” among African Americans. I agree, but again it was one based on material contact and knowledge. So, I was surprised for instance to see that documents such as the Haitian Declaration of Independence and other important texts of black leaders were actually translated into Spanish, published in newspapers, and circulated in Cuba, where they were read and discussed by people of color. Black people had real access to the words, ideas, and pronouncements of the revolution. Again, it was not only some vague abstract hope that slaves and free people of color in Cuba had; they engaged with the revolution and later with the Haitian state in more concrete ways. There are many other examples I could give and that appear throughout the book.”
Tera W. Hunter, To “Joy My Freedom:” Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
“As the Civil War drew to a close, newly emancipated black women workers made their way to Atlanta—the economic hub of the newly emerging urban and industrial south—in order to build an independent and free life on the rubble of their enslaved past. In an original and dramatic work of scholarship, Tera Hunter traces their lives in the postbellum era and reveals the centrality of their labors to the African-American struggle for freedom and justice. Household laborers and washerwomen were constrained by their employers’ domestic worlds but constructed their own world of work, play, negotiation, resistance, and community organization.
Hunter follows African-American working women from their newfound optimism and hope at the end of the Civil War to their struggles as free domestic laborers in the homes of their former masters. We witness their drive as they build neighborhoods and networks and their energy as they enjoy leisure hours in dance halls and clubs. We learn of their militance and the way they resisted efforts to keep them economically depressed and medically victimized. Finally, we understand the despair and defeat provoked by Jim Crow laws and segregation and how they spurred large numbers of black laboring women to migrate north.
Hunter weaves a rich and diverse tapestry of the culture and experience of black women workers in the post–Civil War south. Through anecdote and data, analysis and interpretation, she manages to penetrate African-American life and labor and to reveal the centrality of women at the inception—and at the heart—of the new south.”
CFP: José Antonio Aponte and His World: Writing, Painting, and Making Freedom in the African Diaspora
Date: May 8-9, 2015
Location: New York University, King Juan Carlos Center,
53 Washington Square South, Auditorium
Over the past fifteen years, scholars have shown a renewed interest in the political and historical legacy of José Antonio Aponte (?-1812), a free man of color, carpenter, artist, and alleged leader of a massive antislavery conspiracy and rebellion in colonial Cuba in 1811-1812. Aponte was also the creator of an unusual work of art—a “book of paintings” full of historical and mythical figures, including black kings, emperors, priests, and soldiers that he showed to and discussed with fellow conspirators. Aponte’s vision of a black history connected a diasporic and transatlantic past to the possibility of imagining a sovereign future for free and enslaved people of color in colonial Cuba. Although the “book of paintings” is believed to be lost, colonial Spanish officials interrogated Aponte about its contents after arresting him for organizing the rebellions, and Aponte’s sometimes elaborate, always elusive, descriptions of the book’s pages survive in the textual archival record.
From myriad locations in the humanities, historians, anthropologists, philosophers, literary scholars, and art historians have explored the figure of Aponte as artist, intellectual, revolutionary, and theorist. In addition to this scholarly interest, Aponte has also been re-enshrined as a national figure in contemporary Cuba, following a 2012 bicentennial that commemorated his death at the hands of colonial authorities. However, given the recent scholarly and public focus on Aponte, there has not yet been a conference dedicated to the interdisciplinary scholarly perspectives that have sought to advance the study of the singular “book of paintings” and its visionary creator.
“José Antonio Aponte and His World: Writing, Painting, and Making Freedom in the African Diaspora” brings together scholars to discuss the current state of “Apontian” studies and suggest future directions for scholarship. It includes, as well, scholars doing work on questions of historical memory, the intellectual history of the enslaved, and the relationship between text, image, and politics in other settings in order to put Aponte’s history in conversation with a wider world, much, indeed, as his own “book of paintings” tried to do.
To register for the conference, please click here.
The conference will take place in the auditorium of the King Juan Carlos Center at New York University, 53 Washington Square South. Click here for a Google map. The closest subway is the West 4th station where the A, B, C, D, E, F trains stop. For more information, please contact lmr273 [@] nyu [.] edu.
Six months after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it is worth revisiting scholars’ reflections on what his death, extrajudicial killings of people of African descent, and histories of slavery and diaspora have in common. Last August, Patrick Rael placed present-day re-articulations of respectability politics against a long history of black political rhetoric, beginning with antebellum free black activists’ debates about moral uplift as a tool against racist prejudice in the United States:
“To its progenitors, this philosophy of self-help, respectability, and uplift offered a potent means of altering the “public mind” and reducing racial prejudice. Placing enormous (but misguided) faith in the rationality of the public sphere, black spokespersons offered the personal as the key place of power. In addition to its innate value (simply living a good and godly life was likely to make one more successful), self-regulation would liberate the enslaved and make equal the free.
But the cost of this approach was high, as these pioneers understood. The “respectability” strategy placed great demands on a people already laboring under grave disabilities. As Jones and Allen noted, “the judicious part of mankind will think it unreasonable, that a superior good conduct is looked for, from our race, by those who stigmatize us as men, whose baseness in incurable, and may therefore be held in a state of servitude.”
Seven decades later and freedom won, black abolitionist Sarah Remond chafed under the weight of these expectations. Just months after the Civil War freed the slaves, she wrote: “We are expected to be not only equal to the dominant races, but to excel in all that goes toward forming a noble manhood or womanhood. We are expected to develop in the highest perfection a race which for eight generations in the United States has been laden with the curse of slavery. Even some of our friends seem to expect this, but our enemies demand it” (London Daily News, November 11, 1865).”
Black Code Studies
The Black Scholar Special Issue on Digital Black Studies
Mark Anthony Neal, Professor, Duke University
Jessica Marie Johnson, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University
The editors of this special issue argue black studies, activism, and life online and off have reached a critical point of convergence. Technology has irrevocably changed the way artists, activists, scholars, and users rage against codes and binaries of race and tech. People of African descent around the world have appropriated digital and social media as tools for organizing, self-actualization, consciousness-raising, community building, and outright political revolt. At the same time, organizing strategies and intellectual production across digital media and platforms traffic in racializing assemblages rooted in both antiblackness and historic modes of black resistance–even among users who do not identify as “black.”
Black Code Studies asks: How has that cold and scientific concreteness that was and is nineteenth-century race theory persisted? How…
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Six months after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it is worth revisiting scholars’ reflections on what his death, extrajudicial killings of people of African descent, and histories of slavery and diaspora have in common. Last August, Blair L. M. Kelley reminded us of another infamous Missouri court case–Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857):
“And initially, a St. Louis circuit court ruled that Scott and his family should be free. However, Scott lost after Eliza Emerson appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court. Scott pressed appeal after appeal, finally being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1857 found that although Scott had lived in the free North and had been allowed to legally marry—the enslaved were legally prohibited from marrying—he was not, the court said, a free man. The decision articulated broad grounds for attacking not only Scott’s individual claim but also the freedoms of black Americans as a whole. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a staunch supporter of slavery, wrote the majority opinion, asserting that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen…
“In an unprecedented argument, Taney wrote that Scott had no right to sue, although in fact, black Americans had sued and petitioned for their freedom and their rights since Colonial times. Although some free blacks had even voted to ratify the Constitution, Taney dismissed the idea that the Declaration of Independence might apply to black Americans when it insisted that “all men are created equal,” writing, “It is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.” In his version of “original intent,” Taney insisted that the framers of the Constitution believed that black Americans were so inferior that they “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect….”
Read the rest: Michael Brown Was One of “We the People,” Too – The Root.
Over at the African American Intellectual History Society Blog, Christopher Bonner discusses free black activism (and extralegal violence against them) in the United States after the Civil War:
“Perhaps Henry Highland Garnet was accustomed to having his life threatened. In early August 1865, the black activist and orator, who had spent most of his life in New York, sat as an honorary delegate at a State Convention of the Colored People held in Alexandria, VA. On August 5, the secretary presented a letter with a Washington, D.C. postmark, addressed to the convention’s delegates. “Beware! beware! beware! Fields Cook, you and other negroes will die before the autumn leaves fall upon the unavenged graves of the many Southerners who are buried through our land.” Perhaps Garnet was unconcerned because he was not the explicit target of that threat…
“The Alexandria convention seems to be a moment in which black Southerners looked to model their political work on that of antebellum activists. And Garnet seemed encouraged, perhaps hoping to seize on the opportunity that the postwar moment heralded. But the threat against Fields Cook represented the new world in which black politics existed. Free black protest in the antebellum North came from a tiny minority, less than one percent of the nation’s population on the eve of the Civil War. But in August 1865, black protest represented 4.5 million people, more than 10 percent of the country, seeking to utilize their unprecedented access to traditional political power in order to change their status and reorder American society. In the minds of white Southerners, this was another in the series of attacks on their liberty. And from our vantage, the fact that the delegates responded to the threat with mockery (“thrown under the table”) is chilling, given the extent to which Southerners embraced violence and terror as politics over the next century….”
Read the Rest: Black Politics in a New World (AAIHS)
Lisa Cardyn, “Sexualized Racism/Gendered Violence: Outraging the Body Politic in the Reconstruction South.” Michigan Law Review 100, no. 4 (February 2002): 675. doi:10.2307/1290425.
“This Article examines the calculated deployment of sexualized violence by the Reconstruction-era klans and its relationship to competing notions of justice, citizenship, and sexual propriety. Exploring what is distinctly sexual about klan terror–the sheer pervasiveness, intensity, and ideological coherence of these acts perpetrated as they were within a system of racial dominance long marked by forced sex and procreation–establishes sexualized violence as an essential aspect of the postwar Southern condition. Resonant throughout these events was the indefeasible legacy of slavery. Much as slaveowners and their minions used sexual violence and coercion in displaying and exercising mastery over their human chattel, klansmen systematically molested and violated their victims in an attempt to reinstantiate white male dominance in its antebellum form, in effect replacing the legal infrastructure of slavery that had once authorized their status with extralegal supports of their own making. Violent sex was in both of these cases a performance of status by the dominant actors and a harshly lived reality for its victims. The enduring consequences of these experiences for the freedpeople, their white sympathizers,and subsequent generations lend important insights into the nature of historical traumatization,its potency and memorialization.”
Read the rest: JSTOR ($$)
Elizabeth C. Neidenbach, “‘Mes dernières volontés’: Testaments to the Life of Marie Couvent, a Former Slave in New Orleans.” Transatlantica. Revue d’études américaines. American Studies Journal, no. 2 (October 10, 2012). http://transatlantica.revues.org/6186.
“In her last will and testament, recorded on November 12, 1832, Marie Justine Cirnaire, Veuve Couvent left specific instructions about how her estate should be divided. After three decades in New Orleans this free woman of color had accumulated a sizeable amount of property, including slaves and land. With her will Couvent claimed a lasting legacy as a patron of African American education when she declared that a school be established on her property. That this French-speaking former slave could not sign her own name makes such an act remarkable. In fact, Couvent made two wills in New Orleans, the first dated twenty years earlier on October 26, 1812. Through a close reading of Couvent’s wills, this article will explore the life of a woman who was born in Africa, enslaved in Saint-Domingue, and died a free and wealthy slave owner in New Orleans.
As catalogs of material accumulation, acts of autobiography, and maps of social networks, these legal documents suggest the ways Couvent and other former slaves created identities as free people through property ownership and personal relationships. The differences between Couvent’s two wills are significant, revealing traces of her experiences from a slave in Saint-Domingue to a free woman in Louisiana. These discrepancies also reflect broader transformations in New Orleans. Placing the wills in their historical context not only allows me to fill the gaps in her life story, but reveals a complicated picture of how free people of color sustained their community as the center of slavery shifted into the Deep South. Together, Marie Couvent’s wills provide a rare glimpse into a life, in and out of slavery, that otherwise would have remained obscure…”
Read the rest: Transatlantica