Dylan C. Penningroth, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003).
Historians and scholars discuss who is considered ‘black’ in America. In the video: Ira Berlin, Elsa Barkley Brown, Tiya Miles, Dylan Penningroth, and Deborah Gray White. May 20, 2016.
Dylan Penningroth (Northwestern U.) has been awarded a 2012 Macarthur “Genius” grant for his work on kinship and property within slave communities in the United States and along the Gold Coast.
From the Macarthur Foundation website:
Dylan C. Penningroth is a historian who examines shifting concepts of property ownership and kinship in order to shed light on long-obscured aspects of African American life under slavery and in the half-century following slavery’s abolition. In his book The Claims of Kinfolk (2003), he elucidates the informal customs that slaves in the antebellum South used to recognize ownership of property, even while they were themselves considered by law to be property at the time. He also traces the interactions of these extra-legal, vernacular customs with the formal realm of law after emancipation by teasing stories of claims and disputes from such sources as the Freedman’s Bureau and Southern Claims Commission records compiled by the federal government after the Civil War. In addition to demonstrating that ownership of land, livestock, and other material possessions was much more widespread among slave communities than previously believed, Penningroth’s research draws out the underlying social relations and reliance on family members’ labor that made such ownership possible. To broaden the scope of his study, Penningroth extended his investigation across the Atlantic to Africa’s Gold Coast and found informative historical connections among societies that dealt with legacies of slavery and emancipation in the late nineteenth century. His current projects expand upon this transatlantic approach, exploring the importance of lineage and issues of inheritance for slave-descended people in early twentieth-century Ghana and mining Southern court records to uncover the experiences of African Americans who made use of local courts during the decades that followed emancipation. By compiling evidence from vast and widely scattered archives, Penningroth is painting a more vivid picture of relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, and illuminating the ways communities of slaves and their descendents recognized what belonged to whom….
Other recipients included Junot Diaz and Dinaw Mengestu. Read more about the Macarthur Grant and find the bios for the rest of the 2012 class here.
Select articles available here (available in full to members of the Organization of American Historians).
On March 26, 2009, just as the recent annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) opened in Seattle, we received some sobering news: pioneering historian John Hope Franklin had died. He was 94 years old. To a generation of young black historians coming of age in the 1960s and 70s, inspired by his brilliant example, Franklin was known simply as “the prince.” To a wider group of colleagues who worked with Franklin at Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago, where he chaired history departments, and later at Duke, and who associated with him at scholarly gatherings of all kinds, Franklin was fondly known as “John Hope.” To a broad American public, Franklin was the man appointed by President Clinton to chair the advisory board for his Initiative on Race in 1997 (and to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995). By that point in his career, Franklin was not only the author of landmark studies, such as From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans (which has now sold more than three million copies in eight editions); he also had served as president of the Southern Historical Association, the American Historical Association and the OAH. Looking back on his rise to celebrity status, Franklin recalled that around the time he received the Medal of Freedom, he was standing in a hotel lobby, whereupon a man handed Franklin a set of car keys and told him to retrieve his car. With his legendary good humor and tact, Franklin replied that he was a guest at the hotel, as he assumed the man was, and that he had no idea of the whereabouts of his car. “And in any case,” he added, “I'[m] retired.” To that one man in the hotel lobby, Franklin was neither prince, nor “John Hope,” nor celebrity historianhe was simply an old black man assumed to be working as a valet.