The Atlantic reprints Frederick Douglass’s 1866 essay on how Congress can cope with a chief executive who refuses to recognize the rights of all citizens:
Daina Ramey Berry writes:
Brandon Byrd writes:
“About 1710, J. D. Herlein, a Dutch visitor to Paramaribo, reported that a runaway slave from the town had been recaptured by the authorities. His sentence, which the court intended “to serve as an example to others,” was “to be quartered alive, and the pieces thrown in the River.” Herlein witnessed the execution: “He was lain on the ground, his head on a long beam. The first blow he was given, on the abdomen, burst his bladder open, yet he uttered not the least sound; the second blow with the axe he tried to deflect with his hand, but it gashed the hand and upper belly, again without his uttering a sound. The slave men and women laughed at this, saying to one another, ‘That is a man!’ Finally, the third blow, on the chest, killed him. His head was cut off and the body cut in four pieces and dumped in the river….””
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).”
In “Between Latin America and the African Diaspora?” Greg Childs discusses researching Latin America’s black history and the conflicts that can arise:
Perhaps because I was indeed sitting right beside him the man did not see me. Or maybe he saw me but genuinely had no clue what kind of work I did or what to make of it or how to understand the way he had heard my work described. After all, I had in fact been introduced to the committee at the previous meeting as the new guy and as a specialist in African Diaspora and Brazilian history. Whatever the reason was that he did not see me, so to speak, it was merely a re-incarnation of a scene that had become quite familiar, that had happened many times before in prior years and that was essentially informed by a singular confusion: was I a scholar of black studies or a scholar of Latin America? Or perhaps even more generally, was I a historian of a subset of people who could be located anywhere or a historian of a “legitimate” region (and indeed a few days later the same individual approached me and apologized by saying “I’m sorry. I just thought you studied black people out there, you know, in lots of places”)?
For all the academic and mainstream recognition of black folk in Latin America over the past few years, such encounters are disheartening reminders that inclusion does not signal transformation. But lamenting how blackness is included but not viewed as central or characteristic of Latin American history is less interesting than asking why this continues to occur, and for me the answer seems to cohere around two issues: the power that “institutional history” has had in shaping questions about subjugated peoples in Latin America, and relatedly the enduring influence that theories concerned with structures and institutions of history have had in Latin American scholarship….
Read the rest Between Latin America and the African Diaspora? at AAIHS
Eric Foner on revisiting histories of the Underground Railroad:
“That view largely held among scholars until 1961, when the historian Larry Gara published “The Liberty Line,” a slashing revisionist study that dismissed the Underground Railroad as a myth and argued that most fugitive slaves escaped at their own initiative, with little help from organized abolitionists. Scholarship on the topic all but dried up, as historians more generally emphasized the agency of African-Americans in claiming their own freedom.
But over the past 15 years, aided by newly digitized records of obscure abolitionist newspapers and local archives, scholars have constructed a new picture of the Underground Railroad as a collection of loosely interlocking local networks of activists, both black and white, that waxed and waned over time but nevertheless helped a significant number reach freedom.
There have been studies of the Underground Railroad in Washington, southern Pennsylvania and New Bedford, Mass., among other locations, as well as biographies of black abolitionists like David Ruggles, a member of New York City’s biracial Committee of Vigilance for the Protection of People of Color, founded in 1835.
In “Gateway to Freedom,” Mr. Foner ties much of that work together, while uncovering the history of the eastern corridor’s key gateway, New York City….”