A century in the making, and now completed by Britain’s David Adjaye, the Smithsonian’s gleeful, gleaming upturned pagoda more than holds its own against the sombre Goliaths of America’s monument heartland.Preparations are in full swing for a historic opening on 24th September 2016 when America's first president of African heritage will ring an equally historic bell. Related.
We invite you to listen in on a musical gathering that took place in Jamaica in 1688. These three songs, 'Angola', 'Papa' and 'Koromanti', performed at a festival by enslaved African musicians and copied in musical notation by a Mr Baptiste, are the first transcription of African music in the Caribbean, and, indeed, probably in the Americas. Thanks to this remarkable artifact, we can listen to traces of music performed long ago and begin to imagine what it meant for the people who created it.
“These people performed a critique of a brutal capitalistic enslavement system, and they rejected it completely. They risked everything to live in a more just and equitable way, and they were successful for ten generations."The Great Dismal Swamp straddles the Virginia-North Carolina border. From the 1600s to about the American Civil War it was a place of refuge, largely for escaped African and African-American slaves, and an important link in the underground railway. [more inside]
In a series of colorful, captivating, and often provocative paintings, Los Angeles artist Ben Sakoguchi (b. 1938) examines how baseball, long referred to as America’s national pastime, reflects both the highs and lows of American culture. The son of a grocer and avid baseball fan, Sakoguchi juxtaposes the iconic imagery of vintage orange crate labels from the 1920s to the 1950s with whimsical, eccentric, and sometimes scathing portrayals of America’s beloved sport. [more inside]
The Kentucky Derby, "America's Greatest Race," will take place at Churchill Downs this weekend. CNN international has answers to 11 general questions to get you started in the festivities, and NBC New York has a short history of the spectacle around the race, which is largely about fashion through the decades. And then there's the opening ceremony and song - My Old Kentucky Home (official "sing along" video). It sounds pretty somber, and it is, especially if you sing all of the original 1831 lyrics. The Forgotten Racial History Of Kentucky's State Song (NPR Codeswitch). [more inside]
Smithsonian Magazine looks at the Whitney Plantation, the first slave museum in the United States.
“Often, plantation exhibits were established for those who lived through the Civil Rights era and yearned for a less complicated time,” says Ashley Rogers, director of museum operations. “And that’s an easy thing to accomplish when you have a ‘chandelier’ tour. Where the previous focus at plantations has been on the house and the culture of Southern gentility, things are changing.”
Quakers pioneered social enterprise. They were also the first to fail: How hard was it to opt out of the slave economy in the U.S. before the Civil War? Pretty hard, as the "free produce" movement discovered: In 1829... the members of [the Female Association for Promoting the Manufacture and Use of Free Cotton] reported their contractors had spun 2,515 pounds of cotton. Compared to the approximately 78 million pounds of cotton produced across the country in the year 1800 alone, it was a drop in the bucket. The economics of slavery previously.
On July 31, 1760, L'Utile, a ship of the French East Indian Company loaded with an illegal cargo of about 160 Malagasy slaves, was shipwrecked on a barren, windswept islet now known as Tromelin Island, 500 km east of Madagascar. The French crew, with the help of the surviving Malagasy, built a makeshift boat and set sail for Madagascar two months later, leaving behind 60 Malagasy with three months’ provisions, a letter recognising their good conduct and the promise that someone would come back for them. Weeks passed, then months, then years. Since 2006, archeological teams have gone to Tromelin to examine the wreck site and learn about the lives of the marooned Malagasy: diary of the 2010 campaign. [more inside]
"The Memphis Grizzlies will be honoring the old Memphis Sounds for their Hardwood Classic games this NBA season by wearing the Sounds’ red-and-white jerseys. Given that the Sounds were around in the early 1970s and were of the ABA, the jerseys are pretty slick and sweet. ...To understand the Sounds you need to understand the music. And to understand the music you need to understand race and cotton." - Curtis Harris on Stax Records and the context of the Memphis Sounds.
Michael Twitty is becoming one of the most transformative figures in the world of food. Reinterrogating and recreating African-American history in the context of American culinary history through his blog Afroculinaria, Twitty argues for "culinary justice" in food writing and the conversation on food history. His project (and forthcoming book of the same name) The Cooking Gene is in part a product of his Southern Discomfort Tour, a journey retracing the preservation and transmission of culinary knowledge before, during and beyond slavery. [more inside]
Because it was "perceived to be extremely insensitive by some people," Danish game developer Serious Games Interactive has removed the 'Slave Tetris' feature from Playing History: Slave Trade.
Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor and Head of the Department of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, explains that the American Civil War was fought over slavery. (Via)
The history of British slave ownership has been buried: now its scale can be revealed The T71 files have been converted into an online database; a free, publicly available resource.
Interactive animation of the Atlantic slave trade. Pause and click on individuals ships for detailed data (not available for all ships).
One of my favourite Twitter accounts is the frustrating and important @AfAmHistFail, run by an anonymous (for obvious reasons) docent who gives slavery presentations at a historical plantation. She shares the ups and downs of her job, the struggles to keep composure in the face of racist questions and monologues, and the difficulty of puncturing the romanticization of the antebellum South. She was kind enough to answer some questions for us.
For the first time, "the wreckage of a slaving ship that went down with slaves aboard has been recovered." The recovery of artifacts from the 1794 shipwreck is a milestone for the African Slave Wrecks Project, a collaboration by six partner groups (including the National Museum of African-American Art and Culture and the National Parks Service) to find, document, and preserve archaeological remnants of the slave trade. Some of the objects will be included in exhibits in the NMAAHC.
In 1864, a nine-year-old slave girl was punished for daydreaming. Distracted by rumors that her brother and father would be sold, she failed to remove worms from the tobacco leaves she was picking. The overseer didn’t whip her. Instead, he pried her mouth open, stuffed a worm inside, and forced her to eat it. This girl is not real.
Keep Harriet Tubman – and all women – off the $20 bill. "Harriet Tubman did not fight for capitalism, free trade, or competitive markets." [more inside]
Building the First Slavery Museum in America - David Amsden, The New York Times
"From their weathered cypress frames, a dusty path, lined with hulking iron kettles that were used by slaves to boil sugar cane, leads to a grassy clearing dominated by a slave jail — an approach designed so that a visitor’s most memorable glimpse of the white shutters and stately columns of the property’s 220-year-old 'Big House' will come through the rusted bars of the squat, rectangular cell. A number of memorials also dot the grounds, including a series of angled granite walls engraved with the names of the 107,000 slaves who spent their lives in Louisiana before 1820. Inspired by Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the memorial lists the names nonalphabetically to mirror the confusion and chaos that defined a slave’s life."[more inside]
It was with a heavy heart and no small amount of anger that I decided it was necessary to write a public refutation of the insidious myth that the Irish were once chattel slaves in the British colonies. The subject of this myth is not an issue in academic circles, for there is unanimous agreement, based on overwhelming evidence, that the Irish were never subjected to perpetual, hereditary slavery in the colonies, based on notions of ‘race’. Unfortunately this is not the case in the public domain and the ‘Irish slaves’ myth has been shared so frequently online that it has gone viral.For OpenDemocracy, Laim Hogan writes a short article on the myth of Irish slavery, extracted from his larger essay 'The myth of “Irish slaves” in the colonies'. This has become relevant again in the wake of Ferguson as white supremacists and others use it to disparage and minimise African-American history and suffering: "the Irish don't ask for reparations and they were slaves".
"We all appreciate what you're doing" "But?" "But you're LOUD and you say uncomfortable things and it is Victorian times" "So what makes people uncomfortable in Victorian times?" "I don't know, being alive?" [more inside]
Shortly after the Civil War, an ex-slave was asked by his master to return to the plantation. He dictated a reply that would have made Mark Twain proud, and which has been previously featured on Metafilter. In fact, the letter was so good that some folks began to question whether it was real. New research shows it was, and gives details about the lives of the master and slave.
Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit: "Anger shot up my body like a hot thermometer. Face flushed, I walked to the Mammy sphinx. Couples posed in front of it, smiling as others took their photos. So here it was, an artwork about how Black people’s pain was transformed into money was a tourist attraction for them... Something snapped... I yelled that this was our history and that many of us were angry and sad that it was a site of pornographic jokes." [more inside]
"One of the most vexing questions in African-American history is whether free African Americans themselves owned slaves. The short answer to this question, as you might suspect, is yes, of course … For me, the really fascinating questions about black slave-owning are how many black "masters" were involved, how many slaves did they own and why did they own slaves?" Henry Louis Gates Jr. on black slave owners.
The strange, tragic story of the Brothers Muse. The sideshow called them Eko and Iko, cannibal savages from Borneo, sheep-headed men, ambassadors from Mars, highlighting their signature white dreadlocks in every poster. In reality, they were George and Willie Muse, taken from their parents in 1899 in rural Roanoke, Virginia by bounty hunters working for sideshow producers fascinated by their albinism. [more inside]
The enigma of Mona Lisa's smile? Who cares? The mystery of Dido Belle is much more intriguing. The double portrait Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray, once attributed to Johann Zoffany and now hanging in Scone Palace in Perth, depicts two elegant 18th-century women in silks and pearls at Kenwood House in London. Beyond them, you can just glimpse St Paul's and the rest of the Georgian cityscape. Nothing unusual about any of that, but for one detail – Dido is mixed race. Belle is about slavery and follows on the heels of Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave. An impossible act to follow, you might suppose. Yet the two films could hardly be more different. "I wouldn't want audiences to come to Belle and think they were about to see '12 Years a Slave Mark 2'," Asante says. Based in Britain and rooted in fact, Belle is an extraordinary story, she tells me: Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) was the daughter of John Lindsay, a British admiral, and an African slave. She grew up in Kenwood House, Hampstead, under the guardianship of Lord Chief Justice Mansfield. One delicately speculative Guardian article about a painting and its context leads to a fascinating portait of a Ghanaian/British filmmaker and the circumstances that formed her. Asante has always had an "extra eye" and sees herself as an insider and outsider (all directors, she believes, need to be emotionally ambidextrous).
"To celebrate freedom and democracy while forgetting America’s origins in a slavery economy is patriotism à la carte." Slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation both de jure and de facto--Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Case for Reparations.
In 2002 Henry Louis Gates jr. published The Bondwoman's Narrative. It was the first publication of a novel written in the 1850s by a former slave who wrote under the name Hannah Crafts. The original manuscript has been digitized by Yale's Beinecke Library. The book caused a splash at the time, sold well and was reviewed widely, including an essay by Hilary Mantel in the London Review of Books. The identity of Hannah Crafts was uncertain, which cast a slight shadow on its provenance, but Prof. Gregg Hecimovich discovered the writer's true identity. Her name was Hannah Bond and after escaping slavery she became a teacher in New Jersey. Journalist Paul Berman further fills in the story of Colonel Wheeler, the slaveowner whose family was depicted in The Bondwoman's Narrative. Wheeler was the US ambassador to Nicaragua in the 1850s and played a major part in the administration of General Walker, the American who became a short-lived dictator of Nicaragua and tried to set it up as a slave state.
What happens to a nation that's suffered a great crime? What happens when the wrong can't be made right?
Each of Historian Barbara Wells Sarudy's six blogs contains a wealth of esoteric treasures: "President John Adams declared, “History is not the Province of the Ladies.” Oh well, I'll give it a try." [more inside]
"I'm here because my family went through slavery" - Steve McQueen on 12 Years A Slave, the story of Solomon Northup. ‘12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Mother of George,’ and the aesthetic politics of filming black skin. Before Solomon Northup: Fighting Slave Catchers in New York. The final fate of Solpmon Northup remains unknown. (Previously)
Warning! The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased, entry for the United States of America
The blog US Slave collects long-form articles on every aspect of the history of slavery, primarily focussing on African slaves in the USA and their descendents. Among the content there is this biography of Ota Benga, the Congolese Pygmy man who was put on display in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo, and several posts about Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus. [more inside]
"We’ve coined a term," said Katrinah Lewis, the actress who typically interprets Lydia. "Post-traumautic slave syndrome." The Washington Post reports on African American actors who interpret the lives of slaves at Colonial Williamsburg.
State of the Species: Will the unprecedented success of Homo sapiens lead to an unavoidable downfall? [Via]
In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass wrote of his early days in New York City after his escape from slavery:
Thank Heaven, I remained but a short time in this distressed situation. I was relieved from it by the humane hand of Mr. DAVID RUGGLES. [...] Mr. Ruggles was then very deeply engaged in the memorable Darg case, as well as attending to a number of other fugitive slaves, devising ways and means for their successful escape; and, though watched and hemmed in on almost every side, he seemed to be more than a match for his enemies.[more inside]
On September 13, 1859, a former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court shot and killed a U.S. Senator in what has been called the last notable duel in American history. The duel itself can be interpreted as a sort of proxy battle between pro- and anti-slavery groups of the time, and a harbinger of the American Civil War (which would begin a year and half later).
The ‘white’ slave children of New Orleans: Almost immediately after the law came into practice, Northerners and abolitionists set up relief organisations, which battled to establish schools and provide other forms of support – but their resources were limited. They soon discovered it was near-impossible to find sympathy and support in a war-torn and racially-prejudiced county.
"...though we may have our differences, we are one people, and we are one nation, united by a common creed."
Founded in 1857, The Atlantic is one of the oldest publications still being produced in the US. They have created a commemorative issue for the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War that includes articles published in the magazine over a century ago, an extensive gallery of images, as well as a few essays and analyses by modern writers, including President Obama. Editor's note. (Via: James Fallows' Reddit AMA) [more inside]
Most of the prints in the exhibit "Beauty, Virtue and Vice: Images of Women in Nineteenth-Century American Prints" were designed simply to please the eye, but they are also useful to historians who would like to understand how nineteenth-century Americans thought about the world in which they lived. Although prints are often works of imagination (even when they are grounded in fact), they still have much to tell us about the time and place in which they were created. [more inside]
How Slavery Really Ended in America On May 23, 1861, little more than a month into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and claimed asylum in a Union-held citadel.... [T]the laws of the United States were clear: all fugitives must be returned to their masters. The founding fathers enshrined this in the Constitution; Congress reinforced it in 1850 with the Fugitive Slave Act; and it was still the law of the land — including, as far as the federal government was concerned, within the so-called Confederate states. The war had done nothing to change it. Most important, noninterference with slavery was the very cornerstone of the Union’s war policy. President Abraham Lincoln had begun his inaugural address by making this clear, pointedly and repeatedly. “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists,” the president said. “I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” [more inside]
The old lady always called me her boy... and she kept me in her room from the time that I was born until her death, then willed me to her son Samuel. When she was dying she called me to her bedside... Taking my hand in hers she told me to be a good boy and stay with Samuel. To Samuel she said, "Keep my boy as long as you live to remember me by." Larry Lapsley began life as someone else's property, but he managed to break free from his mistress' dying wish by way of a remarkable journey that would lead him to becoming the first black homesteader in Saline County, Kansas: When I came to Salina I was twenty-five years old and was without schooling. I had never gone to school a day in my life and I haven't any education yet but there is one thing I have, a good home and plenty of friends. [more inside]
In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, Col. P. H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, asking him to return to work for him. In reply, Jourdon Anderson told Colonel Anderson exactly where he could stick his offer. This letter was part of The Freedmen's Book (full download in many different formats) which was distributed to those freed after and during the Civil War, so that they would know stories of other freedmen who had done well, including Touissant L'Ouverture, Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass. The book was put together and published by Lydia Maria Child, abolitionist, women's rights activist, Indian rights campaigner and all around awesome person. She became famous in her own time for her cookbook The Frugal Housewife, but today her best known work is Over the River and Through the Woods. The Freedmen's Book was part of an effort by abolitionists after the war to educate freed slaves. The American Antiquarian Society has a great website about that movement, Northern Visions of Race, Region and Reform, which has plenty of primary sources and images galore.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) has proclaimed April to be Confederate History Month in his state, without referencing slavery or civil rights. The move has angered civil rights leaders and revived a controversy that has lain dormant for eight years. FireDogLake is reporting that the neo-confederate group which lobbied Governor McDonnell to make the proclamation has ties to white supremacists. [more inside]
"If I thought, had any idea, that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all right away." Audio recordings from interviews with former slaves, conducted by WPA folklorists and others, including the Lomaxes and Zora Neale Hurston. Only these twenty-six audio recordings of people formerly enslaved in the antebellum American South have ever been found.
Debt: The first five thousand years. Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber (previously) writes about "debt and debt money in human history" in Eurozine. Lots of thought-provoking stuff here; I'll put a sample in the extended description. (Via wood s lot.) [more inside]
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