The Shocking Savagery of America's Early History, a look at historian Bernard Bailyn's book.
Bailyn has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture—do you really know what being “flayed alive” means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.) And yet somehow amid the merciless massacres were elements that gave birth to the rudiments of civilization—or in Bailyn’s evocative phrase, the fragile “integument of civility”—that would evolve 100 years later into a virtual Renaissance culture, a bustling string of self-governing, self-sufficient, defiantly expansionist colonies alive with an increasingly sophisticated and literate political and intellectual culture that would coalesce into the rationale for the birth of American independence. All the while shaping, and sometimes misshaping, the American character. It’s a grand drama in which the glimmers of enlightenment barely survive the savagery, what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide,” the brutal establishment of slavery, the race wars with the original inhabitants that Bailyn is not afraid to call “genocidal,” the full, horrifying details of which have virtually been erased.[more inside]
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.
The U.S.'s military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are mostly staffed by Third Country Nationals (TCN), who are often victims of human trafficking. [more inside]
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]
Lost Cause [WaPo, bugmenot] History museums are a repository for public memory, but also a nation's mirrors, reflecting self-image. When our views of history shift, museums that fail to change are likely to fail in general. Today's Washington Post reports on the struggle and decline of the Museum of the Confederacy, contrasting it with the American Civil War Center, nearby geographically, worlds away in philosophy.
Paradise Lost: Greed, Sex Slavery, Forced Abortions and Right-Wing Moralists. Saipan is not a pleasant place to live or work.
"I am an American, so that is why I make films about America. America is sitting on our world, I am making films that have to do with America (because) 60% of my life is America. So I am in fact an American, but I can't go there to vote, I can't change anything. We are a nation under influence and under a very bad influence… because Mr. Bush is an asshole and doing very idiotic things." Lars Von Trier introduces his new film at the Cannes Film Festival: «Manderlay» picks up where «Dogville» left off, with the character originated by Nicole Kidman -- now played by Bryce Dallas Howard -- stumbling onto a plantation that time forgot, where slavery still operates in the 1930s. The film (5 MB .pdf file, official pressbook) ends, as Dogville did, with David Bowie’s Young Americans played over a photomontage of images that range from a Ku Klux Klan meeting to the Rodney King beating, George Bush at prayer and Martin Luther King at his final rest, American soldiers in Vietnam and the Gulf, the Twin Towers. More inside.
Sarah Roberts vs. Boston In 1848, five-year-old Sarah Roberts was barred from the local primary school because she was black. Her father sued the City (.pdf file). The lawsuit was part of an organized effort by the African-American community to end racially segregated schools. The book "Sarah's Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America" tells the story of the case of Roberts v. City of Boston, that remains a little-known landmark in the civil rights movement.
Voices from the Days of Slavery. A collection of audio recordings made between 1932 and 1975 of African Americans known to have once been slaves. Hear Isom Moseley describe how he used to make soap, and express his opinion of the "white folks" who owned and ran the plantation where he was held. Wallace Quarterman describes his experience as a freed man in Georgia, and recounts the violent atmosphere of the Reconstruction South. Aunt Phoebe Boyd describes the demands of agricultural work. Even more narratives are available as transcripts from the companion exhibit, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 (linked to previously on Metafilter here), though some of these were unfortunately edited selectively.
The other side of liberty "At the very moment they were in Philadelphia declaring that all men are created equal, many of America's Founding Fathers were slave owners. Activists are now demanding a fuller accounting at democracy's birthplace."
Did you know about the "African-American Slavery Reparations" tax credit? (Neither did I.)
Five Salem Witches Exonerated - 300 Years Later I would say something like "It's about damned time" -- but like the various Christian denominations apologizing for the Trail of Tears and participation in the slave trade, perhaps it is simply too late. There is no risk in making this gesture at this time. And what is the message here? That these women simply were not guilty of the charges levelled, or that it was wrong to persecute on such a basis in any case?
Here's your reparations money, now shut up! Another POV in the slavery reparations debate: From the conservative National Review, an argument that paying off black Americans would be worth it "if they could no longer play the race card."