I Am a Descendant of James Madison and His Slave

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2020-03-22 02:26Z by Steven

I Am a Descendant of James Madison and His Slave

Zora
Medium
2020-03-17

Bettye Kearse


Illustration: Sophia Zarders

My whole life, my mother told me, ‘Always remember — you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president.’

President Madison did not have children with his wife, Dolley. Leading scholars believe he was impotent, infertile, or both. But the stories I have heard since my childhood say that James Madison, a Founding Father of our nation, was also a founding father of my African American family.

In my childhood, whenever I whined or squirmed or got into trouble, my mother repeated the refrain: “Always remember — you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president.” This is my family’s credo, the statement that has guided us for 200 years.

Though many in our family have heard we descend from President Madison and his slaves, only the griots — the one-in-a-generation oral historians in the family — know the full account of our ancestors, White and Black, in America. Gramps had told me many stories, but the detailed family history was Mom’s responsibility to convey to me when I became the next griotte.

The night my mother passed those stories on to me, I understood for the first time why some of the details of our family history were passed only from the griot of one generation to that of the next. Not only were some of the stories intimate, but this tradition safeguarded their accuracy, truth, and longevity. I sank into the sofa with my mother and listened with a new awareness of the significance of her words and what they meant to me. She began…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President’s Black Family

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2020-03-22 02:03Z by Steven

The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President’s Black Family

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
2020-03-24
272 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328604392
Hardcover ISBN-10: 132860439X

Bettye Kearse

In The Other Madisons, Bettye Kearse—a descendant of an enslaved cook and, according to oral tradition, President James Madison—shares her family story and explores the issues of legacy, race, and the powerful consequences of telling the whole truth.

For thousands of years, West African griots (men) and griottes (women) have recited the stories of their people. Without this tradition Bettye Kearse would not have known that she is a descendant of President James Madison and his slave, and half-sister, Coreen. In 1990, Bettye became the eighth-generation griotte for her family. Their credo—“Always remember—you’re a Madison. You come from African slaves and a president”—was intended to be a source of pride, but for her, it echoed with abuses of slavery, including rape and incest.

Confronting those abuses, Bettye embarked on a journey of discovery—of her ancestors, the nation, and herself. She learned that wherever African slaves walked, recorded history silenced their voices and buried their footsteps: beside a slave-holding fortress in Ghana; below a federal building in New York City; and under a brick walkway at James Madison’s Virginia plantation. When Bettye tried to confirm the information her ancestors had passed down, she encountered obstacles at every turn.

Part personal quest, part testimony, part historical correction, The Other Madisons is the saga of an extraordinary American family told by a griotte in search of the whole story.

Tags: , ,

A Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica by Brooke N. Newman (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2020-02-18 19:09Z by Steven

A Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica by Brooke N. Newman (review)

Eighteenth-Century Studies
Volume 53, Number 2, Winter 2020
pages 314-316
DOI: 10.1353/ecs.2020.0021

Katherine Johnston, Assistant Professor of History
Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin

Brooke N. Newman, Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2018). Pp. 352; 25 b/w illus. $65.00 cloth.

In eighteenth–century Jamaica, who counted as a British subject? As Brooke N. Newman demonstrates in her impressively researched new book, the answer was complicated. Although a 1661 royal proclamation stated that children of English subjects born on the island would be “free denizens of England,” by the early eighteenth century the colonial assembly in Jamaica had imposed its own restrictions on subjecthood (2). Aligning the rights and privileges of subject status—including the ability to vote, hold public office, and serve on a jury—with whiteness, members of the assembly took it upon themselves to determine who was eligible for this status and who was not. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of the island’s population failed to meet the exclusive standards imposed by the assembly. Only “non–African, non–Indian, non–Jewish, and unmixed” people could claim subject status as a birthright (28). Despite white Jamaicans’ perennial anxiety about Africans and their descendants vastly outnumbering white settlers, colonial legislators’ desire to “preserve the purity of British lineage in the tropics” led them to deny mixed–race people subject status, effectively alienating many children and grandchildren from their white fathers and grandfathers (22).

A select few individuals of mixed descent, however, successfully petitioned the assembly for the right to subjecthood. Newman draws upon these appeals as she seeks to explain the ways that blood inheritance as a means of racial distinction and legal status developed in colonial Jamaica. In Newman’s analysis, the cases of elite individuals and families who requested subject status from the assembly highlight the instability of racial designations throughout the eighteenth century. Social standing, financial position, and religion all entered into the assembly’s calculations regarding who could attain subject status and who counted as white. Timing mattered, too: in the 1730s, 40s, and 50s, for example, mixed-race people could “whiten” within three generations, while in the 1760s, 70s, and 80s it took four generations to erase “the stain of African origins” (91). Moreover, often the elites who were granted white status were denied the full privileges associated with subjecthood. These individuals were “not fully ‘white’ in the eyes of the law but rather legally whitened, on the path toward whiteness” (97). But as Newman makes clear, “legal whiteness” (70) did not make a person “white by blood” (114). This distinction is critical to Newman’s analysis, as she argues that Jamaican legislators “privileged blood as a material and symbolic conduit” that transmitted a variety of qualities, including “character, mind, and temperament” from parents to offspring (69).

Examining petitions for white status by persons of mixed descent in the first half of the book allows Newman to make some critical points about race. First, she shows that racial definitions in the British West Indies looked a great deal like those in the Spanish colonies, with careful delineations of racial categories based upon percentages of African and European blood. In colonial Jamaica, people’s ancestry mattered. Second, and most importantly, the process of legal whitening that took into account a person’s finances, religion, and connections to elite white men reveals the unstable nature of race during this period. As Newman demonstrates, whiteness was fungible rather than fixed; the varying outcomes of people’s petitions provide strong evidence that whiteness was “a malleable social and legal category” (126).

In addition to these important points about race, the legislative appeals also serve as a touchstone for questions of colonial authority and power. The Jamaican colonial assembly made its own laws in some cases, disregarding British common law precedent. But it was not a fully autonomous body, and appeals for citizenship approved by the local assembly had to be confirmed by the Privy Council in London. The relationship between the colonial and British legislative bodies was under continuous negotiation, even though white Jamaicans largely claimed authority for themselves.

While petitions for subject status lie at the heart of a tightly…

Read or purchase the review here.

Tags: , , , ,

The Black Butterfly: Brazilian Slavery and the Literary Imagination

Posted in Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2020-01-31 18:13Z by Steven

The Black Butterfly: Brazilian Slavery and the Literary Imagination

West Virginia University Press
October 2019
360 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-949199-03-1
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-949199-02-4
eBook ISBN: 978-1-949199-04-8

Marcus Wood, Professor of English
University of Sussex

The Black Butterfly focuses on the slavery writings of three of Brazil’s literary giants—Machado de Assis, Castro Alves, and Euclides da Cunha. These authors wrote in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as Brazil moved into and then through the 1888 abolition of slavery. Assis was Brazil’s most experimental novelist; Alves was a Romantic poet with passionate liberationist politics, popularly known as “the poet of the slaves”; and da Cunha is known for the masterpiece Os Sertões (The Backlands), a work of genius that remains strangely neglected in the scholarship of transatlantic slavery.

Wood finds that all three writers responded to the memory of slavery in ways that departed from their counterparts in Europe and North America, where emancipation has typically been depicted as a moment of closure. He ends by setting up a wider literary context for his core authors by introducing a comparative study of their great literary abolitionist predecessors Luís Gonzaga Pinto da Gama and Joaquim Nabuco. The Black Butterfly is a revolutionary text that insists Brazilian culture has always refused a clean break between slavery and its aftermath. Brazilian slavery thus emerges as a living legacy subject to continual renegotiation and reinvention.

Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • Introduction
  • 1. Castro Alves, O Navio Negreiro, and a New Poetics of the Middle Passage
  • 2. Castro Alves, Voices of Africa, and the Paulo Affonso Falls: From African Monologic Propopeia to Brazilian Plantation Anti-Pastoral
  • 3. Obscure Agency: Machado de Assis Framing Black Servitudes
  • 4. “The child is father to the man”: Bad Big Daddy and the Dilemmas of Planter Patriarchy in Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas
  • 5. Magnifying Signifying Silence: Afro-Brazilians and Slavery in Euclides da Cunha, Os Sertões
  • 6. After-Words and After-Worlds: Freyre, Llosa, Slavery and the Cultural Inheritance of Os Sertões
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Index
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, Women on 2020-01-28 19:20Z by Steven

Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic

University Alabama Press
2020-01-28
184 pages
5 B&W figures / 7 tables
6 x 60 x 9 inches
Trade Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8173-2036-2
EBook ISBN: 978-0-8173-9265-9

Erika Denise Edwards, Associate Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Details how African-descended women’s societal, marital, and sexual decisions forever reshaped the racial makeup of Argentina

Argentina values the perception that it is only a country of European immigrants, making it an exception to other Latin American countries, which can embrace a more mixed—African, Indian, European—heritage. Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic traces the origins of what some white Argentines mischaracterize as a “black disappearance” by delving into the intimate lives of black women and explaining how they contributed to the making of a “white” Argentina. Erika Denise Edwards has produced the first comprehensive study in English of the history of African descendants outside of Buenos Aires in the late colonial and early republican periods, with a focus on how these women sought whiteness to better their lives and those of their children.

Edwards argues that attempts by black women to escape the stigma of blackness by recategorizing themselves and their descendants as white began as early as the late eighteenth century, challenging scholars who assert that the black population drastically declined at the end of the nineteenth century because of the whitening or modernization process. She further contends that in Córdoba, Argentina, women of African descent (such as wives, mothers, daughters, and concubines) were instrumental in shaping their own racial reclassifications and destinies.

This volume makes use of a wealth of sources to relate these women’s choices. The sources consulted include city censuses and notarial and probate records that deal with free and enslaved African descendants; criminal, ecclesiastical, and civil court cases; marriages and baptisms records and newsletters. These varied sources provide information about the day-to-day activities of cordobés society and how women of African descent lived, formed relationships, thrived, and partook in the transformation of racial identities in Argentina.

Tags: , , , ,

Mary Ellen Pleasant Becomes a Rich, Black Abolitionist (feat. Lisa Bonet) – Drunk History

Posted in Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Women on 2020-01-28 19:18Z by Steven

Mary Ellen Pleasant Becomes a Rich, Black Abolitionist (feat. Lisa Bonet) – Drunk History

Drunk History
Comedy Central
2019-06-16

Mary Ellen Pleasant was a former slave who posed as a white woman in San Francisco, amassed a fortune and fought for the rights of black people.

Based on the popular web series, Drunk History is the liquored-up narration of our nation’s history. Host Derek Waters, along with an ever-changing cast of actors and comedians, travels across the country to present the rich tales that every city in this land has to offer. Booze helps bring out the truth. It’s just that sometimes the truth is a little incoherent.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Black in Appalachia: Project unearths black history

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2020-01-27 18:33Z by Steven

Black in Appalachia: Project unearths black history

The Daily Times: Blount County’s Newspaper of Record Since 1883
Maryville, Tennessee
2020-01-25

Linda Braden Albert, Daily Times Correspondent


Kenson Isom, great-great-grandfather of William Isom II, is pictured with his family. William Isom, director of the Black in Appalachia Project, discovered more about his ancestor’s history while researching a slave cemetery in Virginia.

William Isom II had been searching for his great-great-grandfather, Kelson Isom, for 20 years. He finally broke through the brick wall as a result of his work with the Black in Appalachia Project, researching a slave cemetery in Lee County, Virginia.

“I just so happened to find the record of my great-great-granddad as a slave in Scott County, Virginia,” Isom said. “He was listed as property in a will. The slave owner had died and listed him and his brothers as property in the will. Once you can find the slave owner you can find other records. For me, that was one of the most amazing finds that benefited me personally.”


William Isom II, director of the Black in Appalachia Project, will present a program at 7 p.m. Monday at the Blount County Public Library.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Isom, director of community outreach for East Tennessee PBS and director of Black in Appalachia, will speak about the project at the Blount County Public Library’s next program in its Southern Appalachian Studies Series. Admission is free, and the public is invited to attend…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Blurring the Lines of Race and Freedom: Mulattoes in English Colonial North America and the Early United States Republic

Posted in Dissertations, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2019-10-26 01:11Z by Steven

Blurring the Lines of Race and Freedom: Mulattoes in English Colonial North America and the Early United States Republic

University of California at Berkeley
Spring 2013
183 pages

Aaron B. Wilkinson

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History

This project investigates people of mixed African, European, and sometimes Native American ancestry, commonly referred to as mulattoes, in English colonial North America and the early United States republic. This research deconstructs nascent African American stratification by examining various types of privilege that allowed people of mixed heritage to experience upward social mobility, with a special focus on access to freedom from slavery and servitude in the colonies and states of the southeast Atlantic Coast. Additionally, this work provides a framework for understanding U.S. mixed-race ideologies by following the trajectory of how people of mixed descent and their families viewed themselves and how they were perceived by the broader societies in which they lived. This study contributes to historiographical and contemporary discussions associated with mixed-heritage peoples, ideas of racial mixture, “whiteness,” and African American identity.

Read the entire dissertation here.

Tags: , ,

Complexities of Complexion

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2019-09-29 02:36Z by Steven

Complexities of Complexion

Reviews in American History
Volume 47, Number 3, September 2019
pages 327-332

Martha Hodes, Professor of History
New York University

Sharon Block. Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018. 217 pp. Appendices, notes, and index. $45.00.

This is a book about the endeavor of racial classification in the service of racism. The word complexion held expansive meaning in the eighteenth century. Rather than simply a sign by which others presumed to determine a person’s racial classification, complexion signified sickness and health, conduct and comportment, emotional disposition and indisposition. In Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America, Sharon Block investigates appearance as a “commonplace tool of race-making” (p. 5) and the ways in which that process both reflected and determined dominant ideas about race in early America. Given the capacious meaning of the word, Colonial Complexions explores far more than skin color—in fact only a single chapter is devoted to that aspect of human bodies.

Opening with a learned essay on European ideas about human complexion and human bodies, Block enlightens her readers about the contours of early modern humoralism: beliefs about the ways in which appearance reflected a person’s condition and character. From there, Block takes her readers to British North America, on a journey through the meaning and significance of an array of descriptive categories. Her analysis is based on a meticulous and rigorous reading of newspaper advertisements for runaway slaves and servants. These thousands of documents become, as Block writes, “cultural transformations of individual lives into print” (p. 36). Her interpretations of these seemingly mundane, repetitive sources are razor-sharp, often dazzling.

Block has assembled more than 4000 missing-person advertisements in over two dozen newspapers from eight colonies between 1750 and 1775, a historical moment, she points out, “before skin color became increasingly equivalent to race” (p. 2). Because advertisements for runaway laborers were voluminous and widely consumed by colonists, no other sort of document from colonial America—not legal records, not military records, not prison records—”offers an opportunity to aggregate thousands of parallel descriptions of physical appearance of enslaved and free people” (p. 145). The owners and employers who wrote these advertisements made choices about which descriptive categories to include and which to exclude, and Block treats each choice as significant, as she weighs, compares, and explicates. How much information did the writer believe would be enough for strangers to identify a particular fugitive? What vocabulary should be invoked to best portray not only skin color but also body size, hair texture, clothing, and voice timbre? How best concisely to convey a runaway’s behavior and personality? In selecting the details and composing succinct narratives, owners and employers of slaves and servants participated in “making race in daily life” (p. 141).

Block’s sample is not random; instead, she sought temporal and geographical variety, and sought in particular to include harder-to-find advertisements for fugitive girls and women. Because colonial advertisements for runaways included only a small number of people of Native American descent, Block turned to travel accounts to find descriptions of Native men and women. Then, to clarify all facets of her analysis with a sharper sense of meanings and usages, Block supplemented her data with many more kinds of documents: dictionaries, almanacs, plantation records, medical treatises, and natural histories, as well as more lyrical sources such as diaries and letters, poetry, sermons, literature, and in one instance a treatise on vampires (in order to make sense of descriptions of ruddiness).

Block allows many of her questions to arise from the evidence, and findings across categories are consistent. Owners and employers commodified people of African descent by describing them in generalized terms. British colonists described people of European descent, by contrast, far more often as particular individuals. Take the supposedly objective factors of age and height. Whereas advertisers described people of African descent as young or old, short or tall, they more often gave people of European descent specific ages and measurements. When advertisers noted indicators of ill health, they tended to write about the external features of people of African descent (bloodshot eyes, for example, or stooped posture), as compared to identifying “individual underlying causes or experiences…

Read or purchase the review here.

Tags: , , , ,

The General’s Cook, A Novel

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2019-09-16 00:52Z by Steven

The General’s Cook, A Novel

Arcade Publishing
2018-11-06
336 pages
Trim Size: 6in x 9in
Hardcover ISBN: 9781628729771

Ramin Ganeshram

The General

Philadelphia 1793. Hercules, President George Washington’s chef, is a fixture on the Philadelphia scene. He is famous for both his culinary prowess and for ruling his kitchen like a commanding general. He has his run of the city and earns twice the salary of an average American workingman. He wears beautiful clothes and attends the theater. But while valued by the Washingtons for his prowess in the kitchen and rewarded far over and above even white servants, Hercules is enslaved in a city where most black Americans are free. Even while he masterfully manages his kitchen and the lives of those in and around it, Hercules harbors secrets—including the fact that he is learning to read and that he is involved in a dangerous affair with Thelma, a mixed-race woman, who, passing as white, works as a companion to the daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious families. Eventually Hercules’ carefully crafted intrigues fall apart and he finds himself trapped by his circumstance and the will of George Washington. Based on actual historical events and people, The General’s Cook, will thrill fans of The Hamilton Affair, as they follow Hercules’ precarious and terrifying bid for freedom.

Tags: , , , ,