Thomas and Sally

Posted in Arts, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Slavery, United States on 2017-04-25 03:05Z by Steven

Thomas and Sally

Marin Theater Company
Mill Valley, California
September 28-October 22 (2017) | World Premiere

By Thomas Bradshaw


Thomas Bradshaw

An explosive world-premiere commission by subversive American playwright Thomas Bradshaw, Thomas and Sally gets up close and personal with our country’s first prominent mixed-race family: Thomas Jefferson and his African American slave, Sally Hemings. In this satiric comedy, Bradshaw takes us behind the scenes of history and into the home (and bed) of Jefferson: Enlightenment-era genius, devoted husband, and man of contradictions, who insisted that the phrase “All men are created equal” be included in the Declaration of Independence but did not free his own slaves, even at his death. Sex, power and identity are all up for negotiation in this provocative, no-frills vision of early America…until, of course, they’re not. Thomas and Sally takes a sharp look at how the nation’s beginnings continue to influence what it’s become.

For more information, click here.

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Afro-Latin America and the Black Pacific: An Interview with Sherwin K. Bryant

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Slavery on 2017-04-25 02:39Z by Steven

Afro-Latin America and the Black Pacific: An Interview with Sherwin K. Bryant

Black Perspectives
2017-04-22

Yesenia Barragan, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

This month I interviewed Sherwin K. Bryant about his work on the Black Pacific and Afro-Andes. Bryant is Associate Professor of African American Studies and History at Northwestern University and serves as the Director of the Center for African American History. As an historian of colonial Afro-Latin America and the Atlantic/Pacific Worlds, Bryant works at the intersections of cultural, legal, social history and political economy, with an emphasis upon Black life in the Kingdoms of New Granada and Quito (what is now modern Colombia and Ecuador). Dr. Bryant’s book, Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage: Governing through Slavery in Colonial Quito offers the first serious treatment in English of slavery and slave life in colonial Quito and challenges the narrower conceptualization of slavery as primarily an economic demand. He is currently working on two new book-length projects. The first charts the history of Black subjectivities along Colombia and Ecuador’s Pacific littoral while the second develops a history of slave life within the contraband slave routes that ran through Panama and New Granada before the era of free trade. Follow him on Twitter @sherwinkbryant.

Yesenia Barragan: As you explain in Rivers of Gold, the Kingdom of Quito had a relatively small enslaved population in comparison to the more familiar cases in the Atlantic world and has thus been overlooked in the historiography of slavery in the Americas. What insights can we gain by examining the history of colonial Afro-Quito?

Sherwin K. Bryant: Until the last two decades, the African diaspora to Spanish America received scant attention compared to the US, Brazil, and the British and French Caribbean. This was due in part to a scholarly reading of slavery through labor, the plantation complex, and an emphasis on numbers. These approaches caused previous scholars to underestimate the socio-political impact of slavery and Black life throughout much of Latin America.

Another enduring challenge to the study of Blackness in Latin America is found in the national myths and master narratives that diminish the importance of Black life, and those that deny and devalue the scale of Black populations and the extent of their on-going persecution. Rather than account for the full scope of Black life, these nations have preferred narratives of mestizaje, or race mixture, marginalizing Blacks and their contributions to the nation. To some degree and for some time now, scholars colluded in this elision, privileging studies of slavery as an institution, or race mixture and social climbing. Consequently, the writing of Spanish America’s Black history was fraught, episodic, and belated relative to the flourishing studies on Indigenous populations and women since the advent of social history in the 1970s and 80s. Finally, a US-centric approach to African American history and the prominence of the Atlantic basin in diaspora studies contributed to these omissions…

Read the entire interview here.

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The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2017-04-17 23:11Z by Steven

The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color

Louisiana State University Press
March 2017
224 pages
5.50 x 8.50 inches
no illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 9780807165218

Hank Trent

Historians have long discussed the interracial families of prominent slave dealers in Richmond, Virginia, and elsewhere, yet, until now, the story of slave trader Bacon Tait remained untold. Among the most prominent and wealthy citizens of Richmond, Bacon Tait embarked upon a striking and unexpected double life: that of a white slave trader married to a free black woman. In The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, Hank Trent tells Tait’s complete story for the first time, reconstructing the hidden aspects of his strange and often paradoxical life through meticulous research in lawsuits, newspapers, deeds, and other original records.

Active and ambitious in a career notorious even among slave owners for its viciousness, Bacon Tait nevertheless claimed to be married to a free woman of color, Courtney Fountain, whose extended family were involved in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. As Trent reveals, Bacon Tait maintained his domestic sphere as a loving husband and father in a mixed-race family in the North while running a successful and ruthless slave-trading business in the South. Though he possessed legal control over thousands of other black women at different times, Trent argues that Tait remained loyal to his wife, avoiding the predatory sexual practices of many slave traders. No less remarkably, Courtney Tait and their four children received the benefits of Tait’s wealth while remaining close to her family of origin, many of whom spoke out against the practice of slavery and even fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union.

In a fascinating display of historical detective work, Trent illuminates the worlds Bacon Tait and his family inhabited, from the complex partnerships and rivalries among slave traders to the anxieties surrounding free black populations in Courtney and Bacon Tait’s adopted city of Salem, Massachusetts. Tait’s double life illuminates the complex interplay of control, manipulation, love, hate, denigration, and respect among interracial families, all within the larger context of a society that revolved around the enslavement of black Americans by white traders.

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Portsmouth’s Ona Judge is famous at last

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-04-13 00:04Z by Steven

Portsmouth’s Ona Judge is famous at last

The Portsmouth Herald
2017-04-03

J. Dennis Robinson


Recently thrust into celebrity, Ona Judge was enslaved by George and Martha Washington. Ona quietly escaped the President’s House in Philadelphia in 1796 and lived as a seamstress in Greenland, New Hampshire. Washington described the runaway in a newspaper as “a light mulatto girl, much freckled.” This illustration by Emily Arnold McCully appears on the cover of her children’s book, “The Escape of Oney Judge,” published by Scholastic Press.
[Courtesy photo]

It’s about time America learned her name. Enslaved by George and Martha Washington, a young Ona Judge fled to Portsmouth in 1796. A skilled seamstress, Ona Judge lived the rest of her long life in the shadows — impoverished, independent and defiant. Her presumed burial site remains obscure and unmarked on private land in nearby Greenland. But the story of a young black woman who resisted a president is finally being told — and told again.

Today you can read about Ona Judge (1773-1848) in The New York Times. You can hear her story on National Public Radio, watch her on a National Geographic special, or find her on popular websites like History.com and CNN. Ona is featured in “Lives Bound Together,” a special exhibit of more than 300 enslaved Africans at Mount Vernon. She is portrayed by re-enactors from New Hampshire to Virginia, and her story is told at the site of the President’s House in Philadelphia, where she made her daring solo escape from the Washingtons at age 20.

The big news for Ona, and for American history, is the success of a runaway bestseller titled “Never Caught, The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge.” Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar, examines the first president’s use of “human property” from the slave’s point of view…

Read the entire article here.

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Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-04-12 21:18Z by Steven

Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Atria (an imprint of Simon and Schuster)
February 2017
272 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781501126390
eBook ISBN: 9781501126437

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Black Studies and History
University of Delaware

A startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family, Never Caught is the powerful narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked everything to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom.

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary and eight slaves, including Ona Judge, about whom little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.

At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.

With impeccable research, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar weaves a powerful tale and offers fascinating new scholarship on how one young woman risked it all to gain freedom from the famous founding father.

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The contradiction at the heart of Rachel Dolezal’s ‘transracialism’

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2017-04-12 02:16Z by Steven

The contradiction at the heart of Rachel Dolezal’s ‘transracialism’

The Conversation
2017-04-11

Victoria Anderson, Researcher/Teacher in Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies
Cardiff University


Rachel Dolezal speaking at Spokane rally, May 2015. Arkathman/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Rachel Dolezal, the former branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who gained global notoriety in 2015 after being “outed” as a white woman pretending to be black, is back with a new book on race. Dolezal, who is ethnically German, now claims that she is “transracial”, a condition she compares to transgenderism. By this she means that although she was born white, she identifies with being black, arguing that race is a social construct.

Dolezal complains of further victimisation because “transracialism” is not recognised in the same way as transgenderism. And Dolezal sees herself as triply stigmatised; because of her race, because of her trans status and also because of the perceived illegitimacy of this status.

For someone like me, concerned both with race and with the role of narrative in culture, the narrative spun by Dolezal is both confounding and uniquely fascinating. In an interview with BBC Newsnight, she announced – not incorrectly, in my view – that “race is a lie”. At the same time, she laid claim to the transracialism that she demands to be accepted as a truth…

…Blanket categories of “black” and “white” are an entirely modern phenomenon. In the 17th and 18th centuries, those Europeans who were actively involved in the slave trade made a point of distinguishing between different African ethnic groups; some were considered to be better house slaves, others better field slaves. The Igbo people, for instance, were considered prone to suicidal ideation, which posed problems for the incipient slaver. In the early days of “race” as we know it, there really was no sense of the generic catch-all blackness to which Dolezal lays claim.

As generations passed, ideas of “black” and “white” were further complicated by the complex striations of racial coding that were implemented both during and after slavery, across the Americas, as a consequence of voluntary and involuntary coupling between Europeans and Africans.

This led to a dizzying taxonomy of racial mixes, including (but not confined to) so-called mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, tercerons, quintroons and beyond, depending on how many generations back a person’s African ancestry was traced. A person might be able to pass as white if their direct African ancestry was three or four generations removed – although if their relative “blackness” was discovered, it was a source not only of shame but was a precondition of legal slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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Free People of Color in Slaveholding North Carolina: The Andersons of Granville County

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-04-03 02:27Z by Steven

Free People of Color in Slaveholding North Carolina: The Andersons of Granville County

Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners
2017-04-01

Vikki Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History
Texas State University, San Marcos


Map courtesy of Kianga Lucas.

Late last year, I was contacted by Raymont Hawkins-Jones, a descendant of a family I’d written about many years earlier: the Andersons of Granville County, North Carolina. The Andersons were one of the many fascinating free families of color that I’ve studied over the years, and I enjoyed learning more about their history from Raymont. Back in pre-internet 1992, pretty much everything I knew about my subjects was what I’d learned from records held at the North Carolina State Archives. Today, social media has enabled me to meet many of their descendants and to access additional records posted on the internet. The same digital revolution that stimulated me to create this blog also allows me to revisit my early topics of research and bring their stories up to date! (1)

The Andersons and the families with whom they intermarried belonged to a community of people defined by society as non-white, but who rarely appeared as slaves in North Carolina’s state and court records. As I’ve noted in earlier Renegade South essays about the mixed heritage communities of Gloucester County, Virginia, and the “Winton Triangle” of North Carolina, the lives of free people of color reveal far more complicated histories of racial identity and race relations than the broad images of “white freedom” and “black slavery” would suggest.

In fact, families such as the Andersons are central to understanding historical events that preceded and followed the institution of slavery, including colonization, the American Revolution, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the postwar rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and the New South era of white supremacy.

The very existence of free people of color, especially those in the South, threatened the growing institution of slavery. Southern whites especially feared their influence on slaves as the United States moved toward a Civil War generated by national conflicts over slavery. Determined to prevent free people of color from exercising full rights of citizenship and mobility, lawmakers increasingly policed their behavior through oppressive laws and customs…

Read the entire article here.

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Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-03-19 01:34Z by Steven

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

black youth project
2017-02-23

Elizabeth Adetiba

I am not the same person now as I was when I was 14—and thank God for that. I was remarkably naive and unbearably insecure, and stuck in an environment that did nothing but exacerbate those complex internal struggles that are so typical of adolescence.

So imagine my outrage upon being continuously confronted with articles that insist on describing the affairs between Thomas Jefferson and a fourteen year-old enslaved Sally Hemings (simultaneously his slave and wife’s half-sister) as a ‘relationship.’ I cannot fathom, at fourteen, being denied the liberty to reject the sexual advances of a 44 year-old man (and not just any man, but a man who would become the President of the United States) only to have historians and writers skip over the imbalanced power dynamics and categorize it as a ‘relationship.’…

Read the entire article here.

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Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America by Sharony Green (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-03-08 01:41Z by Steven

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America by Sharony Green (review)

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 115, Number 2, Spring 2017
pages 289-291

Elizabeth C. Neidenbach
Department of History & American Studies
University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America. By Sharony Green. (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2015. Pp. xiii, 199. $36.00 cloth; $24.95 paper)

Remember Me to Miss Louisa opens with an 1838 letter from Avenia White, a woman of African descent, to Rice Ballard, a successful slave-trader-turned-planter. Ballard had recently freed White, Susan Johnson, and both of the women’s children and settled them in Cincinnati. In the letter, White requested financial aid from her former master and the father of her children. She also sent him her love. How, author Sharony Green asks, do we understand this emotional tie between White and Ballard? How do we reconcile Ballard’s actions toward White and Johnson with the fact that he owned, bought, and sold hundreds of enslaved people? More broadly, how do we comprehend sexual relationships between white male slave owners and enslaved African American women and girls? In seeking to answer these questions, Green exposes the ways in which white men served as “hidden actors in the lives of many freed women and children” in the antebellum period (p. 14).

Green uses the story of Ballard, White, and Johnson as one of three case studies to argue that even as sectional tensions over slavery intensified, some white masters made “different kinds of investments in human capital” (p. 6). Such investments were often financial—emancipation, money for resettlement in a free state, or school tuition—but they were also emotional. Without denying the sexual exploitation of enslaved women at the hands of their white masters, Green indicates how “intimacy” with white men provided some enslaved black women with opportunities for freedom and financial support for themselves and their children. Recognition of such gendered paths to freedom is not new, but Green also demonstrates how “emotional and physical closeness” with white men instilled confidence and assertiveness in enslaved women, which helped them navigate new lives as free people, particularly in urban places like Cincinnati (p. 8).

Green contributes to scholarship on gender and slavery through close readings and a creative use of new sources. Her work addresses questions on the prevalence and nature of sexual relations between white masters and enslaved black women that have long interested scholars. Yet, finding evidence to adequately answer these inquiries has proved challenging. Previous studies have relied heavily on public documents, especially court records, and thus often focus on interracial couples in relation to the law. Green, however, looks to personal papers to reveal the voices of the various actors affected by white men’s investment in black women and children.

In addition to the letters between White and Ballard, Green analyzes the memoir of Louisa Picquet, a mixed-race woman purchased at age fourteen by John Williams to be his sexual partner. Upon Williams’s death, Picquet and her children gained their freedom and relocated to Cincinnati. Picquet’s memoir illuminates intimate relations with white masters from the point of view of enslaved women “who maneuvered strategically to survive and maximize the possibility of their circumstances” (p. 64). Green also investigates the experiences of mixed-race children through a study of the ten children of wealthy Alabama planter Samuel Townsend. Using the Townsend siblings’ correspondence with one another and white patrons who assisted them in gaining their inheritance, Green extends her story beyond the Civil War. In doing so, she demonstrates both the privileges provided by Samuel Townsend’s investment in his children and the limits of that privilege in a nation that continued to oppress people of African descent.

Green’s careful analysis of firsthand accounts provides a multilayered perspective on intimate relations between white male slaveholders and enslaved black women and girls. Her attention to Cincinnati shifts the focus on this phenomenon from the South to the Midwest. At the same time, Green often looks to New Orleans for comparison due to the city’s large free people of color population and notoriety for interracial relationships. It is, therefore, surprising that she does not draw on new scholarship by Emily Clark, Kenneth Aslakson, and Emily Landau that has gone far in detangling the…

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Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-03-08 00:48Z by Steven

Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America

Northern Illinois University Press
June 2015
200 pages
21 illus.
6×9
Paper ISBN: 978-0-87580-723-2

Sharony Green, Assistant Professor of American History
University of Alabama

Barbara “Penny” Kanner Prize, Western Association of Women Historians, 2016

It is generally recognized that antebellum interracial relationships were “notorious” at the neighborhood level. But we have yet to fully uncover the complexities of such relationships, especially from freedwomen’s and children’s points of view. While it is known that Cincinnati had the largest per capita population of mixed race people outside the South during the antebellum period, historians have yet to explore how geography played a central role in this outcome. The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers made it possible for Southern white men to ferry women and children of color for whom they had some measure of concern to free soil with relative ease.

Some of the women in question appear to have been “fancy girls,” enslaved women sold for use as prostitutes or “mistresses.” Green focuses on women who appear to have been the latter, recognizing the problems with the term “mistress,” given its shifting meaning even during the antebellum period. Remember Me to Miss Louisa moves the life of the fancy girl from New Orleans, where it is typically situated, to the Midwest. The manumission of these women and their children occurred as America’s frontiers pushed westward, and urban life followed in their wake. Indeed, Green’s research examines the tensions between the urban Midwest and the rising Cotton Kingdom. It does so by relying on surviving letters, among them those from an ex-slave mistress who sent her “love” to her former master. This relationship forms the crux of the first of three case studies. The other two concern a New Orleans young woman who was the mistress of an aging white man, and ten Alabama children who received from a white planter a $200,000 inheritance (worth roughly $5.1 million in today’s currency). In each case, those freed people faced the challenges characteristic of black life in a largely hostile America.

While the frequency with which Southern white men freed enslaved women and their children is now generally known, less is known about these men’s financial and emotional investments in them. Before the Civil War, a white Southern man’s pending marriage, aging body, or looming death often compelled him to free an African American woman and their children. And as difficult as it may be for the modern mind to comprehend, some kind of connection sometimes existed between these individuals. This study argues that such men were hidden actors in freedwomen’s and children’s attempts to survive the rigors and challenges of life as African Americans in the years surrounding the Civil War. Green examines many facets of this phenomenon in the hope of revealing new insights about the era of slavery.

Historians, students, and general readers of US history, African American studies, black urban history, and antebellum history will find much of interest in this fascinating study.

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