Obama Returns to His Biography

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Biography, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2016-07-29 01:09Z by Steven

Obama Returns to His Biography

The Atlantic
2016-07-27

Yoni Appelbaum, Senior Editor/Washington Bureau Chief


Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters

Twelve years after introducing himself to the American public as the son of an immigrant, the president recast himself as a bearer of Scotch-Irish values.

Twelve years ago, Barack Obama introduced himself to America as just a skinny kid with a funny name. He made his story into the American story—a tale of immigrant hopes, of opportunities, of success that could only come true in the United States. That speech launched him to the presidency.

In Philadelphia on Wednesday night, as he tried to anoint his successor and secure his legacy, he returned to his biography to close his appeal. But this time, he pulled out a different strand of the story. He spoke not just of his grandparents in Kansas, whose stories he has told many times before, but of their kin and communities, of their vision and values. They were, he said:

Scotch-Irish mostly, farmers, teachers, ranch hands, pharmacists, oil-rig workers. Hardy, small-town folk. Some were Democrats, but a lot of them, maybe even most of them, were Republicans—Party of Lincoln. My grandparents explained that the folks in these parts, they didn’t like show-offs. They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, what they valued were traits like honesty and hard work. Kindness; courtesy; humility; responsibility; helping each other out. That’s what they believed in. True things. Things that last. The things we try to teach our kids.

It’s a different kind of American story. Not the son of a Kenyan goatherd rising directly to the highest office in the land, but working families toiling for generation after generation with quiet pride, relying on each other…

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Dido Belle: Britain’s first black aristocrat

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2016-07-23 23:58Z by Steven

Dido Belle: Britain’s first black aristocrat

The Telegraph
2016-07-06

Nisha Lilia Diu

Amma Asante’s award-winning film Belle arrives on Netflix today. In this feature, first published in June 2014, Nisha Lilia Diu reveals the true story that inspired it

The amazing thing about Dido Elizabeth Belle is not that she was mixed-race. Who knows how many white men’s children were born to black slave women in the 18th century? It’s not even that her father was a wealthy English aristocrat – there were plenty of titled captains tearing around the Caribbean at that time, capturing French and Dutch schooners during the Seven Years’ War and making off with their sugar, coffee and other (often human) cargo. The extraordinary thing about Dido Belle is that her father, a 24-year-old Navy officer called John Lindsay, took her home to England and asked his extended family to raise her. And they did. They did it in some style, too.

Belle grew up in Kenwood House in north London. It was the palatial weekend retreat of Lindsay’s uncle, the first Earl of Mansfield, set in landscaped gardens with a view of St Paul’s Cathedral six miles away. Mansfield was Lord Chief Justice, and he made a number of landmark rulings on slavery that were among Britain’s first steps towards abolition. Did Belle’s presence in his home have anything to do with it? Plenty of his contemporaries thought so, and they didn’t admire him for it.

“Dido was very, very privileged,” says William Murray, a descendant of the earl and the son of the heir apparent. “She was in the top 5 per cent, perhaps the top 1 per cent, in terms of how she lived, her allowance, her dress, her education.” But Belle’s position was far from clear-cut…

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I Named My Mixed-Race Daughter for a Slave-Trading Town

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-07-23 17:55Z by Steven

I Named My Mixed-Race Daughter for a Slave-Trading Town

The New York Times
2016-07-16

Susan Fales-Hill


An oil painting of Susan Fales-Hill’s great-great-great-grandfather hangs in her apartment in Manhattan. He turned out to be not as upstanding as she once thought. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

FOR nearly 20 years, my great-great-great-grandfather’s portrait has watched over me from my red dining room wall. With his high collar, ruffled cravat and black waistcoat, Samuel Fales, 1775-1848, is the very image of the upstanding 19th-century New England gentleman. An eminent merchant and alderman of Boston, he was the founder of the family’s shipping business. I’ve known his face and taken comfort in his smile since I was a child attending Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s in the 1960s.

Samuel Fales seemed utterly unperturbed by the changes the 20th century had wrought, among them his great-great-grandson’s unorthodox choice of bride: my mother, a black Haitian-American actress, and my brother and me, his mixed-race descendants. His portrait has stood as an emblem of our family’s pride in its history. “You have relatives on both sides of your family who fought in the American Revolution,” my mother would frequently remind me.

To honor my forebears, my husband and I named our only child Bristol, after the town in Rhode Island where some of the Faleses first settled in the 17th century. A year ago, I learned through new historical research that Bristol had in fact served as a main hub of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This gave me great pause. Had I done my daughter a dreadful disservice? Upon reflection, I decided that naming a multicultural African-American after a slave port was in fact redemptive, the ultimate act of reclamation.

It never occurred to me that my family might have participated in the port’s inhumane commerce…

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Biography: ‘The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire,’ by Karl Jacoby

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Texas, United States on 2016-07-22 18:41Z by Steven

Biography: ‘The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire,’ by Karl Jacoby

The Dallas Morning News
2016-06-24

Karen M. Thomas, Professor of Journalism
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

From all accounts, Guillermo Enrique Eliseo commanded attention. The elegantly dressed Mexican-born Wall Street baron in Gilded Age Manhattan was known for his gold watch, fine taste and ability to strike business deals on both sides of the border. He also had a huge secret.

Eliseo began life not on a Mexican hacienda but across the border on a Texas plantation where he was born into slavery as William Henry Ellis. How he transformed himself into Eliseo is the topic of The Strange Career of William Ellis.

Karl Jacoby is a stellar researcher, and the topic is fascinating. He ferrets out Ellis’ tale of reinvention from historical documents, news accounts and Ellis’ personal material, including letters to his family. Where records are scarce, such as for the years Ellis was a slave on a Victoria plantation, Jacoby instead turns to what is known about American slavery itself. He describes Texas’ role in trying to keep cotton as king and what life was like in Victoria, a town close to the U.S. and Mexican borders, in the 1800s. By doing so, Jacoby is able to extrapolate Ellis’ experience, motivation and preparation for ultimately redefining his personal racial boundaries

Read the entire review here.

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Across the Border

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Texas, United States on 2016-07-22 14:40Z by Steven

Across the Border

The Nation
2016-07-21

Michael A. Elliott, Professor of English
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia


William Henry Ellis, (Photo courtesy of Fanny Johnson-Griffin)

A new biography of William Henry Ellis reminds us how much we still don’t know about the elusive history of racial subterfuge in America.

When, in 1912, James Weldon Johnson published his sly and searching novel of racial passing, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, he did so anonymously, leaving readers to assume it was a factual account of a light-skinned African American crossing the color line to travel in the world of whiteness. In the aftermath of its publication, Johnson took pleasure in listening to others puzzle over its authorship. He even had “the rarer experience,” as he later described it, of being introduced to someone else claiming to have written the book. The story, it seems, was too good not to be true.

In the long era of Jim Crow, fact could be as strange, if not stranger, than fiction. At precisely the same moment that Johnson was enjoying his literary ruse, a fellow New Yorker calling himself Guillermo Enrique Eliseo was frantically trying to keep his financial interests in Mexico afloat as that country convulsed under wave after wave of political revolt. With each new regime, the businessman sought to curry favor and press for new investment opportunities, but the changes were so rapid that he struggled to find the proper currency in which to pay his taxes. Many of those who knew Eliseo presumed him to be a Mexican from near the US border (though others thought he was Cuban, or even Hawaiian), a well-traveled gentleman active in Latin America’s quest for modernization.

Had Johnson known Eliseo, he might have nodded in recognition. Eliseo had been born as an African-American slave on a South Texas cotton plantation in 1864, just as the entire social order of the region was being transformed by the conclusion of the Civil War. Over the course of a lifetime, Eliseo—or, as he was more commonly known, William Henry Ellis—built both elaborate fictions and an impressive network of business interests that spanned North America and beyond. His biography is the subject of a new book by historian Karl Jacoby, with a title that gives away its story: The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire. Ellis’s life and Jacoby’s reconstruction of it remind us how much we still don’t know about the elusive history of racial subterfuge in America…

Read the entire article here.

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A Tale of Racial Passing and the U.S.-Mexico Border

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Passing, Texas, United States on 2016-07-20 21:18Z by Steven

A Tale of Racial Passing and the U.S.-Mexico Border

The New Yorker
2016-07-20

Jonathan Blitzer


The African-American businessman William Ellis, pictured here around the year 1900, frequently passed as Mexican.
COURTESY FANNY JOHNSON-GRIFFIN

Some people knew him as William Ellis, and others as Guillermo Eliseo. He could be Mexican, Cuban, or even Hawaiian, depending on whom you asked. Everyone seemed to agree that he was spectacularly wealthy and successful. In the dime-store Who’s Who books that were popular at the turn of the twentieth century, his name, in one form or another, appeared regularly. He was a “Banker, Broker, and Miner,” who came to New York from the “Mexican frontier,” an exemplar of the self-made man.

It was one of his life’s many ironies that the pedigreed gatekeepers of American high commerce celebrated his origin story without knowing a thing about his actual origins. William Ellis was born a slave, in Texas, in the eighteen-sixties. Like at least some of his siblings, he was light-skinned, but with a key difference: on the city census that recorded blackness with a “c” (for “colored”), Ellis was somehow spared the label. In his early twenties, he got into the cotton trade after a brief apprenticeship with a white local businessman, shuttling back and forth to the cities in northern Mexico. He started telling people that he was Mexican, and that he had anglicized his name for their convenience, as Karl Jacoby recounts in his fascinating new book, “The Strange Career of William Ellis.” Having grown up just south of San Antonio, along the border, Ellis came to speak fluent Spanish. He quickly grasped the possibilities of bilingualism in the race-riven landscape of the Reconstruction-era South…

Read the entire article here.

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Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey

Posted in Biography, Books, Family/Parenting, History, Louisiana, Monographs, Religion, United States on 2016-07-13 00:53Z by Steven

Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey

University Press of Mississippi
January 2017
208 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1496810083

Melissa Daggett

Modern American Spiritualism blossomed in the 1850s and continued as a viable faith into the 1870s. Because of its diversity and openness to new cultures and religions, New Orleans provided fertile ground to nurture Spiritualism, and many séance circles flourished in the Creole Faubourgs of Tremé and Marigny as well as the American sector of the city. Melissa Daggett focuses on Le Cercle Harmonique, the francophone séance circle of Henry Louis Rey (1831–1894), a Creole of color who was a key civil rights activist, author, and Civil War and Reconstruction leader. His life has so far remained largely in the shadows of New Orleans history, partly due to a language barrier.

Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans focuses on the turbulent years between the late antebellum period and the end of Reconstruction. Translating and interpreting numerous primary sources and one of the only surviving registers of séance proceedings, Daggett has opened a window into a fascinating life as well as a period of tumult and change. She provides unparalleled insights into the history of the Creoles of color and renders a better understanding of New Orleans’s complex history. The author weaves an intriguing tale of the supernatural, of chaotic post-bellum politics, of transatlantic linkages, and of the personal triumphs and tragedies of Rey as a notable citizen and medium. Wonderful illustrations, reproductions of the original spiritual communications, and photographs, many of which have never before appeared in published form, accompany this study of Rey and his world.

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A Citizen of Fine Spirit

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2016-07-12 23:55Z by Steven

A Citizen of Fine Spirit

William Mitchell Magazine
Volume 18, Issue 2, Fall 2000
pages 2-6

Douglas R. Heidenreich, Emeritus Professor of Law
Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Saint Paul, Minnesota


Minnesota Historical Society

William T. Francis was (1869-1929), by most measures, the most successful of the early African American alumni of William Mitchell College of Law’s predecessor law schools. Francis was a skilled lawyer, an adroit politician, a popular orator, a vigorous crusader for human and civil rights, and a respected U.S. diplomat.

Read the entire article here.

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Prize-winning Hong Kong-born poet Sarah Howe makes verse of city’s Basic Law

Posted in Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Media Archive on 2016-07-08 01:55Z by Steven

Prize-winning Hong Kong-born poet Sarah Howe makes verse of city’s Basic Law

South China Morning Post
2016-07-07

Clare Tyrrell-Morin

Having played down her Chinese side while growing up and studying in the UK, Howe, now at Harvard, has turned to it again as she makes an ‘erasure poem’ out of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution

We meet in a small office on the second floor of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, overlooking a tranquil garden unseen from Harvard University’s main thoroughfares. It’s freezing outside, but the view is spectacular: the bare branches of an ancient tree, contemplated by scholars for generations, silhouetted against a wintry sky. It’s a good view for a poet.

The office belongs to a Radcliffe Fellow, Sarah Howe, who is spending the year here with 50 other artists and scholars. You may not know her name yet, but Howe could become one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated writers.

In December, the 32-year-old won the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award for authors under the age of 35. The previous month, scientist Stephen Hawking read out a poem, titled “Relativity”, that she had written for him for Britain’s National Poetry Day. And, in January, Howe was presented with the £20,000 (HK$204,000) T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry at a lavish ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London.

Her winning collection was “Loop of Jade”, which weaves around her identity as a British-Chinese poet born in Hong Kong. The dualistic, hybrid work dances between the search for her mother’s Chinese roots and subjects as varied as censorship, 14th-century Flemish paintings, evenings in Arizona and the rain in London. The book captures a quest for identity, dislocation and the crossing of waters – themes familiar to many a Hongkonger – yet, equally, it is an exploration of the Western literary canon and the impact Chinese poetry has had on it…

Read the entire article here.

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Chi-chi Nwanoku: A classical legacy and an African heritage

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2016-07-03 21:29Z by Steven

Chi-chi Nwanoku: A classical legacy and an African heritage

Music Africa Magazine
2016-06-16

Ed Keazor

A short biography of Chi-chi Nwanoku MBE, world-renowned classical baroque bassist and Professor of Music, covering her life, influences and deep connections to her African roots.

Dr Michael Nwanoku adjusted himself in his seat as the next announcement was about to be made. He and his wife Margaret had looked forward to this day for several weeks and he had made the point of wearing his full Igbo Chief’s regalia, complete with the “Ozo” Cap and Coral beads. After all it was not every day one visited Buckingham Palace, neither was it every day that one witnessed one’s daughter receiving the award of a national honour from Queen Elizabeth II herself. His daughter, through sheer talent and hard work, had conquered years of adversity and some might say, prejudice to emerge as one of Britain’s finest Classical Musicians and academics. Almost in the same way, he and his Irish wife had conquered racism and ignorance in the course of their long and happy marriage. Dr and Mrs Nwanoku had too many good reasons to be proud of their eldest daughter, the talented Chi-chi Nwanoku, now Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) as she received her award from the Queen.

Chinyere (Chi-chi) Adah Nwanoku, was born in Fulham, London, in 1956 to Michael Nwanoku and the former Margaret Ivey. Her parents had met at a chance encounter at a dance in London, in 1955 and were inseparable from then on and they got married shortly afterwards. The young couple faced prejudice on account of their Interracial relationship at the time, recalling a period in Britain, where signs on Houses, advertising lodging vacancies, would boldly state, “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish”. The couple humorously recalled thanking God they didn’t have a dog (since they were both black and Irish)…

Read the entire article here.

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