How America Bought and Sold Racism, and Why It Still Matters

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2016-10-25 20:06Z by Steven

How America Bought and Sold Racism, and Why It Still Matters

Collectors Weekly

Lisa Hix, Associated Editor

Today, very few white Americans openly celebrate the horrors of black enslavement—most refuse to recognize the brutal nature of the institution or actively seek to distance themselves from it. “The modern American sees slavery as a regrettable period when blacks worked without wages,” writes Dr. David Pilgrim, the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and a sociology professor at Ferris State University and the author of Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice, who has spent his life studying the artifacts that have perpetuated racist stereotypes.

The urge to forget this stain on our nation’s history is everywhere. In Texas, McGraw-Hill recently distributed a high-school geography textbook that refers to American slaves as immigrant workers. At Southern plantation museums that romanticize the idea of genteel antebellum culture, the bleak and violent reality of enslaved plantation life is whitewashed and glossed over. Discussions about how slavery led to modern-day racism are often met with white defensiveness. How many times have black people heard this line? “Slavery happened a long time ago. You need to get over it.”

The truth is when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, the economic subjugation of African Americans, and the terrorism used to maintain it, did not come to a grinding halt. The Jim Crow racial caste system that emerged 12 years after the Civil War ended in 1865 was just as violent and oppressive as slavery—and it lasted nearly a century. Up through Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, black people across the country, in Northern states as well as Southern ones, were routinely humiliated, menaced, tortured and beaten to death, and blocked from participating in business and public life. Thanks to smartphone and social-media technology, we’re seeing how such violence continues in 2015, 50 years after the height of the Civil Rights Movement

Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno played the “tragic mulatto” in the 1960 film “This Rebel Breed.”(From Understanding Jim Crow)

…Another caricature was inflicted upon mixed-race women: the “tragic mulatto,” which is based on the “one-drop rule” that says any African American blood in your lineage makes you a black person. In this story, the mixed-race woman grows up living as a privileged white person. When her white father dies, her black heritage is revealed, and she’s enslaved and subjected to violence by white men. Rejected by both racial groups, she’s often suicidal and alcoholic, and she in particular loathes her black side.

Reality, of course, tells a different story. In Understanding Jim Crow, Pilgrim says it’s true that in the days of slavery, mixed-race slaves (usually the illegitimate sons and daughters of their owners), sometimes sold for higher prices, and masters saw these women as particularly sexually desirable, claiming their beauty drove them to rape. Enslaved mixed-race women were also frequently sold into prostitution, and freeborn mixed-race women sometimes became the mistresses of white men under the “plaçage system.” Some people with “Negro blood” worked to “pass” as whites, which helped them get better education, pay, and homes. But throughout history, mixed-race people—who had the slur “mongrels” hurled at them by whites—have been well accepted in the black community: Take for example, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Mary Church Terrell, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Langston Hughes, and Billie Holiday

Read the entire article here.

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One man’s quest to preserve the haunting black history of Pocahontas Island

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2016-10-14 19:12Z by Steven

One man’s quest to preserve the haunting black history of Pocahontas Island

The Washington Post

Gregory S. Schneider

POCAHONTAS ISLAND, Va. — He roams from house to house along the quiet streets of this little neighborhood, giving voice to its history and spirits. The collection of modest homes, tucked between an empty lumber factory and an abandoned rail yard, doesn’t look like a rare and haunted place.

But in Richard Stewart’s eyes, Pocahontas Island is alive with an unexpectedly dramatic past. Using a black magic marker, Stewart scrawls the words of 12 generations of ancestors on old porch rails, doorways and window frames.

“Ain’t no looking back master I’m at the promised land.”…

…Outside, Stewart has bought the small house next door, which he said was built in the early 1800s by a mixed-race man whose white mother sold him into slavery as a child because she couldn’t be seen with him. Stewart painted it pink and yellow and covered it with words and pictures related to Nat Turner.

At least one man who helped Turner’s bloody slave rebellion in 1831 in nearby Southampton County hid, for a time, in the woods on Pocahontas Island, Stewart said…

…Stewart talks about slavery in an offhand way that can seem jarring. He credits his stature and strong build to what many regard as the myth of selective breeding. In colorful terms, he tells how mixed-race children were sent to live on the island: “We had a lot of out-of-wedlock mulattos over here. You might have seen a child walking along over here white as snow, and [the] mama walking along dark as a bag of coal.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Britain’s Black Past

Posted in Audio, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United Kingdom on 2016-10-08 02:11Z by Steven

Britain’s Black Past

BBC Radio 4

The Invisible Presence

Professor Gretchen Gerzina explores a largely unknown past – the lives of black people who settled in Britain in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

She reveals a startling paradox – although Britain was at the heart of a thriving slave trade, it was still possible for many black people to live here in freedom and prosperity. A few even made it to the very top of fashionable society.

But there were others who were brought over by slave-owners from the West Indies and who were never free, despite living for the rest of their lives in Glasgow or Bristol or London. Some took the law into their own hands, and managed to free themselves, others went further and advocated violent revolution. Free or unfree, they all saw Britain as a place of opportunity that could become a home.

Over two weeks, Professor Gerzina travels across Britain and talks to historians, unearthing new evidence about Britain’s black past. From a country estate in Chepstow, via the docks of Liverpool, to grand houses in London and Bristol, she evokes the daily texture of black people’s lives.

In the first programme in the series, Professor Gerzina travels to Sunderland Point to discover a remote grave in the corner of a windswept field – a memorial to a young black cabin boy, abandoned on the coast by his slave-owning master. This poignant story sparks questions about how we remember black figures from the past.

Listen to the episode (00:13:15) here.

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The “Birther” Movement: Whites Defining Black

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2016-10-08 01:36Z by Steven

The “Birther” Movement: Whites Defining Black

Racism Review

Dr. Terence Fitzgerald, Clinical Associate Professor
University of Southern California

Hallelujah I say, Hallelujah! Did you hear the news? Did ya? After sending a team of investigators to Hawaii, drawing the attention of the national and international media, and leading an almost six year charge of infesting the mind of those already under the influence of the white racial frame into a catnip type psychological and emotional frenzy; the “benevolent one,” Donald J. Trump, has publically and emphatically acknowledged that our President of the United States of America is—get this, “an American!” Yes it is true. Republican presidential nominee and town jester, Trump on Friday, September 16, 2016 recognized in a public forum for the first time in eight years that President Obama was indeed born in the U.S. After not only leading, but becoming synonymous with what many have described as the “birther movement,” Trump has conceded and given up on furthering the conspiracy theory that our President is not an American citizen.

…One cannot forget the history behind the 1662 Virginia law that in particular focused on the behavior directed toward mixed-race people. The notion of the ‘one drop rule’ was consequently constructed. This legal means for identifying who was Black was judicially upheld as recent as 1985 “when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as ‘white’ on her passport.” …

Read the entire article here.

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Slavery’s legacies

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Slavery, Social Science on 2016-10-04 00:30Z by Steven

Slavery’s legacies

The Economist


American thinking about race is starting to influence Brazil, the country whose population was shaped more than any other’s by the Atlantic slave trade

ALEXANDRA LORAS has lived in eight countries and visited 50-odd more. In most, any racism she might have experienced because of her black skin was deflected by her status as a diplomat’s wife. Not in Brazil, where her white husband acted as French consul in São Paulo for four years. At consular events, Ms Loras would be handed coats by guests who mistook her for a maid. She was often taken for a nanny to her fair-haired son. “Brazil is the most racist country I know,” she says.

Many Brazilians would bristle at this characterisation—and not just whites. Plenty of preto (black) and pardo (mixed-race) Brazilians, who together make up just over half of the country’s 208m people, proudly contrast its cordial race relations with America’s interracial strife. They see Brazil as a “racial democracy”, following the ideas of Gilberto Freyre, a Brazilian sociologist who argued in the 1930s that race did not divide Brazil as it did other post-slavery societies. Yet the gulf between white Brazilians and their black and mixed-race compatriots is huge…

…Of the 12.5m Africans trafficked across the Atlantic between 1501 and 1866, only 300,000-400,000 disembarked in what is now the United States. They were quickly outnumbered by European settlers. Most whites arrived in families, so interracial relationships were rare. Though white masters fathered many slave children, miscegenation was frowned upon, and later criminalised in most American states.

As black Americans entered the labour market after emancipation, they threatened white incomes, says Avidit Acharya of Stanford University. “One drop” of black blood came to be seen as polluting; laws were passed defining mixed-race children as black and cutting them out of inheritance (though the palest sometimes “passed” as white). Racial resentment, as measured by negative feelings towards blacks, is still greater in areas where slavery was more common. After abolition, violence and racist legislation, such as segregation laws and literacy tests for voters, kept black Americans down.

But these also fostered solidarity among blacks, and mobilisation during the civil-rights era. The black middle class is now quite large. Ms Loras would not seem anomalous in any American city, as she did in São Paulo…

…Both black and white Brazilians have long considered “whiteness” something that can be striven towards. In 1912 João Baptista de Lacerda, a medic and advocate of “whitening” Brazil by encouraging European immigration, predicted that by 2012 the country would be 80% white, 3% mixed and 17% Amerindian; there would be no blacks. As Luciana Alves, who has researched race at the University of São Paulo, explains, an individual could “whiten his soul” by working hard or getting rich. Tomás Santa Rosa, a successful mid-20th-century painter, consoled a dark-skinned peer griping about discrimination, saying that he too “used to be black”.

Though only a few black and mixed-race Brazilians ever succeeded in “becoming white”, their existence, and the non-binary conception of race, allowed politicians to hold up Brazil as an exemplar of post-colonial harmony. It also made it harder to rally black Brazilians round a hyphenated identity of the sort that unites African-Americans. Brazil’s Unified Black Movement, founded in 1978 and inspired by militant American outfits such as the Black Panthers, failed to gain traction. Racism was left not only unchallenged but largely unarticulated.

Now Brazil’s racial boundaries are shifting—and in the opposite direction to that predicted by Baptista de Lacerda. After falling from 20% to 5% between 1872 and 1990, the share of self-described pretos edged up in the past quarter-century, to 8%. The share of pardos jumped from 39% in 2000 to 43% in 2010. These increases are bigger than can be explained by births, deaths and immigration, suggesting that some Brazilians who used to see themselves as white or pardo are shifting to pardo or preto. This “chromatographic convergence”, as Marcelo Paixão of the University of Texas, in Austin, dubs it, owes a lot to policy choices…

Read the entire article here.

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This Historian Wants You To Know The Real Story Of Southern Food

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Audio, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2016-10-02 20:01Z by Steven

This Historian Wants You To Know The Real Story Of Southern Food

The Salt: What’s On Your Plate
Weekend Edition Saturday
National Public Radio

Erika Beras

Michael Twitty wants credit given to the enslaved African-Americans who were part of Southern cuisine’s creation. Here he is in period costume at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate.
Erika Beras for NPR

Michael Twitty wants you to know where Southern food really comes from. And he wants the enslaved African-Americans who were part of its creation to get credit. That’s why Twitty goes to places like Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s grand estate in Charlottesville, Va. — to cook meals that slaves would have eaten and put their stories back into American history.

On a recent September morning, Twitty is standing behind a wooden table at Monticello’s Mulberry Row, which was once a sort of main street just below the plantation. It’s where hundreds of Jefferson’s slaves once lived and worked. Dozens of people watch as Twitty prepares to grill a rabbit over an open fire.

“Look – it’s better than chicken,” he tells the audience…

…Twitty is black, Jewish and gay. He writes about all those things on his blog Afroculinaria and increasingly, in mainstream media publications. His mission is to explain where American food traditions come from, and to shed light on African-Americans’ contributions to those traditions – which most historical accounts have long ignored. He says little is documented about what slaves ate. It’s just a line here and a line there.

“There was no sense of their personal stories, no sense of their familial ties, no sense of their personal likes or dislikes,” he says. “It was just straight up a very bland, neutral version of history.”…

Read the entire story here. Download the story here.

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Historic recognition: Washington’s family tree is biracial

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2016-09-18 18:36Z by Steven

Historic recognition: Washington’s family tree is biracial

U.S. News & World Report

Matthew Barakat, Northern Virginia Correspondent
The Associated Press

ZSun-nee Miller-Matema poses for a portrait at Mount Vernon, the plantation home of former U.S. President George Washington, in Alexandria, Va., on Monday, July 18, 2016. Miller-Matema is a descendent of Caroline Branham, one of George Washington’s slaves who served as former first lady Martha Washington’s personal maid. The National Park Service and the nonprofit that runs the historic Mount Vernon estate are acknowledging an aspect of U.S. history that doesn’t show up in most textbooks: The family tree of America’s first family has been biracial from its earliest branches. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson) The Associated Press

The National Park Service and Mount Vernon are acknowledging history not included in most textbooks: America’s first family tree has been biracial from its early branches

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — George Washington’s adopted son was a bit of a ne’er-do-well by most accounts, including those of Washington himself, who wrote about his frustrations with the boy they called “Wash.”

“From his infancy, I have discovered an almost unconquerable disposition to indolence in everything that did not tend to his amusements,” the founding father wrote.

At the time, George Washington Parke Custis was 16 and attending Princeton, one of several schools he bounced in and out of. Before long, he was back home at Mount Vernon, where he would be accused of fathering children with slaves.

Two centuries later, the National Park Service and the nonprofit that runs Washington’s Mount Vernon estate are concluding that the rumors were true: In separate exhibits, they show that the first family’s family tree has been biracial from its earliest branches.

“There is no more pushing this history to the side,” said Matthew Penrod, a National Park Service ranger and programs manager at Arlington House, where the lives of the Washingtons, their slaves and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee all converged…

Matthew Barakat/Associated Press
Craig Syphax and Donna Kunkel portrayed their ancestors at a June reenactment of the 1821 wedding of slaves Charles Syphax and Maria Carter at Arlington House.

Read the entire article here.

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The Strange and Ironic Fates of Jefferson’s Daughters

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2016-09-18 18:14Z by Steven

The Strange and Ironic Fates of Jefferson’s Daughters

The Daily Beast

Sally Cabot Gunning

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast

Martha Jefferson was Virginia elite. Her half-sister Harriet, though seven-eighths white, was deemed a slave at birth. No one could have predicted their fates.

Martha Jefferson was born in 1772, just as Monticello was rising above her, promising a life surrounded by beauty, luxury, and pampering. For the first ten years of her existence this promise held, but in 1782 Martha’s mother died, leaving a father incapacitated by grief, but still a father in pursuit of his daughter’s future happiness. He set out a stringent regimen of study which included reading, writing, literature, languages, music, art, and dance.

Two years later, Martha and her father traveled to France, joined later by Martha’s younger sister and her enslaved maid, Sally Hemings. In France Martha boarded at a convent school and received a formal education few other American women of the day would acquire in their lifetimes. At her father’s Paris residence, she received another kind of education, conversing with world leaders and learning, among other things, that there are countries where slavery was illegal. “I wish with all my soul that the poor Negroes were all freed,” she wrote her father from school. She listened eagerly as her father and his secretary, William Short, talked of plans to set up their slaves as free tenant farmers when they returned to Virginia. But the 17-year-old Martha listened eagerly to William Short for another reason—she had fallen in love and her father had taken note; he abruptly took Martha, her sister, and Sally Hemings—who was pregnant with Thomas Jefferson’s child—back to Virginia.

There the realities of the Virginia way of life and her father’s new preoccupations with Monticello, politics, and dare she imagine it—Sally—convinced Martha it was time to claim a life for herself.  After three short months at home, with her father’s whole-hearted blessing, Martha married her distant cousin, Thomas Randolph, a man determined to make his way in Virginia “without dependency” on the institution of slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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American Segregation Started Long Before the Civil War

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2016-09-14 14:08Z by Steven

American Segregation Started Long Before the Civil War

What It Means to Be American: A National Conversation Hosted by The Smithsonian’s and Zócalo Public Square

Nicholas Guyatt, University Lecturer in American History
Cambridge University

How the Founders’ Revolutionary Ideology Laid the Groundwork

Segregation remains an intractable force in American life, more than 60 years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawed racial separation in America’s schools. The Government Accountability Office recently estimated that more than 20 million students of color attend public schools that are racially or socioeconomically isolated. This figure has increased in recent decades, despite a raft of federal and state initiatives.

Major cities like New York and Chicago struggle with high levels of residential segregation, especially at the neighborhood level. The entrenched correlation between race and poverty is partly to blame, but segregation catches even affluent people of color. A recent study found that, while only 9 percent of white Americans earning $100,000 or more lived in poor areas, 37 percent of African-Americans on the same income level lived in poorer neighborhoods.

If we want to understand why racial segregation still exists in America, we should start by understanding its origins…

…And then there was the prospect of racial amalgamation, which scrambled the moral compasses of even the most progressive whites. Of all the European empires in the New World, British North America was the most squeamish on the question of amalgamation. But while the science and religion of the European Enlightenment suggested no barrier to intermarriage, even white Americans who embraced “all men are created equal” struggled with the practical application of that phrase. The preacher David Rice, who tried valiantly to outlaw slavery in the Kentucky constitutional convention of 1792, admitted that his own prejudices against intermarriage were hard to shake; but he was determined, he told his fellow delegates, not to allow irrational feelings to “influence my judgment, nor affect my conscience.”

Alas, many others who spoke in the abstract against slavery failed to follow Rice’s example; or, like Thomas Jefferson, they compartmentalized their private and public lives. It’s now widely accepted that in the 1790s and 1800s, Jefferson secretly fathered six children with Sally Hemings, a multi-racial slave in his household, while insisting in public on his “great aversion” to “the mixture of color.”

It soon became apparent that the realization of “all men are created equal” required more than an abstract recognition of black or Native humanity; it required the surrender of what we now call white privilege. When even the most liberal whites struggled to meet this challenge, they developed an alternative plan that might deliver the United States from the guilt of slavery and oppression without obliging white people to live alongside people of color: perhaps blacks and Indians could be persuaded to move elsewhere…

Read the entire article here.

Nicholas Guyatt teaches American history at the University of Cambridge in England. He is the author of Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (Basic Books).

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‘An offer of my heart’: A story of black love after the Civil War

Posted in Articles, History, Slavery, United States on 2016-09-09 16:53Z by Steven

‘An offer of my heart’: A story of black love after the Civil War

The Washington Post

DeNeen L. Brown, Reporter

One hundred and forty-four years after they were written, the civil rights advocate found the letters in the bottom of an old suitcase, stacked in thin envelopes and tied together by a faded, baby-blue ribbon.

Somebody had preserved them with such care. Laura W. Murphy opened a letter, looked at the date and gasped.

“Who has anything [written] from 1871 in their possession?” she thought.

The handwriting was exquisite, penned by her great-grandfather in ink that flowed from a quill. In all, there were 12 letters, capturing a courtship between a black man and a black woman six years after the end of the Civil War

Laura W. Murphy reads through letters between her great-grandparents, Mary Rebecca Lee and James W. Hughes, which were exchanged during Reconstruction. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Read the entire article here.

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