On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 20:05Z by Steven

On the Trail of Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad

The New York Times
2007-10-12

John Strausbaugh

LAST month the City of New York gave Duffield Street in downtown Brooklyn an alternate name: Abolitionist Place. It’s an acknowledgment that long before Brooklyn was veined with subway lines, it was a hub of the Underground Railroad: the network of sympathizers and safe houses throughout the North that helped as many as 100,000 slaves flee the South before the Civil War.

With its extensive waterfront, its relatively large population of African-American freemen — slavery ended in New York in 1827 — and its many antislavery churches and activists, Brooklyn was an important nexus on the “freedom trail.” Some runaways stayed and risked being captured and returned to their owners, but most traveled on to the greater safety of Canada.

Because aiding fugitives from the South remained illegal even after New York abolished slavery — and because there was plenty of pro-slavery sentiment among Brooklyn merchants who did business with the South — Underground Railroad activities were clandestine and frequently recorded only in stories passed down within families. Corroborating documentation is scarce.

Still, it’s possible to follow some likely freedom routes through Brooklyn. You begin in Brooklyn Heights, where the Promenade offers sweeping views of the East River waterfront. In the decades before the Civil War, this waterfront bristled with the masts of sailing ships. Many were cargo vessels bringing cotton and other goods from the South. Sometimes they brought secret passengers: slaves fleeing to freedom. The fugitives slipped ashore and filtered into Brooklyn, where they were hidden and helped along on their journeys. Acquiring its railroad imagery by the 1830s, this antislavery network had its own “stationmasters” and “conductors,” who helped organize runaways’ passages north, and its own “stations” and “depots,” where they hid. Several Brooklyn churches participated. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, a few blocks from the Promenade on Orange Street, between Hicks and Henry Streets, was called its “Grand Central Depot.”…

[Henry Ward] Beecher’s most successful tactic for arousing what he called “a panic of sympathy” for slaves was to stage mock slave auctions in the church, with the congregation bidding furiously to buy the captives’ freedom. The 1914 bronze statues of Beecher and two girls in the church’s courtyard by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculptured Mount Rushmore, depicts the first such auction, in 1848.

The most famous auction occurred in 1860, when Beecher urged his congregation to buy the freedom of a pretty 9-year-old from Washington, Sally Maria Diggs, called Pinky for her light complexion.

“After the service he called her to the platform and told the congregation her story,” Ms. Rosebrooks said. “He said, ‘No child should be in slavery, let alone a child like this.’ I’m sure he played on this. She could be your niece. She could be your sister. Your next door neighbor. So they passed the collection plate and raised $900, which is about $10,000 in today’s dollars.”

Congregants gave jewelry as well as cash. In a theatrical flourish Beecher fetched a ring from the collection plate, slipped it onto Pinky’s finger and declared, “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom.”

In 1927 when Plymouth Church celebrated the 80th anniversary of Beecher’s first sermon there, one who attended was Mrs. James Hunt, a stately woman of 76. She was Pinky and had grown up to marry a lawyer in Washington. According to Plymouth Church lore, she brought the ring with her; Ms. Rosebrooks showed me a simple gold band set with a small amethyst. (A Brooklyn Eagle article from 1927, however, quotes Mrs. Hunt as saying the ring had been lost.)…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

BROOKLYN INTELLIGENCE.; The Sanford-street Catastrophe. CONDITION OF THE WOUNDED-BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2014-08-22 17:26Z by Steven

BROOKLYN INTELLIGENCE.; The Sanford-street Catastrophe. CONDITION OF THE WOUNDED-BURIAL OF THE DEAD.

The New York Times
1860-02-06

…AN INTERESTING SCENE IN PLYMOUTH CHURCH — PURCHASE OF A SLAVE BY THE CONGREGATION. — Another case of the ransom of a slave occurred yesterday in Plymouth Church. The circumstances were of touching interest. A good-looking and intelligent little girl named PINK, about nine years of age, having in her veins only one-sixteenth part African blood, (although that was more than enough to make her a slave,) was brought from Washington City to Brooklyn on Saturday last, with a view to the purchase of her freedom. Her father is at present one of the leading physicians in Washington. The mother was sold a few years ago to a Southern trader. At different times, five of her six children were sold to various parts of the South, until only little PINK remained. The child was taken care of by her grandmother, who had received oft-repeated assurances from the owner that PINK, should never be parted from her. But during the last holidays, arrangements were made to sell the child for $800. It was thought that when she grew up to womanhood she would be worth $3,000. Mr. BLAKE, a young clergyman recently from Alexandria Episcopal Seminary, hearing of the circumstances, interested himself to save the child. For this purpose, he procured permission to bring her to the North, leaving behind him satisfactory security for the return, either of the child or of the price of her ransom. The girl was, yesterday morning, introduced to the Sunday School by the Superintendent, Mr. THEODORE TILTON. Some interesting incidents of the child’s history were related by Mr. BLAKE, and the children determined to undertake, with the assistance of the Church, the purchase of the child — the classes contributing $5 each. At the close of the morning sermon, the pastor, Rev. HENRY WARD BEECHER, took the child into the pulpit, stated the case to the congregation, and made an eloquent plea for her liberty, which drew tears from many eyes. The collection plates were then passed, and returned well laden with bank notes. The money was not counted before the close of the service, but a lady in the audience sent word to the pastor that she would make up the deficiency, if any should be found. This announcement was received with an irrepressible demonstration of applause. Many persons crowded around the platform to congratulate the little girl on her new-found freedom, which she is now too young fully to appreciate…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Calling for Calm in Ferguson, Obama Cites Need for Improved Race Relations

Posted in Articles, Barack Obama, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-08-19 15:23Z by Steven

Calling for Calm in Ferguson, Obama Cites Need for Improved Race Relations

The New York Times
2014-08-18

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, White House Reporter

WASHINGTON — President Obama called for calm and healing in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday even as he acknowledged the deep racial divisions that continue to plague not only that St. Louis suburb but cities across the United States.

“In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.”

“We’ve made extraordinary progress” in race relations, he said, “but we have not made enough progress.”

Mr. Obama’s comments were a notable moment for the first African-American president during the most racially fraught crisis of his time in office, set off by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by the police. Mr. Obama and his administration are working to restore peace in Ferguson and ensure an evenhanded investigation into the shooting all while responding to anger — in Missouri and elsewhere — among blacks about what they say is systemic discrimination by law enforcement officials…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Leftovers

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-08-18 00:32Z by Steven

The Leftovers

Sunday Book Review
The New York Times
2014-08-15

Alexander Chee

‘Everything I Never Told You,’ by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng’s debut novel, “Everything I Never Told You,” is a literary thriller that begins with some stock elements: a missing girl, a lake, a local bad boy who was one of the last to see her and won’t say what he knows. The year is 1977, the setting, a quiet all-American town in Ohio, where everyone knows one another and nothing like this has ever happened before.

This is familiar territory, but Ng returns to it to spin an unfamiliar tale, with a very different kind of girl from the ones we’ve been asked to follow before. If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now.

The missing girl is Lydia Lee, apple of her father’s eye, her mother’s favorite daughter. A blue-eyed Amerasian Susan Dey, the most white-looking of her siblings in her mixed-race Chinese and white family, she is also so serious, so driven, so good and responsible, she seems the least likely to go missing…

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , ,

“Only the News They Want to Print”: Mainstream Media and Critical Mixed-Race Studies

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-08-15 06:17Z by Steven

“Only the News They Want to Print”: Mainstream Media and Critical Mixed-Race Studies

Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies
Volume 1, Number 1 (2014-01-30)
pages 162-182
ISSN: 2325-4521

Rainier Spencer, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs; Professor of Afro-American Studies
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This essay lauds the publication of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies, then turns immediately to argue that the journal must focus itself on actively becoming the authoritative voice on mixed-race matters, while also speaking out against naive colorblindness and premature declarations of postraciality. This is crucial because the public receives its information on mixed-race identity from the mainstream media, which has a long historical record of inaccurate and damaging reporting on mixed race. Using the recent “Race Remixed” series in the New York Times as a contemporary example of this problem, the essay argues that it is imperative that mainstream media writers seek out and use scholarly input in the publication of their articles.

With the publication of this inaugural issue of the Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies, the field of study demarcated by the journal’s title takes a major leap forward both materially and symbolically. The material leap has to do with the fact that there is now an academic publication devoted expressly to the field of critical mixed-race studies, a single source to go to for the latest in mixed-race research. Even though the journal certainly cannot publish everything in this field, and scholars will still find themselves combing through libraries and the Internet for newly published work, my hope is that this journal will nonetheless become the unquestioned touchstone of mixed-race scholarship. The symbolic leap, on the other hand, while related to the material one, has to do with the intangible satisfaction that attends to having “made it,” so to speak. While there is no difference between the good scholarly work done immediately prior to the launching of the journal and the good scholarly work we find in the pages of this issue, there is nevertheless a gratifying sense that “we”—those of us who work and publish in this area—now have a journal to call home. The importance of this should not be minimized…

…One crucial observation to make about mixed-race identity work over the past twenty years is that even though there has been phenomenal growth and change in the work itself, non-scholarly reporting on mixed race has not kept pace with those advancements. While scholarly studies of mixed race have proliferated, creating both the academic field and now this journal, and while mixed-race identity work has become more and more sophisticated, the quality of media coverage has remained ossified. In fact, mainstream media analysis of mixed-race identity in the United States is generally no different whether one reads an article from 1994, 2000, 2006, or 2012. Given its outsize impact on the general public, the dominant media in the United States is in fact a hegemonic entity. Its coverage of mixed-race identity has crucial effects on attitudes, opinions, and even public policy; therefore, the accuracy of its reporting is critical. For this reason, dominant media representation of multiraciality will be my main focus in this article as I consider the challenges it presents to critical mixed-race studies…

…The specific details being reported aside, the deeper structural problem with mainstream media stories on the alleged postracial power of mixed-race identity or the supposed significance of changing racial demographics is that the information presented is often one-sided, simplistic, geared to a tabloid sensibility, and does not reflect the multiform ways that edifices of power have race embedded within them, whether visible or not. It is a matter of sensationalism taking precedence over serious analysis. David Roediger identifies this tendency of providing sensationalism without substance, noting that “often multiracial identities and immigration take center stage as examples of factors making race obsolete” and that “we are often told popularly that race and racism are on predictable tracks to extinction. But we are seldom told clear or consistent stories about why white supremacy will give way and how race will become a ‘social virus’ of the past.” Roediger’s words highlight the importance of unmasking this postracial aspiration for what it is: an effort to provide comfort to a nation that is unwilling to do the hard work required to deal effectively with centuries of entrenched racism and the resultant consequences…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

In a Novelist’s World, You Choose Your Race

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-08-13 01:26Z by Steven

In a Novelist’s World, You Choose Your Race

The New York Times
2014-08-11

Felicia R. Lee

In the weak light of a February afternoon, Kelly Thorndike has a strange chance encounter in a Baltimore parking lot with Martin Lipkin, an old friend from high school. But time has brought a big change. The Martin that Kelly knew was white. The man standing before him is black.

Their meeting sets the stage for “Your Face in Mine,” Jess Row’s debut novel, which is to be published on Thursday by Riverhead Books, joining a long tradition of fiction about racial guises. Mr. Row’s tale is set in a near future in which Martin is the first person to undergo “racial reassignment surgery” to change his features, skin color, hair texture and even his voice. His surgical package includes a new biography and even a dialect coach — all a corrective for Martin’s “racial dysphoria.”

“I wanted to make the novel the logical outcome of the way certain vectors in our society are going,” Mr. Row, 39, a soft-spoken, self-described WASP, said during a recent interview. He pointed to the current state of plastic surgery, in which it’s possible for features and body parts to be changed to mask or remake ethnicity. “I wanted people to ask, ‘If I could have the surgery, would I?’ ” said Mr. Row, the author of two story collections, “The Train to Lo Wu” and “Nobody Ever Gets Lost.”

A fan of James Baldwin’s work, Mr. Row said he set out to have “Your Face in Mine” explore the ways people try to escape their racial identities, as well as investigate their desire for racial reconciliation and deeply unconscious fears and discomforts around race.

Passing” has been a major theme in African-American literature for over a century, and has usually meant blacks living as whites to escape bias. “Your Face in Mine” owes something to classic stories of passing like “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” by James Weldon Johnson (published anonymously in 1912 and under his name in 1927), and the 1931 satire “Black No More,” by George S. Schuyler, in which blacks rush to embrace a new scientific process to become white.

It also calls to mind “Black Like Me,” the groundbreaking 1961 account by John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, who darkened his skin to appear African-American and wrote about the discrimination he experienced…

…“Is Race Plastic?,” a recent New York magazine cover article, considered just this issue, exploring the implications of “ethnic plastic surgery” with its menu of procedures that go about “sharpening the stereotypically flat noses of Asians, blacks and Latinos, while flattening the stereotypically sharp noses of Arabs and Jews.”

Allyson Hobbs, an assistant professor of history at Stanford, whose book, “A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life,” comes out in October, said that in life and in literature, passing showed the complexity, and even absurdity, of racial categories.

“Historically, it was much clearer what was to be gained by being white, in the literature as well,” she said. “There was a social and economic logic to becoming white.” About “Your Face in Mine,” she said: “What this book sort of raises as a question is what someone expects to gain by being black, Hispanic or Asian in the 21st century? What is gained and what is lost through a racial reassignment in the 21st century?”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Biological race trumps cultural race…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2014-08-04 18:23Z by Steven

“Biological race trumps cultural race. Race is something we’re really invested in validating or comprehending. It’s about how we understand race as a marker of difference, something that a story about ancestry can’t resolve.” —Jenifer L. Bratter, Rice University

Felicia R. Lee, “After the ‘White Lie’ Implodes, a Rich Narrative Unfurls,” The New York Times, August 1, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/02/movies/little-white-lie-lacey-schwartzs-film-about-self-discovery.html.

Tags: , , , , ,

After the ‘White Lie’ Implodes, a Rich Narrative Unfurls

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Book/Video Reviews, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, United States on 2014-08-02 16:59Z by Steven

After the ‘White Lie’ Implodes, a Rich Narrative Unfurls

The New York Times
2014-08-01

Felicia R. Lee

‘Little White Lie,’ Lacey Schwartz’s Film About Self-Discovery

Lacey Schwartz, a 37-year-old Harvard Law School graduate turned filmmaker, moves with ease in circles in which her identity as both black and Jewish seems unremarkable. What makes her biography striking is that Ms. Schwartz, a woman with light brown skin and a cascade of dark curls, grew up believing she was white.

How and why that happened is the subject of her film, “Little White Lie,” which has its premiere on Sunday at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, its first stop on the festival circuit before being broadcast on PBS next year. With Ms. Schwartz narrating, the camera travels to a funeral, girlfriend gab sessions and even her therapy appointments. At each stop, in raw conversations with family and friends, Ms. Schwartz asks over and over, how and why did she pass as white?

“I come from a long line of New York Jews,” she says early in the film, as photographs of her white relatives flash across the screen. “My family knew who they were, and they defined who I was.”

Ms. Schwartz was an only child who grew up in the mostly white town of Woodstock, N.Y. Her parents, Peggy and Robert Schwartz, told her that she favored her father’s swarthy Sicilian grandfather. It was not until she went off to college that she learned the truth.

Before starting college, “I was already questioning my whiteness because of what other people said and because I was aware that I looked different from my family,” she said in a recent interview. Then, based on the photograph accompanying her application, Georgetown University passed her name along to the black student association, which contacted her.

The university “gave me permission” to explore a black identity, Ms. Schwartz said…

…Bliss Broyard explored similar territory in a memoir about her father, the book critic Anatole Broyard, a black man who passed as white. She has said she was raised white but learned the truth about her father on his deathbed. But Ms. Broyard, unlike Ms. Schwartz, grew up with her biological father.

Jenifer L. Bratter, director of the Program for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Culture at Rice University, said the film’s twisting tale was part of “a larger story about race in America.”

“Biological race trumps cultural race,” she added. “Race is something we’re really invested in validating or comprehending. It’s about how we understand race as a marker of difference, something that a story about ancestry can’t resolve.”..

Read the entire review here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

To Measure More Diverse America, Solution May Be in Census Questions

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-07-02 01:21Z by Steven

To Measure More Diverse America, Solution May Be in Census Questions

The New York Times
2014-07-01

Tanzina Vega

When Alexa Aviles received her census form in 2010, she was frustrated by the choices. Like all Hispanics, Ms. Aviles, a Puerto Rican who lives in Brooklyn, was first asked to identify her ethnicity and then to answer a question about her race. Ms. Aviles, 41, who works for a nonprofit, thought, “I’m all of these!” In annoyance, she checked Hispanic, and then identified herself as white, black and “some other race.”

Mustafa Asmar, a Palestinian-American waiter in Paterson, N.J., does not like his options either. Arab-Americans are broadly classified as white in the census. “When you fill out white or other, it doesn’t really represent the Middle Eastern population,” said Mr. Asmar, 25. “I don’t feel like I’m white. I don’t know what else to put.”

As the United States becomes more diverse, the Census Bureau is grappling with how to accurately classify race and ethnicity in its next decennial count in 2020. It is an issue that plays out in divergent ways for different groups. Many Hispanics, like Ms. Aviles, are frustrated that they are prompted to select from racial categories that they believe do not represent their identity.

Many Arabs have the opposite concern: They are not asked a separate ethnicity question and are typically categorized as white, a label that many feel does not apply…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bill de Blasio and the Art of Political Image at… the Mermaid Parade

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2014-06-29 18:09Z by Steven

Bill de Blasio and the Art of Political Image at… the Mermaid Parade

The New York Times
2014-06-23

Vanessa Friedman, Chief Fashion Critic


Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York with, from left, his son, Dante; his wife, Chirlane McCray; and his daughter, Chiara, at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade on Saturday. [Tina Fineberg/Associated Press]

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his family had kind of an interesting fashion moment over the weekend. In case you missed it, I offer the above photo of Mr. de Blasio in pirate kit; his wife, Chirlane McCray, in full Ariel getup and their two children both body-painted blue — all for the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade. In fact, Dante and Chiara were king and queen of the parade, a kitsch classic that takes place on the first official day of summer (i.e. Saturday).

Why does this matter beyond the obvious comedic value? Strategy and image spin, my dear Watson. Strategy and image spin…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,