Born into slavery, they rose to be elite New York Jews. A new book tells their story.

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Interviews, Judaism, Media Archive, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2021-10-08 14:05Z by Steven

Born into slavery, they rose to be elite New York Jews. A new book tells their story.

Religion News Service
2021-10-05

Yonat Shimron, National Reporter and Senior Editor


Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multiracial Jewish Family” and author Laura Arnold Leibman. Courtesy images

In her new book, ‘Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multiracial Jewish Family,’ Laura Arnold Leibman shows that Jews were not only slave owners. They were also slaves.

(RNS) — Jews are proud of the biblical story from Exodus that recounts their deliverance from slavery in Egypt in the third century B.C.

But few U.S. Jews consider that some of their ancestors were slaves in the trans-Atlantic slave trade that ended in the 19th century.

In her new book, “Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multiracial Jewish Family,” Laura Arnold Leibman, a Reed College English professor, conclusively shows that Jews, who were typically thought of as white, were not only slave owners. They were also slaves.

Leibman does this by excavating the genealogies of Sarah and Isaac Lopez Brandon, siblings born in the late 18th century to a wealthy Barbadian Jewish businessman and an enslaved woman. The siblings eventually made it New York, where they were able to pass as white. They became accomplished and affluent members of New York City’s oldest Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel.

Sarah and Isaac’s father, Abraham Rodriguez Brandon, was a Sephardic Jew who traced his ancestry to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. He settled in Barbados as part of a Jewish community of between 400 and 500 families that worked on the island’s sugar plantations and refineries.

Brandon secured his children’s manumission fees, and in 1801 they became “free mulattos.” In Barbados, that still meant they could not vote or hold office, or for that matter be married in the island’s synagogue or buried in its cemetery.

But America was kinder to them. Both Sarah and Isaac immigrated to America and married into prominent and wealthy U.S. Jewish families while hiding their past. One granddaughter had no clue about their origins.

Religion News Service talked to Leibman about her discovery of the Brandon genealogy and what it means for the U.S. Jewish community to grapple with its multiracial past and present. The interview was edited for length and clarity…

Read the entire interview here.

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Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family

Posted in Biography, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Judaism, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2021-10-07 15:45Z by Steven

Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family

Oxford University Press
2021-08-30
320 Pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780197530474

Laura Arnold Leibman, Professor of English and Humanities
Reed College, Portland, Oregon

Highlights

  • Provides a rare historical portrait of life as a Jewish American of color
  • Examines the history of racial “passing” in an international context
  • Uses an intersectional lens to untangle a family history

An obsessive genealogist and descendent of one of the most prominent Jewish families since the American Revolution, Blanche Moses firmly believed her maternal ancestors were Sephardic grandees. Yet she found herself at a dead end when it came to her grandmother’s maternal line. Using family heirlooms to unlock the mystery of Moses’s ancestors, Once We Were Slaves overturns the reclusive heiress’s assumptions about her family history to reveal that her grandmother and great-uncle, Sarah and Isaac Brandon, actually began their lives as poor Christian slaves in Barbados. Tracing the siblings’ extraordinary journey throughout the Atlantic World, Leibman examines artifacts they left behind in Barbados, Suriname, London, Philadelphia, and, finally, New York, to show how Sarah and Isaac were able to transform themselves and their lives, becoming free, wealthy, Jewish, and–at times–white. While their affluence made them unusual, their story mirrors that of the largely forgotten population of mixed African and Jewish ancestry that constituted as much as ten percent of the Jewish communities in which the siblings lived, and sheds new light on the fluidity of race–as well as on the role of religion in racial shift–in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Table of Contents

  • Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Origins (Bridgetown, 1793-1798)
  • Chapter 2: From Slave to Free (Bridgetown, 1801)
  • Chapter 3: From Christian to Jew (Suriname, 1811-12)
  • Chapter 4: The Tumultuous Island (Bridgetown, 1812-1817)
  • Chapter 5: Synagogue Seats (New York & Philadelphia, 1793-1818)
  • Chapter 6: The Material of Race (London, 1815-17)
  • Chapter 7: Voices of Rebellion (Bridgetown, 1818-24)
  • Chapter 8: A Woman Valor (New York, 1817-19)
  • Chapter 9: This Liberal City (Philadelphia, 1818-33)
  • Chapter 10: Feverish Love (New York, 1819-1830)
  • Chapter 11: When I am Gone (New York, Barbados, London, 1830-1847)
  • Chapter 12: Legacies (New York and Beyond, 1841-1860)
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix: Family Trees
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Notes
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Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Posted in Anthologies, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-29 01:09Z by Steven

Erasure and Recollection: Memories of Racial Passing

Peter Lang
September 2021
366 pages
13 fig. b/w.
Paperback ISBN:978-2-8076-1625-7
ePUB ISBN:978-2-8076-1627-1 (DOI: 10.3726/b18256)

Edited by:

Hélène Charlery, Professor of English Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Aurélie Guillain, Professor of American Literature
University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France

Many recent studies of racial passing have emphasized the continuing, almost haunting power of racial segregation even in the post-segregation period in the US, or in the post-apartheid period in South Africa. This “present-ness” of racial passing, the fact that it has not really become “passé,” is noticeable in the great number of testimonies which have been published in the 2000s and 2010s by descendants of individuals who passed for white in the English-speaking world. The sheer number of publications suggest a continuing interest in the kind of relation to the personal and national past which is at stake in the long-delayed revelation of cases of racial passing.

This interest in family memoirs or in fictional works re-tracing the erasure of some relative’s racial identity is by no means limited to the United States: for instance, Zoë Wicomb in South Africa or Zadie Smith in the UK both use the passing novel to unravel the complex situation of mixed-race subjects in relation to their family past and to a national past marked by a history of racial inequality.

Yet, the vast majority of critical approaches to racial passing have so far remained largely focused on the United States and its specific history of race relations. The objective of this volume is twofold: it aims at shedding light on the way texts or films show the work of individual memory and collective recollection as they grapple with a racially divided past, struggling with its legacy or playing with its stereotypes. Our second objective has been to explore the great variety in the forms taken by racial passing depending on the context, which in turn leads to differences in the ways it is remembered. Focusing on how a previously erased racial identity may resurface in the present has enabled us to extend the scope of our study to other countries than the United States, so that this volume hopes to propose some new, transnational directions in the study of racial passing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction – Hélène Charlery and Aurélie Guillain
  • Part I: Memories of Racial Passing – Reconstructing Local and Personal Histories – From Homer Plessy to Paul Broyard
    • To Pass or Not to Pass in New Orleans – Nathalie Dessens
    • Racial Passing at New Orleans Mardi Gras; From Reconstruction to the Mid- Twentieth Century: Flight of Fancy or Masked Resistance? – Aurélie Godet
    • Passing through New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York City: The Dynamics of Racial Assignation in Walter White’s Flight (1926) – Aurélie Guillain
    • African American Women Activists and Racial Passing: Personal Journeys and Subversive Strategies (1880s– 1920s) – Élise Vallier-Mathieu
  • Part II: Memory, Consciousness and the Fantasy of Amnesia in Passing Novels
    • “What Irene Redfield Remembered”: Making It New in Nella Larsen’s Passing – M. Giulia Fabi
    • Between Fiction and Reality: Passing for Non- Jewish in Multicultural American Fiction – Ohad Reznick
    • Experiments in Passing: Racial Passing in George Schuyler’s Black No More and Arthur Miller’s Focus – Ochem G.l.a. Riesthuis
    • Passing to Disappearance: The Voice/ Body Dichotomy and the Problem of Identity in Richard Powers’s The Time of Our Singing (2004) – Anne-Catherine Bascoul
  • Part III: Memories of Racial Passing within and beyond the United States: Towards a Transnational Approach
    • “The Topsy-Turviness of Being in the Wrong Hemisphere” Transnationalizing the Racial Passing Narrative – Sinéad Moynihan
    • Passing, National Reconciliation and Adolescence in Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen, 2002) and The Wooden Camera (Ntshaveni Wa Luruli, 2003) – Delphine David and Annael Le Poullennec
    • Transnational Gendered Subjectivity in Passing across the Black Atlantic: Nella Larsen’s Passing, Michelle Cliff ’s Free Enterprise and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time – Kerry-Jane Wallart
  • About the Authors/ Editors
  • Index
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Why Did Two People So Poorly Matched Stay Together So Long?

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-21 14:12Z by Steven

Why Did Two People So Poorly Matched Stay Together So Long?

The New York Times
2021-09-06

Eleanor Henderson


Christopher Sorrentino’s parents, Gilbert and Vicki, circa 1972. Sorrentino examines their confounding marriage in his memoir, “Now Beacon, Now Sea.” via Christopher Sorrentino

Christopher Sorrentino, Now Beacon, Now Sea: A Son’s Memoir (Catapult, 2021)

As I was reading Christopher Sorrentino’sNow Beacon, Now Sea,” I heard Rodrigo Garcia, son of Gabriel García Márquez, on the radio, talking about his new memoir, “A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes.” Garcia’s book is a loving chronicle of the last days of his larger-than-life father and loyal mother. Sorrentino’s book, too, is about his novelist father and his parents’ deaths. Both have the subtitle “A Son’s Memoir.” But “Now Beacon, Now Sea” is no tender tribute. Listening to Garcia speak, I realized that Sorrentino was working in a decidedly different genre: His “son’s memoir” is more autopsy than eulogy.

Sorrentino’s father, Gilbert, was an avant-gardist more prolific than famous, who died in an under-resourced hospital in Brooklyn as his son was en route; his wife, Vicki, who is the real subject of this book and a truly fascinating one, died under even grimmer circumstances. Her decaying body, discovered by her son in her Bay Ridge apartment, is the striking opening image of the book. An autopsy was never ordered…

Read the entire review here.

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Now Beacon, Now Sea: A Son’s Memoir

Posted in Biography, Books, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing on 2021-09-21 03:34Z by Steven

Now Beacon, Now Sea: A Son’s Memoir

Catapult
2021-09-07
304 pages
6.33 x 1.07 x 9.27 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9781646220427

Christopher Sorrentino

A wrenching debut memoir of familial grief by a National Book Award finalist—and a defining account of what it means to love and lose a difficult parent, for readers of Joan Didion and Dani Shapiro.

When Christopher Sorrentino’s mother died in 2017, it marked the end of a journey that had begun eighty years earlier in the South Bronx. Victoria’s life took her to the heart of New York’s vibrant mid-century downtown artistic scene, to the sedate campus of Stanford, and finally back to Brooklyn—a journey witnessed by a son who watched, helpless, as she grew more and more isolated, distancing herself from everyone and everything she’d ever loved.

In examining the mystery of his mother’s life, from her dysfunctional marriage to his heedless father, the writer Gilbert Sorrentino, to her ultimate withdrawal from the world, Christopher excavates his own memories and family folklore in an effort to discover her dreams, understand her disappointments, and peel back the ways in which she seemed forever trapped between two identities: the Puerto Rican girl identified on her birth certificate as Black, and the white woman she had seemingly decided to become. Meanwhile Christopher experiences his own transformation, emerging from under his father’s shadow and his mother’s thumb to establish his identity as a writer and individual—one who would soon make his own missteps and mistakes.

Unfolding against the captivating backdrop of a vanished New York, a city of cheap bohemian enclaves and a thriving avant-garde—a dangerous, decaying, but liberated and potentially liberating place—Now Beacon, Now Sea is a matchless portrait of the beautiful, painful messiness of life, and the transformative power of even conflicted grief.

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A Love Letter to Indigenous Blackness

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States, Women on 2021-09-21 00:36Z by Steven

A Love Letter to Indigenous Blackness

NACLA: Report on the Americas
Volume 53, Issue 3, November 2021 (Published online 2021-09-13)
pages 248-254

Paul Joseph López Oro, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts


A Garifuna ritual gathering to honor the ancestors at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, New York, June 2017. (Paul Joseph López Oro)

Garifuna women in New York City working to preserve life, culture, and history across borders and generations are part of a powerful lineage of resistance to anti-Blackness.

Mirtha Colón. Janel Martinez. Aida Lambert. Tania Molina. Carla Garcia. Tola Guerrero. Karen Blanco. Miriam Miranda. Ofelia Bernandez. Olga Nuñez. Luz Solis. Siria Alvarez. Isha Sumner. Sulma Arzu-Brown. Dilma Suazo-Gordon. Isidra Sabio. These are just some names of Garifuna women whose hemispheric political labor highlights a transgenerational and transnational tradition of preserving Garifuna life. Garifuna women are the very foundation of conjuring, mobilizing, and safeguarding Garifuna ancestral memory, rituals, language, and oral histories—all embodied histories of knowledge production—across generations and national boundaries. Some of these Garifuna women live in New York City, and some of them live in Central America’s Caribbean coasts. Some have never been to Central America, but their family’s nostalgia remains with them.

Garifuna life is matrifocal. Garifuna women are not simply the head of the household, but they are also at the center of organizing and governing every family structure, which extends beyond biological kinship. This is not a uniquely Garifuna experience. Throughout the African diaspora in the Americas, Black women are often the head of the household. Especially if we consider non-heteronormative notions of family and kinship, Black women have been at the forefront of preserving and protecting Black life over centuries, as anthropologists Christen A. Smith and Keisha-Khan Y. Perry have documented. However, a matrifocal or matrilineal society does not dismantle misogynoir, patriarchy, racial capitalism, and anti-Blackness. I write this matrilineal love letter to honor, celebrate, and center Garifuna women’s political, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, and knowledge producing labor that often goes unseen, uncited, or undervalued in a world that remains heteropatriarchal and anti-Black…

Read the entire article here.

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Choosing Blackness

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-20 15:18Z by Steven

Choosing Blackness

The Philadelphia Inquirer
2021-09-15

Elizabeth Wellington, Staff Columnist


Columnist Elizabeth Wellington poses for a photograph with her mother Margaret outside of the family home in New York. MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Black identity is usually wrapped up in not having choice. My family used their light-skinned privilege to flip that choice and turned Blackness into a celebration of pride and identity and love.

I thought my mother was a white woman until I was about five years old.

So I will never forget the day she told me she was Black. The conversation started simple enough: I described someone on television as white, like she was.

If um, hell to the no was a person, she would have been Margaret Wellington in that moment.

My mother is so fair that whether she styled her hair in a Pam Grier-esque, mega Afro or a blonde-streaked press and curl, she was sometimes mistaken for a white woman. I’m sure she wasn’t surprised by my question given my milk chocolate hue. But she wasn’t angry. She settled into her rocking chair and motioned for me to sit next to her. We were wearing matching green cardigans. I may have been darker, but to her, I was still her toddler-sized replica. She took my chubby little hand into her slender one, and looking me in the eye said, “Beth, I’m Black.”

Clearly I looked confused. Because she said it again. This time with more soul. “I AM BLACK. I do not have the same pretty brown skin that you have. But I AM BLACK. And I am YOUR MOTHER.”

My 5-year-old self was relieved….

Read the entire article here.

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Black in Ballet: Coming Together After Trying to ‘Blend Into the Corps’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-01 01:54Z by Steven

Black in Ballet: Coming Together After Trying to ‘Blend Into the Corps’

The New York Times
2021-08-17

Brian Seibert


The cast of “Stare Decisis,” from left: Kouadio Davis, India Bradley, Rachel Hutsell, Robert Garland, Misty Copeland, Erica Lall, Kennard Henson and Alexandra Hutchinson. Malin Fezehai for The New York Times

A rare gathering of Black dancers from different companies meet to discuss a new production on Little Island, curated by Misty Copeland and Robert Garland.

Last year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed, American ballet companies started talking a lot more about race. About the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion that organizations of all kinds were addressing, but also aesthetic assumptions, implicit biases and longstanding practices particular to ballet and its history.

“There were innumerable panel discussions,” said Robert Garland, the resident choreographer of Dance Theater of Harlem. “But I felt that for the younger Black dancers, it was a heavy burden to be responsible for all of that.”

Garland wanted to help them, and in the way that he knows best: by making a dance for them. That work, “Stare Decisis (To Stand by Things Decided),” has its debut on Wednesday as part of “NYC Free,” a monthlong festival at Little Island, the new public park on the Hudson River.

The most significant feature of “Stare Decisis” is its eight-member cast: an extraordinarily rare gathering of Black dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem. Misty Copeland — Ballet Theater’s first Black female principal dancer and one of the most famous ballerinas in the United States — is among them. (Little Island asked her to present a program.)…

Read the entire article here.

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New York City Ballet’s Rachel Hutsell Is Turning Heads in the Corps

Posted in Africa, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2021-08-23 03:33Z by Steven

New York City Ballet’s Rachel Hutsell Is Turning Heads in the Corps

Pointe
2018-05-22

Marina Harss


Rachel Hutsell Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.

“I’m very cautious by nature,” Rachel Hutsell says over herbal tea at Lincoln Center between rehearsals. You wouldn’t think so from the way she moves onstage or in the studio. In fact, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Hutsell’s dancing is boldness, a result of the intelligence and intention with which she executes each step. (What she calls caution is closer to what most people see as preparedness.) She doesn’t approximate—she moves simply and fully, with total confidence. That quality hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Even though she has been at New York City Ballet for less than three years, Hutsell, 21, is regularly cast in a wide variety of repertoire. She has already collaborated with several choreographers, including Troy Schumacher, Gianna Reisen, Peter Walker and Justin Peck, on new works. “She’s not afraid to make mistakes,” says Peck, who has used her in two premieres, The Most Incredible Thing and The Decalogue. “And she’s open to exploring new movements.”…

Read the enter article here.

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J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-07-20 02:20Z by Steven

J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian had two identities. It took two authors to tell her story.

The Washington Post
2021-06-28

Natachi Onwuamaegbu


“The Personal Librarian” co-authors Heather Terrell, writing as Marie Benedict, and Victoria Christopher Murray. (Phil Atkins)

Historical fiction writer Heather Terrell (who also writes under the name Marie Benedict) was introduced to Belle da Costa Greene between bookshelves at New York’s Morgan Library over 20 years ago. The docent — whom she has tried to find since — told her about a Black woman who passed as White and worked as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian in the early 1900s. Terrell wasn’t yet writing historical fiction about women — she was a lawyer — but the story lingered in the back of her head.

Once she read Black author Victoria Christopher Murray’s work two years ago, she knew she found the partner she was waiting for to tackle da Costa Greene’s story. To write about a Black woman who passed as non-Black with an author she had never met was a process, especially when the editing coincided with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and a pandemic.

The Washington Post talked to Terrell and Murray about what it was like to work on “The Personal Librarian” when so much of the world was falling apart…

Read the entire interview here.

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