Brunias? Buttons ft. Caribbean Free and Slave Life @ Cooper-Hewitt
Brunias? Buttons ft. Caribbean Free and Slave Life @ Cooper-Hewitt
Originally posted on Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog:
Collected in a 2013 post by Sarah D. Coffin, these buttons were posted on the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt blog some time ago. But material cultures of slavery never get old.
Some of her conclusions have been challenged in the comments (the author appears to confuse 18th century Dominica with Saint-Domingue), but the images appearto be renderings…
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From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909 presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics. The materials range from personal accounts and public orations to organizational reports and legislative speeches. Among the authors represented are Frederick Douglass, Kelly Miller, Charles Sumner, Mary Church Terrell, and Booker T. Washington. From Slavery to Freedom was made possible by a major gift from the Citigroup Foundation and complements African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907.
I Freed Myself: African American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era by David Williams
For a century and a half, Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation has been the dominant narrative of African American freedom in the Civil War era. However, David Williams suggests that this portrayal marginalizes the role that African American slaves played in freeing themselves. At the Civil War’s outset, Lincoln made clear his intent was to save the Union rather than free slaves – despite his personal distaste for slavery, he claimed no authority to interfere with the institution. By the second year of the war, though, when the Union army was in desperate need of black support, former slaves who escaped to Union lines struck a bargain: they would fight for the Union only if they were granted their freedom. Williams importantly demonstrates that freedom was not simply the absence of slavery but rather a dynamic process enacted by self-emancipated African American refugees, which compelled Lincoln to modify his war aims and place black freedom at the center of his wartime policies
The sharecropper Ned Cobb, a.k.a. Nate Shaw, at 22, with his wife, Viola, and their son Andrew, in 1907. Credit Courtesy of Theodore Rosengarten
Lost in Literary History: A Tale of Courage in the South
“All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw” collected euphoric reviews in 1974, from Robert Coles and Studs Terkel himself, among others. On the cover of The New York Times Book Review, H. Jack Geiger wrote that in Nate Shaw, America “had found a black Homer, bursting with his black Odyssey.”
“All God’s Dangers” remained in print for years as a Vintage paperback. In 1989 it was turned into a one-man play, starring Cleavon Little. (If the clips on YouTube are any indication, it was unwatchable.) These days, a hefty paperback edition is available from the University of Chicago Press. But it seems to have vanished from the culture at large.
This book has a back story. Nate Shaw is a pseudonym. The sharecropper’s real name was Ned Cobb (1885-1973). Mr. Rosengarten changed the name for the safety of Mr. Cobb’s family— a grim commentary on race relations in Alabama in 1974.
In 1969 Mr. Rosengarten was a recent Harvard graduate who went to Alabama with a friend who was researching a defunct organization called the Alabama Sharecroppers Union. Someone suggested they speak to Mr. Cobb, then 84.
Mr. Rosengarten relates what happened: “We asked him right off why he joined the union. He didn’t respond directly; rather, he ‘interpreted’ the question and began, ‘I was haulin’ a load of hay out of Apafalya one day …’ and continued uninterrupted for eight hours. He recounted dealings with landlords, bankers, fertilizer agents, mule traders, gin operators, sheriffs and judges — stories of the social relations of the cotton system. By evening, the fire had risen and died and risen again, and our question was answered.”
Read more about Mr. Cobb’s life and bravery here.
RESOURCE: The African-American Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1880 - 1920, contains 351 rare pamphlets offering insight into attitudes and ideas of African-Americans between Reconstruction and the First World War.
Painting of slave Juan De Pareja by his master Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
Vivian R. Johnson, Discovering a Slave Artist and His Masterpiece
Many people are surprised to learn that a great painting from the 17th century was the work of a former slave of African descent. Not all the staff at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla., knew that the painting, The Flight Into Egypt (1658), depicting the perilous journey of Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus, was created by an enslaved African Spaniard.
But I knew and had known since I first became acquainted with the artist in 1966 during my search for children’s books reflecting my children’s heritage. That year, the winner of the prestigious children’s book award the Newbery Medal was titled I, Juan de Pareja. It is a fictionalized autobiography about the enslaved assistant to the famous Spanish painter Diego Velázquez.
I have issues with the book’s depiction of Juan de Pareja as irresolute, but young student readers with whom I have worked quickly rise above that problem and recognize the courage, persistence and skill that de Pareja demonstrated in teaching himself to paint in secret by candlelight. He refined his talents as a painter although Spanish law prohibited slaves from joining the artists’ guild and practicing the craft.
De Pareja was born enslaved about 1610 in Antequera, Spain, and his life has not been well documented. His mother was an enslaved Moor, known only by her first name, Zulema, who died during his early childhood. His father’s name was also Juan de Pareja, but no further information has surfaced in the literature about either parent. Diego Velázquez apparently inherited the slave de Pareja from an aunt before the boy had reached his teens. Clear evidence of de Pareja’s literacy is shown in documents that he signed during his adult life. He died in Madrid in 1670.
De Pareja, who was enslaved for nearly 45 years, is best known from the extraordinary portrait of him that Velázquez painted in 1650, four years before freeing him. In 1971, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought the portrait for $5.5 million. Much has been written about this famous portrait. However, the problem has been that the focus has been on Velázquez’s skill as a painter, rather than on the person portrayed.
Read more here.
Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement by Sara Fanning
Shortly after winning its independence in 1804, Haiti’s leaders realized that if their nation was to survive, it needed to build strong diplomatic bonds with other nations. Haiti’s first leaders looked especially hard at the United States, which had a sizeable free black population that included vocal champions of black emigration and colonization. In the 1820s, President Jean-Pierre Boyer helped facilitate a migration of thousands of black Americans to Haiti with promises of ample land, rich commercial prospects, and most importantly, a black state. His ideas struck a chord with both blacks and whites in America. Journalists and black community leaders advertised emigration to Haiti as a way for African Americans to resist discrimination and show the world that the black race could be an equal on the world stage, while antislavery whites sought to support a nation founded by liberated slaves. Black and white businessmen were excited by trade potential, and racist whites viewed Haiti has a way to export the race problem that plagued America.
By the end of the decade, black Americans migration to Haiti began to ebb as emigrants realized that the Caribbean republic wasn’t the black Eden they’d anticipated. Caribbean Crossing documents the rise and fall of the campaign for black emigration to Haiti, drawing on a variety of archival sources to share the rich voices of the emigrants themselves. Using letters, diary accounts, travelers’ reports, newspaper articles, and American, British, and French consulate records, Sara Fanning profiles the emigrants and analyzes the diverse motivations that fueled this unique early moment in both American and Haitian history.
Family of African American slaves on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O’Sullivan | learnnc.org
Julia Ott, “Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism”
Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.
At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” The luxury-commodities of the seventeenth century became integrated into the new middle-class rituals like tea-drinking in the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, these commodities became a caloric and stimulative necessity for the denizens of the dark satanic mills. The New World yielded food for proletarians and fiber for factories at reasonable (even falling) prices. The “industrious revolution” that began in the sixteenth century set the stage for the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
But the “demand-side” tells only part of the story. A new form of capital, racialized chattel slaves, proved essential for the industrious revolution — and for the industrial one that followed.
Book cover of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz © Penguin Books | Amazon.com
The systematic application of African slaves in staple export crop production began in the sixteenth century, with sugar in Brazil. TheAfrican slave trade populated the plantations of the Caribbean, landing on the shores of the Chesapeake at the end of the seventeenth century. African slaves held the legal status of chattel: moveable, alienable property. When owners hold living creatures as chattel, they gain additional property rights: the ownership of the offspring of any chattel, and the ownership of their offspring, and so on and so forth. Chattel becomes self-augmenting capital.
While slavery existed in human societies since prehistoric times, chattel status had never been applied so thoroughly to human beings as it would be to Africans and African-Americans beginning in the sixteenth century. But this was not done easily, especially in those New World regions where African slaves survived, worked alongside European indentured servants and landless “free” men and women, and bore offspring — as they did in Britain’s mainland colonies in North America.
Read more here.