Painting of slave Juan De Pareja by his master Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
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.
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
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.
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.
Nathan Cushing, VCU releases rare collection of Civil Rights protests photos
Over 250 photos taken during nonviolent civil rights protests in Farmville, VA have been curated by VCU in a new digital exhibit.
The Freedom Now Project, a collection of 277 photos taken in Summer 1963 taken in Summer 1963, aims to show the experience of local nonviolent civil dissent. VCU curators are hoping that by putting the photos online, the public will provide any information they have about the people and locations featured in 13 photo sets.
“The photographs in the Freedom Now Project make a significant contribution to our understanding of a very important event in the history of Virginia and the nation,” said Alice Campbell, a VCU Libraries digital initiatives archivist overseeing the project. “We hope that, by opening the collection up to comments, we can learn more about the people and events depicted, thereby increasing the collection’s value for future research, and preserving a record of Americans whose persistence and bravery helped move the nation closer to the promise of justice for all.”
HT The AHA’s What We’re Reading 4/17/2014
My OAH Tribute: Stephanie M. H. Camp & Deborah Gray White
Originally posted on Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog:
Stephanie M. H. Camp
Below is the full-text of the talk I gave at the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting last week. The panel was titled “Expanding the Boundaries: Power and Voice in African American Women’s and Gender History.”A separate reflection on the panel itself is incoming.
My original remarks…
First, although the importance of Africa, its peoples, and their descendants in the history of the Western world has been vigorously championed by certain scholars over the years, they have been and remain too often overlooked in the academic field of "Atlantic history." Africans entered the Atlantic not as fodder for subsequent cultural transformation, but as people already familiar with instability and adaptation.
— Lisa A. Lindsey and John Wood Sweet. “Introduction.” Biography and the Black Atlantic. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, 2
… to remember the dead is to mend ruptured lines of descent and filiation. In this regard, remembrance is entangled with reclaiming the past, propitiating ancestors, and recovering the origins of the descendants of this dispersal. To remember slavery is to imagine the past as the ‘‘fabric of our own experience” and seizing hold of it as ‘‘the key to our identity.” 2 And the belated return of the African-American tourist (to places like Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle in Ghana and at La Maison de Esclaves on Goree Island, Senegal) is fraught with these issues. The fixation on roots reveals the centrality of identity not only to the transactions of tourism, but in staging the encounter with the past. Identification and bereavement are inextricably linked in this instance; since the roots we are encouraged to recover presuppose the rupture of the transatlantic slave trade and the natal alienation and kinlessness of enslave-ment. Put differently, the issues of loss and our identification with the dead are central to both the work of mourning and the political imagination of the African diaspora.3 And, for this reason, grief is a central term in the political vocabulary of the diaspora.
— Saidiya V. Hartman, “The Time of Slavery,” South Atlantic Quarterly 101:4 (2002), 758. (via profkew)
For the distinction between the past and the present founders on the interminable grief engendered by slavery and its aftermath. How might we understand mourning, when the event has yet to end? When the injuries not only perdure, but are inflicted anew? Can one mourn what has yet ceased happening? The point here is not to deny the abolition of slavery or to assert the identity or continuity of racism over the course of centuries, but rather to consider the constitutive nature of loss in the making of the African dias-pora and the role of grief in transatlantic identification, especially in light of the plaque’s behest that those returning find their roots, which is second only to the desire that the dead rest in peace.
— Saidiya V. Hartman, “The Time of Slavery,” South Atlantic Quarterly 101:4 (2002), 758. (via profkew)
"The Church in the Southern Black Community" collects autobiographies, biographies, church documents, sermons, histories, encyclopedias, and other published materials. These texts present a collected history of the way Southern African Americans experienced and transformed Protestant Christianity into the central institution of community life. Coverage begins with white churches’ conversion efforts, especially in the post-Revolutionary period, and depicts the tensions and contradictions between the egalitarian potential of evangelical Christianity and the realities of slavery. It focuses, through slave narratives and observations by other African American authors, on how the black community adapted evangelical Christianity, making it a metaphor for freedom, community, and personal survival.