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‘Listen to what he said’: remembering and honoring the speeches of Frederick Douglass
David Smith, 26 February 2022, The Guardian


“I have no love for America, as such; I have no patriotism. I have no country. What country have I? The institutions of this country do not know me – do not recognise me as a man. I am not thought of or spoken of except as a piece of property. Now, in such a country as this I cannot have patriotism.”

The words are spoken by The Harder They Fall actor Jonathan Majors, wearing a hoodie before a bare brick wall, at the opening of Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches, an HBO documentary that makes a case that the fugitive slave turned celebrity abolitionist was also one of America’s great prose poets.

Sadly for the film-makers, no recordings of Douglass exist. But here a starry cast – Nicole Beharie, Colman Domingo, Majors, Denzel Whitaker and Jeffrey Wright – conjure his spirit by performing excerpts from five speeches, each representing a different moment in 19th-century America as well as his own political evolution.

The vignettes give ample reminder that, despite never having a day of formal education, Douglass wrote like an angel and entranced audiences like Cicero. They might also give cause to mourn a golden age of oratory that few political figures seek to match these days.

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How a Black writer in 19th-century America used humor to combat white supremacy
Rodney Taylor, February 25, 2022, The Conversation


Any writer has to struggle with the dilemma of staying true to their vision or giving editors and readers what they want. A number of factors might influence the latter: the market, trends and sensibilities.

But in the decades after the Civil War, Black writers looking to faithfully depict the horrors of slavery had to contend with readers whose worldviews were colored by racism, as well as an entire swath of the country eager to paper over the past.

Charles Chesnutt was one of those writers. Forced to work with skeptical editors and within the confines of popular forms, Chesnutt nonetheless worked to shine a light on the legacy of slavery.

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Cecil Williams preserves South Carolina’s civil rights legacy
Miss Rosen, February 22, 2022, The Undefeated


On the cusp of his 85th year, photographer Cecil Williams has lived a history-making life. Williams vividly recalls both landmark events and quiet moments of the past century. A lifelong resident of Orangeburg, South Carolina, Williams has witnessed actions that have transformed the nation through unsung heroes of the civil rights movement from his home state.

Hailing from a family with ancestry that includes Black, white and Native American, Williams understood segregation and colorism from a young age. He got his start in photography at 9 years old. At 11, he was photographing weddings and soon became one of the only professional Black photographers in the region. By 14, Williams was working as a national correspondent for Jet magazine, documenting the fight for civil rights in Orangeburg years before some of the more well-known marches and protests.

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The Long Afterlife of Freedman’s Village
Livia Gershon  February 23, 2022, JSTORE Daily


Despite its short duration, the Reconstruction era transformed the nation in many ways. Historian Lindsey Bestebreurtje describes one example: the Black Virginia community known as Freedman’s Village.

During the Civil War, Bestebreurtje writes, many people freed themselves from slavery at great personal risk, finding their way to “contraband camps” behind Union lines. Washington D.C., located close to the South, and with a strong pre-existing Black community, was a particularly attractive destination.

To accommodate these newcomers, the War Department created Freedman’s Village in Virginia’s Arlington County—at the estate previously owned by the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

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The South's schools are failing to teach accurate Reconstruction history
Benjamin Barber, February 17, 2022, Facing South


"What are American children taught today about Reconstruction?" asked sociologist and historian W.E.B. Du Bois in his influential 1935 book "Black Reconstruction in America." Du Bois confronted the distorted revisionist history presented by the Dunning School, a historiographical approach named for Columbia University historian William Archibald Dunning that downplayed Black progress and promoted white supremacy.

"One cannot study Reconstruction without first frankly facing the facts of universal lying," wrote Du Bois. Although current scholars by and large no longer subscribe to Dunning's blatant misrepresentation of history, a report released last month by the Zinn Education Project found that the Dunning School's influence is present in more than a dozen states' educational standards and curricula and continues to shape ongoing disputes over the meaning of the Reconstruction era, which has been called the "first experiment in genuine interracial democracy in the South" by noted U.S. political historian Eric Foner.

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African Americans say the teaching of Black history is under threat
Joe Heim and Lori Rozsa, February 23, 2022, The Washington Post


Jamarah Amani insists that her four children, ages 8 to 21, learn Black history.
“There’s not very much incorporated into public school education, which is why I have done a combination of home schooling and public schools over the years,” said Amani, 41, a Miami-area midwife.

Now, she believes, a bill before Florida legislators — one that bars material causing students “discomfort,” “guilt” or “anguish” — would limit the accurate teaching of Black American history in schools. “If this law passes, kids won’t be able to see themselves reflected at all within their own education,” she said.

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“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.” – William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”

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