In The News #BigIsms #OlaudahEquiano #BlackPantherParty
How Saidiya Hartman Changed the Study of Black Life
Elias Rodriques interviews Saidiya Hartman, November 3, 2022, The Nation
Saidiya Hartman has shaped studies of Black life for over two decades. Her first book, 1997’s Scenes of Subjection, argued that slavery was foundational to the American project and its notions of liberty. Her follow-up, 2006’s Lose Your Mother, combines elements of historiography and memoir in exploring the experience and legacy of enslavement. Here she first used a speculative method of writing history given the silences of the archive. And her most recent book, 2019’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, examines the revolution of everyday life enacted in the practices of young Black women and queer people that created and sustained expansive notions of freedom.
After 25 years, Hartman’s influence is everywhere. Her coining of the phrase “the afterlife of slavery” changed the ways that historians consider the long ramifications of the chattel regime on Black life. It has prepared the public to engage with the work of artists like Kara Walker, who represent slavery’s continued hold on the present. And even the critiques of Hartman’s work demonstrate an anxiety about her influence, conceding that she has, in fact, influenced our ability to see the world. I spoke with Hartman earlier this year about the republication of Scenes of Subjection
on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, about the ways that people in the 1990s misunderstood race and slavery, and about the expansive visions of freedom that enslaved people cultivated. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The Moral Force of the Black University
Brian Jones, November, 3, 2022, The Chronicle of Higher Education
On April 6, 1968, two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a confrontation unfolded at the Tuskegee Institute, the historic land-grant college in eastern Alabama now called Tuskegee University. Twelve members of the college’s Board of Trustees, 13 staff members, and 20-some students assembled in a room of Dorothy Hall, a stately brick building where the trustees held an annual campus meeting. On the table before the dignitaries lay an 18-page typed document titled “General Philosophy: A Black University Concept.” The document, drafted by student activists and framed as a mandate from the student body, argued that the college needed to prepare students to change society, not just to “succeed” within it. Outside, nearly 300 students gathered, blocking the building’s exits. Students inside the building took control of the telephone switchboard and locked the front doors. Tuskegee students had the trustees’ full attention.
On the orders of Alabama’s governor, Lurleen Wallace, some 300 National Guardsmen assembled at the institute’s gates, bayonets affixed to their rifles. Bloodshed was not out of the question: Earlier that year, police officers in Orangeburg, S.C., had shot and killed three Black students during a protest. Tuskegee’s dean of students, Bertrand Phillips, spoke to the guardsmen, hoping to persuade them to turn around and avoid a bloodbath. One soldier heard his concerns but told Phillips that they would enter the campus regardless. “You all at Tuskegee,” the guardsman explained, “have been too uppity for a long time.”
Cambridge bridge honours abolitionist Olaudah Equiano
31 October, 2022, The BBC News
A river bridge in Cambridge has been renamed after an African anti-slavery activist Olaudah Equiano in recognition of his connection with the county.
Equiano, born in about 1745, was sold into slavery as a child but managed to earn enough to buy his freedom.
He married an English woman, Susanna Cullen, and lived in Soham in Cambridgeshire with their daughters.
Formerly known as Riverside Bridge, a new plaque bearing the name Equiano Bridge was unveiled earlier.
Equiano came to prominence in the late 18th Century as a leading black campaigner for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
Finding Black Queer Life Between the Lines of History
Suzette Mayr, November 1, 2022. Lit Hub
I have a great-great uncle who was born in the Bahamas. His name was Baxter. He was recruited by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early part of the 20th century to work on the passenger trains as a sleeping car porter. Young and looking for adventure, he arrived in Canada and worked for years on the trains. Sleeping car porter work was among the few decent jobs that a black man could get at the time.
Baxter is recorded nowhere in the family papers, and he likely appears in no archive, unless it’s as a criminal, named or unnamed in a police record because he was caught out for gross indecency while in the company of another consenting man, which is one of the only ways a man like him would be recorded in an official archive. Or maybe he’s not in the archives because he found the right guy, and he lived happily ever after—sometimes these things do happen under the radar. People like Baxter worked hard not to be found.
I tell you this story as truth about my ancestor even though it is 100 percent fiction. Baxter is the protagonist of my novel The Sleeping Car Porter, and I wrote him because he is the star of a book I wanted to read that hadn’t been written. I wrote him with the zeal of someone searching a family attic or closet for traces of family members whom she didn’t know existed. I made up Baxter, but I made him up because I am the only queer person I know in my Caribbean family, but not for a minute do I believe that I am actually the only queer person in my Caribbean family. I am also not the only queer black person in the history of the Canadian Prairies, where I live, and where—when I was coming out in the early 1990s—99.999 percent of the time I was the only black woman in the lesbian bar.
For the Women of the Black Panther Party, Freedom Meant Survival
Lauren Christensen, November 4, 2022, The New York Times
Free Breakfast for School Children. The Intercommunal Youth Institute. The People’s Free Medical Clinics. The Free Ambulance Program. The Oakland Community School. Though the women who made up two-thirds of the Black Panther Party took part in rallies and voter registrations, newsrooms and grass-roots political campaigns, their most direct contributions have gone all but unheralded: the more than 60 Community Survival Programs that provided neglected Black Americans with life-sustaining meals, education and health care.
“These programs demonstrated that freedom is far more than a checklist of formal rights,” Angela Davis writes in the foreword to COMRADE SISTERS: Women of the Black Panther Party (A.C.C. Art Books, $45), by the photographer Stephen Shames and the former party leader Ericka Huggins. “Because the media tended to focus on what could be easily sensationalized,” Davis continues, i.e., the predominantly male targets of government and police abuse, “there has been a tendency to forget that the organizing work that truly made the B.P.P. relevant to a new era … was largely carried out by women.”
Effort reveals significance of SC’s Rosenwald schools
Adam Parker, The Post and Courier
ST. GEORGE — Not long ago, you couldn’t stand inside without the floor giving way in places. The ceiling was falling in. Debris was everywhere. The building was enshrouded by a messy fringe of green, the decaying wooden frame obscured by overgrowth.
Today, the old Rosenwald School in this modest residential neighborhood just off U.S. Highway 78 is a shining beacon — restored and nearly ready for action.
It has been a 10-year-long heavy lift, but a determined team of preservationists, community leaders and supporters is seeing the project through, for this old school has profound historical meaning and plenty of future potential. It’s part of a fascinating chapter in the civil rights struggle against injustice, and it’s a symbol of transformation of both the physical and intellectual kind.
Ralph James, 76, has been leading the charge, chairing a seven-person board, working with legislators and civic leaders, coordinating with contractors, and sharing the history of this place with anyone who shows an interest in it.
Recounting the past comes easily to James. His brain seems to operate like a well-organized jewelry box whose myriad compartments each contain a valuable gem. He attended the school for first grade and part of second grade, so his memories are long and rooted in St. George. He and his classmates, though just young children at the time, cared deeply about their education at the school, James said.
“Because it was a privilege, we took it very seriously,” he said. “Some walked 4 or 5 miles to get to school, then needed 30 minutes to warm their hands before they could work. The teachers were kind; they wanted the kids to succeed.”