In The News #bigisms
Olivia B. Waxman, December 27, 2019, Time
Americans are likely to think of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as a time to celebrate the fresh start that a new year represents, but there is also a troubling side to the holiday’s history. In the years before the Civil War, the first day of the new year was often a heartbreaking one for enslaved people in the United States.
In the African-American community, New Year’s Day used to be widely known as “Hiring Day” — or “Heartbreak Day,” as the African-American abolitionist journalist William Cooper Nell described it — because enslaved people spent New Year’s Eve waiting, wondering if their owners were going to rent them out to someone else, thus potentially splitting up their families. The renting out of slave labor was a relatively common practice in the antebellum South, and a profitable practice for white slave owners and hirers.
“‘Hiring Day’ was part of the larger economic cycle in which most debts were collected and settled on New Year’s Day,” says Alexis McCrossen, an expert on the history of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and a professor of history at Southern Methodist University, who writes about Hiring Day in her forthcoming book Time’s Touchstone: The New Year in American Life.
The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts
Adam Serwer, December 23, 2019, The Atlantic
When The New York Times Magazine published its 1619 Project in August, people lined up on the street in New York City to get copies. Since then, the project—a historical analysis of how slavery shaped American political, social, and economic institutions—has spawned a podcast, a high-school curriculum, and an upcoming book. For Nikole Hannah-Jones, the reporter who conceived of the project, the response has been deeply gratifying.
“They had not seen this type of demand for a print product of The New York Times, they said, since 2008, when people wanted copies of Obama's historic presidency edition,” Hannah-Jones told me. “I know when I talk to people, they have said that they feel like they are understanding the architecture of their country in a way that they had not.”
U.S. history is often taught and popularly understood through the eyes of its great men, who are seen as either heroic or tragic figures in a global struggle for human freedom. The 1619 Project, named for the date of the first arrival of Africans on American soil, sought to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” Viewed from the perspective of those historically denied the rights enumerated in America’s founding documents, the story of the country’s great men necessarily looks very different.
The reaction to the project was not universally enthusiastic. Several weeks ago, the Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, who had criticized the 1619 Project’s “cynicism” in a lecture in November, began quietly circulating a letter objecting to the project, and some of Hannah-Jones’s work in particular. The letter acquired four signatories—James McPherson, Gordon Wood, Victoria Bynum, and James Oakes, all leading scholars in their field. They sent their letter to three top Times editors and the publisher, A. G. Sulzberger, on December 4. A version of that letter was published on Friday, along with a detailed rebuttal from Jake Silverstein, the editor of the Times Magazine.
Tracing NYC’s abolition trail: Home to many abolitionists, the city needs a museum honoring its anti-slavery roots
Andy Bachman, December 27, 2019, New York Daily News
As the year comes to an end and with it a number of commemorations related to the 400th anniversary of the introduction of slavery to the Americas, New York City has a responsibility to advance the conversation. We can do it by creating a Freedom Trail to guide visitors and natives alike through the history of slavery in our city and the movement that ultimately led to its extinction.
The ground beneath our feet is fertile terrain to tell this story. From the first 11 slaves brought to New York from the Congo and Angola in 1627 until New York abolished slavery in 1827, Gotham’s slave ownership rate was second only to that of Charleston, S.C.
Then, throughout the first half of the 19th century, much of the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad were centered here. New York was home to the North’s largest free black urban population and thus created a robust atmosphere for black New Yorkers to reject “gradualism” and embrace immediatism, strongly influencing the debate over slavery that led to the Civil War.
As a result, across New York City, from Herald Square down to the Battery and Financial District, as well as DUMBO, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights and Weeksville, noted abolitionists lived, gathered and organized in the heroic struggle to end slavery. According to the historian Eric Foner, there are at least two dozen such locations in the city — but only three of them are marked, much less landmarked.
Why We Should Remember William Monroe Trotter
Keisha N. Blain, December 29, 2019, Jacobin
Keisha N. Blain reviews Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter, by Kerri Greenidge.
On April 7, 1934, William Monroe Trotter, editor of the Guardian newspaper, jumped to his death from the third-story window of his apartment in Roxbury, Boston. The news of his untimely demise came as a shock to many. The Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey was so moved by Trotter’s passing that he penned a lengthy obituary. “[Trotter] was an uncompromising and sincere advocate of equal rights and Negro freedom,” Garvey wrote. “The American Negro,” he continued, “could have well afforded to lose a thousand of their present-day pseudo-leaders without regret, rather than losing William Monroe Trotter.”
Many reading Garvey’s words might have found them surprising. The black nationalist leader had long feuded with many of Trotter’s associates, especially W. E. B. Du Bois — who was likely one of the “present-day pseudo-leaders” Garvey suggested black Americans could live without. Harvard-educated and a member of the black elite, Trotter personified Du Bois’s “talented tenth.” Yet Trotter stood apart from his contemporaries. Despite his own social and economic standing, he was critical of black elites and maintained strong ties with the black working class — taking their concerns seriously and working closely with them to advance a liberatory black politics.
In Black Radical, historian Kerri Greenidge tells the story of how Trotter emerged as one of the most admired and respected black radical activists in Boston. Charting Trotter’s personal life and journalism career, she also offers a rich intellectual history, revealing how Trotter’s ideas were shaped by the varied networks and friendships he formed in the city. Unlike other historians, who have argued that Trotter’s residency in Boston limited his engagement in black radical politics, Greenidge reveals that the Massachusetts capital was a significant site for leftist activity during the twentieth century. It was a place where Trotter found a strong community of organizers willing to defy the status quo, challenge white supremacy, and take an assertive, and sometimes confrontational, stance in the fight for black liberation.
‘The War of Races’: How a hateful ideology echoes through American history
Michael E. Miller, December 27, 2019, The Washington Post
It was high noon on Easter 1873 when the white mob came riding into Colfax.
Five months earlier, Louisiana had held its second election since the end of the Civil War and the beginning of black male suffrage. But some whites had refused to recognize the result, and former Confederate soldiers had committed acts of racial violence across the state.
When a former slave was fatally shot near Colfax, around 150 black men holed up inside the river town’s courthouse to wait for federal troops.
Instead, they were met by the mob.
“Boys, this is a struggle for white supremacy,” one Ku Klux Klan leader told the mob, according to Charles Lane’s The Day Freedom Died.
Armed with superior weaponry — including a small cannon — the mob set the courthouse on fire and shot anyone who emerged. When some blacks tried to surrender by waving handkerchiefs, they were mowed down and their remains were desecrated. Anywhere from 62 to 81 African Americans were killed, according to Lane, a Washington Post editorial writer.
Slave cemetery poses questions for country club in Florida's capital city
December 26, 2019, The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The rumors swirled for decades: A dark history long lay buried under the grassy knolls and manicured lawns of a country club in Florida's capital city.
Over the years, neat rows of rectangular depressions along the 7th fairway deepened in the grass, outlining what would be confirmed this month as sunken graves of the slaves who lived and died on a plantation that once sprawled with cotton near the Florida Capitol.
The discovery of 40 graves — with perhaps dozens more yet to be found — has spawned discussion about how to honor those who lie in rest at the golf course. And it has brought renewed attention to the many thousands of unmarked and forgotten slave cemeteries across the Deep South that forever could be lost to development or indifference.
“When I stand here on a cemetery for slaves, it makes me thoughtful and pensive," said Delaitre Hollinger, the immediate past president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. His ancestors worked the fields of Leon County as slaves.
“They deserve much better than this," said Hollinger, 26, who is leading a push to memorialize the rediscovered burial ground. "And they deserved much better than what occurred in that era.”
Wooden markers that had identified the graves have long since decayed. For years, golfers have unknowingly trod through the cemetery.
2019 marked 400 years of ‘forbidden black love’ in America
Dianne M. Stewart, December 26. 2019, The Washington Post
Dianne M. Stewart is an associate professor of religion and African American studies at Emory University and the author of the forthcoming book, Black Women, Black Love: America’s War on African American Marriage (Seal Press, 2020).
Marking the 400th anniversary of African enslavement in the Anglo-United States, 2019 has been a year of bitter remembrance. Commemoration events, conferences, congressional hearings, news reports and public awareness initiatives crammed our calendars over the past 12 months with retrospectives on America’s heritage of racial slavery and its damaging legacies among present-day African American communities.
Yet among the many themes addressed and debated about the legacy of slavery, there is one glaring omission: America’s war on black love, a war whose casualties are most apparent in the peculiar privation of love and marriage facing black women today.
The majority of black women in America are single by circumstance, not by choice, and the statistics are jarring. The 2010 U.S. Census revealed, for example, that in 2009, 71 percent of black women in America were unmarried. Of that group, 71 percent of black women between the ages of 25 and 29 and 54 percent between the ages of 30 and 34 had never been married. By comparison, 43 percent of non-Hispanic white women between the ages of 25 and 29 had never married.