Instagram Follow Me on Pinterest

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We Ain't What We Ought to Be

Stephen Tuck. We Ain’t What We Ought to Be: The Black Freedom Struggle from Emancipation to Obama. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. 

         In We Ain’t What We Ought to Be, Tuck argues that “there was no such thing as a single black protest agenda,” “no single black experience,” nor was there “a single black culture” (3). Instead the fight for civil rights was fought by diverse participants who utilized diverse tactics and strategies to achieve their goals on local and national levels. Tuck demonstrates how activists were diverse in their goals. For example, the rivalry between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois demonstrated how some activists believed that racial uplift could be achieved through accommodation while others believed that political and social power was the best approach. Many activists were separatists while others were integrationists and there were those who supported the back to Africa movement while others believed in the American dream.
We Ain’t What We Ought to Be is a chronological narrative history of the black freedom struggle for full and equal rights. Tucks describes this book as “an introduction for the general reader as well as an interpretation for the specialist” (2). Tuck dismisses the notion that the 1960s marked the pinnacle of the “protest generation.” He traces the black freedom struggle or the “long”[1] civil rights movement from Emancipation in 1961 into the 21st century with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. Tuck refers to these two events as the “pain and promise” of the black freedom struggle. This pain and promise is further demonstrated in the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Fisk Jubilee Singers fight against prejudice in America while finding success in Europe, the race riots following Jack Johnson’s “fight of the century,” the social and intellectual upheaval of the Harlem Renaissance, the activism of students and women in the Civil Rights Movement, the radicalism of the Black Power Movement, and the popularity and controversy of Hip Hop culture.
Recent scholarship has suggested that the civil rights movement did not begin in 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education decision or in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott. For historian Adam Fairclough, the movement took shape in the 1890s with Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign. Glenda Gilmore situates the origins of the civil rights movement in the 1920s with the racial violence towards African Americans following World War I. Patricia Sullivan traces the movement to the 1920s with the activists and organizations that emerged prior to and after the New Deal. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, argues that the long civil rights movement formed in the liberal and radical environment of the 1930s. Nelson Lichtenstein, Robert Korstad, and Harvard Sitkoff locate the movement’s roots in the depression and in the 1940s placing emphasis on the emerging black urban working class. Historians have adopted the notion of a long civil rights movement to encompass the roots of the movement as well as the ongoing struggles of African Americans to the present day. Tuck dismisses the notion of a long civil rights movement and instead argues that the black freedom struggle began in 1861 with African Americans fighting for freedom during Emancipation.

[1] Historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall coined the phrase “the long civil rights movement.” See her essay “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past, “The Journal of American History 91, no. 4 (2005): 1233-1263.   

Impossible Subjects

Mae M. Ngai. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton:Princeton University Press, 2004. 

In Impossible Subjects Ngai argues that in the 20th century ideas of citizenship, race, and the nation-state were shaped by restrictive immigration policy. The period from 1924-1965 is critical to Ngai for a couple of reasons. First, many historians studying immigration have focused on immigration from Europe prior to 1924. The next wave of scholarship on immigration has been situated in the period after 1965, “when the national origins quota system was abolished and immigration from the third world increased” (3). The second reason is because the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 was the first comprehensive restrictive law. This law established the first ever “numerical limitations on immigration and a global racial and national hierarchy that favored some immigrants over others” (3).
Ngai outlines the two ways in which restrictive immigration policy “remapped” the nation. The first is the creation of categorical and hierarchical distinctions between race and ethnicity. Second, there was a sense of territory discernible through contiguous land borders. This study ends with the year 1965; it marks the passage of the Hart-Celler Act which lifted the national origins quotas. By covering the years between 1924 and 1965, this book seeks to fill the space in American immigration historiography in regards to the major themes of transnational history, labor history, citizenship, and race.  
Impossible Subjects is divided into four parts. Part one “The Regime of Quotas and Papers,” laid the legal foundation of restrictive immigration. The ever changing political and economic conditions demonstrated how some immigrants were more desirable than others. Part two “Migrants at the Margins of Law” discusses the roles of immigrant laborers such as Filipinos and Mexicans in the West and Southwest. “War, Nationalism, and Alien Citizenship,” examines Asian Americans citizenship during WWII and the Cold War. At this time, Japanese Americans citizenship status did not prevent their internment during World War II. Ngai explains that the government did not fully strip take away Japanese Americans citizenship status “but in effect it nullified their citizenship, exclusively on the grounds of racial difference” (175). In the last part,” Pluralism and Nationalism in Post-World War II Immigration Reform” Ngai evaluates how the government overhauled immigration policies causing high levels of illegal immigration. As a result, illegal immigration became problematic to America’s immigration policy throughout the 20th century and into the 21th century.    

Charleston, South Carolina: The Ellis Island for Enslaved Africans

 Historians have referred to Charleston as the "Ellis Island for African Americans" because roughly fifty percent of enslaved Africans brought to America during the transatlantic slave trade entered through ports in the lowcountry of South Carolina. this phrase is controversial because the immigrants at Ellis Island arrived there voluntarily whereas Africans were captured and brought here against their will. There are a number of reasons why Africans were brought to the low country, the main reasons had to due with climate, crops, and labor. First, the climate of the lowcountry is similar to that of countries in West Africa such as Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and the Senegambia region (Senegal and the Gambia). The Europeans were not used to this type of climate making Africans perfect for the area. Second, rice crops were prevalent to the region. Africans, not Europeans, were knowledgeable about rice cultivation again making them a perfect solution to the problem. Third, Africans did not know the lay of the land and therefore were ideal in terms of labor. Natives were not used to the type of labor needed  for the crops and were susceptible to the diseases that Europeans carried from Europe.

                                               (photo credit: Google image search)

 Charleston, South Carolina is home to a number of Historical Landmarks. Among these landmarks are slave marts, plantation homes, schools, and antebellum homes. This post discusses 4 landmarks in Charleston: Old Slave Mart Museum, Drayton Hall, Avery Research Center, and the Aiken-Rhett House Museum.

Old Slave Mart Museum:

                                                             (photo credit: Flickr)

The museum opened its doors in 2007 at the site of Ryan's Mart. The building is a complex that consisted of three other buildings- a four-story brick building partially containing a "barracoon," or slave jail, a kitchen, and a "dead house," or morgue. In 1808 a ban on the United States' participation in the international slave trade led to an increase in the demand for slave labor. This created an internal slave trade in which Charleston became a major port of collecting and reselling slaves. In the decades between the drafting of the Constitution and the Civil War, more than one million African-Americans were sold to plantations in the lowcountry. In 1856, a city ordinance prohibited the public selling of slaves resulting in the opening of the Old Slave Mart and a number of other sales rooms, yards, or marts along Chalmers, State and Queen Streets. As of November 1863, slave auctions ended at the Old Slave Mart. After the Civil War, the property had many owners. Between the years of 1878 and 1937 the building was a tenement for black families as well as an auto repair shop. Miriam B. Wilson bought the building in 1938. By then the building became a museum that featured African and African American arts and crafts. In 1964 Judith Wragg Chase and Louise Wragg Graves took over the property and in 1973 placed it on the National Register of Historic Places. They operated the building until 1987. In 1988, the city of Charleston acquired the property.

                                                  (photo credit: National Park Service)

Drayton Hall:

                                                        (photo credit: Carolina Heart Strings)

                                                       (photo credit: Google Image Search)

Drayton Hall was built in 1738 and is the oldest Southern plantation house accessible to the public. TIn its 300 hundred year history, the home has not been restored. The home belonged to generations of Draytons who owned the rice plantation and kept the Georgian Palladian house until 1974. Drayton Hall was also home to African American families such as the Bowens who were brought to South Carolina as slaves from Barbados. After slavery was abolished, Richard Bowens Sr., lived and worked on the property. They were arrived with a member of the Drayton family. The population of black people on the property was very diverse: there were Central West Africans, Angolan Catholics and African Muslims, as well as Native Americans and those of mixed ancestry.

     Similar to many public plantations, Drayton Hall is a popular wedding destination. Why anyone would want to get married on a plantation in this day and age is something I can not wrap my psyche around. I am not superstitious nor do I believe in ghosts but the thought is a bit too creepy for my liking.

                                      (photo credit: Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Avery Research Center: 
                                                      (photo credit: College of Charleston)

 The Avery Research Center opened in 1865 and was established as a school for freed slaves under the name the Avery Normal Institute. Its mission was provide an  academic education to freed slaves. The three-story structure was built in 1868. The Institute was closed in 1954, and the building was later purchased by the state of South Carolina. In 1990, the Avery Research Center opened in the renovated school building by the College of Charleston. The archives of the Avery Research Center focus on the  experiences of African peoples in the Lowcountry. The archives contain documentary material dating from 1777 to the present, including manuscript, photograph and video, and audiotape collections; oral histories; African and African-American art and artifacts; a variety of published materials, including newspapers; and bibliographies.

                                                         (photo credit: College of Charleston)

Aiken-Rhett House:

                                           (photo credit: Historic Charleston Foundation)

 The Aiken-Rhett House provides a different insight into the lives of slaves. People tend to think that slaves lived only plantations. This house provides a different picture and that is slaves living in urban antebellum homes.

                                                         (photo credit: Historic Charleston Foundation)

                                                    (photo credit: Historic Charleston Foundation)

The complex was the home of former governor of South Carolina and prominent politician William Aiken Jr. and his family. The slave quarters, home to the Greggs and the Richardson families, among others, are some of the most well-intact in the country. The preserved home contains real artifacts belonging to the families and remains a true relic of the 19th century, with no electricity or major renovations.

                                           (photo credit: Historic Charleston Foundation)

  This museum offers visitors insight into the live of domestic slaves while debunking myths about house slaves and their comfortable lifestyles. Domestic slaves were constantly under the watchful eyes of their maters and mistresses. They were called upon around the clock. There was little time for downtime. Being in the "big house" did not mean that the lives of  domestic slaves were better than slaves in the fields.

                                                 (photo credit: Historic Charleston Foundation) 

Entertain or Ignorance?: A History of Blackface in Film

Apparently Halloween is the day that people decide to actively unmask their ignorance. From Julianne Hough dressing up as Crazy Eyes from Netflix’s original series Orange is the New Black to a handful of people dressing up as Trayvon Martin to Italian fashion designer Alessandro Dell’acqua donning blackface for a “Hallohood Disco Africa” themed Halloween party. Some argue that it’s just a Halloween costume and should be seen as entertaining. While others argue that the history behind the meaning is anything but fun and games. Although everyone is not offended or up in arms about people in blackface, those who choose to wear blackface should be prepared for the backlash and expect to suffer the consequences for thinking that it is okay to do so. When I see people wearing blackface, I always wonder if they know the history behind it.

                                                        (photo credit: Eonline)

                                                    (photo credit: The Daily Dot)

                                              (photo credit: The Daily Dot)

                                                (photo credit: Fashion Bomb Daily) 

Blackface was used in minstrel shows in the early 19th century to contribute to the stereotypical images placed upon African Americans on plantations. In order to achieve the blackface look, white actors use burnt cork, greasepaint, or shoe polish to darken their skin, exaggerate their lips with bright lipstick, put on woolly wigs, tailcoats or tattered clothing, and gloves. These images crossed the oceans as numerous nations picked up on them and transcended mediums from theater to film, and dance. 

                                              (photo credit: Library of Congress)

  1. Birth of a Nation (1915)- This three hour long silent film by director D.W. Griffith was adapted from the novel The Clansman by Thomas Dixon Jr. The film is about two families during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. White actors in blackface fought against the Klan who protected the “Aryan” cause. The film was a commercial success and a recent article in the New Yorker states that the film “proved horrifically effective at sparking violence against blacks in many cities.”

                                        (Photo credit: Museum of Modern Art, Film Stills Archives)

2. The Jazz Singer (1927)- The film follows Jakie Rabinowitz played by Al Jolson who rejects his Jewish heritage to pursue his dreams of being a popular jazz singer. While rejecting his Jewish heritage, he embraces blackface. The film was well received by black and white critics. 

                                               (photo credit: Hulton Archive)

3. Swing Time (1936)-  Starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the film is inspired by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Astaire donned blackface for the musical number "Bojangles in Harlem."  It is praised as being the best dance musical Astaire and Rogers.    

                                            (photo credit: RKO Radio Pictures)

4. Everybody Sing (1938)-  An aspiring young singer who is on the verge of being shipped out of England due to her troublesome jazz singing. She decides to escape, and pretends to be black during an audition.

                                   (photo credit: Silverscreen Collection/Getty Image)

5. Soul Man (1986)-  Basically a white college student decides to disguise himself as a black man in order to receive a scholarship from Harvard Law School. 

                                        (photo credit: New World Pictures)

6. Bamboozled (2000)- This Spike Lee film stars Damon Wayans and Jada Pinkett Smith. Wayans plays a Harvard educated television writer who decides to purposefully create a minstrel show starring blacks in blackface in hopes of getting fired. What he did not expect was the outpouring of support of the show from audiences and the network. 

                                         (Film trailer credit: New Line Cinema)

Here is a montage on the history of blackface and Minstrelsy from the film Bamboozled.

                                            (film credit: New Line Cinema)

Bottom Line- Blackface is not okay and ignorance is not bliss.  

                    (photo credit: Ohio University's Students Teaching Against Racism STARS)

Monday, July 27, 2015

African Creeks

Gary Zellar. African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. 

In African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation, Gary Zellar examines the relationships among African Creeks and Creek Indians. Zellar begins the story in slavery when Africans encountered the Creek Indians. Until the 1850s, slaves in Creek nation enjoyed relative freedoms. Creek slavery became harsher and when the Civil War emerged, African Creeks became the first black troops to enlist in the United States Army. Zellar defines the postwar Creek nation as an “unheralded success story of reconstructing race relations in the U.S." (p. 77). In the 1880s, outsider presence brought racial views that intruded the Creek nation. The 1887 Dawes Act caused racial tensions to flourish in Creek nation. The Curtis Act implemented allotment on the Creek Nation, and six thousand African Creeks were signed up in the midst of the never-ending accusations of fraud and mistakes that resulted. African Creeks quickly lost seventy-five percent of their land as the Creek Nation was pushed toward dissolution. Zellar describes African Creeks living, from the early twentieth century, in the Jim Crow state of Oklahoma as people indistinguishable from other African Americans. 

The Seminole Freedmen

Kevin Mulroy. The Seminole Freedmen: A History. Norman, OK: Oklahoma University Press, 2007. 

In The Seminole Freedmen: A History, Kevin Mulroy examines the history of African Americans and Seminole Indians and their relationships with one another from the colonial era to the 20th century. Mulroy looks to clear up misunderstandings about these interactions. He asserts that Seminole Indians embraced long-term close ties with African runaways as well as freedmen also known as Seminole Maroons. Although these groups maintained close ties, they also maintained identities and cultures that were unique and separate from one another. These ties were mostly maintained after Indian Removal to Indian Territory. Many Seminole Indians and maroons felt Indian Territory was lacking in many ways so they fled for Texas and Mexico. Mulroy asserts that the Civil War lent itself to the first substantial divisions among Seminole Indians and maroons because of the pro-slavery stance some Native Americans took. He outlines that factors that have led to battles over Seminole membership in the 20th and 21st centuries such as intermarriage, children, land allotment, Christianization and Civilization agendas, Oklahoma statehood, and Seminole tribe/nation political factionalism.    

Ties that Bind

Tiya Miles. Ties the Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom. Oakland: University of California Press, 2005. 

In Ties that Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, Tiya Miles examines the story of an Afro-Cherokee family. The family consists of a Cherokee warrior named Tarsekayahke also known as Shoeboots, his wife, an African woman named Doll, and their children, Elizabeth, John, Polly, William, and Lewis Shoeboots; in late 18th and early 19th century Georgia and Oklahoma. The intimate relationship between Shoe Boots and Doll was the first officially recorded and regulated by the Cherokee national government. Miles mainly focuses on Doll and her children as they provide the most revealing clues for African Americans moving into and out of Indian Territory and the United States. Early on, Doll and her children lived in the Cherokee nation in northern Georgia and by the end of the 1830s; Doll and her daughters lived among African American slaves in Georgia. After Cherokee Removal, Doll and her children live among the Cherokee in Indian Territory. Miles asserts that that events such as slavery, emancipation, forced migration, and marriage defined the identities of Doll and her children.