#SaveUnderground: Aisha Hinds on Freedom Dreams and Revolutionary Art

Treva B. Lindsey, Ph.D., theroot.com

Aisha Hinds (Manny Carabel/Getty Images)

Last week, WGN America announced that it had canceled the critically acclaimed and riveting historical drama Underground. Allegedly moving in a more conservative, programming direction, the network is leaving behind a show that introduced millions of viewers to the relatively unknown network….

The push to find a new home for this show is largely due to its dynamism. The show is singular and remarkable in its approach to telling the stories about enslaved and freed black people in the 19th century. From its complex characters, stellar performances, breathtaking soundtrack and rich storytelling, each episode feels like a multitextured journey.

The liberties taken with historical accuracy do not compromise the integrity of truth telling and historical precision as it pertains to slavery and resistance. Pitting the notorious Patty Cannon against the Black Rose and one of the greatest heroines in American history, Harriet Tubman, was an incredible fictionalized remix of true stories of fugitive, formerly enslaved people and the inhumanity of slave catchers and owners. It’s hard to imagine Wednesday nights without the resistive spirit and depths of ancestral pain that Underground has provided….

“She’s come back to sort of give us the playbook on how to strategize, on how to pray, on how to be guided and how to prioritize what’s necessary, and how to eventually take those selfless acts and be willing to die for the causes that are important to moving us forward,” she continued.

Worth dying for, yes. Tubman believed that black lives, black bodies and black souls were worth fighting for—worth dying for and worth living for. “The General’s” actual practice was #BlackLivesMatter, generations before the radical black women at the core of this movement would proclaim the same.

Underground is clear in its purpose: to expose the reality that when it comes to white supremacy—and the ways in which black people have always resisted oppression—past is often prologue. In many ways, Underground reminds us that the past is not even past. It encourages us to fight unrelentingly for radical black futures….

#SaveUnderground matters because the show’s cast and crew were and are unapologetically committed to telling our stories. From an artistic standpoint, Underground is phenomenal. The show’s commitment to a radical, black, freedom-fighting imagination, though, is what makes it invaluable.

Underground is the show, the freedom-dreaming experience, the ancestral battle cry, that we didn’t know we needed.

Read the full article here.

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Debunking a Myth: The Irish Were Not Slaves, Too

By

Nytimes.com

This 1908 photograph of fishermen in the parish of St. John, Barbados, is often used to illustrate memes that falsely claim Irish people were slaves in colonial America. Courtesy nytimes

It has shown up on Irish trivia Facebook pages, in Scientific American magazine, and on white nationalist message boards: the little-known story of the Irish slaves who built America, who are sometimes said to have outnumbered and been treated worse than slaves from Africa.

But it’s not true.

Historians say the idea of Irish slaves is based on a misreading of history and that the distortion is often politically motivated. Far-right memes have taken off online and are used as racist barbs against African-Americans. “The Irish were slaves, too,” the memes often say. “We got over it, so why can’t you?”

A small group of Irish and American scholars has spent years pushing back on the false history. Last year, 82 Irish scholars and writers signed an open letter denouncing the Irish slave myth and asking publications to stop mentioning it. Some complied, removing or revising articles that referenced the false claims, but the letter’s impact was limited.

Read the entire article here

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Inside a Report on Slavery and Its Legacy

The names of the slaves line the pages of the 19th-century ledger books. Hundreds of names. Harriett. Warwick. Godfrey. Squire Lockett. Nathan York. Robert. Solomon. Alfred.

A ledger that includes slave policy information is on display at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times

In the 1840s, New York Life, the nation’s third-largest life insurance company, sold 508 policies on enslaved men and women. The beneficiaries? Slaveholders, who collected cash after a slave’s untimely death.

I spent much of the year looking at institutions, particularly universities, that benefited from this painful period of American history; the idea was to better understand how the legacy of slavery reverberates through our own times. So as I studied the names in the fraying New York Life ledgers at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, I wondered: Could we identify their descendants?…

 

 

Read the complete story about how NYT reporter Rachel Swarns investigated and wrote about life insurance policies that allowed slave owners to recoup their slave’s “value” in the event of the slave’s untimely death.

More Breaking News here.

Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”, Hollywood Clapback or Just Another Slave Movie?

By Riley Wilson and Shantrelle P. Lewis, Colorlines.com

In this point/counterpoint about Nate Parker’s buzzy directorial debut, two Black independent filmmakers wrestle with the notion of seeing more chains, whips and nooses on the big screen. 

Riley Wilson: “The Birth of a Nation” Didn’t Change the Game

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Climactic scene from Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”

…On the one hand, we have a film written, directed, and starring a Black man that tells the story of an enslaved African-American by the name of Nat Turner who led the most successful slave rebellion in U.S. history. On the other hand, we have a film about slavery-again…

…(I)f you consider the rapturous reviews of “The Birth of a Nation” and the popularity of Black Lives Matter, a film studio would be silly not to invest in such a project. Black folks fighting for their rights—let alone their lives—is so in right now…

…(T)o be quite honest, I cringe every time I see a period film about this topic gain more notoriety than films that speak to the current condition of Black lives…

…(T)here are so many other stories to tell. It’s like the only way a film about the Black experience is rewarded is if it’s about the good-ole’ days of slavery…

My qualm is not with the success that “The Birth of Nation” has had so far. It’s with the lackadaisical nature of an industry that allows so many great movies from writers and directors of color to fall through the cracks…

Shantrelle P. Lewis: Nate Parker’s “The Birth of A Nation” is the Biggest Clapback Hollywood Has Ever Seen

…(M)ost of our parents, us and our children have a limited view of history—especially any involving people of African descent. We’re taught that Black history begins with slave ships, cotton gins, beatings, lynchings and rape and ends with segregated buses, water hoses, police dogs and burning crosses. This view has been exacerbated by the predominant images of Black people today, those from the minstrel shows that are reality television programs and the viral videos showing police-sanctioned murders of Black people on social media…

Beyond what the sale of Parker’s film signifies,”The Birth of a Nation” is a brilliant clapback against the first movie to use this title, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Ku Klux Klan propaganda film…

…Give me Nat Turner. Give me Toussaint. Give me Dessalines. Give me Nanny. Give me Zumbi. Give me Boukman. Give me Tula. Give me 1811. Give me the Saamaka. Give me Sojourner. Give me Denmark. Give me Harriet. Give me all of them on the big screen, any day, any year from now until forever.

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Cover from the 1915 original “The Birth of a Nation” by D.W. Griffith

Read the full article here.

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Traces of the Trade: The North’s Complicity in Slavery

Griot: Reggie Jackson

Photo Editor: Fran Kaplan

INSURANCE POLICY FOR THE SLAVE SHIP 'LILY' ON THE FIRST LEG OF THE ATLANTIC TRIANGLE, NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND, 1795

INSURANCE POLICY FOR THE SLAVE SHIP ‘LILY’ ON THE FIRST LEG OF THE ATLANTIC TRIANGLE, NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND, 1795

Most Americans learn that slavery was a southern institution, but in fact, many enslaved Africans were held and worked in the North. Many northern industries and businesses–shipbuilding, ports, banks, insurance companies, textile mills–were dependent on slave labor in both the North and South. Northern consumers were dependent on the products of this slave labor for food, clothing, and amenities like ivory piano keys.

In this exhibit, you will learn about the significant complicity of the northern states in the slave trade, slave labor, and slave-made products in the history of the United States.

For a brief introduction, you can watch the trailer for Traces of the Trade: A Story of the Deep North. The movie traces the journey by members of DeWolf family to explore the origins of their family’s wealth. The DeWolf family owned the largest slave trading business in the country, headquartered in Rhode Island. The full documentary can be obtained here.

Here you can hear a full public lecture by the authors of the book Complicity: How The North Promoted, Prolonged, And Profited From Slavery.

Why Racial Injustice Persists Today: A Very Brief Video History

The myth of racial difference that was created to sustain American slavery persists today. Slavery did not end in 1865, it evolved.

Slavery to Mass Incarceration is part of the Race and Poverty project of the Equal Justice Initiative.

The EJI Race and Poverty Project explores racial history and uses innovative teaching tools to deepen our understanding of the legacy of racial injustice. By telling the truth about our past, EJI believes we can create a different, healthier discourse about race in America.

 

Handwritten Letters Detail Lives Of Freed And Enslaved African Americans

From the Huffington Post

A letter handwritten by a slave named Ferdinand Robertson.

A letter handwritten by a slave named Ferdinand Robertson.

Life for an African-American southerner was a mixed bag of “troubles” and personal success circa 1841, experiences revealed in a series of 27 handwritten letters that have been recently acquired by the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS).

“What makes these letters so interesting is that they give us a glimpse into the personal and social lives of African Americans before the Civil War,” Jennifer Duplaga, Manuscripts Curator at the Kentucky Historical Society, told The Huffington Post.

The letters, written mostly by a woman named Isabel/Isabella Watson between 1841 and 1883, originate in Mississippi City, Miss. and include news of people’s health and illnesses, activities, church and religion, the enslaved status of people in the Hopkinsville, Ky., community, births and deaths, and the sale of individuals.

“The bulk of these letters were written before 1859,” Duplaga said. “The post Civil War letters, which begin in 1873, appear to have been written by a different generation.”

Those later letters focus more on individuals working as teachers, buying homes, purchasing household items, and their general health and economic situations, Duplaga explains. Those written before the war are more outward looking, she says, detailing efforts to gather information about others, while the post-war letters focus more inward and offer more personal insights.

Read more about the letters here.

 

Barack Obama’s Slave Ancestry Reportedly Discovered By Researchers

From the New York Times

President Obama's slave ancestry has been uncovered

President Obama’s slave ancestry has been uncovered

 President Obama’s biography — son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — has long suggested that unlike most African-Americans, his roots did not include slavery.

Now a team of genealogists is upending that thinking, saying that Mr. Obama’s mother had, in addition to her European ancestors, at least one African forebear and that the president is most likely descended from one of the first documented African slaves in the United States.

The findings are scheduled to be announced on Monday by Ancestry.com, a genealogy company based in Provo, Utah. Its team, while lacking definitive proof, said it had evidence that “strongly suggests” Mr. Obama’s family tree — on his mother’s side — stretches back nearly four centuries to a slave in colonial Virginia named John Punch.

In 1640, Mr. Punch, then an indentured servant, escaped from Virginia and went to Maryland. He was captured there and, along with two white servants who had also escaped, was put on trial. His punishment — servitude for life — was harsher than what the white servants received, and it has led some historians to regard him as the first African to be legally sanctioned as a slave, years before Virginia adopted laws allowing slavery.

Read more of the story here.

Chris Rock July 4th Tweet Sparks Controversy

From the Huffington Post

Comedian Chris Rock

Comedian Chris Rock

 Chris Rock seems to have tweeted up a bit of controversy over the July 4th holiday.

The comedian ruffled more than a few feathers after sending out this message to his followers: “Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks.”

Rock has always mined comedy as a means for poking at sensitive topics, in some cases encouraging as much outrage as applause. But the comedian also sparks quite a lot of conversation, which is perhaps the goal (along with laughs).

While some quickly came to Rock’s defense, including actors Don Cheadle and Zach Braff who seemed to see the humor in the joke, others took the gag as unpatriotic and fired back. Libertarian-conservative blogger Jeff Schreiber went so far as to attempt giving Rock a quick history lesson: “Slavery existed for 2000yrs before America. We eradicated it in 100yrs. We now have a black POTUS. #GoFuckYourself.” And blogger David Burge had a more humorous contradictory take: “Good one! I bet your Guatemalan house staff got a good chuckle.”

Read more of the story here

Blacks Key in 1812 War

From Afro.com

Valiant, Brave Seamen, Soldiers of Color Rarely Noted

Valiant, Brave Seamen, Soldiers of Color Rarely Noted

For the United States the War of 1812 was a second War of Independence against the British that birthed emblems of American nationalism such as the national flag, the “Star-Spangled Banner” and Uncle Sam, the national icon.

But for many enslaved Blacks it was the first major pathway to self-determination and freedom. Thousands of Blacks, both free and enslaved, together played a significant role in the outcome of the war, something officials and historians said should be remembered even as the world recognizes the conflict’s bicentennial, which began June 18.

“Black volunteers in large numbers stepped forward to defend homelands which paradoxically deprived them of basic freedoms for which they fought,” wrote historian Gerard T. Altoff in his book {Amongst My Best Men: African Americans and the War of 1812.} “In spite of overt prejudice, discrimination, and hatred, African-Americans stepped forward to serve, either in a civilian or a military capacity.”

For enslaved Blacks with an eye toward freedom the war offered several options: they could fight for the U.S., run away and seek freedom among the Native Americans or join His Majesty’s service. Many chose the latter, convinced that a British victory would hasten the end of slavery. The British nurtured that belief to some extent, and promised the slaves free emigration to British colonies in Canada and the West Indies in exchange for their service.

Read more of the story here.