Samuel Pallache

Last week, Monique touched on the importance of acknowledging the existence of people who don’t fit neatly into specific social categories. In a similar vein, today I’m featuring a man who did not fit neatly into given social spaces. Meet Samuel Pallache, a Portuguese Jew who lived and worked in Muslim-ruled Morocco and both Catholic- and Protestant-ruled parts of Eurasia in the early 17th century. Despite belonging to a marginalised religious minority that existed in tension with all of the aforementioned, Pallache exemplifies the permeability of identities and borders in a period that is generally considered to have observed hard and fast religious divisions.

Pallache came from a family that had relocated to Morocco after the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal. In 1603, Morocco became a site of civil war between the Sultan’s competing sons. The Spanish crown opportunistically intervened in these conflicts, often employing Jewish intermediaries. Jews became targets for looting, and were subjected to specially-imposed taxes by rival claimants. Many converted to Islam as a survival tactic. Pallache chose instead to leave.

From 1603 to 1607, he worked in Spain and Portugal, currying favour with the Spanish monarchy (mostly by supplying intelligence about North Africa). Some of Pallache’s co-religionists converted to Catholicism in order to work for nobles in Spain and Portugal, where some also provided Jewish instruction to conversos* eager to reconnect with their roots. Pallache avoided converting, though biographers Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers suggest that tutoring conversos is probably what caused him to come under inquisitorial suspicion in 1607 (no known records indicate a fully-fledged trial).

Under suspicion, Pallache returned to Fez before moving to Amsterdam in 1609. In the same year, he gained a new royal benefactor, Sultan Muley Zaydan, for whom he worked as an agent, brokering commercial and military deals between Morocco and the Dutch Republic. Pallache lost favour with Zaydan in 1614 when (true) rumours spread that he had been informing the Spanish about Moroccan intelligence for years. His position lost, he hastily left Morocco and privateered his way to England, where he was arrested, tried and acquitted of piracy.

As his eclectic résumé suggests, Pallache undertook a lot of risks in his career, often crossing the already blurry lines “between legitimate commerce, smuggling, and privateering.”[1] Pallache returned to Amsterdam where complaints against his dodgy dealings had mounted in his absence. The Dutch and Moroccan governments were disenchanted with him, but he remained an informer for the Spanish crown. After a career of extreme peaks and valleys, Pallache died in poverty in 1619.

Pallache is not a paragon virtue; he’s more of an anti-hero (anti-hottie?) than anything. But he embodies the complexities of identities and spaces that can initially seem mutually exclusive. As a Jew, Pallache was marginalised in both Christian-ruled Eurasia and Muslim-ruled Morocco. However, his world was one in which (much like today) a variety of religious, socio-political and economic factors paradoxically mutually reinforced and undermined hostile social divisions. Though he died broke, during his career Pallache played different prejudicial regimes against one another in order overcome (to an impressive degree) the marginalisation that Jews faced in North Africa and Eurasia alike.


*converso is the term generally used to refer to Jewish converts to Christianity, forced or voluntary.

This post is indebted to García-Arenal and Wiegers’ revisionist biography of Pallache.

[1] Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers, A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe, trans. Martin Beagles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 75.



Samuel Pallache

Jack Greenberg


[A photograph of a young Jack Greenberg, found on the Smithsonian’s educational website]

Where to start with Jack Greenberg? Greenberg served as the second Director-Counsel —  after none other than Thurgood Marshall — of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) from 1961 to 1984. The NAACP LDF was founded in 1940 with the mission of “achiev[ing] racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society” under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall.

Greenberg was born to a Jewish family in the Bensonhurst neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York in 1924. At the age of twenty-four in 1949, he joined LDF, initially because Marshall needed an assistant well-versed in American law to help him fight the legal, state-sanctioned system of Jim Crow in the United States. At the age of twenty-seven, Greenberg became the youngest lawyer who brought one of the most important civil rights cases of the twentieth century — Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954 (commonly referred to as Brown v Board) — before the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. approached Greenberg as Director-Counsel of LDF to take on cases involving the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition (SCLC). Part of his legal representation of Dr. King included representing him in Birmingham, Alabama, winning him the right to march from Selma to Montgomery. Greenberg continued to fight for the rights of Black Americans for decades, being integral to “landmark legal cases” in relation to employment, education, housing, and voter registration during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these cases include Meredith v Fair, 1961 (the integration of the University of Mississippi) and Griggs v Duke Power Company, 1971 (employment discrimination). Greenberg retired from LDF in 1984, later serving as dean of Columbia College.

Greenberg’s activism is, however, important to contextualize within broader histories of racialized oppression in the United States and the solidarity between non-Black Jewish Americans and Black Americans.* As noted in the freely accessible LDF @ 70 document published by the NAACP LDF, “Greenberg saw a resemblance between anti-Semitism and black oppression in the United States. Raised in a family committed to fairness and justice, Greenberg became part of the black world of the Civil Rights Movement.” Greenberg’s work in the Civil Rights Movement is representative of the important coalitions that have historically existed between two (often overlapping) groups of marginalized and oppressed peoples in the United States: Jewish Americans and Black Americans. The solidarities formed are much longer, and much older, than can properly be explained here, but it is nonetheless important to recognize them as interlocking histories of injustice and resistance.

By highlighting Greenberg today, we do not intend on decentering the Black Americans that fought valiantly during the Civil Rights Movement (and continue to fight today in the Black Lives Matter Movement, for example). We wish to instead highlight people like Greenberg who were not Black but dedicated their lives to the fight for the rights of Black Americans. The experiences of Greenberg’s own community in relation to anti-Semitism in part spurred him to fight for the civil rights of Black Americans, and he should continue to be a shining example for those of us who wish to stand in solidarity with Black folks who are struggling against systematic oppression today.

~ M

* It is important to make this distinction, as often times Black Jews are completely erased from histories of anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism, and the fight against these injustices, in the United States. This erasure of Black Jews from modern American history is not something that we at Historical Hotties Blog want to perpetuate, and therefore feel it necessary to address.



Greenberg, Jack. Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

LDF. “History.” Accessed January 21, 2016.

LDF. LDF @ 70 Defend, Educate, Empower: 70 Years Fulfilling the Promise of Equality. 2010.

Jack Greenberg

Anne Askew


[A woodcut of the execution of Anne Askew and other religious dissenters. Accessed 15 January 2016. This image is in the Public Domain.]

This week’s historical hottie is probably familiar to those who know a bit about early modern British history (I’m looking at you, Tudors fans). I’ve found that students in tutorials, especially those interested in gender dynamics, enjoy learning about her, so I’m featuring Anne Askew here today.

Anne was born into a noble family in 1521. In her mid teens, Anne’s father arranged her marriage to the betrothed of her recently deceased sister. Anne, an increasingly radical Protestant, thus found herself married to a Catholic husband. Though Anne’s youth and gender might lead one to believe that she yielded to her father and husband, she and her husband couldn’t reconcile their beliefs and their marriage. They had two children, but then separated, and Anne worked toward a divorce. She was, and remains, known by her maiden name.

In either 1544 or 1545, Anne moved to London. Her unorthodox beliefs led to her investigation by London’s quest (the commission dealing with heresy). This investigation did not end in punishment, but she was interrogated much more seriously by king’s council in 1546. Anne was imprisoned, first in Newgate, and then in the Tower of London. She refused to recant, and was condemned to die.

As if often the case in religious trials (in the early modern Christian context), her interrogators would have preferred that she recant and name names in order to escape execution. In Anne’s case, her family’s close connection to Henry’s court led to her extensive questioning under torture about which women at court held radical beliefs. Anne refused to incriminate any other women, despite the presence of other radicals in Henry’s court, including his wife, Katherine Parr. Normally, Anne’s standing sentence of death and her position in English society would have exempted her from torture. After being tortured, Anne was allowed time to convalesce and recant. She did not, and was subsequently burned as a heretic. She was twenty-five.

People who die for their beliefs tend to inspire, and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. But we must be cautious when reading about such figures. In Anne’s case, authors John Bale and John Foxe both adopted her as a Protestant martyr. Now, both of these authors were male, and their individual views and agendas informed their respecting framing of Anne. For Bale, Anne was a physically weak and pious woman who exemplified femininised virtues like chastity and obedience. For Foxe, she was more rebellious, but since she was driven by Protestant piety, this was laudable. In either depiction, Anne’s words and actions are mediated by men. Even recent scholarship, which casts doubt on the factual accuracy of these accounts (especially Bale’s), is necessarily informed by them. This is equally true of this post.

It’s also important to remember Anne’s status in society. Although it did not protect her from investigation, torture and execution, the degree to which contemporaries seem to have accepted her separation from her husband, as well as her reputation for piety and learning, were almost certainly informed by assumptions about status.

Despite these issues, Anne Askew knew her own mind. She refused to live with the husband chosen by her father. She held fast to her radical beliefs, even when it led her to the rack and the stake. In short, those parts of her life about which we are the most certain demonstrate that she was, to a greater or lesser degree, a rebel. 



Thomas S. Freeman and Sarah Elizabeth Wall, “Racking the Body, Shaping the Text: The Account of Anne Askew in Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs,” Renaissance Quarterly 54, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 1165-1196.

Diane Watt, “Askew , Anne (c.1521–1546),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004,, accessed 15 Jan 2016, accessed 15 January 2015.


Anne Askew

La Comandanta Ramona


[A photograph of la Comandanta Ramona, taken by Heriberto Rodriguez]

What is the line between the past and present? And what is the difference between history and the past? These are questions that often plague academic historians and broader students of history, especially when prompted by the question “what is history?” Today’s post – the first of 2016 – does not attempt to answer any of these questions, but instead attempts to infuse our understandings of the rebellious, radical, and revolutionary people whom we look up to here at Historical Hotties with them. Often times, these questions are brushed off as purely theoretical, as not worth the time of “real” historians that study a “real past.” This is where La Comandanta Ramona comes in.

La Comandanta Ramona was an essential leader in the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) – often referred to as Zapatistas – until her untimely death in 2006. Born in Chiapas, México in 1959, La Comandanta Ramona was an Indigenous Tzotzil woman who fought with the Zapatistas against capitalism and continuing colonialism in México as perpetrated by the state and corporations. As quoted in La Jornada upon her death in 2006 from cancer, Ramona “era uno de los símbolos más emblemáticos del EZLN,” with her small stature, her traditional clothing, and her covered face becoming one of the images that come to mind in relation to the EZLN. Ramona was highly involved in the social struggle in the 1980s in Chiapas, fighting for the rights of Indigenous women to education and healthcare, and for Indigenous women’s artisanal skills to be respected by broader society. Together with la Mayor Ana María, Ramona helped to draft la Ley Revolucionaria de Mujeres in the early 1990s. Ramona was critical to el Comité Clandestino Revolucionario Indígena, which was what helped the armed insurrection of January 1, 1994 that led to the capture of San Cristóbal. Ramona then participated in the important diálogos de la catedral de San Cristóbal with the emissaries of the Salinas Government.

Ramona – and the EZLN more broadly – elicits us to pick apart the demarcations of past/present. We must contextualize these struggles in a much longer history that begins in 1492, and yet also contextualize them in the present as the effects of centuries old colonialism, genocide, exploitation, racism, and patriarchy all intermingle to create our present realities. The EZLN has made these connections central to their struggles, as illustrated in their comunicados. Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples are often relegated to “the past” in the settler colonial imagination. As historians and students of history, it is our responsibility to fight against this racist and colonial narrative from both within and outside the academy.

Ramona passed away in 2006 – is this the past or present? For those of us that feel as though 2000 was just yesterday, 2006 feels like it is still “the present.” 1994 was within many of our lifetimes – is this the past or present? The EZLN continues to fight, their struggle is not over as their 22nd anniversary comunicado from January 1, 2016 attests. Yet histories are already being written about them. La Comandanta Ramona is someone whose life, struggles, and history is still very, very fresh. Her radical defense of her community, her people, and her own humanity in the face of colonialism, patriarchy, and capitalism are worthy of more than just applause. Ramona is demonstrative of how the past is never over, of how it continues to inform our present, and of how we are always engaging in the politics of memory.

~ M


Garrido, Luis Javier. “La comandanta.” La Jornada. January 13, 2006.

Marcos, Subcomandante Insurgente. Our Word is Our Weapon. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004.

Rodriguez, Heriberto. [Image] Accessed January 7, 2016.


La Comandanta Ramona