Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary_Ann_Shadd

[A fantastic photograph of Mary Ann Shadd Cary that is in the public domain, and can also be found at the National Archives of Canada. Photographs like this are important at multiple levels, one of which being that they attest to the widespread popularity of Victorian styles of dress and hair outside of whitewashed images of the Victorian Era]

While a name that perhaps many Canadians do not recognize, Mary Ann Shadd Cary (née Mary Ann Shadd) was an important woman to the intertwined histories of abolitionism and Black publishing in 19th c Canada and the USA. Born in Delaware, USA in 1823, Mary Ann Shadd and her family moved to Pennsylvania when the education of African American children was made illegal in the state of Delaware. After attending a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, the Shadd family again moved – this time north to what would become confederated in 1867 as the settler state of Canada – following the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The Shadds moved to famed North Baxton, ON, a town founded in 1849 by African Americans escaping enslavement in the United States. Mary Ann and her brother Isaac, however, moved to Windsor, ON, where she went on to found a racially integrated school.

While her brother Isaac most certainly deserves a blog post on his own (he helped host planning parties for the raid on Harper’s Ferry led by John Brown), it is Mary Ann Shadd Cary who we wish to praise today on the blog. Beginning in March 1853, Shadd began publishing The Provincial Freeman, making her the first Black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada (you can even see her featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, NMAAHC, in Washington, DC!). Through both her newspaper (co-published with Rev. Samuel Ringgold Ward) and the school she helped found, Mary Ann Shadd was a fierce advocate for the self-education of Black people in North America. The Provincial Freeman, as with other Black owned and operated newspapers of this era, was essential in developing and strengthening transnational, diasporic community ties. Shadd, along with other Black activist abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, was a fierce advocate of racially integrated schooling. She was also an essential proponent of moral uplift which, while at times problematic, was a pivotal movement of Black activism amongst middle class Black women during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mary Ann Shadd eventually went on to marry Thomas F. Cary, a barber in Toronto, whom she had two children with. After Thomas’s death, she and her children moved to the USA, where she helped recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War. After the end of the Civil War, Mary Ann Shadd Cary became the second Black woman in the United States to earn a law degree – which she achieved at the age of 60! Shadd Cary continued her activism until old age, working alongside other suffragettes to earn the right to vote for women. She, amongst countless other Black women in Canada and the United States during the 19th c, fought for the rights of Black people in multiple spheres of engagement. By doing so, she demonstrated a keen and astute political awareness of how each sphere of inequality and injustice is intertwined and must be addressed in conjunction with one another.

~ M

Bibliography

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2016 [Revised edition].

Conaway, Carol B. “Racially Integrated Education: The Antebellum Thought of Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Frederick Douglass.” Vitae Scholasticae Vol. 27 Issue 2 (2010): 86-104.

“The Provincial Freeman.” Last modified January 25, 2012. Accessed August 29, 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20120126000215/http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/archival-records/interloan/provincial-freeman.aspx

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Octavia E. Butler

Octavia-Butler_612x380

[A photograph of Octavia E. Butler looking absolutely resplendent, found on the blog http://www.winnovating.com/octaviabutlerwinnovatingsciencefiction/]

Here at the HHBlog, we like to highlight people from both the distant and not-so-distant past who have inspired us in their radical, rabble-rousing, or otherwise rebellious ways. The fantastically-talented science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler is one such person, who has remained a captivating literary powerhouse for generations.

Octavia Estelle Butler was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California to a domestic working mother (Octavia Margaret Guy) and shoe-shining father (Laurence James Butler) and was raised predominantly by her mother and maternal family after her father’s untimely death.  In 1968 she earned an Associate of Arts degree from Pasadena’s Community College, and later attended California State University in Los Angeles and UCLA. For the next several years, she studied  at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop where she took a class with her soon-to-be-mentor, Harlan Ellison in science fiction. In 1971, she published her first science fiction short story, beginning a long and successful career as a science fiction and speculative fiction writer.

Although she published many works of science fiction during the 1970s, it was not until the publication of her absolutely brilliant 1979 novel Kindred that she was able to support herself  solely off of her work as a writer. While Kindred is one of her most well-known literary works outside of the science fiction literary community, she also published the Xenogenesis trilogy, Earthseed series, and many other novels and short stories. Throughout her career, she won the Hugo Award multiple times, the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and in 1995 was the first science fiction writer to be awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (aka ‘the Genius Grant’). Butler continued to win awards for her work even after her death in 2006, including being inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.

Today, we highlight Octavia E. Butler on the Blog for many, many reasons. Butler was an incredibly prolific and talented writer who created multiple immersive worlds out of her use of language. She infused all of her writing with important feminist social commentaries born out of her experiences as a Black woman born into the mid-20th c United States. Butler is an important literary figure in 20th and 21st c science fiction writing for the ways in which her talents and identity were bound up in each other. Rarely are Black women visualized by popular mainstream media when they represent what science fiction writers or science fiction fans look like, despite the fact that Butler is one amongst countless Black writers and fans of science fiction. For these reasons, we here at the Blog wanted to celebrate the genius that was Octavia E. Butler. We also wanted to acknowledge that Black women and other women of colour have been science fiction and speculative fiction writers for the entire history of these genres; women of colour have been creating fictional worlds out of our words for much longer than these genres have been named. Today, we here at the HHBlog give many thanks to Octavia E. Butler and all of the Black women who have written, continue to write, and will write science fiction!

~ M

Bibliography

“About.” The official site of the Pen Lifetime Achievement and MacArthur award winning writer Octavia E. Butler. http://octaviabutler.org/bio/. Accessed July 7, 2017.

“Octavia E. Butler.” Octavia E. Butler Literary Society.  https://oebsociety.wordpress.com/octavia-e-butler/. Accessed July 7, 2017.

Octavia E. Butler

John Brown

John_Brown_by_Augustus_Washington,_1846-47[A daguerreotype photograph taken by the Black photographer Augustus Washington in Massachusetts during the years 1846-1847. This photograph is in the public domain. This daguerreotype was later reproduced under the title “John Brown from a daguerreotype loaned me by Annie Brown” by Levin C. Handy between 1890-1910 over 40 years after Brown’s death. The Handy photograph’s original caption reads “Regarded as the best picture by the family” – and we certainly can see why!]

Today’s post (coming just a little over a week after his 217th birthday!) is dedicated to the controversial radical, by-any-means-necessary white American abolitionist John Brown. Born in the year 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut, Brown was descended from some of the earliest English Puritan settlers, tracing his family lineage back to 17th c England. After marrying Dianthe Lusk, Brown and his family – including several children – moved to Pennsylvania. After Lusk passed away, he remarried a young woman named Mary Ann Day and moved to Ohio,  where he worked as a hide tanner and sheep breeder (as he had earlier in life). In 1846, he moved yet again (after declaring bankruptcy several years earlier) – this time to Springfield, Massachusetts, which would prove a central turning point in his path towards becoming a radical and violent abolitionist.

Prior to his move to Massachusetts, when abolitionist journalist Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered, Brown had reportedly declared that “before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery” (as quoted in War and Reconciliation: The Mid-Missouri Civil War Project); however, it would be several years before this sentiment would be put into action. This is not, though, to suggest that Brown had been pro-enslavement previous to 1837. As a devoutly religious man (Calvinist), Brown’s abolitionism was deeply intertwined with his religiosity, especially in relation to how he understood enslavement to be a sin. Nonetheless, his time spent living in Massachusetts was pivotal to his developing abolitionism as he became a parishioner at the famed Sanford Street Free Church, where he encountered Black radical abolitionists such as Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, and became involved in the Underground Railroad. It was his time spent with Douglass that led him to believe that he was “less hopeful for [enslavement’s] peaceful abolition” (as quoted in Carvalho III, 2012). In 1850, because the Fugitive Slave Act had been passed, Brown helped to found the League of Gileadites (in reference to the Biblical Mount Gilead), a militia-style group that prevented the recapture of fugitive slaves. Shortly thereafter, he left Massachusetts for North Elba, New York.

During this time, several of Brown’s adult children were living in the newly established settler territory of Kansas, from whom he learned that there were mounting fears that pro-enslavement settler forces were growing in militancy. Newly founded settler territories such as Kansas proved critical points of contention in a nation built on enslavement, but divided between states who allowed enslavement to operate within their borders (for ex. the Plantation South), and states who profited from enslavement via commerce and indirect trade but viewed themselves to be ‘outside’ of enslavement (for ex. New England). Each new settler territory therefore proved a point of contention – would enslavement be legal or not within its borders? In response to his adult children’s’ concerns regarding growing pro-enslavement militarism, Brown made his way to Kansas in 1855 in attempts to help Kansas go from a territory to a free state. The following years (particularly a set of several months) would come to be known as “Bleeding Kansas” because of the violence that ensued between abolitionists and other anti-enslavement militias, and pro-enslavement militias. During the ensuing violence, one of Brown’s sons was killed by a pro-enslavement militant; Brown and several of his adult sons later fled Kansas in order to raise money amongst abolitionists and their supporters.

John Brown is perhaps most (in)famous in American history for the final years of his life, wherein he and a dedicated few radical abolitionists (including Harriet Tubman and former enslaved Black people living in Ontario) took it upon themselves to plan and lead an insurrection against enslavement, specifically against a federal armoury, hoping that this would set off a domino of other insurrections. In July 1859, Brown began to put his plan into action at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Unfortunately, far fewer people joined him than he anticipated (under 25 altogether, all men under the age of 50 including several Black men). In September of 1859, Brown led the attack on Harpers Ferry which quickly failed, beginning with the first death of the attack accidentally being a free Black man named Hayward Shepherd on an incoming train. Several of the radical abolitionists died, including two of Brown’s sons, in the violence that followed. Brown was eventually captured, put on trial, and found guilty, sentenced to hang in December. On December 2, 1859 Brown was killed by hanging, dying (in his words) “a martyr” for abolitionism. Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry would come to be understood as one of many, many initial catalysts for the American Civil War.

Brown, as other revolutionary figures in history, is often demonized in mainstream white American histories because he resorted to fighting the inhuman violence of enslavement with his own forms of violence. Writing histories of violence can be difficult, especially when confronted with figures such as John Brown who has both been vilified and romanticized for his actions. As there is no such thing as an objective or neutral history, I have not attempted here to hide my biases and subjectivity when writing about John Brown’s commitment to the lives of enslaved Black people in the United States. For me as for many others, the intertwined horrors of enslavement, colonialism, and capitalism far outweigh the moral arguments against John Brown’s use of violence at Harpers Ferry. Brown was a contentious figure during his time – contemporary abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass disagreed with his use of violence to fight enslavement, while others viewed this as the only way out of enslavement – and he has remained a contentious figure to this day. In my view, John Brown was a radical and revolutionary man not without his idiosyncrasies and questionable actions who was willing to lay down his life in order to fight one of the founding violences (enslavement) of the United States. Although a settler and the father of settlers who participated in displacing Indigenous peoples off of their lands, John Brown understood the enmeshed violence of capitalism and enslavement. He and his abolitionist sons were willing to fight by any means necessary against the enslavement of Black people in the United States and the capitalist structures of power that rested upon their stolen labour.

For those who have not always viewed John Brown as anything other than an “unhinged” or “crazy” violent man, it is important to begin to read other accounts of his life. When we remember John Brown, we may recall the words of the late historian Howard Zinn, who wrote that although it was “Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, not John Brown,” Brown was “hanged, with federal complicity, for attempting to do by small-scale violence what Lincoln would do by large-scale violence several years later – end slavery.” If you are someone who has valourized Lincoln, but demonized Brown, these are important words to jump off from into asking yourself why one form of violence (large-scale war) creates an historical hero of one man, and another form of violence (small-scale rebellion) creates an historical villain in another.

With this, I leave you with the words of John Brown, specifically a dramatic reading of his last speech originally delivered on November 2, 1859 and performed here by actor Josh Brolin. I encourage all of you to go out and search for critical histories of John Brown, whether academic texts or popular ones, books or blogpost, as this short post is just one condensed sliver of the many histories of John Brown.

~ M

“Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
[…]
I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted that I have done in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments I submit. So let it be done.” – John Brown, November 2, 1859.

Bibliography

“Biography of John Brown.” : War and Reconciliation: The Mid-Missouri Civil War Project. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://law.missouri.edu/bowman/hatts/john_brown/biography.html

“John Brown’s Last Speech.” Teaching A People’s History: Zinn Education Project. Accessed May 10, 2017. https://zinnedproject.org/materials/john-brown/

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins, 1980.

John Brown

Zora Neale Hurston

rc10403

[A fabulous photograph of Zora Neale Hurston in Eatonville, Florida. Found at https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/33048 ]

In celebration of the start of Black History Month here in the United States, today’s HHBlog post is dedicated to the poet, fiction writer, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama in 1891 and spent the majority of her early life in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated Black township in the United States. Raised by her mother Lucy Potts Hurston and her father John Hurston until Lucy’s untimely death when Zora was thirteen years old, Zora Neale Hurston remembered her childhood as a relatively peaceful time where she was surrounded by Black success, inspiration, and support. After her mother’s death and her father’s remarriage, Zora struggled through school. Eventually Zora ended up, at age twenty-six, in Baltimore with no complete high school education. She enrolled in public school, claiming to be sixteen years old in order to receive her education for free; from this moment onward, her publicly-stated age was always to be ten years younger than her real age.

After living for a time in Baltimore, Zora made her way to Harlem, New York and became an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance, becoming friends with the likes of Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, and Sterling Brown. In 1928, she graduated from Barnard College (the women’s college attached to Columbia University). Throughout the 1930s and 1940s she wrote several short stories, novels (Jonah’s Gourd Vine published in 1934), and folklore collections (Mules and Men published in 1935). Perhaps her most famous work was 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God – a must-read novel for anyone and everyone, in our opinion here at the Blog. It was not until the publication of her autobiography in 1942, however, that she gained more prominent recognition. Even then, though, she received little compensation for her writing, as demonstrated by the fact that when she passed away in 1960 from a stroke, her neighbours in Florida had to cobble together money for her funeral. From 1960 until 1973, her grave remained unmarked – something that Zora had foretold in a letter she wrote to W.E.B. Du Bois regarding how often Black people’s graves went unmarked in the United States. It was not until 1973 when Alice Walker, a then-young Black author, made a pilgrimage to the segregated Florida cemetery Garden of Heavenly Rest that Zora’s grave received a tombstone, reading “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”

In honour of Zora Neale Hurston and all the Black women artists, writers, and cultural workers who came before and after her, we ask our readers to seek out, listen to, or watch the work of Black artists who dedicated themselves to displaying Black joy, complexity, and nuance in a world that affords little space for complicated understandings of Blackness.

If you haven’t read anything by her, check out this wonderful reading by Alice Walker of an excerpt from Their Eyes Were Watching God:

~ M

Bibliography

Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows:The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Lisa Drew Books, 2004.

Boyd, Valerie. “About Zora Neal Hurston.” Accessed February 3, 2017. http://www.zoranealehurston.com/about/index.html

Zora Neale Hurston

Ella Josephine Baker

ella_baker_and_sncc_2

[A photograph of an impassioned Ella Baker, date and photographer unknown. Retrieved from http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker]

I had planned to write the first HHBlog post of 2017 on a different day, one removed from Inauguration Day and all of the trauma and violence going on today with this incoming American administration. But that would have felt false to me on multiple levels. The violence of this election season and of this inauguration are not housed within the confines of particular calendar dates or in the bodies of particular human beings, no matter how vile we may feel they are. This violence is systemic. It is a foundational part of the very institutions upon which the United States – as a settler colonial, capitalist, white supremacist, and patriarchal state – is built upon. So today – January 20th, the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States Mr. Donald Trump – marks our first HHBlog post of the year to both remind us that this is an interconnected struggle that has been going on long before our lifetimes, and to celebrate those who have been en la lucha in the generations before us.

Today’s inaugural post of 2017 is therefore dedicated to the one and only Ella Josephine Baker, a radical Black woman who helped lead the fight for Civil Rights in the twentieth century United States. Born in December 1903 in Virginia, she was an organizer and activist for the majority of her life, working primarily in less public roles than some of the more prominent men of the Civil Rights Movement, although she was no less important! While working alongside several Black activists such as W.E.B. du Bois and the Southern Chiristian Leadership Conference (SCLC), she also mentored a younger generation of radical Black activists such as Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture.

Baker was a proponent of radical participatory democracy who disavowed what she called “professional” leadership. She believed that “strong people” did not need “strong leadership.” She began her engagement in activism as a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), traveling widely throughout the United States gathering funds and recruiting new NAACP members.  After some time, she returned to her adopted city of New York and worked with various local Civil Rights organizations until 1957 when she joined the SCLC as the executive director – at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her work with the SCLC eventually led to the organization of the event that created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of which she remained an active member and supporter long after having let the SCLC.

After the demise of the Civil Rights Movement – due to American legislation, FBI infiltration, and assassinations of prominent leaders – Ella Baker continued to fight for racial justice, lending her support to the Puerto Rican Solidarity Committee and the Third World Women’s Coordinating Committee. Ella Baker fought for justice for over five decades, eventually passing away on her 83rd birthday in 1986. Baker serves as an inspiration for those of us who fight – in whatever way we are able to – for intersectional racial justice. Baker understood that although she was principally concerned with Black Americans receiving justice, that this was a struggle connected to entire systems of oppression and injustice that affected everyone. Ella Baker serves as a critical reminder that women of colour, especially Black women, have been at the forefront in fighting for justice and rights for all of us. I encourage our readers to seek out the words and wisdom of women of colour who have led fights for justice, and who continue to do so in our communities today. Thank you, Ella Josephine Baker, and the countless Black women and non-Black women of colour who continue to fight on behalf of our communities.

~ M

Bibliography

“Ella Baker: Biography.” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://www.biography.com/people/ella-baker-9195848#synopsis

“Who Was Ella Baker?” Accessed January 20th, 2017. http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker

 

 

Ella Josephine Baker

Ella Cara Deloria

ella_c_deloria

[A wonderful photo of Ella Cara Deloria, found on the website for the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center]

Ella Cara Deloria (Anpetu Wastéwin “Beautiful Day Woman”) was born in 1889 on the Standing Rock Reservation in what is known as the state of South Dakota, USA. Deloria was born to a prominent Christian Dakota family, with famous Dakota activist academics such as Vine Deloria Jr. (her nephew) and Philip J. Deloria (Vine Deloria Jr.’s son) making up part of her familial relations.

In 1915, Deloria received a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia Teacher’s College. During her time at Columbia, she met the famous anthropologist Franz Boaz with whom she began to collaborate with. Her knowledge of both Dakota and Lakota Sioux dialects became an asset within the early twentieth century world of anthropology, a discipline which was born of colonial, exploitative inquiry into the lives of Indigenous peoples by mostly white men. With her introduction to Boaz, Deloria began to become involved in anthropological work as a key translator and critical analyzer of Sioux texts.

Her work in the academy demonstrates some of the ways marginalized people navigated early twentieth century academia, and specifically how Indigenous women were intrinsic in the development of anthropology as a field of academic inquiry. While anthropology is embedded within a colonial history of exploitation, figures like Ella Deloria complicate what can often be painted as a one-dimensional narrative of academics exploiting Indigenous communities. Deloria demonstrates, quite literally, how Indigenous peoples spoke back with and against anthropologists during the twentieth century, often making space for themselves to work in helping their own people.

Outside of her work as an anthropologist, linguist, and ethnographer, Deloria was also a novelist and – interestingly – an advisor to the Camp Fire Girls, an early version of a settler girls “back to nature” style camp. Although camps such as the Camp Fire Girls utilized stereotypes of Indigenous peoples as “noble savages,” people like Deloria hoped to change these harmful stereotypes by working from within. From 1929 to 1931, Deloria taught Camp Fire Girls about different Indigenous philosophies, songs, and dances, advancing what Philip J. Deloria has referred to as “her own cultural mission – constructing positive images of Indians around the primitivist foundation laid by the Camp Fire Girls. Just as the Camp Fire Girls used a universal Indianness to reproduce specific ideals of middle-class womanhood, so too did Deloria seek access to American cultural institutions in order to reshape popular conceptions of Indianness” (122).

Deloria’s work spanned not only the academy, but everyday middle-class settler contexts such as summer camps for children. She worked tirelessly within institutions that were not meant to accommodate the voices of Indigenous people in general, and specifically not Indigenous women. Ella Deloria was of a generation of middle-class Indigenous activists who gained entry into settler academic institutions, albeit in often marginal forms, and attempted to work towards change from the inside out. Deloria, like many other members of her family, paved the way for later generations of Indigenous activists. As the recent and ongoing defense of Indigenous land, water, and treaty rights at Standing Rock demonstrates, the fight for justice continues. We here at the HHBlog tip our proverbial hats to Indigenous women such as Ella Deloria who fought – and continue to fight – in myriad ways for their respective peoples.

~ M

Bibliography

Deloria, Philip J. Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

“Ella Cara Deloria, Anpetu Wastéwin (Beautiful Day Woman).” Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center. Accessed December 9, 2016. http://aktalakota.stjo.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=9006

Ella Cara Deloria

Shirley Chisholm

07135r

[An absolutely fantastic photo of the brilliant (and one of my personal fashion inspirations, I mean the severity of a tightly buttoned, bright collared shirt with a big necklace?! Hello!) Shirley Chisholm, announcing her candidacy for Presidential nomination on January 25th, 1972 in Brooklyn, NYC. “Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announcing her candidacy for presidential nomination,” Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog,  http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/ds.07135/ ]

We here at the Blog pride ourselves on taking the time and care to curate accessible snapshots of lives lived in search of justice, with a strident political commitment to paying tribute to the voices of rabble rousers, radicals, and all around historical badasses who challenged injustice, marginalization, and oppression in a myriad of ways while celebrating the beauty (sans fetishization) of historically subjugated and denigrated communities. The last several weeks have quieted us, however, at least in our writing at the Blog as we have taken time to reflect, discuss, and heal in light of the outcome of the recent American Presidential election. In tribute to the countless communities across the United States who are continuing the multilayered fights for justice amidst emboldened white supremacy, patriarchy, settler colonialism, and capitalism, today’s HHBlog post is dedicated to none other than Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman elected in the United States.

Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, NYC in 1924 to a Barbadian mother and a Guyanese father, and was raised between Barbados by her maternal grandparents and Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn by her parents. After graduating high school in the 1940s, she went on to attend Brooklyn College and earned a degree in sociology. Following her graduation, she worked in childcare and, after marrying Conrad Q. Chisholm, returned to post-secondary education, this time for a Master of Arts in early childhood education from Columbia University.

In 1964, she was elected to the New York state legislature, only the second Black woman at that point to have done so. According to the U.S. House of Representatives biography of Chisholm, it was a “court–ordered redistricting that carved a new Brooklyn congressional district out of Chisholm’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood [that] convinced her to run for Congress.” After defeating several other Black candidates in the Democratic primary election of 1968, she went on to face off against Civil Rights activist and Republican-Liberal James Farmer, utilizing the argument (in her words) that “women [had] been in the driver’s seat” for too long in Black communities. Chisholm handily won her Congressional seat, gaining 67% of the vote in her district.

Chisholm served in Congress from 1969 until 1983 (91st to 97th Congresses), sitting on several important committees throughout her time as a congresswoman. While a congresswoman, Chisholm championed the causes she had fought for in her own community, including the right of domestic workers to receive benefits, federal funding for education, and immigrant rights. In 1972 she announced her candidacy for the Democratic Presidential ticket, the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s President nomination and the first Black person to run for President in the history of the United States. At the Democratic National Convention (DNC), she received roughly 10% of the delegate votes, which was rather sizeable considering the lack of access to large funding sources she had. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in her bid, due to a combination of factors including a division in the Congressional Black Caucus (which she helped found, no less).

Chisholm was a luminary in American politics and embodied many “firsts” in the political history of the United States. While she was a champion of Black rights, she never once flinched at criticizing Black patriarchal practices and norms alongside white patriarchy – something that garnered her both respect and incredible amounts of criticism. Chisholm, who once said that “[i]f they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” continues to be an inspiration to communities of colour, especially Black communities, across the United States despite often being ignored in white American mainstream history.

Although it is difficult to see how a political system built on stolen land and the labour of enslaved Africans and their descendants can ever deliver true justice to the most marginalized people in this society, Shirley Chisholm continues to be a shining ray of  inspiration. Thank you Shirley Chisholm, and all the other Black women and non-Black women of colour who continue to fight oppression and injustice. Today, we pay tribute to Shirley Chisholm, who remained “unbought and unbothered” (her campaign slogan) until her passing in 2005.

~ M

Bibliography

“CHISHOLM, Shirley Anita.” History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/10918

Vaidyanathan, Rajini. “Before Hillary Clinton, there was Shirley Chisholm.” BBC News, January 26, 2016. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35057641

Shirley Chisholm

Américo Paredes

am_rico-paredes

[A rather handsome photograph of Américo Paredes – with his guitar in his hand – in later life. Photo found on the University of Houston’s Houston Public Media Obituary https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/shows/2015/09/26/127130/writer-and-folklorist-amrico-paredes/ ]

Born in the fronteriza city of Brownsville, Texas in 1915, Américo Paredes was one of the foundational figures in the development of Chicano Studies. Working first as a newspaper delivery person, and later as a reporter for the Brownsville Herald during the Great Depression, Paredes served in the Second World War in the Pacific and only returned to the United States in 1950. Upon his return, he enrolled at the  University of Texas and became the first Mexican-American to obtain a PhD from the university.

His first book, “With His Pistol in His Hand”: A Border Ballad and Its Hero (1958) is considered to be one of *the* foundational books in Chicano Studies and has proven to be a classic folkloric text in the historiography of the borderlands/frontera.  This book helped pave the way for his career, which spanned decades and always focused on what he referred to as the “Lower Border” region. His work concentrated on cultural creations like corridos (popular Mexican ballads), fronteriza humour, and folktales. He helped to inspire countless people after him, ranging from historians within the academy to working class people interested in reconnecting with their cultura.

Although it has been several years since Paredes passed away in 1999, his work continues to inspire both already established scholars and those of us like myself who are just beginning our academic careers. His work outside of the academy as a singer-songwriter was just as influential as his work as a scholar taking pride in studying his own culture. It is through the diversity of his passions that his work helped to create the modern discipline of Chicano Studies as it stands today.

~ M

Bibliography

Holley, Joe. “Americo Paredes, a Pioneer In Chicano Studies, Dies at 83.” New York Times, May 7, 1999. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/07/arts/americo-paredes-a-pioneer-in-chicano-studies-dies-at-83.html.

Medrano, Manuel F.  Américo Paredes: In His Own Words, an Authorized Biography. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010.

Américo Paredes

Anna May Wong

anna_may_wong_-_portrait

[A black and white photograph of Anna May Wong looking glamorous as all hell circa 1935. Her gaze is focused somewhere behind her and to her right, creating the illusion of ignoring the camera and her onlookers. This photograph is in the public domain, and was found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_May_Wong_-_portrait.jpg ]

Today’s post is dedicated to the talented and absolutely fabulous actress known as Anna May Wong. Born Wong Liu Tsong (Yellow Frosted Willow) in Los Angeles early in 1905 to Chinese-American parents who ran a laundry, Wong went on to become one of the only Asian-American actresses of the early to mid-twentieth century in American cinema (Hodges, 1). Beginning her career at a young age, first in silent film and moving into talkies, she worked in the film industry as a renowned actress until her untimely death in 1961.

Her films ranged from 1922’s The Toll of the Sea, 1929’s Piccadilly, 1931’s Daughter of the Dragon, and 1943’s anti-Japanese propaganda film Bombs Over Burma, with her being cast in different “ethnic” roles ranging from Inuit to Mongolian throughout her career. As scholar Anthony B. Chan notes in Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905-1961), Wong’s varied roles were “designed to reveal an exotic, stern, and mysterious Asian being rather than a matter-of-fact person who relished the art of repartee. Her films served to create an aura of aloofness that seemed to encourage a sexual encounter but at the same time pushed aside the possibility of touching and intimacy” (Chan, 193).

Wong was constantly cast as the “ultimate cinematic tease” in Hollywood films (Chan, 193), as a stereotypical “Dragon Lady” in her early years, leading her to leave for Europe in search of more fulfilling roles that did not rely on her playing a supporting “exotic” character. By leaving the United States film industry for the industries flourishing in Europe, she was able to escape being constantly typecast as an exotic supporting role, which came out of a combination of anti-miscegenation laws that disallowed her from having on-screen romances with anyone who was not Asian and from Euro-American actresses constantly being cast in yellow-faced leading Asian roles. Eventually, she was signed on to Paramount in the 1930s and returned to the United States after starring in several European films of varying success. As her fame grew in the United States during the 1930s, she began to advocate on behalf of the Chinese-American community and new Chinese refugees during a time of extreme anti-Asian racism and hostility in the United States that had begun with the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century and continued on throughout the next century.

Wong’s career spanned a breadth of roles, from stereotypical and offensive to witty and empowering, that constantly subverted Euro-American expectations of (East) Asian-American women. She was an “icon to the people of Chinese North America” who wrote tongue-in-cheek signatures on publicity photos destined for Euro-Americans, such as “Orientally yours” (Chan, xii;  Hodges, xvii). Anna May Wong’s life leads us to interrogate the ways that rebellion and subversion often co-exist with what, at times, appear to be the upholding of oppressive norms. Furthermore, Wong’s “exoticized” beauty forces us to grapple with the ways in which beauty is often weaponized against particular gendered and racialized historical subjects, leading to a forced simplification of an individual’s complexity and humanity. Wong’s sexualized appeal as a racialized subject of White fetishes regarding East Asian women is an essential aspect in understanding the complicated history of media portrayals of Asian women that reverberate into the present day.

We here at the HHBlog have the utmost respect for trail-blazing women like Anna May Wong and hope that in detailing a little bit of her life in all of its intricacies, we have inspired you to think critically about the way women living at the intersections of fetishized and sexualized racism resist, rebel, and survive.

~ M

Bibliography

Chan, Anthony B. Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905-1961). Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Hodges, Graham Russell Gao. Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012.

Tiana (Thi Thanh Nga). “THE LONG MARCH: From Wong to Woo: Asians in Hollywood.” Cinéaste 21, no. 4 (1995): 38-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41687420.

Anna May Wong

The Amistad Africans

We here at the Blog dedicate ourselves each week to writing a post on a person (or set of people) that has been in some way marginalized, written out of mainstream historical narratives, or dismissed as unimportant for various reasons. We spend a lot of our time for each post researching the person/people in question, writing up a short but still informative post, and editing to make sure there aren’t too many glaring mistakes, inaccuracies, or problems with what we choose to present our readers with each week. Some posts come easier than others, not because of an assumed superficiality of the historical subject we are writing about but for various other reasons. Other posts – at least for myself – take on a fourth step in my “research-write-edit” (repeat) process. That fourth step often includes a self-critical (re)evaluation of the entire post and the Blog.

The responsibility that comes with running a blog named Historical Hotties weighs heavily when you are trying to both bring attention to oft-overlooked historical figures or their communities without simultaneously fetishizing or bringing unwanted bigotry to their descendants or present-day communities. Today’s post grapples more clearly with those issues than perhaps other posts, specifically because the subjects were a group of Black men and four Black children who were captured, enslaved, and brought across the Middle Passage to the Americas (Turtle Island). The present-day issues of how to commemorate and celebrate their resilience without romanticizing or fetishizing suffering and oppression are key questions that we must deal with here at the Blog, and that historians working both within and outside of the academy must be held accountable to. These issues are also layered with the larger questions of who has claims to what history. These questions present themselves differently to those of us who write about our own people’s histories versus those of us who write about the histories of peoples who we do not come from.

With these questions in mind, for today’s post we present to you the history of the Amistad Africans (as they are commonly and presently referred to). The story of the Amistad Africans is one that many historians of enslavement will be familiar with, or fans of Steven Spielberg films will be at least vaguely familiar with. The Amistad Africans were a group of forty-nine adult men and four children who were originally from interior Mende country in what is present-day southern Sierra Leone (Osagie, 4). These fifty-three people were kidnapped in 1836 and sold into enslavement to two Spanish slavers, Pedro Montes and José Ruiz, who then proceeded to force them across the Atlantic Ocean along the Middle Passage until they reached the Caribbean. Stopping in La Habana and switching ships to La Amistad, their ultimate destination was Puerto Príncipe.

On the third night en route from La Habana to Puerto Príncipe, the forty-nine Mende men revolted after the ship’s cook Celestino taunted them with cannibalism. Senbge Pieh (one of the Mende men) incited the other men to action: “We may as well die trying to be free, as to be killed and eaten” (as quoted in Osagie, 5). Senbge with the help of another man, Grabeau, broke out of his chains and once all of the men were freed from their iron collars, proceeded to grab cane knives and kill the captain and the cook. In the ensuing rebellion, two of the Mende men were killed and two Spanish seamen managed to escape by boat. Ruiz and Montes – the men who were to hold the Amistad Africans in enslavement – were captured and became prisoners on the ship. However, as none of the Mende men knew how to navigate La Amistad, they depended on their prisoners Ruiz and Montes to aid them back to Africa.

Ruiz and Montes by day travelled east, and by night steered La Amistad west and north, hoping to land in the United States. After two months, eight people dying of various illnesses, and a quickly depleting food supply, they eventually reached Long Island, New York. The Amistad Africans, after attempting to negotiate with local captains, were captured by the navy and taken prisoner where they would spend the next twenty-seven months in captivity. On August 27th, 1836, La Amistad was towed to New London, Connecticut and the story soon turned into an international incident as the enslaved people’s worth exceeded an estimated $70,000, leading the case to be taken up by the American court system. The case was presided over by pro-enslavement judges where the adult Amistad Africans were tried with murder and piracy.

While the case developed in Connecticut, abolitionists began to take notice, including Dwight Janes who went to the August 29th hearing and learned that the Mende men and four children had been brought to La Habana directly from Mende country despite the Atlantic Slave Trade being legally “over” (although, of course, in practice this was not the case). The editor of the Emancipator Rev. Joshua Leavitt and Simeon Jocelyn (a White minister in New Haven’s first Black church) along with the businessman and abolitionist Lewis Tappan soon rallied in support with Janes, hoping to meet the needs of the Amistad Africans in regards to their legal defense (Osagie, 7). The group of abolitionists who took it upon themselves to provide legal counsel eventually found John Ferry, a free Black Mende man living in New York, who served as the initial interpreter in the early stages of the case. Eventually another free Black Mende man, James Covey, took on the role of interpreter for the duration of the case.

The case proceeded to gain more attention not only within the United States but in Cuba, Spain, and Great Britain. However, it was not the attention of other imperial powers that swayed the former President John Quincy Adams to eventually take on the case in front of the Supreme Court. It was instead the words of two of the Amistad Africans, Kali and Kinna (sometimes spelled Kenna) who wrote to him, pleading for his legal aid. Adams took on the case, with the Supreme Court upholding the rulings of lower courts stating that the Amistad Africans (only thirty-five of whom were still alive at this point) were not enslaved but instead free men illegally kidnapped from Africa, pointing to the Atlantic Slave Trade’s illegal status in 1836 as proof of their freedom. The Amistad Africans and the Amistad Committee (comprising the many abolitionists who came to their aid) raised money to return to Mende country by various means including going on church speaking tours and making crafts (Osagie, 18). Eventually, the thirty-five remaining Amistad Africans made it back to their homeland by sailing with a group of White and Black American missionaries.

We here at the Blog tip our proverbial hats to the resistance the Amistad Africans enacted against their enslavement, both the violent aspects of their rebellion and the non-violent ones such as the letters Kali and Kinna wrote to John Quincy Adams. The histories of these fifty-three Mende people point us in various directions, including being cognizant of the history we are literally living on top of. As a student at Yale University, an institution built on stolen Indigenous land and with the funds of enslavement as its source of original wealth, in New Haven, it is important for me to engage with the history of the place I live in, and this includes situating myself in relation to this history that partly took place in New Haven, Connecticut (located on Quinnipiac Territory). Alongside the familiarity with the history of particular places that academic spaces are found in, the histories of the Amistad Africans also forces us to recon with questions regarding the limits of utilizing the (il)legality of settler colonial and imperial states in seeking justice; of how piracy was often depicted as a specifically racialized threat; and of how transnational histories of enslavement and resistance engage with one another across and along the Atlantic.

We hope our readers take it upon themselves to seek out histories of resistance such as those of the Amistad Africans, or at least in learning a little bit about the places we variously call “home.”

~ M

Bibliography:

Osagie, Iyunolu Folayan. The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000.

 

 

The Amistad Africans