Babo and Mori

Following our last post from a few weeks ago, today’s HHBlog post is in commemoration of Black History Month here in the United States. However, we at the Blog believe that it is important to expand our knowledge and understanding of the African Diaspora to regions in the Americas beyond the conventional scope of the United States or even Anglophone and Francophone North America. Today’s post is therefore in commemoration of two West African men, a father and son, named Babo (father) and Mori (son). For those who have read Herman Melville’s 1855 novella Benito Cereno or Greg Grandin’s academic text The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (2014), this history will be a familiar one.

Babo and Mori were two amongst many enslaved West Africans who were on board a slave ship, the Tryal, traversing the South Pacific towards Lima, Peru at the beginning of the nineteenth century. We know little about them – their lives before capture from Senegal and enslavement, their personal intimacies and thoughts – yet due to the events that transpired in 1804 and 1805, we in the academy know considerably more about their lives and desires than we do for the majority of the millions of enslaved Africans who were dispossessed of their homes and stolen to the Americas.

In 1804, as the Tryal was led to the Americas by Spanish sailors, Babo and Mori led a revolt on board the ship, killing their white captors save for a select few. Benito Cerreño, the Spanish owner of the ship and its captain, was kept alive and ordered by the West Africans on board to navigate the Tryal back to Senegal. Cerreño instead sailed back and forth along the coast of Chile hoping to be rescued,  until they came across a New England seal ship, the Perseverance. When the captain of the Perseverance, Amasa Delano (distant relative of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) boarded the Tryal, Babo, Mori, and the other West Africans aboard the Tryal performed their own enslavement in order to not be found out. They quite literally created a theatre out of what they knew the white gaze would believe to be true – not what was true i.e. that enslaved Black people had revolted and were in control of the ship and of white men – and what the white gaze accepted as “natural” roles for Black people.

They held Cerreño captive at knifepoint for the better part of an entire day, all the while Delano attempted to help what he believed to be a Spanish ship in distress. As Cerreño was forced into playing the role he had previously had – as captain and slaver – the Black rebels on board acted out the roles of enslaved and docile West Africans, all while keeping a close eye on their audience Amasa Delano. At the end of the day, after spending hours upon hours with a desperate but silent Cerreño, Delano boarded his own away ship after having given provisions to the Tryal and made his way back to the Perseverance. But as he pulled away from the Tryal, Cerreño dove on to Delano’s boat and suddenly the obvious was made clear to Delano. Delano’s New England crew rained violence down upon the West African rebels aboard the Tryal, leading eventually to the ship’s capture and a trial against the West Africans, including Babo and Mori, that took place in 1805.

The events of this rebellion of enslaved West Africans was later dramatized by Herman Melville, where I first encountered it for a course on Blackness in Latin America. The genius rebellion, down from the violent assault on their captors/enslavers to the performance of enslavement for a white American audience, is a captivating story that reminds us of both the attempts at dehumanization enslavement created, and the resistance to this dehumanization that the African Diaspora engaged in throughout the entirety of this diverse history. Although we do not know exactly what Babo, Mori, and the other enslaved West Africans thought before or after their revolt, we know from their actions that they were determined to resist enslavement by any means necessary.

~ M

Bibliography

Grandin, Greg. The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World. United Kingdom: Picador, 2015 [2014].

Melville, Herman. Benito Cereno. Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016 [1855].

 

 

Babo and Mori

Zora Neale Hurston

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[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

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Sylvia Hamilton

[A photograph of Sylvia D. Hamilton, from her professional page as Assistant Professor and Rogers Chair in Communications at the University of King’s College, Halifax http://www.ukings.ca/sylvia-d-hamilton]

Who counts as an historical subject? Who is worthy of our attention when historians tease out the narratives we call “history” from the amorphous past? And, moreover, who is the “we,” the “our” that can be found – sometimes explicitly, other times just a looming threat – in historical writing? For today’s post – the last in our celebration of Black History Month – I want to highlight Sylvia D. Hamilton, a Black Canadian filmmaker, and writer who has helped to shift both who counts as an historical subject in Canada and who counts as the historian, the always present “our” in historical writing. Sylvia D. Hamilton is therefore both historian and historical subject, both the one crafting narratives and the one centred in various stories.

Instead of the usual post where myself or Spirit write a tribute to an historical (and in this case, living) person, or set of persons, I will in its place allow for Hamilton’s own words to tell you where she is from and why she does the work she does. The following is an excerpt from her fantastic 2012 article “When and Where I Enter: History, Film and Memory.” Let her words inform you, remind you, or perhaps even challenge you into thinking about how Blackness is an integral part of the Canadian national project, and about how the same issues of anti-Black racism that exist in the United States punctuate Canadian history (and the many Canadian presents), as well:

Since our earliest days in Canada as African-descended people, we have striven to find a compass: to locate ourselves in this vast land, to plot our position on the physical and mental map of Canada…

I am the grateful daughter of Marie Nita Waldron and Gerald Mac Hamilton, the granddaughter of Ida Grosse and Gilbert Hamilton and of Hattie Kellum and William Waldron, and the great granddaughter of Charlotte and Charles Grosse. William Waldron was a sailor and watchmaker who came to Halifax from the Barbados at the turn of the century and married Hattie Kellum. All are the reason I can stand before you today.

I have become a seeker, trying to plot some of the co-ordinates, not just for myself, but also for others. For me, as a filmmaker and a writer, history and memory combine to create a lens through which I view the present. These joint themes figure in much of my work that draws on oral story telling, archival and other found documents and objects, and on geography to tell stories about African Nova Scotians and African Canadians generally.

My work re-inserts and re-positions African-descended people in our landscapes by presenting stories and images of people being witnesses to their own lives. Their experiences and stories are the evidence of their realities. I think that a true understanding of our past and its meaning, one rooted in our bones, is vital to our future.

 

Thank you to Sylvia D. Hamilton, for telling your story.

~ M

P.S. I encourage everyone who has access, to read Sylvia D. Hamilton’s article cited here. And I especially encourage everyone to watch her fantastic and at times heartbreaking documentary The Little Black Schoolhouse (2007) which chronicles the experiences of Black Canadians who were subjected to school segregation in Nova Scotia.

Bibliography

Hamilton, Sylvia D. “When and Where I Enter: History, Film and Memory.” Acadiensis XLI, no. 2 (Summer/Autumn 2012): 3-16.

 

 

 

 

Sylvia D. Hamilton

Women’s Political Council (WPC)

This week’s post is dedicated to the heroic Montgomery, Alabama-based Women’s Political Council (WPC).The WPC was begun by Mary Fair Burks in the fall of 1946, after Burks spent much of her life protesting Jim Crow laws by refusing to abide by them throughout the city. According to historian Danielle L. McGuire, “[a]fter a run-in with a white police officer… Burks decided to broaden her attack and form an army of women dedicated to destroying white supremacy” (76). In Burks’s own words, she was a “feminist before [she] really knew what the word meant” and felt that she had to spread her lone-woman protest to a broader, community-based one as when she “looked around[, …] all [she] could see were either masks of indiferrence or scorn” (McGuire, 76).

At the first WPC meeting in 1946, forty Black women attended and all shared their stories of experiencing racialized and gendered violence at the hands of White police officers in Montgomery. Initially beginning with sharing their experiences with each other, the women of the WPC spread their activism to include voter registration. It was thanks to these amazing women and their partnerships with other Black organizations that the rates of voter registration increased during the 1950s in Montgomery, Alabama. During the 1950s, the WPC continued to grow in strength and became known as the “most militant and uncompromising voice” for Black Americans in the South.

Although the WPC’s accomplishments in regards to voter registration in the Black community were very important, it was their protest of their mistreatment on city buses that they gained the most attention for. It is thanks to the WPC that the famed Montgomery Bus Boycott took place in 1955. Even before this famous direct action took place, the WPC had been planning a bus boycott to demonstrate against their mistreatment on city buses. The December 1st, 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks finally gave the WPC the opportunity to put their plans into action.

The women of the WPC fought for the dignity and respect that Black women were denied in the mid-twentieth century. Their battles, from voter registration to bus segregation, demonstrate the intersecting systems of oppression that affected Black women. The WPC fought against patriarchy and White supremacy, illuminating the radical and vanguard role that Black women have played in the fight for Civil Rights in the United States. We here at the Historical Hotties Blog tip our proverbial hats to the amazing and inspiring women that often put their lives on the line in their fight(s) against injustice and state-sanctioned oppression.

~ M

Bibliography

McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance – a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Vintage Books, 2010.

Women’s Political Council (WPC)

Bayard Rustin

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[A photograph of Bayard Rustin]

In honour of the start of Black History Month, today’s Historical Hottie is the one and only Bayard Rustin – an all around historical badass that often gets written out of the “official” history of the mainstream Civil Rights Movement. Born in the state of Pennsylvania in 1912, Rustin was an outspoken socialist, Civil Rights advocate, and gay rights activist. As a Black gay man that was engaged in socialist politics and the Civil Rights Movement for much of his life, he was a constant target of hatred and violence amongst many, many groups in the United States (the FBI tried to use his supposedly “deviant” sexuality against him and the larger Civil Rights Movement, to name just one). He was one of the foremost leaders in the non-violent Civil Rights Movement, beginning in the early 1940s after he moved to Harlem.

Rustin is often overlooked or purposely forgotten in the history of the Civil Rights Movement because of his sexuality. Many different groups, both from within Black liberation movements and outside in broader American society, unfortunately criticized him due to his sexuality. Because of this, and also because of having been affiliated with the Communist Party, he was rarely given “public” notice despite serving as a key influencer, advocate, and adviser to some of the most prominent Civil Rights leaders (including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Without him, the Civil Rights Movement would be remembered in a vastly different way – yes, he was that important to the Movement (but I’m in no way reducing it down to just one man or a handful of people)! He took an intersectional approach to oppression and injustice in the United States, pulling together diverse intellectual and activist ideologies that attacked capitalist, racist, and homophobic power structures. Rustin passed away in 1987, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2013.

Bayard Rustin was a revolutionary in more ways than one, and helps to remind us that the current struggles going on today amongst Black communities in the United States are not isolated events but instead are part of a much longer history. Here’s to Bayard Rustin and all the Black radicals like him that have fought + continue to fight oppression!

~ M

Bibliography

Rustin, Bayard. Down the Line: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971.

Rustin, Bayard. Ed. by Bond, Julian. I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters. New York: City Light Books, 2012.

Bayard Rustin