Mary Ann Shadd Cary

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[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 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

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Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Octavia E. Butler

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[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

Ira Aldridge

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James Northcote, Manchester Art Gallery: “Description Half length frontal portrait of Ira Aldridge, celebrated nineteenth century black actor, in the role of Othello. He is dressed in a white shirt, with a white lace necker-chief, he looks nervously to the left. Plain background.” 1826. This image is in the pubic domain. [https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIra_AldridgebyNorthcote.jpg, accessed 25 March 2017]

Today we tip our hats to 19th-century Black actor, Ira Aldridge, whose career spanned two continents, won some of the most coveted leading male roles in the English-language literary canon, engendered praise (both earnest and patronising) and criticism (unequivocally racist) and provided a platform from which Aldridge publicly supported abolition. Aldridge may be generally unknown, but his life and career negotiated the oppressive white gaze trained upon him as Black man on and off the stage.

Aldridge was born in present-day NYC in 1807. He received an education at Manhattan’s African Free School (for free Black children), where his gift for oratory was recognised. His father, a minister, wished Ira to apply the gift to ministry. But Ira Aldridge’s lifelong vocation would be acting.

From the 1816 to 1824, Aldridge honed his craft, but racist casting discrimination limited his opportunities; he worked mainly backstage, though he also did land roles with the African Company, a Black-founded and Black-managed company that, in 1821, became “the first resident African American theatre in the United States.” (1)

In 1824, Aldridge moved to Liverpool, hoping for greater opportunities. Unsurprisingly, he worked in Black companies and/or was often cast in racialised roles (e.g., his debut role in England in 1825, Oroonoko, the lead in The Revolt of Surinam, or a Slave’s Revenge). But Aldridge’s many leading roles (and not all racialised ones, like Othello, but also King Lear, for which he donned white face) attest to his range and the space he claimed for himself.

Aldridge did not allow himself to be made a hack for theatres cashing in on racialised spectacles; he was dedicated to his craft, and also made the stage a platform for the abolitionist message to which he was devoted. He often reappeared on stage with his guitar after finishing performances to play abolitionist-songs, and eventually became known for his post-performance, closing-night addresses, during which he attacked the abominable, unjust institution of slavery. He also donated considerable funds of his own to abolitionist causes. Thus, he expanded his racialised and constricted position into a space not just for himself as a Black man, but also for abolition. Through his donations he redirected English theatre-goers’ funds to the movement.

Aldridge challenged the restrictions that racist social and theatrical conventions placed upon him. When he couldn’t get satisfying work in the U.S., he moved to England, where he was not just an urban curiosity of Liverpool and London. He toured the provinces for years, and later branched out to continental Eurasia, where his performances were well-received by audiences across nations. His career demonstrates the wrongness of the general assumption that England was completely white before the 20th century, or that those Black people in England before that time were wholly segregated. After leaving the U.S., Aldridge married an English woman, and when she predeceased him, he remarried his Swedish mistress, with whom he would have several children.

Considering Aldridge’s career opens up an avenue for us to recall the long history that Black people have in Britain, both on and off the stage. Successful as he was, Aldridge in another sense was simply another in a succession of Black actors in England going back at least to the time of Shakespeare. (2)

Footnotes*:

  1. Emmanuel Sampath Nelson, African American Dramatists: An A-to-Z Guide (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004).
  2. ‘Black Faces in Tudor England – The Scholemaster’, https://andrewbretz.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/black-faces-in-tudor-england/, accessed 25 March 2017; ‘Britain’s First Black Community in Elizabethan London’, BBC News, 20 July 2012, sec. Magazine, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18903391, accessed 25 March 2017.

*This entire piece is inspired by the articles in footnote 2.

Ira Aldridge

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

Ella Josephine Baker

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[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

Shirley Chisholm

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[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