Tag Archives: slavery

Harriet Tubman, in movie and real life, guided by faith in fight for freedom

1 Nov

(RNS) — “God don’t mean people to own people.”

That simple statement, uttered by Cynthia Erivo in the title role of “Harriet,” a new movie about Harriet Tubman, reveals a truth long known by scholars of the woman dubbed “Moses.”

Tubman’s lived religion has been well recorded and used to explain how in 1849 a Maryland 20-something slave (her exact birthdate is not known) set out for the North to freedom, then over the next 10 years helped dozens of others gain liberty from enslavement. She embraced faith instead of fear, said Kate Clifford Larson, a historical consultant for the movie.

“It gave her confidence to do the things that she did,” said Larson.

So begins Adelle M. Banks’ report on Harriet Tubman and her faith, in life and in the new film. You may read the entire Religion News Service story here.

Slavery, History, and Relativism

1 Feb

Recently, John Turner contributed an important post concerning John Myles, one of the founders of the American Baptist tradition, and in the process, he noted that Myles owned several slaves. Myles was certainly not alone in that. By any measure, Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatest figures in early American history, a brilliant religious leader, and a daunting polymath. We also know that in 1731 he traveled to Newport, Rhode Island, in order to buy a slave, a “Negro girl named Venus,” and that at various time he might have owned as many as six slaves. Those facts are not in dispute. But how should they affect his reputation, or how we commemorate him? By extension, we also know that a great many distinguished early Americans in the secular realm were slave holders, including a large portion of the founding generation of national leaders, and so were many institutions, particularly colleges. What should we do with that information?

So begins historian Philip Jenkins’ thoughtful analysis of thinking morally about the past. You may read his entire Anxious Bench post here.

The Sins of Early Evangelicalism

26 Jan

For many evangelicals, George Whitefield (1714-1770) represents the very best of their tradition. He remains one of the few unifying figures in a fissiparous movement. At the risk of overstating things, the Grand Itinerant may serve as a basis for definition: “An evangelical is someone who likes George Whitefield” at least sounds plausible. Even historians who today question the possibility of finding such a thing as evangelicalism in the eighteenth century use labels like “Whitefieldarians” to describe a nascent religious movement that later became evangelicalism.

It’s worth remembering, however, that in the eyes of many contemporaries, the honey-tongued preacher represented the very worst of religion in their day. Critics assailed him as rancorous and divisive, and even many friends considered him a liability.

So begins historian Peter Choi in summarizing much of his argument in his new book about George Whitefield and early evangelicalism. See what he has to say not only about Whitefield but also Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano here.

17 Dec

December is a month of holidays and festivities that bring families and friends together to celebrate their good fortune and look forward to the year ahead. For the enslaved couple William and Ellen Craft, the month of December 1848 promised more reason to celebrate than any they’d ever experienced. The potential was uncertain, however, and fraught with peril. After years of careful planning and preparation, this was the optimal time, they decided, to implement their plan to gain their freedom.

A search of all of the documents in the Library of Congress would be unlikely to yield a scheme for freedom more intriguing and daring than the Christmas escape strategy of the Crafts. Even though theirs is heralded as one of the most brilliant escapes from slavery in American history, it’s far less well known than the exploits of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass or Josiah Henson.

The Crafts’ ingenious plan is documented in their 1860 narrative, “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery.” The Library holds four different reprints of the account.

So begins an intriguing Library of Congress post by Lavonda Kay Broadnax. You may read the entire post here.


26 Jul

“We need to forget about this so we can heal,” said an elderly white woman, as she left my lecture on the history of enslaved cooks and their influence on American cuisine.  Something I said, or perhaps everything I said, upset her.

My presentation covered 300 years of American history that started with the forced enslavement of millions of Africans, and which still echoes in our culture today, from the myth of the “happy servant” (think Aunt Jemima on the syrup bottle) to the broader marketing of black servitude (as in TV commercials for Caribbean resorts, targeted at white American travelers). I delivered the talk to an audience of 30 at the Maier Museum of Art in Lynchburg, Virginia. While I had not anticipated the woman’s displeasure, trying to forget is not an uncommon response to the unsettling tale of the complicated roots of our history, and particularly some of our beloved foods.

So begins Kelley Fanto Deetz’s essay at Zocalo Public Square about slave chefs and Southern hospitality. You may read the entire essay here.

Review of Robert J. Cook‘s “Civil War Memories, Contesting the Past Since 1865”

9 Apr

The current fight over removing Confederate monuments and the disturbing popularity for waving confederate flags at white supremacist rallies has attracted tremendous news media attention. The public demonstration of support for the Confederacy is not a new phenomenon, however, but rather the latest skirmish in a 150-year old struggle between competing “historical memories” about the Civil War, according to a new book by historian Robert J. Cook, Civil War Memories, Contesting the Past Since 1865.

According to Cook, a professor of history at the University of Sussex in Great Britain, and the author of two previous books on the Civil War, “As one would expect of such a divisive event, no single ‘memory’ of the Civil War has ever existed.”

So begins James Thornton Harris’ fascinating review of Cook’s Civil War Memories. You may read the rest of the review here.


14 Feb

Frederick Douglass portrait

This year’s Black History Month coincides with the 200th birthday of Douglass, and it’s an ideal occasion to rectify some unfortunate ways in which this influential writer has continued to be misrepresented and misunderstood—and not simply by the likes of Trump. Specifically, consider this famous quote that has been attributed to Douglass for decades: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

William Cheng offers a fine piece of historiography here about Douglass and a quote attributed to him. You may read his entire piece at the Pacific Standard here.

A disturbing new report on how poorly schools teach American slavery

5 Feb

Consider this from a disturbing new report on how U.S. schools teach — or, rather, don’t teach — students about the history of slavery in the United States:

  • Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.
  • 68 percent of the surveyed students did not know that slavery formally ended only with an amendment to the Constitution.
  • Only 22 percent of the students could correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.
  • Only 44 percent of the students answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.

These results are part of an unsettling new report titled “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery,” which was researched over the course of a year by the Teaching Tolerance project of the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center. The report includes results of surveys of U.S. high school seniors as well as social studies teachers in all grades — nationally representative of those populations — as well as an analysis of 15 state content standards, and a review of 10 popular U.S. history textbooks. The best textbook achieved a score of 70 percent against a rubric of what should be included in the study of American slavery; the average score was 46 percent.

So begins a Washington Post report by Valerie Strauss on how well the history of slavery is taught in U.S. high schools. You may read the rest of Strauss’ report here.


Witnessing a Rally for a Brand-New Confederate Monument

30 Aug

Alexis Okeowo, a black woman, reflects at the New Yorker on her attending the rally for a new Confederate monument: Witnessing a Rally for a Brand-New Confederate Monument | The New Yorker

American Historical Association Statement on Confederate Monuments (August 2017)

30 Aug

The American Historical Association welcomes the emerging national debate about Confederate monuments. Much of this public statuary was erected without such conversations, and without any public decision-making process. Across the country, communities face decisions about the disposition of monuments and memorials, and commemoration through naming of public spaces and buildings. These decisions require not only attention to historical facts, including the circumstances under which monuments were built and spaces named, but also an understanding of what history is and why it matters to public culture.

Read the rest of the statement here: AHA Statement on Confederate Monuments (August 2017) | AHA

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