african-american-studies

The Zong Massacre

    On 29 November 1781, Captain Luke Collingwood of the British ship, Zong, ordered one-third of his cargo to be thrown overboard. That cargo was human – 133 African slaves bound for Jamaica. His motive – to collect the insurance. The case was brought to court – not for murder, but against the insurers who refused to pay up. This is the cruel story of the Zong Massacre.

The slave ship, Zong

  On 6 September 1781, the Zong, a slave ship, left the island of São Tomé, off the west coast of Africa, bound for Jamaica. The ship was cruelly overcrowded, carrying 442 Africans, destined to become slaves, accompanied by 17 crew. The human cargo was manacled and packed so tightly, to have no room to move. But for the captain, Luke Collingwood, the more Africans he could squeeze in, the greater the margin of profit for both the ship’s owners and himself.

   For Collingwood, previously a ship’s surgeon, this was his first and last assignment as captain. Planning to retire, he hoped for a generous bounty to help him in his retirement. The greater the number of fit slaves he delivered to Jamaica, the greater his share.

   Captain Collingwood’s decision But by mid-November, the inexperienced Collingwood found himself in the mid-Atlantic, unable to navigate out of the calm winds of the Doldrums. The slaves, suffering from malnutrition, dysentery, scurvy and disease, began to die. By 28 November, 60 had died, along with seven crew members. Many more were falling sick. Collingwood began to panic – the delivery of dead slaves would earn the shipowners nothing. If, however, the Africans were somehow lost at sea, then the shipowners’ insurance would cover the loss at £30 per head.

  So Collingwood, himself suffering from fever, had an idea. Having discussed it with his crew, he made an unimaginably cruel, but to his mind, logical decision. Rather than allow the sick slaves to die on board and be rendered worthless, he would throw them overboard – and hence claim on the insurance. First Mate, James Kelsall, protested but was overruled.  At some point during the trip, Kelsall had been suspended from duty but we do not know whether or not it was for this act of protestation (on arrival in Jamaica, the ship’s log had conveniently disappeared).

  Thus, on 29 November, 54 sick slaves, mainly women and children, were dragged from below deck, unshackled (after all, why waste good manacles?) and heaved from the ship into the ocean. The following day, more were murdered. In the end, Collingwood had thrown 133 slaves to their deaths. Many struggled and the crew had to tie iron balls to their ankles. Another ten slaves threw themselves overboard and in what Collingwood described as an act of defiance.

  The ship finally arrived at its destination on 22 December 1781 – a trip that normally took 60 days had taken Collingwood 108. There were still 208 slaves on board, sold for an average of £36 each.

Senate Bill 1128 is a bill by which college courses in Mexican American history and African American history would not count towards a college degree in Texas public universities. We must stop this bill because college courses that teach about Mexican American history and African American history teach undergraduate students from a critical standpoint; students understand the meaningful contributions from individuals of color that help make this state and our country a great one. Further, students are given a multicultural educational perspective that not only underscores inclusiveness, dismantles stereotypes, and provides an opportunity for students of all racial backgrounds to collaborate towards social justice. 

Followers, please take time to sign this important petition. Ethnic studies are indispensable to the liberation and empowerment of all PoC.

The Lost Cities of Africa
by Basil Davidson

“Combining archeological evidence and scholarly research, Davidson traces the exciting development of the rich kingdoms of the lost cities of Africa, fifteen hundred years before European ships first came to African shores.”

( I have issues with the title but this is a very good book)

As graduate students in Northwestern University’s department of African-American studies, we were thrilled with the informative and important article by Stacey Patton for The Chronicle of Higher Education that looked at the state of our discipline through the lens of an important academic conference bringing together the 11 African-American studies doctoral programs together for the first time.

So imagine our surprise when almost two weeks after The Chronicle’s original article appeared, The Chronicle’s Web site published a lazy and vitriolic hit piece by blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley that summarily dismisses our academic work while debasing us as something less than “legitimate scholars.” Riley then holds up our research as the reason African American Studies as a discipline should be “eliminated.”

Instead of taking her own advice given to her readers to “just read the dissertations,” Riley displays breathtaking arrogance and gutless anti-intellectualism by drawing such severe conclusions about our work and African-American studies as a whole based on four or five sentence synopses of our dissertation projects.  In fact, Riley has never read our dissertations, as they are in process.  Nor has she read a chapter or even an abstract of our work, but that does not stop her from a full throttle attack on our scholarship and credibility.

When Rick Santorum took his failed campaign for the Republican nomination for President to Iowa, he invoked blacks on welfare as a campaign issue—in a state where African-Americans make up only two percent of the population.  He said, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.”

When Newt Gingrich had trouble drumming up interest in his failed political campaign, he began referring to President Barack Obama as the “food stamp president” and then told the NAACP that he wanted to address their convention to counsel, “why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

One can only assume that in a bid to not be “out-niggered” by her right-wing cohort, Riley found some black women graduate students to beat up on.  Despite her attempts to silence us personally, and indeed the discipline as a whole, her exhortations confirm the need for the vigorous study and investigation of black life in the United States and beyond.

Riley describes our work as driven by “conspiracy theories,” “liberal hackery,” and “left-wing victimization claptrap” all in an attempt to deny the persistence of racism in American society.  Her racial-justice calendar ends in 1963, the year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and two years before the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.  According to Riley’s calendar, the legislative fruit of the southern Civil Rights Movement meant the end of American racism in any institutional capacity.  Thus Riley, in a betrayal of her own bigotry, declares that there are “some fundamental problems in black culture that cannot be blamed on white people,” while at the same time imploring us to stop “blaming the white man.”

As black people living in the United States we do not need conspiracy theories or white bogie men to explain the disparities that separate and distinguish the life chances of white people compared to those of African Americans, even with a black president sitting in the White House.  We understand that these conditions are driven and shaped by racism and real white men who exercise power and influence in the economic, social and political institutions that govern this nation.  Before the dirt has fully come to rest on the grave of Trayvon Martin, black men and women, in the academy or outside of it, have never needed Harvard educated white women to lecture us about the conditions in the communities we live in—and we certainly do not need it now.

Our work is not about victimization; it is about liberation.  Liberating the history, culture and politics of our people from the contortions and distortions of a white supremacist framework that has historically denied our agency and subjectivity as active participants in the making of the world we live in.

For the past 40 years, black studies has been instrumental in transforming higher education into a more inclusive, competitive, and rigorous intellectual enterprise. This is a fact. The contributions are irrefutable. But the extent to which Riley chose to assail black studies and the scholarship of black-studies doctoral students is indicative of the desperate tactics commonly used by media pundits.  What is she so afraid of?

Finally, shame on The Chronicle of Higher Education.  As students we welcome the vigorous interrogation and examination of our work that comes with life in the academy. We do not welcome smug attacks by lazy bloggers, in your employment, who resort to racial caricature in a pitiful attempt to drum up controversy and interest in an otherwise underwhelming and pedestrian career. Riley’s rant is typical matter for personal blogs and anonymous postings in comment sections. The Chronicle’s complicity in Riley’s anti-intellectualism and the pernicious attack on black scholars and black culture is what is most offensive. It is revealing that such an esteemed publication would abandon its journalistic and academic standards.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
La Tasha B. Levy
Ruth Hays

6

You may be thinking about the year in review, but let’s take a look further back with these African American history titles from Oxford University Press. From the injustice of slavery through the twentieth century’s civil rights movement and today…

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I’m very proud of these 5. These are 5 young Black adults who have pursued their academic careers in African American Studies. For the record, they are receiving their Masters in this field. They are using the work that they have done to contribute and help liberate Black people all around the world. Some of them want to focus on helping Black children, some want to focus on Black people in East Asia, some want to focus on Black people in the Cayman Islands… But these wonderful people are willing to do the academic, community as spiritual work to help liberate and educate Black people. People ask people in Black Studies, “what can you do with that degree?” whether it’s a BA, an MA, or a Ph. D. You have your answer now- CHANGE THE WORLD, LIBERATE BLACK PEOPLE and HELP THE WORLD BECOME HUMANE. I’m proud to call these people friends and I love them. Me being a member of your TU Af Am family is very proud of you. Love you. YOU ARE WHAT BLACK EXCELLENCE LOOKS LIKE.

Nobody Knows My Name
by James Baldwin

“Told with Baldwin’s characteristically unflinching honesty, this collection of illuminating, deeply felt essays examines topics ranging from race relations in the United States to the role of the writer in society, and offers personal accounts of Richard Wright, Norman Mailer and other writers. ”

CAREY DAVENPORT, retired Methodist minister of Anahuac, Texas, appears sturdy despite his 83 years. He was reared a slave of Capt. John Mann, in Walker Co., Texas. His wife, who has been his devoted companion for 60 years, was born in slavery just before emancipation. Carey is very fond of fishing and spends much time with hook and line. He is fairly well educated and is influential among his fellow Negroes.

“If I live till the 13th of August I’ll be 82 years old. I was born in 1855 up in Walker County but since then they split the county and the place I was born is just across the line in San Jacinto County now. Jim and Janey Davenport was my father and mother and they come from Richmond, Virginia. I had two sisters, Betty and Harriet, and a half brother, William.

"Our old master’s name was John Mann but they called him Capt. Mann. Old missus’ name was Sarah. I’d say old master treated us slaves bad and there was one thing I couldn’t understand, ‘cause he was ‘ligious and every Sunday mornin’ everybody had to git ready and go for prayer. I never could understand his ‘ligion, ‘cause sometimes he git up off his knees and befo’ we git out the house he cuss us out.

"All my life I been a Methodist and I been a regular preacher 43 years. Since I quit I been livin’ here at Anahuac and seems like I do ‘bout as much preachin’ now as I ever done.

"I don’t member no cullud preachers in slavery times. The white Methodist circuit riders come round on horseback and preach. There was a big box house for a church house and the cullud folks sit off in one corner of the church.

"Sometimes the cullud folks go down in dugouts and hollows and hold they own service and they used to sing songs what come a-gushin’ up from the heart.

"They was ‘bout 40 slaves on the place, but I never seed no slaves bought or sold and I never was sold, but I seen ‘em beat—O, Lawd, yes. I seen ‘em make a man put his head through the crack of the rail fence and then they beat him till he was bloody. They give some of ‘em 300 or 400 licks.

"Old man Jim, he run away lots and sometimes they git the dogs after him. He run away one time and it was so cold his legs git frozen and they have to cut his legs off. Sometimes they put chains on runaway slaves and chained ‘em to the house. I never knowed of ‘em puttin’ bells on the slaves on our place, but over next to us they did. They had a piece what go round they shoulders and round they necks with pieces up over they heads and hung up the bell on the piece over they head.

"I was a sheep minder them days. The wolves was bad but they never tackled me, ‘cause they’d ruther git the sheep. They like sheep meat better’n man meat. Old Captain wanted me to train he boy to herd sheep and one day young master see a sow with nine pigs and want me to catch them and I wouldn’t do it. He tried to beat me up and when we git to the lot we have to go round to the big gate and he had a pine knot, and he catch me in the gate and hit me with that knot. Old Captain sittin’ on the gallery and he seed it all. When he heered the story he whipped young master and the old lady, she ain’t like it.

"One time after that she sittin’ in the yard knittin’ and she throwed her knittin’ needle off and call me to come git it. I done forgot she wanter whip me and when I bring the needle she grab me and I pull away but she hold on my shirt. I run round and round and she call her mother and they catch and whip me. My shirt just had one button on it and I was pullin’ and gnawin’ on that button and directly it come off and the whole shirt pull off and I didn’t have nothin’ on but my skin. I run and climb up on the pole at the gate and sot there till master come. He say, ‘Carey, why you sittin’ up there?’ Then I tell him the whole transaction. I say, ‘Missus, she whip me ‘cause young marse John git whip that time and not me.’ He make me git down and git up on his horse behin’ him and ride up to the big house. Old missus, she done went to the house and go to bed with her leg, ‘cause when she whippin’ me she stick my head ‘tween her knees and when she do that I bit her.

"Old master’s house was two-story with galleries. My mother, she work in the big house and she have a purty good house to live in. It was a plank house, too, but all the other houses was make out of hewed logs. Then my father was a carpenter and old master let him have lumber and he make he own furniture out of dressed lumber and make a box to put clothes in. We never did have more’n two changes of clothes.

"My father used to make them old Carey plows and was good at makin’ the mould board out of hardwood. He make the best Carey plows in that part of the country and he make horseshoes and nails and everything out of iron. And he used to make spinning wheels and parts of looms. He was a very valuable man and he make wheels and the hub and put the spokes in.

"Old master had a big farm and he raised cotton and corn and ‘taters and peanuts and sorghum cane and some ribbon cane. The bigges’ crops was cotton and corn.

"My father told us when freedom come. He’d been a free man, ‘cause he was bodyguard to the old, old master and when he died he give my father he freedom. That was over in Richmond, Virginia. But young master steal him into slavery again. So he was glad when freedom come and he was free again. Old master made arrangement for us to stay with him till after the harvest and then we go to the old Rawls house what ‘long to Mr. Chiv Rawls. He and my father and mother run the place and it was a big farm.

"I git marry when I was ‘bout 22 years old and that’s her right there now. We’s been married more’n 60 years and she was 17 years old then. She was raised in Grant’s colony and her father was a blacksmith.

"We had it all ‘ranged and we stop the preacher one Sunday mornin’ when he was on the way to preachin’ and he come there to her pa’s house and marry us. We’s had 11 children and all has deceased but three.

"I was educated since freedom, ‘cause they wasn’t no schools in slavery days, but after I was freed I went to public schools. Most my learnin’ I got from a German man what was principal of a college and he teach me the biggest part of my education.

"When I was 14 a desperado killed my father and then I had my mother and her eight children to take care of. I worked two months and went to school one month and that way I made money to take care of ‘em.

As reported earlier

, Tucson Unified School District students Maya Arce, Korina Lopez and Nicolas Dominguez, as well as their attorneys, were down at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco today making a case against A.R.S § 15-112, the law that pretty much made the Mexican American studies program illegal.



One of the minds in the students’ defense team, Anjana Malhotra, who is formerly a clinical teaching fellow at the Korematsu Center and is now an associate professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School, said, in summary, that they did well.

“They were concerned that the law was enforced regardless of the positive effects on students,” she said during a phone call a few hours after leaving the courtroom. The law got rid of MAS classes, “which accelerated students’ achievement, and officials who enforced the law knew that it had positive results. Also, there is a disproportionate impact on a minority Mexican American community, the law creates this disproportionate impact, how can that not be evidence of discriminatory intent?”

The court was baffled by the idea that, for instance, Chinese American history would be banned in Arizona but not European American history because of this law. 

“The Arizona attorney stated that the segregation effects of Mexican American studies was the core concern of the statute,” she said “The attorney said it was designed to prevent desegregation violations, of course that only means minority races.”

A huge question at the hearing was, if one portion of the law is invalidated, does that mean the entire thing is thrown out?

Malhotra said that if, for instance, the portion of the law banning classes for particular ethnic groups is found to be overbroad, then the entire law would be invalidated—the law doesn’t have a clause stipulating that if one portion is invalidated, the rest of the law still survives. So, the team doesn’t have to prove that ALL guidelines of the law are unconstitutional, but at least one of them is.

“Equal protection claims are hard because you have to show intentional discrimination, but it works well here because you have to show a law or government action was taken to single out a particular group, and that is exactly what this statute did,” Malhotra said.

So, good news? We won’t know for some time. In the mean time, TUSD still has to deal with the state saying its teachers are not implementing the culturally relevant curriculum in a Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas kind of way. If that’s not fixed, the district faces more budget cuts.