[Image description: Donovan Nelson’s artistic depiction of Igbo Landing in charcoal. It shows the Igbo slaves marching into a body of water with the water already up to their necks and their eyes closed. Image via Valentine Museum of Art]
For those who don’t know, Igbo Landing is the location of a mass suicide of Igbo slaves that occurred in 1803 on St. Simons Island, Georgia. As the story goes, a group of Igbo slaves revolted and took control of their slave ship, grounded it on an island, and rather than submit to slavery, proceeded to march into the water while singing in Igbo, drowning themselves in turn. They all chose death over slavery. It was an act of mass resistance against the horrors of slavery and became a legend, particularly amongst the Gullah people living near the site of Igbo Landing.
Not only is the story of Igbo Landing one of the key themes of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, which influenced LEMONADE, but its imagery also appears to be central to the “Love Drought” video. In the video, Beyoncé marches into the water followed by a group of black women all in white with black fabric in the shape of a cross across the front of their bodies. They march progressively deeper into the water before pausing and raising all of their hands toward the sunset.
[Image description: Beyoncé marching into a large body of water by a beach followed by other black women]
[Image description: Beyoncé on a beach leaning backward as she appears to be resisting the pull of a taught rope]
Lastly, I would like to note how Beyoncé and the group of black women she is with very deliberately rose their hands while in the water toward the sunset. For me this recalled how the act of mass resistance at Igbo Landing was mythologized in many African-American communities as either the myth of the “water walking” or “flying” Africans. In the latter legend, the Igbo slaves walked into the water and then flew back to Africa, saving themselves in turn.
Below is the myth of the “flying Africans” at Igbo Landing as told by Wallace Quarterman, an African-American man born in 1844 who was interviewed by members of the Federal Writers Project in 1930 (via wiki):
Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and … Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good… . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then … rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa… . Everybody knows about them.
[Image description: Beyoncé and several black women partially submerged in water by a beach and raising their arms toward the setting sun]
Seeing Beyoncé and a group of black women marching into the water and raising their hands collectively toward the sunset reminded me specifically of this last interpretation of the story of Igbo Landing where the slaves flew to their freedom.
There are lots of potential interpretations for this video and the visual album as a whole but the core imagery of the “Love Drought” video - marshy landscape matching folklore descriptions of the location of “Igbo Landing,” images of Beyoncé bound in ropes and resisting their pull, a collective march into the water and holding their hands out toward the sky as if they were about to fly away together-basically screamed out to me as the story of Igbo Landing as I watched the video. It’s such a powerful act of mass resistance against slavery and as an Igbo person living today in America, it was moving to see imagery which reminded me strongly of it in LEMONADE as well.
If white people get this angry about Beyonce praising black beauty and black power during the Superbowl halftime show, just imagine how angry they would be if they were systematically imprisoned and disenfranchised, murdered by police officers who often get off by portraying their victims as inherently dangerous, and trapped in generations-long cycles of poverty. Just imagine.