Posts Tagged ‘slavery’
‘Tis the season: best-of lists, and some leisure time in which to put them to use…
Here’s NPR’s Best Books of 2015— 260 volumes that one can filter by type or interest.
* Mark Twain
As we settle in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that U.S. Secretary of State William Seward issued a statement verifying the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment abolished slavery with the declaration: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Officials in West Africa plan to erect a cordon sanitaire around areas affected by the Ebola virus. The drastic tactic—a strict quarantine encircling an infected area, allowing no residents to exit—has been only rarely used since the end of World War I… and then, as in China, for suspect reasons and of questionable effect (see here and here).
Writing at The Vault, Rebecca Onion recounts the story of Honolulu’s Chinatown inside a cordon sanitaire during an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1899-1900. In December 1899, You Chong, a 22-year-old Chinese bookkeeper, died of the disease, quickly followed by four neighbors. The Honolulu Board of Health isolated 14 blocks of the city, where ten thousand people lived.
Historian Nyan Shah writes that public health officials on the West Coast focused on Chinese and Japanese travelers in investigating the outbreak, “disregarding scientific evidence that rats were the primary conveyors of disease.” Facing the epidemic in Honolulu, officials acted on long-held stereotypes about the dirtiness of Chinese residences, turning to tactics of radical disinfection: spraying homes with carbolic acid; forcing residents to shower at public stations; throwing out belongings.
In Honolulu, officials finally escalated to fire, burning the home of one plague victim. But the blaze spread throughout the district. Historian Joseph Byrne writes that at first, after the fire burned out of control, fleeing citizens were “turned back by the National Guard and white vigilantes maintaining the cordon.” Finally, the cordonopened one exit to let people out. Eight thousand residents were displaced.
“Many bitterly insisted that the government had deliberately allowed the fire to spread,” Byrne writes, “a conviction only strengthened when one local newspaper printed an editorial celebrating the fire for wiping out the plague while simultaneously clearing off valuable real estate.”…
Read the whole– and horrifying– tale, and see more photos at “The Disastrous Cordon Sanitaire Used on Honolulu’s Chinatown in 1900.”
* Albert Camus, The Plague
As we remember to wash our hands, we might recall that is was on this date in 1619 that slavery arrived in North America, as “20 and Odd” Blacks landed in Jamestown, Virginia on a Dutch man of war, which traded them to settlers for provisions. These first African-Americans were not technically slaves, as slavery hadn’t yet been established as an institution in the Colony. But ownership was clear, and the the custom took hold (as reflected in the wills of original purchasers, who left “Negroes in service” to their children); was enshrined in law in 1662.
The Library of Babel, “The Library of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges
In Borges’s classic story, the entire universe is a library, a infinite labyrinth, which contains all books — that is, every possible ordering of letters and symbols, so that one full book of gibberish might differ from another only in the placement of a single comma. “Perhaps my old age and fearfulness deceive me,” Borges’s narrator muses at the story’s end, “but I suspect that the human species — the unique species — is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.” Sigh.
… to Buffy…
Sunnydale High Library, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
At the other end of the cultural spectrum (but then again, maybe not really), sits the Sunnydale High Library, squarely on top of a Hellmouth. Don’t let that scare you away, though! This place has every book you’ll ever need on vampires, spirits, demons and beyond, and happens to be staffed by a very winsome librarian. There’s also a book cage full of weapons, just in case.
* Jorge Luis Borges
As we renew our library cards, we might recall that it was on this date in 1829 that Henry Trumbull registered (officially published) his biography of Robert Voorhis (1770-1832), an African American slave who later became a recluse in Massachusetts:
LIFE AND ADVENTURES
HERMIT OF MASSACHUSETTS,
Who has lived 14 Years in a Cave, secluded from human society.
An account of his Birth, Parentage, Sufferings, and
providential escape from unjust and cruel Bondage
in early life–and his reasons for becoming
Taken from his own mouth, and published for his benefit.
Printed for H. TRUMBULL
— 1829 Price 12 1-2 Cents
Eighteenth-century abolitionists used every propaganda tool in the book, but one of their most widely circulated visual aids was an innovative diagram of the Liverpool slave ship Brookes, first published in 1788…
Thanks to a parliamentary survey that year, detailed measurements of the Brookes were available and a group of Plymouth-based campaigners had accurate deck plans, cross-sections and side views drawn up. Into these were added hundreds of prone black figures, not dissimilar to Isotype figures, drawn to the dimensions laid down in the Regulated Slave Trade Act of 1788 (‘6ft by 1ft 4in to each man, 5ft 10in by 1ft 4in to each woman, 5ft by 1 ft 2in to each boy, 4ft 6in by 1ft for a girl’).
Under the act, which was designed to reduce the overcrowding that led to so many deaths on the transatlantic crossing, the Brookes was permitted to carry a maximum of 454 slaves. The engraver managed to fit 400 in. At least one earlier voyage had carried a human cargo of 609 African people.
London abolitionists had it printed on 7000 posters (in one run), and, in the years that followed, the diagram was widely copied in broadsheets, pamphlets and books in Britain, France and the United States. ‘No one saw it but he was impressed,’ wrote the tireless abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, who was partly responsible for the original. ‘It spoke to him in a language which was at once intelligible and irresistible.’ Art critic Tom Lubbock described it as ‘perhaps the most politically influential picture ever made.’
Read the whole story (and click through to an enlarged version of the graphic) at Eye Magazine.
[TotH to CoDesign]
As we shudder, we might send melodious birthday greetings to John Newton; he was born on this date in 1725. As a young man, Newton put to sea on a slave ship; subsequently, he was himself enslaved in West Africa. Rescued in 1748, Newton returned to England, and on the voyage home had a spiritual conversion to Evangelical Christianity. He tried returning to slaving, but couldn’t stomach it. So he supported himself as a tide surveyor, applying unsuccessfully to the Methodists, Independents and Presbyterians for curatorial positions until finally, via an influential friend, he was ordained an Anglican priest in 1764. In 1788 Newton began to speak out against slavery, and became an ally of William Wilberforce.
But many years earlier Newton what may be made his best-remembered contribution to the cause: In 1767 the poet William Cowper moved to Olney, where Newton was Curate. Cowper worshipped in the church, and collaborated with Newton on a volume of hymns, which was eventually published as Olney Hymns in 1779– a collection that had great influence on English hymnology. Among its songs of worship: “Faith’s Review and Expectation,” which has come to be known by its opening phrase, “Amazing Grace.”
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T’was Grace that taught…
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear…
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares…
we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be…
as long as life endures.
When we’ve been here ten thousand years…
bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise…
then when we’ve first begun.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
The curious art of diagramming sentences was invented 165 years ago by S.W. Clark, a schoolmaster in Homer, N.Y. His book, published in 1847, was called A Practical Grammar: In which Words, Phrases, and Sentences Are Classified According to Their Offices and Their Various Relations to One Another. His goal was to simplify the teaching of English grammar. It was more than 300 pages long, contained information on such things as unipersonal verbs and “rhetorico-grammatical figures,” and provided a long section on Prosody, which he defined as “that part of the Science of Language which treats of utterance.”
It may have been unwieldy, but this formidable tome was also quite revolutionary: out of the general murk of its tiny print, incessant repetitions, maze of definitions and uplifting examples emerged the profoundly innovative, dazzlingly ingenious and rather whimsical idea of analyzing sentences by turning them into pictures…
The full story– and lots of nifty diagrams– at Kitty Burns Florey’s “A Picture of Language” in the New York Times‘ Opinionator blog…
As we map our mumblings, we might pause to think some celebratory thoughts: today is Juneteenth.
Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862 (effective January 1, 1863), word was slow to spread. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, who’d arrived in Galveston, Texas, with 2,000 federal troops to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves, read “General Order No. 3” from a local balcony:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Former slaves in Galveston celebrated in the streets; Juneteenth observances began across Texas the following year– and are now recognized as State Holidays by 41 states.
Ashton Villa in Glaveston, from whose front balcony the Emancipation Proclamation was read on June 19, 1865 (source)
Juneteenth celebration in Austin, c.1900 (source)
source: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez
Tired of those monotonous meetings, those chattering conversations, the cacophony of the city? Mask it all with SimplyNoise— a “flat sound” generator– and choose among white, pink or brown/red noise…
As we seek auditory Zen, we might open our ears selectively in the memory that it was on this date in 1858 that Abraham Lincoln gave his “House Divided” speech in Springfield, Illinois. Playing off of a quote from the Bible (Matthew 12:25, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”), then Senatorial candidate Lincoln prophesied that
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
During the War of 1812, Abigail Adams had written a similar line in a letter from to Mercy Otis Warren– a variation that in its way is as timely today as Lincoln’s:
…A house divided upon itself- and upon that foundation do our enemies build their hopes of subduing us.
Your correspondent is headed to the other side of the International Blog-Post Line; so, while occasional missives may emerge over the next several days, regular service will resume on or around Memorial Day.
Lest readers be under-occupied in the meantime, the illuminating illustrations of Nathan Pyle:
The Other Numbers
More at Pyle.
As we commit to continued self-improvement, we might recall that it was on this date in 1856 that a pro-slavery posse led by Sheriff Samuel J. Jones burned the Free-State Hotel, destroyed the equipment of two anti-slavery newspapers, and looted several other businesses in Lawrence, Kansas– an attack known as the “Sack of Lawrence.” Abolitionist John Brown’s nearby Pottawatomie Massacre is believed to have been a reaction to this attack.
Five years earlier– on this same date in 1851– the nation of Columbia abolished slavery.