Tag Archives: pbsafricanamericans

This 1987 calendar, published by the Black Seed organization, maps out the progression of the black liberation struggle. After the rising poverty and drug wars of the 1980s, the arms of the clock read that it’s revolution time.

The African Americans: Rubenstein Recap #6

Each Tuesday, PBS is showing the next installment of a six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us each week as we feature documents from the John Hope Franklin Research Center that resonate with the previous week’s episode.

The final episode of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, “A More Perfect Union (1968 – 2013),” explored African Americans’ strides in the wake of the civil rights movement against the backdrop of deeply rooted inequalities that persist into the present. The extraordinary civil rights gains of the 1960s did little to undo the economic barriers facing black Americans. Black power – the dream to empower African Americans political and economically – became the rallying cry of the 1970s. During that decade, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense started community programs in Oakland, CA, while cultural nationalists embraced African heritage and art to spread the message that black was beautiful.

The Gwen Lewis Afro-American Company, a dance company in Oakland, was part of a flourishing black arts movement in the 1970s that saw reclaiming African heritage as part of the liberation struggle.
The Gwen Lewis Afro-American Company, a dance company in Oakland, was part of a flourishing black arts movement in the 1970s that saw reclaiming African heritage as part of the liberation struggle. Walter J. Taylor Papers, 1934 – 2000.

Affirmative action programs gave some African Americans the chance to attend elite colleges and climb corporate ladders and helped fuel a growing black middle class.

The Black Student Alliance at Duke was formed in 1969 and continued to provide support and represent the interest of African American students throughout the following decades. This 1981 newsletter, called The Grapevine, reminding black students that they are part of a community and urging them to reach out to both black faculty and black workers on Duke’s Campus.
The Black Student Alliance at Duke was formed in 1969 and continued to provide support and represent the interest of African American students throughout the following decades. This 1981 newsletter, called The Grapevine, reminding black students that they are part of a community and urging them to reach out to both black faculty and black workers on Duke’s Campus. Black Student Alliance records, 1969 – 2006.

But throughout the 1980s, the majority of black Americans found no escape from the poverty and unemployment that confined them to abandoned inner cities and rural areas.

 

This list of observations drawn up by the Black Caucus, a labor group focused on African American workers, in 1984 laid out the tremendous barriers facing black workers twenty years after the civil rights movement.
This list of observations drawn up by the Black Caucus, a labor group focused on African American workers, in 1984 laid out the tremendous barriers facing black workers twenty years after the civil rights movement. Theresa El-Amin Papers, 1960s – 2010.

 

This 1987 calendar, published by the Black Seed organization, maps out the progression of the black liberation struggle. After the rising poverty and drug wars of the 1980s, the arms of the clock read that it’s revolution time.
This 1987 calendar, published by the Black Seed organization, maps out the progression of the black liberation struggle. After the rising poverty and drug wars of the 1980s, the arms of the clock read that it’s revolution time. Theresa El-Amin Papers, 1960s – 2010.

Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs then targeted poor black neighborhoods and sent hundreds of thousands of black men to prison with harsh sentencing laws, a reality that lead to numerous legal battles in the last thirty years. Yet when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, he fulfilled the dreams of centuries of African Americans. But as the effects of the disaster of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and controversy over the death of Trayvon Martin (2013) made clear, continuing racial inequality run deeper than one black president could solve.

Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center Graduate Intern.

Charles N. Hunter Papers

The African Americans: Rubenstein Recap #3

Each Tuesday, PBS is showing the next installment of a six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us each week as we feature documents from the John Hope Franklin Research Center that resonate with the previous week’s episode.

Episode 3: Into the Fire (1861 – 1896) traced the tumultuous journeys of African Americans from slavery to freedom in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Civil War opened as a battle to preserve the Union, but as enslaved men and women flocked to Union lines searching for freedom, their actions transformed the war into one for emancipation.

Kate Foster, a white woman from Adams County, Mississippi, kept a diary during the Civil War. In this entry from July 16th, 1863, she writes about the slaves who abandoned their masters in pursuit of freedom with the union army.

AAMR 3 FosterKate003blog
“The negroes are flocking to the enemy in town and the Yanks are cussing them and saying they wished they had never seen a negro. They are an ungrateful set and we are all tired of them.” (Kate D. Foster Diary)

At the conclusion of the war, freed black men and women set out to build new lives learning to read, buying land, building institutions, and raising families.

In this 1869 letter, African American minister Charles R. Edwardes introduces the Colored Men of the Mechanics and Laboring Men Association to John Emory Bryant, editor of radical Republican newspaper in Georgia. Rev. Edwardes explains how the organization wanted to help freed people buy land and homes.

John Emory Bryant Papers
John Emory Bryant Papers

After the 15th Amendment guaranteed black citizens’ right to vote, they used the ballot to elect African American city councilmen, state legislators, and congressmen to office. But white southern Democrats swiftly retaliated against these challenges through lynch mobs and violence at the ballot box, eroding African Americans’ newfound citizenship.

Mr. P. Joiner writes to Editor John Bryant in 1868 reporting the shooting of a black man by white democrats near Albany, Georgia. The white mob then continued on a rampage through the countryside, warning African Americans that it was “their country and they was going to rule it.” (John Emory Bryant Papers)

Mr. P. Joiner writes to Editor John Bryant in 1868 reporting the shooting of a black man by white democrats near Albany, Georgia. The white mob then continued on a rampage through the countryside, warning African Americans that it was “their country and they was going to rule it.” (John Emory Bryant Papers)
John Emory Bryant Papers

The 1890s brought a wave of state constitutional conventions across the South, aimed at systematically disfranchising black residents. These actions were buttressed by the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 decision, supporting the principal of a separate but equal society and paving the way for legal racial segregation. As the twentieth century dawned, the full citizenship black Americans had so briefly experienced seemed like a distant hope.

Charles Hunter was born a slave in Raleigh in 1851 and spent his life pushing for the advancement of African Americans. In 1889, Hunter writes to the Postmaster General in Washington, D.C., protesting the white Raleigh postmaster’s refusal to appoint Hunter due to his race.

Charles N. Hunter Papers
Charles N. Hunter Papers

Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center Graduate Student Intern and John Gartrell, John Hope Franklin Research Center Director.

 

The notebook of a slave transporter who delivered twenty-five slaves from Lancaster, South Carolina to Montgomery, Alabama in 1845.

The African Americans: Rubenstein Recap #2

Each Tuesday, PBS is showing the next installment of a six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us each week as we feature documents from the John Hope Franklin Research Center that resonate with the previous week’s episode.

Last Tuesday’s episode  focused on the slavery at its height in the American South. Episode 2: The Age of Slavery (1800 – 1860) began at the end of the Revolutionary War, a time when slavery was still legal in all thirteen states. While the demands of enslaved African Americans for freedom and mounting moral appeals helped end human bondage in the North, the exploding international demand for cotton only deepened the South’s reliance on slave labor.

The notebook of a slave transporter who delivered twenty-five slaves from Lancaster, South Carolina to Montgomery, Alabama in 1845.
The notebook of a slave transporter who delivered twenty-five slaves from Lancaster, South Carolina to Montgomery, Alabama in 1845. (Slave transporter’s notebook, 1845). Click to enlarge.

 

Lineage of slave families on the McRae Plantation near Camden, South Carolina in the 1800s. Jacob and July are noted as runaways.
Lineage of slave families on the McRae Plantation near Camden, South Carolina in the 1800s. Jacob and July are noted as runaways. (Plantation Memorandum Book, McRae Plantation)

Enslaved men and women ran away, revolted, and resisted this brutal system in any way they could. The luckiest made their way to freedom in Canada, but the vast majority had little chance of escaping the cotton fields.

List of black men and women emigrating from Essex County, Canada to Haiti in 1861.
List of black men and women emigrating from Essex County, Canada to Haiti in 1861. Alexander Proctor and his wife Margaret were born free in the South and migrated to Ohio before moving to Canada and finally Haiti. Also on the list is William Turner, who is noted as a fugitive. (Alexander Proctor Papers, 1837-1895).
Click to enlarge.

By the mid-19th century, abolitionists and free black citizens, like escaped slave Frederick Douglass, had launched a passionate battle to end slavery in the United States.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845)

Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center Graduate Student Intern and John Gartrell, John Hope Franklin Research Center Director

Resolutions West Indies Planters & Merchants, 1789 of why slave trade should be continued (arguments for property rights, capital reasons, European “constitutions” not be adapted to clearing agricultural land), William Smith Papers, Box 3, Folder (Printed Material, 1788 - 1822)

The African Americans: Rubenstein Recap

Last Tuesday, PBS premiered the first episode of the six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us as we feature documents from our Rubenstein Library that resonate with the previous week’s episode.

Episode 1: The Black Atlantic (1500 – 1800) began with the complicated routes of the transatlantic slave trade connecting ports across three continents from Africa to the West Indies, London to South Carolina. The dehumanizing conditions of the Middle Passage and the capital made from human bondage were just some of the factors that made the institution of slavery in the western world so different from any other in world history.

A list of slave ships from the 1790s, detailing the number of slaves that died in route to the western world. (l to r, name of Ship, number of slaves dead, special cause of death):

 William Smith papers, 1785-1860., Box 3, Miscellaneous Papers, Printed Material “Pilgrim - 18 slaves died”
William Smith papers, 1785-1860., Box 3, Miscellaneous Papers, Printed Material “Pilgrim – 18 slaves died”

 

Arguments for the continuation of the African slave trade:

Resolutions West Indies Planters & Merchants, 1789 of why slave trade should be continued (arguments for property rights, capital reasons, European “constitutions” not be adapted to clearing agricultural land), William Smith Papers, Box 3, Folder (Printed Material, 1788 - 1822)
Resolutions West Indies Planters & Merchants, 1789 of why slave trade should be continued (arguments for property rights, capital reasons, European “constitutions” not be adapted to clearing agricultural land), William Smith Papers, Box 3, Folder (Printed Material, 1788 – 1822)

 

Episode 1 concluded by contextualizing the importance of the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. The rhetoric of liberty and freedom at the heart of these movement ignited the entire Atlantic world in the late 18th century, especially the lives of enslaved African Americans, slaves wanted some of that freedom for themselves. This letter from the Edward Telfair papers details an incident where Telfair accuses a white man from British Antigua of “enticing” his slaves away with promises of freedom. Telfair fails to understand that the 3 slaves had reasons enough of their own, especially with liberty in the air.

Edward Telfair Papers
Edward Telfair Papers, Box 2, Folder 1780 – 1783, Letter on Aug. 13, 1782 from N. Brownson & E. Walton: “Mr. Telfair then said that some persons had been seducing from his service, not only those three negroes, but a number of others, enticing them on board the flag vessel, by promises of freedom in Antigua. Mr. Jarvais denied his having any thing to do in it, and that he did not believe the officers or crew of the vessel had; and proposed going down to examine them: but Mr. Telfair observing that if they had villainy enough to commit an act of that kind, they would be at least handy enough to deny it.[...] [Mr. Telfair] forbade Mr. Jarvis from meddling with or harbouring his negroes, and told him if he lost any of them by those means, he would look to him for indemnification. Mr. Jarvis said, ‘to be sure.’
 

Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center Graduate Student Intern and John Gartrell, John Hope Franklin Research Center Director