Tag Archives: African-Americans

Frederick Douglass Heritage Plaque

Many thanks to Hannah Rose Murray for passing on this information:

Abolitionist-Frederick-DouglassFrederick Douglass, famed abolitionist and former African American slave, is well known in the United States for his work as a social activist. His travels in Britain however, are often neglected on both sides of the Atlantic, but the Nubian Jak Community Organisation hopes to change this. Created by Jak Beula, this non-profit organisation has installed numerous heritage plaques to African Americans and Black Britons, including Malcolm X and John Archer (among others). On the 20th February, a plaque to Frederick Douglass will be unveiled in Kensington, at the former home of British abolitionist George Thompson. (Whilst lecturing in London, Douglass stayed at Thompson’s house.)

Born a slave in 1818, Frederick Douglass grew up on a plantation in Maryland. He escaped slavery in 1838, and attracted the attention of William Lloyd Garrison, who recognised Douglass’s talent for oratory. Douglass travelled here in 1845 for nineteen months, creating a sensation across the country.

The heritage plaque is supported by the U.S. Embassy, who will be there on the 20th, as will NBC news. Local school children have also become involved in the project, and some of their work will be displayed in the Embassy.

To find out more information about how you can support the Nubian Jak organization and the Frederick Douglass heritage plaque project please visit: http://www.sponsume.com/project/nubian-jak-heritage-plaque-scheme-fd

You can follow “Nubian Jak Projects” on Facebook or on Twitter: @nubianjak

Frederick Douglass in Britain: Online Teaching Resource

Frederick Douglass, c1847-52

Many thanks to postgraduate researcher Hannah-Rose Murray (MA Public History at Royal Holloway) for passing on this information about her research focused on Frederick Douglass’ time in Britain and the associated teaching resource that she has produced:

How many people in Britain have heard of Frederick Douglass? He is probably one of the most famous African Americans in the United States, but his sojourn in Britain has been largely forgotten on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born a slave in Maryland, he escaped and travelled to Britain between 1845-7, urging the British people to campaign against American slavery. Douglass created a sensation, and his experiences in this country deserve to be recognised. He was able to sharpen his powerful skills as an orator, and he established long-term friendships with British abolitionists, who supported him throughout his career as a social activist.

I first became aware of Douglass at University (2008). I read a speech by him, titled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” This was a merciless attack on America’s concept of ‘liberty’, and I’ve been hooked ever since! For a Masters project, I created several teaching resources focusing on Douglass’s trip to Britain, and created a website – https://sites.google.com/site/frederickdouglassinbritain/

While I was researching Douglass, it became clear there was something missing – an analysis of the impact Douglass had on Britain. We can test this by reading contemporary newspapers, as they offer opinions on American slavery in general and on Douglass himself. Through this, we can understand how and why Douglass was so successful in Britain, particularly on a grassroots level. There are some great debates within the newspapers about slavery, and how far Britain should interfere, so it’s a great study of relations between the UK and the United States too.

This period of history is fascinating, and some of the controversies Douglass became involved in show that the issue of slavery was not confined to the American shore. For all of these reasons, I’m keen to spread the word about Frederick Douglass and his important trip here, to a British and an American audience!

A blue plaque to Frederick Douglass is currently being organised, with the tribute ceremony on 20February at Whitehead’s Grove, South Kensington. Currently, more donations are needed, so if you would like to make a contribution or find out more about the plaque, follow this link – http://www.nubianjak.com/default.aspx

African Americans and the US Penal System

Trayvon Martin’s fatal shooting in late February 2012 has sparked off a whole host of debates around the problematic relationship of African-Americans to the US penal system in the popular media. Yet this has long been a contentious issue leading many to draw parallels between the contemporary treatment and incarceration rates, particularly of African-American men in the US, and former explicit regimes of discrimination in that country such as Jim Crow and Slavery. Such comparisons led one online blogger to claim that more black men are in prison today than enslaved in 1850, while there have also been a host of good academic studies in this area such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – summarized via Worldcat.org as:

“…the book Lani Guinier calls “brave and bold,” and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Levering Lewis calls “stunning,” … In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet, as legal star Michelle Alexander reveals, today it is perfectly legal to discriminate.”

In relation to this Angelina Matson and the design team at Criminolgy.com created the graphic below illustrating case-by-case examinations of police brutality, for more information about this graphic click here:

Police Brutality: Know Your Rights
Created by: Criminology.com

Debates of this nature have been engaged with widely through the arts. Artist Coco Fusco for example, whose work appeared in the 2010 Afro Modern exhibition at Tate Liverpool, has engaged with issues of incarceration and exploitation in her writing (see At Your Service: Latin Women in the Global Information Network). Widening the debate internationally and also exploring the role of women in the US military as perpetrators of torture in the War on Terror Fusco published the work A Field Guide for Female Interrogators:

“Framed as a letter to Virginia Woolf – who argued that women could prevent war – Fusco asks elemental questions about how the US military has capitalized on the growing presence of women in its ranks and how it is adapting originally feminist ideas about sexual assertiveness in its interrogation strategies”

Also see our earlier post via curatorial fellows at MoCADA: Changing “The Master Plan” Hybridity and Black Art and Design.

Jack White and the Blues

This week’s video feature begins with Jack White’s mention of Cab Calloway and improvisational performance of St. James’ Infirmary Blues on BBC2’s Later with Jools Holland:

Before doing his northern Detroit version of St. James’ Infirmary Blues, White mentions that he first heard it performed by Cab Calloway as part of a Betty Boop cartoon. This great version of the song along with the original cartoon is also available online and posted below. Calloway’s performance comes about 4 minutes 20 into the cartoon and it’s not only Calloway’s voice you can hear but also his dance moves you can see too, as performed by Koko the clown. Calloway’s performance was in fact recorded and then transferred into the animation using the rotoscoping method so that frame-by-frame Koko would mimic Calloway’s unique moves. This method was also used to transfer Calloway’s move onto the screen in the Betty Boop cartoon Minnie the Moocher that we used as our first video of the week post.

Of course White has always been influenced by earlier blues artists and this continues on his first solo album, Blunderbuss, which was released last week.  Track 8 – I’m Shakin’ – features a great guitar riff and sees White covering “The Prince of the Blues” Little Willie John.

Earlier in his career as one part of the duo The White Stripes live performances often included covers of various Delta Blues artists including: Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson and as shown here below the fierce voice and guitar bashing sounds of Son House.

Video of the Week: After Hot-En-Tot: Two conversations with Artist Renée Cox

Following on from the popularity of an earlier post – If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and then you get kicked to the curb – focusing on the work of Renée Cox this week’s video feature includes two clips, each containing an interview with artist Renée Cox recorded at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art on 22 October 2009. The first is a conversation with an audience led by former Spelman Cosby chair Lisa E. Farrington, Ph.D., John Jay College, CUNY. The second is a one-on-one conversation that appears to have been filmed on the same day inside the Museum’s gallery space.

Each clip presents Cox ruminating on themes and driving forces behind her work including Race, Gender, Womanhood, Representation and Femininity. There are some overlaps in the conversation of each clip but also some interesting divergences.

The first conversation is pinned around specific works of Cox’s. It takes as its starting point the motivation for Cox’s work Hot-en-tot (1994) based on research she conducted which led her to find out about the “extraordinarily shocking histories” of human exhibition. Cox’s photographic work Hot-en-tot is inspired by the life and experiences of a Khosian woman, Saartje Baartman, who was objectified as a physiognomic curiosity and exhibited in Europe in the 19th century, as the ‘Hottentot Venus’. In Cox’s nude self-portrait her breasts and buttocks are covered with oversized prosthetic versions found for sale in a fancy dress shop. Cox discusses the power of the objectifying gaze and the importance for her in this, and other works, of revising history and creating a space to defy and return that gaze. Through revisiting Baartman’s body and the exploitative narrative that surrounded it – which became a potent symbol projected outwards onto the black female body as an abstract idea – Cox recreates, revises, and represents: A process that she employs through(out) her body (of work).

The second clip offers a more intimate and provocative discussion with Cox. She talks about the resonance of her work Queen Nanny of the Maroons (2004) which appeared in the exhibition Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic at Tate Liverpool in 2010.  Generally though, this conversation explores more broadly the social issues that “inspire and impact” her work as a whole. Here Cox discusses specific issues surrounding: education and intergration in the contemporary context of the United States and; the comparative importance of race and skin tone as identity in Jamaica and the United States. Cox encapsulates her bold and assured approach to creating as she winds up the interview stating: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and then you get kicked to the curb.”

To read more about Cox’s work click here.

To view Renée Cox’s website click here

Click here to view some images of Cox’s work online via tumblr.

Exhibition: The Bearden Project

To mark the centennial year of Romare Bearden’s birth, begun in September 2011, the Studio Museum in Harlem has initiated The Bearden Project: an exhibition which celebrates the profound influence of this great artist on successive generations of art-makers.

Each contemporary artist represented in the show was asked to produce a work of art inspired by Bearden’s life and legacy. The artists mined a wide range of ideas and themes associated with Bearden’s career, including Modernism, urbanism, jazz and, of course, the medium of collage. The majority chose to make new works for the exhibition, while others submitted earlier works that honor or were inspired by Bearden.

There is an innovative online element to this project: Each week 10 featured artists from the exhibition will be highlighted online and high resolution images of their work will be available to view alongside their narrative of inspiration through Bearden’s work.

The Studio Museum Harlem’s exhibition is unsurprisingly not the only event to be celebrating the work of this twentieth century American master. More information about the variety of exhibitions being held across North America to celebrate can be found at beardencentennial.org, alongside information about events, and images of 100 of Bearden’s artworks each selected by contemporary artists and made available to view online.

Video of the Week!

We here at the Black Atlantic Resource are happy to announce a new feature: Video of the Week. Each week we will aim to bring you an interesting video – posted here within our debate space – which we have found freely available online. We are doing this to highlight the amount of potential research material which is now digitized and accessible by a click of your mouse!

Here’s your first Video of the Week: Cab Calloway – Minnie the Moocher

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra’s hit jazz song Minnie the Moocher is used here as the soundtrack to a Fleischer Brothers’ 1932 Betty Boop cartoon. First we get to see Calloway’s signature dance moves while he conducts his orchestra, the video then cuts midway through the cartoon to a dancing ghost walrus voiced by Calloway and sporting his moves! Cab Calloway was a hugely talented American bandleader, singer and dancer who performed regularly at Harlem’s Cotton Club in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance era and later. Click here to find out more about Cab Calloway.

Aside from this the content of the cartoon, which at that time would have been produced as entertainment mainly for an adult audience, provides an interesting comment on American society of the 1930s. The cartoon’s representations of capital punishment – in light of the Powell v. Alabama ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court associated with the Scottsboro Boys case of 1931 – or what it’s depictions demonstrate about animators and audiences associations with jazz music are all telling…

If you have any suggestions for a video of the week please leave us a comment or post us another video in reply – we look forward to hearing from you!