Black Studies scholars often have sought to recover Black voices that have been excluded, marginalized, or erased from mainstream scholarship as a form of reclamation, and as a corrective to research that excludes Black people, and therefore distorts, our understanding of the world in which we live. But what if some of these Black voices don’t want to be found? What claims to privacy do the dead have? This talk offers answers to these questions and will be part of a collection of essays Professor Crabtree is writing on ethical praxis and the craft of writing in Black Studies.
The Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston has invited Tamara Lanier to deliver a lecture about her enslaved ancestors, whose naked or partially clothed bodies were forcibly photographed in 1850 outside of Columbia, SC, for a Harvard scientist, Louis Agassiz. Agassiz supported racist theories of polygenesis, and Harvard currently owns these photographs. You may be familiar with the court case Lanier has brought against Harvard to obtain the rights to these images. Her case foregrounds the need for legislation that protects the cultural property of descendants of chattel slavery in the United States. I hope you can attend and hear her speak about the importance of her family’s history and the ethical and legal matters regarding who gets to own, display, and view historical artifacts of slavery.
origin story outlines a family history of distant sisters, grieving mothers and daughters, and alcoholic fathers. These poems take us from Kansas to Korea and back again in an attempt to reconnect with estranged family and familial ghosts divided by years of diaspora. An interrogation of cultural and personal myths, origin story wrestles with the questions: Who will remember us? How do we deal with the failures of memory? Whose stories are told?
My Soul Is a Witness: The Traumatic Afterlife of Lynching by Mari N. Crabtree
Black southerners often shielded their loved ones from the most painful memories of local lynchings with strategic silences but also told lynching stories about vengeful ghosts or a wrathful God or the deathbed confessions of a lyncher tormented by his past. They protested lynching and its legacies through art and activism, and they mourned those lost to a mob’s fury. They infused a blues element into their lynching narratives to confront traumatic memories and keep the blues at bay, even if just for a spell. Telling their stories troubles the simplistic binary of resistance or submission that has tended to dominate narratives of Black life and reminds us that amid the utter devastation of lynching were glimmers of hope and an affirmation of life.
My Soul Is a Witness traces the long afterlife of lynching in the South through the traumatic memories it left in its wake. She unearths how African American victims and survivors found ways to live through and beyond the horrors of lynching, offering a theory of African American collective trauma and memory rooted in the ironic spirit of the blues sensibility—a spirit of misdirection and cunning that blends joy and pain.
In the early United States, a Black person committed an act of resistance simply by reading and writing. Yet we overlook that these activities also brought pleasure. In her book, Reading Pleasures: Everyday Black Living in Early America, Tara A. Bynum tells the compelling stories of four early American writers who expressed feeling good despite living while enslaved or only nominally free. The poet Phillis Wheatley delights in writing letters to a friend. Ministers John Marrant and James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw memorialize their love for God. David Walker’s pamphlets ask Black Americans to claim their victory over slavery. Together, their writings reflect the joyous, if messy, humanity inside each of them. This proof of a thriving interior self in pursuit of good feeling forces us to reckon with the fact that Black lives do matter.