University of Georgia Press

Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900

Richard S. Newman, Patrick Rael, and Manisha Sinha, Series Editors

Published by: University of Georgia Press

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Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900

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In Search of Brightest Africa

Reimagining the Dark Continent in American Culture, 1884-1936

Jeannette Eileen Jones

In the decades between the Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa and the opening of the African Hall at the American Museum of Natural History, Americans in several fields and from many backgrounds argued that Africa had something to teach them. Jeannette Eileen Jones traces the history of the idea of Africa with an eye to recovering the emergence of a belief in “Brightest Africa”—a tradition that runs through American cultural and intellectual history with equal force to its “Dark Continent” counterpart.

Jones skillfully weaves disparate strands of turn-of-the-century society and culture to expose a vivid trend of cultural engagement that involved both critique and activism. Filmmakers spoke out against the depiction of “savage” Africa in the mass media while also initiating a countertradition of ethnographic documentaries. Early environmentalists celebrated Africa as a pristine continent while lamenting that its unsullied landscape was “vanishing.” New Negro political thinkers also wanted to “save” Africa but saw its fragility in terms of imperiled human promise. Jones illuminates both the optimism about Africa underlying these concerns and the racist and colonial interests these agents often nevertheless served. The book contributes to a growing literature on the ongoing role of global exchange in shaping the African American experience as well as debates about the cultural place of Africa in American thought.

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Missing Links

The African and American Worlds of R. L. Garner, Primate Collector

Jeremy Rich

Jeremy Rich uses the eccentric life of R. L. Garner (1848–1920) to examine the commercial networks that brought the first apes to America during the Progressive Era, a critical time in the development of ideas about African wildlife, race, and evolution.

Garner was a self-taught zoologist and atheist from southwest Virginia. Starting in 1892, he lived on and off in the French colony of Gabon, studying primates and trying to engage U.S. academics with his theories. Most prominently, Garner claimed that he could teach apes to speak human languages and that he could speak the languages of primates. Garner brought some of the first live primates to America, launching a traveling demonstration in which he claimed to communicate with a chimpanzee named Susie. He was often mocked by the increasingly professionalized scientific community, who were wary of his colorful escapades, such as his ill-fated plan to make a New York City socialite the queen of southern Gabon, and his efforts to convince Thomas Edison to finance him in Africa.

Yet Garner did influence evolutionary debates, and as with many of his era, race dominated his thinking. Garner’s arguments—for example, that chimpanzees were more loving than Africans, or that colonialism constituted a threat to the separation of the races—offer a fascinating perspective on the thinking and attitudes of his times. Missing Links explores the impact of colonialism on Africans, the complicated politics of buying and selling primates, and the popularization of biological racism.

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The Mulatta Concubine

Terror, Intimacy, Freedom, and Desire in the Black Transatlantic

Lisa Ze Winters

Popular and academic representations of the free mulatta concubine repeatedly depict women of mixed black African and white racial descent as defined by their sexual attachment to white men, and thus they offer evidence of the means to and dimensions of their freedom within Atlantic slave societies. In The Mulatta Concubine: Terror, Intimacy, Freedom, and Desire in the Black Transatlantic, Lisa Ze Winters contends that the uniformity of these representations conceals the figure’s centrality to the practices and production of diaspora.Beginning with a meditation on what captive black subjects may have seen and remembered when encountering free women of color living in slave ports, the book traces the echo of the free mulatta concubine across the physical and imaginative landscapes of three Atlantic sites: Gorée Island, New Orleans, and Saint Domingue (Haiti). Ze Winters mines an archive that includes a 1789 political petition by free men of color, a 1737 letter by a free black mother on behalf of her daughter, antebellum newspaper reports, travelers’ narratives, ethnographies, and Haitian Vodou iconography. Attentive to the tenuousness of freedom, Ze Winters argues that the concubine figure’s manifestation as both historical subject and African diasporic goddess indicates her centrality to understanding how free and enslaved black subjects performed gender, theorized race and freedom, and produced their own diasporic identities.Published in cooperation with the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Program in African American History

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To Live an Antislavery Life

Personal Politics and the Antebellum Black Middle Class

Erica L. Ball

In this study of antebellum African American print culture in transnational perspective, Erica L. Ball explores the relationship between antislavery discourse and the emergence of the northern black middle class.

Through innovative readings of slave narratives, sermons, fiction, convention proceedings, and the advice literature printed in forums like Freedom’s Journal, the North Star, and the Anglo-African Magazine, Ball demonstrates that black figures such as Susan Paul, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Delany consistently urged readers to internalize their political principles and to interpret all their personal ambitions, private familial roles, and domestic responsibilities in light of the freedom struggle. Ultimately, they were admonished to embody the abolitionist agenda by living what the fugitive Samuel Ringgold Ward called an “antislavery life.”

Far more than calls for northern free blacks to engage in what scholars call “the politics of respectability,” African American writers characterized true antislavery living as an oppositional stance rife with radical possibilities, a deeply personal politics that required free blacks to transform themselves into model husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, self-made men, and transnational freedom fighters in the mold of revolutionary figures from Haiti to Hungary. In the process, Ball argues, antebellum black writers crafted a set of ideals—simultaneously respectable and subversive—for their elite and aspiring African American readers to embrace in the decades before the Civil War.

Published in association with the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Program in African American History. A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication.

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We Are the Revolutionists

German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848

Mischa Honeck

Widely remembered as a time of heated debate over the westward expansion of slavery, the 1850s in the United States was also a period of mass immigration. As the sectional conflict escalated, discontented Europeans came in record numbers, further dividing the young republic over issues of race, nationality, and citizenship. The arrival of German-speaking “Forty-Eighters,” refugees of the failed European revolutions of 1848–49, fueled apprehensions about the nation’s future. Reaching America did not end the foreign revolutionaries’ pursuit of freedom; it merely transplanted it.

In We Are the Revolutionists, Mischa Honeck offers a fresh appraisal of these exiled democrats by probing their relationship to another group of beleaguered agitators: America’s abolitionists. Honeck details how individuals from both camps joined forces in the long, dangerous battle to overthrow slavery. In Texas and in cities like Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Boston this cooperation helped them find new sources of belonging in an Atlantic world unsettled by massive migration and revolutionary unrest.

Employing previously untapped sources to write the experience of radical German émigrés into the abolitionist struggle, Honeck elucidates how these interethnic encounters affected conversations over slavery and emancipation in the United States and abroad. Forty-Eighters and abolitionists, Honeck argues, made creative use not only of their partnerships but also of their disagreements to redefine notions of freedom, equality, and humanity in a transatlantic age of racial construction and nation making.

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