". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reading Wednesday -- Ebony & Ivy - Not a Novel + 12 Years A Slave, More

Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities, by Craig Steven Wilder (2013), Bloomsbury Press, is a history I've wanted to read since it came out.  This stupid elbow accident is giving me a window of time, so in I plunged.

This history is a component of slavery, slave-breeding and the slave trade about which I knew very few facts, and those were sketchy.  The largest sense I previously had about how entwined the entire history of North America's earliest academies were with these matters, I had gotten from a friend of mine, whose great-great-great-grandfather had worked at William & Mary -- but she's always emphasized that though he was African American, he was free. She's been writing a novel based on her ancestor's life, which will be a wonderful book.

The four earliest academies in North America are, as many of us know, Harvard,  William & Mary, Yale and the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton.  The depth and scope of their connection to slavery, the slave trade and slave-breeding set me back.  And what is true about them is equally true of every institution of higher learning in the U.S. founded before the mid-1860's, particularly all the Ivies: Dartmouth, Princeton, Brown, you name them, they all profited and even financed these slave buying and selling, even, yes, ships to Africa in the earliest years.

Here is another work of scholarship providing evidence for something we write early in The American Slave Coast: "No matter how awful you learn our slavery system was, it is always worse than that."

The New England states, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have nothing to congratulate themselves for in terms of slavery before the early decades of Independence.  And even then, as we talk about in The American Slave Coast, all of these states continued to make huge fortunes out of the slave trade, particularly the African slave trade.

For another example of the reality always being worse than the record, try this article that describes the experience of a Union soldier from New York, who was on the Louisiana ground where Solomon Northup ended up, with the brutal Epps:

His entry for May 21 condemned the savagery that made a slave of Northup and 4 million other men, women and children in the American South.
“I took the opportunity to investigate this abominable sistem of slavery ... I have examend their instruments of torture the stocks whip and paddle and strap,” Burrud wrote. “Solomans book is true to the letter only it dos not portray the system as bad as it is it is not in the power of man to do it.” In other words, slavery was even worse than what Northup had written in his memoir. It defied description.

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