American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

23 July 2020

The Perils of Diplomatic Protection in the Early 19th Century

This post by Vanessa Mongey is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

How far should diplomatic protection extend?  Surely, consul James Buchanan argued, there must be limits to American “humanity.”  In Belize, a British settlement in Central America, Buchanan was trying to understand his responsibilities towards U.S. citizens.  The hurricane season of 1849 had caused a few ships to wreck near the coast and the officers, crew, and passengers had sought refuge in the port of Belize.  They turned to Buchanan for help.  The consul paid for a few destitute sailors to return home, but the situation soon got out of control. Officers demanded he pay for their room and board.  Sailors asked storekeepers to send their bills to him.

When the consul refused to reimburse all these expenses, the crew complained to the local British police and magistrates.  They turned to the Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen (1796) that provided certificates for the protection of sailors.  They argued that the U.S. government owed them not only diplomatic but also financial protection. Buchanan was as annoyed as he was confused.  He asked the State Department what to do with U.S. citizens stranded abroad.  He confessed that he had “no legal knowledge of what the consul’s duties are in this matter.”

A page of a handwritten letter from the U.S. Consul in British Honduras to the U.S. State Department.
An example of consular correspondence. Part of a letter from U.S. Consul to State Department, 15 February 1863. The letter mentions white settlers' anxieties around plans by the government of British Honduras (today's Belize) to encourage African American immigration from the U.S.  British Library shelfmark (microfilm): T334 Despatches from U.S. Consuls in Belize, 1847-1906, roll 1, 1847 –1863.

The correspondences of U.S. consular representatives in the British Library abound with this kind of complaints and queries.  Many politicians, jurists, and citizens in the United States embraced the view that individuals had a natural right to leave their country.  Increasing numbers of U.S. Americans traveled abroad during the nineteenth century. Some served in Latin American independent armies and navies.  Many settled in neighbouring foreign territories like Florida, Texas, and California, eventually leading the United States to invade and annex these territories.  Freedom of movement often bolstered U.S continental and commercial ambitions.

Although the nineteenth century saw relatively unregulated movement, the right to travel was racialized.  Freedom of movement was often a privilege of European and Euro-descendants as shown by tensions surrounding Chinese immigration to California and issues around enslaved and free travelers of African descent moving across state and national lines.

Even for free white U.S. Americans, the right to travel freely created new challenges: what happened when citizens crossed international borders and got into trouble abroad? Instrumental in defining and implementing diplomatic protection were consular networks.  Lacking a significant overseas presence in the first half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. government possessed neither the resources nor the capabilities to monitor the activities of their citizens abroad.  With no formal training, consuls were the ones on the ground who assisted Americans when they ended up in jail, aided them in navigating estate and inheritance issues, or represented their legal interests.  They often had to decide whether an individual was really a U.S. citizen, and therefore entitled to consular protection, at a time when no definition of national citizenship existed.

Painting of men gathering in Peshawar. Some are on horseback, others talk together in groups. Buildings and trees surround the square.
Peshawar (in modern-day Pakistan). Chromolithograph from plate 9 of William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern (1867). British Library shelfmark X108(9). Available in the British Library Online Gallery.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States could not set up permanent consular posts in India.  The British kept tight control over the region, thwarting U.S. consuls in Calcutta (Kolkata) and Bombay (Mumbai).  The India Office Records and Private Papers in the British Library show that tensions frequently erupted between British and U.S. representatives.  British authorities complained about distressed sailors who ended up in their care.  One U.S. consul in Singapore simply refused to help naturalized American citizens, arguing that those who were born British subjects fell under the Common Law doctrine of perpetual allegiance.  In brief, once British, always British—especially if these individuals were potential drains on consular finances.

In addition to uncertainty and confusion expressed by U.S. consuls, these correspondences also reveal how U.S. citizens understood their rights and responsibilities.  When they had the resources or the connections, they sent letters to journal editors in the United States, hoping to put pressure on consuls.

This early phase of diplomatic experimentation came to an end in the middle of the nineteenth century.  As the U.S. consular service expanded outside of Europe and the Americas and into China, Japan, and Siam, the government formalised the diplomatic and consular system in 1856.  A reform legislation introduced salaries for a greater number of consular officials, hoping to reduce corruption and professionalise the service.  The same year, the State Department received sole issuing power over passports and limited their use to U.S. citizens, thus reducing the autonomy of consuls.  The Civil War (1861-1865) prompted a sharp growth of the consular service. At the end of the war, the fourteenth amendment defined national citizenship to include all persons born or naturalized in the United States.  Monitoring international travel served as a testing ground for restrictions of citizenship rights along class, gender, and racial lines.

Dr Vanessa Mongey, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2019, is on Twitter @VMongey

Resources consulted:

For US Federal Government Publications, the finding aid Diplomatic Records: A select catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (shelf mark OPL 973.0076) is available in the Social Sciences reading room. It has been annotated to indicate which microfilms are in the British Library and gives their shelfmarks. I made particular use of ‘The correspondences of U.S. ministers at overseas posts’ (shelfmark SPR Mic.B.21) and ‘U.S. consuls at overseas ports’ (shelfmark SPR Mic.B.22). The India Office Records and Private Papers: the general shelfmark is IOR/Z/E/ and this is the collection guide

Further reading:

Fahrmeir, Andreas O. & Patrick Weil (eds.), Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period. New York: Berghahn Books, 2002. British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply m03/17964; General Reference Collection YC.2003.a.13981; General Reference Collection DRT ELD.DS.515229.
Glanville, Luke. “The Responsibility to Protect Beyond Borders.” Human Rights Law Review. 12: 1 (2012): 1–32.  British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 4336.440550; General Reference Collection ZC.9.b.7074.
Green, Nancy L. “The Politics of Exit: Reversing the Immigration Paradigm.” The Journal of Modern History. 77: 2 (2005): 263-289. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 5020.680000.
Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018.  British Library shelfmark: YC.2019.a.4852.
Kennedy, Charles Stuart. The American Consul: A History of the United States Consular Service 1776–1924. New York: Greenwood, 1990. British Library shelfmark: YC.1992.b.1026. (Rev. ed. published by New Academia Publishing, 2015). 
Perl-Rosenthal, Nathan. Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. British Library shelfmark: YC.2017.a.660.
Phelps, Nicole. Researching the U.S. Consular Service https://blog.uvm.edu/nphelps/

 

21 July 2020

Tracing the History of Northern Ontario at the British Library

This post by Shaelagh Cull is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

In January, my research into the history of art, craft, and trade in the James Bay region of Northern Ontario, Canada, took me to the Americas collections of the British Library as an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow.  Today, the region referred to as Northern Ontario stretches from the French River, Lake Nipissing, and the Mattawa River northwards to Hudson Bay, with Manitoba to its West and Québec to the East.  The traditional territory of the Cree and Anishinaabe peoples, Northern Ontario has been a site of cultural contact and exchange for centuries. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the region played a central role in the British and French fur trades.  Ontario’s oldest English-speaking settlement, Moose Fort (now Moose Factory), was established by the British Hudson’s Bay Company on the southern end of James Bay in 1673.1

As the fur trade expanded, a rival Northwest Company fort was built on nearby Hayes Island in 1803, and the Parisian company Revillon Frères began operating in the region in 1903. By the twentieth century, economic expansion into mining, pulp and paper, and agriculture and the development of the Canadian Pacific (begun in 1881) and National Railways (1919) created new opportunities in the North.  J.B. MacDougall’s Building the North (1919), records that mines between the communities of Porcupine, Cobalt, and Sudbury were responsible for producing 61% of the gold, 91% of the silver, and 90% of the nickel in the world, with the Sudbury area alone producing two hundred and fifty million dollars' worth of nickel.2

Towns sprung up quickly around mining centres and pulp mills, drawing immigrants from a variety of cultural backgrounds – including Scots, Irish, Cornish, Italian, Chinese, Ukrainian, and Polish, amongst others – to the region.3  While mining is still a major industry in the North, local economies also diversified with communities offering ecotourism experiences and promoting art and craft.  With Britain’s historical connection to the region, the collections of the British Library houses documents which record the changing names, boundaries, economic activities, and social milieu of the area.

Many of the resources in the Library’s collections relate to the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company and French/English presence (and occasional conflict) on James Bay.  One of the earliest documents to reference the region in the Library’s collections is J. Seller’s The English Pilot, Fourth Book (1671), a treatise on seventeenth century navigation (British Library Maps: C.22.d.2 ).4  It outlines the history and topography of James Bay and Henry Hudson’s 1608 attempt to locate the Northwest Passage trade route through North America.  Additionally, the manuscript contains a number of early maps charting the region, including “A Chart of the North Part of America” (Figure 1) which divided what is today Northern Manitoba and Northern Ontario into New North Wales, New Yorkshire, and New South Wales.5

A black and white map from the seventeenth century showing James Bay; it has a decorative description in the top right hand corner under the heading 'A Chart of the North Part of America.'
Figure 1: A detail from “A Chart of the North Part of America,” in J. Seller’s The English Pilot, Fourth Book (1671) showing James Bay. British Library shelfmark: C.22.d.2. 

Moose Fort was established two years after the publication of Seller’s manuscript and during the nineteenth century was made the administrative headquarters of the Southern Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Moose Fort Journals, 1783-85 (British Library shelfmark: Ac.8565/6) and Moose Factory 1673 to 1947 (British Library shelfmark: 10470.t.21) provide key information about the early presence of the Hudson’s Bay Company and commerce within the region.7  The Library also houses maps recording the French presence in the region, including “Carte de la Baye de Hudson” [1744] (Figure 2).

A black and white double-page map of Hudson Bay. In the bottom right hand corner are the publisher's details under the title 'Carte De La Baye De Hudson'; this also includes scales for distance.
Figure 2: “Carte de la Baye de Hudson” by Jacques Nicolas Bellin, published in "Histoire et Description General de la Nouvelle France avec le Journal Historique d'un Voyage fait par ordre du Roi dans l'Amérique Septentrionnale" by Pierre Francois Xavier De Charlevoix.  [Paris], 1744. British Library shelfmark: 118.e.17.

W.A. Kenyon’s book, The Battle for James Bay (1686), traces the often violent encounters between the British and French as they competed for the region’s fur resources, most notably with Captain Pierre de Troyes’ capture of Moose Fort in 1686 (British Library shelfmark: X.809/13837).8  These documents record British and French stakes in and visions for James Bay as they began colonizing Northern Ontario.

As my own research focuses on the collection and reception of art, craft, and material culture from James Bay, I was particularly interested in the Library’s resources pertaining to Indigenous material and visual culture in Northern Ontario.  The Central Cree and Ojibway Crafts series published by the Indian and Northern Affairs division of the Canadian government in 1974 catalogues historical Indigenous craft to document the material history of the Cree and Anishinaabe of Northern Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba and institutions where these objects are housed (British Library shelfmark: C.S.E.20/73).9   The Library also contains various promotional materials, catalogues, and albums (Figure 3) related to the 1967 International and Universal Exposition held in Montreal, Quebec (Expo 67) and the Indians of Canada Pavilion, a landmark in North American Indigenous art and a politically-charged critique of Canadian Confederation during the country’s one-hundredth anniversary celebrations.

Cover of the Expo 67 Souvenir Book depicting a coloured illustration of the plaza in front of the Canadian Pavilion (an upturned pyramid) and the Tree of People (a red and yellow sphere). Several flags are flying, the largest one being that of Canada.
Figure 3: Expo 67 Album Souvenir Book. Montreal: Benjamin, 1967. British Library shelfmark: Wq2/2131.

The Pavilion featured the work of contemporary Indigenous artists, many of whom - such as the highly influential painters Norval Morrisseau and Carl Ray, who popularized the Woodlands Style - came from Northern Ontario.  First-hand accounts such as Lillian Small’s, Indian Stories from James Bay (British Library shelfmark: YA.1998.a.12925) and a collection of poetry by Margaret Sam-Cromarty, James Bay Memoirs: A Cree Woman's Ode to Her Homeland (British Library shelfmark: YA.1994.a.12583), provide Indigenous perspectives on James Bay Cree history and culture.10

These resources are starting points for those interested in Northern Canada, the history of James Bay, and Indigenous art.  Both for researchers in the UK and North America, the Americas collections of the British Library provide unique glimpses into the regional histories of communities in Canada.

Shaelagh Cull, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a graduate student at Queen's University, Ontario, Canada.

References

1 “History of Moose Factory,” Moosetalk, (Summer 1979): 4.
2 J.B. MacDougall, Building the North. Toronto: McClelland and Stuart Publishers, 1919, pp. 21-22. British Library shelfmark: 08365.g.41.
3 Kerry M. Abel, Changing Places: History, Community, and Identity in Northeastern Ontario. Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, xii. British Library shelfmark: m06/28009.
4. The English Pilot. The Fourth Book, describing the North Coasts of America from Groenland to Newfoundland. [London], [1671]. British Library shelfmark: C.22.d.2.  NB: There are many subsequent versions of this work; please consult the Library's catalogue. 
5. “A Chart of the North Part of America” also includes a second major inlet named “The Great Bay of God’s Deliverance” beside James Bay which does not exist and was not included on subsequent historical maps of the region.
6. “Staff House at Moose Factory,” Hudson’s Bay Company, accessed June 22, 2020, http://www.hbcheritage.ca/places/forts-posts/staff-house-at-moose-factory.
7. Hudson's Bay Company, Moose Fort Journals, 1783-85. Edited by E.E. Rich. London, 1954. British Library shelfmark: Ac.8565/6; Eric Ross Arthur, Moose Factory, 1673 to 1949. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1949. British Library shelfmark: 10470.t.21.
8. W.A. Kenyon. The Battle for James Bay, 1686. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, [1971].  British Library shelfmark: X.809/13837.
9. Canada. Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Central Cree and Ojibway Crafts. Ottawa, 1974. British Library shelfmark: C.S.E.20/73.
10. Lillian Small, comp. Indian Stories from James Bay. Cobalt, Ont.: Highway Book Shop, 1972. British Library shelfmark: YA.1998.a.12925.; Margaret Sam-Cromarty, James Bay Memoirs: a Cree Woman's Ode to her Homeland. Lakeland, Ont.: Waapoone, c.1992. British Library shelfmark: YA.1994.a.12583.

 

16 July 2020

Atomic Holiday Snaps? Depictions of ‘normality’ in the official photography of postwar atomic bomb tests

This post by Timothy Peacock is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections. 

A group of women and men sitting together on a tropical beach, wearing beachwear, palm trees some distance behind, looking at the camera. There is also one man off to the right, standing, wearing swimming trunks.
Figure 1: Army nurses stationed at Kwajalein relax with friends [during a nuclear test series]. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

Who would ever think of a nuclear test site as a summer holiday camp?

One of the extraordinary holdings of the British Library is the 'Official Pictorial Record' of the aptly named ‘Operation Crossroads’ in 1946, containing over 200 photographs and accompanying text about the first postwar nuclear bomb test series by the United States.1  The tests, at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, used atom bombs against a fleet of decommissioned and captured World War II ships.  These detonations set precedents for the peacetime testing of more than 1,000 nuclear weapons over the following decades, displaced populations from their Pacific Island homes, and had global diplomatic impacts.2

The tests also produced some of the most recognisable images of atomic bomb detonations which not only continue to be staples of film and television but have generated sociocultural responses from mushroom-cloud hairdos to memes and protest movements.  The now ubiquitous swimsuit, the bikini - which was unveiled to the world four days after the first detonation - was immediately equated by its creator with the atom: small but full of explosive potential.  Yet unlike the Atoll itself, the swimsuit appears to have escaped widespread association with nuclear testing and its radioactive legacies!

However, the political, military and cultural histories merge within Operation Crossroads: the Official Pictorial Record in the most unexpected ways.  Alongside images of scientific test preparations, atomic detonations and damage surveys, what is perhaps most remarkable about the Record is the number of images which capture aspects of the everyday lives of those involved in the tests, whether working or off-duty - at rest, exercise or while being entertained.

Some of the images look, at first glance, like historic holiday snapshots, the only indicators to the contrary being an ominous line in the accompanying text or occasional visual clues. Sometimes even these clues do not make it clear as to the overarching situation.

One double page in particular captures the holiday camp vibe, entitled, with unconscious irony, “IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?”.  A large group of sailors are pictured paying close attention to a shirtless speaker (Figure 2), who turns out to be a Congressman observing the tests.  The text explains this to have been part of a “Happy Hour”, including a quiz about nuclear physics.  In perhaps a classic representation of the ‘underdog’ triumphing, it proudly records the ships messboys’ victory over the scientists in their quiz knowledge.

Rows of men sitting together as a crowd, wearing white sailor uniforms, some with hats. To the right, a man wearing a white hat and swimming trunks stands at a microphone, addressing them. 
Congressman W. G. Andrews (R) from Buffalo, New York, acts as master of ceremonies at a “Happy Hour” aboard the AGC 3 “Panamint”. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 70. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

Alongside this image, the other page displays pictures which continue the seaside resort theme.  One of these (Figure 1) is a close-up photograph of women on a beach, surrounding one man, with another in the background, all wearing what appears to be beachwear, some smiling for the camera.  It is only through the caption that we learn of their affiliation as Army nurses serving with the Task Force, with the explanatory caption “relax with friends”.  The description and framing of the image are notable for reinforcing the vacation motif, and also for blurring the distinction regarding the professional identity of the subjects.

On a tropical beach, a group of men, dressed in swimwear. One sunbathing nearby, others in the distance, swimming in the sea or on a landing craft.
Figure 3: On the beach at Bikini, men of the Task Force try out the swimming facilities. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

The other image on the page (Figure 3), a large beach scene, filled with off-duty personnel enjoying themselves through such activities as swimming or sunbathing, features some on a landing craft, but the overall ethos is not dissimilar from the pictorial framing of typical holiday scenes.  The caption does, however, include a final line about banning swimming temporarily because of radiation concerns after the Test Able detonation, quickly following this up by saying it was allowed again once safety was ensured.  The attempt to normalise the tests through juxtaposing the photograph and caption is significantly portentous, given the subsequent history of the radioactive transformation of the landscapes depicted.

A group of sailors inspect the damage aboard a naval vessel, in front of a sign chalked onto the hull.
Figure 4: 'Reboarding Party'. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, 2. 171. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.

The sardonic humour of the photographs, characteristic in 1940s civil and military life, is incongruous with the overarching seriousness of the nuclear test situation. Figure 4 shows a 'reboarding party' surveying a target ship for damage after one of the nuclear detonations.  The message chalked onto the ship’s hull, “Attention visitors, No Smoking, No Souvenirs”, is a seemingly self-conscious pastiche of signs aimed at tourists in hotel resorts, juxtaposed with the military regulations in place surrounding the tests.  Such writing also echoes related traditions of chalking messages onto bombs during the War, or indeed, of naming some individual nuclear weapons after famous figures.  The Bomb dropped in Crossroads Able test, for example, was christened 'Gilda', and adorned with a stencilled name and Rita Hayworth’s photograph, after the title character she played in the 1946 film Gilda – an association which was not appreciated by the film star herself!  The message on the ship was likely written before detonation, a different message being shown in another photo being written by a sailor.  Its presence is an insight into the attitudes of the unnamed author, a working ‘tourist’ in arguably the most exclusive and, at that moment, unappealing resort.

The radioactive seawater which enveloped the target ships during the Crossroads Baker test made most of them too radioactive to be decontaminated. It has been regarded as one of the world’s first nuclear accidents.  Many of the vessels still lie sunk in Bikini Atoll, a popular location in recent years for a very different kind of enthusiast, those diving to explore the wrecks.

The world-changing effects of a seemingly microscopic globule today in some ways resonate remarkably with the transformation surrounding the splitting of the atom. The official photographs from Crossroads serve not only as a scientific and military record of early nuclear testing, but also as a poignant example of the final moments for those individuals involved of the ‘normality’ of the world as it was, and the end of the holiday.

Dr Timothy Peacock, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He is on Twitter @DrTimPeacock

References: 

1. Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211.  This item is also available digitally courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

2. For further information about Operation Crossroads, see Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 94/14429.

NB: Readers may also be interested in a blog about Operation Crossroads by Mark Eastwood, who undertook a PhD placement with the Eccles Centre in 2016.

 

14 July 2020

Colonial Training in Canada

This post by Marie Ruiz is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

My research focuses on Victorian emigration societies as well as migration infrastructures such as colonial training centres for female and male emigrants.  In the second half of the 19th century, the growing need for qualified emigrants to people the British Empire led to the creation of colonial training centres for gentlemen and gentlewomen in Britain as well as in the colonies.

My study mainly focuses on the British Women’s Emigration Association (1884–1919).  Its periodical, The Imperial Colonist (Figure 1), being completely accessible at the British Library, my Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship allowed me to study the journal in depth and focus on the articles relating experiences of colonial training.

Cover of The Imperial Colonist periodical, from January 1905. Illustrated with a drawing of the British Imperial State crown, and a Union Jack flag.
Fig. 1: The Imperial Colonist: The Official Organ of the British Women's Emigration Association and the South African Expansion Committee (January 1905). British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.

Opened in 1874, the Ontario Agricultural College only accommodated male students until the founding of the MacDonald Institute of Domestic Science for women in 1903.  As young women increasingly left rural Ontario for the urban centres, the MacDonald Institute was expected to increase the appeal of rural life for young men and women.  The objective was to sustain rural life and solve the problem of untrained immigrants in Canada. As such, this training centre addressed concerns of the time: rural depression, colonial productivity and the surplus of women in Britain.  The women involved in such emigrant training ranged from the upper-working class to the upper middle-class.  Many were impoverished upper middle-class or educated upper-working class women and their migration was marked by social mobility.

At the Macdonald Institute, women were taught physiology and food science using chemical testing to determine the food structures, but also food economics to improve the health of the population and overcome poverty, and a growing interest in dietetics is evidenced by the emigrants’ careers.  In 1901, only 6% of British women held occupations in farming, and they were mostly represented in small-scale farming and horticulture.  Advocated by female activists, one solution to the surplus of women question was to open up women’s employment in agriculture and horticulture across the Empire.

Although there were training schools for emigrants in Britain, the colonial authorities were convinced that women could learn better in the colonies.  In 1909, Mary Urie Watson, director of the MacDonald Institute, wrote to the British Women’s Emigration Association to object to the training given to emigrants in Britain before departure.  She proposed setting up courses supervised by colonists in Britain, completed by training in the colonies.1  So, a farm house opened in Surrey, managed by a graduate from the MacDonald Institute, and it replicated Canadian domestic conditions in a course ‘for home makers overseas.’2

The Macdonald Institute worked closely with the British Women’s Emigration Association and in 1904 a scheme was set up to train Englishwomen as housekeepers for Canadian life.  Yet, the scheme was expensive and many emigrants actually only used the opportunity to gain free passage to Canada.  Whereas some emigrants had signed a contract binding them to work for free at the Macdonald Institute in exchange for free education and board, many directly moved to Canada without setting foot at the Macdonald Institute. After the Great War, the Macdonald Institute’s training was mostly offered to Ontario students to increase the quality of life in rural homes.  Similarly, British male students at the Ontario Agricultural College represented 10.5% of all students between 1874 and 1899, and this proportion decreased to 4.8% between 1900 and 1929.

Agricultural training provided higher education for women, yet it remained home-based and in keeping with the macro-narrative on women’s role in society and in the household. Hence, the Macdonald Institute may also have been founded to encourage rural marriages as the Minister of Agriculture declared in 1904: ‘I want some one [sic] to love the girls who come to the Macdonald Institute’ to which journalist James Creelman replied ‘The College boys will do that.’4  Indeed, male and female students regularly met during mixed classes in the Ontario Agricultural College buildings and at the library.

Yet, gender segmentation was reflected in the very building of the MacDonald Institute, which was on the Ontario Agricultural College campus in Guelph, but on a hill and separated from the rest of the Ontario Agricultural College campus as well as the city,5 as the map below from the British Library shows.  As such, the female students were both close enough to access the Ontario Agricultural College and the city, but protected from unwanted influence.

An illustrated bird's eye view of the Agricultural College buildings and fields used for experimental farming.
Fig. 2: A Bird's Eye View of the Ontario Agricultural College and Experimental Farm, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Guelph, 1904. British Library shelfmark: 1865.c.14.(6.)

In conclusion, the study of colonial training centres highlights the development of scientific education for women as a response to pressing concerns about the health and welfare of the nation.  Yet, the figures show that the Macdonald Institute did not train a high number of British immigrants, but farming and gardening became career options for unmarried gentlewomen in this period.  This was promoted by British female activists such as Jessie Boucherett and Frances Power Cobbe who were convinced that solutions were to be found at home before considering emigration.  The Macdonald Institute represented a tool in the campaign for female emancipation and imperialist propaganda, and paved the way for women’s scientific education.

Dr Marie Ruiz, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow 2019, is Associate Professor at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens, France.

Notes

1. ‘MacDonald Institute,’ The Imperial Colonist, April 1909, 57.  (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.)
2. N. C. Goldie, ‘Overseas Training School for Women,’ The Imperial Colonist, May 1914, 79.  (British Library shelfmark: P.P.3773.fa.) 
3. James Snell, Macdonald Institute: Remembering the Past, Embracing the Future. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2003, 69.
4. ‘Locals,’ The O.A.C. Review, vol. XVII, n° 3, December 1904, 211. (Available courtesy University of Guelph:  https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/handle/10214/13600)
5. Mary Margaret Wilson, ‘Cooking the books: curriculum and subjectivity at the MacDonald Institute for Domestic Science, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1903-1920’ (PhD thesis: University of Toronto, 2007), 143.

Suggestions for further reading:

Hammerton, James A. (1979) Emigrant Gentlewomen: Genteel Poverty and Female Emigration, 1830–1914. London: Croom Helm. (British Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.79088) 
Opitz, Donald L. (2013) "'A Triumph of Brains over Brute': Women and Science at the Horticultural College, Swanley, 1890-1910" Isis 104: 30-62. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 4583.000000) 
Opitz, Donald L., S. Bergwik, and B. Van Tiggelen, eds. (2016) Domesticity in the Making of Modern Science. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (British Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.300766) 
Ruiz, Marie (2017) British Female Emigration Societies and the New World (1860-1914). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (Brtish Library shelfmark: DRT ELD.DS.437310) 
Wilson, Mary Margaret (2007) 'Cooking the books: curriculum and subjectivity at the MacDonald Institute for Domestic Science, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1903-1920'. PhD Thesis: University of Toronto.

13 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Lucy Rowland, Curator Oceania Collections

Listeners to BBC Radio 4s Saturday Live programme will know of its ‘Inheritance Tracks’ feature. For those unfamiliar with the show, this is a segment where a famous person chooses two pieces of music, one which they’ve ‘inherited’ (usually something from their childhood or youth) and one which they would ‘pass on’ to later generations (usually a favourite or significant piece from their adult life), and talk about what the tracks mean to them. We have borrowed this idea for a collaborative series of blog posts with our European Studies colleagues about our British Library ‘Inheritance Books’. Colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and will explain why they’re important to us. This week, Lucy Rowland, responsible for the Oceania collections, shares her selections. 

I began looking after the collection of contemporary publications from Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Pacific in 2018 and was struck straight away by how difficult it was to really 'know' the extent of this printed collection. In previous library roles I had been able to do this by spending time wandering in the stacks, familiarising myself with the contents, shelving books, and becoming so used to the titles, colours and shapes on the shelves that a new book would become immediately apparent. But the British Library is different. Very different. With over 170 million items  included in the Library's collections, 'wandering in the stacks' is not just not an option. In fact, it would take over 80,000 years to see the entire collection held at the British Library. Yet my difficulty in understanding what the Oceania printed collection entailed wasn't just due to the sheer volume of items, but also that the fact that the material involved is all over the place. I say all over the place, but I know my colleagues involved in organising and retrieving this material would say that they are in the exact place they should be, thank you very much!

Image of books in rolling shelving units
Book stacks in the basements at the St Pancras site. Image from British Library

What I mean is that, aside from some items kept on open shelves in the Reading Rooms, printed material is spread between the London (St Pancras) and Yorkshire (Boston Spa) sites in various buildings, including ones ruled by robots working in the dark, and basements so deep that the Victoria line runs alongside them. As these shelves are not designed for browsing, the items can be stored in ways which make more sense for retrieval and preservation purposes. Which means you won't usually find books grouped together by author or subject for example, as material is organised on the shelves by size, usage, value or rarity, arrival date, language, or even by provenance. I could never go and visit the printed Oceania collection in its entirety, but instead rely on collection guides, catalogues, bibliographies, handlists and the knowledge of my many learned colleagues to explore the full breadth of the collection.

Inherited item

Which brings me to my 'inherited item', as having everything all over the place means that every now and then, you get a wonderful surprise when you discover something in the collection that you didn't know was there (and give thanks to your predecessors). One of these items for me was an Indigenous Australian adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland. It has never been standard practice to collect international picture books at the British Library (though UK children's books are collected through legal deposit), so it was a very welcome surprise to come across this title in the collection.

Front cover of Alitji in Dreamland by Nancy Sheppard
Alitji in Dreamland/Alitjinya ngura tjukurmankuntjala by Nancy Sheppard & Donna Leslie (1992) BL shelfmark LB.31.a.6178

Alitji in Dreamland/Alitjinya ngura tjukurmankuntjala is a bilingual picture book in Pitjantjatjara and English, first published in 1975 (shelfmark YA.1996.a.6667) with illustrations by Byron S. Sewell. This retelling of the Alice tale is set in an Indigenous Australian context with landscape, animals and cultural references familiar to its intended readers. It was produced by the Department of Adult Education at the University of Adelaide where the author, Nancy Sheppard, taught the Pitjantjatjara language of the Anangu people from 1968-75: the first course of its kind in Australia. Primarily an oral language, the written format was only confirmed in 1987 with publication of a Pitjantjatjara–English dictionary: which makes this adaptation one of the earliest picture books Anangu children were able to enjoy in their first language. The later 1992 edition (shelfmark LB.31.a.6178), pictured above, is the more significant version in my mind as this one has been illustrated by the Gamileroi academic and artist Donna Leslie, and is more explicit in supporting Sheppard's post-colonial interrogation of the Alice narrative:

Horse (March Hare): Your skin is very dark. You ought to wash yourself

Alitji (Alice): My skin is always dark, even after washing

 

Coming across this book felt particularly significant to me at the time as it represented a tangible link between my new role at the British Library, where the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is held, and the place where I grew up near Adelaide in South Australia. I was taught elements of the Pitjantjatjara language in primary school by visiting Elders from the Central Australian desert region, and though I have failed to retain many of these words as an adult, the appreciation for what I now realise was quite an unusual education initiative at the time has never left me. I am pleased that my young nephews now also benefit from a similar initiative with the revitalisation of Indigenous language learning taking place in schools across Australia.  

Item to pass on

How to choose? There are so many titles worthy of this merit, so I will go with the most recent item (another Australian item I'm afraid) and what was one of the hardest to obtain (see below): a special issue of the Northern Territory newspaper, NT News. The Thursday 5th March 2020 edition of this tabloid paper included an 8 page insert of toilet newspaper with the headline "Run out of loo paper?". This special edition was produced as a very Aussie tongue-in-cheek response to the panic surrounding shortages of toilet paper across many states in in the country at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although this lighthearted joke now feels somewhat callous in hindsight, at the time of publication in early March 2020 the virus had not yet been confirmed as a pandemic and no-one could have anticipated the devastating scale of the crisis yet to come. As such, this special issue will now take its place in the Oceania collection as an example of a moment when Australia, like many other countries, was not yet aware they were balanced on the precipice of a global disaster, and were still able to make light of the behaviour surrounding a virus which has since killed more than half a million people worldwide as of July 2020.

Cover of NT News with toilet paper insert
NT News Thursday 5th March 2020 with 8 page toilet paper insert. BL shelfmark tbc

I was alerted of this issue by a colleague and tried in vain to obtain a copy from the newspaper office in Darwin (who incidentally had apparently received numerous requests from libraries). In the end I resorted to besieging friends and family in Australia with requests to track down a copy for me. Luckily an old friend living in Darwin came up trumps and went to the office herself to collect one (thanks Jo!) and promised to send it over. This was early March 2020 and the world (including the postal system) was coming to a standstill, so I had almost given up on receiving this when it finally arrived over 2 months later. By this point the British Library had been closed for some time, which means I am sadly not able to provide a shelfmark as yet.

Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections (post-1850)

 

For other posts in the Inheritance Books series so far see: 

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections 

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections 

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

Janet Ashton, Western European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager 

09 July 2020

The Black and Indigenous presence in the story of how Breadfruit came to the Caribbean

This post by Nadine Chambers is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections. 

'As the heirs of two oceanic histories, we are conscious of the …challenges… the Atlantic and the Pacific represented to our respective ancestors. We are committed to nurturing and supporting the techniques of survivance that have led us to find each other.' Teresia Teaiwa1

How Breadfruit came to be loved in Xamayca/Jamaica became part of my Eccles Fellowship focusing on the North American and Caribbean collections at the British Library.  In my larger project, I chose to explore the ways in which existing historiography has erased (or occluded) the interrelationships between Black Caribbean and Indigenous peoples by reading in between the silences in colonial voyage narratives.  I contemplate the spaces between Black and Indigenous people’s parallel and intersecting histories of displacement, migration and decolonial struggles.  I seek stories of our encounters that have been ignored in academic texts or situated at a distance geographically or categorically in archived records.  My focus is on the traces of contested and still largely unwritten relationships as key to current discussions about Black freedom and Indigenous sovereignty if we “were not, even in the situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed off hermetically from one another”.2

In this essay, I offer a compass with which to navigate memories, geography, sacrifice, death through the entry point of Tahitian breadfruit brought by ship into the Caribbean.  I continue to be inspired by the late Teresia Teaiwa (African American and I-Kiribati), who embodies an Atlantic-Pacific connection reflected in much of her academic scholarship and poetic works; reminding us of the imposed amnesia and the need to undo its erasures.

so it’s easy to forget
that there’s life and love and learning
between
asia and america
there’s an ocean
and in this ocean
the stepping stones
are
getting real
Teaiwa, “AmneSIA”3

The first beloved place of breadfruit is in my maternal grandmother’s backyard in Constant Spring, Jamaica – a lone tree I remember while seated in carousel 333 of the British Library’s Rare Books and Music Room.  I find myself travelling back and forth, through space and time and through archival texts, seeking Teresia’s stepping stones and finding the footprints of two Ma’ohi (Tahitian) men who touched down from the HMS Providence after months of sailing from the Pacific to land in Jamaica in 1793.  I imagine them walking through the first place of contact – Port Henderson where my mother-line’s sea faring people still live.  Their second land fall was Port Morant to travel overland to Bath...

Section of a map of St Thomas, Jamaica, with many places and towns marked, both on the coast and inland.
Map of Jamaica, prepared for The Jamaica Handbook, under the direction of Thomas Harrison, Gov't Surveyor, by Colin Liddell, 1895. Digitized copy from National Library of Jamaica, Flickr. Also held at the British Library (Cartographic items: C.F.S.178)

... definitely passing through Airy Castle where my father’s people have landed history rooted by three Oteheite (ayyah) trees that bore deep purple-skinned fruit legendary in size and sweetness.  Raised in Jamaica on breadfruit and apples made possible by their Ma’ohi traditional knowledge that crossed into the Caribbean, I listen for echoes of these two men’s footfall as I read a copy of The Log of H.M.S Providence by W. Bligh in the Manuscripts room on the 2nd floor of the British Library.4

Bound copy of log with the spine presented brown with gold writing of title and author backgrounded by maroon squares
W. Bligh, The Log of the H.M.S. Providence, 1791- 1793. (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976)).

Bligh – the celebrated naval captain of Bounty and Providence fame – instructed the crew to make sure that Tahitians were not to be told about the reason for the acquisition of the breadfruit.

Against this silence, I ask – so, to what purpose?

Within the library catalogue I found the oft overlooked work of an accomplished Jamaican botanist - the late Dulcie Powell and her careful attention to the plant genealogy of Jamaican botanical gardens, and the people behind it.  Powell’s work, 'The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, H.M.S. Providence, 1791-1793', gives the reader the economic context to understand what drove British captains’ military and commercial ventures, coded as “botany research” and “exploration” – each opened with devastating military violence towards Pacific Indigenous peoples, appropriated plants then brought Tahitians and their intellectual acumen to the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.5  She includes an extract from writing by the well-known planter Bryan Edwards of 15,000 deaths of Black people trapped between the violence of enslavement and environmental catastrophes:

THIS NUMBER WE FIRMLY BELIEVE TO HAVE PERISHED OF FAMINE, OR OF THE DISEASES CONTRACTED
BY SCANTY AND UNWHOLESOME DIET BETWEEN THE LATER END OF 1780 AND THE BEGINNING OF 1787.6

This key excerpt from Edwards shows that the bedrock of the introduction of breadfruit to Jamaica was part of the British global imperial project, and that the breadfruit’s purpose was to sustain the life of Black people in Jamaica – solely for reaping profit from slavery.

But what about introductions between people?

The two men Maititi (Mydidee, Mideedee) and Paupo (Bobbo, Pappo) are first introduced to the reader through Bligh’s logs: the former styled as a Tahitian emissary, the other as a Tahitian stowaway.  I note Captain Bligh’s first awareness of Paupo was part of a critical decision as to whether he lives or dies.

Page of the Providence log where the quotation is located.
W. Bligh, The Log of the H.M.S. Providence, 1791- 1793. (British Library MS Facsimile 832 (1976)).

                                         To my astonishment I found a man who had always been collecting with the botanists secreted between decks… and I had not the heart to make him jump overboard… I conceived he might be useful in Jamaica...therefore directed he should be under the care of the botanists... (July 18, 1792)7

Here, his name is not revealed on a long voyage that depended on many other racialized people who remained seen but also unnamed while assisting the survival of the floating Plant Nursery in safe harbours from storms and fresh water supplies as they sailed from the Pacific to the Caribbean.  However, my central quest is Maititi and Paupo’s moment of arrival and any evidence of their encounters with people of African descent in Jamaica.  Only some details are known to us, as we have to rely on 3rd Lieutenant Tobin, who observed Feb 5th, 1793 as the day Maititi and Paupo were on deck to see those “for which the benefit the voyage was chiefly promoted” – the Black people who “were loud in their praises and were constantly paddling around her [the Providence] in their canoes.”8

What might these Ma’ohi men’s thoughts have been about the excitement from the canoes or upon meeting the eyes of the paddlers?  Did the paddlers notice the two men?

My reading of eighteenth-century ship’s log and crew diaries is informed by these questions – questions hardly considered at the time.  In order to make visible Paupo’s landfall in Jamaica, I examine a few additional moments from Bligh’s log and find details that only relate to his relationship with the project through being listed as their ‘Otaheitian friend’ and an unpaid responsibility of Gardener Wiles who had agreed to stay on in Jamaica at Bath at £200 per annum.9  These logs render invisible and silent people of African descent who were the majority of the population: the records scarcely show any detail of these enslaved workers except in ledgers where their masters were paid for allowing them to be hired out for labour in the botanical garden.

However, finally a surprise encounter.

Somewhere in the months between landing in Jamaica and sailing for England to deliver the remainder of the botanical collection to Kew, Tobin writes this undated observation of Paupo in Jamaica:

...having many quarrels with an old negroe nurse who attended him – one day when she was oversolicitous [sic] for him to eat, after making several ineffectual attempts to explain to her that he required nothing, in rather an angry tone he said Aimak mad oboo peyak peyak “I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear telling her “she might perhaps find room in his head”.10

Seventeen months away from Tahiti, this singular encounter was retold by a third party as a partial exchange of words, strong feelings and touch between a young ailing Paupo and a senior Black healer.  I re-read the gesture and the translation and found myself move slowly from elation to unease.  In other fleeting moments Paupo is described as cheerful; yet here his exchange seems fraught.  The translation of his words is unreliable, the touch and exchange ascribed layered with complexity.

Nine months after Ma’ohi Paupo arrived to Xamayca –in the Caribbean Sea – Wiles reported Paupo’s death in The Royal Gazette printed 27th of October 1793 (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384) and that his last days he refused food, refused to speak before succumbing to ill health.  There is no known marker to signal his resting place as part of the land at Bath; far from his island which Powell described as “about as far south of the Equator as Jamaica is north…and their climates are therefore similar”.11  However, it was not similar, neither in area nor, more importantly, in social climate.

The pages of the newspaper reflect a snapshot of this climate – his obituary placed beside a report of trade business, a military report and lists of Black ancestors who are ill and enslaved or featured in runaway ads and workhouses.  This returns us to the question of what could Paupo’s relationship have been to the enslaved community, perhaps through being cared for by that nurse?  Would the cost of his keep have become associated with the ‘negro labour’ ledger lines for the garden?  Could one speculate he might have had a sense of being estranged from the system Black people surrounding him were chained within?

“I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear

What more could have been recorded?

Instead, it is easiest to know more about the thoughts of the leadership of the plantocracy behind the Providence project.  The Royal Gazette stated:

…In less than twenty years, the chief article of sustenance for our Negroes will be entirely changed; - plantains, yams, cocoa, and coffee, will be cultivated only as subsidiary, and used merely for change; whilst the breadfruit, gaining firm hold in the earth by the toughness and strength of its root, will bid defiance to storms.12

Official letters stating the plants did well came from Wiles who reported regularly to his patron Joseph Banks of their progress; in October 1793 they were “thriving with astonishing vigor” on the eastern side of the island.  Wiles found “everyone exceeding anxious to get plants of it,” although some “old conceited & prejudiced [enslaved] creoles” said they preferred plantains and yams.13

In truth, Breadfruit survived but took decades to become part of everyday people’s preferred local diet.14  I continue to wonder sometimes if by chance, in those brief months whether Paupo had time to personally introduce breadfruit preparation to the healer’s community?  What would that have looked like–practical trade or tentative trust-building?  Or like breadfruit; in the healer’s mind was Paupo separate and associated with a garden of unfamiliar plants and closer to the owners in an enslaved society?

The difficult purpose of this small essay is to reframe Paupo’s story within the context of the Black population.  Yes, slavery and hunger were the terrible impetus of our forgotten introduction to Tahitians who brought uru and other botanical riches of the Pacific.  The difficult social climate that structures his introduction to the healer I overcome by thinking about a Tahitian story in a time before time as we know it.  It is said a Ma’ohi family survived a famine when the father transformed himself - with hands becoming leaves; arms and body, the trunk and branches; his head – the breadfruit in the place known now as Tua’uru – the Place of Breadfruit.15  I think of this as I consider how this plant was transported in 1793 to deal with starvation in the Caribbean.  Today, uru lives – included when Jamaicans state the word ‘food’ defined as specific reference to the circle of beloved ground provisions our Black ancestors refused to abandon even in those hard times.

Breadfruit.

First in the Valley of Tua’uru then in Bath, St. Thomas with Paupo - a Ma’ohi stone within the Jamaican landscape. Māuruuru.

Nadine Chambers, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London.

References

1 Teaiwa, Teresia; Ojeya Banks, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Courtney-Savali Leiloa Andrews, Alisha Lola Jones, and April K Henderson. ‘Black and Blue in the Pacific: Afro-Diasporic Women Artists on History and Blackness.’ Amerasia Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, (2017), pp. 145-193. (British Library shelfmarks: Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(1); Document Supply 0809.655000; )

2 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 2. (British Library shelfmark: YC.1994.b.3724.)

3 Teresia Teaiwa, ‘We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 19:2 (2017), p. 133-136. (British Library shelfmark: ZC.9.a.5571)

4 William Bligh, The Log of HMS Providence, 1791-1793 (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976).

5 Dulcie Powell, ‘The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, HMS Providence, 1791-1793,’ Economic Botany, vol. 31.4 (1977): 387-431. (British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 3651.700000; Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(10))

6 B. Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. Dublin, 1793, Vol. 2. Dublin, capitals in the original.(British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 44458])

7 Bligh, ibid. 

8 Journal of Lieutenant George Tobin on HMS Providence 1791 -1793, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/_transcript/2011/D04424/a1220.htm [accessed online July 2, 2020].

9 Bligh, ibid.

10 Journal of Lieutenant Tobin, ibid.

11 Dulcie Powell, ibid.

12 The Royal Gazette, Feb 9, 1792 – Misc section, unknown publisher Kingston, Jamaica. (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384)

13 Wiles quoted in Newell, Jennifer. Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans, and Ecological Exchange. University of Hawaii Press, 2010. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply m10/21589 )

14 Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2008. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2009.b.918)

15 Henry, Teuira and John Muggridge Orsmond. Ancient Tahiti. Honolulu: B.P Bishop Museum, 1928. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6245/3.(48.))

07 July 2020

Dancing in the archives...

This post by Robert Hylton is the first in a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.

In the early 1980s this thing called hip hop suddenly arrived in the UK from North America through videos like Malcolm McLaren's Buffalo Gals (1982) and films such as Wild Style (1983).  It marked the start of a global cultural change and, unbeknown to me, would help develop my future world as a choreographer, researcher and teacher.

In time, my curiosity would take me beyond the South Bronx of the 1970s to '50s jazz dance, Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers and, eventually, minstrelsy.

An African American woman and man Lindy Hopping; the woman is wearing a long sleeved blouse, a striped skirt and white plimsolls while the man is wearing a long sleeve shirt and dungarees that are tight at the waist and full in the leg
Willa Mae Ricker and Leon James dancing the Lindy Hop, Life, 23 August 1943; shelfmark P.P.6383.cke

Minstrelsy and blackface was something I was aware of growing up in the 1970s as a mixed race child in the North East of England: The Black and White Minstrel Show was still on TV and racial relics were never far away.  Years later I began looking past the racially charged media of minstrelsy, seeing instead an innovative dance form which laid the foundations not only for hip hop dance but for entertainment as we know it today.  And so I began to ponder on the question: What happened before minstrelsy?  Which is what brought me to the Eccles Centre and the British Library.

My approach at the Library was to explore African diaspora dance practices in the United States from the early 1800s.  My prior knowledge of African based social dances was mostly limited to the 20th century and I knew there was so much more: More threads and meeting points detailing the myriad ways in which the African diaspora experience was carried to the US, became fractured and disrupted through slavery, and morphed into gospel, blues, ragtime, jazz, funk and hip hop.  My research enabled me to understand how African dance, including Gelede and Calenda, were exchanged and disrupted through gatherings such as corn shucking meets, leading in turn to secular dances like the turkey trot and the camel walk. 

An advert for a minstrel show, depicting a group of around 15 people singing and dancing in the moonlight by the side of a river
The Big Black Boom. Her Majesty's Theatre, Westminster c. 1878. Shelfmark: Evan.273 (Image taken from a collection of pamphlets, handbills, and miscellaneous printed matter relating to Victorian entertainment and everyday life. Originally published/produced in London, 1800 - 1895)

The key thing I realised through this research, however, wasn't even about dance.  It was about how information was passed, gathered and coded through slavery.  It was about the interactions between different African practices. I began looking beyond West African traditional dance forms to broader African practices.  This led me to explore the Muslim experience within Africa, the United States and slavery.  One story I came across was that of a 35-year old male Muslim slave in Sierra Leone during the eighteenth century. Waiting in irons for departure, sometimes he would sing a melancholy song and sometimes a Muslim prayer.  The song would eventually arrive in America to be heard by other Africans who may not have understood Arabic. Yet the cadence, experience and emotion enabled an experience of empathy that transcended words.  It was decoded through human consciousness as emotional unity through sound and movement.  It was understood, or misunderstood, and developed identity, social communication and African American culture.  These rhythms and experiences would resurface and be remixed into early blues; a remix that I suggest echoes into the sampling culture of hip hop.

Traces of Muslim practice may also relate to the Ring Shout (ceremonial dance) and the Kaaba and walking anti clockwise as prayer.  These exchanges of different African cultures, through shared experience and slavery, led me to think more about the subtleties and nuances of human exchange, gesture, symbolism and the cadence of both sound and movement: how scales of emotion and the body being read and misread is very much part of human learning, social patterns and coded cultures.

The African diaspora experience of slavery is one of the most heartless in human history and yet people survived, grew and emerged.  Of course, resilience in itself is a built-in human trait but how many times must it be tested and inflicted from one human to another to the degree of slavery and many other forms of violence, where carried trauma and disrupted African experiences seem to be in constant recovery and where culture acts to navigate and find better ways of living.

I think this research more than anything has led me to a deeper understanding of cultural development, human exchange, histories (my own) and the traces of experience that we carry and that are passed through generations.  Which brings me to the present, to my own creative practice and towards Afro futurism and how one can begin to develop African diaspora history(s) through speculation as a way to navigate future possibilities.  My hope is to develop projects embedded in my Eccles Centre research through dance, hip hop, visual art and education, exploring the question: What is hip hop's place in the twenty first century?

Robert Hylton, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, 2019.

Suggested Reading:

Abbott, L and Seroff, D. Ragged but Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs," and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. (Shelfmark: m07/.15598 DSC)

Austin, A. African Muslims in Antebellum America: Transatlantic Stories and Spiritual Struggles. New York; London: Routledge, 1997. (Shelfmark: YC.1997.a.3453) 

Diouf, S. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in The Americas. New York University Press, 1998. (Shelfmark: YC.1999.a.80)

Emory, E. Black Dance: From 1619 to Today. London: Dance, 1988. (Shelfmark: YM.1989.a.111) 

Gay, K. African American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations: the History, Customs, and Symbols Associated with Both Traditional and Contemporary Religious and Secular Events Observed by Americans of African Descent. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2007. (Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.7641)

Glass, B. African American Dance: An Illustrated History. Jefferson, N.C; London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2007. (Shelfmark: m07/.12508 DSC)

Hammer, J. Safi, O. The Cambridge Companion to American Islam. Cambridge University Press, 2013. (Shelfmark: YC.2014.a.828)

Robinson, D. Modern Moves: Dancing Race During the Ragtime and Jazz Eras. (Oxford; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015) (Shelfmark: YC.2015.a.12024)

Thompson, K. Ring Shout, Wheel About: the Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014) (Shelfmark: m14/.11623) 

Visual References:

Ring Shout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQgrIcCtys0

Buzzard Lope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dGamWaYcLg

Audio Reference:

Alan Lomax Recordings - Levee Camp Holler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EH3jsnUo38

24 June 2020

Remembering Dr King: US Black activism in the UK and beyond

This is the second of two blog posts responding to the murder of George Floyd, and the international Black Lives Matter protests.  Click to read the first post, “Hell You Talmbout”.

Following the assassination of Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. on the night of April 4th, 1968, the United States experienced rioting in over 100 cities.

While many who read the term ‘race riot’ think about African Americans rioting in their own communities, mass racial violence has a very long history in the United States as this comprehensive timeline on Wikipedia attests.Instances include attacks on Indigenous peoples, recent and established immigrant groups, and African Americans. This includes mass violence perpetrated by white Americans towards African Americans such as occurred during the Red Summer of 1919. The Red Summer witnessed one of the most deadly riots in US history, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of African Americans in Elaine, Arkansas.[1]  Similarly, in Tulsa in 1921, white Americans lynched the large and prosperous black community, burning down swathes of the city and killing hundreds.

 

Image of front cover. "The Arkansas Race Riot", by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, 1920.
Cover of Ida B. Wells’ journalistic account, The Arkansas Race Riots. This is available to read in full at the Internet Archive.

 

Nonetheless, instances of rioting in the twentieth century remained largely isolated until the 1960s which witnessed several waves of riots.  The ‘long hot summer of 1967’ was especially tumultuous, with 159 race riots including the Newark riot, the Watts riot, and the Detroit riot proving particularly destructive to life and property. Due to the continued unrest, President Lyndon Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders which delivered its infamous “Kerner Report” the following year.  The findings were stark: “This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal…To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.” [2]

 

Image of front cover of the bestselling Kerner Report
Front cover of the bestselling Kerner Report

 

The commission’s stark warning identified racist policing practices as the primary factor that caused deep resentment amongst inner city African American.  However, they clarified:

The police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection—one for Negroes and one for whites.

The commission identified that anger about the flawed criminal justice system was representative of much wider social divisions that were visible in all aspects of African American life.  Unemployment, inadequate housing, inadequate education, white racism, discrimination in consumer and credit practices, and ineffectiveness of political structures were just some of the grievances identified.  The commission’s finding was unequivocal: white racism in all forms of African American life was the direct cause of the riots.  It was an instant best-seller, demand outstripped supply.  This was exactly the point that Dr King had been trying to make in the final years of his life:

The only thing that can be done is to aggressively get rid of the intolerable conditions that bring riots into being… the culprit in this situation is not merely the one with a Molotov cocktail but the culprit is a Congress, is the recalcitrance of white society, the vacillation and ambivalence of white America on the question of genuine equality for the Black man. https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/bundles/190101

Within weeks of the publication of the Kerner report, Dr King had been murdered.  Both the assassination and the rioting that followed received widespread international coverage.  Scenes from his funeral were widely televised, and many acts of solidarity took place around the world.  Authors, artists, and dramatists were inspired to commemorate him in verse, picture, and on stage, many examples of which can be seen throughout our collections.  These give an insight into Dr King’s position as an international speaker on matters of justice and race, and how the US was regarded from an outside perspective.  They are also indicative of conversations about race that were taking place locally, or in some instances, conversations that appeared to be about race but had other underlying purposes.

 

Cover of Benjamin Bharati’s play Murder of a Prophet: a moving and absorbing drama on the victorious life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Bombay, 1969)
Cover of Benjamin Bharati’s play Murder of a Prophet: a moving and absorbing drama on the victorious life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Bombay, 1969). Shelfmark: X.989/20837.

 

The above play, published in India, pays homage to Dr King's dedication to non-violence and the inspiration of Gandhi's advocacy of non-violence in campaigning against British colonialism.

 

Image of front cover of Drum Major for a Dream. Binding in pink silk
Cover of Drum Major for a Dream. Shelfmark: YA.1989.a.3738

 

This volume of poetry, Drum Major for a Dream (shelfmark YA.1989.a.3738), wrapped in beautiful pink silk, was produced by the Calcutta Writer’s Workshop. It includes Gwendolyn Brooks’ tribute poem Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Image of front cover and illustration. Dolor por la Muerte de un Negro (Mexico, 1968), a poem by Manuel Aguilar de la Torre. Woodcut illustration by Arturo Garcia Bustos
Manuel Aguilar de la Torre’s poem Dolor por la Muerte de un Negro (Mexico, 1968) is powerfully illustrated by woodcuts. Shelfmark: X.908/19389.

 

This volume from Mexico carries vivid woodcut illustrations alongside a poem that reflects on Dr King’s words.  The woodcuts are by Arturo Garcia Bustos, who studied under Frida Kahlo and who was heavily influenced by Mexican muralism. Garcia Bustos also spent time studying printmaking in Korea and China. His work regularly touched on topics of political and social injustice, and revolutionary politics in Latin America.

 

Woodcut illustration by Arturo Garcia Bustos
Woodcut illustration by Arturo Garcia Bustos.

 

His treatment of Dr King’s murder takes on an agrarian imagery, similar to that of the workers and revolutionaries he depicted elsewhere. Dr King is thus depicted as a martyr for the world’s poor and oppressed.

One of the more interesting examples of international responses in our collections is this Soviet pamphlet, written the night of the assassination. Published by the Moscow based Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, a state-owned news agency, it is a treatise on racism in the United States and includes sections discussing the Watts riots, the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing, and the march from Selma to Montgomery.

 

Image of front cover of Fire Bell in the Night
Cover of Fire Bell in the Night. Shelfmark: X.808/4705.

 

The title Fire Bell in the Night references Thomas Jefferson’s comments upon Missouri’s petition to be admitted as a slave state in 1819, which demonstrates a detailed knowledge of the history of race in the US.  Often used as a shorthand for the superiority of communism, US race relations regularly featured in Soviet politics and culture. 

Indeed, throughout the twentieth century, many prominent African American and Caribbean creatives were invited to take part in projects with Soviet counterparts, which were unabashedly propagandistic in tone. Visitors to the USSR included authors Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Claude McKay, and singer Paul Robeson. Many of those who travelled recalled being met with a refreshing interest in their work and political opinions.  Hughes was particularly creatively inspired by his encounter with Soviet politics of solidarity and the promise of internationalist racial alliances, which can be seen in his selections of Soviet poetry for translation. Kate A. Baldwin writes: “As the poem "Kinship," written by Julian Anissimov and translated by Hughes, suggests, partnerships between "the Russian" and "the Negro" promised a shift from biologically determined links (that is, those fabricated through blood) to politically determined ones.”[3]

 

Front cover image of the anthology of ‘Negro poetry’ edited by Loren Miller, Africa in America (Aфрика в Америке)
The sponsored trips of Harlem Renaissance authors resulted in an anthology of ‘Negro poetry’ edited by Loren Miller, Africa in America (Aфрика в Америке). Shelfmark RB.23.a.36269. Some of the poems in the opening section of this anthology are likely to have been fabricated by the translator to make a clearer connection with Soviet politics.

 

Later, in 1976, Audre Lorde wrote about two weeks she spent in Moscow at the invitation of the Union of Soviet Writers in the collection Sister Outsider. In the essay she reflects of her experience: “I came away with revolutionary women in my head. But I feel very much now still that we, Black Americans, exist alone in the mouth of the dragon. As I’ve always suspected, outside of rhetoric and proclamations of solidarity, there is no help, except ourselves.” Her respect for Soviet culture but disillusion with the lack of pragmatic support for African American movements echoes that of the many authors and artists who preceded her, as they interrogated the motivations behind Soviet interest in US race relations. Notably, Lorde speaks of viewing positive relations between different ethnic groups on her tours of the Soviet Union, but of course she was not in a position to witness the treatment of Soviet’s own minority ethnic groups.

It is in this light, then, that we need to approach images such as the below which shows a meeting of workers at a Moscow automobile factory in memory of Dr King.  The placard reads “Shame on racist killers!”

 

Photograph from Есть у меня мечта. It shows a meeting of workers at a Moscow automobile factory in memory of Dr King
Photograph from Есть у меня мечта. Shelfmark: X.708/6833.

 

The Soviets were not the only Europeans whose interest in Black cultures and US racial politics reflected internal political dynamics.  Many have noted that their interest in such was quite late coming in comparison to say the post-WWI Negritude movement prominent in French arts and intellectual life (such as the jazz successes of James Reese Europe and the 369th Infantry, and the Pan African Congress of 1919 ). 

The first Pan African Congress, however, took place nineteen years earlier in London and was organised by a British based Trinidadian lawyer, Henry Sylvester Williams.  Notably it was attended by leading US black intellectual W.B. DuBois who would continue to organise the Congress after WWII, and later found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  Anti-colonial activism, and international reciprocity between black intellectuals has thus been a long-standing feature of the British (and European) conversation about race.

French authors also were interested in US race relations.  Romain Gary’s book Chien Blanc (1970), set in Los Angeles, is a fictionalised account of the author’s attempts to re-programme a former Alabama police dog that had been trained to attack Black people on sight.  It is a tale of morality tale that reflects on the nature of racism, the California civil rights and Black power movements, and the hypocrisy of white activists (which included his ex-wife, actress Jean Seberg).

 

Image of front cover of Romain Gary’s Chien Blanc
Cover of Romain Gary’s Chien Blanc shows a graphic of a police dog attacking a Black protestor, against the backdrop of a Metropolitcan skyline. Shelfmark: X.709/10618.

 

In the UK, King’s death and the rioting was widely commented on.  Many spoke directly of Dr King’s work and sacrifice, and of concern for the social wellbeing of the US, that historically.  However, the occasion also provided a way to reflect upon race relations at home.  This was not a passing superficial comparison.  At the time, two key acts were being discussed in Parliament: the 1968 Race Relations Act (RRA) and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 (CIA).

The 1968 RRA act sought to bring in additional provisions that were omitted from the 1965 legislation (the first of its kind in the UK). The sections that proved most controversial to a British public at the time related to legislation around discrimination in housing, employment, and the provision of goods. The updated act also enabled civil proceedings against those who broke legislation in the earlier act. While the RRA gave more powers to the Race Relations Board which was seen by many as a previously ‘toothless’ organisation, the simultaneous passing of the CIA further restricted the rights of citizens from Commonwealth countries to move to the United Kingdom (building on 1962 legislation). 

 Just two weeks after Dr King’s death, Enoch Powell delivered his deliberately inflammatory ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which resulted in a rise of racist incidents across the country, particularly in the West Midlands where Powell delivered his speech.  The author Hanif Kureishi who was 14 at the time recalls that “At school , Powell’s name soon become one terrifying word – Enoch. As well as an insult, it began to be used with elation. ‘Enoch will deal with you lot,’ and ‘Enoch will soon be knocking on your door, pal.’”  While Powell was summarily dismissed from the cabinet, his speech and the response to it made immigration a key Conservative issue.  The party’s win at the 1970 general election heralded policy changes in Commonwealth immigration that were a root cause of the deportations of British Caribbean citizens at the heart of the Windruh generation scandal .

It is no coincidence that just three years prior, Malcolm X had visited Smethwick.  He was invited to tour the area by the local branch of the Indian Workers’ Association (IWA) following an unashamedly racist election campaign by the local Conservative MP. Following successful lobbying by residents, housing segregation had become the official policy of the local Conservative council.  Malcolm X visited Marshall street where the council had agreed to buy unoccupied houses to block non-white ownership, and witnessed the colour bar in local businesses. It leads to his observing that Britain was worse than some parts of the United States where these activities were now outlawed.

 

Black and white photograph of Malcolm X taking a walk down Marshall Street in Smethwick, to inspect the housing segregation practices supported by the Conservative-led Council
Malcolm X takes a walk down Marshall Street in Smethwick, to inspect the housing segregation practices supported by the Conservative-led Council.

 

The then secretary of the Smethwick IWA, Avtar Singh Jouhl, recalls that Malcolm X said that “he was travelling to get more information and more education on the structure of how imperialism works. There was a big revolution going on inside himself.”  Part of this was looking at how this corresponded to British colonialism, and affected Asian as well as black communities.  His visit provided hope for local anti-racist activists and renewed inspiration to persist with their activities. “He reminded us that without struggle change can’t come.” 

While many white locals did not know who Malcolm X was, many were also outraged by his visit.  This included the Mayor of Smethwick who said that “it makes my blood boil that Malcolm X should be allowed into this country” and called his visit to Marshall Street “deplorable” and an incitement to increased tensions in the community. [4]

 

Photographic image of the blue plaque erected to commemorate Malcolm X’s visit to Marshall Street
The blue plaque erected to commemorate Malcolm X’s visit to Marshall Street.

 

This visit formed part of Malcolm X’s growing international itinerary in the last year of his life, which had contributed to his gradual development of an internationalist approach to race and racism.  He was killed 9 days after his visit to Smethwick. 

Like Malcolm X, Dr King’s visits to the UK also informed his understanding of the causes of racism, which was becoming increasingly global in outlook.  He visited on several occasions.  In 1961, during which time he was interviewed in depth by the BBC’s John Freeman (available to watch in full on BBC iPlayer for UK based readers).

He visited twice in 1964. During one of these visits he preached a rousing sermon at St Pauls and this speech at an event organised by Christian Action. Looking across both speeches, it becomes clear that he was interested in drawing out the connections between racism and economic justice on the global stage.  He spoke of segregation in the United States, of South African apartheid, and finally of the situation in the UK: 

“… the problem of racial injustice is not limited to any one nation. We know now that this is a problem spreading all over the globe. And right here in London and right here in England, you know so well that thousands and thousands of colored people are migrating here from many, many lands—from the West Indies, from Pakistan, from India, from Africa. And they have the just right to come to this great land, and they have the just right to expect justice and democracy in this land. And England must be eternally vigilant. For if not, the same kind of ghettos will develop that we have in the Harlems of the United States. The same problems of injustice, the same problems of inequality in jobs will develop.”

Dr King also met with the Trinidadian historian and social theorist C.L.R. James, with whom he subsequently corresponded.  Notably, James gifted him his own influential book The Black Jacobins, and George Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism?

 

Black and white portrait of C.L.R. James
C.L.R. James

 

Together they later met with British immigrant groups who explained in more detail the structural differences between British and American race relations, particularly the importance of Britain’s colonial past and its relationship to immigration. Dr King thus influenced British activism in turn: the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, an early pacifist campaigning group that coordinated activities by numerous Commonwealth migrant groups was established following this meeting.

Like Malcolm X in the West Midlands, Dr King’s visits to the UK formed one element of a larger international conversation (interestingly, the Jamaican poet and intellectual James Berry wrote to various people in the US including Dr King in the early Sixties, in an attempt to establish a Black Studies journal. These can be found in the James Berry archive). The flow of ideas and strategies was reciprocal, and was informed by a growing body of black scholarship, literature, arts and culture, as well as activism.

 

Black and white photographic image of a young man wearing a Public Enemy ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ jacket raises a Black Power fist by a statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, London, on 6 June 2020
copyright Misan Harriman, WWS, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020

 

We can see this political and cultural fusion in images of the protests that have taken place in London in the last few weeks.  In the image above, a young man wearing a Public Enemy ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ jacket raises a Black Power fist by a statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square.  Below, another man wears the black beret that was part of the US Black Panthers’ ‘uniform’ while similarly raising his fist.  The embroidery on his jacket is a quotation by Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

 

Black and white photographic image of a man wearing the black beret that was part of the US Black Panthers’ ‘uniform’ while raising his fist. The embroidery on his jacket is a quotation by Nelson Mandela
copyright Misan Harriman, WWS, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020

 

Most people remember the Black Panthers as a US movement, but like Malcolm X and Dr King, their influence spread much further afield. In the UK, the Black Panther Movement established in London in the summer of 1968, a few months after the riots that followed Dr King’s assassination. You can find two representative issues of their newsletter Freedom News at shelfmark: RH.9.x.1790, (by coincidence the George Padmore Institute and Shades of Noir have just announced a digitisation project for these).

While unaffiliated with the US party, they were heavily influenced by their namesake.  Unsurprisingly, then, their activities focussed on policing and community programmes. 

 

Cover of ‘Freedom News’, June 1973. Headline reads "Police terror must stop"
Cover of ‘Freedom News’, June 1973. The headline and photograph highlights “growing police terror in South London” which resulted in a “police riot in Brockwell Park”. Courtesy of George Padmore Institute and Shades of Noir

 

Particularly noteworthy was the influential ‘Mangrove Nine’ case. This followed the arrest of nine protestors from the Black Panthers Movement after a march against repeated police raids on the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, which served as a meeting place for activists. The defendants followed the US Black Panthers’ radical defence strategy in the court room, calling to be tried by a jury of their Black peers.  While they weren’t entirely successful, they were able to dismiss 69 jurors for being unsuitable and find two black jurors.  All nine were cleared on the charge of riot, and the closing statement made by the sitting judge was the first in the UK to mention racial prejudice on the part of police.

 

Black and white photographic image of a young woman holding a placard which reads ‘I never liked pigs they’re haram anyways’, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020
copyright Misan Harriman, WWS. Young woman holds placard which reads ‘I never liked pigs they’re haram anyways’, Black Lives Matter march, London, 6 June 2020

 

This image is particularly interesting in how it captures the overlap of popular and protest cultures between the US and the UK. The placard is clearly tongue-in-cheek in its anti-police sentiment, highlighting the woman’s pride in her (presumably) Muslim identity, but in the wake of the George Floyd murder, it is a serious and sombre message that carries echoes in the UK and internationally (depressingly familiar parallels can be found in policing tactics in France, and Brazil, for example). It could be taken straight from a US Black Panther publication, which regularly used the term and imagery of ‘pigs’ to refer to police, national guard, military, government figures, and US imperialism more broadly.  Particularly noteworthy here is the artwork of Emory Douglas (the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party) which featured regularly in the publication (of which we hold some examples at shelfmark: LOU.A499).

 

Image from the US Black Panther newspaper, copyright Emory Douglas
Image from the US Black Panther newspaper, copyright Emory Douglas

 

It is worth remembering that the Black Panther Party in the US was a varied organisation that carried out wide ranging activities.  As well as calling for “community control of police” as per the above image, they organised community programmes such as free breakfast clubs for families living in poverty which served approximately 20,000 meals per week across nineteen communities. They also became strong advocates of health as a human right, and established free health clinics in thirteen communities and ran a national sickle cell screening programme (a genetic disease that had previously been largely ignored because it mostly affected people of African descent).  It is because of activities such as these that the party had such a stronghold in Oakland and San Francisco, and it is why when Dr King was assassinated, these cities remained unaffected by the rioting that erupted across America: they were quiet, Bobby Seale said, “because we told them to be quiet.”  

This, often overlooked, aspect of the Black Panthers has striking parallels to Dr King’s radical later work with the Poor People’s Campaign and the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike. While their route to this was substantially different (Karl Marx, via Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’ for the Panthers), they nonetheless came to share a globally informed understanding of racism, and its relationship to economic and social injustice.

 

Image of woodcut illustration by Paul Pieter Piech, Words and Wisdoms of Martin Luther King, 1968
Woodcut by Paul Pieter Piech, Words and Wisdoms of Martin Luther King, Bushey Heath, Herts. The Taurus Press (1968). Shelfmark: Cup.510.bea.4.

 

The above work by Paul Pieter Piech was printed in the UK, in commemoration of Dr King. His woodcuts are set alongside quotations taken from his ‘Drum Major Instinct’ sermon', which was played at his funeral service.  It is one of many such items in the Library’s collections that recall Dr King’s civil rights work through his own words, and which treat as inseparable the issue of racial inequalities based and American nationalism.

Almost a year after Dr King’s assassination, Coretta Scott King who was an activist in her own right, followed in her husband’s footsteps and preached at St Paul’s Cathedral (the first woman to preach at a statutory service there):  "Many despair at all the evil and unrest and disorder in the world today, but I see a new social order and I see the dawn of a new day."  Many today would question whether that new day has yet dawned.

It is interesting, then, to compare the results of polling of Americans on their views of racism following the riots of 1967 to the protests of 2020.  Following the publication of the Kerner report, “Polls showed that 53 percent of white Americans condemned the claim that racism had caused the riots, while 58 percent of black Americans agreed with the findings.”  By contrast, this poll by Monmouth University Polling Institute shows that the George Floyd murder and the current protests have led to large numbers of Americans changing their perspective on racism, policing, and the justification for protests. 

Most Americans say the anger about black deaths at the hands of police officers that led to recent protests is fully justified, even if they do not feel the same about the actual actions. A majority of the public now agrees that the police are more likely to use excessive force with a black person than a white person in similar situations. Only one-third of the country held this opinion four years ago. The [poll] also finds that the number of people who consider racial and ethnic discrimination to be a big problem has increased from about half in 2015 to nearly 3 in 4 now.

It is deeply troubling to reflect that this shift was precipitated by a viral video of a murder.  Let us hope that no more such deaths or videos are now necessary to bring about the necessary urgent action to accompany these changes in perspective that are being demanded in the US, the UK, France, and beyond.

It feels fitting to end here with one of the poems in Drum Major for a Dream.  ‘After the Killing of Martin Luther King’, written by Lou Lipsitz.  It speaks of ways of finding consolation and strength when faced with intolerable injustice.  Like many African Americans before and after, Lipsitz finds strength and historical resilience in the blues and jazz traditions.

I listened to old music

all day

trying to console myself

- the New Orleans jazzmen,

Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie

McGhee -things

like

The Southbound Train

My Bucket’s Got

a Hole in It and Twelve Gates to the City

music out of the chain gangs

music out of loneliness, desolation

music of the poor who would not be humiliated

that shows you how to jump

the truck

out of history

and pick yourself up in the dust

damn near whole.

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

[1] There is no clear final count of deaths, but historians agree it was over one hundred and likely in the several hundreds. One contemporary account by Louis Sharpe Dunaway places this as high as 850. For more information on this event, see https://ualrexhibits.org/elaine/

[2] For more on the Kerner Commission, see this wonderfully illustrated article from the Smithsonian magazine which accompanied an exhibition at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. See also “Riot Report Book Big Best Seller” in The New York Times, March 14, 1968, p. 49.

[3] Kate A. Baldwin, “The Russian Connection: Interracialism as Queer Alliance in Langston Hughes’s The Ways of White Folks”, Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 48, No. 4, Winter 2002, pp. 795-824.

[4] “Malcolm X in Smethwick” Birmingham Daily News, Saturday 13 February p. 1 and 34. You can see this article and other responses in local newspapers using the British Newspaper Archive https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

 

Reading list

This Oxford Press bibliography has some great reading recommendations related to African Americans and communism:

https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780190280024/obo-9780190280024-0023.xml

Saladin Ambar, Malcolm X at Oxford Union: rcial politics in a global era. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014.

R. Kelley and S. Tuck (eds.): The Other Special Relationships: Race, Rights, and Riots in Britain and the United States

Audio: Archive on 4: Malcolm X in Oxford: listen here (UK only) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04tcbd2

“Britain’s Most Racist Election: the story of Smethwick, 50 years on”, The Guardian, 15 October 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/15/britains-most-racist-election-smethwick-50-years-on

The London Black Panther Movement newsletters are digitised on the website Shades of Noir: http://www.shadesofnoir.org.uk/artefacts/black-panther-newsletters/#

The George Padmore Institute holds a rich archive of material relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/

The Black Cultural Archives has an ongoing programme of exhibitions and events related to Black British history: https://blackculturalarchives.org

 

[Blog post by Francisca Fuentes Rettig -Curator, North American Published Collections]