Glenn David Brasher: A Historian’s Take on ’12 Years a Slave’

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Everything you have heard about the film 12 Years a Slave is true; it is exceptionally well acted, gorgeously filmed, and brutally honest about antebellum slavery. There are moments that are extremely difficult to watch and this is as it should be, leaving audiences stunned into numbness. Film critics and historians alike have praised it as a watershed in the depiction of slavery in American cinema, and this is certainly true. Nevertheless, the film demonstrates that Hollywood has not yet fully caught up with current interpretations of slave life in the antebellum South.

Video: Brett Rushforth on Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France

Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, by Brett Rushforth”On the one hand I knew that the French were known in North America for their success at forming Indian alliances and learning Native languages, intermarrying with Native women, and fairly successfully integrating themselves into the Native communities for the purposes of the fur trade. But on the other hand, I also knew that there were households in the St. Lawrence Valley and the French colonies that held Native Americans as slaves. And I was interested in how these two things worked together.”—Brett Rushforth

Excerpt: Bonds of Alliance, by Brett Rushforth

Between about 1660 and 1760, French colonists and their Native allies enslaved thousands of Indians, keeping them in the towns and villages of New France or shipping them to the French Caribbean. Over time, a vast network of slave raiders, traders, and owners emerged, ensnaring both colonists and Indians in the violence that generated slaves and kept them under French control.

Excerpt: Help Me to Find My People, by Heather Andrea Williams

African Americans now had both more freedom to move about and more reason to believe they could begin to live the lives they had previously only imagined. For many, this meant reuniting with family, so they urgently attempted to get to the places where they thought their loved ones might be. Sometimes they found them there; other times the people were gone.

Cynthia A. Kierner: Taking the Kid to Europe

Although she returned to Virginia and lived the vast bulk of her life as a plantation mistress in rural Albemarle County, as a widow she chose to spend most of her time in Boston or Washington, D.C. And she often recalled her time in Paris as “the brightest part” of her life.

Interview: Heather Andrea Williams on the search for family lost in slavery

I think the quilt on the cover really captures some of the pain of separation as well as the hope that some enslaved people held on to. There is a little girl’s dress, but no little girl, and the handwriting is traced from a letter sent by an enslaved woman to the family of her former owner asking what had ever become of her little girl. Vilet Lester, the child’s mother, was literate enough to write this letter seeking information about her daughter. She was hopeful that her current owner would be able to purchase the child and restore Lester’s family. One of the sad things about doing this work is that I do not know if Vilet Lester ever received an answer to her letter or whether she ever saw her daughter again.

Book Excerpt: My Southern Home, by William Wells Brown

Slave children, with almost an alabaster complexion, straight hair, and blue eyes, whose mothers were jet black, or brown, were often a great source of annoyance in the Southern household, and especially to the mistress of the mansion.

“Was Freedom Enough?” Gregory Downs at NY Times Disunion Blog

An excerpt from Gregory Downs’s blog at the NY Times Disunion Series concerning the livelihood of newly emancipated slaves.

The Lost History of the Cherokee Freedmen Controversy

Today, over at the First Peoples blog, UNC Press author Celia Naylor writes about the history and current events surrounding the Cherokee freedmen controversy. In particular, she draws our attention to the historical import of the Dawes Commission, especially as regards sovereignty, race, and citizenship.

Congratulations to Tiya Miles, 2011 MacArthur Fellow

We’re thrilled to offer our heartiest congratulations to historian Tiya Miles for being awarded a 2011 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (aka the “Genius Grant”). Miles is the author of “The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story”. From the announcement: “A scholar of range and promise, and increasingly an authoritative voice in reframing and reinterpreting the history of our diverse nation, Miles is adding texture and depth to the mosaic that was our shared past and that is our heritage.”

Interview: Graham Russell Gao Hodges

David Ruggles (1810-1849) was one of the most heroic–and has been one of the most often overlooked–figures of the early abolitionist movement in America. Graham Russell Gao Hodges provides the first biography of this African American activist, writer, and publisher who secured liberty for more than six hundred former bond people, including Frederick Douglass. Hodges’s …

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“We Are Standing on Beautiful History”

Today we welcome a guest post from Tiya Miles, author of The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story. Last weekend she attended a gathering to celebrate the historic plantation home and held a signing event for her new book. Over the course of her day, past and present were juxtaposed in an experience …

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