Cohen: Britain’s National Trust must finally confront its colonial past

Of note:

In this old, storied kingdom, the Ark of the Covenant of history is the National Trust. Since 1895, it has been the custodian, interpreter and advocate of the past — lord and lady of a vast realm of lands, buildings and treasures.

With some six million members, it is the largest such organization in the world. Under its care are Tudor houses, thatched cottages and Norman castles, as well as churches, abbeys, monuments, mills, moors, woods and wetlands. The National Trust manages some 500 historic sites and 780 miles of coastline.

The affection of its loyalists reflects another of those characteristics — eccentricity, curiosity, restraint, humility — that define a people. The British cherish their past and its natural and physical representation. A visit to a great house such as Ickworth in East Anglia captures the experience of these places: a sprawling, well-preserved interior staffed by informed volunteers offering discourses on a Chippendale table or a stern family portrait. They stand cheerfully for hours in dim, drafty rooms.

Beyond are the grounds: a welter of paths and a variety of gardens, walled and Italianate. Broad lawns and ancient trees. Picnic spots. A statutory café offering simple, tasty fare. A giftshop selling handicrafts by local artisans.

In a crowded country, a day out at a great house or a parkland is one of life’s simple pleasures. Walkers in wellies and Barbour jacket roam everywhere, families sprawl on the grass by heaping hampers. A lone visitor sips a flask of tea under an oak, reading a well-thumbed Penguin classic. It is genteel and civilized, far from the economic and political disorder.

Now, though, the magical dominion of the National Trust is caught up in its own little drama, divided into camps with different views of history. The cultural wars over history, national identity and social change raging in Canada and the United States have crossed the Atlantic.

The trouble began two years ago when the Trust commissioned a report examining the association between 93 of its properties and slavery and colonialism. It pointed fingers and proposed measures, such as unconscious-bias training for staff. In response, critics founded an organization called Restore Trust, challenging the charity to return to its founding aims, which, to them, is maintaining and restoring properties rather than embracing “wokeness.”

Political correctness has never seemed as prominent here as in urban Canada, where it is a high art, and coastal America, where it is a religion. In fact, the British upper class has long trafficked in casual prejudice.

Thirty years ago, an esteemed scholar could occasionally drop the “n” word in impolite conversation in the common room at a college in Cambridge. So could a senior British diplomat at dinner, offering salty observations about Jews even when talking to one.

What we see among traditionalists here is the reaction to a legitimate questioning of fortunes built on the spoils of the slave trade. Identifying and decrying these wrongs in historic properties is right. It’s the spirit behind the movement in the U.S. to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederates from streets and drop their names from military bases.

But it is a matter of balance. Lee’s statues should be taken down, offensive as they are, but they should go to a museum, where they can be explained.

Here, places cry out for a reckoning. Cliveden, for example, the sprawling estate of Lady Astor near London frequented by Edward VIII and George Bernard Shaw, became a notorious nest of appeasers and pro-Nazis in the 1930s. Shaw, like Edward, embraced a spirited anti-Semitism. If the National Trust has not addressed this — there is no mention in the booklet published by Cliveden House, the hotel on the property — it should.

Mature societies find a way to tell their whole story. Germany has done this admirably. The challenge is not to deny or ignore the truth, but to put it in context.

As chief steward of the nation’s past, this is the future of the National Trust.

Source: Cohen: Britain’s National Trust must finally confront its colonial past

‘A specific form of anti-Black racism:’ Scholars want Canadian apology for slavery

Not unexpected given the growing number of apologies. But as Senator Bernard notes “apology is empty without action.”

The federal government has shifted resources and initiatives towards anti-black racism, both inside and outside government, as have some provinces and parts of the business sector (e.g., BlackNorth Initiative). Legitimate to press for more and faster, based upon an assessment of which approaches are likely to be more effective:

More than a year after Canada proclaimed Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day, Black leaders and scholars are renewing their calls for Ottawa to make a formal apology for the country’s history of slavery and its intergenerational harms.

Author Elise Harding-Davis said Sunday that the federal government’s vote last March to recognize Emancipation Day shows Canadian leaders know that the country’s history of slavery has caused generations of harm to Black people.

To ignore years of calls for a proper apology is “shameful,” she said.

“An apology would mean recognition of the fact that we were enslaved in this country,” Harding-Davis said in an interview. “It would also be an amelioration of the harsh treatment Black people have received and the validation that we have honestly contributed not only to this country, but to the making of this country.”

Emancipation Day recognizes the day in 1834 that the Slavery Abolition Act came into force, thus ending slavery in most British colonies including Canada, and freeing over 800,000 people. Thousands of slaves from Africa were brought against their will to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, as well as to Lower Canada and Upper Canada, which is now Ontario.

In the colony of New France — which became British territory in the 1760s — the majority of slaves were Indigenous, historians say.

The Slavery Abolition Act freed all enslaved people, including Indigenous people, Harding-Davis said, adding: “A determination to free Black people helped free all people, and that’s huge.”

She said she doesn’t feel most Canadians are even aware of the country’s history of slavery.

“It’s just been sidelined and brushed under the rug as much as possible,” she said. “This anti-racism movement that has happened … in the last10 years, but more focused since George Floyd’s death in the United States, has only highlighted that there’s a small awareness that there’s anything wrong with the treatment of Black people in Canada.”

Dalhousie University history professor Afua Cooper said Sunday that she first asked Ottawa in 2007 to apologize for slavery and its harms. The principal investigator for the Black People’s History of Canada project noted that in the meantime, other groups have received apologies for historical harms.

“There can’t be any other explanation except that this is a specific form of anti-Black racism,” Cooper said in an interview. “Black people are not seen as fully-fledged citizens and it’s the federal government’s way of saying, ‘Too bad.'”

Some will argue that an apology isn’t warranted, she said, since Canada was formed in 1867, more than three decades after slavery ended. But Cooper said that reasoning doesn’t hold up, adding that the country formed in 1867 was built from what it was in the years before.

“And OK, how about apologizing to the Black community for things that happened after 1967?” she asked, pointing to examples including segregation, and a 1911 proposal in government that sought to ban Black immigrants from entering the country.

The last segregated school in Canada — in Lincolnville, N.S. — didn’t close until 1983.

Harding-Davis also doesn’t buy that argument. Black people have been subject to marginalization because of laws and practices that allowed and came from slavery, she said.

“The mindset, the beliefs have been left in place,” she said. “We continue to face prejudice and discrimination and longtime disparities, and the government has really done little to nothing to change that.”

Nova Scotia Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard said Sunday that it is “absolutely” time for a federal apology for the country’s practice of enslaving Black people and its lasting harms, but she said an apology is empty without action.

The question she is asking Canada after last year’s recognition of Emancipation Day is, “What’s next?”

“There’s such a significant need for education, there is such a significant need for us to create greater awareness, but there’s also a need for us to engage in actions,” she said in an interview.

“We really need more engagement from everyone to move forward to walk this path in a more positive way. We need allies to be more impactful, more committed as they go forward, and not just performing allyship.”

The federal Department of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion did not immediately provide a comment upon request.

Source: ‘A specific form of anti-Black racism:’ Scholars want Canadian apology for slavery

Black, Native American, and Fighting for Recognition in Indian Country

Of interest:

Ron Graham never had to prove to anyone that he was Black. But he has spent more than 30 years haunting tribal offices and genealogical archives, fighting for recognition that he is also a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

“We’re African-American,” Mr. Graham, 55, said. “But we’re Native American also.”

His family history is part of a little-known saga of bondage, blood and belonging within tribal nations, one that stretches from the Trail of Tears to this summer of uprisings in America’s streets over racial injustice.

His ancestors are known as Creek Freedmen. They were among the thousands of African-Americans who were once enslaved by tribal members in the South and who migrated to Oklahoma when the tribes were forced off their homelands and marched west in the 1830s.

In treaties signed after the Civil War, they won freedom and were promised tribal citizenship and an equal stake in the tribes’ lands and fortunes. But what followed were broken promises, exclusions and painful fights over whether tens of thousands of their descendants should now be recognized as tribal members.

Some of the descendants have won lawsuits seeking inclusion in the Cherokee Nation. Some gained nominal citizenship as Seminoles, but said they could not access tribal services. Others, like Mr. Graham, have nothing.

But now, a landmark Supreme Court decision for tribal sovereignty has breathed new life into their fight.

In July, the Supreme Court recognized a huge portion of eastern Oklahoma as reservation land under the terms of an 1866 treaty. The same treaty also guaranteed that freed slaves and their descendants would “have and enjoy all the rights and privileges of native citizens.”

To groups of their descendants, the logic was simple: If the United States still had to honor treaty promises it made to tribal nations, then tribal nations had to keep their word to the descendants of those formerly enslaved by the tribes.

“We’re making noise,” said Marilyn Vann, a Cherokee citizen and president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes.

Ms. Vann estimated that there was a diaspora of some 160,000 descendants of those formerly enslaved by the tribes, many of them living in Oklahoma. There are groups representing descendants from each of the five tribes who meet to share sepia photographs of ancestors, compare genealogical records and plan protests.

Ms. Vann added: “There are chiefs who’d like to get rid of what they think of as the Freedmen problem. We have our rights.”

Now, as they file lawsuits in federal and tribal courts, they say they are fighting for tribal benefits including access to jobs, health care at tribal clinics and hospitals, housing, scholarship funds for their children and the right to vote in tribal elections. But also for something more fundamental: “My identity,” Mr. Graham said.

In a statement, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation said that the issue of the status of the descendants of enslaved people raised thorny questions about tribal citizenship that “cut to the core of self-determination.” They said the tribes had fundamental rights to run their own governments and decide for themselves who qualifies as a citizen. Some said that a reconciliation commission would be a better way to resolve the issue, rather than an edict from Congress.

“Many of our citizens feel that identity is at the heart of this issue and that blood lineage is essential to protecting it,” the Muscogee Nation said. “But, on the other hand, the grave injustice done to the slaves owned by some Creeks has to be acknowledged and discussed.”

The fight is unfolding as Oklahoma grapples with another bloody chapter of its history: A white mob’s massacre and destruction of a thriving Black neighborhood in Tulsa in 1921. Many of the Tulsa victims were descendants of people formerly enslaved by the tribes, activists say. This summer, crews excavated a suspected mass burial site searching for remains, and survivors and descendants of the victims recently sued the city.

The legacy of anti-Black racism in tribal nations can be a fraught, uncomfortable topic, one that forces communities who have suffered centuries of land theft, colonialism and genocide to confront the darker corners of their own past. Several tribal officials declined interview requests to discuss the issue.

“When we have that difficult history to deal with, we don’t talk about it,” said Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation. About 7,000 descendants of Freedmen were incorporated into the Cherokee Nation after a federal judge ruled in 2017 that they had tribal citizenship rights. That history is “a stain on the Cherokee Nation we’ve got to remove,” the chief said.

Spanish and English colonizers enslaved Native people across the Americas. But tribes in Alabama, Georgia and Florida also adopted the practice themselves, enslaving African-Americans to work on cotton plantations and in homes. When the United States government forcibly removed the Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muscogee people to Oklahoma, their slaves also made the deadly march or were transported west in boats, according to historians.

The Civil War and the question of slavery divided tribes, with some fighting for the Union and other tribal members declaring loyalty to the Confederacy. Some enslavers retreated to Arkansas or Texas to escape skirmishes and raids. Black Indians joined the Union or Confederate armies, and later escaped to freedom in Kansas.

“It’s a history that still divides our citizens over what rights the descendants of those Freedmen should have, as well as the larger conversation concerning who is ‘legitimately’ Cherokee,” Rebecca Nagle, a Cherokee writer and host of the podcast “This Land,” wrote this summer after the Cherokee Nation removed two Confederate war memorials in eastern Oklahoma. “We need to do more to confront that history within our tribe.”

The Freedmen were granted tribal citizenship — and in some cases “an equal interest in the soil and national funds” of the tribe — in the treaties that Oklahoma’s tribes signed with the federal government after the Civil War, in which the tribes were forced to cede huge portions of their land to the government.

On the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, there were once three “colored” tribal towns that formed their own small governments. Despite segregation and racist legal structures, Freedmen served as council members, ministers, judges. Jesse Franklin, who was born a slave in Alabama in 1817, was named to the Creek Supreme Court in 1874 — some 93 years before Thurgood Marshall ascended to the United States Supreme Court.

But their descendants say they were edited out of existence over the past half-century by tribal constitutions and other laws denying them citizenship because they were not citizens by blood, or because they or their ancestors had been placed on a roster of ineligible people when government agents began sorting Oklahoma’s tribes into “citizens” and “Freedmen” in the 1890s.

Sharon Lenzy Scott said her mother was stripped of her Creek citizenship when a new constitution was passed in 1979, and spent the next 20 years until her death trying to ensure that her family never forgot.

“She called all her children into the living room and said, ‘I’m going to tell you who you are, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re not,” Ms. Scott said. “She knew who she was.”

The N.A.A.C.P. has weighed in to support the descendants of those formerly enslaved by the tribes, and some members of Congress have proposed legislation that would sever ties between the United States and the Creek Nation, or withhold housing money from other tribes, until the descendants are granted tribal citizenship.

But to some tribal leaders, those threats undermine tribal sovereignty.

Gary Batton, the chief of the Choctaw Nation, wrote in a June letter to the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, that he objected to any legislative maneuvering, and said the “Freedmen issue is a problem caused by the United States, not the Choctaw Nation.”

“America should solve its own problems,” Chief Batton wrote.

Still, the descendants’ cause has supporters among tribal members. Eli Grayson, a Muscogee (Creek) citizen whose family once owned slaves, said the Freedmen’s descendants had been excluded for too long.

“These Freedmen lives don’t matter,” he said, echoing the Black Lives Matter mantra.

Mr. Graham said he has been petitioning for his Muscogee (Creek) status since he went to a tribal citizenship office in 1983 and told the office workers that his father was Theodore “Blue” Graham, who spoke the Creek language and went to traditional stomp dances. On that long-ago day, he said, the clerk told him his father had been nothing but a slave: “It tore my heart out.”

Mr. Graham can speak a few shards of Creek himself, enough to say “Come to dinner” or teach his children “Mvto” for thank you. He has come to dislike the term Freedmen, calling it a pejorative relic.

He would like, one day, to just be a citizen of his tribe.

3 Africans in Mexico City Grave Tell Stories of Slavery’s Toll

Interesting part of the history of the slave trade that I was unaware of:

The three skulls were unlike hundreds of others in the 16th-century mass grave uncovered at the San José de los Naturales Royal Hospital in Mexico City. Their front teeth were filed decoratively, perhaps as a ritual custom, unlike those of “los naturales,” the Indigenous people who made up the majority of bodies at the colonial burial site. Archaeologists concluded the three individuals were most likely enslaved Africans, but they needed more evidence to be certain.

Now, researchers have extracted genetic information from the individuals’ teeth, confirming they were Africans, perhaps among the earliest to be stolen from their homeland and brought to the Americas.

“We studied their whole skeletons, and we wanted to know what they were suffering from, not only the diseases but the physical abuse too so we could tell their stories,” said Rodrigo Barquera, a graduate student at the Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. “It has implications in the whole story of the colonial period of Mexico.”

The findings, published Thursday in Current Biology, offer a glimpse into these people’s lives before their forced voyages and add insight into the infectious diseases that the trans-Atlantic slave trade may have brought into the New World.

In 1518, King Charles I of Spain, authorized the direct transportation of enslaved people from Africa to the Americas. In 1542, he enacted Las Leyes Nuevas, “The New Laws,” which prohibited the colonists in the Viceroyalty of New Spain from using Indigenous people as slaves. The law liberated thousands of Indigenous laborers, but increased the demand for enslaved Africans, Creoles, mulattoes and other African-descended people to work as servants, cooks, miners and field workers. Between 1518 and 1650, some 120,000 enslaved Africans arrived in what is now Mexico.

Spanish colonists already demanded these groups because they believed they fared well against diseases brought over from Europe such as smallpox, measles and typhoid fever, which — along with the brutal European conquest — had nearly eliminated the Indigenous population.

The San José de los Naturales Royal Hospital was created around 1530 to serve exclusively Indigenous patients, many of whom were dying in smallpox outbreaks. The three Africans were also treated there. When they died, they were buried alongside the Indigenous people. Perhaps all were victims of an epidemic, Mr. Barquera said.

The three individuals’ remains were recovered in 1992 during construction of a new subway in the city. Archaeologists noticed their teeth had decorative filings, which were observed in enslaved Africans in Portugal, and the practice continues today in some sub-Saharan ethnic groups. That led the researchers to suggest the individuals were Africans.

“We don’t know exactly if they were ‘negros esclavos’ or ‘negros libre,’” said Lourdes Márquez Morfín, an archaeologist at the National School of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, referring to the distinction then made between slaves or freemen. But the trauma etched in their skeletons suggests they were slaves.

“One had these gunshots,” said Mr. Barquera, referring to five pieces of buckshot in the man’s chest cavity. “You could see that the bone was stained with a copper greenish pigment because the bullets stayed in the body of this individual until he was dead.”

Some of the men showed signs of nutritional deficiencies, skull and leg fractures and shoulder deformities, suggesting they performed backbreaking work and suffered harsh physical abuse. The men all died between the ages of 25 and 35.

Mr. Barquera and his team removed a molar from each of the three skulls to extract and analyze their DNA. The genetic signatures obtained from the molars showed the three men had their origins in Western or Southern Africa. They also found isotopes on the teeth that further indicated they were all born and grew up outside of Mexico.

“It was hypothesized that maybe they were descendants of Africans and Native Americans or Africans and Europeans, but that’s not the case,” said Mr. Barquera.

The team also sequenced the genome of pathogens recovered from the skeletal remains. One of the men was afflicted with the virus that causes hepatitis B, and another had a bacterium that causes the skin infection yaws, a disease similar to syphilis.

The findings provide some of the earliest known examples of those pathogens in human remains in the Americas, as well as the first direct evidence from the early colonial period that pathogens from Africa may have been brought to the Americas, said Johannes Krause of Max-Planck and Mr. Barquera’s co-author. Mr. Krause added it is possible the men caught the diseases while on the overcrowded transoceanic voyages.

“We are always so focused on the introduction of diseases from the Europeans and the Spaniards,” Dr. Krause said, “that I think we underestimated also how much the slave trade and the forceful migration from Africa to the Americas contributed also to the spread of infectious diseases to the New World.”

The paper “does a really nice job of putting together archaeological, osteological, molecular and isotope data to provide insight into the lives of early colonial — likely enslaved Africans,” said Anne Stone, an anthropological geneticist at Arizona State University who was not involved in the research.

Hannes Schroeder, an archaeologist from the University of Copenhagen said the study’s multiple lines of evidence “paint a very detailed picture of the lives of these individuals, their origins and experiences in the Americas, that reminds us once again of the cruelty of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the biological impact it had on individuals and populations in the New World.”

The Historian Behind Slavery Apologists Like Kanye West – The New York Times

Useful history:

A video of the rapper Kanye West discussing slavery is a sad reminder of America’s historical amnesia about the brutal realities of that institution. “When you hear about slavery for 400 years,” he said in the clip, which was widely circulated on Twitter, “that sounds like a choice.”

Mr. West seemed to suggest that enslaved African-Americans were so content that they did not actively resist their bondage, and, as a result, they bear some responsibility for centuries of persecution.

He’s not alone in his thinking. In 2016, the former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asserted that slaves were “well fed and had decent lodgings.” Last September, the Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore deemed the antebellum era the last great period in American history. “I think it was great at the time when families were united,” he declared. “Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another.”

Modern scholarship has debunked such whitewashing, accurately depicting slavery as an inhumane institution rooted in greed and the violent subjugation of millions of African-Americans.

Yet countless Americans have not learned these lessons. They cling, instead, to a romanticized interpretation of slavery, one indebted to a book published 100 years ago.

In the spring of 1918, the historian Ulrich Bonnell Phillips published his seminal study, “American Negro Slavery,” which framed the institution as a benevolent labor agreement between indulgent masters and happy slaves. No other book, no monument, no movie — save, perhaps, for “Gone With the Wind,” itself beholden to Phillips’s work — has been more influential in shaping how many Americans have viewed slavery.

Born in 1877 into a Georgia family with planter roots, Phillips developed an abiding sympathy for the Old South. He studied history at the University of Georgia and then as a graduate student at Columbia University under the tutelage of William A. Dunning, a scholar with a pro-Southern bent.

After earning his doctorate in 1902, Phillips set out to correct the slanted picture of the Southern past that he believed prevailed at the time. “The history of the United States has been written by Boston and largely been written wrong,” he lamented. “It must be written anew before it reaches its final form of truth, and for that work, the South must do its part.”

Phillips certainly did his. During his 30-year career, he published nine books and close to 60 articles, earning a series of prestigious professorships that culminated in a “very flossy job,” as he put it, at Yale University. This 1930 appointment reflected his stature as the country’s leading historian of slavery and the South, as well as the influence of his most important book, “American Negro Slavery.”

He was a prodigious, albeit selective researcher. Phillips found evidence in plantation records and Southern travelogues that bolstered the book’s benign interpretation of slavery, while downplaying evidence that did not. In his hands, plantations became idyllic sites where white families had modeled the habits of civilized life for their childlike black charges. “The plantations,” Phillips wrote, “were the best schools yet invented for the mass training of that sort of inert and backward people which the bulk of the American negroes represented.”

According to Phillips, slaveholders provided the enslaved with comfortable living quarters and plentiful rations and eschewed physical discipline. They rarely sold slaves, especially if it meant breaking up families. Slave owners’ rule “was benevolent in intent” and “beneficial in effect.”

Phillips’s use of the passive voice — “in March the corn fields were commonly planted” — further distanced the reader from slaves’ coerced labor. Enslaved African-Americans, in turn, displayed gratitude and loyalty to their masters. Phillips concluded that, while slavery may have been economically inefficient, “the relations on both sides were felt to be based on pleasurable responsibility.”

“American Negro Slavery” won widespread acclaim in the North and the South. Reviewers praised Phillips for his thorough research, charming style and lack of bias. In the words of the historian John David Smith, an expert on Phillips, the book served as “the definitive account of the peculiar institution” from World War I into the 1950s.

The book set the tone for the treatment of slavery in classrooms and textbooks across the country. “There was much to be said for slavery as a transition status between barbarism and civilization,” maintained a 1930 best seller, echoing Phillips almost verbatim. “The majority of slaves were … apparently happy.”

From the beginning, however, Phillips had his critics, who insisted on telling a more truthful, unvarnished history of slavery. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a scathing review of “American Negro Slavery,” observing, “It is a defense of American slavery, a defense of an institution which was at best a mistake and at worst a crime.” Drawing on interviews with ex-slaves, sources Phillips rejected, the historian Frederic Bancroft published a 1931 book that exploded Phillips’s misrepresentations of the domestic slave trade.

Phillips’s critics grew more vocal in the 1950s and 1960s, as a new generation of scholars challenged his benign reading of slavery and the racism that stained almost every page of “American Negro Slavery.”

Yet while Phillips’s most egregious claims fell out of favor, the legacy of “American Negro Slavery” has proved tenacious.

According to a new Southern Poverty Law Center report on how slavery is taught in public schools, current pedagogy continues to focus on slavery from the perspective of whites, not the enslaved, while failing to connect the institution to the white supremacist beliefs that supported it. Textbooks often ignore slaveholders’ desire to make money and too easily slip into grammatical constructions — Africans “were brought” to America — that absolve enslavers of their actions.

Last year, a Charlotte, N.C., teacher asked her middle-school students to list “four reasons why Africans made good slaves.” An eighth-grade teacher in San Antonio recently sent students home with a work sheet titled “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View.” It prompted students to list the “positive” aspects of slavery along with the “negative.”

We must confront mischaracterizations of the nature of slavery, whether nurtured in the classroom or broadcast on Twitter. After all, historical accuracy on this topic is not just about getting the past right; it is also about understanding the challenges of the present.

The persistence of racial inequality in America — from police brutality and school segregation to mass incarceration and wealth disparities — reflects, to some degree, the persistence of the Phillipsian take on slavery. If the institution were little more than a finishing school for African-Americans, then why acknowledge or address its pernicious legacies today?

HBO Responds to Twitter Protest Over ‘Confederate’ Series |

The commentary by the producers suggests that some of the concerns may have been excessive. Alternate realities, if done with sensitivity, can help further discussion:

HBO issued a statement Sunday night in response to an organized Twitter protest against the network’s planned alternate-history slavery drama from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and writer-producers Nichelle Tramble Spellman (Justified) and Malcolm Spellman (Empire).

“We have great respect for the dialogue and concern being expressed around Confederate,” the network said in a statement. “We have faith that Nichelle, Dan, David, and Malcolm will approach the subject with care and sensitivity. The project is currently in its infancy so we hope that people will reserve judgment until there is something to see.”

As hit series Game of Thrones aired on Sunday evening, the hashtag #NoConfederate trended globally on Twitter. “We believe the time to speak up is now before the show has been written or cast. Before @hbo invests too much money into #Confederate,” activist April Reign, one of a group of women who started the campaign, wrote on Twitter last week. “This Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, during @GameOfThrones, we ask you to stand with us. We want to send a message to @hbo using hashtag #NoConfederate.” (Reign launched #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 after the Academy Awards nominated an all-white slate of acting nominees.)

“We know we have the power to make change,” she added in another tweet. “Let’s show @hbo how many people are against #Confederate. Please join us Sunday w/ #NoConfederate.”

In an email to CNN, Reign added, “We would like HBO to cancel #Confederate and instead uplift more marginalized voices with a different series.”

HBO announced Confederate earlier this month. According to a press release from the network, the show “chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.”

In the wake of the news, social media erupted in protest over the premise — a response the producers discussed in an interview with Vulture. “I do understand their concern,” Nichelle Tramble Spellman said. “I wish their concern had been reserved to the night of the premiere, on HBO, on a Sunday night, when they watched and then they made a decision after they watched an hour of television as to whether or not we succeeded in what we set out to do. The concern is real. But I think that the four of us are very thoughtful, very serious, and not flip about what we are getting into in any way. What I’ve done in the past, what Malcolm has done in the past, what the D.B.s have done in the past, proves that. So I would have loved an opportunity for the conversation to start once the show was on the air.”

Added Malcolm Spellman, “What people have to understand is, and what we are obligated to repeat in every interview is: We’ve got black aunties. We’ve got black nephews, uncles. Black parents and black grandparents. We deal with them every single day. We deal with the struggle every single day. And people don’t have to get on board with what we’re doing based on a press release. But when they’re writing about us, and commenting about us, they should be mindful of the fact that there are no sell-outs involved in this show. Me and Nichelle are not props being used to protect someone else. We are people who feel a need to address issues the same way they do, and they should at least humanize the other end of those tweets and articles.”

Last week, HBO president Casey Bloys took the blame for the way Confederate had been announced, saying it could have been handled with more grace.

“File this under hindsight is 20/20,” Bloys told reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “If I could do it over again, HBO’s mistake — not the producers’ — was the idea that we would be able to announce an idea that is so sensitive that requires such care and thought on the part of the producers in a press release was misguided on our part. [We] had the benefit of sitting with these four producers, we heard why they wanted to do the show, what they were excited about, and why it was important to them, so we had that context, but I completely understand that somebody reading the press release would not have that at all. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve rolled it out with the producers on the record so people understood where they were coming from.”

Bloys added the show will not be “Gone with the Wind 2017” and that all the producers understand the “high degree of difficulty with getting this right.”

“But the thing that excites them that excited us is if you can get it right, there’s a real opportunity to advance the race discussion in America,” he added. “Again, what Malcolm said in one of his interviews was, ‘If you can draw a line between what we’re seeing in the country today with voter suppression, mass incarceration, lack of access to public education or healthcare, and draw a direct line between that and our past and our shared history, that’s an important line to draw and a conversation worth having.’ So it is very difficult, and they acknowledge there’s a high degree of difficulty, but they all feel — and we support them — that it’s a risk worth taking.”

Source: HBO Responds to Twitter Protest Over ‘Confederate’ Series |

No longer buried: Rio’s slave past unearthed at Valongo Wharf during Olympic renovations

One of the likely enduring legacies of the Rio Olympics, a greater understanding of the past:

In an abandoned train depot near Rio de Janeiro’s derelict port area are stacked dozens of black plastic boxes. Two young researchers are sorting through their contents. Inside one box: a ceramic pipe. Inside another: a plate used in a traditional religious ceremony.

All of the objects belonged to former slaves and most of these finds wouldn’t have been discovered if it hadn’t been for work related to the Olympics.

In 2011, the city of Rio embarked on an extensive project to rejuvenate the long-neglected port area. Among the planned projects: the Museum of Tomorrow, an Olympic village for judges, light rail to carry the tourists expected during the Games, as well as better housing for the area’s residents.

To their surprise, they began unearthing hundreds of artifacts dating from the early 1800s.

“These objects prove the existence, the materialization of this terrible process in the human history — the history of the slave,” says Claudio Honorato, a historian with the New Blacks Institute for Research and Memory.

I meet Honorato at a spot rife with historical import: the Valongo Wharf, where close to half-a-million slaves were off-loaded during Brazil’s slave trade. It was built in 1811, then later buried, only to be unearthed again during a $2-billion excavation project.

Port Area Rennos-2

“The development work was really to be done faster but they had to stop the process,” Honorato says. “The Museum of Tomorrow and the Mauá Pier were expected to be opened in 2011 with a big party and were only opened now. When they came upon all the African-Brazilian materials — these archeological traces — the development work had to stop.”

That’s because developers have to comply with legislation passed in Rio relatively recently that says no development can go ahead on land where evidence of historical interest has been discovered, without doing further archeological research.

“This port area was a place where a lot of ships from Africa came, bringing 500,000 slaves,” says Ondemar Dias, with the Brazilian Archeological Institute. “The amount of materials related to these cultures demonstrates, along with other research, that it’s a very important place to tell the story of this culture that came to Brazil.”

….”We have lots of objects in the museums here that are, for instance, gifts of African embassies to our emperor, and even other objects that were conquered in wars in Africa,” Honorato says. “These, on the other hand, were objects built here. They are part of the culture of these individuals who lived in this society, who contributed to this society.

“I think this is a material that reveals the day-to-day life, the common life, in the places that these Africans lived, where they’ve worked, where they’ve celebrated. And that’s why we call this the ‘slavery paths in Rio de Janeiro.’ It reveals the aspects of this ‘Little Africa’ — what they were actually doing in their daily life.”

African history, he says, has rarely been valued in Brazil. At other sites of historical importance, discoveries have been quietly covered up to enable construction to continue. But now advocates are hoping to turn the area’s African history into an important tourist attraction.

“That’s why Brazil is requesting that this place go on the World Heritage list,” Dias says.

There are already tours incorporating the area’s African history, including an area where the bodies of dead slaves were dumped. Honorato says he hopes this will lead to a change in attitudes; that African history will no longer be buried, like the Valongo Wharf.

“[It’s important] to preserve this history, to preserve this culture, this memory,” he says. “And also ensure the memory of those who resisted, and are here, until the present moment.”

Source: No longer buried: Rio’s slave past unearthed at Valongo Wharf during Olympic renovations – World – CBC News

The persistence of history | Islam and Slavery – The Economist

Good and needed piece:

But while IS’s embrace of outright slavery has been singled out for censure, religious and political leaders have been more circumspect about other “slave-like” conditions prevalent across the region. IS’s targeting of an entire sect for kidnapping, killing and sex trafficking, and its bragging, are exceptional; forced labour for sexual and other forms of exploitation is not. From Morocco, where thousands of children work as petites bonnes, or maids, to the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan where girls are forced into prostitution, to the unsanctioned rape and abuse of domestics in the Gulf, aid workers say servitude is rife.

Scholars are sharply divided over how much cultural mores are to blame. Apologists say that, in a concession to the age, the Prophet Muhammad tolerated slavery, but—according to a prominent American theologian trained in Salifi seminaries, Yasir Qadhi—he did so grudgingly and advocated abolition. Repeatedly in the Koran the Prophet calls for the manumission of slaves and release of captives, seeking to alleviate the slave systems run by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Jewish Himyarite kings of Yemen. He freed one slave, a chief’s daughter, by marrying her, and chose Bilal, another slave he had freed, to recite the first call to prayer after his conquest of Mecca. His message was liberation from worldly oppression, says Mr Qadhi—enslavement to God, not man.

Other scholars insist, however, that IS’s treatment of Yazidis adheres to Islamic tradition. “They are in full compliance with Koranic understanding in its early stages,” says Professor Ehud Toledano, a leading authority on Islamic slavery at Tel Aviv University. Moreover, “what the Prophet has permitted, Muslims cannot forbid.” The Prophet’s calls to release slaves only spurred a search for fresh stock as the new empire spread, driven by commerce, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Persian Gulf.

… No labour practice has drawn more international criticism than the kafala system, which ties migrant workers to their employers. This is not slavery as IS imposes it; migrants come voluntarily, drawn by the huge wealth gap between their own countries and the Gulf. But the system “facilitates slavery”, says Nicholas McGeehan, who reports for Human Rights Watch on conditions in the desert camps where most such workers live. The Gulf’s 2.4m domestic servants are even more vulnerable. Most do not enjoy the least protection under labour laws. Housed and, in some cases, locked in under their employer’s roof, they are prey to sexual exploitation.

Again, these workers have come voluntarily; but disquieting echoes persist. Many Gulf nationals can be heard referring to their domestics as malikat (slaves). Since several Asian governments have suspended or banned their female nationals from domestic work in the Gulf out of concern for their welfare, recruitment agencies are turning to parts of Africa, such as Uganda, which once exported female slaves. Some domestic servants are abused with irons and red-hot bars: resonant, says Mr McGeehan, of slave-branding in the past.

….Gulf states insist they are dealing with the problem. In June Kuwait’s parliament granted domestic servants labour rights, the first Gulf state to do so. It is also the only Gulf state to have opened a refuge for female migrants. Qatar, fearful that reported abuses might upset its hosting of the World Cup in 2022, has promised to improve migrant housing. And earlier this year Mauritania’s government ordered preachers at Friday prayers to publicise a fatwa by the country’s leading clerics declaring: “Slavery has no legal foundation in sharia law.” Observers fear, though, that this is window-dressing. And Kuwait’s emir has yet to ratify the new labour-rights law.

Rather than stop the abuse, Gulf officials prefer to round on their critics, accusing them of Islamophobia just as their forebears did. Oman and Saudi Arabia have long been closed to Western human-rights groups investigating the treatment of migrants. Now the UAE and Qatar, under pressure after a wave of fatalities among workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup, are keeping them out, too.

Internal protests are even riskier. Over the past two years hundreds of migrant labourers building Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim and Louvre museums have been detained, roughed up and deported, says Human Rights Watch, after strikes over unpaid wages. Aminetou Mint Moctar, a rare Mauritanian Arab on the board of SOS Esclaves, a local association campaigning for the rights of haratin, or descendants of black slaves, has received death threats.

Is it too much to hope that the Islamic clerics denouncing slavery might also condemn other instances of forced and abusive labour? Activists and Gulf migrants are doubtful. Even migrants’ own embassies can be strangely mute, not wanting criticism to curb the vital flow of remittances. When Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, visited the UAE this week, his nationals there complained that migrant rights were last on his list. Western governments generally have other priorities. One is simply to defeat IS, whose extreme revival of slavery owes at least something to the region’s persistent and pervasive tolerance of servitude.

The persistence of history | The Economist.

Slavery in Canada: Some uncomfortable truths

A reminder that slavery existed in pre-Confederation Canada, and the uncomfortable truth of slavery in French Canada, from Quebec historian Marcel Trudel’s book, Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage:

“Slavery in Quebec was not some economic imperative, but rather a form of public extravagance which conferred prestige,” Mr. Trudel writes. In 18th-century Quebec, whose boundaries reached into parts of what is now the United States, a slave was a status symbol, more often found in town than in the country, more likely to be a domestic servant than a field labourer.

Mr. Trudel provoked a scandal in Quebec in 1960 when he first published his revelations as L’esclavage au Canada français. Generations of historians and church leaders had nurtured the myth that slavery, if it had existed at all, had been imported into the province by the English after the conquest of 1760. In fact, 85 per cent of Mr. Trudel’s confirmed owners were francophones, and the Quebec slave trade was well established before Wolfe met Montcalm. Nobody could refute Mr. Trudel’s careful research, so he was ostracized professionally, and in 1965 left his post at the University of Laval for a less frosty berth at the University of Ottawa.

200 years a slave: the dark history of captivity in Canada