The Charleston Shooting and the Potent Symbol of the Black Church in America

Emanuel landscapeLast night, Dylann Storm Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, sat through an hour-long meeting, and then opened fire on those in attendance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among nine individuals who were killed. Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location. “There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement, “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.” Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another addition of The Week in Early American History! Continue reading

On Remembrance and Resurrection: Commemorating Portsmouth’s (NH) African Burying Ground

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A horse-drawn wagon, bearing coffins holding the remains of the Portsmouth Africans.

“I am the resurrection and the life.” From John 11:25 comes this Bible passage describing Lazarus’s miraculous rise from the death, as he addressed Martha, the sister of Lazarus. For Christians, this lesson is supposed to demonstrate that death is no obstacle to Jesus. This passage figured prominently into Igbo healer Chief Oscar Mokeme’s commemoration of the life of Portsmouth’s Africans, which featured a syncretic blend of Igbo and Christian funeral customs. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHere in the United States, today is Memorial Day, a holiday originally created in the late 1860s to honor the Union Civil War dead, and now a time to commemorate all of America’s war dead.  Because it’s also observed as a three-day weekend, we’re bringing you a special Monday holiday edition of The Week in Early American History. On to your morning reading…

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Guest Post: African Americans, Mobility, and the Law

Today’s guest poster is Robert Gamble, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is currently at work on a manuscript entitled “The Civic Economy: Regulating Urban Space and Capitalism in the Early American Republic,” and has written a chapter on secondhand goods for Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America (Brian Luskey and Wendy Woloson, eds.).

The death of Freddie Gray three weeks ago and the ensuing protests prompted many people to seek richer historical context for what happened. Consider that Seth Rockman’s twelve-year-old Common-place essay on rioting in early Baltimore had garnered some one million re-tweets by last Tuesday afternoon, according to his estimate. Justly concerned about half-baked historical parallels, Rockman doubts “the 1830s is [the] most useful context for now.” Certainly, there are more recent sources and contexts to consider: the real estate and lending practices that fortified segregation, reeling public school systems, eroding city tax bases, deindustrialization and the exportation of jobs, transit systems that bypass largely black neighborhoods, a deteriorating housing stock encased in lead paint, the mutual distrust sown by the War on Drugs, militarization of the police, and so on. Baltimore’s bank riot of 1835, though a nice lesson in shifting attitudes toward capitalism and urban order, does little to make the issues of 2015 any more coherent.

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This Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to this week’s news in Early American History! Continue reading

Guest Post: Will the Real Paul Cuffe Please Stand Up?

Today’s guest poster, Jeffrey A. Fortin, is an Assistant Professor of History at Emmanuel College, Boston. He is currently finishing up a book on Paul Cuffe, an African-American Quaker and merchant in the early republic.

220px-Paul_Cuffee4Credit cards, electronic banking, online shopping, and a host of other modern forms of commerce did not exist at the turn of the nineteenth century. Merchants throughout the Atlantic relied on reputation and good character when determining a customer’s credit worthiness. Not exactly a foolproof way to do business but seemingly less risky than our fully electronic world of money and banking in twenty-first century America. Yet, identity theft and fraud were still a part of doing business.

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