Monday, August 19, 2013

August 19: Book Talking

Virginia Defender editor Phil Wilayto joined me today to discuss a handful of books we have found critical to understanding the history of Richmond, Virginia as well as the interpretation of that history by key African scholars.

The books:

The River Where America Began: A Journey Along the James

by Bob DeansRowman & Littlefield, Apr 30, 2007
From the establishment of the first permanent English colony at Jamestown in 1607 to the fall of Richmond in 1865, the James River has been instrumental in the formation of modern America. It was along the James that British and Native American cultures collided and, in a twisted paradox, the seeds of democracy and slavery were sown side by side. The culture crafted by Virginia's learned aristocrats, merchants, farmers, and frontiersmen gave voice to the cause of the American Revolution and provided a vision for the fledgling independent nation's future. Over the course of the United States' first century, the James River bore witness to the irreconcilable contradiction of a slave-holding nation dedicated to liberty and equality for all. When that intractable conflict ignited civil war, the James River served as a critical backdrop for the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history. As he guides readers through this exciting historical narrative, Deans gives life to a dynamic cast of characters including the familiar Powhatan, John Smith, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Benedict Arnold, and Robert E. Lee, as well as those who have largely escaped historical notoriety. The River Where America Began takes readers on a journey along the James River from the earliest days of civilization nearly 15,000 years ago through the troubled English settlement at Jamestown and finishes with Lincoln's tour of the defeated capital of Richmond in 1865. Deans traces the historical course of a river whose contributions to American life are both immeasurable and unique. This innovative history invites us all to look into these restless waters in a way that connects us to our past and reminds us of who we are as Americans.

Black Thunder: Gabriel's Revolt: Virginia: 1800

Arna Wendell BontempsBeacon Press, 1936
"Gabriel Prosser's 1800 slave revolt allowed Bontemps to warn of the rebellion that would come of poverty and racial oppression. This metaphor of revolution is at the same time a highly pertinent representation of black masculinity that will reward students of gender, slavery and the sensibilities of the 1930s." —Nell Irvin Painter

Rearing Wolves to our own Destruction:Slavery in Richmond, Virginia, 1782-1865

Midori TakagiUniversity of Virginia Press, Jun 29, 2000
RICHMOND WAS NOT only the capital of Virginia and of the Confederacy; it was also one of the most industrialized cities south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Boasting ironworks, tobacco processing plants, and flour mills, the city by 1860 drew half of its male workforce from the local slave population. Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction examines this unusual urban labor system from 1782 until the end of the Civil War. Many urban bondsmen and women were hired to businesses rather than working directly for their owners. As a result, they frequently had the opportunity to negotiate their own contracts, to live alone, and to keep a portion of their wages in cash. Working conditions in industrial Richmond enabled African-American men and women to build a community organized around family networks, black churches, segregated neighborhoods, secret societies, and aid organizations. Through these institutions, Takagi demonstrates, slaves were able to educate themselves and to develop their political awareness. They also came to expect a degree of control over their labor and lives. Richmond's urban slave system offered blacks a level of economic and emotional support not usually available to plantation slaves. Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction offers a valuable portrait of urban slavery in an individual city that raises questions about the adaptability of slavery as an institution to an urban setting and, more importantly, the ways in which slaves were able to turn urban working conditions to their own advantage.

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

Walter Rodney
First edition: copyright 1972 by Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, Great Britain, First US edition copyright 1974 by Howard University Press
1981 Edition with introduction by Vincent Harding, William Strickland, Robert Hill - Before a bomb ended his life in the summer of 1980, Walter Rodney had created a powerful legacy. This pivotal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, had already brought a new perspective to the question of underdevelopment in Africa. His Marxist analysis went far beyond the heretofore accepted approach in the study of Third World underdevelopment. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa is an excellent introductory study for the student who wishes to better understand the dynamics of Africa s contemporary relations with the West.

The History of Pan-African Revolt

C. L. R. JamesPM Press, Nov 29, 2012 with introduction by Robin D. G. Kelley
Originally published in England in 1938 and expanded in 1969, this work remains the classic account of global Black resistance. This concise, accessible history of revolts by African peoples worldwide explores the wide range of methods used by Africans to resist oppression and the negative effects of imperialism and colonization as viewed in the 20th century. Written from a radical perspective with a substantial new introduction that contextualizes the work in the ferment of the times, "A History of Pan-African Revolt" is essential to understanding liberation movements in Africa and the diaspora and continues to reveal new insights, lessons, and visions to successive generations.C. L. R. James was a major figure in Pan-Africanism and the author of a wide array of fiction and nonfiction, including Beyond a Boundary, The Black Jacobins, Every Cook Can Govern, The Invading Socialist Society, A Majestic Innings: Writings on Cricket, and The Nobbie Stories for Children and Adults. Robin D. G. Kelley is a professor of history and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He is a coeditor of Black, Brown, & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora and the author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination and Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, which received several honors, including Best Book on Jazz from the Jazz Journalists Association and the Ambassador Award for Book of Special Distinction from the English Speaking Union. It was also a finalist for a PEN USA Literary Award. He lives in Los Angeles.

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