Part 6 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on August 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1190

“Denmark Vesey” by Robert Jones Jr.

In 1822, Denmark Vesey, a Black man born into slavery who purchased his freedom after winning a lottery, planned an insurrection in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was the Blackest city in the country, with more than three quarters of the population being African American. Vesey recruited as many as nine thousand people to his cause but was betrayed, and in the summer of 1822, he and thirty-nine of his followers were hanged. The author says that it must have been particularly bitter for Vesey that the traitors were other Black people who had adopted the viewpoint of white supremacy. He connects these long-dead traitors with contemporary African Americans who pay homage to racist systems,  such as Kanye West, Clarence Thomas, and Candace Owens.

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Freedom’s Journal” by Pamela Newkirk

Freedom’s Journal, founded in 1827, was the first newspaper in America to be owned and operated by African Americans. In its first editorial, the editors announced that African Americans had long been misrepresented by those who claimed to speak for them. Now they would speak for themselves. The newspaper was in circulation for two years in eleven northern states, and it was also read in Europe, Canada, and Haiti. The author is continually hoping that the problems identified in Freedom’s Journal will be relegated to “a dystopian past” but finds that the first editors’ critique of misrepresentation remains relevant today.

“Maria Stewart” by Kathryn Sophia Belle

Maria Stewart was born free in Connecticut and orphaned at the age of five. She worked as a teacher and hospital matron before becoming a well-known speaker and writer. Stewart is often regarded as America’s first Black female political writer. Her public speaking appearances would have been unusual at the time, even more so because her audiences often included both men and women. The author regards her as an exponent of “proto-intersectionality,” advocating not only for Black women but for all oppressed groups. Stewart is also now studied for her theological ideas and for her use of rhetoric in speeches.

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“The National Negro Conventions” by Eugene Scott

In the decades leading up to emancipation, it was unclear what form freedom would or should take for Black Americans. Some thought, for instance, that former slaves would become citizens, while others favored separatism or mass emigration. The National Negro Conventions were first convened in 1834 to attempt to address some of these questions and discuss what it might mean to be Black in America after the abolition of slavery. Two newspapers, Freedom’s Journal and The Liberator, were particularly influential in gathering leaders from across America to debate and strategize. The author notes that more than a century and a half after the abolition of slavery, the questions addressed by the National Negro Conventions remain both pressing and unanswered.

“Racial Passing” by Allyson Hobbs

When George Latimer escaped from slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1842, he was able to travel to Boston unhindered, since his skin was pale enough for him to pass as white. His wife, whose skin was darker, pretended to be his servant. Latimer’s master, James Gray, followed him to Boston and tried by various means to bring him back to Virginia, but Latimer found many supporters in Boston. They even founded a newspaper, the Latimer Journal and North Star, to promote the case against slavery. The following year, the “Latimer Law” was passed in Massachusetts, preventing officials from assisting in the capture of any fugitive slave.

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“James McCune Smith M. D.” by Harriet A. Washington

James McCune Smith was a polymath who was the first African American to be awarded a medical degree. He was born in New York City in 1813, the son of a White father and an enslaved Black mother, and he showed unusual abilities at school, achieving fluency in Latin and Greek. Smith wanted to study medicine, but every American university rejected his application. However, he was awarded a place at Glasgow University in Scotland. Having earned his degree, Smith returned to the United States, where he not only worked as a physician but devoted his skills to debunking pseudoscientific theories which attempted to provide an empirical basis for white supremacy.

“Oregon” by Mitchell S. Jackson

The author recalls his childhood in a Black neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. As a child, he did not understand that he was growing up in a white country which barely tolerated the presence of Black people. He recounts the case of Jacob Vanderpool, the only person on record to have been expelled from Oregon. In 1851, a judge ruled that Vanderpool’s presence in Oregon violated the territory’s exclusion law which had been passed in 1844. Other such expulsion orders were made at around the same time but were not enforced. Although the exclusion law is not in place in Oregon today, its ethos remains, and the state is one of the whitest in the Union, with only 1.9% of the population being African American.

Dred Scott” by John A. Powell

The author begins by pointing out that the nature of American citizenship was ill-defined in the middle of the nineteenth century. The absence of legal certainty allowed the Supreme Court to decide in the Dred Scott case that people of African descent were not and could never be United States citizens. The Supreme Court has never overturned the Dred Scott Decision, so it has had to be abolished in a piecemeal fashion through the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and other legislation. However, the process of erasing the inequality enshrined in the Dred Scott decision remains incomplete to this day.

“Compromise” by Donika Kelly

The poet examines and criticizes the idea of compromise, using the words of political thinkers such as Maria Stewart, Bethany Veney, Mattie J. Jackson, and Lucy Anne Delaney to convey the impossibility of compromise between groups whose interests and worldviews are so divergent.

Analysis

Three of these essays in this part are headed simply with the name of an individual, while a fourth, “Racial Passing,” is concerned largely with the fate and influence of a fourth, George Latimer. None of these people are as well-known as Phillis Wheatley or Sally Hemings, but information about them is relatively plentiful, a testament to improvements in record-keeping. There is little in common among these individuals: a revolutionary firebrand, a proto-feminist theorist, a brilliant physician, and a simple man who wants only his freedom. Together, they give some sense not just of the diversity of African American history, but of the wide range of obstacles Black people had to face in order to accomplish their goals in mid-nineteenth-century America.

Another theme in this part of the book is that of racism enshrined in law. Both “Oregon” and “Dred Scott” make the point that repealing racist laws is not a simple matter and that these laws often continue to have a social effect long after they have ceased to be enforced. Insurrections, such as the one planned by Denmark Vesey, continued to have the appeal of direct and decisive action precisely because attempting to achieve freedom and justice by lawful means remained such a slow, cumbersome process.

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Part 5 Summary and Analysis

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Part 7 Summary and Analysis