Post due Wed. Oct. 6th
Thanks for your insightful responses to the “1619 Project,” lessons from which this course will be closely heeding. Ulises reminds us what “a great failure” it is “to take away knowledge and hide the truth” from students. But that is what schools in the past have done and continue to do. Mohammed writes that studying the past honestly is “not about hating one’s country but instead learning about the good and bad of the country. You can’t hide what was done and act like it never happened.” Amy adds that “history is meant to be taught, and we learn it to prevent tragedies from occurring again.” This is a very real “threat” as Nelson maintains, for far too many Americans remain “threatened” by learning the darker facts of American history (alongside our nation’s many enormous achievements).
Let’s keep in mind, as Paulina reiterates. the guiding aim of the 1619 project:
“What would it mean to center the experience of Black Americans in our telling of U.S. history?”
With this question in mind, we turn to America’s remarkable break from British rule with the Revolutionary War (1776-1783). The war officially starts in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson (with help from Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and others). The Declaration claims that “All men are created equal,” but as Brianna reminds us, Jefferson was himself a slave-holder (and had several children with his slave Sally Hemings). In the original draft of the Declaration, Jefferson blames the King of England for the slave trade, but neither this document nor The Constitution (framed in 1787) abolished slavery in America.
For this week, we will review the Declaration of Independence and also read about two important African Americans who accomplished a great deal despite being enslaved. Specifically, I ask that you read chapter one from the autobiography of Venture Smith and an essay on the first published American poet: Phyllis Wheatley.
- Read the Declaration of Independence, focusing on its key message:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent & inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
2. Watch my Video lecture on colonial New York Print Culture and Venture Smith. I produced this talk for an academic conference held in New York in 2020.
3. Read Russell Shorto’s “On Slavery’s Doorstep in Ghana”. This essay recounts a trip by descendants of Venture Smith who return to “the door of no return” in Ghana, Africa where Venture left on a slave ship to America in the early 1700s.
- Read (or listen to): Chapter One from Venture Smith’s A Narrative of a Native of Africa: His Life and Adventures (1798). Here is the text of his autobiography.
- Read: Phyllis Wheatley “Biography” and her most famous poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America”
Post a comment on ONE of these readings (or video). Due Wed. Oct. 6th
This is a lot of reading, so do the best you can to complete it. Choose what you have time for.