It’s a clear-cut case of PTSD: Post-Traumatic Societal Disorder. The centuries-long trauma wrought by our nation’s history of slavery requires intensive therapy, because everybody is affected. Even our author, Daina Berry, said, “We are still living in the aftermath of slavery. It’s the stain on our flag and the sin of our country. Once we recognize this, face it, study it, and acknowledge the impact it has on all Americans, then we will be in a position to determine how we can move forward.” One of the ways to come to terms with it and move forward is to take in the full history, unabridged—free of sugar-coating, mythmaking, and claims of “American exceptionalism.”
1619, a year to go down in infamy like 1492. 400 years ago this month, a ship reached a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia, carrying more than twenty enslaved Africans. Stolen from their homes, these men and women were sold to the colonists in what would become known as the United States. The Atlantic Slave trade would feed this vicious cycle of reducing Africans to commodities through the brutal bondage of forced labor and sexual coercion, the repercussions of which we live with centuries later. How do we as a country reckon with and heal from this history? We asked some of our authors to reflect on this and share their remarks below.
By Eugene Grant: I didn’t learn of Benjamin Lay until I was thirty-one years old. This is important, because I myself have dwarfism. There is a shameful absence of books documenting the lives of important historical figures with dwarfism. Just as Game of Thrones and Tyrion Lannister alone cannot compensate—as many average height people seem to think he does—for centuries of ridicule and abuse, so Marcus Rediker and The Fearless Benjamin Lay cannot make up for this dearth of representation, but the book is a significant step forwards.
The recognition represented a profound, heartfelt act of retrospective justice, because Lay had been unjustly disowned in the first place. It was a symbolic rejection of what a previous slave-owning generation of Quakers had done and it was simultaneously an affirmation that Benjamin Lay’s values matter to the Abington congregation, in the present and for the future. I learned during my research that Lay dearly loved his fellow Quakers—at least those who did not own slaves—and that his exclusion was terribly painful to him. It was therefore deeply touching, 279 years later, to know that he has been brought back into the fold. This act would have meant everything to him.
He sounds like a fascinating nonfiction character—too quirky to be true—but radical Quaker dwarf Benjamin Lay truly lived, and historian Marcus Rediker has brought his virtually unknown story to life in The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Mocked as “the little hunchback” and written off by his contemporaries as “cracked in the head,” Benjamin Lay was uncompromising in his stance against slavery, and wholly committed himself to convince his fellow Quakers to denounce and abolish it. In many ways, he was prescient and ultra-modern for his time, the eighteenth century. Lay’s worldview was an astonishing combination of Quakerism, vegetarianism, animal rights, opposition to the death penalty, and abolitionism. Until his death in 1759, he lived a life of resistance.
Donald Trump gets sworn in today as commander in chief. His approval rating speaks to the myriad doubts, concerns, and fears many have about what he and his administration will do during his term in the White House. We reached out to a few of our authors to ask if they wanted to share what they want Trump to know, understand or beware of. On Inauguration Day, we share their responses with you.
2015 has been, to say the least, rather momentous, and continues to be as it draws to a close. We at Beacon Press are so grateful to our brilliant authors who have offered their time and insights to analyze and comment on this year's events. Their posts—with topics ranging from race to cultural or class dynamics and to the environment—have been, if you will, a true beacon for the Broadside. Before we bid farewell to 2015, we would like to share a collection of some our most-read posts. This list is by no means exhaustive. Make sure to peruse our archives. You can expect to see more thought-provoking essays and commentary from our contributors in 2016. Happy New Year!
George Orwell’s 1984 taught us that language—and who uses it—truly does matter. In the case of educating Texan youth about American history, language matters a great deal. McGraw-Hill Education’s current geography textbook, approved for Texas high schools, refers to African slaves as “workers” in a chapter on immigration patterns. Other linguistic sleights of hand include using the passive voice to obscure slave owner’s brutal treatment of slaves. It appears we have a Ministry of Truth at work after all, just like the one where Orwell’s ill-fated hero Winston Smith worked, rewriting history. The fact is especially disconcerting, as Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks.
On the 175th anniversary of The Amistad's capture, historian Marcus Rediker takes us back to a time when the idea of “black pirates” would ignite the imagination of early America and take these 53 Africans on a journey from the holds of a slave ship to the halls of the Supreme Court and beyond.
Historian Marcus Rediker—author of the new book 'Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail—discusses the surreal and evocative paintings of Haitian artist Frantz Zéphirin, whose intricate work combines vodou, politics, and history.
As Father’s Day approaches, we’ve been thinking of books we’d recommend to our own fathers. Here are five titles that share a deep interest in the world, or that tell the story of fatherhood itself, with all its memories and complexities and sometime revelations. If your father is anything like ours, we're sure he would take any of these books, find a quiet place to sit, and then read every word.