Conference Proceedings: Abstracts

Krista Borst (SUNY-Geneseo) The Effect of Emancipation on Interracial Relationships” 

The aim of this essay is to analyze the effect emancipation had on interracial relationships. The first half of the paper talks about American society prior to the end of slavery and the Emancipation Era, discussing anti-abolitionist mob-violence in New York as well as taking a close look at how different people in the antebellum south operated in these relationships and how they were viewed. The second part of the essay focuses on interracial relationships and marriages during and after the emancipation era. Black people as a whole were now labeled, at least under the law, as human beings, as opposed to property. This notion alone changed both the legal and social context that interracial relationships took place in. Anti-miscegenation laws were used specifically as a tool to ensure that segregation continued and ideals still held from the institution of slavery were enforced. Examining how interracial relationships were thought about before and after emancipation gives a sense of how deeply ingrained both racial and gendered hierarchies were in American society.

Michele-lane Detouche (SUNY-Geneseo) The Lesser of Two Evils: How African Americans Turned to Canada for Safety”

The topic of this paper addresses how the election of United States President Donald Trump offset another wave of African Americans viewing Canada as a way to escape the more intensified racism. Few African Americans actually migrated to Canada during the election, but the phenomenon of Canada representing a safer place expressed through memes, jokes, and articles represents the direct historical connotation that African Americans over a hundred years ago had to face.  African Americans in the 1850s considered Canada as a safe haven when a political decision of their respective times brought about a widespread belief of an impending doomed that targeted the black race. For instance, former slaves in the north were impacted by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which meant that free states had to return captured runaway slaves to their masters by law. The north wasn’t safe anymore for African Americans because paid bounty hunters could lure and kidnap an African American living in the north, regardless of whether or not they were free. However, in Canada, slavery had been abolished by the British Parliament in 1833. Many African American families had to reevaluate their lives to avoid being sold back into slavery, which is why Canada was an attractive option since the government protected African American refugees. However, Canada exploited the black race in the sense that black communities would benefit Canada in creating a buffer between negative relations with white Canadians and indigenous peoples. Canada opened its door not out of sympathy, but because the country saw African Americans as an opportunity to mitigate Canada’s social problems.

Kira Findling (Oberlin College) Black Female Respectability and Abolitionism: Lucy Stanton at Oberlin College and Beyond”

In my paper, “Black Female Respectability and Abolitionism: Lucy Stanton at Oberlin College and Beyond,” I investigated the meaning of the politics of respectability for middle-class free black women before the Civil War, using the life of Lucy Stanton as a case study. Stanton was the first black woman to complete four years of college in the United States, finishing at Oberlin College in 1850. I used texts by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Erica L. Ball, as well as Stanton’s published writings, to analyze the role of respectability in Stanton’s abolitionism and black female abolitionism more broadly. I concluded that, though Stanton presented herself as respectable to make herself heard by white abolitionists, her politics of respectability had great significance beyond the white gaze. I qualified that black women of Stanton’s era did utilize respectability in order to be taken seriously by white individuals. The way in which Stanton lived, spoke, and taught others disproved pro-slavery arguments by demonstrating the humanity and intelligence of African Americans in the United States. But I complicated this framework by asserting that Stanton primarily chose to embody ideals of respectability because of her strong belief in the transformative abolitionist power of living out her values. Stanton exemplified her moral reform ideology in her words, actions, and way of life because she felt that this was the best method through which to bring her abolitionist ideals to fruition. I argued that, rather than being a purely performative effort, Stanton’s respectability was an intrinsic part of her identity. From the beginning of her life, Stanton lived as a direct and empowered embodiment of black respectability.

James Hamilton (SUNY-Geneseo) The Colfax Massacre: The Siege of the County Courthouse Colfax Louisiana, 1873”

On April 13, 1873, hundreds of armed, white men laid siege to the county courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana. A smaller group of African American men defended the courthouse, asserting their claim that Republicans were the legitimate victors in highly contested 1872 state election. The white paramilitary forces attacked the courthouse on Easter Sunday, slaughtered many of the defendants, and executed dozens of prisoners. Known today as the Colfax Massacre, it is one of the largest mass murders to ever occur on American soil. Although as many as a hundred and no fewer than sixty-two black men were killed at Colfax, it is disregarded in traditional narratives of Reconstruction. This is due to the fact that many people would prefer to think that the violence that shook the United States during the Civil War came to an end with the defeat of the Confederacy. However, omitting Colfax from the narrative also omits the paramilitary patterns of reconstruction violence, allowing racial violence to be relegated to a few isolated incidents. This promotes the view that the failure of Reconstruction was due to shortcomings of the North and an inability of the freedmen to manage their freedom and citizenship. My paper attempts to show why the Colfax Massacre, and the violence it inspired, should be at the center of Reconstruction narratives. Understanding Colfax is central to explaining how white southerners were able to so effectively combat African Americans’ political power. It also forces us to confront the role that violence played in Reconstruction and the legacy of white supremacy.

Eleanor Hardy (Bath Spa University) “A girl gets sick of a Rose” (Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘A Song in the Front Yard’): Poetry of the Chicago Black Renaissance and the Female Experience. “

The Chicago Black Renaissance is not as well known as the Harlem Renaissance which preceded it, but I will argue that, while the writing styles of female poets in Chicago were in many ways similar to their counterparts in New York, there was a distinct difference in their approaches to the domestic and personal experiences of African-American women. For example, while Harlem poets such as Carrie Williams Clifford and Alice Dunbar-Nelson touched on the anxiety women felt in their homes and the problems of love and loneliness, Gwendolyn Brooks in Chicago tackled more controversial or taboo topics such as domestic abuse (‘The Battle’) and abortion (‘The Mother’). As well as this, Anne Meis Knupfer includes readings Brooks gave to women’s clubs and explores activism that took place within these clubs in her book The Chicago Black renaissance and Women’s Activism. With these readings I want to explore further how this involvement influenced Brooks’ poetry. By drawing on the work of Anne Meis Knupfer, Darlene Clark Hine and John McCluskey Jr (The Black Chicago Renaissance) and analysing a range of poems, for example works by Margaret Walker and Margaret Danner, I will argue that female poets of the Chicago Black Renaissance built on the activism of women in the Harlem Renaissance and challenged the expected roles of women; exploring the difficult personal problems they faced, such as unfaithfulness and loneliness. With further research I hope to find more female poets who wrote in the Chicago Renaissance and as a result, prove that their poems deserve more careful attention than they have previously received.

Erin Herbst (SUNY-Geneseo) Lincoln’s Rhetoric”

My paper will be an in-depth study of Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric, focusing on his usage of words such as “liberty,” “equality,” and “liberation.” In studying many of Lincoln’s speeches, it is evident that his thoughts on morality especially in regards to racial slavery change over time. This paper will be an adaptation of a twenty page research paper for a History of Emancipation class that I am currently enrolled in, but is also interdisciplinary in its reliance on analysis of rhetorical strategies. In that way, this paper combines both methodological approaches from History and English. Lincoln provided the country with a strong voice, steeped in figurative language, to both soothe the nation as well as propel it forward through a time of rapid change including war and subsequent emancipation. In a world where we as political citizens rely on the words of leaders– either through private communication, or public speeches, or written proclamations– it is essential that we understand the weight and significance those words hold. Lincoln provides a great example for this. Through looking specifically at key individual words, I will show how Lincoln changed the connotations of traditional “American” concepts, so that the white public would better embrace the humanity of African Americans. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, I argue that these words take on a more significant moral meaning in their relationship with what constitutes a human life and what people are entitled to as citizens– socially and legally– in the United States.

Alex Kohn (Oberlin College) Revisiting the ‘(Con)founding fathers’ on Slavery and Freedom”

This research looks at anti-slavery and abolition views of several founders of America at the time of American Revolution. This research uses primary sources, including letters and documents, to examine the abolitionist beliefs or lack thereof of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Laurens. These three individuals provide a view of the spectrum of abolitionist thought among the white revolutionary fighters and the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom while denying freedom.

Natalia Rodriguez (SUNY-Geneseo) Ongoing Impact of Slavery from Segregation to Today”

I will like to focus on the effects of slavery, more specifically the time period of segregation in the United States during the 20th century to the present day. Although slavery was abolished its effects are prevalent to this present day, and its effects can be seen throughout the 20th century when segregation laws and hostile attitudes towards African Americans were displayed in their everyday lives. In this paper, I will study the transition from abolition to segregation and research the experience of many African Americans in the United States after abolition. For a country founded on the ideals of freedom and equality for all, the oppressive and racist laws and social exclusion continued years throughout slavery, and after. Some may even argue that the racist attitudes formed then affect people of color and other underrepresented groups today in the United States. For instance, immigration laws, police brutality, and racial profiling are controversial issues that do not help with the goal of a just life for all people who are affected by these problems. In addition to researching and studying the effects of slavery, I will look into how people and organizations have helped in solving these issues and what have been the responses. Lastly, furthering my knowledge I will look into legal cases during the 20th and 21st century to see its effects regarding racial and oppressive laws and attitudes in the United States and the impact it has left.

Agatha Rowe-Crowder (Bath Spa University)Authority and Identity in Sylvia Dubois: A Biografy of the Slav who Whipt Her Mistres and Gand Her Fredom by C.W. Larison Sylvia Dubois”

A Biografy of the Slav who Whipt Her Mistres and Gand Her Fredom (1888) is an autobiographical account of Sylvia Dubois, a woman who was born into slavery, but eventually was given her freedom by her Master after conflict with her Mistress, as described in her interviews to C.W. Larison in 1883. The text emphasizes the violence that Dubois used to gain her freedom, and celebrates these moments of strength and retaliation. Throughout her life Dubois overturned expectations, from gaining her freedom to taking on masculine roles once she had her liberty such as becoming a ferryman, and she takes pride in her successes. Dubois does not observe the social norms of the time, but unlike other texts where such deviation might end in inevitable downfall, she is portrayed as a remarkable woman and icon. Larison creates a platform that Dubois would have otherwise found unavailable, and their shared authorship over the text, as written and oral history, is what my work will focus on. Larison describes Dubois as a ‘hero’ and honours her culture as an ex-slave but also an American, by transcribing her words phonetically, allowing her accent to be heard and making the text less a reported biography and more an oral history. The combination of Larison’s and Dubois’s voices creates further duality in the narrative. I will look at the ways Larison attempts to give Dubois her own identifiable voice throughout the narrative, and assess how well he preserves Dubois identity and heritage. Dubois’ story may not be especially unique, but the way Larison portrays her and describes her, joining oral history to written, makes this text and her tale worth studying.

Millie Williams (Bath Spa University) We are all defined by the food we eat’ (Sherman Alexie): Food and culture in Indigenous Canadian and Native American literature. “

The presence and significance of food has often been overlooked in native literatures within America and Canada, despite its central role in defining Indigenous Canadian and Native American identities through geographical location, cultural practices and community. My paper will examine food in Native American and Indigenous Canadian texts of the second wave of native fiction; texts defined by their exploration of the tensions of maintaining a native identity within the period of dramatic cultural change at the end of the twentieth century. I will primarily focus on two Indigenous Canadian texts; Marilyn Dumont’s poetry collection A Really Good Brown Girl (1966), and Lee Maracle’s Sojourners Truth & Other Stories (1990), alongside Sherman Alexie’s Native American novel, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), in order to demonstrate the crossborder perspectives and a shared experience of a forced assimilation to European ideals.

The paper will begin by focusing on the regional area of the Great Lakes as an example of how geographical areas served not only as food source but as a fundamental element of tribal culture. I will then utilise the theme of food within Dumont, Maracle and Alexie’s texts to examine whether these authors detail a nostalgic longing for their lost heritage and a rejection of ‘White American Culture’, or rather display a rejection of their cultural past and a willing assimilation to white cultural practices. By examining modern narratives of these two ethnic groups, I will not only shed light on contemporary attitudes towards their current cultural positions in society, but also contribute to our knowledge of the history and evolving rights and experiences of Native American and Indigenous Canadian peoples.

Huron Organizing CommitteeAmy Bell (History);Neil Brooks (English and Cultural Studies);Andrea King (French Studies);Tom Peace (History);Nina Reid-Maroney (History);Scott Schofield (English and Cultural Studies);Deanne van Tol (Coordinator—Teaching and Research)

Faculty CollaboratorsCatherine Adams (Geneseo);Justin Behrend (Geneseo);Boulou Ebanda de B’beri (Ottawa)Ian Gadd (Bath Spa);Tamika Nunley (Oberlin);Olivette Otele (Bath Spa)

The organizing committee gratefully acknowledges the support of the following:

Department of English and Cultural Studies, Huron University College;Global Academy of Liberal Arts and the Department of English Literature, Bath Spa University; Social Science and Humanities Research Council; Huron University College Faculty of Arts and Social Science;The W. Galen Weston Fund for British History at Huron; Department of History, State University of New York-Geneseo;Department of History, Oberlin College; Huron History Society; Huron University College Library; Centre for Undergraduate Research Learning at Huron.