Summer Scholars: Black Power / Antebellum Slavery Narratives

Free Southern Theatre publicity image, circa 1970.

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Two researchers explore Black Power culture and antebellum slavery narratives

The Summer Scholars season of free lunchtime talks explore the broad and exciting range of research being conducted in the North American collections at the British Library by Eccles Centre Fellows. Tea and coffee will be served and attendees are welcome to bring their lunch.

Black Power Culture in the American South, 1967-1975

Rowan Hartland considers the practices of Black Power Culture in the under-researched and often marginalised rural and local regions in the American South. Challenging the notion that Black Power was dominated by Northern Black nationalism, Rowan emphasises the heterogeneous and often locally attuned strategies of Black Power organisations. His exploration of the radicalisation of organisations from a particularly Southern provenance reveals how the South was depicted and memorialised for Black Power actors, and how Black Power informed ‘Southern’ identities. Focusing on the impact of Black Power in the South through under-examined themes of visual culture, aesthetics, performance, and folk culture the  talk offers examples of Black Power’s networks and strategies in the South, including the application of ‘Whiteface’ during performances by the New Orleans based community group, the Free Southern Theater.

Night as a ‘Loophole of Retreat’ in the Antebellum Slavery Narrative

Sarah Cullen sheds new light upon the antebellum slave narrative. ‘Night’ has long been recognised as one of the conventions of the genre. Yet, beyond acknowledgement of the North Star as a symbol of liberation, the night itself has been seen as little more than a convenient event which aids the enslaved towards their freedom. This talk challenges this assumption by considering how night, as illustrated in the slavery narratives, becomes a refuge for slaves due to the failures of slaveholders’ nocturnal surveillance. Historically, as demonstrated by the violent white response to nocturnal transgressions by slaves, night spaces posed a challenge to white society, giving slaves a measure of asylum lacking in the day. Night is a medium by which slaves gained leisure, family time, and respite. It is a ‘loophole of retreat’: simultaneously a space of withdrawal and an avenue of escape, in which slaves expand the possibilities of community and auto-didacticism denied to them in daylight.

Rowan Hartland is a first year History/American Studies PhD student at Northumbria University. His research interests include African-American history and culture, race relations, and visual and material culture. He is an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

Sarah Cullen is a PhD candidate of American Literature in Trinity College Dublin. Her research area is night studies in nineteenth-century literature. She is Eccles Centre Postgraduate Visiting Fellow at the British Library.


Name: Summer Scholars: Black Power / Antebellum Slavery Narratives
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
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