Citation

Commemorating Struggle, Correcting the Record: Black Activists and their Moving Panoramas of Slavery

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Abstract:

How did black abolitionists utilize popular cultural forms to advance the cause of antislavery? This paper examines three panoramas created by three African American men – William Wells Brown, Henry Box Brown, and James Presley Ball – during the 1850s. Two of these men drew on their experiences as enslaved men to instill in their audiences the brutalities of slavery for the purpose of raising money for the abolitionist cause as they toured their moving panoramas in the United States and Britain. Each of the three panoramas represents an intervention in the medium of the panorama and the visual representation of African Americans. By shifting the focus from the natural landscape to the suffering of enslaved black bodies, these activists used the popular medium of the panorama to offer their audiences fundamentally different understandings of blackness. In doing so, they transformed a popular cultural visual form into a boldly political strategy to make real the horrors of slavery to domestic and international audiences.

In presenting their own histories and stories of slavery to a broader audience, they educated their viewers about the truths of slavery. In addition, their projections became public exercises of their memories of slavery that they then transformed into public knowledge. Two of the three men commemorated their struggle – and the struggles of millions of other enslaved Americans – against the violence of slavery for the purpose of strengthening the antislavery movement. All three men, however, channeled their artistic production into political acts to help secure racial equality.

Drawing on newspaper reviews of the panoramas, the descriptive booklets that accompanied them, and the historical context of antebellum visual culture, this paper examines the cultural interventions of African American activists for the ultimate purpose of abolishing slavery in the United States. Identifying these black men as cultural producers with stakes in the representation of African Americans highlights their role in both expanding and refining discourses of race in the antebellum United States.
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Association:
Name: 102nd Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History
URL:
http://www.asalh.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1285525_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Gonzalez, Aston. "Commemorating Struggle, Correcting the Record: Black Activists and their Moving Panoramas of Slavery" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 102nd Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH, <Not Available>. 2018-06-18 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1285525_index.html>

APA Citation:

Gonzalez, A. "Commemorating Struggle, Correcting the Record: Black Activists and their Moving Panoramas of Slavery" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 102nd Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH <Not Available>. 2018-06-18 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1285525_index.html

Publication Type: Abstract
Abstract: How did black abolitionists utilize popular cultural forms to advance the cause of antislavery? This paper examines three panoramas created by three African American men – William Wells Brown, Henry Box Brown, and James Presley Ball – during the 1850s. Two of these men drew on their experiences as enslaved men to instill in their audiences the brutalities of slavery for the purpose of raising money for the abolitionist cause as they toured their moving panoramas in the United States and Britain. Each of the three panoramas represents an intervention in the medium of the panorama and the visual representation of African Americans. By shifting the focus from the natural landscape to the suffering of enslaved black bodies, these activists used the popular medium of the panorama to offer their audiences fundamentally different understandings of blackness. In doing so, they transformed a popular cultural visual form into a boldly political strategy to make real the horrors of slavery to domestic and international audiences.

In presenting their own histories and stories of slavery to a broader audience, they educated their viewers about the truths of slavery. In addition, their projections became public exercises of their memories of slavery that they then transformed into public knowledge. Two of the three men commemorated their struggle – and the struggles of millions of other enslaved Americans – against the violence of slavery for the purpose of strengthening the antislavery movement. All three men, however, channeled their artistic production into political acts to help secure racial equality.

Drawing on newspaper reviews of the panoramas, the descriptive booklets that accompanied them, and the historical context of antebellum visual culture, this paper examines the cultural interventions of African American activists for the ultimate purpose of abolishing slavery in the United States. Identifying these black men as cultural producers with stakes in the representation of African Americans highlights their role in both expanding and refining discourses of race in the antebellum United States.


 
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