Wednesday, 2 May 2018 (11am)
Waurn Ponds: ic3.108
Escaped slave and abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass stunned a white audience in Rochester, New York with his famous Independence Day speech of 1852. “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” he declared. “You may rejoice, I must mourn.” A century later, in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in Washington and famously referred to the Founding documents as promissory notes on which America had defaulted, issuing instead “bad checks” to its black citizens. Over the 240 years of U.S. history, African Americans have remembered, invoked, and sometimes ignored the Revolutionary past in order to make sense of the present and to shape the future. At times they have replaced it with an alternative tradition that celebrates the Haitian Revolution instead. This paper, taken from the final chapter of a book I am co-authoring with Michael McDonnell, explores African Americans’ efforts to wrestle with the contradictions of the nation’s Founding, focusing on the period from the 1976 Bicentennial to today.
Clare is Associate Professor in the Contemporary Histories Research Group. She is the author of Becoming African Americans and co-edited Remembering the Revolution: History, Memory, and Nation Making from Independence to the Civil War. In addition to the project above, which was funded by an ARC DP grant in 2013, she is writing a book about interviews with ex-slaves conducted in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.