Edward Mitchell Bannister vs Duncanson

Edward Mitchell Bannister is a black artist who started creating art in the 1850s, but released most of his work during the 1870s-1880s. His work is reminiscent of that of Robert S. Duncanson from JP Ball’s Panorama. Since Duncanson went to the Hudson River School, a school that focused on portraying a romanticized view of the American countryside, most of his work consisted of landscapes. However, he would also paint scenes of black life in America because he was an abolitionist and wanted to make a statement through his art. Most of Bannister’s work focused on landscape scenes as well, though he goes for a more impressionist style, in contrast to the realism that Duncanson displays. However, Bannister’s paintings don’t contain any signs of racial overtones, and don’t seem to be making any political statement. So, while Duncanson’s work were meant for, and contained, social, political, and racial subjects, Bannister’s message of racial equality was subtler and came solely from the fact that he was a black artist. In fact, he was the first African-American artist to receive a national award, which led some people to try and revoke his award. However, his fellow artists stood by the decision and the award was not revoked. This shows the combination of acceptance and prejudices blacks faced after the Civil War. Despite the fact that slavery was abolished, and they were supposed to be free, while in reality blacks were still being oppressed just in different ways.

Another interesting aspect of Bannister’s artistic career is that he started it because of a newspaper article he read that said that while black people appreciated art, they couldn’t make their own. This is another example of black people being forced to prove their worth and value, and ironically this comment is what propelled Bannister into beginning his painting career, proving the comment wrong. This is similar to JP Ball and Duncanson with the Panorama and how in the beginning of it, JP Ball talked about his career as a way to prove himself in the eyes of the public. Now in regards to Bannister’s work, I think it is because of this degrading comment that he didn’t feel the need to infuse his work with racial or political overtones, because literally the act of him creating art is already a political statement. In addition, his earning of the award was made even more impressive with the fact that he had limited training and schooling. He was the only major black artist during that time who developed his talent without the aid of European painters or influence. This means it was solely based on his work and talents, without any intervention or help from white society. In contrast, Duncanson had schooling and most of his paintings were created before the Civil War. Since most were done before the Civil War he used his paintings as way to try and change people’s minds about slavery. He didn’t just have to prove that black people could paint he was trying to use his art to send a message through his work that everyone deserved to be free. Plus, in his case it worked in his favor that he could say he was educated from a notable school, because it further proved his worth and showed him to be able to be educated, and trained. Since, at that time the idea that blacks couldn’t be taught was still prevalent. While for Bannister, blacks were being educated, so he didn’t have to prove that blacks could be taught, he had to prove that even without schooling and the help of whites, African Americans could create art based purely on talent. Especially since now that the Civil War was over, African Americans now had to prove that they could survive and thrive on their own.

Ball, JP. “JP Ball’s Panorama of Slavery Table of Contents.” 1859. PDFhttp://apercu.web.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/16090/2017/12/JPBallPanoramaofSlavery-TOC.pdf.

Bannister, Edward. Approaching Storm. 1886. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. SAAMhttps://americanart.si.edu/artist/edward-mitchell-bannister-226. Accessed January 2018.

Duncanson, Robert. Waterfall at Mont-Morency. 1864. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. JP Ball’s Panorama of Slaveryhttps://spark.adobe.com/page/nH3yJ0flXZQcB/. Accessed January 2018.

“Edward Mitchell Bannister.” SAAM, https://americanart.si.edu/artist/edward-mitchell-bannister-226. Accessed 28 January 2018.


Anglo-African Magazine and Hamilton the Musical

In the Anglo-African Magazine, picture IX, the author provides a satirical depiction of Mount Vernon. Being the residence of George and Martha Washington, who owned slaves, this can be seen as the authors personal comments on the irony of the dilapidation of the home at that current time.

The author describes the imagery of the ghost of a former slave, holding Washington’s bones in his hand accompanied by a sign reading, “For Sale, Price $200,000 this negro included”. Washington, the emblem of the foundation of America, a nation founded on immigrants, was for sale. The ideals of the Founding Fathers, like their idyllic representation in Mount Vernon, were in decay. The repetition of the words “decay” and “Mount Vernon” were used in order to enhance the juxtaposition and importance of these words together.

This nation was founded on immigrants and the hard work of those labeled as lower class individuals and “chattel” – a lot like how Mount Vernon was built and maintained by the blood, sweat, and tears of Washington’s slaves. The presentation and acceptance of this belief during the time of the Anglo-African Magazine would have been met with intense opposition. This meant that those who held these beliefs had to become creative in their opposition, and could greatly explain why the author chose to write this section in such a hidden way.

Despite their inaccuracy in timeline alignment, this excerpt largely reminded myself of lines from songs in Hamilton: the musical. Both artistic productions surround the topic of the establishment of America through the work of immigrants. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and lead of Hamilton, purposefully produced the musical in a humorous and honest way where each character was portrayed by a minority.

Throughout the musical there are lines supporting this belief, but one of the most prominent is “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.” Not all free men. Not all men with land. All men are created equal. (This is slightly bittersweet to defend, considering it does not include women, but that is another post for another day.)

This line was the basis of the creation of the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and wholly represented principles that Washington supported. It created all men as equal, and confirmed his wishes to free all slaves from their imprisonment. However, the next wave of political representatives brought strong opposition to this belief, increasing slavery exponentially, in response to the past wave of (quasi) equality. This welcomed the Civil War into American history.

As we find ourselves in our current states of affairs, we can look back on history and recognize the pattern of this wave of opposition. The Abraham Lincoln presidency and the subsequent abolishing of slavery followed the Civil War. Brown v. Board of Education and the de-segregation of public places and schools followed periods of deep-seeded hatred and racism. The Obama presidency, a period defined by hope and change, was followed by the Trump presidency and the rise of neo-Nazism.

In the face of all of this opposition throughout American history, opponents were forced to become creative in their presentation of the truth. The Anglo-African Magazine produced satire about the destruction of the ideals of the Founding Fathers. Martin Luther King Jr. practiced peaceful protests, inspiring sit-in movements across the nation. Lin-Manuel Miranda created a hit musical production where America was black, Hispanic, female, and so on. As a result of the works of these minorities, America was strong. But without it, as seen in the depiction of Mount Vernon, America was dilapidated.

Billy McCormick Post 1 – Craft Narrative

In his narrative,”Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom;
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery“, William Craft documents the escape of himself and his wife from the bondage of slavery.  Throughout, he grapples with many of the social, political, legal, and even theological reasoning for the differences between whites and blacks in his time. Unlike many slave narratives set in similar times, Craft’s narrative contains few descriptions of violence to exhibit the cruelty of slavery. Instead, he makes use of second hand accounts, allusions to laws, poetry, and literature, and first hand experience to craft a compelling tale of how his divided society operated.

Craft’s experience escaping to the north in the company of his wife disguised as a master brings forth many interesting points of how  racial differences were perceived. Craft’s wife, Ellen, was of a very light complexion and was very nearly white. She was able to pass for an older white man with the help of a disguise. It is shocking to learn that in a society where the color of one’s skin can often determine the extent to which they are treated as a human being, such a simple disguise can change his wife from slave to an esteemed white gentleman. This portion of the story exhibits how flimsy racial distinctions can be, particularly with those who are not strictly light or dark in complexion, even in a society where race is correlated so closely with humanity itself.

Craft also includes a few stories of white people being sold into slavery. His inclusion of this is quite unique, as many other narratives would not include such a passage and it is not very widely known that whites were ever sold into slavery. This distinction shows that it was not always racial lines that created differences and injustice, but sometimes just the perceived social superiority and blatant disregard for human rights of the slave holder.

Throughout the narrative, Craft also includes laws regarding slavery. He makes it clear that African Americans were not just socially ostracized, but also treated as less than human by the law itself. Even in some cases where the law appears to give the slave protections, there are obvious loopholes and exploits to make them totally null and void. For instance, the Constitution of Georgia at the time outlawed the killing of slaves, but also included that any slaves that were killed on “accident” through the use of “moderate correction” were to be excused. Laws like this quite literally allowed slave holders to get away with murder and failed to grant slaves even a shred of humanity.

Finally, Craft discusses the hypocrisy of how slavery can exist in a southern society of seemingly devout Christians. In a religion that preached peace and tolerance they allowed the unjust and cruel institution of slavery. In many cases, religion was even used to justify slavery, as many slaveholders believe that God provided the negro to serve the white man and they were free to do what they wish with their slaves. In their view, any abolitionists were directly contradicting God’s will. In this way, religion served as yet another tool by which difference was cultivated in this society.


Short Reflection 1: Epistles, Legislation, and Identity in William Craft’s Narrative

In the narrative Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: Or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, William Craft utilizes epistles, allusions, and identity exploration to effectively illustrate the prejudice and inhumanity institutionally, socially, and fundamentally directed towards African-Americans in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. The autobiographical tale focuses on an enslaved married couple who devise and partake in a successful escape from their master to the safety of the northern U.S., and then England, following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. Simultaneously incorporating the genre conventions of a slave narrative, Craft creates an emotional and powerful portrayal of a husband and wife desperately seeking the fundamental human right which was denied to them based solely off the pigment of their skin: freedom.

Above: Portraits of William and Ellen Craft, the couple at the center of Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom

One of the key epistles highlighted by the text is correspondence sent by Reverend Samuel May to Dr. Estlin in 1850. The letter is a vital component to building the narrative because it traces the events leading to the Craft’s narrow escape from slave-catchers in Boston to the safety of England. May comments on the tense political and racial landscape from which the Crafts need to flee, “[…] they nobly vindicated their title and right to freedom […] by winning their way to it; at least so they thought. But now, the slave power, with the aid of Daniel Webster […] has stimulated the slave-holders generally to such desperate acts for the recovery of their fugitive property, as have never before been enacted in the history of this government” (88 – 89). Furthermore, the arrest and legal charges brought against the slave-catchers attempting to recapture the Crafts contributes to the sense of political polarization evident between the North and South at this time, especially in the dawn of the Civil War. May’s point that the Crafts need to flee to “the shadow of the British throne” to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (91) underscores the hypocrisy underlying the American government’s support of slavery.

Along similar lines, William Craft includes allusions to political legislation which heavily influenced the trajectory of slavery and the legal rights (or lack thereof) of African-Americans and slaves during this time. For instance, Craft provides an in-depth summary of the legal rights of colored individuals in the Southern states, emphasizing the low legal status for blacks cemented by state laws found throughout states including Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Craft’s descriptions of the extent of each law encapsulates the arbitrary natures of the laws themselves, as Craft points out: “[…] the slaveholders make it almost impossible for free persons of color to get out of the slave States, in order that they may sell them into slavery if they don’t go” (38 – 39). Moreover, the legislation reflects the far-reaching extent of the laws and the deeply ingrained inequalities composing the institution of slavery. Craft also mentions the Fugitive Slave Act and the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision to contextualize the political climate and frame the government’s decades-long effort to oppress African-Americans and slaves.

Above: An 1851 flier posted around Boston, warning African-Americans and colored persons of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Additionally, Craft explores the identity of slaves as “chattel” in the narrative, particularly through descriptions of slave auctions. The slave auctions function as a vehicle to convey the inhumane objectification and violence faced by colored persons and slaves during this historical era; like merchandise, slaves were “brought to the auction stand and sold to the highest bidder” (19) as they were essentially recognized as “mere chattel, to be bought and sold, or otherwise dealt with as [their] owner might see fit” (30). The implications of the slave auctions—families being forcibly separated, the violent fates that awaited slaves following the sale, and the blatant cruelty exhibited by the white bidders—are an emotional appeal to the reader signifying the degree of brutality present in this commodification. Correspondingly, the widespread institutional disregard for the humanity and well-being of slaves completely dictated the political, social, and cultural realities for African-Americans in the United States.

Above: An illustration showing an 1861 slave auction in Virginia.

Each literary component of Craft’s autobiographical tale collectively builds to construct a taut, emotional narrative encapsulating the short- and long-term effects of the institution of slavery which pushed the Craft couple to execute a precarious escape from the barbarity of the Southern states pre-Civil War. Strategically integrating epistles, allusions, and identity exploration, Craft weaves a dynamic and dramatic chronicle of his experience which has grown to not only represent the horrors and tragic atrocities faced by countless individuals suffering under slavery but also the exhaustive lengths people took to escape from it.

Jared Floyd post 1 – “Tobacco Burn”

For the purpose of this reflection, I decided to analyze and comment on the short film “Tobacco Burn.” “Tobacco Burn” is a slave narrative that was recorded in the late 1930’s when Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the Federal Writers’ Project which was designed to document oral histories from emancipated American slaves. Through this project, writers across the country were able to record over 2,300 personal stories about slavery. As discussed in class, many of the slave narratives were actually written and recorded in the early 20th century after emancipation because of projects like the Federal Writers’ Project and the increasing literacy of free slaves. “Tobacco Burn” is one of these recorded slave narratives made into a short film.

This short film walks through a revolt in a small Southern farm around 35 years before the first bullets in the Civil War flew. Starting the film, we see an implied rape scene with one of the slaves and the new overseer on the farm named Mr. Sherman. By beginning with this scene, the cruel and inhumane treatment of the slaves is expressed. Even though Mr. Sherman is not the owner of the farm, he believes that he can use the slaves in any way he desires. After the rape scene, Mr. Wentworth, the owner of the farm, privately reprimands the new overseer because of his actions. Before the arrival of Mr. Sherman, it is understood that Mr. Wentworth treated his slaves fairly based on their clothing and his conversations with the slaves. Because Mr. Sherman took advantage of the slaves in many different ways, one night while Mr. Sherman was drinking near a fire, the slaves manage to strangle him and burn his body. The next morning, Mr. Wentworth asks where Mr. Sherman is; however, the slaves claim the last time they saw him was near the fire. The film concludes with Mr. Wentworth accepting the slaves’ response and commands them to resume their normal work implying his forgiveness. Revolts similar to this were starting to increase in number as the start of the Civil War approached.

Even though the slave narrative of “Tobacco Burn” was in the form of a film, it has similarities with the slave narrative of William and Ellen Craft but also has differences. For example, both narratives give an illustration of a slave owner that treats the slaves fairly; however, in “Tobacco Burn,” there is also a representation of violence and cruelty within the story of the overseer. In both narratives, we can see the how racial differences led to systemic racism and the cruel treatment of slaves which can be related to the racism that we still can observe in today’s society. To expose the hypocrisy of Christianity during the slave era, the slave narrative of William and Ellen Craft discusses how the “Christian” slave owners continued to treat their slaves horribly even though they believed in the Bible. I find it very interesting how William and Ellen Craft are constantly making references of their Christian faith throughout their journey that continues to give them hope in the hard times of life. In many other slave narratives that I have read, I have found a continuous trend of slaves relying on God to give them hope and strength even if they are never granted freedom through escape or emancipation. The Christianity that is expressed in the slave holder’s lives, which is not based on the true love and mercy that is found in the Bible, drastically differs from the Christianity that the slaves themselves believed in. Even though Christian themes are usually conveyed in slave narratives, “Tobacco Burn” never mentions the religious background of either the slaves or the master. However, based on the forgiveness and mercy that the master shows his slaves at the end of the story, it can be implied that his treatment of the slaves is rooted in his religious beliefs. Slave narratives like “Tobacco Burn” are essential to remind the country of the past and to prevent similar atrocities from happening again.

Matt Still Post 1 – The Craft Narrative


          The issues of racism and discrimination have been evident across the world and throughout history. Most thoughts about these matters are concentrated around the 18th and 19th centuries when slavery was at its peak. The narrative written by William and Ellen Craft (1860) describes an arduous and treacherous journey taken by themselves to escape the ever-gripping bonds of slavery. Sometimes lost or overlooked, this passage elaborates on many of the everyday oppressive nature that goes hand-in-hand with being an African American during this time period. Craft explains how he is strictly seen as a piece of land or an ‘item’ of his master, permanently under the thumb of another human being. This seems to be a recurring theme during this time period, as similarly stated by an article regarding antebellum slavery. This resource states that “Enslaved African Americans could never forget their status as property, no matter how well their owners treated them“.  Obvious divisions in social class and economic status also further perpetuate the ability for the whites to dominate over other ‘out-groups’. Thus, African Americans facing this white superiority had minimal chances of experiencing any of the God given rights he or she was entitled. But simply being white doesn’t necessarily guarantee power and entitlement, as Craft reports.

          Many children who were white (as well as his wife who was the daughter of her white master and had fair complexion) were stripped from their families or taken when separated and sold into slavery. This is an important inclusion in the passage as it adds to the overall understanding of the internal identities of the time period. These superficially can be seen as differences in race and class, as this is the most evident divide in the social standings of the time period. However, the inclusion of some whites into slavery convolutes this seemingly simple divide of power and creates different levels of oppression. Craft sees himself as a Black man, one of God, and his master’s chattel or item. He explains how he is also assumed to be just that, an item, and to wait hand and foot on white men. His role, as well as the role of others in a similar position, was to facilitate the lives of whites at the cost of his own and his freedom.

          Contradicting the stereotypical norm of the era, his account includes many sources and poems that further describe his perception of his reality and maltreatment. His vivid descriptions of the conditions he experienced creates a window for those to look in. Using first and second-hand accounts of such incidents, his credibility strengthened, and gave his story even more insight. This conflicts the social norm because blacks at that time were thought to be uneducated and unworthy of the ability to be educated. Evidence for this lies in an account of a woman, Mrs. Douglass, attempting to teach her slave to read the bible. The penalty for this was imprisonment for 30 days. Such unimaginable laws existed for the “best interest” of the slaves, from the perspective of whites. In this perspective, inhumane laws were written, justifying this indecency toward slaves, stating, “robbery, rape, and murder are not crimes when committed by a white upon a coloured person.” The existence of such laws and mindsets further fortify the importance of the Craft’s endeavor to liberty. Craft’s narrative of his escape embodies the inglorious identity of slaves and provides a powerful response to the cruel society in which he lived, breathing air into the embers of freedom and equality.


Hannah Neumann post 1 “I Am a Free Man Not a Slave”

I am writing this post on a short film I found titled “I am a Free Man Not a Slave.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZ6MQ5Dyfow

This short film in summary is about a white slave owner walking his slave through the woods (Ain’t no grave can hold my body down is sung in the background).  The slave  (Named Jeremiah) is weak and falls.  When his master yells at him to get up Jeremiah argues back that he does not own him and that he is not a slave.  The master retorts that he is the god and that the slave is the devil, Jeremiah wrestles the master’s gun from him and the short ends with Jeremiah pointing the gun at him and cocking the hammer.

This film brings to light many of the ideas we discussed in class.  The idea of whites thinking they are superior is not new, and sadly in today’s society it is not completely gone.  This false sense of superiority reminded me of the evaporation of the white race in the Anglo African gallery piece we read.  Whites held slaves and became lazy and lost their humanity and physicality and through a lack of use of their “persondom” they vanished, and the world appeared to be a better place because of it.

The artist, Bernice, also overpowers his former master and imprisons him, turning the tables and reversing the roles.  This is typical of slave narratives, those telling the story of successful escape overpower, or outwit their masters leading to a life where they can be their own people and make their own rules.  Jeremiah is a particularly “pure” looking African character.  Many slave narratives such as that of Frederick Douglas mentioned in class, include a particularly strong and “pure” person of African descent.  This character often rebels and fights back overpowering the white masters, just as it is suggested that Jeremiah does in the short.  The “pure characters” in slave narratives hardly ever reverse the role as Bernice does in the Afric Gallery, physically imprisoning his former captor for the rest of his days.  Jeremiah is also an extreme case if we are to assume that as the hanging ending suggests, he kills his former master as well.  Both of these pieces add very radical ideas.  For the time in which it was written, particularly Bernice’s narrative within the gallery,  it shows the extreme retaliation no doubt linked with the frustration and suffering brought upon his race as demonstrated in the Gallery pieces as a whole collective.