Characters of Blood

Characters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imagination

CELESTE-MARIE BERNIER
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrp79
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    Characters of Blood
    Book Description:

    Across the centuries, the acts and arts of black heroism have inspired a provocative, experimental, and self-reflexive intellectual, political, and aesthetic tradition. InCharacters of Blood,Celeste-Marie Bernier illuminates the ways in which six iconic men and women-Toussaint Louverture, Nathaniel Turner, Sengbe Pieh, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman-challenged the dominant conceptualizations of their histories and played a key role in the construction of an alternative visual and textual archive.

    While these figures have survived as symbolic touchstones, Bernier contends that scholars have yet to do justice to their complex bodies of work or their multifaceted lives. Adopting a comparative and transatlantic approach to her subjects' remarkable life stories, the author analyzes a wealth of creative work-from literature, drama, and art to public monuments, religious tracts, and historical narratives-to show how it represents enslaved heroism throughout the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean. In mapping this black diasporic tradition of resistance, Bernier intends not only to reveal the limitations and distortions on record but also to complicate the definitions of black heroism that have been restricted by ideological boundaries between heroic and anti-heroic sites and sights of struggle.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3325-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE: “SUPPOSE NAT TURNER PAINTED?”
    (pp. xiii-xxiii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxiv-xxviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION. “THEIR NAMES COLONIZED OFF”: REMEMBERING AND REIMANGINING BLACK HEROISM
    (pp. 1-26)

    “On a beautiful morning in the month of June, while strolling about Trafalgar Square, I was attracted to the base of the Nelson column, where a crowd was standing gazing at the bas-relief representations of some of the great naval exploits of the man whose statue stands on the top of the pillar.” So writes the nineteenth-century enslaved African American fugitive turned free man, author, orator, and historian William Wells Brown describing a visit to London in the opening to his sketch “Visit of a Fugitive Slave to the Grave of Wilberforce,” which appeared in Julia Griffiths’s antislavery gift book,...

  7. CHAPTER 1 “I SHED MY BLOOD”: TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE, MYTH, HISTORY, AND THE TRANSATLANTIC IMAGINATION
    (pp. 27-88)

    On November 4, 1941, Ralph Ellison published “Mister Toussan” in a radical magazine titled theNew Masses. As a dramatic engagement with white official history and black oral folk culture, Ellison’s short story establishes the fundamental role played by black male heroism in the lives of his impoverished Black child protagonists, Riley and Buster. Re-created as a mythical legend for both boys living in unjust social circumstances, Toussaint Louverture’s memory sparks their resistance to white mainstream stereotypes. These work not only to dismiss but to eradicate any epic associations that might potentially equate black manhood to heroism. Buster informs Riley,...

  8. CHAPTER 2 “N.T. 11 11 31”: NATHANIEL TURNER, SYMBOLISM, MEMORIALIZATION, AND AN EXPERIMENTAL POETICS
    (pp. 89-167)

    “THE KNIGHTLIEST OF THE KNIGHTLY RACE /WHO SINCE THE DAYS OF OLD /HAVE KEPT THE LAMP OF CHIVALRY /ALIGHT IN HEARTS OF GOLD.” So reads the inscription carved onto the base of a Confederate memorial close to the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, in the American South. This edifice starkly memorializes a horrifying history of racial terrorism in defense of white masculinity by exalting in the “knightliest of the knightly race” as custodians of the “lamp of chivalry.” As recently as November 14, 2007, “N.T. 11 11 31” was found spray-painted onto the monument.¹ The incendiary overtones of this unequivocal message...

  9. COLOR PLATES
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER 3 “NO RIGHT TO BE A HERO”: SENGBE PIEH, RESISTANCE, REPRESENTATION, AND THE POLITICS OF SEEING
    (pp. 152-199)

    “To commemorate the heroism of the Amistad Africans and those who shared in their quest for freedom, [in] 1989 [the] Amistad Committee commissioned this sculpture by Ed Hamilton and dedicated it on September 26 1992.” So reads the stone lettering incised on the granite base of the African American artist Ed Hamilton’s bronze monument commemorating the heroism of Sengbe Pieh and theAmistadAfricans (figure 11). The memorial stands in New Haven, Connecticut, the city in which these enslaved individuals were put on trial for “mutiny and murder.” Adopting a tripartite structure, as Hamilton explains, “The memorial deals with the...

  11. CHAPTER 4 “TICKETY-UMP-UMP-NICKY NACKY”: RE-CREATING, REKNOWING, AND REFIGURING SOJOURNER TRUTH
    (pp. 200-250)

    As recently as April 2009, the Black female sculptor Artis Lane’s bronze bust of Sojourner Truth made history as the first work representing an African American woman to be unveiled before audiences at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC. Worlds away from the centuries-old circulation of the body and face of the half-naked Black female enslaved woman shackled, on her knees, and begging, “Am I not a woman and a Sister?” this sculpture is startling for its aggrandized scale and forceful physiognomy. No bespectacled Truth benignly seated with her knitting—as was typical of her many photographic performances—Lane’s...

  12. CHAPTER 5 “A WORK OF ART”: FREDERICK DOUGLASS’S “LIVING PARCHMENTS” AND “CHATTEL RECORDS”
    (pp. 251-298)

    Five Great American Negroes,a work painted by the Black artist Charles White between 1939 and 1940, is one of his most famous history murals (see plate 8). White was inspired to create this large-scale, aggrandized spectacle of black cultural and political resistance by a newspaper survey in which Black readers selected Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver, and Frederick Douglass as their representative heroic icons. In contrast to White’s muralContribution of the Negro to Democracy in America,painted a few years later in 1943, in which Douglass appears as the founding father of black...

  13. CHAPTER 6 “I’VE SEEN DE REAL TING”: HARRIET TUBMAN, PERFORMANCE, AND MULTIPLE PERSONAE
    (pp. 299-350)

    “Harriet Tubman: Armed and Dangerous.” “Revolution Is a Woman’s Work.” “Harriet Tubman: Woman Warrior.” “The Heroic Struggle of ‘General’ Tubman.” “Tubman Mural with Musket Is Rejected.” So read the titles of just a few of the newspaper articles that appeared in 2000 regarding the controversies over the white artist Mike Alewitz’sMove or Die, a large-scale mural dramatizing the ex-enslaved woman and freedom fighter Harriet Tubman as an armed revolutionary (see plate 11). Alewitz imagined this work, designed in 1999 for an exterior wall of the Associated Black Charities organization in Baltimore, as part of a mural cycle entitled “The...

  14. CONCLUSION. “PORTALS, CONTAINERS, TIME CAPSULES, AND BRIDGES”: ACTS AND ARTS OF BLACK HEROISM IN TEXTUAL AND VISUAL ARCHIVES
    (pp. 351-360)

    Appearing in 2002, Debra Priestly’s mixed-media seriesStrange Fruitdramatizes black male and female strategies of psychological, physical, aesthetic, spiritual, and political resistance. As a thought-provoking series that places the onus upon the viewer to interpret from the fragments, Priestly’sStrange Fruitseries is composed of rows of canning jars into each of which she inserts haunting iconography. Following extensive research into the textual and visual archives of North American and transatlantic slavery, she generates emotional and aesthetic force by selecting fine-art portraits, plantation inventories, slave narrative frontispieces, photographs, propaganda broadsides, and abolitionist diagrams as multifaceted backdrops to these works....

  15. AFTERWORD THE BLACK BODY AS PROOF: BLACK HEROISM IN THE TRANSATLANTIC IMAGINATION
    (pp. 361-374)
    George Lipsitz

    Celeste-Marie Bernier’sCharacters of Blood: Black Heroism in the Transatlantic Imaginationgrapples with the vexed legacy of race and representation in ingenious, imaginative, and innovative ways. Bernier’s bold interdisciplinary study reveals the impossibility of innocent representations of race. It also delineates the many different ways that Black artists, activists, and intellectuals have used diverse visual and verbal representations as a means of talking back to power, as a creative form of self-representation designed to interrupt, invert, and subvert the power and authority of the dominant racial order. Bernier traverses decades, centuries, countries, and continents to select her primary objects of...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 375-390)
  17. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 391-418)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 419-436)