Skip to main content

tv   Jessie Morgan- Owens Girl in Black and White  CSPAN  May 12, 2019 10:00am-10:41am EDT

quote
10:00 am
programs in their entirety at booktv.org. type theauthor's name in the search bar at the top of the page . >> it's a full lineup of nonfiction authors and books and i can prime time. first up here, linda gave on her work with women around the world. then daniel and amar will discuss us expansion and the founding of the country . also tonight, republican editor mike lee of utah talks about our lost declaration. journalist mohsen larson examines what socialist system would look like in america and jacqueline jackson and her son overcome his men jesse jackson junior will discuss the letters they were to one another while he wasincarcerated. that's all the night in primetime , check your cable guide for more information. >> good evening.
10:01 am
welcome to the enterprise free library what writers series, i am gideon fisher, editor of this department and it is my pleasure tointroduce this evening our guest author, doctor jesse morgan . just morgan owens is a scholar, educator and writer with 18 years experience teaching and practicing participatory writing pedagogy's. he received her ba in photojournalism and creative writing from loyola university and her doctorate in american from new york university. she is the author of the book girl in black and white, the story of mary mildred williams which traces the influence of photography in
10:02 am
the campaign to abolish slavery in the us.her research in photography and abolition has been supported by an and ew, national endowment for the humanities grant and a residency at the newhouse center for the humanities for western college. she currently is the dean of studies and director of curriculum at bard college. in addition to her academic work in photography, jesse shoots professionally with the award-winning team. originally from monroe louisiana, jesse leads new orleans with her family. please join me in welcoming jesse. two library, and in baltimore. thank you. >> how are you? i'm going to do a little 19th-centurypowerpoint, there
10:03 am
are very many of us . is that in the way of the shot? here we go. okay. that will show us the picture . of mary. i'm here today to talk about my book girl in black and white, because it's the story of mary mildred williams. after nearly a decade of scholarship and grant funded research in america's archives, along with my fellow anti-slavery sellers tried and mary mitchell had determined that this photograph, is this dynamic type of mary may well be the first of its kind . one of the first images of photographic propaganda, one of the first portraits solely made to prove a political point , i am a photographer and the lens is my representational method of choice but i also understand that a lens is the mimicry of the eye it's a tool that copies the way that we see . and in this case, when
10:04 am
photography was invented, people saw the opportunity to show folks what dates saw exactly the way they saw so when i get a picture i'm basically saying this is what i see . would you like to see it away that i see it so i can take a picture over here and say to this crowd over there, this is what isee and this is how i want you to see it, i'll frame things in my way . surprisingly though, that traditional photo history for some time certainly when i was coming up were thinking that photography was not necessarily a part of political campaigns until the 1860s . my dissertation and my research has been arguing that that's not the case, that it was a call from day one and i think anyone who's made a photograph and use it to prove a point knows there's no way outside ideology when it comes to photography. and anti-slavery in photography are now regarded to have overlapping histories. they're going influence, innovative technologies and
10:05 am
sway over the public mind. it stands face in the 1840s and 1850s and photography changed the way people vote, the way people thought, the way people argue their points . as sort of become a commonplace , but it's easy to forget how the primal potency thatthese new images had on the fresh eyes and antebellum audience . this daguerreotype represents a extraordinary innovation in the history of media, when mary sierra type marks the moment when photography began to make its tenacious claim on our medical point of view. so mary is essentially america's first poster child as the southern press pointed out, it's a little bit strange for the abolitionists to choose a white child to be the poster child for american anti-slavery. when slavery was racially bound so what was the point of that withthe big part of what i was trying to get out in this book . i'm going to start, i want to organize my talk today about
10:06 am
around this two photo theorists that guided me through the work. the first is roland barth, a photographer best known for his book in camera lucid out, and in that book he says that there are three available stances a personcan take around a photograph . you can do it to do, you can undergo it or be the subject of a photograph, or you can look at it. you can be a part of the audience. so i wanted to think for a moment about the picture makers, the people who are doing. since we are in baltimore going to give that voice over to frederick douglass. frederick douglass was a photography theorist as well as all the other things that he was . he wrote for lectures on photography during the civil war.
10:07 am
and they're known as pictures and progress generally and held at the library of congress. so far no one has transcribed all four, however they are available to download if you're into that kind of thing. but i'm going to read to you a passage from pictures in progress which he delivered in 1861. it is the picture of life contrasted with the fact of life, the ideal contrasted with the real which makes criticismpossible . where there is no criticism, there is no progress. for the want of progress is not felt where such want is not madevisible by criticism . poets, profits and reformers are all picture makers and disability is the secret of their power and their achievement. they see what ought to be by the reflection of what is an endeavor to remove the contradiction . in this quote, i feel that
10:08 am
frederick douglass is asking us to endeavor to remove the contradiction between what is photographed and what could be visualized.so making this image of mary was in some ways and activision. i'm going to read to you from the part where charles sumner first encounters mary and decide tohave her photographed , in part because that piece right there tells us volumes about what he was doing when he decided to make this image. and it appears, so ford maddox ford is a british modernist and you can tell the quality of any book by looking at case 99 and i got my copy of the book incase 99 as a blank . so this is a bit concerning but i am going to read to you from the proximal page which is page 101. it's a revised board there. this is from chapter 8.
10:09 am
charles sumner was charmed by mary's older brother, oskar when he met him in washington after their many missions. oscar 10 years old was right and intelligent with eyes of an eagle and a beautiful smile area and when sumner first met oscar he asked, you are for young man, do you know what that means? and oskar replied i now belong to myself. sumner lacked, well, there is definition which philosophy might borrow . on every, charles sumner bible his plans for henry and elizabeth to mary and oskar's mother and father. he diagnosed his plans to their children. he would want a publicity campaign around oscars right and intelligent sister mary. each of mary or her life skin color and or vulnerability to trafficking in the sex trade as a slave girl. owner gets out of campaign around mary's appearance.
10:10 am
first she would be photograph there in washington by julian batterson was one of the preeminent photographers at the time and photograph on a "type plate which in 1825 was the most expensive way to have a photograph made. he's intending to fight. he was going to send northward to be copied into slate and then the entire family would be publicly exhibited as they make their way north , first in new york, where they visited the newyork times, new york times reported they were astonished by her . and then they went to the statehouse in boston where along with anthony burns, were presented with the massachusetts legislature and then mary was presented alongside sumner in april as sort of a product for his speech about anti-slavery enterprise. so that lecture 4000 people so few people saw her and she was a bit of a media darling
10:11 am
for the three or four months he was in the public eye, around hundreds of articles about her. largely describing her look , so mostly the exterior of her. i have found only one record of something from her interiority and it's a difficult record so he says the journalist from the worcester spine he sees her at the statehouse says that she, let me get the words exactly right. she sparkled as she regarded the gold codfish mahal dust like any other girl. so there's a little bit of bias there obviously, it's a slightly racist comment but it suggests something about her response to something so i got on the seat and i went up to the statehouse to try and see the codfish for myself. it's made of gold and it's strange that there's a fish in the hall in massachusetts so it's not surprising that
10:12 am
she would respond inthat way but after 13 years of looking, those are the only things . those words are the only notes towards a personality or a note towards mary that i was able to find. her record has been completely silent, so she's there in the 19th century. she's there to be looked at, she's a spectacle, not necessarily to be consulted or to have a conversation with. i feel quite blessed by the five words that we have about oskar, he has when he was 16 was wonderful that it was recorded. his mother and her mother and her grandmother were not, we don't have anything from them but there is some record of what her father was like. so maybe we should move to the second part of roland barth's formulation and think about the person who undergoes the photographing. that would be mary and her family history, i was looking at, let me see if i can start , looking at mary's photograph today with some
10:13 am
students from the bard college school that we had in baltimore, and they were saying that the first thing they would do was to try and restore her background because when you become a poster child, your history is whitewashed and flattened. there's not any sort of background in textual knowledge from which people can go on . not really much, i'm going to back up in a second but she's not really visible as a person. so they said, the next thing you have to do is look up everything you can about her and i suffer from a dedication to completeness, according to my husband. so i kept looking and looking and it was very difficult to find much about a family that was in slavery. as well as a family that her name was mary and her last name was williams in freedom so it's not easy name to
10:14 am
find. but i'll tell you what ifound out so far, at least some of it. she was born into slavery in virginia in 1847 . her father passed martin slavery and henry williams in freedom and escape to boston in 1850 for the underground railroad. it's likely that he ran the whole way. when he arrived, he found his way into the robust community at beacon hill. and was a waiter at the portillo coffeehouse. fugitives slave catchers, otherwise known as the police came to look for him there and he was secret and out of boston and hid with henry david thoreau recorded a wonderful conversation with him which is the heart of chapter 4 of my book, probably one of my favorite chapters as i'm such a fan of boro but also because it's a moment where we get to know a little bit about the character and what they thought. thoreau and henry were the same age. he, when he got back from hanging out in concorde with
10:15 am
the row, he did not go to montrcal as his predecessor cedric mencken said gone, he decided to come back in boston and start fundraising for his family and for his own many missions. his first stop was john alb and andrew who was later become the governor of massachusetts but at this time, was a lawyer where he largely submitted the closed committee. he ran the fund for destitute slave and so he knew most of the people in boston. and he told that henry williams came in, john andrew historian and johnson i'll take the case. they started fundraising and before he was done, henry williams had fund raise enough money to free his entire family, mary, her little sister rebecca adelaide, her brother oskar, mother elizabeth and henry's wife. her grandmother, prudence. her aunt evelina, her uncle
10:16 am
jesse as well as albert and i don't have time to tell you today about all that i've learned about each of those people but they all have extraordinary stories of their own. and in particular, prudence, mary's grandmother went i would show you slide here in 19th-century fashion,i'll just show you a picture from the book . here we go. prudence nelson bell was enslaved by a woman named constance cornwell who in her will be her and her increase for ever to her telegenic grandson who was a black man. and so prudence was owned by a black man for most of her enslavement, her thirty-year enslavement. she's always been promised read him by him but never received it and one of the things thatwas interesting was because he did not actually want to take on the ownership of these people ,
10:17 am
she went to go live with her mistresses executor of her will also happen to have been the father of all of prudence's children. no prudence lived for 30 years and an arrangement that we refer to as sexual enslavement. having lived with captain nelson until he died.when he died without a will which is crazy to me considering how many people he owned and also how much property owned, all of his people went to his wife's brother to adjudicate and unfortunately prudence was caught up in that and i'm guessing, this is something i can't quite tell but it's quite clear that eliza nelson would not want to keep these people around so there was the possibility her family would be sold out from under her and this catalyzed john cornwell, master to start trying to figure out ways to
10:18 am
get them out of virginia which is where the story picks up. mary was born at the same time as the cake that would be her reached thevirginia supreme court . so i want to think for a second about the third part of the audience. the third part of barth's formulation which is the audience. who were the audience for this photograph and why is this photograph being produced? i think that the thorniest and most relevant for us today, mary was photographed in part because charles sumner, he was not a particularly empathetic man but he was politically extremely astute and he knew that his entire constituency was white men this time and he felt that there desire to protect this child might in some way force them to think differently aboutslavery . and we can spend a lot of time i think thinking about
10:19 am
the intentionality of that and whether or not intentions are good enough in this case. as a new audience for mary's photograph, that's our 2019 audience of mary's photograph, i think this part of barth's formula has a lot to tell us. we are an audience for this image and i want to recall what frederick douglass said at the beginning, that without criticism, there is no progress. the photograph was made for one purpose and my hope is that it will help us toget to another place . through the criticism that it offers us and gives us a space to speak about. for the white progressives to consider, it's something to think about with the, why are audiences like us receiving images that looklike us ? why do you think that images made for us always look like us? life is whiteness centered in
10:20 am
the impression of other people and i think that poster child, the concept of poster child is a interesting place for us to start thinkingabout that . for the black progressives and antiracist activists in the audience, i want to consider you tell the truth to a room full of white people? and i think that's something that is a question that needs to be answered as well. in this case, i think that we need to consider how mary's photograph asks us to really reflect on the truth of what her story has to tell us about our actual history and hopefully, she can serve as a sort of patch on the tattered social programming that we inherited from the 19th century. abolitionists are imperfect heroes and they brought with them a great deal of prejudice, also the 19th century was largely recorded by men as men talking to each other and we have so little
10:21 am
to go on in terms of real experience of the people, the lift experience of the people in the 19th century and also, there were so many taboos covered over mary's story that it was impossible for me to find out who she was from the jump. and the reason for that is because we have so many taboos about actual enslavement, about the sexual violence that took place in slavery, but then also what that means in terms of how we understand gender in the 19th century and how we understand what the world that we are currently living in . i hope that i've been clear in the last part but feel free to ask me more questions about. as i'm working on this book and this tour around the book, i'm thinking a lot about how audiences are responding to her image. i see astonishment as we still have a totalizing view of what slavery was and how
10:22 am
mary would have fit into it. like you know, she's not expected to be a slave. because of who she looks like . i think that's an important thing to put pressure on. and also, just to use a darkroom word, a world from the darkroom is the word agitate and when you agitate in a darkroom it means something slightly different. it means to put something in a nice cool bath, 60 degrees and shake it for 30 seconds and i think right now that's how people are responding and that's how sumner responded to the question how do we tell the truth the white people? i think that's a little bit of an agitation, i'd like to think about how can we push that further because as frederick douglass said, without criticism there is no progress. thank you very much and i'm happy to take any questions about the book or anything having to do with it.
10:23 am
i'll bring the microphone to you if you have questions. >> we've had two questions, one was douglas didn't, if you said something about transcribing, they were transcribed. that means hyped up, they were handwritten. >> frederick douglass's handwriting is difficult but not too terrible to read so it's not always a priority to transcribe what he hadwritten . obviously he was writing the speech in 1961 prior to typewriters so it's all a handwritten. and you know, i think transcription is something that is a project of many archivists and it's pretty amazing part of the moment that we live in. there's this technology called ocr, or optical character recognition that makes it possible to search by keyword from the 19th century and earlier than that, it's beentranscribed .
10:24 am
for originally showed up in newsprint. and so there is a group of activists and people out there who are doing the work of typing stuff, if you want to do that, you can go to the anti-slavery project and just sign up. here's a document and you just type it up. and that, they can become a part of the research as people look for something. so a lot of the work of women and abolitionists, people of color, narrative of all sorts were not put into print, they were not seem to be worth doing so, that just didn't happen so now we can go back and dothat and make it a part of the research . >> let other question was i didn't quite touch the just of your points, you mentioned something about abolitionists came to this with a bias? could you explain the bias or
10:25 am
flesh it out for me? i didn't quite. >> absolutely, so when i wrote this book, one of the things i wanted to do was the facts as neutrally as possible and not to make assertions about it but instead, teach, just to be your thing, make up your own mind because if you figure it out on your own, it'sprobably going to stick . this is mrs. harper, professor to do list, we want to make assertions and peer-reviewed requires assertions so there's a lack of assertions in the book and a lot of times i just get the material, i just get the abolitionists in theirown words . what that does is it exposes some of thebias they worked with . they put their lives on the line and often times their likelihood for anti-slavery. that is not a question. also occasionally use language suggested for example they would use the
10:26 am
phrase poor creatures. to refer to the people that they were working with. or that happens a lot when talking about mary or they would sort of indulge the light series of as a concept like that they were saving these people. there's a lot of bias in the way that people are presented, quoted, insulted. in terms of intelligence and philosophy and i think that there's some analogs that now. in terms of and communities of activism, are we always been clear as white allies about how we're censoring whiteness or not or whether we are exhibiting bias through the language that we use. and certainly, in the 19th century this was right, there's no question about that and it's important to read the book with some understanding of how race was considered to be a part of natural order of things, for the people who are the white
10:27 am
abolitionists working in the 1850s, that said, we still can hold them to a certain amount of account and reflect on howfar we've come . >> you were talking about the audience and that's something i thought about a lot in terms of whoever made this image or whatever they've made as some intend in the audience whether it's a familysnapshot or whatever . but then that thing, once it's made goes on to half audiences that were never intended. and certainly talking about this one now, that's probably beyond imagination so i was confused when you talk about intended audiences, if we were that intendedaudience when maybe not . could you say more about how that sort of continues into the future and beyond ?
10:28 am
>> it's a little theoretical and i hear you there. i will say when i think the intended audience, they're the intended audience from the original photograph but i want to point out we are an audience. we count. when barth says you can look at a photograph, you can look at a photograph with intent now that may nothave been imagined by the earlier folks . when i first came across this argument, and i went out to lunch at a place called turkey in the wall which is in new orleans and it won best sandwich place or something and it was very popular and they have this wall of pictures of teenagers from the 80s. with their mohawks and their crazy hair and their earrings and all the things and it's clear that we are not the intended audience and it is also clear that they're putting these pictures here as a joke. they're here to make us laugh.
10:29 am
and it's kind of, my first thought was what if somebody stumbles in here and find their high school yearbook photograph under the glass at the counter as a mockery? but the fact that audiences shift and change over time and this moment, this opportunity i think to look at this picture a new cannot be underestimated. the fact is that we could now look at this picture and say to ourselves this is a beautiful child and that's it. but that's not exactly where we are in terms of the quality and the way that game works today so i think like frederick douglass said, we have to remove that contradiction between what this picture says and what it says. what the meaning of it is. both for our audiences now and then. does that make sense a little bit? >> it is an open question.
10:30 am
>> i have an addendum if i could. there's a picture of mary and oscar here that was intended for family use and it's totally different so that's also part of it is thinking through if you got a picture made for political purposes, it's going to look a certain way. we may not always be able to recognize what it isbut there are pictures in here of mary and her brother that were not intended for a wider audience. their private photographs and she was completely different . so let's look through it and look at it after . >> thanks for coming. my name is mohammed. >> ..
10:31 am
which there is none, and whether not i have permission or whether not i should be taking this door and writing it as a book. in the end the place i landed was my motive is to make sure this story is known, so the book is largely extract and as little of my opinion as possible. that doesn't mean that's ongoing to present it on the tour are when i'm talking to people about it. i'm going to say this is what i hope you'll get out of this book. book. but my primary motive for the book was always to once i decide to make it the book, when ahead reparations the first was academic part of my dissertation and the public peace. i let it sit for several years and i thought if i told enough
10:32 am
people about mary that someone would pick it up. no one did yet. i think at a certain point, it was about 2012, 2011 when i felt like i'd been sitting undistorted this story for some time and that was just a further silencing of her and every story. as more mature came to me. also if you publish something like this people come to you with all kinds of material. genealogists, daughters and great daughters came to me like rate great-granddaughter stride find out if i doubt any pictures of records of their time together on stage because there are no photographs of northup that we know. she and i correspond a great deal about these issues.
10:33 am
you kind of get to a place where you realize that if it's not you, then who is a going to be? is according to happen? i think that's where i landed. it makes more sense to me to choose to do it in a way that is as neutral as possible while still remembering that as a white person i will bring a certain perspective to it, that i will never be able to exist outside of. so managing that as best as i could. does that answer your question? thank you. >> two quick questions. one i may have missed it what it was a photograph taken and, you said oscar died at 16. was there any more knowledge of what happened to mary throughout the rest of her life? >> great questions. so the photograph was made in february of 1855 by julian
10:34 am
peterson. if your photography nerd you know that typing was on the weight at this time so was a deliberate choice to use a typist to make this image. that was first-class status of the time. i know pretty much as much as can be known about mary's life passed this moment and it takes place in the book in passage, a part called private passages, following her moment in the spotlight, bleeding kansas or bloody kansas started to emerge as a primary conversation around anti-slavery and popular sovereignty in kansas generally. john brown starts to emerge on the scene. the conversation begins to shift at that point. charles sumner himself has changed. we start to see more violence in the abolitionist frederick but mary doesn't have a lot of place
10:35 am
in. also a number of people try to adopt mary away from her black family. and at that point i think also her family realized let's get out from under this. they moved to lexington, massachusetts, and over time began to build some wealth and owned a house in hyde park where she lived with elizabeth, her mom and her sister as white women. the other methods members of to really interesting lives all over the boston area and prudence as well was known to be an agent on the underground railroad former spot. i think there's a lot there to talk about, but one thing that is important to keep in mind is that she was passing for most of the late part of the 20th century. even found that would have wanted to adopt her and make her wife and what type she could no longer be in touch with because
10:36 am
they would didn't expose her. she would lose her apartment, her job. at a certain point when she's working at the clerk of course in massachusetts and living in a beautiful apartment on chestnut street in beacon hill, with another white women, her name was mary also, there's not a lot of the abolitionist and so forth talked about meeting her but also i like it had to pretend like we did know who she was. because of the fact of passing and the fact what she was doing was trying to run the gauntlet between white and black for the rest of her life. those rules were all set up by white supremacy. i think sometimes people come team me with some of the moral judgment and it is true there was a great deal of loss in their family because of the fact of passing but i'm always minded folks that was created by laws by white people. i think she had a pretty decent life.
10:37 am
i remember thinking there was this will moment where i discovered her death certificate. it was six weeks after i turned in the manuscript for the book which of course is always the way that her name was mary mildred williams at the end of her life and there are a lot of mary williams is. i had to send out to so many death certificates just a little bit to late so my editor was able to stop publishing company put in these last chapters. when i i finally got to see her great site and to see how she ended, petulant the last bit of her life was truly a wonderful moment for me, but also really closes out the story with a little bit of last utterance which is an epilogue. when she was 46 her mother died, elizabeth died, and she had elizabeth moved from original great site to a great site at an
10:38 am
integrated cemetery and mention oscar would been dead over 30 years also moved to the same great site. for me that's a form of utterance, that something i find mary, something i know about mary that she made that decision to do that at great expense to which it so fast she was living in new york city. she had herself transported to boston to be buried with that family. i think that tells us a little bit about who she was as a human. thanks for the question. are there any other questions? >> i just have a comment, and i want to thank you for this work from a photogenic perspective and also from a historical perspective. and particularly the part about passing because so often there's so many women during the 19th century the past but there's no story about them, or we don't know their story or the stories are yet to be uncovered. so i think this is the great
10:39 am
work to shed some light on what occurred during that particular time. >> thank you. thank you, vivian. there's, i think there's no greater form of silencing and for someone to live a false identity and identity that is different from the one that is assumed to be true. we think about it now as clausing folks, a little bit more of a contemporary idea. but if you think about what that means for the archives and what that means for stories, it's very hard work. allison hobbs if you're interested in this chose exile. it's an excellent place to go, her book came out a while ago but it's around. i think there's a lot of really great work being done about those families and about what it meant to the families to have to pass. >> well, thank you so much for being here, jesse. they ground of applause.
10:40 am
[applause] >> she will be signing books at the information desk and the ivv bookshop is your selling copies of "girl in black and white" so please make sure you get your copy. thank you and have a good night. [inaudible conversations] >> you are watching tv on c-span2. booktv, television for serious readers. >> pdb everybody. my name is leah connolly and i'm with the smithsonian associates.

6 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on