O.P. Recommends: Frederick Douglass’ Drunk History Episode

This year brings all things Frederick Douglass to O.P., in celebration of the bicentennial of the great human rights activist’s birth, one especially dear to my mind and heart. So here I share my favorite episode of Drunk History, in which comedian and screenwriter Jen Kirkman drinks two bottles of wine before she tells Douglass’ story. It also stars Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass, Will Farrell as Abraham Lincoln, and Zooey Deschanel as Mary Todd Lincoln. Directed by Jeremy Konner. Prepare for some aching ribs…

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Book Review: The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia, by Claude A. Clegg III

Liberian Senate drawn by Robert K. Griffin, Monrovia, Liberia 1856, public domain via the Library of Congress

The Price of Liberty is not a new publication, but I found this book which I read and reviewed for one of my seminars so interesting I thought I’d share it here with you:

In his 2004 book The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia, Claude A. Clegg III examines the history of African-American migration to Liberia, a colony established for free African-Americans, previously enslaved and otherwise. Clegg chooses the experiences of colonists from North Carolina to West Africa as his case study. His examination reveals the complex issues of African-American liberation from slavery and its wider effects. From the struggles of African-Americans nominally repatriated as they formed a colony in an unfamiliar country in the continent of their ancestors’ birth, to the impact of their colonization on African peoples displaced or made neighbours by these foreigners from American shores, Liberia was at once a place of hope, promise, turmoil, and struggle. While the book focuses on three major waves of emigration throughout the nineteenth century, Clegg’s epilogue rounds out the story with a brief history of Liberia in the twentieth century and up to the time the book was written.

The Price of Liberty’s first chapter lays the groundwork with the backstory of the colonization movement in the eighteenth century, centred on American Quakers’ evolving beliefs about the morality of chattel slavery and their attempts to work around laws that prohibited manumission or at least rendered it prohibitively expensive. The colonization movement, though lambasted by abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass as a racist attempt to rid the United States of those Americans who did so much to build it with so little reward, was also considered by many, both black and white, to be a ready if expensive way to resolve interracial conflict. Clegg then describes three major waves of emigration of North Carolinian freepersons to Liberia. The first wave included two main periods. The first, from 1825 – 1830, saw 652 emigrants to Liberia, Haiti, and other places, mostly to the former (Liberty p 75). Negative reports about the dangers of emigration, especially of high rates of mortality from malaria, led the movement to lull. The second period followed white reprisals and repressions sparked by Nat Turner’s slave uprising. The deadliness of white raids and assaults gave new urgency to the movement, so from 1831 – 1833, an additional 203 North Carolinians settled in Liberia, among many hundreds more from other states (Liberty pp 138, 141). The second wave, from 1850 – 1864, was also sparked by crisis: the 1850’s Fugitive Slave Law and subsequent legal attacks on the rights of black Americans such as the 1857 Dred Scott case. These engendered new dangers not only for escaped slaves and those still in thrall, but also for free black Americans, who could be captured and pressed into slavery with few legal remedies left to alleviate their plight. Again, with reports of Liberian struggles with malaria, poverty, and conflict with neighbouring Africans combined with the end of the Civil War and emancipation, the colonization movement again dwindled and virtually disappeared by the end of the 1850’s. The final and longest wave began in 1865 following the institution of repressive Black Codes, attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, and general lack of opportunities for freed African-Americans to lift themselves out of poverty. 1879 saw the last relatively large number of North Carolinian freeperson emigrants to Liberia (Liberty p 267).

Though freeperson colonists suffered poverty, armed and political conflicts with neighbouring West African peoples and those who shared their communities, and difficulties wresting a living from the rocky soil in communities decimated by malaria and other diseases. Liberia continued on and does so today as Africa’s oldest republic (Holsoe). Though emigrating African-American freepeople hoped to find a country in which their ancestry would no longer render them separate and unequal in their new societies, they found themselves separated from the African people they found on it West Coast by a wide gulf created by cultural and religious differences; in fact, many West Africans considered these immigrants whites who just happened to have black skin (Liberty p 97). Clegg’s study of the origins and history of the Amero-Liberian colonization movement offers a compelling example of the difficulties in forming a stable society built on the ideals of equality, liberty, and democracy while resting upon a foundation of colonization and displacement and, in many instances, of the exploitation of native Africans. It also reveals the promise and problems of the Pan-Africanist movement, of building identity on a broad basis of shared ancestry and struggle rather than the cultural and religious affinities and community ties that more commonly bind humanity together.

Bibliography

Clegg, Claude Andrew. The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia. The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Holsoe, Svend E. et al. ‘Liberia.’ Encyclopædia Britannica. 9 February, 2018. Accessed 23 February 23, 2018 at www.britannica.com/place/Liberia

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The Right to be Poor, Part 2: O.P. Recommends ‘Freedom and Hostile Design’ by Barry Lam

People in a Public Square (cropped), Image Creative Commons CCO Public Domain via Pixabay

Last year, O.P. shared an excellent article by Peter Adamson called ‘The Right to Be Poor’, which is about an aspect of the property rights debate that we rarely address: the right to own nothing.

Recently, Barry Lam, associate professor of philosophy at Vassar College and creator of the excellent podcast Hi-Phi Nation, considered another aspect of the human rights and ownership problem: do people who own little or nothing have a right to access public places in the course of taking care of their most basic needs? In the episode ‘Freedom and Hostile Design,’ Lam and his guests ‘look at some of the suckiest things that ever sucked in urban design, and the street artists and compassionate vandals who are trying to fight them. We use these stories to investigate how public spaces are becoming less free and more coercive.’

If you enjoy what you hear, don’t stop there! Hi-Phi Nation is one of the best philosophy and indeed, any podcasts out there.

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O.P. Recommends: Frederick Douglass at In Our Time by BBC Radio 4 with Melvin Bragg and Guests

Two portraits of Frederick Douglass from the Hutchinson Family scrapbook at the Lynn Historical Society & Museum, photo by Amy Cools

I’m particularly excited to share this new episode of In Our Time because it’s on a subject particularly dear to my heart and stimulating to my mind: the life and ideas of the great human rights advocate Frederick Douglass. Born a slave in Maryland in 1818, his story as a self-made man starts with refusal: refusal of enforced ignorance; refusal to be cowed and beaten; refusal to stay in a situation where anyone claimed a right to own his person; refusal to stay silent about abuses against his fellow black humanity and against women, immigrants, and the poor; refusal to allow white abolitionists to tell him what to believe and how to present himself. In sum, Douglass refused to be anything other than or less than what he believed he could and should be.

Douglass went on to have one of the most impressive, distinguished, thoughtful, and dogged careers fighting for the rights of everyone that he perceived suffering under the worst excesses of human greed, bigotry, and moral passivity. He did so with passion and exceptional oratorial skill. All in all, I find Douglass to be one of the most memorable and inspiring human beings to ever have lived.

In their discussion on Douglass, Melvyn Bragg and his guests Karen Salt,  Nicholas Guyatt, and Celeste-Marie Bernier, the University of Edinburgh’s own Professor of Black Studies in the English Department with fill you in on many fascinating details about his life, work, and thought. I’m pleased and excited to say that Professor Bernier has recently invited me to join her in-progress project Our Bondage and Our Freedom in celebration of the bicentennial of Douglass’ birth.

Interior of the Theological School Library at the University of Edinburgh’s New College

Enjoy!

An update on my own work on Douglass: my Master’s degree studies are keeping me so occupied at the moment that I barely have time for my other research, let alone time to write it all up. At the moment, my Douglass research is taking me to the Special Collections of the Theological School Library, at the New College of the University of Edinburgh. I’m reading through Thomas Chalmers’ papers and other documents pertaining to the ‘Send Back the Money!’ campaign and the Scottish abolitionist movement. So fascinating, and I look forward very much to sharing what I find with you!

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O.P. Recommends: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Discovering America, from The New Yorker’s Politics and More Podcast

Summer 2014 issue of Ms. featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, by Ms. magazine, CC BY-SA 4.0

In this fascinating podcast episode, the brilliant and eloquent Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses her American experience, the absurdity of racism, the increasing orthodoxy and silencing of dissent on the political left, and much more with The New Yorker’s David Remnick. I find Adichie one of the most mesmerizing speakers and conversationalists around today.

Enjoy, and if this podcast episode happens to be your introduction to Adichie’s insightfulness and complex set of perspectives, an internet search of her name will reveal a wealth of talks, interviews, and more… you’re in for one intellectual treat after another!

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O.P. Recommends – The Good Wife: Gender and Sexuality in the Middle Ages, by Peter Adamson

Young Lady Writing in an Hymnal by Giacomo Pacchiarotto, turn of 16th c, Siena, Italy

One of Peter Adamson’s most recent podcast episodes for his History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps particularly delighted me, in the surprises sprinkled richly throughout and its thoughtful yet lively and sometimes humorous exploration of a wide range of religious, social, and literary topics. The history of sexuality and gender attitudes in the medieval Western world was more varied than we might realize, both in sacred and secular contexts.

And don’t stop with this one, by any means: every episode I’ve ever heard of Peter’s multitudinous podcasts are fantastic! Enjoy!

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O.P. Recommends: American Philosophical Association Interview with Aaron James

Photo by StockSnap via Pixabay, cropped, free to use under Creative Commons license

 

Do you like philosophy and surfing and dislike assholes while curious about what makes them tick? Then Aaron James is the thinker for you!

Skye Cleary interviewed Professor James in December for The American Philosophical Association.

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O.P. Recommends: ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That: Frederick Douglass in Scotland’ by Andrea Baker for BBC Radio 4

Frederick Douglass daguerreotype, late 1840’s, about how he would have looked when he was in Scotland.

I’m hard at work today researching Frederick Douglass‘ travels in Scotland in 1846 and 1860, and looking forward eagerly to my planned journey(s) following in his footsteps here. I came across this wonderful program by Andrea Baker, an American opera singer who settled here in Scotland, recorded for BBC Radio 4. I think Ms. Baker will convince you as thoroughly as I’m convinced that the story of Douglass in Scotland is absolutely fascinating!

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O.P. Recommends: The African Enlightenment -The Highest Ideals of Locke, Hume and Kant Were First Proposed More than a Century Earlier by an Ethiopian in a Cave, by Dag Herbjørnsrud

Study of an African’s Head by Paul-Jean Flandron, 1830, Seattle Art Museum

In this fascinating piece, historian of ideas Dag Herbjørnsrud describes the ideas of the 17th-century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob (1599-1692) and the 18th-century Guinean philosopher Anton Amo (c1703-55), comparing them to those of the great European Enlightenment thinkers. Well before they were developed in the Enlightenment tradition, Yacob and Amo were articulating ideas about the moral and intellectual equality of all human beings, women included; the immorality of slavery; an open yet skeptical view of religion; and many other key moral concepts we now widely ascribe to and whose origins we often credit to the Enlightenment. Herbjørnsrud asks: ‘Will Yacob and Amo also one day be elevated to the position they deserve among the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment?’ Herbjørnsrud has inspired me to respond ‘I very much hope so!’

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OP Recommends: The Best Philosophy Books of 2017, Recommended by Nigel Warburton at Fivebooks

A view of Edinburgh Central Library’s Reading Room

Now that my papers are done and I have five weeks or so to choose my own reading, I’m heading to Edinburgh’s beautiful Central Library to pick up some books I’ve been itching to get into. One of them was already on my list: Dennis Rasmussen’s The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought (one of my goals for the year is to learn as much about Scotland’s intellectual history as I can while I’m here). Nigel Warburton has made a list of his five favorite philosophy books of 2017, and Massimo Pigliucci’s book is among them. These are two excellent philosophers in the public square I’ve been following for a long time, and their philosophy podcasts are among my favorites.

Looks like I have four more books to add to my list; better get to it!

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