Category: History Essay

Bibliography Project: Phillis Wheatley, The Middle Passage, The Dred Scott Decision, Benjamin Banneker

There are a number of people and events that are considered to be significant to African-American history and culture. This is because of the outstanding contributions they made to the African-American people. This is more so important during the era of slavery in which the dignity of the blacks was taken away as they were denied freedom and treated as commodity to be traded for profit. To begin with the people who contributed to the African-American people and the end of their status as slaves, the individuals such as Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker were instrumental in this process. Both Wheatley and Banneker used the assertion of the intellectual capability of the blacks as a way of improving the lives of African Americans. Wheatley displayed her intellectual capability through poetry and demonstrated that blacks were just as intelligent as whites since they were all human beings and the only difference between them was the color of their skin and not brain power. Banneker, on the other hand, also displayed the intellect of blacks through his letter to Thomas Jefferson which he used as means of bringing to an end the prejudiced views of whites against blacks. With regard to the events, the middle passage and the Dred Scott decision equally play a major role to the history of the African-American people and in addition, they highlight the life of blacks during the slave era. In both events, African slaves underwent great suffering as their rights were violated to a large extent. There are various events and people, such as Phillis Wheatley, in the history who have been noteworthy in shaping the lives of the African-American people through their impact in the abolition of slavery and the slave trade and thus, restoring the dignity that the African-American people enjoy today.

Phillis Wheatley

The two articles selected for this topic are Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage a book review of Vincent Carretta’s book by Simon Hill and “The Defense of Phillis Wheatley” by Marilyn Walker. “Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage” describes the life of Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American female poet. Through prodigious research mixed with a thorough textual analysis, the author carries out a summary of Wheatley as follows. According to “Hill” (2013), Phillis Wheatley was a slave from West Africa who was sold into slavery at a tender age of seven years. She was purchased by the Wheatley family from Boston. She was fortunate and was treated well with the family who taught her to read and write. Following the discovery of her talent in poetry, Wheatley supported her poetry writing. The author makes the declaration of lacking anything to add to the life of Phillis Wheatley, besides what is already known about her given the fact that historical information available on her is very limited. Thus, the author goes on to speculate on her life using her poems as a source of information. “The Defense of Phillis Wheatley is an article which focuses on protecting the legacy of the slave poet. The need to protect Wheatley’s legacy is brought by accusations from her critiques who indict her for adapting to the white life by writing in a neoclassical white style and failing to highlight the black experience in her poems. Thus, in defending her, “Walker” (2011) asserts that Wheatley’s use of the neoclassical writing style, use of biblical themes, and techniques such as the heroic couplet are nothing but the slave poet’s artistic as well as spiritual freedom. Therefore, in the defense of Phillis Wheatley&rsquo’s poetry, the author cites social, cultural, and intellectual biases that influenced the reception of Wheatley&rsquo’s poetry. Various misinterpretation of Wheatley&rsquo’s poetry is also another line of defense that is pursued. A comparison of the two articles reveals the following. First, both articles recognize Wheatley’s achievement of being the first female published poet. Besides being female, she is also a slave who managed to receive education at a time when slavery was rampant and slaves had no rights or liberties. Thus, hers was a legacy that demonstrated the capability of slaves and the black people. However, the articles differ in their approach of Wheatley. The “Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage” article is a speculation of Wheatley&rsquo’s life from the perception of the author through the analysis of her poems. On the other hand, “The Defense of Phillis Wheatley” provides an understanding of Wheatley&rsquo’s life by providing a clear explanation of various misconceptions about her which have tainted her legacy in the eyes of some people. This topic is significant to the African-American history and culture since it highlights clearly the plight of the black people during the slave era. In this sense, the history of black people as slaves is explained through the story of Phillis Wheatley. Significantly, she overcame the misconception that was present at that time about the intellectual capability of black people. She paved the way for African Americans in the area of intellect and literature.

The Middle Passage

Why Didn’t Slaves Revolt More Often During the Middle Passage?” by Marcum and Skarbek and Doing the Slave Trade in Different Voices: Poetics and Politics in Robert Hayden’s First Middle Passage by Carl Plasa are the two articles selected to discuss this topic. In the article, Why Didn’t Slaves Revolt More Often During the Middle Passage Marcum and Skarbekseek answer the question of their topic by exploring the status of slaves during the middle passage of the Atlantic slave trade and explain the reasons behind the slaves hesitation to fight for their freedom. Marcum and Skarbek (2014) assert in their that despite the suffering of enslavement and the fact that slaves were in a superiot position to easily overthrow their crew, they chose not to do the concept of free riding. That is, since overthrowing the crew during the passage involved taking of risky actions and had the possibility of resulting in torture and ultimately death, many slaves opted to enjoy the benefits of freedom without having to bear any substantial cost of contributing in its achievement. The author porovides other reasons for minimal slave resistance during the Middle passage as including lack of external help during the middle passage which resulted in slaves having to rely on self organization to revolt, potential conspirators of the revolts chose not to participate, lack of voluntary entrance and exit options which prevented slaves from recruiting new members of gathering resources for their cause. The article Doing the Slave Trade in Different Voices: Poetics and Politics in Robert Hayden’s First Middle Passage highlights the plight of slaves during the middle passage through use of poetry. The article assesses Robert Hayden’s Middle Passage, a poem about transatlantic slave trade and proceeds to draw a ray of writings to shape the poem’s vision through the use of compositional strategies. This is significant in bringing tension of the middle passage activities and the way they impacted slaves, their status, and overall wellbeing. The poem places a significant focus on the mutiny aboard slave ships, which the article analyzes in depth. Comparing both articles, it is clear that their approach in discussing the middle passage differs greatly. Marcum and Skarbek (2014) article is more of a study that aims to shed light on minimal revolts of slaves during their transportation into the new world. Plasa (2012) article, however, makes use of poetry and its stylistic devices to understand the plight of slaves during the middle passage. What both articles agree on, is that the middle passage was a dangerous travel for the African slaves and many of them died, suffering during their transportation into the new wolrd.

The Dred Scott Decision

The Dred Scott decision is explained by the articles Dred Scott, John San (D) Ford, and the Case of Collusion by David T. Hardy and A Fatal Loss of Balance: Dred Scott Revisited” by Daniel A. Farber. The Dred Scott, John San (D) Ford, and the Case of Collusion” discusses the Dred Scott decision by first making a declaration that this decision was one of the Supreme Court’s self-inflicted wounds. According to “Hardy”(2014), the Dred Scott decision was used to finish off struggling anti-slavery movements through its unintended consequences. The article provides a background of the Dred Scott litigation by describing Scott as a slave to the Peter Blow family and later sold to Dr. Emerson who died and left his inheritance, including his slaves to his widow Irene, who later married Dr. Calvin Chaffee. The article goes on to describe how the Dred Scott litigation and decision later led to many more suits being filed. The article proceeds to explain the litigation process and various individuals involved. The article goes on to demonstrate how the Dred Scott decision was a collusive action, which involved various forms of political intrigues. “A Fatal Loss of Balance: Dred Scott Revisited” discusses the Dred Scott decision along the lines of a simple case that evolved into a complex legal snarl. In the end, the Dred Scott decision was used to resolve the issue of slavery once and for all. “Farber (2011) first” places the Dred Scott case in historical perspective, which mainly focused on the explosive issue of slavery on the discussed territories. Secondly, the article explains three main aspects of the opinion; blacks could never be citizens. The final part of the article closes with distinct reflections concerning the implications of the Dred Scott decision on judicial methodology. A comparison of the two articles is as follows. In the first place, both articles provide comprehensive information on the case that led to the Dred Scott decision. The information is comprehensive in that it sufficiently provides background data and proceedings of the case in great detail. However, the articles differ in their purpose. The article “Dred Scott, John San (D) Ford, and the Case of Collusion” aims at assessing an aspect of the Dred Scott’s decision that has been overlooked: that was the case that led to the decision collusively brought. “A Fatal Loss of Balance: Dred Scott Revisited” seeks to show the legal and political status of slavery in the early years of the US and the way they had become a much more polarized dispute in the 1850s. The Dred Scott decision, which was rendered by the supreme court of the US affirmed that Dred Scott was still a slave and the Missouri Compromise, which granted slaves their freedom was unconstitutional. This decision is vital to the African American history and culture because of its role in paving the way for change to take place in the status of slaves, who were blacks. Despite the decision not being in favor of Dred Scott, the publicity created around the case acted to heighten the plight of slaves at the time.

Benjamin Banneker

The topic of Benjamin Banneker is approached using the articles “More Than Slaves: Black Founders, Benjamin Banneker, and Critical Intellectual Agency” by LaGarrett J. King and “Benjamin Banneker’s Letter to Thomas Jefferson” by John A. Moore. In the article “More Than Slaves: Black Founders, Benjamin Banneker, and Critical Intellectual Agency,” the author explores the notion of Black founders of the United States. He uses the concept of critical intellectual agency to make the argument black founders made unique contribution to America. According to “King” (2014), the contributions made by the black founders were in two main ways. First, they established black institutions that were significant after emancipation. Secondly, they were vocal in challenging the egalitarian belief of white founders through media. King uses Benjamin Banneker as an example of a black founder, who made a considerable change to the plight of blacks through his letter to Thomas Jefferson. Through his letter to Jefferson, Banneker challenged white founders’ prejudiced beliefs about blacks. In assessing the Banneker’s letter to Jefferson, the article provides brief biographical information, which encompasses Banneker’s credentials as a scientist, inventor, and astronomer. He is considered to