Emancipation Landscapes and Public Space in Early New York
Monday, December 6, 2010
Presented by the Anthropology Section
Histories of slavery and freedom in the northern United States present a counterpoint to mainstream stories that highlight the plantation South. While northern slavery remains not as pronounced, northern emancipation was still greeted with public fanfare and celebration. In parades and speeches, the formerly enslaved seized the urban New York landscape to assert their freedom in a highly visible public space. However, emancipation created other landscapes as well. These reflected an inward focus that came with the spatial and symbolic removal of labor from the white familial household. I argue, in fact, that public spaces used in the demands and expressions of freedom by African Americans and other marginalized people covered for a more subversive white-desired segregation of public from private, mirrored in the segregation of back from white and work from home. Northern emancipation, therefore, was only a partial freedom as it simply involved a shift in the basis of social distinction from legal status to the presumed and practiced capacity for civility, illustrated best in the creation of the home as a civilized private space distinct from the public worlds of work, race, class conflict, and poverty.
Christopher N. Matthews
Queens College, City University of New York
A reception will precede the meeting at 6:00 pm