Stories of Freedom in Black New York recreates the experience of black New Yorkers as they moved from slavery to freedom. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, New York City's black community strove to realize what freedom meant, to find a new sense of itself, and, in the process, created a vibrant urban culture. Through exhaustive research, Shane White imaginatively recovers the raucous world of the street, the elegance of the city's African American balls, and the grubbiness of the Police Office. It allows us to observe the style of black men and women, to watch their public behavior, and to hear the cries of black hawkers, the strident music of black parades, and the sly stories of black conmen.
Taking center stage in this story is the African Company, a black theater troupe that exemplified the new spirit of experimentation that accompanied slavery's demise. For a few short years in the 1820s, a group of black New Yorkers, many of them ex-slaves, challenged pervasive prejudice and performed plays, including Shakespearean productions, before mixed race audiences. Their audacity provoked feelings of excitement and hope among blacks, but often of disgust by many whites for whom the theater's existence epitomized the horrors of emancipation.
Stories of Freedom in Black New York brilliantly intertwines black theater and urban life into a powerful interpretation of what the end of slavery meant for blacks, whites, and New York City itself. White's story of the emergence of free black culture offers a unique understanding of emancipation's impact on everyday life, and on the many forms freedom can take.
Shane White is Professor of History at the University of Sydney.
Table of Contents
1. The End of Slavery
2. Staging Freedom
3. Shakespeare's True Representative
What People are Saying About This
With Stories of Freedom in Black New York, Shane White reinforces his position as one of the most innovative interpreters of African American culture. In this stunning work, deeply researched and narratively compelling, White explores theatrical life to deepen our appreciation of the diverse ways in which black New Yorkers defined and manifested their newly won freedom.
With Stories of Freedom in Black New York, Shane White reinforces his position as one of the most innovative interpreters of African American culture. In this stunning work, deeply researched and narratively compelling, White explores theatrical life to deepen our appreciation of the diverse ways in which black New Yorkers defined and manifested their newly won freedom. Leon Litwack, author of Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery
The African Grove Theater is to African American performing arts what Mother Bethel is to African American religion. Stories of Freedom in Black New York is the best history of that landmark institution, while also tracing the transit of black people from slavery to freedom in New York. It sparkles with original insights into life in the new Republic. Ira Berlin, author of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
Lawrence W. Levine
Shane White demonstrates that the struggle for meaningful freedom by recently emancipated blacks in early 19th century New York occurred not only in legislative halls but also in cultural venues where black New Yorkers created a public style through music, dance, street parades, and a theatrical company that informed the entire populace of their determination to be players in all aspects of the city's life. It is an intensely human story that will enlighten all who read it. Lawrence W. Levine, author of Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America
Robin D. G. Kelley
Freedom is more than words. It is felt, experienced, performed. Shane White's remarkable portrait of New York during emancipation captures African Americans struggling to express and define freedom for themselves - in the streets, the courts, and on stage. White brings his astonishing skills as a social historian to reveal a city engaging the most fundamental political questions of the day. Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
A splendid book. Stories of Freedom in Black New York digs deep into the antebellum city, and unearths far more treasures than scholars have assumed existed. Its probing investigation of the subtleties of race relations, its intertwining of theater and everyday life, its exhumation of language, perceptions, and folkways, are remarkable. Mike Wallace, co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
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