The history of slavery in America is the African-American Holocaust. Over the 32 years I have studied slavery and its effects on the Black community. I try to document history from 1619 to 1960’s in my art. Slavery impact on the black community from it conception has been the most devastating component of our struggles. We are still living out slavery’s curse.
The first documentation of slavery in America dates back to 1619. However prior to that slavery existed worldwide. Before the invention of photography slavery was documented through etching, painting,s and pencils.
When I am reading the slave’s narrative and letters from slavery I have to imagine in pencil the stories and atrocities. This began my journey of attempting to recreate slavery with my imagination from documented history without compassion. My quest began…
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. (“Henry”) Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee
I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance….
Creating art that speaks to history require reaching deep inside your soul, heart, and spirit to convey the pains and injustice of living life owned by another human being Many of the etchings I have ran across that were done by artist during that time who witnesses the human cargo that crossed that ocean, sometimes lack the artistic lines of compassion. I found some of the art validated the acceptance of slavery in society by restraining the emotions in the slave’s faces. The art lacked revealing the despair and hardship the slaves felt being in bondage. It was a horrible event.
I did this drawing while attending college in Ohio. I had read so many narrative on slavery I wanted to capture the human desire to be free. No man or women in our normal human mind desire to be in bondage to another human being. I joined a website for freeing slaves worldwide called Iabolish.com back in 2002. The site was dedicated to helping free over 70 million people in slavery across the world. This is modern-day slavery. I got connected with a gallery in Maine. The owner had first hand experience with freeing slavery. He asked me would like to sale a piece of art that would help in freeing a slave across the world. At this time America was starting to voice more concern about slavery in Darfur. I posted a drawing called Death Row ( below) on his site. It was a drawing showing women being sold in slavery back in the 1700’s. The piece sold to women in Brooklyn. Her purchase of that piece helped free a small girl from freedom. I was hooked them on the possibilities of what art can do when it used to create a voice and movement. Historical art can reveal to us our future if we don’t change our ways and help each other in a worldwide community. We will revert back I to a Holocaust mindset instead of progress as people.I realize then ,the power in art in pencil to illustrate and provoke thought on paper.
I have always had a vivant imagination. When we lived in Maryland We drove 295 south to get to DC. It is a very wooded highway. The trees in Maryland are very very tall. It is a rich green state. Many times when we were driving down the I-295 I could envision slaves escaping in the wood. I could almost hear them running along side the road . Running for their lives. Maryland had large population of slave that worked mostly in the house and some in the fields. They escaped North when every they had the chance. The harbor was a shipping port for slavery. Most of the slaves were brought to the harbor and then dispersed throughout the country down south. Every year in Maryland they reenact the slave’s march to honor history. I could hear the slave’s feet running through the woods heading north for freedom. This drawing was inspired from that experience.
Slavery was very had on the black family. Many times black men with family requested to be placed on plantations down the road away from their families. It was very hard for them to watch their wife and daughters raped by the master. It was very hard for them to see their sons abused also. They would meet their families at church on Sunday. The custom of dressing up for church in the Black community spurn out of that Sunday meeting. As a slave you has no say-so of whether you would be brought or sold. This option was the only rare exception. The Master were not aware of their need to be sold. Many men tried to save up money to buy themselves out of slavery. Then they try to purchase their family. I can’t imagine what must have been like to have to buy your self to be free. The drawing above came from that research. I tried to create a sense of hopelessness and hope of Sunday Morning in the drawing.
My grandmother was 96 when she passed away. She was a quilter. My mother gave me one of my grandmother quilts. It had design on it that was very unique. I researched the pattern and found out the name of was called “The Monkey Wrench”. During slavery when slaves were going to escape that night, they places a quilt on the fence or outside that had a specific design on it . The design was a secret code for escaping. In the design the slaves knew what to do. The “Monkey Wrench” meant that slaves should take tools with them to escape on the underground railroad. The slaves knew from that design what was needed to get to freedom. The drawing above reflects the Northern Star design. It was a hidden map in the design of how to escape North.
I have done many drawings over the last 32 years on the topic of slavery. This last drawing was birthed after reading accounts of families reunited after escaping. I saw a photo of a modern white family hugging at a church during a picnic. I saw the possibly of converting that photo into slaves rejoicing after escaping to freedom. I wanted to display a tight embrace and deep emotions. I created this drawing to really show the burst of love and hope they must have felt when they were free. This last piece is called ” What we did when we got Freedom”. There are many more drawings I will complete this year about slavery. Slavery is American through all of its horror has created for me volumes of drawing in my imagination to tell the slave’s story. My pencils are my historical notepad to the world. I am very thankful for those who escaped in my family to the North that gave me their story to tell also about freedom. I thanks God with my pencil for freedom……
When They Sold Momma- 2003