Category Archives: Slavery

Tea Act of 1773 and the Boston Tea Party


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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For thousands of years, indigenous peoples lived in the vast expanse of land that is now known as the United States of America. They developed their own complex cultures before the arrival of the European colonists. The Spanish had early settlements in Florida and the Southwest. The French settled along the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast.

After 1600, most of the colonists in these new-found lands were from England. By the 1770s, there were 13 British colonies along the Atlantic coast east of the Appalachian Mountains. About two and a half million people populated these colonies.

In early 1770s, the British East India Company was in financial difficulties. It held a massive surplus of tea in its London warehouses. The English Parliament presented the Tea Act of 1773 to help the struggling company survive. This Act was also promulgated to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain’s North American colonies.

The Tea Act of 1773 granted the British East India Company the right to ship its tea directly to North America. The Company also received the right to duty-free export of tea from Britain. Yet, the tax imposed by the Townshend Acts and collected in the colonies remained in force. The Tea Act received the royal assent on May 10, 1773. (See my article: The Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773).

The colonies did not send representatives to the British Parliament. Hence, they had no influence over the taxes raised, levied, or how they were spent. So, they objected to the Tea Act. They believed the Act violated their rights as Englishmen in America to be taxed without their consent. They raised the slogan: “NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.”

In September and October 1773, seven ships carrying East India Company’s tea set sail to the American colonies. The ships carried more than 2,000 chests containing about 600,000 pounds of tea. Four ships were bound for Boston and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

The Americans learned the details of the Tea Act only after the ships were en route. Whigs was a nickname for the Patriots, who sometimes called themselves the “Sons of Liberty”. They mobilized a coalition of merchants and artisans to oppose the delivery and distribution of the inbound tea.

The Whigs began a campaign to raise awareness about the implications of the provisions in the Tea Acts. They opposed the Acts which implicitly agreed to accept the right of taxation by the English Parliament.

Benjamin Franklin - one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Benjamin Franklin – one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Benjamin Franklin said the British were trying to use cheap tea to “overcome all the patriotism of an American”.

Benjamin Rush, a Founding Father of the United States from the state of Pennsylvania, urged his fellow Americans to oppose the landing of the tea. He said the cargo contained “the seeds of slavery”.

On October 16, 1773, Dr. Benjamin Rush, Colonel William Bradford, Thomas Mifflin, Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, and other local leaders and members of the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty organized a meeting at the Pennsylvania State House. They adopted eight resolutions. One resolution stated:

That the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America is a tax on the Americans, or levying contributions on them without their consent.

The most important one read:

That the resolution lately entered into by the East India Company, to send out their tea to America subject to the payment of duties on its being landed here, is an open attempt to enforce the ministerial plan, and a violent attack upon the liberties of America.

These declarations, printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette,  comprised the first public protest against the importation of taxed tea from England.

Samuel Adams -  one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Samuel Adams – one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

In Boston, Whig leader Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting at Faneuil Hall. Three weeks later, on November 5, 1773, at a town meeting at Faneuil Hall the Bostonians adopted the same resolutions that Philadelphians had promulgated earlier. In their resolution the Bostonians declared:

That the Sense of the Town cannot be better expressed on this Occasion, than in the words of certain Judicious Resolves lately entered into by our worthy Brethren the Citizens of Philadelphia.

Colonial merchants, some of them smugglers of Dutch tea, joined the Whigs. They played a significant role in the protests because the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper. Also, the Tea Act was a threat to put an end to their smuggling business. Other legitimate importers of tea, not chosen as consignees by the British East India Company, also faced financial ruin because of the Tea Act. Most American merchants feared that this type of government-created monopoly might extend to include other goods in the future.

The Whigs convinced, and sometimes harassed the Company’s authorized consignees to resign. They successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three colonies and forced the ships to turn back to England. They could not do so in Massachusetts.

The tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, 1773. On November 29, a handbill posted all over Boston, contained the following words:

Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! – That worst of plagues, the detested tea, shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the harbor.

That day Whig leader, Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting, at Faneuil Hall. As thousands of people arrived, the meeting shifted to a larger venue – the Old South Meeting House. The assembled passed a resolution, introduced by Adams, urging the captain of the Dartmouth to turn back to England without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent unloading of the tea from the ship.

British law required the Dartmouth to unload its cargo of tea and pay the customs duties within twenty days . If the customs duties were not paid within that time, the customs officials could confiscate the cargo.

Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian Royal Governor of the Massachusetts Colony..
Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian Royal Governor of the Massachusetts Colony..

Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave Boston without paying the duty. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down.

Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor. Another ship, the William headed for Boston encountered a storm and sank before it could reach Boston.

On December 16th, the last day of the Dartmouth’s deadline to pay the customs duties, about 7,000 people gathered around the Old South Meeting House.

After receiving the report that Governor Hutchinson had refused to let the ships leave, Samuel Adams announced: “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country”.

Immediately, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House. Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, but the throng headed out to prepare to take action.

Some donned elaborately prepared Mohawk costumes, disguising their faces, because of the illegality of their protest. Dressing as a Mohawk warrior was a specific and symbolic choice. In the evening of December 16, 1773, they boarded the three vessels – Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver. Over the course of three hours, they dumped 342 chests of tea into the water.

Eventually, the Boston Tea Party proved to be one of the many courses that culminated in the American Revolutionary War.

 

Click on the image below to see video

Boston Tea Party - 02.
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“Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, We are free at last.”


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (AP)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (AP)

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If you ask me to name two good men who stood for the rights of their fellow beings in the last century and made a mark in the history of humanity, I would immediately say: “Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

These two passionately devoted men with dreams and visions inspired their people using nonviolent civil disobedience based on their respective religious beliefs.

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Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi called all Indians to break free from the yoke of the British rule and Martin Luther King mobilized his fellow Afro-Americans, who still languished in all the corners of American society and found themselves in exile in their own land, to break free from the shackles of the invisible, but existing slavery.

Four weeks after returning from India, King prepared a draft for an article titled “My trip to India,” April 1959. Ebony magazine published it under the title “My Trip to the Land of Gandhi“.

In that article King notes that Gandhi’s spirit was still alive, though “some of his disciples have misgivings about this when… they look around and find nobody today who comes near the stature of the Mahatma.” Lamenting India’s pervasive economic inequalities, King observes that “the bourgeoise  white, black or brown – behaves about the same the world over,” and he calls upon the West to aid India’s development “in a spirit of international brotherhood, not national selfishness.

I admit that until the early 1960s, I was not a fan of Martin Luther King, Jr., mainly because I did not know much about him, or I might even say misinformed.

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August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.(Associated Press File Photo)
August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. (Associated Press File Photo)

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After hearing Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, at the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” on August 28 1963, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 200,000 civil rights protesters, I realized how truly a great man and a gifted leader he was. He began his speech with:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree is a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But 100 years later the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of materia1 prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. …

I was spellbound. His soaring close: Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, We are free at last,” still resonates even today and inspires those who follow his dream.

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Here is the full text of his speech “I Have a Dream“:

I HAVE A DREAM…

(Copyright 1963, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.)

Speech by the Rev. MAXTIN LUTHER KING
At the “March on Washington”

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree is a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But 100 years later the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of materia1 prosperity. One hundred years later the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men—yes, black men as well as white men—would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality — 1963 is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge. And that is something that I must say to my people who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.

They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their adulthood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only.”

We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulation. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.

Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go hack to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning. “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside. Let freedom ring

When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God almighty, We are free at last.

(Copyright 1963, MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.)

Martin Luther King. jr. Tomb (Source: Panoramio.com)
Martin Luther King. jr. Tomb (Source: Panoramio.com)

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“Blackface” and the Minstrel Show


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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American actor John McCullough as Othello, 1878.
American actor John McCullough as Othello, 1878.

In England, theatrical portrayals of black characters by white actors date back to as early as 1604. Since Shakespeare’s days, the character of Othello was traditionally played by a white actor in black makeup.

In the United States, during the 19th century, “Blackface” was a form of theatrical makeup used by performers to represent a black person – a stereotyped caricature of black people – in minstrel shows, and later in vaudeville.

Reproduction of a 1900 William H. West minstrel show poster, originally published by the Strobridge Litho Co., shows the transformation from white to "black". (Source: Library of Congress)
Reproduction of a 1900 William H. West minstrel show poster, originally published by the Strobridge Litho Co., shows the transformation from white to “black”. (Source: Library of Congress)

However, there is no consensus about the origin of blackface.

The Padlock is a two-act ‘afterpiece‘ opera created by Charles Dibdin. It debuted in 1768 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, England, and was a success, largely due to Dibdin’s portrayal of Mungo, a blackface caricature of an inebriated black servant from the West Indies. The following year, the company took the production to the United States.

On May 29, 1769, Lewis Hallam, Jr., a white blackface actor of American Company fame, played the role of Mungo, in The Padlock, that premiered in New York City at the John Street Theatre with even greater accolades. In due course, the Mungo character attracted notice, and other performers adopted the style.

From the 1810s, blackface clowns were popular in the United States.

British actor Charles Mathews toured the United States in 1822–23, and as a result added a “black” characterization to his repertoire of British regional types for his next show, A Trip to America, which included Mathews singingPossum up a Gum Tree,” a popular slave freedom song.

Edwin Forrest played a plantation black in 1823, and George Washington Dixon was already building his stage career around blackface in 1828.

The song “Old Zip Coon

The song “Old Zip Coon” or “Zip Coon,” or was written sometime before 1827. At least four versions of the song were published between 1827 and 1834. Several folks have claimed to have written the song, but the true composer will probably never be known. Today, the tune itself is best known as “Turkey In The Straw.” The following video by Tom Roush portrays American life and music in the 19th century.

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The song “Jump Jim Crow

Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice Playing Jim Crow in Blackface, New York City, 1833.
Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice Playing Jim Crow in Blackface, New York City, 1833.

In 1828, Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice, a white New York comedian, performed his song and dance routine called “Jump Jim Crow” in blackface. Rice’s performance was supposedly inspired by the song and dance of a physically disabled black man he had seen in Cincinnati, Ohio, named Jim Cuff or Jim Crow.

The song “Jump Jim Crow” became a huge hit and Thomas Rice performed it across the country. By 1832, he scored stardom as “Daddy Jim Crow,” a caricature of a shabbily dressed Afro-American man.

Jim Crow as entertainment spread rapidly across the United States in the years prior to the Civil War and eventually spread its influence around the world. Because of this influence, in 1841, when John Lloyd Stephens, the United States’ special ambassador to Central America, arrived in Merida on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, a local brass band played “Jump Jim Crow” inadvertently, because they thought it was the national anthem of the United States.

The popularity of Jump Jim Crow and the blackface form of entertainment also prompted many whites to refer to most black males routinely as Jim Crow.

Jim Crow contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” or the “dandified coon”.

The Minstrel Show

Jump Jim Crow” initiated a new form of popular music and theatrical performances in the United States that focused their attention on the mockery of Afro-Americans. This new genre was called the minstrel show.

The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was a form of American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface. By the late 18th century, blackface characters began appearing on the American stage, usually as servants to provide some element of comic relief. The black people were lampooned in the minstrel shows as musically oriented lazy, dim-witted, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky.

In the early 1830s, the blackface acts found a home in the taverns of New York’s less respectable precincts of Lower Broadway, the Bowery, and Chatham Street and in circuses.

It also appeared on more respectable stages, most often as brief burlesques and comic an entr’acte in New York theaters. Upper-class houses at first limited the number of such acts they would show, but beginning in 1841, much to the dismay of some patrons, blackface performers frequently took to the stage at even the classy Park Theatre.

In popularity, the blackface “Sambo” character superseded the “tall-tale-telling Yankee” and the “frontiersman” character-types.

White actors such as Charles Mathews, George Washington Dixon, and Edwin Forrest began to build reputations as blackface performers. Author Constance Rourke even claimed that Forrest’s impression was so good he could fool blacks when he mingled with them in the streets.

In the following decade, blackface minstrelsy transformed into a full-fledged distinctly American theatrical form. By 1848, blackface minstrel shows were an American national art form of the time that translated formal art such as the opera into popular terms for a general audience. After the Civil War (fought from 1861 to 1865), black people too got into the act in the minstrel shows.

In the 1830s and 1840s, blackface minstrelsy was at the core of the rise of an American music industry, and for several decades, it served as the spectacles through which white America viewed black America.

While the blackface minstrelsy had its strong racist aspects, it also afforded the white Americans to have a singular and broad awareness of the significant aspects of black-American culture.

The Panic of 1837 was a financial crisis in the United States that touched off a major recession that lasted until the mid-1840s. During this period, theater attendance suffered, and concerts were one of the few attractions that could still make money.

In 1843, four blackface performers led by Dan Emmett, calling themselves the Virginia Minstrels, staged a concert at the New York Bowery Amphitheatre. Thus, was born the minstrel show as a complete evening’s entertainment. The original lineup consisted of Emmett, Billy Whitlock, Dick Pelham, and Frank Brower.

The Virginia Minstrels show had little structure. The four sat in a semicircle, played songs, and traded wisecracks. One gave a stump speech in dialect, and they ended with a lively plantation song.

The term “minstrel” had previously been reserved for traveling white singing groups, but Emmett and his group made it synonymous with blackface performance, and by using it, signalled that they were reaching out to a new, middle-class audience.

On February 6, 1843, New York Herald, wrote that the production was “entirely exempt from the vulgarities and other objectionable features, which have hitherto characterized Negro extravaganzas.”

1844 sheet music cover for a collection of songs by the Christy's Minstrels. George Christy appears in the circle at top. (Source: Boston Public Library)
1844 sheet music cover for a collection of songs by the Christy’s Minstrels. George Christy appears in the circle at top. (Source: Boston Public Library)

In 1845, the Ethiopian Serenaders surpassed the Virginia Minstrels in popularity by purging out low humor from their show. Shortly thereafter, Edwin Pearce Christy formed Christy’s Minstrels, combining the refined singing of the Ethiopian Serenaders with the Virginia Minstrels’ bawdy act. Christy’s company established the three-act template into which minstrel shows would fall for the next few decades.

From then on, a typical minstrel performance followed a three-act structure. The troupe first danced onto stage, then exchanged wisecracks and sang songs. The second part featured a variety of entertainment, including the pun-filled stump speech. The final act consisted of a slapstick musical plantation skit or a send-up of a popular play.

The songs and sketches in the typical minstrel show featured several stock characters, most popularly the slave and the dandy. The characters were further divided into sub-archetypes such as the mammy, her counterpart the old darky, the provocative mulatto wench, and the black soldier.

Minstrels claimed that their songs and dances were authentically black, although the extent of the black influence remains debated.

In 1866, Sam Hague, a British blackface minstrel dancer was the first white owner of a minstrel troupe composed of black members called Sam Hague’s Slave Troupe of Georgia Minstrels. The troupe toured England for several years.

Hague’s overseas success lent black minstrelsy a new credence in the United States. However, at least one critic maintained their rise had damaged minstrelsy, and that white blackface minstrels were better at representing black Americans than black Americans were themselves.

Hague’s lead inspired many other white owners to purchase black companies. By the mid-1870s, white men owned the most successful American black troupes. Ironically, when Sam Hague’s Slave Troupe returned to the United States, Charles Callender purchased the company.

William H. West, known as the “Progressive Minstrel,” emulated Sam Hague and became one of the first white owners of a minstrel troupe composed of black performers in the United States. West often produced and played minstrel shows with George Primrose. They had a hit, and were known as “The Millionaires of Minstrelsy.”

Poster of William H. West's Big Minstrel Jubilee rough riders.
Poster of William H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee rough riders.

In the 1870s, spirituals, also known as jubilees, entered the repertoire marking the first undeniably black music to be used in minstrelsy. William West became the sole producer “William H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee,” the supposedly richest and costliest minstrel organization in existence. The Big Minstrel Jubilee, featured some of the leading performers of the day. Their show always ended with the cast, in blackface, singing songs of the period.

The minstrel shows were extremely popular, enjoyed by whole families from all walks of life irrespective of the ethnic group they belonged to.

At the same time, they were also controversial. While the racial integrationists decried them as falsely showing happy slaves while at the same time making fun of them, the segregationists thought such shows were disrespectful of social norms as they portrayed runaway slaves with sympathy, and undermined the institution of the southerners.

The minstrel shows survived as professional entertainment until about 1910 when it lost popularity and was replaced for the most part by vaudeville. Blackface branched off from the minstrel show and became a form in its own right. Stereotypes embodied in the stock characters of blackface minstrels played a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes, and perceptions worldwide. At the same time, they popularized black culture.

Amateurs continued to perform blackface and the minstrel shows in high schools, and local theaters, until the 1960s. These performances too ended in the United States as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s progressed and gained acceptance.

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The Gulabi Gang – The Fearless Women in Pink


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Sampat Pal Devi and her Gulabi Gang members  (Source: i.facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi)
Sampat Pal Devi and her Gulabi Gang members (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi)

These women dressed in pink and with laathi (bamboo stick) in their hands are fearless!

Their leader Sampat Pal Devi is a mother of five children and a former government health worker. She has a long list of criminal charges against her: unlawful assembly, rioting, attacking government employees, obstructing officers in the discharge of duty, beating a policeman for abusing her, and so on. Once she even went underground to hide from the law. However, her actions have secured notable victories for the community.

Sampat Pal Devi (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi
Sampat Pal Devi (Source: facebook.com/pages/Sampat-Pal-Devi

Sampat Pal Devi (born 1960) is a tough woman with a commanding personality. She hails from the Bundelkhand area in the state of Uttar Pradesh – one of the poorest region in India and notorious for its rebels-turned-armed bandits. Sampat is a vigilante and activist fighting for the rights of women in the villages.

She was given in marriage to an ice-cream vendor at the tender age of 12. She bore her first child, a girl, at 15.

In 2006, responding to widespread domestic abuse and other violence against women, Sampat Pal Devi formed the Gulabi Gang (Hindi गुलाबी gulabī, “pink”), a group of Indian women vigilantes. Most Gulabi members dress in pink and carry laathis in their hand.

Despite being born into a traditional family and married off early, Sampat evolved into a charismatic leader who acts as judge and jury for girls and women who are being abused by outlawed patriarchal traditions and the caste system.

Sampat and her gang are constantly on the move fighting causes for the betterment of the community. They crusade against child marriages, dowry, and female illiteracy.

To demand their rights, the rebellious women gang submits petitions and verbally attacks corrupt officials, sneering policemen and complaisant bureaucrats. They visit abusive husbands and beat them up with laathis and warn them to stop abusing their wives in the future.

They usually travel by cart and tractor. At times, they undertake long journeys by bus and train, to fight for justice for women and dalits and other untouchable people.

In 2008, when her village was deprived of electricity because the officials of the department expected to extract bribes and sexual favours from the women, she and her stick-wielding Gulabi Gang stormed the premises of the electricity department, locked the concerned officials in a room until they cried for mercy. An hour after they left the premises, the power was on in their village.

In 2008, the group was reported to have 20,000 members as well as a chapter in Paris, France. Now, the Gulabi Gang has taken root in Banda, Mahoba, Chitrakot, Fatehpur, Farrukhabad, Kanpur, Allahabad, Etawah and Bijnore and has about 300,000 women members.

The Gulabi gang is the subject of the 2010 movie Pink Saris by Kim Longinotto as is the 2012 documentary Gulabi Gang by Nishtha Jain.

Initially, it was reported that the Bollywood film, Gulaab Gang, starring Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla as leads, is based on Sampat Pal’s life, but the director denied this, saying that he recognizes the work done by Sampat, but his movie is not based on her life.

Gulabi Gang's esrtwhile leader Sampat Pal (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)
Gulabi Gang’s esrtwhile leader Sampat Pal (Source: indiatoday.intoday.in)

Now, the all-women Gulabi Gang is heading for a split as there is a tussle in leadership. On Sunday, March 2, 2014, six years after its inception, the group’s founder commander Sampat Pal Devi was dethroned by the Maharashtra based national convener of Gulabi gang Jayprakash Shivhare at a meeting in Banda following allegations of financial irregularities – “taking money for resolving the problems of poor and suffering women,” and “involvement in self promotion” at the cost of the organization’s mission.

The national convener of Gulabi Gang, Jayprakash Shivhare said:

“There is huge resentment in the organization against Pal. She had been playing in the hands of the Congress party… She had stopped holding meetings of the group and used to take decisions autocratically. She contested Assembly elections on
Congress ticket without taking any suggestion from other members of the group… Later, she decided to visit Rae Bareli along with other members and campaign in support of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and against Aam Aadmi Party.”

“She also went to TV reality show Bigg Boss without consulting the working committee of the group. She had gradually become extremely selfish and minting money at the cost of the organization… Removing her from all posts was the only option left with us. Since she has been defying decisions of the group, it was decided that she would no longer be its primary member.”

Suman Singh Chauhan, commander of Mahoba unit has been appointed as interim commander of the group and a seven-member committee has been constituted to run the organization as of now. A meeting of the group has been convened on March 23 to elect a full-time commander.

However, Sampat Pal Devi, asserted her authority saying she was still the leader of the Gulabi Gang.

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August 23: The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj .

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Slavery

The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is observed annually on August 23rd. The Day commemorates the uprising that took place on August 22-23, 1791, when slaves in Saint Domingue, today Haiti, launched an insurrection which ultimately led to the Haitian revolution.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General, in a message to mark the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition said: ““We must teach the names of the heroes of this story, because they are the heroes of all humankind.”

This year is particularly important with many key anniversaries, including:

  • 220 years since France’s General Emancipation decree liberated all slaves in present-day Haiti;
  • 180 years since the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 ended slavery in Canada, the British West Indies and the Cape of Good Hope;
  • 170 years ago, the Indian Slavery Act of 1843 was signed.

Slavery was also abolished 165 years ago in France; 160 years ago in Argentina; 150 years ago in the Dutch colonies; and 125 years ago in Brazil.

Year 2013 is also the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, which declared on January 1, 1863: all persons held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.

The Dutch Slave trade in Coromandel coast, India

Many would be surprised to know that the Dutch were precursors of slave trade in India.

Pulicat (Pazhaverkadu) is a historic seashore town in Thiruvallur District, of Tamil Nadu, India. It is about 60 km north of Chennai and 3 km from Elavur, on the barrier island of Sriharikota, which separates Pulicat Lake from the Bay of Bengal.

In 1502, the Portuguese established a trading post in Pulicat with the help of the Vijayanagar rulers. They built a fort there and held this fort until their defeat by the Dutch in 1609.

By 1612, the Dutch established themselves in Pulicat to the north. Till 1690 Pulicat remained the capital of Dutch Coromandel.

The slave trade is one of the oldest trades in the world. Slaves and textiles were the most profitable merchandise exported by the Dutch at Pulicat to their Indian Ocean trade headquarters at Batavia (Jakarta), in exchange for spices such as mace and nutmeg.

Between 1621 and 1665, the Dutch deployed 131 slave ships from Pulicat, to transport 38,441 Indians captured on the Coromandel coast, and sold as slaves to the Dutch plantations in Batavia and to work as domestic helps for the Dutch masters. Those in the age group of 8 to 20 were preferred as slaves for export.

To learn more about the slave trade on the Coromondel coast, I recommend you to read a very informative article titled “Baggage that weighs heavily on the mind” written by P. J. Sanjeeva Raj and published in The Hindu.