In celebration of 150th Juneteenth, and with an eye to the tragedy in Charleston, we share an excerpt from David Roediger's Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All in which Roediger chronicles Frederick Douglass's insight into the weakness of masters and the ability to anticipate revolutionary time.
"Douglass knew that slaves could be counted on to show up as opportunities for freedom arose. They showed up early, while the federal government was still toying with returning fugitives to their masters."
The workingmen of Europe feel sure that...the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy. — Karl Marx and the First International Workingmen’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, 1864
Today marks two hundred and thirty eight years on from the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson and others. It was Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense, published in The Rights of Man and Common Sense, which inspired people in the Thirteen Colonies to declare and fight for independence from Great Britain in the summer of 1776. In clear, simple language it explained the advantages of and the need for immediate independence. The passionate cry for independence continues to this day, with the recent call for a Scottish independence.
We are black, it is true, but tell us, gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? ... Yes, gentleman, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right that you pretend to have over us ... We are your equals then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colours within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white.
This excerpt is from a letter written in July 1792 by the leaders of the revolution of Haitian slaves. The letter has been republished in the collection of writings of the black leader Toussaint L'Overture, The Haitian Revolution, which includes also the correspondence between him and Napoleon Bonaparte. In the late eighteenth century, Toussaint L'Overture and his supporters established the first black republic in the world.
In the United Kingdom, October is Black History Month. The celebration was originally introduced in 1926 on the initiative of Carter G. Woodson, the editor of the Journal of Negro History. In 2007, no fewer than 6,000 events were held in the UK as part of its programme. Here are some key Verso titles past and present that are relevant to the study and celebration of African and Caribbean history.