Black Intellectual History: A JHI Blog Forum

Breathing Life into Black Intellectual History

By Ashley D. Farmer

“I can’t breathe.” The haunting phrase of the dying. The words that ignited a movement. The archive of moment. This kind of source lies physically and figuratively beyond of the bounds of intellectual history—its location a representation of Black thought within the field. Black people, our words, our humanity, and our ideas have never been allowed to take on our full breadth and depth within the historiography. Yet, in the present moment, as Nile Davies notes, such utterances have begun to “ignite in the collective consciousness the sense that what we [are] witnessing” is “related in some concrete way” to the field. The gaze has turned inwards, calling attention to the relationship between what is happening in the “outside world” and academia. Within the field of intellectual history, Black people’s thoughts and ideas are now looked upon with renewed interest by those seeking to understand and contextualize the current moment. Black thought as conduit through which scholars can catch their breath after witnessing the racist horrors unfolding around them.

If this current social and political moment shows us anything, it is that trying to “fit” Black intellectual history within the boundaries of the field is futile. As Felicia Denaud notes, the chants and screams of Black thought are often only found “briefly and disparagingly” in archives that were never designed to hold our ideas. To continue examining Black thought through traditional, field-defining frames is to turn the gaze away from the very people and utterances that sparked this collective rethinking in the first place. In a moment that demands a re-examination of existing structures and systems, so too must historians rethink their approach to Black intellectual history. The pieces in this forum offer dynamic and productive approaches for reconsidering evidence, knowledge production, and intellectual community. Most importantly, they breathe new life into documenting and writing about Black thought.

Lack of evidence is perhaps the most pernicious claim that suffocates the development of Black intellectual history. The scholars in this forum show that such claims are more of a reflection of assumptions about Black people’s intellectual acuity than they are an accurate assessment of the archive. In Damarius Johnson’s history of African-American museums, we see how exhibitions are spaces through which “patrons engage with Black intellectual histories” via material culture. Moreover, Johnson’s careful tracing of the evolution of African-American history museums from the DuSable to the Smithsonian reveals that the making of these museums, and the debates over what they hold and where they are located, are evidence of the Black community’s efforts to preserve Black life and a rich record of Black thought and debate.

Community, as Nile Davies and Lesa Redmond show us, is also archive. The Summer 2020 uprisings have forced many to reflect on who “belongs” to and who has been excluded from their intellectual communities. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the academy where, as Davies reminds us, it was the “summer of the mission statement” as universities “furnished” everyone “with lists and syllabi” that deemed the “intellectual labors of black scholarship” as “essential reading.” Davies’s taxonomy of the white, academic, and institutional response to Black death reveals how the archive of Black thought is positioned in the white mind and which Black ideas and authors are legible in the midst of the “violent spectacle” of Black death.

Redmond historicizes this academic community that Davies analyzes. In their examination of George Moses Horton, an enslaved man who lived, worked, and wrote at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Redmond shows us how Black intellectual history “brings slavery to the door of the academy.” Horton was an avid writer and thinker, publishing several books of poetry as the “Colored Bard of North Carolina” and even addressing UNC students in speeches that they later transcribed. So influential was Horton, that UNC now has a residence hall named in his honor. Indeed, Redmond shows us that archival paucity is not the problem. It is the continued unwillingness to view Black people like Horton as part of the academy and past and present intellectual canons.

Where some still see “skeletal archival fragments,” Denaud finds a “lush” archive. Focusing on “black gesturgency” or the “violent refusals and rebellions orchestrated by pregnant slaves,” Denaud insists that evidence of Black women’s thought will not be found in the “colonial archive” or the “novel” but in the corporal acts of enslaved Black women, their real and political infanticide, and the rebel networks they joined. Denaud calls for a new understanding of the archive—one where historians are not at the mercy of the written text. Black people’s thoughts were not and could not ever be conveyed only in written form. Denaud tells us that it is time we stop “beg[ging] the archive to yield what it never sowed.”

Rethinking the archive also means reconsidering the directionality of knowledge production. Tracing the flow of Black ideas has often meant treading the well-worn path of documenting the Black image in the white mind and Black thinkers’ rebuttal of these visions. These authors ask us to produce histories that defy this directionality of thought. Davies, for example, calls for a focus on writing about “the worlds we occupy” in order to assess structural racism and interrogate dominant conceptions of race and belonging. Johnson, on the other hand, traces the flow of ideas from Black curator to community, eschewing the need for Black thinkers to engage in white ideas of museums and material culture. Denaud asks us to re-consider intellectual lineage through reproduction; to trace knowledge production through the “cord[s] marking infant deaths” and births. Redmond reverses intellectual and institutional hierarchies as they document a slave teaching white students in the academy. These authors demand that we move beyond these strict  binaries of knowledge production and follow the flow of Black ideas out of the academy, the traditional archive, and the field of intellectual history as it stands. In doing so, they offer us a chance to combat the oppressive forces that often confines the documentation of Black thought to our efforts to refute racism.  

Perhaps the most provocative element of this forum is the authors’ assessments of where intellectual community is formed. In each of the essays, we see how such spaces developed in the marooned societies of Saint-Domingue, two patrons standing together at the John Hope Franklin Contemplative Court at the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture, the collective crafting of anti-racist mission statements, or in making and documenting “the other half of the intertwined histories of universities and slavery.” Even as they document intellectual production within the academy, these authors indicate that we must look beyond its walls to fully understand where Black thought thrives. They show us that neither the field nor the academy is the most important space where Black thought forms. And, that this is, in fact, by design.

Adopting unrestricted ideas of knowledge production and the archive, as these authors do, is a generative start for advancing Black intellectual history. But this effort must extend beyond the page and online forums. Many historians still tend to be scrupulous in their claims of neutrality, clinging to pronouncements about the lack of evidence as justification for the continued marginalization of Black people in the field. As this forum shows, these claims are antiquated, inaccurate, and have more to do with policing the boundaries of who gets to be a thinker, what ideas are valued, and who gets to be a historian of intellectual history. Mirroring our larger society, the field’s continual denial of its marginalized scholars and our methods undermines the very goals to which it aspires. Ultimately, we must stop thinking about how Black people fit within intellectual history frames, and instead follow the lead of historians who break out of these boundaries and old traditions in innovative ways. Black Intellectual History is at the vanguard of the field, we just need to give it space to breathe.

Dr. Ashley D. Farmer is a historian of black women’s history, intellectual history, and radical politics. Her book, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era  (UNC Press, 2017), is the first comprehensive study of black women’s intellectual production and activism in the Black Power era.  She is also the co-editor of New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition (NUP Press, 2018). Farmer’s scholarship has appeared in numerous venues including The Black Scholar and The Journal of African American History. Her research has also been featured in several popular outlets including Vibe, NPR, and The Chronicle Review, and The Washington Post. Farmer earned her BA from Spelman College, an MA in History and a PhD in African American Studies from Harvard University. 

Featured Image: Alma Thomas, ‘White Roses Sing and Sing’, 1976, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Black Intellectual History: A JHI Blog Forum

Marginalia: Notes on the Teachable Moment

By Nile Davies

Years before it became the Schomburg Center—a treasured repository for research in Black culture and history—the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library on 135th St was a site of institutional abandonment: an emblem of the neighborhood in which it stood. As Audre Lorde noted in her 1981 interview with Adrienne Rich, its shelves received “the oldest books, in the worst condition.” (722)

It was a place where a librarian like Lorde might observe the material manifestations of neglect as ordinarily as she would in her poems, or as faculty on the SEEK Program at the City College of New York, where she taught alongside Rich, in the campus overlooking St Nicholas Park. Even from the depths of childhood memory, for Lorde, the image of the library is lucid and lingers without explanation: how the brutalized books themselves indexed a wilful indifference at the hands of some anonymous actor, at once unspoken and overt.

SEEK stood for “Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge.” In the late 1960s, the program would emerge as another kind of emblem, feeding into ongoing struggles for ethnic integration in American public schools and colleges: “a nucleus for counteracting the institutional inequalities entrenched in its admissions, curriculum, value systems, and relationship to the surrounding area.”[1] Under immense pressure from local residents, by 1970 the City of New York was compelled to adopt an open admissions policy for the universities under its administration, transforming what it called its “standards of access” in order to meet political demands for representation and inclusion: desires that the institution should reflect—in some concrete, if inescapably symbolic way—the world outside its walls.[2]

CCNY Archives in Cohen Library. Photo by Nancy Shia.

Decades later—after Lorde passed away from cancer in 1992—Rich offered her own reflections on her experiences and the whiteness of institutional life while teaching on the SEEK Program: How her faculties of observation were increasingly enmeshed with those of her interlocutors and students in Harlem. And how, in Harlem, the same forms of neglect that manifested themselves in the city’s libraries and schools could be sensed in the lives of those who passed through them, and whose embattled presences revealed their nature to Rich, as teacher turned student:

Walking up to Convent Avenue from Broadway, and in the classroom, I saw much that became part of my own education, having to do with the daily struggle of poor African-Americans and Puerto Ricans to live and, if possible, to love and, where possible, to put love into action.

“Somewhere in that time”, she recalls, June Jordan had written the poem “In Loving Memory of Michael Angelo Thompson”, a 13-year old boy who was struck by a city bus on March 23, 1973, succumbing to his wounds after staff at the Cumberland Hospital in Fort Greene refused to admit him entry to treat his fractured skull. “He was killed,” writes Jordan:

He did not die.

It was the city took him off […]

Please do not forget.

A tiger does not fall or stumble

broken by an accident.

A tiger does not lose his stride or


slip and slide to tragedy

that buzzards feast upon.

Conveyed in Jordan’s verse is the repetitious insistence of a worldview forged by grief and weary cynicism towards the explanatory narratives in which unvalued lives are routinely snuffed out, chalked up as accidents or exceptions. It is the analytical clarity that resists the innocent notion in which certain harms can be attributed to mere mundane misfortune or anomaly. That when indifference is willfully accumulated in the bodies of certain populations, it is indistinguishable from murder.

June Jordan, Alice Walker, Lucille Clifton, and Audre Lorde at the Phyllis Wheatley Poetry Festival. November 1973. Lucille Clifton Archive, The Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

These words had a particular resonance for me this past summer, when the substance and visibility of race—as event and as deep structure—appeared to ignite in the collective consciousness the sense that what we were witnessing on our screens was related in some concrete way to the elementary dysfunctions of institutional life; dysfunctions which had, up until that point, gone unresolved, if not altogether unnoticed. Racisms writ large in the form of violent spectacle appeared to draw the gaze inwards, seemingly calling attention to the relationship between what was happening “outside” or “in the streets” and the harms of our more immediate surroundings: in offices and boardrooms, galleries, libraries, schools.

Clearly I was not the only one to observe this feeling of structure—the way the parts appeared to represent the whole. At Columbia, the messengers of racial justice spoke to us, offered guidance and support. RESOURCES FOR PROMOTING RACIAL JUSTICE AND ELIMINATING ANTI-BLACK VIOLENCE were made available to us, as if, taking it upon ourselves to imbibe the essence of these texts and their ethics, we might all learn to become otherwise—to fashion new and better lifeworlds, producing new structures in their image. Furnished with lists and syllabi, it seemed that the intellectual labors of Black Scholarship—that is, the thinking and writing of those who claim blackness as an authorial identity—as well as those whose work considers race and racism as indivisible from their intellectual projects, had suddenly become essential reading: assigned a talismanic function in the teachable moment.

For those, as Lauren Michele Jackson writes, “already predisposed to read black art zoologically,” the promise of political revival to be found in a familiar litany of anti-racist reference texts suggested the approximation of a Black Canon as the engine of personal transformation. In myriad sociologies of racemaking and the carceral state, redlining and reconstruction, lay the promise of a more perfect union still to come. Making joins and connections, revealing the junctures of our contemporary malaise with our tortured history, one could plausibly read themselves towards a greater understanding of the undergirding structure. This much at least seemed possible, even if not undoubtedly true.

At the same time, it felt difficult to square the intimate activity of reading with the political demands of the world outside. To seek radical transformation in scholarship alone suggested a familiar repertoire of moves to innocence and magical thinking made possible in the claim of having simply not yet read the right books. Even as a means for fugitivity or solace, the world on the page and that which confronted us in the realm of the real were separated by more than their medium. We could commit tropes and statistics to memory, rehearse the logical fallacies that buttress ideologies of oppression: that “mere tolerance”, as Audre Lorde knew, constitutes “the grossest reformism”; or that the long-professed linkages between the personal and political demanded the coalition of disparate movements towards a common struggle. But the path from knowledge to power was long and full of obstacles. What would the effects of that education be? And how would they reveal themselves, so that we might know that the spell—the structure—was unworking itself?

It was the summer of the mission statement, of visions for equity and inclusion: the ubiquity of diversity’s poetics in countless sentimental gestures and displays of solidarity. Studded with hyperlinks, such utterances reflected beguiling examples of the affective labor of diversity in institutional life in its various forms, attuning its environments and agenda to encompass the problem identified. Reading public relations to emerge from this moment offered up an opportunity to turn to such texts as method, in Sara Ahmed’s phrase: “to follow the documents that give diversity a physical and institutional form.” (12) In her book, On Being Included, Ahmed tells a story:

I am speaking of whiteness at a seminar. Someone in the audience says, ‘‘But you are a professor,’’ as if to say when people of color become professors then the whiteness of the world recedes. If only we had the power we are imagined to possess, if only our proximity could be such a force. If only our arrival could be an undoing. I was appointed to teach ‘‘the race course,’’ I reply. I am the only person of color employed on a fulltime permanent basis in the department. I hesitate. It becomes too personal. The argument is too hard to sustain when your body is so exposed, when you feel so noticeable. I stop and do not complete my response.

Oscillating between extremes of embodiment and abstraction, invisibility and surplus, the self-conscious forms in which diversity takes shape in institutions are often self-defeating, revealing deficiencies that might otherwise have gone unannounced in the renewal of vows to do more or begin again, or the remorseful recognition of its history (which might not be the same as feeling contrition.) After all, how can an institution be said to feel? At its heart, an institution is a structure that derives stability from its essential changelessness. Its survival depends on novel modes of self-correction and refashioning: familiar and repeated gestures by which it adapts to absorb and mitigate the appearance of harm. Such poetics—in their symbolic, promotional form—draw attention to the paradoxes of the liberal ideal that seeks to obliterate the very notion of difference as a social reality at the same time that diversity’s utility within the public sphere is valorized as its own ethical good.

At Columbia, the acquisition of new human resources to combat the reproduction of racism was described in an open letter from the Office of the President, underscoring the urgency of its commitments to diversity in a blueprint for concerted administrative reform:

The University will immediately accelerate our program focused on the recruitment, the retention, and the success of Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented faculty members as part of our longstanding and ongoing commitment to faculty diversity. This will include (1) new support for faculty cluster hires in two areas: STEM and scholarship addressing race and racism, (2) the hiring of health sciences faculty whose work focuses on the reduction of health care disparities in communities of color, and (3) University-wide recognition for faculty service in support of diversity and inclusion.

What would it mean if such strategies were understood first and foremost as an admission of institutional malfunction, rather than simply as evidence of a commitment to a process of repair that is always already ongoing? In the form of public relations which seeks to make an institution’s transparency visible, signs and speech acts that appear to herald ethical virtues can obscure as much as they purport to let light in, signifying the very harms they claim to remedy. To be assigned a pedagogical role in the wake of social rupture underscores the intrinsic claim and fallacy that strategies for representation threaten to conceal: that the diverse body––on account of its very essence––fulfils a therapeutic function in the institution’s plans for longevity. In the lexicon that imagines an institution through a set of spatial referents (margins, centers, gatekeepers, floodgates), it is as if the proximity of othered presences intensifies the demand for the reorganization of these structures, rushing in to fill the gaps their alterity has levered open.

Protestors tearing down protective fencing at the gymnasium construction site in Morningside Park, April 23, 1968. Courtesy of Steve Ditlea ’69C, photographer, 1968.

This is certainly one way of breaking and entering into the institution, even as it calls attention to the elusive “privilege” of the universal––the blank, genderless citizen, unburdened by its body––and the hierarchies of differential personhood that undergird such cloistered spaces. Such an understanding might also hint at the conditions on which the fractious presence of those othered bodies is established: the degree to which their presence is so often made synonymous with “complaints” to overhaul institutional structures and the roles that they have prepared for us.

How might we come to terms with the ambivalent promise of such “liberation” when the cost of being overdetermined from outside (to borrow Fanon’s phrase) is to always stand for something else, for something other than oneself. As Jordan put it in her book, Civil Wars:

My life seems to be an increasing revelation of the intimate face of universal struggle. You begin with your family and the kids on the block, and next you open your eyes to what you call your people, and that leads you into land reform into Black English into Angola leads you back to your own bed where you lie by yourself, wondering if you deserve to be peaceful, or trusted or desired or left to the freedom of your own unfaltering heart. And the scale shrinks to the size of a skull: your own interior cage.

Encompassing extremes of perspective and scale, to speak of the structure as a real and present force in the shaping of an individual life is to acknowledge the impossibility of one’s insulation from the ethical demands of political life: the ever expanding claims by which one is fixed and called on by others. Indeed, one’s freedom might well depend on one’s capacity, or willingness, to navigate those structures and one’s position within them. To write about the worlds we occupy, however provisionally, holds out the promise of illumination in texts and the worlds they render beyond their margins, gesturing towards the structures of institutions and their own, often deeply intimate, politics.

[1] Conor Tomás Reed, Lost & Found: the CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. Series 4, Number 3, Part 2.

[2] In 1969, the composition of CUNY undergraduates was 14.8% black, 4% Puerto Rican, and 77.4% white. By 1974, 25.6% of CUNY students were black, 7.4% were Puerto Rican, 55.7% were white, and 11.3% were members of other racial or ethnic groups.

Nile Davies is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. His dissertation examines the politics and sentiments of reconstruction and the aftermaths of “disaster” in postwar Sierra Leone.

Featured Image: The New York Public Library’s 135th Street branch, c. 1930. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

Black Intellectual History: A JHI Blog Forum

Intellectual Labor on College Campuses: A New Look at the Life of George Moses Horton

By Lesa Redmond

It is an exciting time to study the connection between universities and slavery. In the past two decades, scholars have taken up Craig Steven Wilder’s charge in Ebony and Ivy to uncover  “the influence of slavery on the production of knowledge and the intellectual cultures of the United States” (10). The resulting research dispels any notion of the objective pursuit of knowledge on college campuses. Slavery defined what colleges could and could not do, whom they could and could not enroll, whom they would and would not hire; it defined what faculty could and could not say, and it defined what students should and should not think.

Strangely, for all this talk about universities and slavery, scholars rarely talk about Black intellectual contribution. Black bodies are certainly present in the literature—in their sale to supplement college financials, in their labor that constructed college campuses, and in their very existence that formed the foundation for a heinous science of race. Yet, undergirding all such scholarship is the assumption that enslaved people, in so laboring, were not intellectually productive. Rather, their sole contribution to the “intellectual cultures of the United States” came in the form of their bondage. In this essay, I aim to uncover the other half of the intertwined histories of universities and slavery. In doing so, I hope to establish that those enslaved produced knowledge of their own and changed America’s higher education landscape as a result.

To answer the question of Black intellectual contribution in higher education, I take George Moses Horton’s life and career as a starting point. For roughly half a century, from around 1815 to 1865, Horton travelled the eight-mile distance from his slaveholder’s home in Chatham to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While there, he interacted with students, administrators, and professors. He sold fruit first and acrostics (a style of poetry) later on. He delivered speeches on demand for students and, twice, was invited to deliver a formal oration. Horton learned to write in Chapel Hill. Under the instruction of Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz, wife of professor Nicholas Hentz, he perfected his poetical craft. Horton garnered the vast majority of subscribers to his second book of poetry, The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, the Colored Bard of North Carolina, from the University community. Although he gained national recognition for his poetry and attempted to use the money from his books to contribute to his manumission, Horton remained in bondage for the duration of his time at Chapel Hill and, indeed, for most of his life.

All things considered, Horton’s life is well documented and well discussed. Commemorative plaques (and even a dorm) recognize his unique position as an enslaved literary giant—a self-styled Black Bard, and the first enslaved person to have a published book of poetry in the South. In the literary field, scholars have most often and most thoroughly asked questions about the content of Horton’s poetry. Across his three published works, one finds poetry broaching subjects such as love, death, patriotism and, occasionally, slavery. Whether you interpret his verse as a commentary on the South’s natural world through the eyes of a slave, or as a redefinition of temperance, public space, and freedom, suffice it to say that Horton’s career sheds light on what it means to compose literature in bondage. Not everyone has taken Horton’s contributions to American literature seriously (see, for instance, Richard Walser’s The Black Poet), so such scholarship is important because it places Horton in conversation with his peers. What has been understudied, however, is Horton’s life not only as a poet, but also as a scholar and active participant in the University of North Carolina’s intellectual community. What did he learn from Chapel Hill students? What did they learn from him? And perhaps most importantly, how does the character of knowledge change when it is produced on uneven terms?

Residence Hall at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill named for George Moses Horton. Image courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill.

What is clear from Horton’s time in Chapel Hill is that in this environment he learned how to marry physical labor with intellectual labor and make a profit from both. In truth, Horton’s manual and intellectual work grew in tandem well before he stepped foot on campus. In the preface to his 1845 book of poetry, Horton narrates how he learned to read. He describes the collaborative effort launched between himself and his mother, brother, and white school children in his vicinity. He outlines the depths of his determination to read: he would “sit sweating and smoking over my incompetent bark or brush light, almost exhausted by the heat of the fire, and almost suffocated with smoke” so that he could steal glances at spelling books during the only free time he had available at night (iv-vi). Thus, starting from age ten, Horton became well versed in working and reading, and reading and working.

When Horton started selling acrostic poetry for students’ love interests at the University of North Carolina in 1815, it was the first time he was able to earn money for the intellectual labor he undertook. At Chapel Hill, Horton found a community that did not preference his physical ability over his mental ability. In fact, when reflecting upon his time at the University, Horton mentions his physical labor only once when explaining how his acrostics for students were “composed at the handle of the plough” (The Poetical Works, xiv). This contrasts starkly with the description of his time in Chatham on his slave owner’s farm. He talks openly of his disdain for work as a “cowboy” for William Horton, how he and his fellow bondsmen preferred to drink to excess over “assist[ing] a prudent farmer in cultivating a field for the space of an hour,” and how his owner “carried me into measures almost beyond my physical ability” (xii). 

At Chapel Hill, however, Horton recalls the intellectual labor he did for the students. I use intellectual labor here because, simply, Horton was paid for his acrostics. Looking beyond this monetary transaction, Horton paints his dealings with students and administrators as a professional endeavor. He learned to claim ownership of, and take pride in, the products of his work at Chapel Hill. He learned to brag about his “spark of genius” and the fame it garnered him. In addition to tangible profits, Horton’s intellectual labor also earned him a place within a network of scholars. To be sure, his membership within this network was limited. He would have witnessed how those enslaved around him could be forced to construct college buildings or be hired out to students. In his preface to the Poetical Works, Horton explains how he witnessed his fellow bondsmen being freely “pranked” for the amusement of young college boys. From such instances, Horton learned his ‘place’ within this network at the University. Simultaneously, through his personal interactions with students who purchased his acrostics, who provided him with books to further his learning, and who spread the word about his genius, Horton learned the value of white sponsorship at the University of North Carolina. 

But knowledge is not unilateral. Just as Horton learned an immense deal from his white associates, so too did they learn from him. They learned the extent to which they could exploit Horton’s intellectual labor. Students originally intended to belittle Horton by insisting that he “spout,” or deliver short impromptu speeches on demand. Their plans soon clashed with Horton’s own designs. Horton describes how he “abandoned my foolish harangues, and began to speak of poetry, which lifted these still higher on the wing of astonishment; all eyes were on me, and all ears were open” (Poetical Works, xiv).It is clear that he engaged with students on his own terms. Horton’s young proprietors got used to “all eyes and ears” being on him. After all, for many years, carefully listening to this enslaved man was the only option they had for transcribing his oral acrostics into written gifts for their sweethearts. In 1859, Horton delivered his Address to the Colligates of the University of North Carolina. In doing so, he inspired at least two students to lend him their undivided attention for an extended period of time so that they could transcribe twenty-nine pages of his speech. We can perhaps see this speech as an example of students yet again mocking Horton by encouraging a lengthy oration. Or, we can choose to see it as part and parcel of similiar college orations at the time where, as Al Brophy explains, “the political and intellectual leaders raised the next generation of leaders” with their speeches (99). Thus, students learned to listen to Horton’s advice in this address like they did in the case of any other literary address.

However unwillingly and unacknowledged, the collegians whose eyes and ears were open to Horton bore witness to Black intellectual production. They learned that they could not dismiss Horton as a “public ignoramus” but instead had to contend with him as a poet. They exchanged knowledge of their intimate, personal lives with him. Only armed with such knowledge could Horton compose his acrostics for the “tip top belles” of the South in the first place. Indeed, familiar intimacy might be the best way to describe his relationship with Caroline Hentz, wife of professor Nicholas Hentz. Mrs. Hentz learned to trust Horton with her expressions of mourning and grief. When she “strove in vain to avert the inevitable tear slow trickling down her ringlet-shaded cheek” as he dictated a poem about her recently deceased child, Hentz gained crucial knowledge about empathy—namely, that it was not bound up in distinctions between enslaved and free (Poetical Works, xviii). Finally, while the students held no claims of ownership over Horton, they nonetheless transformed Horton into their black bard. As Leon Jackson explains in The Business of Letters, students who paid Horton for his acrostics, or gifted him with books and clothing, acted like slave owners in their patronage, which “persisted for years and endured across generations, creating a sense of familial continuity” (60). With Horton, as perhaps with all of those enslaved on Chapel Hill’s campus, students learned lessons in being purportedly generous masters.

Such observations tell us a great deal about the intellectual community Horton was embedded in at the University of North Carolina. It was a community where an enslaved man could learn to write, sell poetry, and confer with students without the threat of punishment. At the same time, it was a community where an enslaved man could relentlessly launch campaigns on behalf of his freedom and nevertheless remain enslaved and exploited by those who (at least in theory) had the power to free him. Ultimately, Horton’s life and labor at the University of North Carolina expands the knowledge of Southern slavery beyond the scope of the plantation. Horton’s story brings slavery to the door of the academy. In doing so, it exposes the way that intellectual labor worked in tandem with physical labor, and both could be—and were often—exploited by institutions of higher learning.

Lesa Redmond is a Ph.D. student in the History Department at Duke University. To read more about her research on the history of slavery and its connections to U.S. colleges and universities, see her contributions to the Princeton and Slavery project here.

Featured Image: George Moses Horton historical marker in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Image courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Black Intellectual History: A JHI Blog Forum

Renegade Gestation: Writing Against the Procedures of Intellectual History

By Felicia Denaud


Our Mouths Are Source Enough

I, like Lisette of Saint-Domingue, “feel this story invading me” (74). And while this invasion, in part, is the kind marshaled by standing armies—their arsenals and geopolitics—it is also about a body overrun by language, a womb burglarized by words, a war over our narratively-seized flesh. Perhaps this is why Yvonne Vera insisted that “survival is in the mouth,”​ ​or Toni Morrison argued that “narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created.” We have no way through but to create ourselves. This life insists we make a cabal out of these words, gather them into a riot of gestures, a plot against their own inscription. I, like ​the maroons of La Goya​ve, remember that “word​s​​ can be no bigger than the [woman] for it is all contained in [her]​ mouth” (150). Our mouths are source enough. But what if the mouth is just a belly by another name? What if partus sequitur ventrum, the law of enslavability, was just as much a claim to the mouth as it was to the womb? While “the master dreams of future increase,” he also dreams of speech. “Humanity reduced to a monologue,” Aimé Césaire indicts (74). We must create mutatively; we must birth these children from our mouths. But some words, some children, some rebellions are stillborn.

Solitude of Guadeloupe knew the architecture of a stillborn mouth. “Long, long ago she learned to distrust the words that came out of her mouth… mirrors that fell at her feet, shattering her reflections.” (124) I gather these shards, these broken sounds, these languaged silhouettes because I long to know her. I long to know Solitude, why she “decided in favor of the living” that night along the banks of the Goyave (142). I long to know Solitude, to “take refuge from liberty, equality, and fraternity in the deep dark woods” that set her free (109). Like Euphrosine, her fellow maroon, I dare to ask, “how does your living body feel?” (133) Euphrosine understood all the bodies Solitude contained: a corpse encased by the brands of many masters, a fugitive earth-machine with new life inside, a monument carved from memory and iroko wood. Dragging her dying parts into the Republic, Solitude recognized it was no place for the zombie she had become and learned to imitate life. These gestures soon became her own and, swollen with aliveness, Solitude revolted. With child, she survived the strategic suicide at Moutuba only to be captured and executed a day after giving birth. I, like Solitude, wonder: “Where are all the words? Where are they?” (161)      

And then I met Dinah of Kentucky. All the words we could not find, our entire “past lay sealed in the scars between her thighs” (60). Written by Man, these scars are a metastatic alphabet, a “body becoming text,” and Dinah, a form of writing disappeared into the procedural mandates of History.  “Know how to call my name,” she rages, a demand to overturn the order of Man and Word that sentenced her to state execution pending delivery (225). The coffle line Dinah liberated was the connective tissue of this slavocracy. Ninety men, women, and children emancipated. Three traders conquered. Dinah, like Solitude, revolted with child. These renegade gestators pursued the possibility of liberation over the certainty of servitude. You may dream of future increase but you must capture us both, and kill me first!


Black Gesturgency and the Reproductive Structure of Captivity

I do not beg the archive to yield what it never sowed. I do not rehearse its pretensions. “Critique,” Saidiya Hartman reminds, “[is just] another way of remaining faithful to the limits of the archive.” At Hartman’s suggestion, I pursue “a revolutionary imagination that wants to discover, institute, initiate a new way of telling” (6). This piece opens with a speculative practice of telling, or better yet, a method of being with Lisette, Solitude, and Dinah —the women I long to know. This opening chant is both a desire to know and a genealogy of knowing disappeared by the procedural mandate of (Intellectual) History. It reinforces that these women lived, thought, and conspired at the vanishing point of the word while resorting to writing as a provisional, insufficient meeting ground. Out of this methodological impasse, I can only defy the archive’s presumed powers of adjudication over matters of knowledge and truth.

The lives of Lisette, Solitude, and Dinah pose fundamental questions about the structure of violence underwriting Black captivity, the entanglement of rebellion and reproduction it forges, and the expressive forms available to hold it. My preoccupation with these women stems from a larger body of conceptual work on Black gesturgency, or practices and strategies of slave revolt concerning or coordinated by pregnant rebels across the African diaspora. The stakes of Black gesturgency as both a conceptual clearing and a figuration of form lie squarely in Joy James’ warning about “state intimate violence”: “When and wherever the concept of racial capital overshadows the phenomenon of racial rape, the outline of democracy’s boundary and the contour of its terrors are obscured.” (35) And as Deborah Gray White, Jennifer L. Morgan, Alys Eve Weinbaum, and Saidiya Hartman have all taken up with incredible sophistication and depth, the logic of enslavability as a heritable property relation was routed through Black women’s reproductive labors.  “Conveying lineagelessness through the maternal line,” Morgan explains, “was addressed through a range of ideological maneuvers … that structurally denied African people the place of family while simultaneously rooting their enslavement in the very place” (14-15).

In response to this reproductive disjunction that figures Black maternity as both source and absence, Black women pursued a range of strategic orientations. From violent antagonism to performative conciliation, their tactics constitute a body of knowledge on the reproductive structure of captivity and map gestation, abortion, and infanticide as interlocking survival methods. Black gesturgency specifically attends to violent refusals and rebellions orchestrated by pregnant slaves; it isolates a particular moment in the reproduction of capture where inheritability itself (the sequitur of partus sequitur ventrum) is undermined. While abortion and infanticide deny access to/expansion of the property relation and giving birth signifies an “abiding knowledge of freedom contrary to every empirical index of the plantation,” renegade gestation intervenes on the “embodied determinism” that tethered the womb to perpetual kinlessness. Pregnant insurgents deny the proliferation of property by liberating their own gestational labor and violating the code of heritability. For Joy James, “Captive Maternal” names those conscripted into caretaking and the stabilization of culture and growth through the generalized consumption of their (re)productive labors. In a word, they endow democracy with its “generative” powers. As Captive Maternals, Black gesturgents decouple—if only for a fleeting moment—caretaking/reproductive labor from structural stabilization. This fleeting dissociation advanced by gesturgent rebellion offers a way of thinking care-work and destabilization as a strategic suite and political horizon.


Porous and Possible: Between the Archive and the Novel

Black women’s rebellion, and the even more niche area of pregnant Black women’s rebellion, calls on the relationship between skeletal archival fragments and lush Black novels. Indeed, Lisette, Solitude, and Dinah exist in the porous and possible terrain between the colonial archive and the novel. The historical records of their lives and ideas provide leads but amount to bare, sterile, and hostile narration. The novel not only makes these gesturgents available but provides a means through which we can co-create, as the beginning of this piece does, with their intellectual and experiential offerings. As Angela Davis writes in “Lectures on Liberation,” “the history of Black Literature provides, in my opinion, a much more illuminating account for the nature of freedom, its extent and limit, than all the philosophical discourse on this theme in the history of western society” (4).

Solitude and Dinah were pregnant rebels executed for their leadership in violent insurrections immediately after giving birth. In 1802, Solitude mobilized maroon bands in the hills of Guadalupe against Napoleon’s invading forces intent on re-establishing slavery throughout the colonies. In 1829, Dinah co-conspired with five others to liberate a coffle line of ninety moving through Vanceburg, Kentucky. The historical accounts of these two women amount to little more than a paragraph. In Auguste Lacour’s Histoire de la Guadeloupe (1858), Solitude is briefly and disparagingly described as the “wicked genius” of the rebels, “exciting them to the worst crimes… her hate and rage explosive.” Dinah’s story is recorded in three source texts: John Winston Coleman’s Slavery Times in Kentucky (1940), Herbert Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), and Angela Davis’ “Reflections on the Role of the Black Woman in the Community of Slaves” (1971). Aptheker’s account is compelling in its coverage of the male insurgents but reserves two lines for Dinah in which she goes unnamed:

The posse thus formed is reported to have succeeded in capturing all the slaves, and six of the rebel leaders, five men and one woman, were sentenced to hang. The woman was found to be pregnant and permitted to remain in jail for several months until after the birth of the child, whereupon, on May 25, 1830, she was publicly hanged.

Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts, 291

Interestingly, Dinah’s name is lost in the citational jump between Coleman and Aptheker’s works, and that loss is reproduced when Davis sources her information from Aptheker. As Mary Kemp Davis writes, “the female slave rebel remains nameless—and, because of the paucity of information about her—faceless” (546).

But from historical shards come verdant tellings. In 1972, Andre Schwartz-Bart published A Woman Named Solitude, an atmospheric meditation on maternity and desire within conditions of physical and psychic confinement. Schwartz-Bart imagines a beginning for Solitude that precedes her New World capture, starting the novel among the Diola in West Africa and with her mother’s childhood: “Once upon a time, on a strange planet there was a little black girl by the name of Bayangumay…” (1) The novel moves through Solitude’s own experiences of dispossession, alienation, zombification, desire, pregnancy, and execution. For Solitude, pregnancy stages as a mythic return to the self that breaches the seen and unseen. After reading Angela Davis’ essay, Sherley Anne Williams takes up Dinah’s story as inspiration for her 1986 novel Dessa Rose. Dessa Rose both builds out a backstory to the liberated Kentucky coffle line and imagines a future in which Dessa (Dinah) evades execution and births a son. Pregnancy is one of the few autonomous pursuits Dessa shares with her late “husband” Kaine (murdered by their master) and that of him which remains in a regime of relentless birth and death. The baby incubates, even before Kain’s murder, an impulse to flee and to fight. When asked during an interrogation why she killed white men, Dessa responds: “I kill white mens cause the same reason Massa kill Kaine. Cause I can.” (20)

Unlike Solitude and Dinah, Lisette is a fictional character from Evelyne Trouillot’s The Infamous Rosalie. Interestingly, however, the novel itself is inspired by a passage about an Arada midwife in Saint-Domingue (sourced from M. E. Descourtilz) in Lucien Abenon, Jacques Cauna, and Liliane Chauleau’s  Antilles 1789: La Révolution aux Caraïbes, a historical look at the revolutionary reverberations coursing through the French Antilles at the end of the 18th century. While on trial, the midwife confesses to killing 70 newborns in order to “remove these young creatures from the shameful institution of slavery.” (77). She documented each death by tying a knot on a necklace made of rope. In The Infamous Rosalie, Lisette is the niece of this midwife, who Trouillot names Aunt Brigitte. The driving tension of the text is Lisette’s inheritance of the memories, experiences, and violations of her maternal forebears as she negotiates her own desires for freedom. When Lisette gets pregnant with a maroon lover and decides to both keep the baby and officially join an underground rebel network, she draws strength and understanding from Aunt Brigitte’s acts of political infanticide. For Lisette, the cord marking infant deaths is a source of knowledge, lineage, and dignity. She recognizes Aunt Brigitte’s work as part of the gestational matrix or reproductive structure of captivity in which Black women had to make a range of strategic decisions. And she, too, creates her set of conditions around political life and the birth of her daughter:    

Aunt Brigitte’s cord, riding against my belly, reminds me of the promise of love and dignity I made in her honor as well. I must wrap myself in passion and light so I don’t fear the emptiness and so I can teach my daughter to confront the barracoons and soar to the stars Most of all, my love for her must be as wide as the blue sky and sea. May I find the courage to honor my promise: Creole child who still lives in me, you will be born free and rebellious, or you will not be born at all. 

Trouillot, The Infamous Rosalie, 120


Having Survived by Word of Mouth

Collectively, Lisette, Solitude, and Dinah point towards a subterranean genealogy as it relates to the labor/thought of Black revolt. Black gesturgency rips through time and form and is, in fact, more a percussive call-and-response than technique of historical or intellectual recovery: this is writing/pregnancy against the procedures of History. In the Author’s Note in Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams writes that “Afro-Americans, having survived by word of mouth—and made of that process a high art—remain at the mercy of literature and writing; often, these have betrayed us.” This life insists we make a cabal out of these words, gather them into a riot of gestures, a plot against their own inscription. We, like the maroons of La Goya​ve, must remember that “word​s​​ can be no bigger than the [woman] for it is all contained in [her]​ mouth.” We must create mutatively; we must birth these children from our mouths. We must not beg the archive to yield what it never sowed. Our mouths are source enough. We have no way through but to create ourselves.

Felicia Denaud is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in Africana Studies at Brown University. Her work sits at the intersection of critical theory and history with an archival deference to expressive culture. Research areas of interest include Black radical thought, slavery and capitalism, theories of revolution, sacral knowledges, and Black feminisms. She is currently writing her dissertation “At the Vanishing Point of the Word: Blackness, Imperium, and the Unnameable War,” which activates the category of war as a conceptual analytic for the structural, experiential, and historical dimensions of Black life. Recent publications include a review of Non-Sovereign Futures by Yarimar Bonilla.

Featured Image: Slave woman and child [no date recorded on shelflist card]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Black Intellectual History: A JHI Blog Forum

Black Museums as Knowledge Sites: Three Museum Histories

By Damarius Johnson

In June 2020, UNESCO reported that museum closures prompted by COVID-19 will cause disproportionate economic impact on the viability of heritage sites in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific that possess limited resources to accommodate public health concerns, mitigate budgetary shortfalls, or curate digital exhibitions. By July, the American Alliance of Museums released a survey that nearly 33% of American museum directors polled expressed worry that their institutions face “significant risk” of closure by next fall. This general climate of uncertainty, precarity, and alarm about the futures of cultural institutions provides an opportunity to recognize the essential function of Black museums as repositories of cultural artifacts and sites of knowledge production. In particular, African American history museums in the United States, termed “Black Museums” during the Black Museum Movement of the 1960s, are gathering spaces that render Black intellectual work visible. Black museums are a single community among many spaces in which black study prevails: enslaved intellectuals excluded from academe (“Intellectual Labor on College Campuses”); enslaved women who articulated their selfhood through speech (“We Have No Way Through But to Create Ourselves”); contemporary engagements with inclusion and diversity among faculty of color in academia (“Marginalia: Notes on the Teachable Moment”). Black museums are distinct spaces in which a diverse community of museum patrons engage with Black intellectual histories as tangible and accessible exhibitions of material culture. Black museums invite community members to engage with black intellectual work outside of formal academic institutions.

This essay will discuss recently published histories of inaugural museum directors at the DuSable Museum of African American History (Chicago, IL), the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center (Wilberforce, OH), and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, DC). In each case, Black intellectual histories shaped the identity formation and intellectual development of museum directors and legitimized the creation of new African American history museums. In the wake of anticolonial and black radical political movements of the 1960s and 70s, Black museum directors eschewed dominant narratives of Black exclusion to imagine the Black museum as an institutional home for Black intellectual histories, Black political mobilization, and revolutionary political imagination. Rationales for creating African American history museums often invoked longstanding debates about the scope of Black history, the meanings of African American life, and the hoped-for futures for African Americans in American society. Inaugural museum directors enticed donor investment and solicited community support by engaging, constructing, and imagining particular constructions of African diaspora histories and identities. Characterizing the relationship of African history and art to African American life was a recurring, paramount interpretive concern.

DuSable Museum of African American History

The DuSable Museum of African American History originated as the private collection of Charles and Margaret Burroughs in 1961. Dr. Margaret Burroughs was an African American college professor, K-12 educator, visual artist, poet, activist, and inaugural museum director at DuSable. She established and sustained DuSable as the second-oldest African American history museum in the United States and co-founded the landmark professional organization for Black museology, the African American Association of Museums (p. 32). Rebecca Zorach’s Art for People’s Sake: Artists and Community in Black Chicago, 1965-1975 situates Burroughs within a larger movement of Black Chicago visual artists who directed their aesthetic imagination to create public art that fostered African American cultural pride. Burroughs insisted that “art and history should teach racial self-appreciation (p. 20).” The early visitors to Burroughs’ private home collection of artworks were her Black neighbors in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. By the mid-to-late 1970s, the Ebony Museum relocated to an administrative district, Centennial Park, and was renamed in honor of the first African American to settle in present-day Chicago: Jean Baptiste Point Dusable. By the late 1970s, Burroughs secured state and municipal funding, and the widespread popularity of Kwanzaa enticed larger, more diverse patrons to seek knowledge of African and African American history and patronize Black museums.

Burroughs insisted that “Negro History” would encompass “African history and the true history of black people in America…the most vital studies a Negro can undertake (p. 21).” Zorach argues that Burroughs’ incorporation of Yoruba religious and cultural themes into her creative works presaged her conception of “Negro History” in the museum. Burroughs’ use of the category “Negro History” recalls a tradition of incorporating African history into a broad view of African American contributions to American society that defined the careers of Theodore Holly, William Wells Brown, and Martin Delany in the 19th Century and professional historians such as Carter G. Woodson, John Wesley, and L.D. Reddick in the 20th. This differential emphasis of an America-centric or international perspective on African American history defines the boundaries of Pan-Africanism, Afrocentricity, Black internationalism, and African diaspora history. 

National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center

In a 2018 issue of the National Council of Public History, Fath Davis Ruffins chronicled a generation of “Black Titan” museum directors who founded early Black museums. Among this generation are Dr. Margaret Burroughs and Dr. John Fleming. Fleming was inaugural director of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, the first national museum of African American history, established in Wilberforce, OH in 1988. Black intellectual history defined Fleming’s academic orientation, museology career, and organizational leadership. Before he arrived at Wilberforce, Fleming served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi and worked alongside Marion Barry in the 1970s. By 1974, he earned s PhD in American History at Howard University in 1974 (p. 8). Among  the Howard University scholars he counts as forebears are Dr. Rayford Logan, Dr. Charles Wesley, Dr. Lorenzo Green, and Dr. John Hope Franklin. By the 1990s, he served as president of the African American Museums Association (today, Association of African American Museums). Fleming’s academic credentials, professional networks among Black museum professionals, and HBCU contacts positioned him to meet the novel challenges of museum leadership in Wilberforce, OH.

Calls for a national heritage site for African Americans emerged as early as 1915. In 1980, Public Law 96-430 granted legislative backing for the founding of a national museum for African Americans; unfortunately, federal appropriation was not forthcoming. Fleming faced tremendous difficulties with collecting artifacts and designing exhibitions that resulted from the absence of financial support to properly train museum staff, acquiring traveling exhibits, or fund collections trips. Compounding these budgetary concerns, Davis notes that many considered Wilberforce, OH as an inconvenient, distant, and obscure site for a national memorial for African Americans. In lieu of a federal appropriations budget, Fleming sustained the museum by gathering institutional, logistical, financial support from Wilberforce University and state-level appropriations from the Ohio History Connection. The absence of federal financial support offered greater curatorial freedom to depart from America-centric interpretations of ethnic histories that produced contentious congressional debate about whether the National Museum of the American Indian would receive federal appropriations.

In 1988, the same year that the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center broke ground, Temple University established the first PhD program of African American Studies in the United States. Consequently, Fleming, like Burroughs, experienced the resurgence in African historical interest that shaped the expectations of museum patrons. The cultural popularity of Afrocentricity, alongside the financial, logistical, and intellectual partnership of Wilberforce University, and the legacies of Pan-Africanism at Wilberforce and Central State Martin R. Delany and W.E.B. DuBois expanded the possibilities for African American museum interpretation beyond American civic exceptionalism.

Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture

When the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture opened in 2016, Black museum professionals engaged anew in debates about the meanings and scope of African American history. At last, the establishment of an African American history museum on the national mall fulfilled a century of demands left unsatisfied by Public Law 96-430. In his autobiography A Fools Errand, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, inaugural director of Smithsonian African American History & Culture museum, details the revenue sources of a capital campaign in which 40% of financial gifts were received from corporations and 75% of individual $1 million donations were given by African Americans. The museum received 70% of its collections from private donations and benefits from numerous museum partnerships throughout the country. Despite the outpouring of public support for the capital project and museum construction, Bunch preferred that architectural features be subtle but memorable elements that contribute to the functionality of the museum.

It was the architectural features of the museum that incorporated the recurring dialectic between Black internationalism and American civic exceptionalism into the Smithsonian museum. Bunch explains the narrative frame: “[This institution] must use African American history and culture as a lens to better understand what it means to be an American.” Yet, the design of the prominent external façade of the museum, inspired by architect David Adjaye, features a Corona that emulates the Yoruba crown-shaped Olowe of Ise. Pictured below is the Contemplative Court dedicated in honor of the African American historian Dr. John Hope Franklin.

Franklin’s recognition within the National Museum of African American History & Culture is significant as an intellectual forebear of the general historical interpretation provided at the museum. Franklin’s 1947 text From Slavery to Freedom remains a widely consulted African American history textbook printed in its ninth edition. Published in 2010, this ninth edition, like the original 1947 edition, presents African American history as a linear, progressive narrative of African American civic inclusion into the American body politic. In the brief coverage of precolonial African civilizations in From Slavery to Freedom and the broad curational approach within the museum, African history is an origin point for an African American history that exclusively occurs within the boundaries of the United States. Yet Bunch queries, along with Burroughs and Fleming: “[The] work still left us to wonder what the role of African would be in an African American museum.”

Bunch’s query is rearticulated in each generation of African American museum professionals and reinterpreted to the public in each exhibition in African American history museums. Black museums are places to think with others about the meanings of Black histories, identities, and destinies in educational institutions that are open to all and often free of charge. Black museums confront economic pressure to secure new and greater donor investment to curtail curatorial imagination. Underlying the precarity of our life under COVID-19, Black thought is a persistent and enduring legacy of our meaningful presence.

Damarius Johnson is a second-year PhD student in the Department of History at The Ohio State University. His research interests include African American history museums, West African history museums, and African material culture. His co-authored article, “Imagining the Not-Museum: Power, Pleasure, and Radical Museological Community,” is forthcoming in the 2020 issue of the Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education

Featured Image: John Hope Franklin Contemplative Court, National Museum of African American History & Culture. Photographer: Brad Feinknopf – OTTO.