Forging a Laboring Race
The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island
The African American Worker in the Progressive Imagination
Paul R. D. Lawrie “Innovative study of of slavery and African American life in Rhode Island...Especially eyeopening.”
Graham Russell Gao Hodges, George Dorland Langdon, Jr. Professor of History and Africana Studies, Colgate University
Historians have written expansively about the slave economy and its vital role in early American economic life. In Dark Work, ClarkPujara tells the story of one state in particular whose role was outsized: Rhode Island. Like their northern neighbors, Rhode Islanders bought and sold slaves and supplies that sustained plantations throughout the Americas; however, nowhere else was this business so important. During the colonial period trade with West Indian planters provided Rhode Islanders with molasses, the key ingredient for their number one export: rum. More than 60 percent of all the slave ships that left North America left from Rhode Island. During the antebellum period Rhode Islanders were the leading producers of “negro cloth,” a coarse wool-cotton material made especially for enslaved blacks in the American South. Clark-Pujara draws on the documents of the state, the business, organizational, and personal records of their enslavers, and the few first-hand accounts left by enslaved and free black Rhode Islanders to reconstruct their lived experiences. It is convenient, especially for northerners, to think of slavery as southern institution. The erasure or marginalization of the northern black experience and the centrality of the business of slavery to the northern economy allows for a dangerous fiction—that the North has no history of racism to overcome. But we cannot afford such a delusion if we are to truly reconcile with our past.
“Lawrie boldly demonstrates how a race-based form of industrial capitalism was central to the making of the modern U.S. state during the Progressive Era.”
Davarian L. Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies, Trinity College
“How does it feel to be a problem?” asked W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folk. For many thinkers across the color line, the “Negro problem” was inextricably linked to the concurrent “labor problem,” occasioning debates regarding blacks’ role in the nation’s industrial past, present and future. With blacks freed from the seemingly protective embrace of slavery, many felt that the ostensibly primitive Negro was doomed to expire in the face of unbridled industrial progress. Yet efforts to address the socalled “Negro problem” invariably led to questions regarding the relationship between race, industry, and labor writ large. In consequence, a collection of thinkers across the natural and social sciences developed a new culture of racial management, linking race and labor to color and the body. Evolutionary theory and industrial management combined to identify certain peoples with certain forms of work and reconfigured the story of races into one of development and decline, efficiency and inefficiency, and the thin line between civilization and savagery. Forging a Laboring Race charts the history of an idea—race management—building on recent work in African American, labor, and disability history to analyze how ideas of race, work, and the “fit” or “unfit” body informed the political economy of early twentieth-century industrial America. Forging a Laboring Race foregrounds the working black body as both a category of analysis and lived experience.
CHRISTY CLARK-PUJARA is Assistant Professor of History in the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
PAUL R.D. LAWRIE is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg.
AUGUST 224 PAGES • 9 black & white illustrations CLOTH • 978-1-4798-7042-4 • $40.00A (£27.99) In the Early American Places series U.S. HISTORY • AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES
JULY 256 PAGES CLOTH • 978-1-4798-5732-6 • $50.00A (£35.00) In the Culture, Labor, History series U.S. HISTORY • AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES
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