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Fugitive Movements

Commemorating the Denmark Vesey Affair and Black Radical Antislavery in the Atlantic World

edited by James O'Neil Spady



Published: Jan 28 2022


Published: Jan 28 2022

OA Ebook
Published: Jan 28 2022


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

In 1822, White authorities in Charleston, South Carolina, learned of plans among the city's enslaved and free Black population to lead an armed antislavery rebellion. Among the leaders was a free Black carpenter named Denmark Vesey. After a brief investigation and what some have considered a dubious trial, Vesey and thirty-five others were convicted of attempted insurrection and hanged.

Although the rebellion never came to fruition, it nonetheless fueled Black antislavery movements in the United States and elsewhere. To this day, activists, politicians, writers, and scholars debate the significance of the conspiracy, how to commemorate it, and the integrity of the archival records it left behind. Fugitive Movements memorializes this attempted liberation movement with new interpretations of the event as well as comparisons to other Black resistance throughout the Atlantic World—including Africa, the Caribbean, and the Northern United States.

This volume situates Denmark Vesey and antislavery rebellion within the current scholarship on abolition that places Black activists at the center of the story. It shows that Black antislavery rebellion in general, and the 1822 uprising by Black Charlestonians in particular, significantly influenced the history of slavery in the Western Hemisphere. The essays collected in this volume explore not only that history, but also the ongoing struggle over the memory of slavery and resistance in the Atlantic World.

Manisha Sinha, James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut and author of The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition, provides the foreword.

James O'Neil Spady, associate professor of American history at Soka University of America, is the author of Education and the Racial Dynamics of Settler Colonialism in Early America: Georgia and South Carolina, 1700–1820.

"Fugitive Movements is a thoughtful and wide-ranging volume exploring not just the 1822 Vesey conspiracy, but black antislavery and resistance across both time and place. The collection draws on new ways of framing Vesey and evidence from around the Atlantic World to inspire a broader understanding of the world of Vesey and his co-conspirators."—John Garrison Marks, author of Black Freedom in the Age of Slavery: Race, Status, and Identity in the Urban Americas

"White Southerners who took up arms to assert their freedom in 1776 are revered, but mainstream thought traditionally ignored or reviled Black Southerners who aspired to do the same. Patient and varied recent scholarship has pushed Americans to confront that contradiction. This welcome collection reflects, and advances, the discussion admirably."—Peter H. Wood, author of Black Majority and Strange New Land

"[This] collection does much to reframe the 1822 uprising as one episode akin to others in a dynamic Black Atlantic, African diaspora, and Age of Revolutions framework. [The] volume is as dedicated to restoring the circumatlantic dimensions of the uprising as it is to reinstating Vesey himself within radical history."—Journal of Southern History

"Fugitive Movements is a timely and necessary collection that adeptly interweaves historical scholarship and memory studies to advance understanding of the long legacy of Black resistance evident in the 1822 uprising and the Black freedom struggles that have endured to this day."—American Nineteenth Century History

"Overall, this collection contains essays that are important for not only understanding past fugitive movements but also connecting the past to current cultural movements sweeping the world. By showing that "all Black freedom movements are fugitive" and reformulating Black antislavery as a fugitive social movement, Spady is able to "preserve a history of the Black radical tradition and link our contested present to the past," as Manisha Sinha states in the foreword to the collection (pp. xii, xiii). This book would be a great addition for a graduate-level class focusing on antislavery or Black freedom movements in the Atlantic world. It would also be of interest to any scholar who has interest in the Atlantic world, especially those who focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Furthermore, the connection the essays make between past anti-racist events and present-day Black freedom movements makes this a must read for anyone interested in today's racial political climate."—Florida State University, H-Net Reviews

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