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'Just keeps rollin' along': rebellions, revolts and radical black memories of slavery in the 1930s

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Gardullo examines the ways in which a collection of black intellectuals, activists and artists created a space and a new language for renegotiating their relationship to slavery in the 1930s. He particularly focuses on the intertwined nature of history writing, visual art and public performances through the words and works of W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, Paul Robeson, Aaron Douglas and Jacob Lawrence, in order to demonstrate the centrality of art to politics and history during this period. Buoyed by political, social and theoretical interventions from Marxism and political organizations on the left, these actors attempted to transform the cultural memory of slavery from one of trauma to one of not only emancipatory but also revolutionary potential. By breaking with racist conceptions of the past that dominated the mainstream media as well as by challenging the limits of the left for not fully addressing the role of race in shaping the American past and present, they emphatically asserted a version of the slave past that foregrounded black agency in revolutionary terms. Moreover, they also simultaneously delineated the deep structural ties between the development of capitalism and the birth of modern conceptions of freedom, and the growth of slavery, confronting what had up to then been unquestioned ideas about progress and historical change.
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Keywords: Aaron Douglas; African-American history and culture; Black Atlantic; C. L. R. James; Jacob Lawrence; Marxism; W. E. B. Du Bois; memory; race; slavery

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2007-07-01

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