Black Voices in the Shadows of the Big House: Folk artist Clementine Hunter’s challenge to southern gentility narratives of slavery and slave cabins


Sponsor(s): Center for Research on Social Change, Townsend Center for the Humanities, Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies

Stephen Small, Director, Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, and Professor, African American Studies, UC Berkeley

With Ula Y. Taylor, Professor of African American Studies & 1960 Chair of Undergraduate Education, UC Berkeley, as respondent

Tens of thousands of plantations, buildings, work structures and gardens currently comprise a tourist infrastructure of the southern heritage industry. Louisiana is one of the most prominent and frequently visited states that benefit from this tourism and has more than sixty heritage sites housed in former slave plantations. These sites contain the remains, restorations, reconstructions and replicas of antebellum slave cabins and slave quarters. In this presentation, I focus on three plantation heritage sites with 16 slave cabins located in the parish of Natchitoches, in northwest Louisiana: Oakland Plantation, Magnolia Plantation Complex and Melrose Plantation. The slave cabins and the enslaved women and men that lived in them are addressed in all three heritage sites, but information about them is inferior and subordinate to information about elite white men and women. A distinctive feature of Melrose Plantation is that it was owned by legally free people of color who owned more enslaved people than any other legally free people of color in the entire Antebellum south. The slave cabins at Melrose are symbolically annihilated – they are not presented as slave cabins but as writers’ cabins occupied by white writers in the 1930s. But a powerful and compelling counter narrative can be found in the artwork of folk artist Clementine Hunter, whose paintings offer a social critique of southern gentility and whose work centers the importance of Black life, Black culture, Black celebration and Black joy. Her work reveals how and why southern gentility narratives can be questioned and challenged.

Stephen Small is Director of the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI) and Professor of African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley. He earned his Ph.D. in Sociology at UC Berkeley where he was a graduate student trainee in what is now ISSI’s Graduate Fellows Program. His research analyzes contemporary racial formations and addresses links between historical structures and contemporary manifestations of racial formations in the United States and elsewhere in the African Diaspora. His most recent book is In the Shadows of the Big House: 21st Century Antebellum Slave Cabins and Heritage Tourism in Louisiana(University Press of Mississippi, 2023). He is currently writing a book on Black culture in Liverpool at the end of the 20th century, to be published by Liverpool University Press in 2024. Among his many other publications, he is co-author of 1981 Black Liverpool, Past and Present, author of 20 Questions and Answers on Black Europeand co-editor of New Perspectives on Slavery and Colonialism in the Caribbean and Black Europe and the African Diaspora. Stephen was born and raised in Liverpool, the city with the UK’s longest-standing Black population.

Ula Y. Taylor is Professor of African American Studies & 1960 Chair of Undergraduate Education at UC Berkeley. Ula Taylor earned her doctorate in American History from UC Santa Barbara. She is the author of The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islamand of The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey, co-author of Panther: A Pictorial History of the Black Panther Party and the Story Behind the Film, and co-editor of Black California Dreamin: The Crisis of California African American Communities. Her articles on African American women’s history and feminist theory have appeared in the Journal of African American History, Journal of Women’s History, Feminist Studies, SOULS, and other academic journals and edited volumes. In 2013 she received the Distinguished Professor Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. Only 5% of the academic senate faculty receive this honor; she is the second African American woman in the history of the University to receive this award.

Speaker: Stephen Small, Director, Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, and Professor, African American Studies, UC Berkeley
Moderator: Ula Y. Taylor, Professor of African American Studies & 1960 Chair of Undergraduate Education, UC Berkeley

Doors open at 11:30 and close at 12:15. No admission after 12:15.

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