The Effete Liberal Book Club Rises Again

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Our own Sandy Young has agreed to lead the next book group. The main text is Walter Johnson's Soul By Soul, but I think Sandy is proposing something more intensive and interesting. I'll let his note speak for itself and we can then talk about how to proceed.


I've been considering how best to combine a discussion of Johnson's book with a sub-thread on slave narratives - I think the two ideas complement each other, but there's a great deal in Soul by Soul that goes beyond the slave narratives. I'm going to assume that you haven't started it yet. Johnson attempts to look at the act of selling a person - turning a person into a product - from three vantage points, in his own words, a "thrice-told tale".
 
He examines it from the point of view of the person being sold - and this is where he relies upon the slave narratives for his choices. He examines it from the point of view of the purchaser - and here he relies on slave-owners diaries and letters. Finally he looks at it from the vantage of the trader/seller. Here he relies on a body of legal decisions from Louisiana Courts under "Redhibition" laws - if you think warranty claims, you won't be far wrong. He looks at lawsuits where slave purchasers are suing for relief because the "product" was not as advertised. It's my hope that the slave narrative discussion won't overwhelm the discussion around the other sources - and I hope to nudge along that consideration as moderator, if need be.
 
As for the narratives themselves, I'm going to suggest that we exclude the WPA Narrative Collection and rely instead - as Johnson does - on the nineteenth century narratives as being both more relevant and more authentic. The best place to find them that I'm aware of is in the same collection you linked to on the Jarm Logue post - the Documenting the American South web page. In particular, I would recommend the following readings (feel free to delete or expand):
 
This is Drew's "A Northside View of Slavery" - narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada.
 
This is "Slave Life in Georgia" - John Brown's extensive narrative.
 
 
 
I cite these three because Johnson draws upon them heavily - so we can follow his research. But I would also recommend the following:

 
"Louisa Picquet, the Octaroon - or Inside Views of Southern Domestic Life." - for a good look at what life was like for slave women. I haven't linked to Jacobs account, because I'm assuming that most of the ELBC members are already familiar with it.
 
 
This is "Aunt Dice: The Story of a Faithful Slave." It is definitely not a slave narrative; but (while often groan-inducing) it is an excellent account of the kind of world slave-owners were imagining and trying to bring into existence by the act of purchasing slaves. It is such a strange admixture of affection, intimacy, pretence and brutality, often painful to read, but I think it would help prompt discussion.
 
As to scheduling, I would suggest we consider starting on Nov. 9 or Nov. 16th, which should give participants the opportunity to obtain the book and start reading. As to scheduling, I would recommend the following:
 
Nov. 9: Intro and Chapter One.
Nov. 16: Chapters Two and Three.
Nov. 23: Chapters Four and Five.
Nov. 30: Chapters Six and Seven.
Dec. 7 - Epilogue/Conclusions.

Gather below and let's talk about how to make this happen.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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