Race, Landscapes, and Ideologies

Our six weeks of digging will end tomorrow. Writing this is bittersweet. I’m sure everyone can agree that while we’ll miss our unit partners and field directors, we might not miss the odd t-shirt tans we all have. Actually, a few of us just might miss those too.

This has been a learning experience in the proper methodologies of excavation and processing artifacts, we’ve also been exposed to a wide range of intellectual insight. Unit 74 found a brick wall, which we believed to be part of the slave quarter we’ve been hoping to find. My unit partners and I are still a little excited about the pair of scissors we found, too. However, we’ve been doing a lot more than digging. Over this six week period, we’ve been responsible for reading and discussing articles, chapters, and papers by some of the most brilliant minds Historical Archaeology has to offer. We’ve followed a few of Dr. Leone’s writings as guidance to understanding the nuances of landscapes and ideologies which affect them. Our weekly discussions have run the gamut from landscape archaeology and foodways to ethics. Not only have we been taught to view objects differently, but we’ve been trained to think critically about the people those objects belonged to.

One of our assigned articles; “Class, Race, and Identity among Free Blacks in the Antebellum South” by Theresa Singleton, presents a separate view of African American culture outside of what most people would naturally assume. Antebellum African Americans maneuvered alongside, through and sometimes around the social constructs and ideologies developed by those outside of their culture. Usually their image was of any concern to others, but it is apparent that their connection to one another was valuable and complex. As common belief would have it, antebellum free African Americans were relegated to a simplistic world that was full of suffering and injustice without any hope for personal enterprise. While Jim Crow laws and abject racism were ever-present and raged on, what should not be overlooked is the fact that free blacks developed a society of their own, which, in some ways, followed the Marxist concept of the ‘social whole’ complete with an infrastructure and superstructure. This resulted in the dualistic nature of what is was to be a middle-class free African American. Even if one was accepted or regarded highly within one’s community, there would have been a constant reminder of your ‘place’ among white society. Places you could not go, people you could not speak to, and rights you could not have were all very common in one’s everyday life. Even with these restraints, free blacks created safe-havens for themselves through churches, social clubs, greek organizations as well as schools and colleges. All of these institutions, which are still around today, promoted unity and a sense of belonging. Free blacks forged their own economic identities as well by starting their own businesses and buying their own property. W.E.B. Dubois spoke of “The Talented Tenth” and the expectation that free African Americans could lead one another from structuralized oppression and redefine the image that others created for them. Singleton’s article shows us that free African Americans took heed.

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