Her Soul’s Marching On! By Toyin Falola
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
She is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
She hath loosed the fateful lightning of Her terrible swift sword:
Her truth is marching on.
Glory glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Her truth is marching on.
The indomitable Harriet Tubman (c. 1820-1913) represented resistance, liberation, race upliftment, and progress. Her un-extinguishable name has put a stamp on the series named after her. Her history is transnational and diasporic. The Series, like the woman herself, is equally indeed diasporic and transnational. Relationships can be gendered, so too are the publications in this most formidable Series which pays tribute to Tubman’s powerful spirit of both excellence and perseverance. Aluta continua !
In re-writing her name all over as a veritable template and invoking the essence and mythology of her history, the Tubman Series is truly committed to thinking globally, in the conception of the collaborative efforts in publishing the books, the international conferences that produced some of the works, the representation of authors from far and wide, and the careful emphasis on race, ethnicity, and gender of authors and the subjects they uncover.
The Series defines the African diaspora writ-large: in time, place, and space. If Harriet Tubman built her fame and reputation as a young woman who escaped slavery and later assisted others to flee from the US to Canada, and eventually joining in the American Civil War with a commitment to end slavery, this kind of perseverance, coupled with combative passion for justice and equality, has been resurrected in a series of books that focuses on history from below.
It is appropriate that the Series has many books on slavery, its practices and its abolition, themes that honor Tubman. Thus, Lovejoy and Falola’s Pawnship, Slavery and Colonialism in Africa; Lovejoy’s Slavery, Commerce and Production in West Africa: Slave Society in the Sokoto Caliphate; and Edmund Abaka’s House of Slaves and “Door of No Return”: Gold Coast/Ghana Slave Forts, Castles and Dungeons and the Atlantic Slave Trade all deal, in one way or another, with the manifestations of slavery and slave traffic.
Canada is presented in the contours and labyrinths of slaves and freedom, the strong base of Tubman herself, as in Simpson’s, Under the North Star: Black Communities in Upper Canada before Confederation (1867). Canada and the United States intersected with other places, as we read in José C. Curto and Renée Soulodre-La France, eds., Africa and the Americas: Interconnections during the Slave Trade or in Boubacar Barry, Livio Sansone, and Elisée Soumonni, eds., Africa, Brazil, and the Construction of Trans-Atlantic Black Identities, and even in Elisabeth Cunin and Odile Hoffmann, eds., Blackness and Mestizaje in Mexico and Central America.
Of course, the coverage is much broader than the trips undertaken by Tubman, as the Series defines a much larger network covering Africa, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. On the Islamic frontier, it is instructive to read Paul E. Lovejoy, Ecology and Ethnography of Muslim Trade in West Africa; and Behnaz Asl Mirzai, Ismael Musah Montana, and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds., Slavery, Islam and Diaspora. In extending its reach to Asia and Europe, we have Ehud R. Toledano, ed., African Communities in Asia and the Mediterranean: Identities between Integration and Conflict.
West and Central Africa are also two key regions with deep connections to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, both represented in critical works such as in that of Bruce Mouser, The War of 1812 and Slavery in West Africa: The Scheme to Establish an American Colony in Rio Pongo; Johnston Akuma-Kalu Njoku, From Freedom to Freedom: Journeying Back to Heal the Wounds of the Atlantic Slave Trade; Waibinte E. Wariboko, Slave Trade, Palm Oil and the Forces of British Imperialism at Elem Kalabari in the Niger Delta; and Paul E. Lovejoy and Suzanne Schwarz, eds., Empire, Slave Trade and Slavery in Sierra Leone: Building Civil Society Past and Present.
There were also short- and long- term consequences on the brutal slave trade, as explained in Carolyn Brown and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds., Repercussions of the Atlantic Slave Trade: The Interior of the Bight of Biafra and the African Diaspora; and P. Candido and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds., Crossing Memories: Slavery and African Diaspora.
Power and hegemony are always combated. Slavery and the world that it created ultimately crumbled. Several books deal with the abolition of slavery and its aftermath, as in Myriam Cottias and Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, eds., Distant Ripples of British Abolition in Africa, Asia and the Americas. In its aftermath, Blacks recalled the exercise to create political and cultural movements, as exemplified by Juanita De Barros and Sean Stilwell, eds., Public Health and Colonialism in the British Imperial World; and Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora 1919-1939.
Additionally, migration is equally key in the Series, as in the older experience from inter-group relations and movements, and the contemporary ones of relocation [See, for instance, Joel Quirk and Darshan Vigneswaran, eds., Slavery, Migration and Contemporary Bondage in Africa.]
History reveals the underbelly of politics in the way in which narratives are connected with the enduring quest for equality, with justice and empowerment. Demands for justice and equality can be acted upon and thus can engender drama, and acts of resistance. Dramas and performances are intellectual frontiers captured in Naana Opoku-Agyemang, Paul E. Lovejoy and David Trotman, eds., Africa and Trans-Atlantic Memories: Literary and Aesthetic Manifestations of Diaspora and History as well as in Audra Diptee and David V. Trotman, eds., Memory, Public History & Representations of the Past: Africa & Its Diasporas.
The books on drama reveal the continuous push for exemplary creativity. Similarly, the Series goes deeper, exploring so many other artistic and creative frontiers, as in Christopher Innes, Annabel Rutherford and Brigitte Bogar, eds., Carnival – Theory and Practice; and Modesto Amegago, African Drumming: The History and Continuity of African Drumming Traditions. Evolving further, the Series has explored how to educate and make sense of slavery and the slave trade in Paul E. Lovejoy and Benjamin Bowser, eds., The Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: New Directions in Teaching and Learning, and Dario Euraque and Yesenia Martinez, The African Diaspora in the Educational Programs of Central America.
Let us toast to celebrate the previous 24 books by eminent scholars. Boubacar Barry, one of the authors, is this year’s recipient of the Africanist Distinguished Award. Rina Cáceres is the first person to occupy the chair of African studies in Costa Rica. Ana Lucia Araujo now has her own series with Cambria Press. Some books are magisterial, definitive, as in Ute Röschenthaler, Purchasing Culture in the Cross River Region of Cameroon and Nigeria.
Let us also celebrate the forthcoming books:
Juanita De Barros and Sean Stilwell, eds., Public Health and Colonialism in the British Imperial World.
Dario Euraque and Yesenia Martinez, The African Diaspora in the Educational Programs of Central America.
Myriam Cottias and Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, eds., Distant Ripples of British Abolition in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Chouki El Hamel & Timothy Cleveland:. African Diasporas: The Confluence and Convergence of Cultures.
Meley Mulegetta, Ethiopian Church Archives Collection.
Paul E. Lovejoy and Vanessa Oliveira, eds., Slavery, Memory, Citizenship.
Annie Bunting, ed., Forced Marriage in Conflict Situations – Insights from the History of Slavery and Prosecuting Gender Crimes.
Alice Bellagamba, Sandra Greene and Martin Klein, eds., African Slaves, African Masters: Politics, Memories, Social Life.
Jennifer Lofkrantz and Olatunji Ojo, eds., Ransoming in the Past and Present.
David V. Trotman, ed., Alcohol in the Atlantic World of Slavery.
Rina Cáceres and Paul E. Lovejoy, eds. The Meaning of Blackness.
Bruce Hall, Jeremy Bentley, Yacine Daddi-Addoun, eds., Reading Race and Social Hierarchy in Muslim West and North Africa.
We are grateful to the originator of this idea, Paul E. Lovejoy, FRSC, Distinguished Research Professor and Canada Research Chair in African Diaspora History. Paul needs an encyclopedia to introduce him for the prodigiousness of his scholarship, the expansiveness of his ideas, the grandiosity of his generosity, and the largeness of his heart. We are permanently indebted to the publishers, Kassahun Checole and the Africa World Press, a cosmopolitan Afrocentricist, an accomplished visionary and intellectual missionary, a man who never gives up, who can be down and rise a minute later. In short, Kassahun is the man the Sufi would call the gift of himmah, the one with the boundless energy for righteous deeds. We thank the 12 disciples of Lovejoy, the members of the Editorial Board, one that is yet to produce a Judas Iscariot.
Let me close by saying, as someone who has read almost all the books, reviewed some, and wrote blurbs for others, that this is the most productive Series on slavery in the world, including the most accomplished scholars and the next generation of talented young men and women. The reach of the Series is global, and its mission is glorious. There are deliberate strategic choices that draw lessons from the past to talk about diversity and multiculturalism. All in all, Africa is seen as central, not peripheral, to the history of black people, to their conditions and experiences. Ongoing conversation brings about the relevance of people and their cultures, past struggles and present marginalization. Many of the ambitious books have delved deeply into rich archival sources, bringing forth new evidence and insights, and using critical rigor and outstanding prose to ferry us across fresh rivers and streams of ideas, events, and episodes.
The Series has killed Eurocentricsm. It has expanded the issues to various new topics and fields. It has linked local with global forces. It has yielded narratives on power at the periphery. It has exposed the complicity of various countries and peoples in new ways and new approaches. It has expressed important views on power relations over time. It has supplied valuable information on the interconnections between the past of slavery and the present of exploitation. It has kept memory alive, that of Harriet Tubman and the contents of the envelope that hides her remarkable life.
Long live the Harriet Tubman Series.
And may your future exploits surpass those of the past!
Professor Toyin Falola, renowned historian and president of the African Studies Association. He made these remarks at the recent annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Indianapolis, the United State of America.