Book of Negroes Review Pt.4 by Word Mason

Book of Negroes Review Pt.4

From the Tablet Reviews: The Book of Negroes, Episode 4

It has oft been said that history is written by the victors. When the victors write history, they choose to record the events that make their choices wise, their victories glorious, and their conduct honourable. When we read history, we have to remember that we are only getting a piece of a piece of what happened at the time that record was penned. We may know what was written, we may even know who wrote it, but that is never everything. The stories behind the fading scratches of ink on brittle yellow parchment are often lost to the uncounted sunsets between the moments recorded and the time we rediscover them.

 

In this episode of the CBC’s The Book of Negroes, we get a lesson in the often unpleasant nuances of recording history. This episode teaches us that what we often learn in our history classes are footnotes to the true grit of the events in question. We see the way that law can be manipulated for the gain of a privileged few. The show directly addresses the question of “the good slave master” and they hypocrisy of America’s founding fathers. There is always more to the story. Now before I say anything else…

 

**********************************SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!***********************************

 

In the case that you live under a rock and haven’t learned anything from my last three reviews, do yourself a favour and click this link: http://www.cbc.ca/bookofnegroes/

 

Now take a minute and recover from the heaviness of this episode and let’s get to it!

Much like last week, this episode was densely packed, rich with questions about events and persons that underpin the state of race relations in the United States. The American Revolution is over. The British have agreed to relinquish control of the Thirteen Colonies, and now have begun to move loyalist to Canada and other colonies across the British Empire. Africans that fought for the Union Jack and were granted freedom for their service are granted safe passage to Nova Scotia and are given land to farm as part of their reward. Aminata was recruited by the captain in charge of this enterprise, Captain John Clarkson (played by a charming Ben Chaplain). Her charge is the namesake of the series, the Book of Negroes, which details the names and key details of the Black Loyalists taking part in the exodus. Her efforts to ensure the speedy evacuation of the Africans leaving through New York are made all the more difficult by the near immediate arrival of bounty hunters and slave masters eagerly in search black bodies to return to the grindstone of chattel slavery, whether they are free or not. We bear witness to the painful separation of families that take place as Claybourne is claimed for his former master by a bounty hunter, despite the fact that he was free under the conditions of the peace agreement. The tearful adieu to his wife Bertilda and his daughter was made even worse by the obvious disregard for the illegality of their claim on him.

 

The tension in this episode reaches its zenith when a heavily pregnant Aminata was denied her exit from the colonies due to a claim on her from an unidentified former master. This master is later revealed to be none other than Robinson Appleby, her first master, her rapist, and the one who sold her baby. His fallacious claim was nearly upheld by the courts had Black Sam not been so fortunate as to find Solomon Lindo in the same city. Solomon not only invalidated Appleby’s claim, but also assured Aminata’s freedom in the hopes that she might forgive him for brokering the sale of her first child. This was not to be as she continued to refuse to demonstrate any kind of amiability towards the man who brokered the sale of her child. Aminata is free and after a heartfelt kiss goodbye, she says farewell to Sam and the United States.

 

The main theme in this episode seems to be the question of truth. What is true? How do we know it to be true? Does it even matter in the grand scheme of things? One of the clearest manifestations of this is the capture or recapture of Africans throughout New York. Regardless of the declaration that Africans who served the crown were free, many of them were captured and sent to their former masters. In the real history, some of the Africans that were clapped in irons and shipped south were freeborn, but being Black, the courts would not support their claims to freedom. One calls to mind the true story of Solomon Northrup, who was a free born African American and was captured and sold into slavery just years before the American Civil War. Another manifestation of this theme was the conversation between George Washington and the British Commander in which the American general made very clear his displeasure with the mass departure of people he refers to as property of the citizens of his newly born country. History would have us believe that the transition of Africans from the United States to the other British colonies was a smooth process, when in fact it was dirty. Many people who under those laws were rightly free were re-enslaved under false pretences for profit. History would have us believe that freedom was earned for all Americans in the revolution, when in fact many of the loudest proponents of self-determination and liberty were slave holders themselves.

In this episode Aminata represents the current consciousness of the African Diaspora. She sees the world she lives in for what it really is. She knows the court system is a sham where people who look like her are concerned. She knows that the people who claim freedom in America ironically did not know the meaning as was made clear in her discussion with Appleby, who thought it prudent to tell a woman who is in a constant battle for her freedom that she does not know what it is while he tried to enslave her. She asks a question of George Washington that many people have asked themselves. If he believed in freedom so much, why did he hold slaves? The answer he gave is the same answer given by the establishment in the United States when confronted with the question of the prison industrial complex, nothing. Something key to not here is that Aminata made a distinction between the Americans and the “negroes”, making clear the line between those who had real freedom, and those who did not.

This episode had me swimming in a sea of emotions, and I loved it. My heart was in my throat when Aminata was nearly snagged by bounty hunters before she was saved by a British officer. When Claybourne was taken in a raid of Canvas Town, I was furious at the injustice and flagrant abuse of power by the slave catchers. My heart was warmed when Aminata fortuitously encountered the now grown baby that she helped birth on the slave ship. I was filled with disgust when Appleby tried to give Aminata a lecture on what it was to be a man, when his actions would render legless any claims he had to such a label. I sat with bated breath awaiting George Washington’s response to Aminata’s direct question about his own slaves. I raised my eyebrows as Black Sam’s affections for Aminata became more apparent and nearly spit out the water I was drinking when she laid that kiss on him before taking her leave. The story and message were well delivered in this episode. I still did not like Cuba Gooding Jr’s acting. His “accent” went from unidentifiable to intermittent throughout the episode and it was very distracting. He did well in consistently manifesting his character’s sticks like a twitch in the face or shaking the head, but having seen his earlier work, I expected more from such a powerhouse of a performer.

 

The next episode takes place in Nova Scotia. We will get the opportunity to learn about the birth of Canada’s reputation as a haven for escaped and freed Africans. If it is anything like this episode, it is likely that we will not be disappointed with the attention to detail and the allegorical subtext. I wish it was Thursday already. Until next time, be good to each other.

 

Love and Peace,

 

Word Mason

 

Interesting Facts:

  • Around 3,500 Africans were settled in Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War
  • David George, a founder of the Baptist Church in Nova Scotia, was an escaped slave turned Black Loyalist
  • Here is a link to the actual content of the Book of Negroes referenced in the show and the novel http://novascotia.ca/archives/virtual/africanns/BN.asp

 

 

Word Mason, as his name suggests, is a builder with words. Each line of poetry represents a brick to the monuments of lyrical beauty he constructs through his poetry and music. A writer and performer from the age of six, he has had over two decades of experience at the edge of the pen and behind the microphone.  He draws much of his inspiration from his love of ancient history and classical poetry. He has appeared in various programmes on stage and in front of the camera, as well as lending his talent to a multitude of charitable causes His motto is “Your life is only worth what you leave in this world behind you”, and that is his motivation for continuing to develop his art and create memorable works to captivate the listener and reader alike. Contact info: 

word.masons.tablet@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/WordMasonsTablet

@WordMasonTablet 

 




Subscribe to my e-mail list to stay ahead of the pack and get helpful information you can use

Email address

First name

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply