A Curse upon the Nation
Race, Freedom, and Extermination in America and the Atlantic World

Kay Wright Lewis

How the specter of a race war has justified violence, molded collective memory, and permeated the rhetoric of slavery and freedom

Reviews

"Lewis draws from newspapers, political tracts, correspondence, and court documents to describe the perseverance of racialized fears from the early seventeenth century through the twentieth. The result is one of the first sustained studies about extermination as a historiographical approach to slavery and African American history. . . . Lewis’s book is a welcome contribution to the scholarship on race and slavery and a must-read for scholars of race."
Black Perspectives

"A deeply-researched and wide-ranging book that carefully unravels the ways in which racial violence shaped Atlantic and American history. Lewis’s attention to the perspectives and fates of Africans and African Americans is particularly noteworthy, and her treatment of the transatlantic story in this context is especially intriguing in those chapters that venture beyond the United States and its colonial precursors."
—David C. Atkinson, Diplomatic History


Description

From the inception of slavery as a pillar of the Atlantic World economy, both Europeans and Africans feared their mass extermination by the other in a race war. In the United States, says Kay Wright Lewis, this ingrained dread nourished a preoccupation with slave rebellions and would later help fuel the Civil War, thwart the aims of Reconstruction, justify Jim Crow, and even inform civil rights movement strategy. And yet, says Lewis, the historiography of slavery is all but silent on extermination as a category of analysis. Moreover, little of the existing sparse scholarship interrogates the black perspective on extermination. A Curse upon the Nation addresses both of these issues.

To explain how this belief in an impending race war shaped eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American politics, culture, and commerce, Lewis examines a wide range of texts including letters, newspapers, pamphlets, travel accounts, slave narratives, government documents, and abolitionist tracts. She foregrounds her readings in the long record of exterminatory warfare in Europe and its colonies, placing lopsided reprisals against African slave revolts—or even rumors of revolts—in a continuum with past brutal incursions against the Irish, Scots, Native Americans, and other groups out of favor with the empire. Lewis also shows how extermination became entwined with ideas about race and freedom from early in the process of enslavement, making survival an important form of resistance for African peoples in America.

For African Americans, enslaved and free, the potential for one-sided violence was always present and deeply traumatic. This groundbreaking study reevaluates how extermination shaped black understanding of the Atlantic slave trade and the political, social, and economic worlds in which it thrived.

Page count: 272 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9

 



Hardcover
List price: $64.95
978-0-8203-5127-8
8/15/2017

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Ebook
List price: $64.95
978-0-8203-5126-1
8/15/2017
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Kay Wright Lewis is an assistant professor of history at Howard University.