The Bone and Sinew of the Land: A Selected Bibliography

June 19th, 2018


The long-hidden stories of America’s black pioneers, the frontier they settled, and their fight for the heart of the nation.When black settlers Keziah and Charles Grier started clearing their frontier land in 1818, they couldn’t know that they were part of the nation’s earliest struggle for equality; they were just looking to build a better life. But within a few years, the Griers would become early Underground Railroad conductors, joining with fellow pioneers and other allies to confront the growing tyranny of bondage and injustice.

The Bone and Sinew of the Land tells the Griers’ story and the stories of many others like them: the lost history of the nation’s first Great Migration. In building hundreds of settlements on the frontier, these black pioneers were making a stand for equality and freedom. Their new home, the Northwest Territory—the wild region that would become present-day Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin—was the first territory to ban slavery and have equal voting rights for all men. Though forgotten today, in their own time the successes of these pioneers made them the targets of racist backlash. Political and even armed battles soon ensued, tearing apart families and communities long before the Civil War. Anna-Lisa Cox will discuss The Bone and Sinew of the Land on Tuesday, 6/26, 6pm at the Co-op.

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison - Toni Morrison does it again – by far the best description of what life was like on the Virginia frontier in the 1600s. This is the period that saw the rise of free African-descended families like the RoundtreesNolcoxesConners and so many others who came to settle the Northwest Territory in the 1800s.

A Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States and the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them, by Hosea Easton - William Lloyd Garrison published this brilliant piece written by his friend, the African-descended Rev. Hosea EastonEaston explores issues of identity and prejudice in America in a sophisticated and thoughtful way. While almost ignored at the time it was published, this is a timeless work that continues to give insight into the issues of race and belonging in America. Essential.

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, by Danielle Allen - Danielle Allen’s wise and inspirational book on how the founding citizens of the United States understood the Declaration of Independence.

The Spirit of the Laws, by Charles de Secondat Montesquieu et al. - Profound and surprisingly wry and funny, Montesquieu’s work originally published in the 1740s, was broadly read by American colonists. His description of the evils of racial prejudice shows how ludicrous prejudice can be, but also how deadly. If only Thomas Jefferson had taken all of Montesquieu’s work to heart.

Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Centuryby Francisco Bethencourt - Found on the Front Table at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore! Bethencourt’s book is the reason I do not use the word “racism” once in The Bone and Sinew of the Land. A revelation.

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones -  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and deservedly so. A powerful story of the complicated lives of free African Americans in 1800s Virginia before the Civil War.

Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833, to October, 1834by E. S. Abdy - Edward Strutt Abdy traveled throughout the United States in the early 1830s. While lesser known than Alexis de Tocqueville, this Oxford don’s insight into the United States and the problem of prejudice rising at that time makes him an invaluable commentator on America at this troubled time. Abdy was concerned both with the ending of slavery and the problem of racial prejudice. He coined the term “Africo-American” and was hosted by a pioneer African American family in rural Indiana. He perfectly sums the backlash against these successful pioneers rising on the Northwest Territory frontier when he writes, “While they were clearing their farms of the timber, they were unmolested; but now that they have got the land into a good state of cultivation, and are rising in the world, the avarice of the white man casts a greedy eye on their luxuriant crops; and his pride is offended at the decent appearance of their sons and daughters.”

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