d 6 – Writing Freedom


The End and the Legacy:

On June 28th, 1830, David Walker died suddenly. Walker’s abolitionist associates believed he’d been poisoned by pro-slavery enemies. The opinion of most historians is that Walker fell victim to the cholera epidemic that swept through Boston in the summer of 1830 and that had claimed the life of Walker’s young daughter a week before his death.

Swiftly thereafter, legislation came down in one Southern state, then the next, to ban in law what was supposed to have been banned in custom all along. Negroes would forever be banned from the book. They would not be taught to read or to write. Those found teaching Negroes these skills would be punished under the law.

David Walker was the most highly regarded abolitionist of his day. Walker scholar Darryl Scriven reflects that “David Walker was a stalwart man, a loyal American, a venture capitalist…a passionate evangelist, an aggressive intellectual, a sought-after journalist, a subversive theologian, an insightful cultural critic, a free-born black, a dedicated activist, [and] a formidable philosopher”[1].

[1] Scriven, Darryl. A Dealer of Old Clothes: Philosophical Conversations With David Walker. iUniverse, Inc. Lincoln, NE. 2004.
See full essay here

Saidiya Hartmann, in Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, asks “To what end does one conjure the ghost of slavery, if not to incite the hopes of transforming the present?”

Women’s Popular Culture: An Overlooked Source of Freedom

Carmen McCain: “ [Kano romance] novels have often been denigrated by an intellectual elite in Nigeria. Critics, many of whom have read only a few of the novels, or none at all, often condemn an entire range of genres and literary accomplishment as “trashy romance novels.”
Read more here

Joining her in opposing this disdain, Graham Furniss and Abdalla Uba Adamu write that it’s “a puzzle … why one such combination of initiatives and circumstances may explode and change society.”  Of the women’s romances in the 1980s they say: “Women, in particular, became emboldened by the potentials of creative freedom assured by their audiences. A more inauspicious context in which to engender an explosion of popular creative writing would be difficult to imagine than existed in northern Nigeria at the end of the 1980s.”

At that time, the first woman novelist Balaraba Yakubu joined a group of writers who, like her, had no formal education, and learned to read and write as adults. With a “sense that they were looked down on by the educated,” they named their group Raina Kama.  “Raina Kama means, literally, ‘belittling the appearance’ and implies … that something that is disdainfully treated will one day be something of significance” (Furniss and Adamu, 2012)