CONCERNING THE 48,000: Enslaved people built Detroit!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 9, 2018

Part 2—The living upstaged by the dead:
On the one hand, Professor Tiya Miles strikes us as unusually decent and smart.

Very much so, we'd be inclined to say again and again.

On December 10, we formed that judgment as we watched her 68 minute-long book event on C-Span. The event had been taped on October 8 in a book store in Detroit. C-Span's synopsis says this:
Professor Tiya Miles talked about her book The Dawn of Detroit, in which she examines the role that slavery played in the early history of Detroit.
Say what? Slavery played a role in Detroit's early history?

Miles, a MacArthur genius award winner, is currently a professor at the University of Michigan. She's 47 years old, though we'll guess you'll think she's younger.

We'd say she has the heart of a younger soul, offering that as a compliment. Her publisher offers this fuller account of her book:
The Dawn of Detroit
A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits

Most Americans believe that slavery was a creature of the South, and that Northern states and territories provided stops on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada. In this paradigm-shifting book, celebrated historian Tiya Miles reveals that slavery was at the heart of the Midwest’s iconic city: Detroit.

In this richly researched and eye-opening book, Miles has pieced together the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in the frontier outpost of colonial Detroit, a place wildly remote yet at the center of national and international conflict. Skillfully assembling fragments of a distant historical record, Miles introduces new historical figures and unearths struggles that remained hidden from view until now. The result is fascinating history, little explored and eloquently told, of the limits of freedom in early America...
For the full account, click here. If you watch the C-Span tape, we'll guess that Miles will strike you the way she struck us, as unusually decent and smart.

Miles seems unusually decent and smart. On the other hand, we'd say she wrote a somewhat peculiar op-ed column in the New York Times last fall.

In her column, Professor Miles somewhat strangely seemed to claim—well, we'd have to say it isn't quite clear just what she was claiming that day. She did reveal a possibly surprising fact—the names of many former slaveholders are part of the modern-day maps of Detroit and the state of Michigan.

Familiar names on the Michigan map track back to early slaveowners. In Miles' column, this possibly surprising fact led to a somewhat peculiar suggestion or claim:
MILES (9/11/17): Detroit is just one example of the hidden historical maps that silently shape our sense of place and community. Place names, submerged below our immediate awareness, may make us feel that slavery and racial oppression have faded into the backdrops of cities, and our history. Yet they do their cultural and political work.

The embedded racism of our streetscapes and landscapes is made perhaps more dangerous because we cannot see it upon a first glance.
In Detroit and across the country, slaveholder names plastered about commemorate a social order in which elite white people exerted inexorable power over black and indigenous bodies and lives. Places named after slaveholders who sold people, raped people, chained people, beat people and orchestrated sexual pairings to further their financial ends slip off our tongues without pause or forethought. Yet these memory maps make up what the University of Michigan historian Matthew Countryman has called “moral maps” of the places that we inhabit together.
In her column, Miles seems to say that people don't know that these familiar place names trace back to early slaveholders. Despite that ignorance, she seems to suggest that these names, which create some sort of "memory maps" or "moral maps," perform some sort of "cultural and political work" in spite of the fact that people don't know the history which underlies them.

From someone who seems unusually bright, the claim seems unusually fuzzy. To the extent that the suggestion can be seem as a claim at all, it seems to tilt a bit toward the mystical.

We recalled this column when we watched Professor Miles on that C-Span tape, where she struck us as unusually decent and smart. We also found ourselves thinking, again and again, about the 48,000.

We were even perhaps somewhat peeved when we did.

Who the heck are the 48,000, and why were we almost peeved? You're asking excellent questions! First, though, consider that C-Span tape.

As we watched Professor Miles, we were struck by the fealty she paid to the enslaved blacks and Native Americans who apparently form an important part of the history of early Detroit. The fact that Detroiters know so little about these people is "disrespectful to our ancestors," she said around the 10-minute mark.

Around the 18-minute mark, she said the life stories of these forebears are "very distressing." For that reason, we need to look at their stories, she said.

By the 25-minute mark, Professor Miles seemed to be expressing a type of anguish—an anguish which may well be thoroughly appropriate to the subject matter, until such time as it possibly isn't.

"I have thought about this many a night," she now said, referring to "the deaths and the burials, of [enslaved Native American] infants, children, little babies, being born right here, in Detroit, to enslaved Native mothers, and dying, before they even had a chance at life."

It was perhaps at this point that we first thought about the 48,000. As we did, Professor Miles continued to speak, with some distress, about the honored dead.

Many of these stories "are very upsetting to discover," the professor said. Their stories are distressing for her and her graduate students to discover, she said. She said she could see that it was also distressing for her audience to hear these stories.

At the 32-minute mark, the professor said, once again, that it was distressing to discuss these stories. But we have to care about them, she said, as she finished her prepared remarks and threw the floor open to questions.

The first question concerned the emotional toll such historical work takes upon Professor Miles and her graduate students. In response, she remembered crying upon discovering one particular historical record.

"Why am I doing this?" she recalled asking at one point. She said she decided that she was exposing herself to "people's needs and their suffering."

Again and again, the professor described the emotional toll of compiling these stories—these stories about Detroit's insufficiently honored dead. Midway through her round of questions, at the 46-minute mark, she brought us up short with some numbers.

She was talking about a fairly small number of people, she now said in response to a question about the paucity of historical records concerning slavery in Detroit. We'll quote her statement exactly:
MILES (10/8/17): In Detroit [as opposed to in the South], the numbers were small. We're talking about 1300 people total, 2000 people total, in the early years. And so 85 enslaved people, 200 enslaved people, in the early years.
On the occasion C-Span recorded, a contingent of good decent people spent an hour talking about 85, or perhaps 200, of their city's honored dead.

We thought again of the 48,000—that is to say, of the living. Should we be thinking about their suffering, their chances at life?

Tomorrow, we're going to ask.

Tomorrow: A cascade of horrible numbers

28 comments:

  1. Another column mocking the concerns of others.

    And then there is this: "We'd say she has the heart of a younger soul, offering that as a compliment. "

    Why is youth a compliment? Wisdom comes with age. This crap perpetuates the belief that women are over the hill at 30, even in academic fields involving historical scholarship apparently. Young is better.

    And he works overtime to make her appear foolish for being concerned about 85-200 slaves in Detroit when he himself is concerned about 48,000! It is a fool's game to compare oppression and play the "mine is worse than yours" game when ALL and ANY form of oppression is wrong. And it isn't a contest. And Somerby is the old white guy judging everyone else's concern to determine if they have the right to be sad or not.

    What an ass Somerby is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. anon 12:25, as a fellow subscriber to TDH, I'm wondering if we can band together somehow to get Somerby fired, and get someone better to take charge of the blog, maybe you, you're so insightful. Otherwise, I'm going to demand a refund of the remaining portion of my subscription.

      Delete
    2. You might start by emailing him and suggesting he read his comments section. I have sent Somerby money. I won't be doing it again, given his current themes.

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    3. AC/MA, your post was brilliant. As such, it’s point will almost certainly be lost on the gentleman just above, who seems to think that Bob’s blog is somehow pay-for-play based, as well as on the weirdly self-pleased and benighted being, also featured above, whom I have come to think of as “the ass whisperer.”

      Delete
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  2. Odd. A post entitled "CONCERNING THE 48,000"
    has essentially nothing to do with the "48,000" that Somerby has been teasing us with for days. Instead, he detours into seeming disdain that Professor Miles would be concerned with a relatively small number of dead people, and that C-Span would air such a person and her concerns. The historian can have her concerns, and Somerby can have his. But why doesn't he just discuss his own? And one concern doesn't negate the other. Weird.

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  3. Well, the US of A stemmed from a settler colony; it's all built, fundamentally, on conquest and genocide.

    But hey, that was a long time ago, when, just like with age-gap romances, cultural norms were dramatically different.

    Sure, she can dwell on it, and grief, and rage all she wants, but - I agree - she shouldn't expect the rest of us to get too excited. Worse things are happening today and will happen again tomorrow, all over the world. And the US is involved.

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    Replies
    1. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. "

      Delete
    2. "What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it"

      Delete
    3. Hegel's view, as you here quoted it, requires the continuing study of history in order to validate its veracity. What may or may not have been true in his day may have changed, so his view can only ever be contingent. Thus, it makes history obligatory as an academic pursuit.

      Delete
    4. Studying is one thing. Getting all righteous and emotional with "moral maps" and shit like that is quite different. That's more like "virtue signalling".

      Humans used to practice slavery. They (mostly) don't anymore, because wage-slavery is more efficient. They used to kill with bayonets, and now they use cruise missiles. Progress.

      Delete
    5. They use to screw over their contractors because they were greedy pieces of shit. Now they do it to signal they are for the little guy, and not the Establishment. LOL.

      Delete
  4. You say she's smart, yet the title Dawn of the City of the Apes was sitting right there and she bungled it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. So 85 or 200 people were enslaved in Detroit 300 years ago, and we don't know their names? Last year, 300 people were murdered in Detroit. How about focusing on their names?

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    Replies
    1. Miles is a historian. She has a particular narrow focus in her academic career, as do all academics, including scientists. Why criticize her for that? Or cspan for airing her? I could just as well ask: why doesn't *Somerby* tell us those murder victims' names, instead of going off on some tangent? Hell, why doesn't he talk about the 48,000? Instead he wastes time on something else. Guess those 48,000 aren't THAT important.

      Delete
    2. Fair enough, 2:05. Miles herself may not deserve that criticism, but IMHO the "establishment" (i.e., media+universities+politicians+non profit organizations) does. Black on black murders are an enormous problem, but they get very little attention.

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    3. All murders matter.

      Delete
    4. Poor, David in Cal, it must be so difficult carrying the white man's burden. That must be why he has turned into a warped racist bastard.


      White supremacists frequently like to manipulate crime statistics in order to claim that nonwhite minorities, particularly African-Americans, are far more crime-prone and the source of most violent crime against whites. Indeed, it is a core belief that this is the case, and many white nationalist ideologues — including politician and pundit Patrick Buchanan, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, and the Council of Conservative Citizens — all have made considerable hay out of proffering “studies” laden with risibly bad statistics and other evidence to make their case.

      Delete
    5. Is this from your zombie-commenter manual?

      Delete
    6. Yeah David, is it?

      Delete
    7. mm -- I am not asserting that African-Americans are the source of most violent crime against whites. I am asserting that they are the source of most violent crime against blacks.

      For reasons I do not understand, liberals, who imagine that they are particularly concerned about the welfare of black people, tend to ignore the thousands of black on black murders. In particular, one would have expected imagine that liberals would be shouting from the rooftops about the enormous increase in such murders during the last two years of Obama's Presidency.

      Delete
    8. Who says liberals ignore black on black murder? Social programs (which conservatives cut) help prevent such murders.

      Delete
    9. I say so. The number of black murder victims increased by around 900 from 2014 to 2015 and by another approximately 900 from 2015 to 2016. I read both liberal and conservative media. Conservatives made a big fuss about these awful statistics, liberal media did not.

      Delete
    10. I am asserting that they are the source of most violent crime against blacks.

      Yes, I know, dickhead. That's because as every study has ever shown,

      Vast majority of most crimes are committed by a person of the same race as the victim, Bureau of Justice Statistics reports.

      But racist pricks like you only focus on black on black crime. I wonder why that is.

      n reality, though, while the rate of black homicide victimization has gone up, that’s just part of the story — white people, too, are both murdering and getting murdered at strikingly increasing rates as well, as two charts from the paper show:

      http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/01/the-white-and-black-murder-rates-are-both-rising.html




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  7. She actually does say that "the enslaved people who actually built this city."

    And here I thought Bob Seger built that city on Rock and Roll.

    Just a note, in 1840, when there was presumably no longer slavery in Detroit, the population of Detroit was 9,102. At its peak in 1950, the population of Detroit was 1.8 million.

    Whatever was built by slave labor well before 1800, there was a heck of a lot more built after 1840.

    To say that Detroit was built by slaves is just preposterous, no matter how soft spoken the person saying it is. It's a little but like saying that the handful of big shots who pretend to throw a shovel of dirt at a groundbreaking ceremony, that they built a hospital.

    That's the kind of nonsense that gets spouted by the "this country was built by slavery" sloganeers.

    I was, however, surprised at how small Detroit was in 1840. I expected it to be 10 times as large, but I guess even Boston was only 93,000 people in 1840 and so was Philadelphia.

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