This course will examine black mobility in the 19th century and then reexamine the term through the lens of 21st century interpretations. In order to do so, it’s necessary to answer two questions: (1) what is “blackness?” and (2) what is “mobility?” With answers to these questions, how does blackness complicate mobility so much that historical accounts of race, space, and place make so many Americans uncomfortable?
If you couldn’t tell by the course title and previous paragraph, our point of departure is slavery. Admittedly, this is a grim topic but nonetheless necessary to comprehend our country’s dealings with who gets to move freely and take part in society. Our “peculiar institution” (yes, it is still ours since reverberations of it exist well into the 21st century) has shaped every conversation about rights and freedom due to its treatment of personal mobility. We will read slave narratives that deploy escapism and/or fugitivity to showcase how blackness makes mobility all the more difficult – and for more reasons that one might expect. My hope is that by the end of the course you will be familiar with the complex nature of and relationships between slavery and (im)mobility through the literature you read.
***A Quick & Crucial Note: Literature in this course will repeatedly make use of the n-word. Out of respect for the community and history we are discussing, under no circumstances are you to use the actual n-word or any other racial epithets. Instead, use the phrase “the n-word” only if you are quoting a passage that incorporates the actual word.