Archive for the ‘stuff’ Category

Detail from “Faaturuma (Melancholic)” (1891) by Gauguin.

Melancholy is, according to Webster’s dictionary of 1828:

“A gloomy state of mind, often a gloomy state that is of some continuance, or habitual; depression of spirits induced by grief; dejection of spirits. This was formerly supposed to proceed from a redundance of black bile. melancholy when extreme and of long continuance, is a disease, sometimes accompanied with partial insanity. Cullen defines it, partial insanity without dyspepsy [indigestion].”

Range: Melancholy ranged from “low spirits” all the way up to suicidal thoughts and actions.

The word “depression” and “melancholy” had much the same meaning since the early 1400s, but “depression” did not become more common till 1876 and did not become a term in clinical psychology till 1905. “Depression” sees sadness being mainly mental, “melancholy” as a bodily state, an imbalance of:

The four humours: In Greek and Roman times Hippocrates and Galen came up with the idea that health is a balance of four humours or bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile or choler, and black bile. “Melancholy” is from the Greek word for black bile. The humour model was common till the 1800s. Too much of one humour affected one’s mood:

  • too much blood made one sanguine or cheerful.
  • too much phlegm made one phlegmatic or calm and easy-going.
  • too much yellow bile or choler made one choleric or easily angered.
  • too much black bile made one melancholic or sad.

By the 1520s, the word “humour” was extended to mean one’s mood.

To restore the balance of humours, physicians generally recommended diet and exercise and maybe even bloodletting. Thus all those leeches they used to use.

You were more likely to be melancholic if you were born in autumn.

Causes: According to Dr Austin Flint in “Clinical Medicine” (1879): “death of relatives or friends, loss of property, position, or character”, dyspepsia, alcoholism, or other recognizable illness, or “a neuropathic affection” – a diseased mind. Menopause, romantic disappointment, and religious fanaticism have also been noted as causes.

Symptoms: According to Dr. Wooster Beach in “Beach’s Family Physician” (1861):

  • “The face is generally pale;
  • the urine small in quantity, and water;
  • the patient is commonly costive [constipated], and the stomach affected with wind;
  • and in some cases so miserable are the feelings, that the unfortunate wretch seeks every opportunity of putting an end to them, by terminating his existence.”

Cure: Doctors did not agree on a cure. Dr Beach said the patient should be:

“…amused with a variety of scenery; and take freely of exercise in the open air, such as riding, walking, gardening, farming, &c.  He should peruse interesting books, and converse with cheerful friends; and above all, be located amid pleasant scenery, where he can enjoy a water prospect, a country air, and country diet.”

And also take showers after which you should “rub the whole body well with coarse flannel”.

Some doctors recommended drugs like alcohol or even morphine, but others thought that was a terrible idea.

In extreme cases, to prevent suicide, you might be sent to an asylum.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly Webster’s 1828 dictionary, Online Etymology Dictionary, Victorian doctors by way of Mimi Matthews who has a short bibliography, Max Planck PhDNet, Google Ngram Viewer.

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Elizabeth Jennings Graham

An undated photo, the only picture we have of her.

Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1827-1901), one of the 13 Black schoolteachers of New York City in 1855, was the Rosa Parks of New York, back in its own Jim Crow days. When she won Jennings v Third Avenue Railroad on February 22nd 1855, it was not the end of racial segregation of public transport in New York, but it was the beginning of the end: the Third Avenue line desegregated but other companies fought on. Frederick Douglass called her “courageous” and “beyond all praise”. She also co-founded the first free kindergarten for Black children in New York City. That was in 1895.

On Sunday July 16th 1854, Jennings (not yet married to Mr Graham) was late for church and caught the Third Avenue streetcar (tram, trolley) at Pearl and Chatham (now Park Row). She never had any trouble before but today she did: the conductor told her to wait for the Jim Crow car that was about a block away.

Pearl and Chatham in New York City in 1861 – the same corner seven years later. Notice the streetcar being pulled by horses.

Jim Crow cars had a sign that said “COLORED PEOPLE ALLOWED IN THE CAR”. They often showed up late or not at all. White streetcars were more dependable, but often refused to take Black passengers or made them stand on the outside instead of sit inside. That was against state law on public transport:

“Colored persons, if sober, well-behaved, and free from disease, [have] the same rights as others.”

When the Jim Crow car came, it had no room for her.

The conductor said, “Well, you may go in, but remember, if the passengers raise any objections, you shall go out.”

She said she was a respectable person, born and raised in New-York, did not know where he was born (he probably had an Irish accent), that she had never been insulted before while going to church, and that he was a “good for nothing impudent fellow” for insulting decent persons while on their way to church.

He said he was from Ireland. She said it made no difference so long as he did not “insult genteel persons.” She was Black middle class, he was White working class.

He lost it. He and the driver dragged her off the streetcar, to which she clung for dear life while her friend, Sarah Adams, was screaming, “You’ll kill her, don’t kill her!” Once they threw her off they drove her away “like a dog”.

Then she got back on!

When they got to Walker Street (now Canal Street), they saw a policeman and had him escort her off. She limped home.

Her father, Thomas Jennings, a tailor and a Black activist, told her write down everything she could remember and had her checked out by a doctor. She was bruised and banged up.

Three days later Horace Greeley printed her acount in his New-York Daily Tribune.

Her father sued the Third Avenue line. He hired a 24-year-old lawyer who had just six weeks’ experience: Chester Arthur. He won the case. He later became the US president, from 1881 to 1885. The main reason her story is still remembered.

– Abagond, 2021.

Source: mainly “Streetcar to Justice” (2018) by Amy Hill Hearth.

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Delta variant

The spike protein (in red) of the Delta variant and its mutations (labelled). Via NPR.

The Delta variant (since October 5th 2020), aka B.1.617.2, is the most contagious strain of covid-19 to date. It began in India in October, likely killing millions by April and May (probably the case, but not yet proved). By July 20th in the US it accounted for 83% of all new cases, which are now on the rise once again:

The UK saw a similar rise in June. Because of the Delta variant, most spectators will be barred from the Tokyo Olympics that start tomorrow (July 23rd).

The Delta variant is about three times more contagious than the original coronavirus, putting it on track to become the main variant worldwide, as it already is in the US and UK. It is unclear whether it is deadlier. Early studies show that people become infectious sooner (in four days instead of six) but are not any more likely to be hospitalized.

Symptoms: as with other variants, a persistent cough, headache, fever, and sore throat. One study showed that cough and loss of smell are less common, but headache, sore throat, runny nose, and fever are more common.

If you have been vaccinated you do not have much to worry about: there is a 93% chance the vaccine will prevent the Delta variant from hospitalizing you. Pfizer wants to make a booster shot. The CDC says there is no need yet for a booster shot so long as you are fully vaccinated.

If you are not vaccinated, then your chances of getting covid have just gone up. As Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, puts it:

“This is a very, very dangerous moment to be unvaccinated with this variant circulating.”

Based on vaccination rates in the US, the Delta variant will hit red states, Blacks and Hispanics the hardest. In June, over 99% of those who died of covid were unvaccinated.

Herd immunity: Because the Delta variant is more contagious, that means higher rates of vaccination will be required before covid-19 becomes a thing of the past, probably more than 70%. So this whole thing is going to drag on longer than expected. Worldwide only 10% are vaccinated. In the US, 67% of adults are at least partly vaccinated.

Variants of covid-19 so far:

  • Alpha (aka B1.1.7): began in September 2020 in the UK.
  • Beta (aka B.1.351): began in May 2020 in South Africa.
  • Gamma: (aka P.1): began in November 2020 in Brazil.
  • Delta (aka B.1.617.2): began in October 2020 in India.

“Delta” is the name the World Health Organization (WHO) gave it. “B.1.617.2” is what scientists call it based on its genetic lineage.

No doubt Epsilon and other variants are yet to come.

The Delta variant has a new and improved spike. Those red spikes you see in pictures is how the coranavirus sticks to your lung cells so that it can infect them. (The spikes, by the way, are not red. That is an artistic convention. Viruses are too small to have colours.)

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly PBS, NPR, WebMD, BBC, BNC News.

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Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge as Othello in 1826.

Ira Aldridge (1807-67) was one of the best Shakespearean actors of all time of any race, and one of the few Black Shakespearean actors in the 1800s that White people saw. He mainly played Othello but he sometimes played White characters too, like Macbeth, Richard III and Shylock, putting on white make-up and a wig. He left the US in 1824 to make it big in Europe and lies buried in Poland. Black Britain, where he lived most of his life, claims him as one of their own.

Not your minstrel: Aldridge, and other Black actors like him, such as Elizabeth Greenfield (the Black Swan), were the flip side of the blackface minstrel shows. He showed that Black people had all the same thoughts and feelings as White people, that they were not the brainless buffoons beloved by the minstrel shows. But while he never made it big in London, where the moneyed interests were dependent on Black slave labour overseas, he did pack theatres in “the provinces” (the rest of Britain) and won honours from European heads of state.

“Jump Jim Crow”: He even turned minstrel songs themselves on their head. As PBS tells it:

‘Aldridge … sometimes ended an evening’s performance with a rendition of “Opossum up a Gum Tree” or “Jump Jim Crow,” which he delivered with pathos rather than humor before offering a plea for the abolition of slavery.’

He was born free in New York City, the son of a pastor. He went to the African Free School, where Henry Highland Garnet was a classmate, and acted at the African Grove Theatre, a Black-owned, all-Black theatre.

In 1824 he left the US and moved to Britain. He saw no future for himself in the US where many Whites were against him playing fully human characters written by Shakespeare and other White playwrights. He ran into the same racist attitude in London, but not everywhere. Plenty of people saw his talent and loved it. He told them he was the descendant of a Senegalese prince.

His London critics: In 1825, The Times, by far the biggest newspaper in Britain, said he could not pronounce English properly “owing to the shape of his lips”. Not even remotely true. In 1833, the Athenceum thought it “impossible that Mr. Aldridge should fully comprehend the meaning and force of even the words he utters” and did not like that (White) actress Miss Ellen Tree was being “pawed about” by him, a Black man. And so on.

He toured continental Europe, what is now Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Russia. He received:

  • the Prussian Gold Medal for Arts and Sciences from King Frederick,
  • the Golden Cross of Leopold from the Tsar of Russia,
  • the Maltese Cross from Berne, Switzerland.

He was knighted in the kingdom of Saxony.

He married a Swedish opera singer, his second wife. Their daughter Amanda (aka Montague Ring) gave elocution lessons in 1930 to an up-and-coming actor preparing to play Othello on the London stage: Paul Robeson.

Aldridge’s grave in 2020 in the Old Cemetary of Łódź, Poland.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly PBS, blackpast.org (2007), “Staying Power: The history of black people in Britain” (2018) by Peter Fryer.

See also:


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The term “Ethiopia”

A map of north-eastern Africa in 1850 showing, from north to south along the Nile: Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia. And below the Nile, the Mountains of the Moons. From Cruchley’s 1850 map of the world, via Geographicus.

The term “Ethiopia” (since -850) has meant different things at different times. It comes from Latin, Aethiopia, which in turn comes from the Greek word, Αἰθιοπία, meaning the land of burnt faces – the land of Black people.

“Ethiopia” has had three main meanings:

  1. Black Africa – the main meaning it had in Greek and Roman times and in English as late as the 1800s. What The Economist calls “sub-Saharan Africa”.
  2. Nubia – the meaning in the Bible. Nubia was the country just south of Ancient Egypt in what is now southern Egypt and northern Sudan, the land of the cities of Meroe and Napata. Also known as Cush or the Kushite kingdom. The Nubians are still there, though outnumbered now by Arabs.
  3. Abyssinia – the main meaning since the 1930s. It is a  country south-east of Nubia (see map), to the east of what is now Sudan. Its capital city is Addis Ababa and was once ruled by Haile Selassie. It calls itself Ethiopia, possibly as early as the 300s when it converted to Christianity. “Abyssinia” comes from its Arab name.

Ethiopia through the years, in Greek, Latin and English:

-850: Homer – the first to write down the term.

-450: Herodotus – mainly means Nubia. But he also talks about other Ethiopians: the long-lived Ethiopians and the cave-dwelling Ethiopians, both presumably in Africa, and the Asian Ethiopians, the dark-skinned people of India.

+20: Strabo: in his map of the world, Ethiopia is the whole southern part of Africa:

150: Ptolemy, in his book “Geography”, names the land south Egypt “Ethiopia” along with the whole southern part of Africa. It includes Nubia – but also a town called Axum, the one that will give birth to Abyssinia. Here is a simplified version of Ptolemy’s map of Africa (click to enlarge):

633: Isidore of Seville writes “Etymologies”, which becomes a standard reference book of the West during the Middle Ages. In it he says that Ethiopia is pretty much all of Africa south of Egypt, as in Strabo’s map.

1300s: “Ethiop”, meaning a Black person, enters the English language from Latin. It is not “Ethiopian” till the 1550s.

1611: King James Bible: translates the Old Testament Hebrew word Cush as Ethiopia, which was the Greek New Testament name for the same country – Nubia.

1773: Phillis Wheatley calls herself an Ethiop. She was from Senegal. As late as the 1700s there were still maps showing Senegal as part of “Ethiopia”. But she was probably thinking more of the Greek and Roman use of the term.

1795: J.F. Blumenbach divides mankind into five races: Caucasian, Mongolian, Malay, American, and Ethiopian.

1800s: “Ethiopian” is a fancy way of saying Black people. The “Ethiopian Serenaders”, for example, were a US blackface minstrel troupe.

1920: H.G. Wells, in his “Outline of History”, uses “Ethiopia” to mean Nubia. W.E.B. Du Bois uses it as a poetic term for Black Africa. What we call Ethiopia they both call Abyssinia.

1934: Du Bois now uses “Ethiopia” to mean “Abyssinia”. In English “Ethiopia” is now the more common term for the country, making its other meanings obsolete.

– Abagond, 2021.

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Stephen C. Foster

Foster, circa 1860.

Stephen C. Foster (1826-64) was the biggest US songwriter of the middle 1800s. More than 150 years after he died in poverty, many of his songs are still well known in the US (links go to YouTube, subject to link rot):

The first three are blackface minstrel songs.

Not from Alabama but Pennsylvania. His mother was from a slave-owning family in Maryland, but, despite what you might think from his songs, he never lived in the US South himself. He did go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans once, in 1852, and sometimes visited his rich cousins in Louisville, Kentucky, but he lived almost his whole life in or near the Northern cities of Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti and New York. He never saw the Suwannee River in Florida – except in the atlas he picked it out of.

His contact with actual Black people was limited too: mainly dockworkers in Cincinnati, where he worked for his brother’s shipping company as a bookkeeper.  His ideas about Black music and dialect seem to come mainly from Dan Rice, a White circus performer who performed in blackface (not to be confused with T. Daddy Rice of “Jump Jim Crow” fame).

Minstrelese: His average royalties on songs written in Standard English was $31. For those written in “Negro dialect” or minstrelese, N-word and all: $319.44. He preferred writing parlour music, meant for all those pianos the middle class bought as status symbols. He said minstrel music was “disreputable saloon music that was totally unfit for ladies and proper society”. But whenever he was in desperate straits – which was often, given his alcoholism and the narrow-minded greed of sheet-music publishers – he would whip out another blackface minstrel song that the US could not seem to get enough of. His songs sentimentalized the slave South at the height of the abolitionist movement to end slavery.

What US American legend would be complete without a beloved racist statue? Foster’s hometown of Pittsburgh erected this statue in his honour in 1900. It is still there, as of 2021, at Schenley Plaza, not far from Dippy the Diplodocus at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: When this book came out in 1852 it was a huge hit. For a while it even outsold Holy Scripture itself. It inspired Foster to write “Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night”. He stripped out all the Uncle Tom references and changed the minstrelese to Standard English and named it “Old Kentucky Home, Good Night”.

His last years were a blur of cheap boarding houses and rum. He was no longer Stephen Foster but, as he put it, “the wreck of Stephen Foster”. Yet in his last two years he still managed to write 20 songs, which was average for him. Among them: “Beautiful Dreamer”.

He died on January 13th 1864 (not a Friday) with just 38 cents in his pocket – one for each year of his life.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly “American Experience” on PBS (2001); “The Life and Times of Stephen Foster” (2004) by Susan Zannos; “The Birth of Blackface” on US History Scene (2019).

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1851 in 9 songs

Here are the top nine songs in the US in 1851 according to the Library of Congress, based presumably on the sale of sheet music, the main metric of the day. Where I could find a performance on YouTube, I embedded a video.

The songs are listed in alphabetical order by title:

The Arkansas Traveller (1851)

M.S. Pike: Home Again (1850) – I could not find this one.

How Can I Leave Thee! (1851) – original German title: “Ach wie ist’s möglich”

Franz Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (1851)

Nancy Till (1851) – not a Stephen C. Foster song despite what the video says.

Stephen C. Foster: Oh Boys Carry Me ‘Long (1851) – Foster was huge at this time. Notice the “Negro dialect”. Most of his hit songs were written for minstrel shows.

Stephen C. Foster: Old Folks Home (1851) – the Swanee River song. Even I know this one. He picked the river out of an atlas. He never lived in the US South.

Griffith: Poor Old Slave (1851) – a “Negro song”

George P. Knauff: Wait for the Wagon (1851) – an “Ethiopian song”! Who knew. “Ethiopian” was a fancy way of saying “Black”.

Note: The big craze for banjo music was driven by the minstrel shows. Piano music was more high class – pianos were an expensive middle-class status symbol, which is why the Tulsa rioters were so enraged to see that some Black people owned them.

– Abagond, 2021.

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1851 in 22 pictures

Using Google Images as my time machine, here are some pictures that were dated to 1851, “circa 1851” or a range that included 1851:

Click on images to enlarge:

Frederick Douglass. This picture is undated, but it is pretty much how he looked at this time.

Jane Waring Roberts, the first First Lady of Liberia from 1848 to 1856. She moved from Virginia to Liberia in 1836. The picture was taken by Rufus Anson between 1851 and 1860. It is a daguerreotype, an early sort of photograph common from 1839 to 1860. The surface of the picture was delicate and easily damaged, so daguerreotypes were sealed behind glass and put in a sturdy frame:

“Daguerreotype of Caesar: A slave” (1851). In 1841 Caesar became the last slave manumitted in New York state. Most slaves in the state were freed in 1827, but there were loopholes. He died in 1852.

The US Capitol Building as it was in 1851. I could not find a picture of the Washington Monument for this year. It was started in 1848 and may not have been much to look at yet.

San Francisco in January 1851, three years after the start of the California Gold Rush.

A schooner – “America” (1851) by James Bard.

A US flag from that time. From 1851 to 1858 the flag had an awkward 31 stars.

US silver dollar from 1851. It had 24 grams of silver and was a day’s pay for a common labourer on the Erie Canal in 1851. Carpenters made $1.50.

The Moon in 1851 by John Adams Whipple.

A young woman in 1851, taken by Matthew Brady, who will become a famous Civil War photographer. Samuel Morse, of Morse code fame, taught him how to take daguerreotypes.

“The Governess” (1851) by Rebecca Solomon. England. The governess, a common heroine in the Bronte novels of the late 1840s, is the woman sitting.

Australian Aboriginal women as drawn by cartoonist George Cruikshank in London in 1851. It comes from this cartoon:

The five races, 1851: “Caucasian or White”, “Mongolian or Yellow”, “Aethiopian or Black”, “American or Copper-colored” and “Malayan or Olive-colored”. If you are wondering what those skulls at the bottom are about:

Negro, European, and Oran Outan compared – from “The Races of Men” (1851) by Robert Knox.

“The First of May 1851” (1851) by Franz Xavier Winterhalter. Shows Queen Victoria, who commissioned this painting, with her son Arthur on his first birthday.  Her husband Prince Albert is in the back, Duke of Wellington in the foreground. May 1st was the opening of:

The Great Exhibition in London, showing “the works of  industry of all nations”. It ran from May 1st to October 15th in the Crystal Palace, pictured above in Hyde Park. It drew 6 million visitors. Here are the US’s “works of industry”:

The US part of the Great Exhibition features a tepee (?), Native Americans and, the main attraction, a marble statue of a slave! It was “The Greek Slave” (1844) by Hiram Powers:

Many were offended by its nudity. Many missed the irony. John Tenniel did not:

Nor did George Augustus Sala:

Meanwhile back in the US, in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850:

– Abagond, 2021.

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William Tyndale (1494?-1536) of England was a Catholic priest turned heretic turned exile turned Bible translator. First they burned his Bibles and then they burned him at the stake. Although his translation was “unauthorized”, the King James Bible, aka the Authorized Version, would later keep over 80% of his wording.

For example, here is the Serpent giving Eve advice about eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:4-5, all spellings modernized):

In the King James Bible:

“Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

In Tyndale:

“Tush ye shall not die: But God doth know that whensoever ye should eat of it your eyes should be opened and ye should be as God and know both good and evil.”

King James gathered 47 of the most learned men of his kingdom, but for the most part they could not top Tyndale. This becomes even more clear when you look at a verse where they did not copy off of Tyndale: Song of Solomon 2:11:

“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;”

Tyndale, from an incomplete translation of that book:

“For now winter is gone and rain departed and past.”

That Tyndale was burned at the stake before he got to the Book of Psalms is a tragic loss for the English-speaking world. He only completed the New Testament (1526, revised 1534) and the first five books of the Old Testament (1530).

English words and phrases that come from Tyndale’s translation (mainly by way of the King James):

  • scapegoat,
  • let there be light,
  • it came to pass,
  • a moment in time,
  • the powers that be,
  • a law unto themselves,
  • my brother’s keeper,
  • the salt of the earth,
  • fight the good fight,
  • sick unto death,
  • flowing with milk and honey,
  • the apple of his eye,
  • a man after his own heart,
  • the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,
  • the signs of the times,
  • ye of little faith,
  • eat, drink and be merry,
  • broken-hearted,
  • clear-eyed,
  • fisherman,
  • landlady,
  • sea-shore,
  • stumbling-block,
  • taskmaster,
  • two-edged,
  • zealous,
  • Jehovah,
  • Passover,
  • atonement.

and others.

Target demographic: ploughboys. Tyndale once told a priest that:

“Ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth a plough to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.”

Ploughboys did not know Latin. Most could not even read. So Tyndale mostly avoided important-sounding latinate words. And he paid attention to the rhythm – of how it would sound when read out loud.

An anti-Catholic translation: By 1500 the Greek words ekklesia (assembly), presbyteros (elder), agape (love), and metanoia (change of mind) had commonly been translated as “church”, “priest”, “charity” and “penance”, words that had gained particular meanings that supported the Catholic power structure and which were read back into the original Greek of the New Testament. Tyndale translated these words as “congregation”, “senior” (later “elder”), “love” and “repentance”. A reasonable translation of the Greek, but one that threatened the power of the Church.

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: mainly Google Images; “God’s Bestseller” (2002) by Brian Moynahan; “In the Beginning” (2001) by Alister McGrath; “The Adventure of English” (2011) by Melvyn Bragg.

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Jump Jim Crow

The song:

The dance (after the one-minute mark):

The blackface:

An artist’s depiction from 1833:

T. Daddy Rice on stage in blackface in New York in 1833. Via Black Past.


This was more than just a song. You had to wear blackface, dress shabbily, and dance like a disabled slave so all the White people could laugh. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. So funny! White people could not get enough of it.

There are several videos above because in 2021 I could not find a single video of any length on YouTube that brought all the elements together. One documentary, for example, would only show the dancer in silhouette so that you could not see the blackface. So this one will require a bit of imagination.

T. Daddy Rice, a White American man (pictured above in blackface), came out with this song in 1828, one of his “Negro ditties”. He said he got it from a disabled Black man in Cincinnati (or maybe it was Washington DC) named Jim Crow. It made Rice rich and famous and set off the craze for blackface minstrel shows that swept the nation from the 1840s into the early 1900s, spreading to Victorian England. In fact, Rice himself was there performing in London in 1836, a year before England officially became Victorian.

This song was so big that by 1841 a US ambassador was greeted in Mexico by a brass band that played it thinking it was the US national anthem!

Jim Crow became not just the star of the minstrel shows (along with Jim Dandy and Zip Coon), but his name became a slur for Black men by 1838, for racial segregation on trains by 1841 (in Massachusetts), and then, by 1943, for the whole racist US South as it was from about about 1877 to 1967.

See also:

Sample lyrics:

Come listen all you galls and boys I’s jist from Tuckyhoe,
I’m going to sing a little song, my name’s Jim Crow,
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

Oh I’m a roarer on de fiddle, and down in old Virginny,
They say I play de skyentific like Massa Pagannini.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

I went down to de riber, I didn’t mean to stay,
But dere I see so many galls, I couldn’t get away.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

I git upon a flat boat, I cotch de uncle Sam,
But I went to see de place where de kill’d Packenham.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

And den I do to Orleans and feel so full of fight,
Dey put me in de Calaboose and keep me dare all night.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.

Sources: mainly Musicals 101, Black Past, PBS, Jim Crow Museum, Online Etymology Dictionary.

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laurel wreath of victory, via Villa Hurmuses, Mykonos.

An Olympiad is the period of four years from one Olympic games to the next. There are two main kinds: ancient Olympiads, starting in the year -776, and modern Olympiads, starting in 1896. This post is about the ancient ones.

The 700th Olympiad starts tomorrow, July 11th 2021, according to Hellenion, a group that practises the pagan Greek religion and therefore follows the ancient Athenian calendar (as best as it can be reconstructed).

The first Olympic games were held in the summer of -776. But that is like saying Jesus was born in 1 AD – it was the best guess made hundreds of years later, but one that stuck. This one was made by Hippias of Elis circa -400, in the time of the historian Thucydides.

Thucydides dated the beginning of the Peloponnesian War as (formatting and bolding mine):

  • “the 48th [year] of the priesthood of Chrysis in Argos,
  • Aenesias being then ephor at Sparta and
  • Pythadorus, archon of Athens, having then two months of his government to come,
  • in the sixth month after the battle Potidaea and in the beginning of the spring…”

What we call the spring of 431 BC (or 431 BCE or -431). Thucydides did not know it was 431 BC, of course. But neither did he know it was the first year of the 87th Olympiad – because Hippias was still working that out.

Argos, Sparta and Athens: Thucydides did not pick these at random. They were the main Greek city-states that labelled years anything, and they did it by naming them after their rulers or priestesses.

Thucydides does sometimes bring up Olympiads:

“It was the Olympiad in which the Rhodian Dorieus gained his second victory.”

But notice there is no number given – because he did not know when the Olympic games began. And because:

Olympiads were not numbered till the late -300s. An invention of Aristotle, who picked up where Hippias left off.

In about -250, Eratosthenes wrote his book “Chronologies”, which dated famous events in history using Olympiads. It put Olympiads on a reasonably firm footing. It became the common way for Greek historians to date events for the next 500 years or so, from about -250 to +250. So, for example, Diogenes Laertius in the 200s said that Aristotle “was born in the first year of the 99th Olympiad”.

By the late 200s, Greek historians were mainly using Roman emperors to date events.

In 394, Emperor Theodosius I outlawed the Olympics themselves as non-Christian. Olympiads, as a faded pagan relic, fell out of use by 450.

Olympiads start in summer (in the Northern Hemisphere where Greece is). Either at the first new moon (the Athenian practice), the first full moon, or even the second full moon. It was the start of the Greek year. Because Greek years started in summer and Western years in winter, you will sometimes see careful Western scholars dating events in Greek history in the form “384/83 BC”.  That just means it was sometime between the summer of -384 and the spring of -383. But often “the first year of the 99th Olympiad” just becomes “384 BC”.

– Abagond, 2021.

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Sha’Carri Richardson

Sha’Carri Richardson (2000- ) is the fastest woman in the US and the sixth fastest of all time:

The ten fastest women ever in the 100m race:

  1. Flo Jo (Florence Griffith-Joyner), US, 10.49 seconds in 1988
  2. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica, 10.63 in 2021
  3. Carmelita Jeter, US, 10.64 in 2009
  4. Marion Jones, US, 10.65 in 1998
  5. Elaine Thompson, Jamaica, 10.70 in 2016
  6. Sha’Carri Richardson, US, 10.72 in 2021
  7. Christine Arron, France, 10.73 in 1998
  8. Merlene Ottey, Jamaica, 10.74 in 1996
  9. English Gardner, US, 10.74 in 2016
  10. Kerron Stewart, Jamaica, 10.75 in 2009

But she will not be able to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics  (delayed a year due to the covid-19 pandemic): when trying out for the US Olympic team on June 19th she failed the drug test. Not for any drug that would help her run faster, but for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis (marijuana, weed). Not something anyone would take to win a race! If anything it makes her qualifying time even more impressive.

She was banned for 30 days, till July 27th, by the US Anti-Doping Agency. She accepted the ban with good grace:

“I apologize. As much as I’m disappointed, I know that when I step on the track I represent not only myself, I represent a community that has shown great support, great love. … I apologize for the fact that I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.”

She had found out about the death of her birth mother a week before the Olympic trials – from a reporter!

The Olympics run from July 23rd to August 8th. She could still take part in the 4x100m relay race on August 5th and help the US win – but USATF (USA Track & Field) did not pick her for the team, to “maintain fairness for all of the athletes who attempted to realize their dreams”. She knew the rules!

President Biden:

“The rules are the rules.”

But he helped shape those rules! As a senator he championed the 1994 Crime Bill which drove the mass incarceration of Black men, and the increased criminalization of drugs, cannabis among them. The US Olympic team’s policies were not made on another planet. Not even in another country. Not even by people who do not look like him.

Historical background: In the US, cannabis has long been used to demonize, arrest, and imprison Blacks and Latinos. Thus “marijuana”, the preferred term in the US, is – Spanish. Whites use the drug at about the same rate as Blacks yet are way less likely to be arrested for it, much less thrown in prison.

Legalization: In 2021 it is now legal in the US in almost every blue (left-leaning) state – and even in some red states. It is legal in Oregon, on the Left Coast, where Richardson’s Olympic trials took place. But it is still banned by the US Olympic Committee by way of the US Anti-Doping Agency. They want their athletes to set an example. (Alcohol: not banned.)

Richardson is 21. Flo Jo did not reach the height of her powers till age 28. The next Olympics is just three years away.

Her story is not over.

– Abagond, 2021.

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1851 media diet

Frederick Douglass, May 1848, via Longreads.

From now till March 20th 2022, God willing, I will be mainly reading stuff from 1851 or before. The key word is “mainly”: most but not all of my reading will be from this period.

It will go like this:


  • Diaries – read whatever was written on this day 170 years ago in the diaries of:
  • King James Bible – read at least one chapter a day.


  • Newspapers – read the latest issue of 170 years ago for:
  • “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” – read the chapter that was serialized this week 170 years ago. The serialization ran from June 5th 1851 to March 20th 1852, when the book itself came out. Chapter 6 comes out this Saturday.


  • Books – read at least one book a month that was published 170 to 270 years ago (1751-1851). My default list right now:
    • Jul 2021: Olaudah Equiano: Interesting Narrative (1789)
    • Aug 2021: James W.C. Pennington: The Origin and History of the Colored People (1841)
    • Sep 2021: Frederick Douglass: Speeches, 1841-51
    • Oct 2021: Sojourner Truth: Narrative (1850)
    • Nov 2021: Melville: Moby Dick (comes out in the US on November 14th 1851)
    • Dec 2021: Phillis Wheatley: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773)
    • Jan 2022: Maria W. Stewart: Productions (1835)
    • Feb 2022: Hosea Easton: 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; With A Sermon on the Duty of the Church To Them  (1837)
    • Mar 2022: Martin Delany: The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered (1852) – this will be 170 years old by the time I get to it.

    If I read a book before its month – or cannot get a copy of it – then I must find a book to substitute for it when that month comes.

Reference (from my 1949 media diet, I know how important in-period reference books are):

  • dictionary Webster’s dictionary of 1828, which is online and usable.
  • encyclopediaRees’s Cyclopædia of 1819, which is what Thoreau used. Its pages have been photographed and put on the Internet, but it is hardly something you can use to quickly look up something. For that I will likely wind up using the Wikipedia.
  • mapsCruchley’s 1850 world map and some others I have assembled. I need a decent atlas, though. Or a functioning Google Earth for 1851. Or a just a book on geography from back then. Because place names and their meanings change all the time.

The great thing about 1851 in 2021 is that all the copyrights have expired. That means much of it is just sitting out there on the Internet for free. These days the biggest barrier is ignorance – simply not knowing what is out there.

Why 1851: Because I have Thoreau’s diary from that year and I want to finish “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Moby Dick”. And the Black lens from slave days should have plenty tell about the US, in both 1851 and 2021. Lens is not even the right word – more like X-ray glasses.

Suggestions are welcomed!

– Abagond, 2021.

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1851 in 12 maps

The lay of the land: The following map is from 1821, but it gives you a rough idea of what is going on, even 30 years later. Its very racism is part of the story (click to enlarge maps):

Africa will not sink into complete savagery, as seen through the White lens, till after the Scramble for Africa (1876-1914).

Here is the latest, greatest map of Africa in 1851, produced by John Tallis for the Great Exhibition in London (as always, click to enlarge):


“More than five-sixths of the region are still unknown to European geographers. . . . Of the alleged Mountains of the Moon we know nothing. Vast sandy wastes with occasional green and habitable spots characterize Africa.”

The Sea of Unyamwezi some imagined as the heart of Africa. David Livingstone’s exploration deep into Africa, from 1851 to 1873, was just beginning. “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” is still 20 years off.

Here is a better (but still Eurocentric) map of what was going on:

The “Sudanese Empires” of West Africa are a chain of Fulani Jihad states. They are blocking the French, for now, from taking over that part of Africa. But the main thing holding Europeans back is malaria. That has now changed: in 1850 quinine was discovered.

The transatlantic slave trade is now a shadow of its former self:

But slavery grows apace in the US:

in 1850:

The conquest of Native America is also in full swing:

in 1850:

The Underground Railroad: Harriet Tubman and others are helping thousands escape slavery. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, runaway slaves are no longer safe in the northern US but now must reach Canada. It was in 1851 that Dr Samuel Cartwright discovered the cause of what makes Blacks run away: drapetomania.

The Underground Railroad, circa 1860.

Solomon Northup, who was 12 years a slave, from 1841 to 1853, is in Louisiana.

Ireland is recovering from the Great Potato Famine (1845-49), which killed a million and caused over a million to flee, many to the US. The nativist Know Nothing Party (1849-60) is already fearmongering against Irish Americans and other Catholics to save America As We Know It.

New York City: White employers are replacing Black dock workers and maids with Irish workers. Blacks and Irish live together in the slum of Five Points (now part of Chinatown). The city is just starting to reach 18th Street:

On September 18th the first issue of the New York Times appears.

Gold Mountain: There are gold rushes ongoing in both California and Australia. The US Transcontinental Railroad will not be completed till 1869, so for now California is closer to China than to Washington, DC.

The British Empire has changed over from slave labour to coolie labour. How the British picture their empire, circa 1850:More realistic:

China lost the First Opium War (1839-42), and now Britain is pushing opium on it, getting tea for cheap:

It gets worse: in 1850 began the messianic Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), which will plunge China into the bloodiest civil war ever. People flee to South East Asia, North America and Australia – the Chinese diaspora.

The world as a whole:

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: Google Images, Smithsonian (slave map), Asia Pacific Curriculum (China), Princeton (maps of Africa), Brainly (Africa in 1850), Ollie Bye on YouTube (world map of  1851), Library of Congress (British Empire fanfic map).

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This is an outtake from the MGM film “Everybody Sing” (1938), which came out a year before “The Wizard of Oz”.

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