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“Hamilton: the Musical:” Black Actors Dress Up like Slave Traders…and It’s Not Halloween

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Establishment historians write best sellers in which some of the cruel actions of the Founding Fathers are smudged over if not ignored altogether. They’re guilty of a cover-up.

This is the case with Alexander Hamilton whose life has been scrubbed with a kind of historical Ajax until it sparkles. His reputation has been shored up as an abolitionist and someone who was opposed to slavery. Not true.

Alexander Hamilton married into the Schuylers, a slaveholding family, and participated in the bartering of slaves. One of “Hamilton’s” actors, Renee Elise Goldsberry (“The Color Purple”), who visited the Schuyler home, said the Schuyler sisters, “were the Kardashians” of 1780 — superstars, but with dignity and grace.”[1] Maybe they were able to maintain “dignity and grace” because they had 27 slaves serve them. Black women whose labor assignments left them little time to preen. Is this actor disregarding, callously, that the sisters thrived on the labor of enslaved women? No, she probably attended the same schools that I attended. A curriculum that endowed slave traders and Indian exterminators with the status of deities.

Even Ron Chernow, author of Alexander Hamilton, upon which the musical “Hamilton” is based, admits (kinda), reluctantly, that Hamilton and his wife may, [his italics], have owned two household slaves and may have negotiated the sale of slaves on behalf of his in-laws, the Schuylers. Chernow says that Hamilton may have negotiated these sales, “reluctantly?” How does he know this?

Like other founding fathers, Hamilton found slavery, an “evil,” yet was a slave trader. The creepy Thomas Jefferson also appears in “Hamilton.” He was even a bigger hypocrite in his
51haSf-ecnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_blaming King George for the slave trade, a contention that was deleted from the final version of the Declaration of Independence.

“Jefferson railed against King George III for creating and sustaining the slave trade, describing it as ‘a cruel war against human nature.’”[2] Was Lin-Manuel Miranda, who designed this show, aware that Thomas Jefferson’s solution to the Native American problem was “extermination?” He told his Secretary of War, General Henry Dearborn (who was the primary government official responsible for Indian affairs): “if we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe, we will never lay it down until that tribe is exterminated, or driven beyond the Mississippi.”[3]

Similarly, Andrew Jackson found slavery, “barbaric,” yet owned slaves. He might have been the founder of the false police report. “He concocted stories if discipline crippled or killed a slave. Of a beaten woman, he wrote to a partner in one such cover-up: ‘You may say to Dr. Hogg, that her lament was occasioned by a stroke from Betty [another slave], or jumping over a rope, in which her feet became entangled, and she fell.”’ [4]The same 1 percent establishment critics, who gave Andrew Jackson a pass, are praising “Hamilton.” One writer even hailed Jackson as a Rock and Roll star.

Professor Michelle Duross, of the University at Albany, State University of New York, is much more direct and shows what happens when someone from a class, whose voice has been neglected, invades the all-white male country club of historians. Unlike Chernow, her treatment of Hamilton as a slave trader is not couched in equivocating qualifiers that are favorable to this founding father. She takes to task the Hamilton biographies written by his awe-struck groupies:

“Alexander Hamilton’s biographers praise Hamilton for being an abolitionist, but they have overstated Hamilton’s stance on slavery.

“Historian John C. Miller insisted, ‘He [Hamilton] advocated one of the most daring invasions of property rights that was ever made– the abolition of Negro slavery.’

“Biographer Forest McDonald maintained, ‘Hamilton was an abolitionist, and on that subject he never wavered.’”

She writes, “Hamilton’s position on slavery is more complex than his biographers’ suggest.” Some historians maintain that Hamilton’s birth on the island of Nevis and his subsequent upbringing in St. Croix instilled in him a hatred for the brutalities of slavery. Historian James Oliver Horton suggests that Hamilton’s childhood surrounded by the slave system of the West Indies “would shape Alexander’s attitudes about race and slavery for the rest of his life.’”

She writes,

“No existing documents of Hamilton’s support this claim. Hamilton never mentioned anything in his correspondence about the horrors of plantation slavery in the West Indies.

“Hamilton’s involvement in the selling of slaves suggests that his position against slavery was not absolute. Besides marrying into a slaveholding family, Hamilton conducted transactions for the purchase and transfer of slaves on behalf of his in-laws and as part of his assignment in the Continental Army.”[5]

Another historian, Alan McLane Hamilton writes to counter the claim that Hamilton never owned slaves: “[Hamilton] never owned a negro slave… is untrue. In his books, we find that there are entries showing that he purchased them for himself and for others.”[6]

In the musical, black actors play Washington and other founding fathers. Are they aware that George Washington is known for creating strategies for returning runaways? That he was into search and destroy when campaigning against Native American resistance fighters.

“By 1779, George Washington had already earned the famous moniker ‘Father of His Country.’ Among the Iroquois he was known as Conotocarious, or ‘Town Destroyer.’” [7]

Historians, who serve as lackeys for famous, wealthy white men term him a “merciful slave master.” An oxymoron.

“Washington authorized the ‘total destruction and devastation’ of the Iroquois settlements across upstate New York so ‘that country may not merely be overrun but destroyed.’ Under Washington’s orders forty Iroquois villages to ashes, and left homeless many of the Indians, hundreds of whom died of exposure during the following frigid winter.

“Chief Cornplanter, who headed the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois, stressed the durability of ‘Town Destroyer’ as the commander-in-chief’s nickname. ‘And to this day when that name is heard,’ the chief said, ‘our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers. To this day, ‘Town Destroyer’ is still used as an Iroquois name for the president of the United States.”[8]

Slave trading usually involved sex trafficking, where the planters

turned their plantations into enforced and involuntary harems, an enterprise that fugitive slave writer, William Wells Brown, found disgusting. George Washington’s Sally Hemings, according to black oral tradition, was a slave named Venus. Fifty percent of the slaves at Arlington, where Robert E. Lee lived with the granddaughter of Martha Washington, were “bi-racial.”[9]

So what’s the difference between Ariel Castro who kept three women against their will and Alexander Hamilton and other founding fathers? His groupies argue that despite his flaws–they don’t include the slavet-rading parts–he was smart. Well so was Ariel Castro. He was able to evade detection by even members of his family. For years. Moreover did he work these women from sun up to sun down without paying them? Maybe Broadway will do a musical about his life.

Already, the same 1 percent critics who drooled over “Bloody Bloody, Andrew” about Andrew Jackson, the Eichmann of American Native American policy, are already embracing “Hamilton.” They must be as ignorant as the black and Latino actors who have lent their talents to “Hamilton.”

Maybe that’s why the establishment critics leave out the slave parts. The idea that Black Lives Matter is an improvement over their slavery status, where blacks were treated as objects to be bought and sold, worked, beaten, killed and fucked. Though ignorant hateful people say that the Civil War was fought to uphold “states rights,” the slaveholders of the south, who kept Africans against their will, as a result of their free labor, were the richest white people in the world.[10] Maybe the country clubs of historians and Beltway critics still feel that way about African captives.

And why would President Obama lend his prestige to this thing? First he welcomes black pathology pimp, David Simon, to the White House, where he endorsed “The Wire,” a show in which black children are singled out as degenerate drug peddlers, when all of the heroin seems to be stashed in Vermont and other states with few blacks among their population. He honors this hustler even after Prof. Karl Alexander, who did an actual study of Simon’s black Baltimore neighborhoods, found Simon’s presentation to be “one sided” as he put it, politely.

Is this the president’s view of traditional African Americans? Criminals. People who sang and danced their way through slavery under the watchful eye of merciful slave masters? He went to Harvard. Didn’t he take courses from Martin Kilson? Doesn’t the president know that Thomas Jefferson’s proposal for the Native American problem was extermination?

Now The New York Times has appointed Simon the chief interpreter of the black experience. The honorary Head-Negro-In-Charge. Al Jolson without the black face. He’s doing a miniseries about Martin Luther King, Jr. He’s already lined up a couple of black writers to be in on the project, who will be there to defend the thing if black people become upset. It’s being sponsored by Oprah Winfrey who gave a green light to Precious, the worst black movie ever made. I can understand why some young black Americans are leaving the country. I met some of them in Paris.

Now I have seen everything. Can you imagine Jewish actors in Berlin’s theaters taking roles of Goering? Goebbels? Eichmann? Hitler?

When I brought up the subject of Hamilton’s slaveholding in a Times’ comment section, a white man accused me of political correctness. If Hamilton had negotiated the sale of white people, do you think that an audience would be paying $400 per ticket to see a musical based upon his life? No, his reputation would be as tarnished as that of his assassin Aaron Burr.

Benjamin Franklin wrote a satire, called “Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade,”[11] in which he dealt with his contemporaries’ justifications for slavery only he, in order to spotlight the defenders’ hypocrisy, put these same arguments in the voice of a fictional Muslim, who justified the enslavement of white Christian slaves.

And here is the final insult: “The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is working with the producers on an effort to make it possible for large numbers of New York City schoolchildren to see the show.”

This is the best argument I know for the establishment of more Afro-Centric schools and Hispanic schools in order to balance the curriculum promoted by Euro-Centric schools, in which perpetrators of genocide and slave holders are honored. Was school integration a mistake? Were these the brainwashing schools attended by the Latino and Black actors who are performing in this thing?

The best argument that I know for the advocacy of such schools came from a Jewish professor who attended Hebrew School before public schools. When a public school teacher praised the Crusades, she was able to point out that the Crusaders set up pogroms.

In the heady times during the slave revolt of the 1960s, the rebels boasted about how they were using the enemy’s language and how they were “stealing his language.” Now things have been turned upside down. Now the masters, the producers of this profit hungry production, which has already made 30 million dollars, are using the slave’s language: Rock and Roll, Rap and Hip Hop to romanticize the careers of kidnappers, and murderers. People, who, like Jefferson, beat and fucked his slaves and spied on their fucking.

The very clever salesman for this project is Lin-Manuel Miranda. He compares Hamilton, a man who engaged in cruel practices against those who had been kidnapped from their ancestral homes, with that of a slave, Tupac Shakur. He is making profits for his investors with glib appeals such as this one. The first week’s box office take was $1,153,386.

Amiri Baraka, the master of irony, your voice is missed.

 

Notes.

[1] “Actresses in ‘Hamilton’ Take a Trip to a Family Home for a History Lesson” James Barron, New York Times, July 13,2015

[2] “Letter From Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec.6, 1813.”

[3] www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2h33.html

[4] Nixon’s Piano, Presidents And Racial Politics From Washington To Clinton Kenneth O’Reilly, The Free Press, New York, 1995

[5] http://www.earlyamerica.com/early-america-review/volume-15/hamilton-and-slavery/

[6] THE INTIMATE LIFE OF ALEXANDER HAMILTON;  Allan McLane Hamilton

[7] http://www.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/06/27/town-destroyer-versus-the-iroquois-indians

[8] ibid.

[9]Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters, Elizabeth Brown Pryor.

[10] The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Kindle Edition by Edward E. Baptist.

[11]“ Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade.” Pow Wow,Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience-Short Fiction from Then to Now, edited by Ishmael Reed with Carla Blank, Da Capo Press, 2009, New York.

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Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

CounterPunch Magazine


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