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Black MarketThe Slave's Value in National Culture after 1865$
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Aaron Carico

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469655581

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469655581.001.0001

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The Spectacle of Free Black Personhood

The Spectacle of Free Black Personhood

(p.51) Chapter Two The Spectacle of Free Black Personhood
Black Market

Aaron Carico

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines the aesthetics and politics that inform modes of realism increasingly used to represent Black Americans in the late nineteenth century. Beginning with a trompe l’oeil painting that depicts a Black boy playing soldier (Attention, Company! by artist William Harnett), read alongside sections of Frederick Douglass’ narratives and the mass-reproduced image of Gordon the slave, this chapter also surveys a Brooklyn park that was remade into a cotton plantation as part of the immersive performance called Black America. Each of these texts conjures the “free” Black body as a sensuous object for white consumption. This racialized dynamic is linked to segregation through an analysis of the eponymous protagonist of Mark Twain’s novel Pudd’nhead Wilson and a history of the anonymous subject of Harnett’s painting. Focusing on the logic of realism as it intersects with the ideologies of liberalism and of Jim Crow segregation, this chapter exposes how free black personhood was turned into a form of commodity spectacle.

Keywords:   Realism, Trompe l’oeil painting, William Harnett, Frederick Douglass, Black America, Plantation, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Segregation, Liberalism, Commodity spectacle

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