“What Looks like Revolutionary”: Re-thinking the "Rank and File" in Cuba's Slave Resistance Movement of 1844

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 9:40 AM
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Aisha K. Finch , University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
The history of New World slave rebellions is littered with names whose very utterance conjures up images of seismic rupture:  Toussaint L’Ouverture.  Nat Turner.  Sam Sharpe.  In most slave rebellion historiographies, narratives of collective opposition take on flesh and blood by following in the footsteps of one charismatic individual.  Indeed, the narrative of leadership itself offers an anchoring, organizing lens through which to study rebel organizing and social movements.  To the extent that history has assigned a leader to Cuba’s slave conspiracy of 1844, it has largely been Plácido (or Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés), the free mulatto poet who was accused of leading insurgent activities.  This paper will explore what happens to our existing categories for organized resistance if we approach Cuba’s 1844 movement from the perspective of those along its periphery.  Such an approach calls attention to a myriad of enslaved people who have been written out of the existing scholarship, and to groups of enslaved women in particular.  Engendering the axis of insurgent knowledge can help to expand many traditional narratives of what is commonly known as the conspiracy of “La Escalera.”  Reconsidering both the women and men situated at the margins of the 1844 movement can highlight as well much of the “hidden work” of slave rebellions.  Ideally then, this paper will open up a larger conversation beyond the standard question of “who led,” and lead us to alternative questions of which contributions became central to the movement, and to how such actors reformulated local articulations of freedom.
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