Rebecca Hall writes about history like it’s a hard boiled detective story: “Sometimes, when you’re hunting down the past, the past is hunting you,” she says. We follow her as she tries to account for the erasure of black women’s voices in the histories of slave revolts in her native New York City, and watching her journey into dusty archives and archaic 18th -century legalese has the feel of a gumshoe digging into a particularly difficult case. These kinds of stories are usually told as the result of an historian’s research, but Hall takes us along on the journey of gathering clues before she attempts to fill in the missing pieces. Artist Hugo Martinez weaves powerful images of 18th-century life-slave auctions where condos now stand, nooses reflected in the windshield of a police cars-beautifully encapsulating Hall’s line “Invisible forces shaped everything around you...This is what it means to live in the wake of slavery.” These shouldn’t be controversial ideas, but they’ve been made that way by folks who’d chose ignorance over knowledge, denial over acceptance, and lies over truth.
Women’s voices, particularly those of black women, are absent from much of the historical record, Hall writes, because the people keeping records in the past didn’t view them as worth listening to, let along recording for posterity. These stories have remained incomplete due to centuries of erasure, but Hall and Martinez fill in the blanks in stark black and white.
All library locations will be closed Monday, June 19 in observance of Juneteenth.