The Clothes on Their Backs: Sartorial Practices of Self-making within the African Diaspora

Lecture | January 30 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

 Ayana Omilade Flewellen, University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

 Archaeological Research Facility

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, periods marked by racialized subjection, sexual exploitation, and economic disenfranchisement, Black women were pinning their hair up with combs, lacing glass beads around their necks, dyeing coarse-cotton fabric with sumac berries and walnuts, and fastening buttons to adorn their bodies and dress their social lives. Through an analysis of material culture and documentary data, my work examines the complex interplay between structural forms of oppression and agency by focusing on the ways sharecropping, tenant and landowning farmers in Texas utilized dress to negotiate racism, sexual exploitation, and exploitive capitalism. I focus my research on the clothing, adornment, and grooming artifacts recovered from the Levi Jordan Plantation, where African American families lived and labored as tenants, wage laborers, and sharecroppers as well as artifacts recovered from the Ransom and Sarah Williams Farmstead, a site lived and labored on by a landowning African American family. Through a Black feminist intersectional lens, this talk will discuss my interpretations of ways practices of dress engaged in by African Americans at the two sites were shaped by race, gender, and class operations of power and oppression, within spheres of labor at home and beyond as well as through the threat of racialized and gendered violence, the desire for self-expression, and processes of social reproduction. Building on this research I will conclude this talk discussing about my current research interest at the enslaved village area at the Estate Little Princess, a former 18th-century Danish sugar plantation located on the island of St. Croix.