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Unit Four. Week One, 5/23. 400 Souls: Reflecting on a Community History of African America.

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Teach Out Gathering Time

Sunday, May 23. 5:00-7:00pm PST

Meeting ID: 984 4028 7294

400 souls: reflecting on a community history of african america

week one


we convene in honor of renty taylor

Renty Taylor was born around 1775 in the Congo; his birth name is unknown. he was captured by slave traders and arrived in New Orleans on a Spanish slave ship around 1800. he was eventually sold to the Edgehill plantation at Columbia, South Carolina.

in 1850, Louis Agassiz commissioned a number of daguerreotypes of Taylor and Taylor's daughter Dalia, described as "haunting and voyeuristic." the images were commissioned to prove his assertions about Black inferiority. they are the earliest known photographs of enslaved individuals. Agassiz left the images to Harvard University in his estate. they remained in the Peabody Museum’s attic until 1976 when they were re-discovered by researchers.

in 2019, Taylor's descendants sued Harvard for the return of the images and unspecified damages. the lawsuit is supported by forty-three living descendants of Louis Agassiz who wrote a letter of support stating: "For Harvard to give the daguerreotypes to Ms. [Tamara] Lanier and her family would begin to make amends for its use of the photos as exhibits for the white supremacist theory Agassiz espoused,” and that everyone must evaluate fully "his role in promoting a pseudoscientific justification for white supremacy.”

in 1852, Renty and his daughter's names appeared on a probate inventory of Southern enslaved individuals. we know that he eventually took on the name Renty Taylor sometime after the American Civil War ended in 1865. like many of those enslaved in the American South (and many of their immediate ancestors), it is unknown when he died and it is unknown if he was ever freed, though he disappeared from records around three years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Tamara Lanier’s lawsuit against Harvard University over the images of Renty and other enslaved individuals remains ongoing.

we dedicate this week’s gathering and study of The Teach Out to the memory of Renty Taylor, and to all those whose images were dispossessed through the crimes of American slavery. may he, and they, rest in power.


our week one reading

four hundred souls: part one

introduction & pg. 1-35


our weekly provocations

1. Discussion questions for Four Hundred Souls, Part One (below)

2. The 1619 Project, edited and compiled by Nikole Hannah-Jones


outro, our weekly intention

We are Africans, and we happen to be in America.

We are not Americans.

We are a people who formerly were Africans who were kidnaped and brought to America.

Our forefathers weren't the Pilgrims.

We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us.

We were brought here against our will; we were not brought here to be made citizens.

We were not brought here to enjoy the constitutional gifts that they speak so beautifully about today.

Because we weren't brought here to be made citizens.


--Malcolm X, speech in Washington Heights, New York, 1964

"The Ballot or the Bullet"


post gathering resources: discussion board

Find the discussion board, open for comments, discussion, and thought reflection from week one, at our Google Site here.

post gathering resources: books and citations from the discussion

1. Baldwin, James, The Fire Next Time, 1963

2. Nakayama, Thomas & Bill Krizek, "Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric," Quarterly Journal of Speech 81.3 (1995), 291-309.

Download PDF • 1.72MB

3. Asante, Molefi Kete, An Afrocentric Manifesto, 2007

4. Guasco, Michael, "The Fallacy of 1619: Rethinking the History of Africans in Early America," Black Perspectives, September 2017,

5. Kendi, Ibram X. "The Hopefulness and Hopelessness of 1619," The Atlantic, August 2019, (PDF below)

The Historical Significance of 1619 - Th
Download • 2.62MB



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