Reimagining Black Memorials and “Black Land” in America – Tiffany Oh

Tiffany Lethabo King, a PhD associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Virginia, spoke of reimagining Black memorials and “Black land” in America. In the beginning of her speech, King recounts an important event that unlocked her curiosity and concern about Black people’s relationship with the land. In 1997, King and a friend discovered an imprint of two fingers in the brick of a University of Virginia building. These prints belonged to an enslaved Black person. At this moment, King truly realized that she was standing on plantation ground. Current studies rely heavily on viewing labor as a visual image of a bent down body with strained muscles to determine the Black Body’s relationship to the New World. King hopes to change the reimagining of the Black Body as forms of space in process rather than human producers. This ‘space’ allows us to reflect on the relationships Black people have to not only the land but also plants, objects, and non-human life forms. 


Freedom on My Mind explains this viewing of enslaved Black people as “human producers” during the time of forced labor as chattel slavery. African slaves were seen as movable personal property that were legally equivalent to domestic animals and furniture. They had no legal authority over their own children. Thus, it is easy to say that White slave owners viewed enslaved Black people as a business rather than human beings. To White slave owners, Black labor poured into our land wasn’t done by humans but by machines. To White slave owners, Black labor was not appreciated now connected to the Black people. That land was White land. Tiffany King heavily stressed the importance of the valorization of Black labor. This was a big motivation as to why so many Black people resisted colonization in the 1800s. The American Colonization Society (ACS) was a movement that contained White clergymen and politicians. Both White anti- and pro-slavery supporters were in favor of Black colonization. They supported the migration of freeborn Black people and emancipated enslaved Blacks outside of the USA. However, many Black people resisted colonization because they had no immediate ties to the lands outside of America. They felt tied to American land through their ancestors’ work. They believed that if America was anyone’s nation, it was theirs. They deserve the right to access and benefit from the fruits of their labor. And it’s true – Black people built this country. King desires to bring liberation of Black people as well as all those oppressed, such as the Indigenous peoples and return the land to the decolonized commons. One way King suggests we combat this is by having Black and Indigenous people work together in harmony. Black people were forced to work on stolen land of the Indigenous and, although they are different groups, they have a shared history. Both being victims of colonization, Blacks and all oppressed groups deserve justice. 


Working in harmony is not only seen as a possible solution to these injustices but also something that was done all throughout African American history. Even seen from the very beginning on the slave ships, the film ‘Roots’ showed how Africans being shipped to America had no one but each other. Many spoke different languages, so it was difficult to communicate. But, through each other’s presence and will to fight, they remained strong. In a way, they were almost forced to work together. Black people were also in harmony as a form of resistance. They created their own culture mixed with customs from Africa and customs from the New World. They created a world within a world by working together as a team. They created Gullah Geechee which was a language developed in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and the Sea Islands where they labored in the rice plantations. They created new rituals and embraced Christianity in a different way from the colonials. King suggests we do a similar thing to bring liberation and return land to the oppressed. We must work together despite our differences to truly make a change for the better. Like discussed in class, Black nationalism can be used as a leading practice and strategy such as having Black pride and therefore unity. 


During her speech, King showed a video of a timeline of events that happened over the years in or around the University of Virginia. One event that stood out to me was an attack on a twelve-year-old enslaved girl by three students in a field next to the school. This theme of violence was always present and continues to be present today. In 1800, Virginia plotted a rebellion and White Virginians responded with violence and harm to ensure that enslaved Blacks were scared. They had hoped to suppress their freedom and force Black people to abide by their policies. If not, they would be punished. The Black Reconstruction, in the mid-1800s, started to fall as White redemption arose. Much of this defeat was due to the rise of mob violence such as the Ku Klux Klan in 1865 as well as lynching and terrorism. In an attempt to stay alive, Black people had no other choice but to be violent. Even cops who weren’t to be trusted. They often even joined in on White violence. Martin Luther King Jr. argued against using violence with violence in his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but after a bomb exploded in Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed 4 Black girls, Black people wanted justice and many desired to fight back. It is quite interesting to see how Black people have this reputation of being violent, when White people were the ones to start the violence from the beginning. 


It is one thing to know that the land we live on has a history filled with violence, discrimination, and hatred. But it is another to do something about it. Tiffany King speaks of Black Fungibility in her paper, The Labor of (Re)reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(ly). She mentions the term “plantation futures” with a hopeful approach to Black fungibility to “recognize the violence of plantation and its afterlife while simultaneously acknowledging the ongoing capacity for the making and remaking of Black life in the midst of plantation violence … [while also having the] capacity to transform conditions of subjection” (King, Tiffany 2016). Tiffany King gives us great advice on how we can work together to bring liberation to the oppressed, recognize the past violence on our land, and bring the land back to the decolonized commons. In order to do so, King believes that the capitalist state apparatus and its systems of control must be dismantled; this means dismantling the police forces and prison-industrial complex, state surveillance and repressive apparatus, and the US military. 


King ends her presentation on the forces at work today that are striving to accomplish these changes mentioned in the previous paragraph. Examples of corporations set up are the Native American Student Association, the Black Student Union, and the Indigenous Feminist Futures Institute to Reimagine Black and Indigenous Space, Peoples, and Relations. In North Carolina, there is the Medicine Bowl, which is a hub for healing that aims to help mend Black and Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the land and help liberate these people and the history behind them. 


All in all, attending this event has brought me greater knowledge about the history of our land and the things we must do to bring justice and liberation to those greatly affected by the violence and discrimination, namely the Black and indigenous peoples. Together, we have moved towards a better world but nonetheless have a far way to go. With these associations and their movement towards reconciliation, love, equality, liberty, and justice, we may just be able to get to where we both want and need to be.


Medicine Bowl’s Mission

A Black and Indigenous led land-based plan for liberation located in the Green Mountains of Western North Carolina. The corporation is made up of organizers, farmers, medicine people, and land stewards hoping to flourish, feed, and build houses for the community. 




White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021. 


“Roots.” Films, Inc., 1977. 


The Labor of (Re)Reading Plantation Landscapes Fungible(Ly). 


“Who We Are.” Medicine Bowl, 


“Medicine Bowl.” Medicine Bowl, 


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