November 24th, 2007

reading, activism, writing

Book # 46: The Great Negro Plot, by Mat Johnson

The Emperor may have had no clothes, but unfortunately he still had the power of life and death. Although the court proceedings of the unfortunates swept up in the investigations of the 1741 so-called "great negro plot" to burn Manhattan and kill all the white settlers may have been exposed in the end as racist, classist and a travesty of justice, they still were able to arrest scores of enslaved Africans, execute 19 and incarcerate other "conspirators."

It all began with a simple burglary, the theft of few coins and bolts of cloth, but after several suspicious fires in the predominately wood-roofed city, with buildings piled one almost on top of the other, the cry went out for "justice" and security. Exacerbated by false testimony (made under extreme duress), a rabidly white-centric group of judges engineered one of the most notorious racial incidents of injustice.

All-in-all 1741 was a very bad year for the Africans living in New York City. Not only were they in chains, some of them stolen off Spanish ships where they had been seamen in good standing, they were accused en-mass of a wide-ranging conspiracy to set fire to their "master's" houses and then go from building to building spreading the ravenous sparks. However justified such an action may have been, it simply wasn't the case.

Mat Johnson's The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York paints the picture from the oppressed's point of view. It's a shocking tale of a "legal" system gone wild, with heartbreaking results.