Skip to the good stuff!


Labor and Identity Session II, Panel Recap

George Cruikshank, “The New Union Club,” ca. 1819. Etching with engraving and publisher’s coloring. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection. Acquired with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund)

Sat., Oct. 26  |  Robyn Phillips-Pendleton, “The Role of Illustrators, Engravers, and the Printing Press in the Discussion of Race in America” María Helena Barrera-Agarwal, “Lanuza, Mendia & Co.: A Spanish-language Publishing House in Early Nineteenth Century New York” Jordan Wingate, Special Mark Samuels Lasner Fellowship Paper: “The ‘Negro Press-hand’ of the Charleston Courier”  

Robyn Phillips-Pendleton

“The Role of Illustrators, Engravers, and the Printing press in the Discussion of Race in America”

Robyn Phillips-Pendlenton discussed how historically in the United States, illustrators, engravers, and various processes of printing have played an influential role in creating perceptions of Blacks and Native Americans. She discussed how the portrayal of these groups have been at the hands of illustrators, editors, and publishers who have been white for centuries. These depictions of what she brilliantly called “visual conversations” were not only racist but normalized and displayed in the daily lives of readers through advertisement and literature. 

Robyn showed us a broadside from Europe in 1505 of Native Americans wearing exaggerated leafy skirts to emphasize their differences between Europeans. After the invention of the printing press, woodblock illustrations were created for books and periodicals which were accompanied by text. The steam press made the distribution of the two leading newspapers such as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly faster and cheaper to its readers. This meant that ideas of racism and stereotypes traveled quickly and normalized these perceptions. Robyn discussed the editorial process of these newspapers that included the editor, illustrator, and the engraver in which they worked to “construct a clear visual difference between whites and Native Americans to successfully keep Indians from being equal.” She showed illustrations from these newspapers in which the portrayal of Native Americans went from being depicted as noble savages to brutal savage Indians. The illustrators from these newspapers were held to have evidentiary imagery from battles and “savagery” that took place but in fact, both illustrators/engravers where never onsite during these events. These illustrations were meant to keep whites fearful to justify the displacement of Native Americans. Another “visual conversation” that Robyn showed us was an example of fear, depiction, and control of Blacks that was made possible through the illustration of Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion. In this illustration, white people are made to look very vulnerable and innocent, while the slaves were made to look rugged, evil, and savage-like equipped with knives. Furthermore, whites are depicted as the heroes in uniforms on horses that came to save the day by driving out the bad guys who were the slaves. Once again, these illustrators were not at the scene to derive to these conclusions and they used this as “evidentiary imagery.”

We switched over with Robyn to the discussion of newspapers from the north, such as The Liberator published in 1831 that advocated the emancipation of slaves. Another important northern newspaper published in 1847 was The Northern Star which was an anti-slavery newspaper published by Frederick Douglass. As a result of these newspapers, the narratives and depictions of Blacks were in their own hands. However, plantation-blacks and urban-blacks were caricatured into minstrels and consumed as “factual basis of visual imagery and popular culture”. As a result, Robyn pointed out that this helped create a “psychological potency” and allowed to formulate in the physical world by “constructing, confirming, and affirming identity.”

This talk isn’t complete without mentioning the most important stereotypical images of Blacks in American history which was Uncle Tom from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel in 1851. This novel sold 300,000 copies and helped conjure the sentiment of anti-slavery, which created tensions between the north and the south. Robyn discussed Hammet Billings, who engraved illustrations for the first edition. The most iconic scene in the novel is the one where Little Eva is reading the bible to Uncle Tom and it was the first time where a middle-aged black man was seen in an isolated company of a white woman. Around the Civil War Uncle Tom’s visual journey went from becoming a martyr and a strong middle-aged man to a subservient character to pacify whites because he was seen as a sexual threat to white women. In addition, Eva became younger and more innocent and you can see this through the illustrations that are provided in Robyn’s slideshow. What happened to the strong middle-aged Uncle Tom? The portrayal and visual imagery of Uncle Tom was then handed over to George Cruikshank for the British version of the novel and it became the most popular version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was important to note that Cruikshank was also responsible for the racist etching in 1819 called “The New Union-Club” where Blacks were caricatured as aggressive, drunk, and promiscuous to “make fun of the notion that Blacks could ever live the lives of white people”. 

In 1864, Harper’s Weekly debuted a comic called Small Breeds that characterized a black family in a demeaning way. Furthermore, it became another apparent example that this comic would become another “factual basis of visual imagery in popular culture”. Photo reproduction processes took over such as chromolithography and photoengraving in 1890. This meant that there would be accuracy in the portrayal of images and depictions of Blacks.  Despite this, advertising and lithography proved to be racist towards the portrayal of Blacks with trading cards for nearly every product that was manufactured. 

Lastly, Robyn discussed how blacks were now constructing their own identities. Blacks from the rural south, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and Cuba moved in large numbers to the northern states in the U.S. between 1910–1970 because of the racial violence and unbearable conditions. Robyn described the transition of the identity of the “plantation slave” to the “sophisticated intellectual negro” in search of his identity by black writers, editors, musicians, and artists; through the work of black writers, editors, musicians, and artists during the 1920s and 1930s. They revolted and counteracted by publishing their own newspapers such as The Crisis to discover their identities and to fight against the depiction that was given to them by white racial injustices. Aaron Douglass was discussed as a painter from the Harlem renaissance in which he used Africa as inspiration for his work. Furthermore, Black artists fought back through print media to counteract the negative stereotypes given to them from the early twentieth century to the present through illustrations/art that explored their history and cultural awareness such as Charles Dawson, E. Simms Campbell, and today Kadir Nelson. Robyn concluded by stating: “illustrators and those who communicate through print media cannot change the damaging imagery of the past, but they can undoubtedly be the vehicles of change now and in the future. They can influence public culture by understanding their persuasive and influential role in history.”  

“Writ of Capias ad Respondendum, filed in New York by Lanuza, Mendia and Huttner, in 1828 – one of the lawsuits related to the dissolution of their publishing firm. Collection of the New York County Clerk’s Office. (Image © María Helena Barrera-Agarwal)

Maria Helena Barrera-Agarwal

“Lanuza, Mendia & Co.: A Spanish-language Publishing House in early Nineteenth-Century New York”

“Lanuza, Mendia & Co.: A Spanish-language Publishing House in early Nineteenth-Century New York” Maria Helena Barrera-Agarwal discussed her research of the Spanish language publishing house that was established in 1826 in New York called Lanuza, Mendia & Co., that was responsible for a large part of the Spanish book trade in the United States until 1829. Unfortunately, most of the books and newspapers from this printing house are still little known in the field of American history. She began by asking us to “imagine coming to the United States as an immigrant and refugee, and starting a business from nothing and being a publisher responsible for the existence of 80,000 copies of a number of titles, and working among other immigrants and refugees.” This was the case for the founders of this publishing house who were Dr. Cayetano Lazuna, Joseph Mendia, and Frederick Huttner. 

Maria researched the founders of this firm and gave an account of each one. Lanuza arrived from Spain to the United States in 1824 as a refugee fleeing from Ferdinand VII’s wrath, after his restoration as absolute monarch in 1823. He was a physician, translator, editor, and also a free press advocate. He became part of numerous learned societies in New York, and Maria was able to find articles that described Lanuza as an excellent translator for French authors. She discussed the second founder named Joseph Mendia, who also came in 1824 as a refugee, but little is known about him. The third founder was Frederick Huttner, who was based in Philadelphia and continued to work as a bookseller after the dissolution of the firm. There was evidence that he was the copyright owner of Jicotencal, which was the first novel in Spanish that was published in the American continent. 

It has been an enigma for the longest on who had written Jicontencal. Last year, in the development of Maria’s research, she found a paper trail that made Lanuza the author of the novel and his firm the editors of the novel. For example, inside the book, there is a distribution note that mentions the novel being available in the publishing house of Lanuza, Mendia, & Co., which was shown in a slide. Furthermore, Maria noted that it was a common belief during the early nineteenth-century that book printing shop names noted were thought to be solidly responsible for the book, Jicontencal. The printer was William Stavely, but the editors were, in fact, Lanuza, Mendia & Co. In her slideshow, she showed an image of a handwritten inscription in front of the leaf of the first volume of Jicontencal that read: “Mr. Duponceau with the editors’ best regards Lanuza, Mendía & Co.”. Maria also showed us a slide where the editorial mentioned Lanuza being the author of the novel in the New York Evening Post in 1838. 

The Lanuza, Mendia & Co. publishing house was without a doubt a pioneer in the United States for translating numerous books in Spanish such as Voltaire and The Life of George Washington. In addition, the publishing firm had a Smith press, Washington press, and a standing press and worked with George Champley, a well-known bookbinder at the time. This connection was confirmed by the testimony of one of the apprentices of Champley. Despite all this, it was a little disappointing to Maria to find incorrect mentions of the firm, sometimes with the wrong name of founders, and little notoriety of the publishing house among Latin-American scholars and U.S. history. Maria finalizes her research with a quote about Lanuza, Mendia & Co.: “This is an example of what immigrants and refugees can do for their venture not only for their own countries but for the United States.”

Jordan Wingate: Special Mark Samuels Lasner Fellowship Paper

“The ‘Negro Press-hand’ of the Charleston Courier

Jordan Wingate reported on his research funded by APHA’s Mark Samuels Lasner Fellowship into his investigation of the buried history of enslaved Black press men involved in the production of the Charleston Courier newspaper. His research is corroborated by printed articles and ads by the newspaper, which he presented through slides. The first example that he presented, demonstrated the existence/occupation of a Black pressman that was on an article published on April 29, 1935, by the Charleston Courier. The article apologized to its readers for not printing their paper the previous day and reported: “a Negro press-hand had discovered an entire case of type scattered across the street by a deranged white typesetter.”

Jordan tied in a quote from an essayist in the Courier’s domestic industry section to prove that black pressmen possessed many skills required for that job. He quoted, “the press which prints this article, a beautiful and complicated machine, which with the aid of steam power would perform the work of itself is driven by the labor of Negroes, two who could be seen whenever it’s on operation with jackets and shirts off, sweating and tugging like horses.” Jordan went on to prove how incorrect this representation was by getting very technical with the skills that went into operating the Smith press and the Adam press. For example, he described the work that went into producing 240 impressions per hour on the Smith press and 800 impressions per hour with the Adam press with each press operated by two pressmen. These pressmen not only ran the press, but were responsible for producing even values of ink on each page by adjusting ink on the type, dampening sheets of paper before printing it, laying out printed paper to dry, repairing presses, unloading paper shipments from warehouses, and even delivering the newspaper. Additionally, pressmen worked overnight and were subjected to repetitive movement that caused injury and a condition called “crabs” which refers to an uneven gait.

Jordan was able to show evidence through his slides that these pressmen were enslaved by presenting his collection of articles and advertisements in wanted ads, slave ads, and runaway notices that were printed by eleven southern newspapers. It was important to note that these editors and printing networks were also enslavers. There was also a slide shown that demonstrated a cotton press that was also made by the same company that made some of the printing presses. Certain articles included identical generic racist icons that represent Black people that was accompanied by a reward notice with a description “Reward for a runaway pressman, who could read and forge FREE papers.” Consequently, it made sense to me that an enslaved pressman would be able to read and write if he was composing and sorting out type.

From all the racist ads and quotes that were discussed, the one that stood out was the search for black pressmen whose requirement was solidly to be muscular and the quote: “a wild African working a press did not need to know the words he printed or speak to the press’s white employees.” Jordan also discussed an optimistic and empowering story that was printed in the Rochester Democrat, which told the story of John Douglass, who escaped slavery and bought his mother’s freedom, and who became the pressman for the newspaper. Lastly, Jordan revisited the pressman who found the type in the street and who also printed the Charleston Courier’s front page with runaway ads that accompanied repeated icons. He went beyond to discuss that literacy was not necessary to understand the information the pressman printed because these icons alone represented the strength of “Black laborers everywhere to be free.”

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

APHA encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.